Peter Barfod - Member profile

Peter joined Australasian Fishes in October 2016, lending his expertise and passion, resulting in substantial contributions to the project to date. His professional background is in complex project management, working in industries such as satellite systems, telecommunications, road intelligent traffic systems and rail. While this may appear to be a long way from the natural world of fish and the marine environment, Peter’s professional training, attention to detail and comfort with complex environments has contributed to his passionate appreciation of the undersea world. There can be no more complex environment than our project’s venue, underwater. It is three-dimensional puzzle of complexity and Peter is working to help identify pieces of that puzzle for the benefit of science and to advance the project.
Peter’s interest in the natural environment began as a youngster, joining a minerals club at a young age and travelling to places in the northeast USA that were known for gems. While he spent his share of time digging for gems in the dirt, looking for unique samples, such as Herkimer diamonds, his specialty was simply to walk around search areas, looking down, and finding interesting pieces that others missed. The practice of simply “looking down” was to be excellent training for Australasian Fishes.
Along with being a rock-hound, swimming has been a part of his life since his early teens, when he joined a swimming club at his local YMCA. He quickly took to competition with great seriousness, and when he migrated to Australia in 2009, he competed in the World Masters Games in Sydney. At the Masters he finished up as 16th in the world in a couple of water events. His conversion from pool swimmer to ocean swimmer came as a result of walking his dog and meeting another swimmer who suggested Peter might enjoy looking at the bottom of the sea, rather than a black line on the bottom of a pool. Intrigued with the suggestion, he gave it a try at Manly in Sydney. This opened a new chapter where initially Peter found ocean swimming demanding and not as much fun as pool swimming, until the day a semi-tame dolphin (‘Silky’) swam under him in 2m water. He was so chuffed about this experience that he immediately bought GoPro Hero 3+ camera. This led to more ocean swimming and more videos and photographs. Like others in the project, he soon became addicted to swimming and photographing underwater stuff.
Peter recalls one instance which helped spark his conversion from distance swimmer to citizen scientist. He recalls, “One particular time when swimming near the point at South Steyne (Manly), I noticed a loose mass of string near the surface about the size of a shopping bag. Being a conscientious swimmer, I attempted to grab it to dispose of on shore. In doing so, it/ they swam away, in the formation of an arc and then deeper. At the time, I reckoned they were alien craft here to study earth. It took me a moment to take out my camera to photograph the phenomenon that I had witnessed. My images weren’t great but three objects with long tailing tendrils could be seen. I was so excited at my discovery. I was sure that I had discovered a new species. From previous experience I knew folks at Australian Museum. I eventually was put in contact with Mark McGrouther. He ID-ed them as Pennantfish.” This started a close relationship between Peter and the Museum, resulting in many of his imagers featured on the Museum’s website. This, of course, was the catalyst for more swimming, more photography, more posting, etc.
It is clear that Peter enjoys logging observations. While he confesses this aspect of the project is a bit “nerdy” he feels that he personally gains a great deal from the experience. At the time of this writing he’s recorded 1,509 observations for Australasian Fishes, of 379 different species. This gives him the position of Number 8 on the project leader board, but is only part of the story of his work for citizen science. He has also contributed an additional 466 observations to other iNaturalist projects featuring 166 additional species.
Like others in the project he values the social media aspect of the software, which facilitates interaction amongst participates. It does so without the “Facebook” approach of embedding advertising, photographs of plates of food, etc. From our conversation, Peter strongly believes in the implied social contract of the iNaturalist platform, whereby, there is an agreement to both give and receive support. Like many in the project, he is delighted when someone, in some part of the world, offers an identification of an observation he’d submitted, but could not classify. He is also grateful for the occasional comments people make about his images. In particular, he enjoys it when someone with a more attentive eye identifies some feature of the observation which had escaped his notice. He realises that in this community of people, each with different opinions and views, there is an agreement to assist and support each other. This is done through mutual education and encouragement, as well as continually contributing to the general body of knowledge the project is creating. Peter also enjoys being part of the scientific aspects of the project, and as we all do, takes his rare gentle scolding with a good nature when being caught out making a poor identification. He reminds us that that it is a learning experience and along with the corrections come compliments when making a challenging observation. He is very grateful to henrick and sascha_schulz for their support and education since starting the project. As a result, Peter is an avid fish identifier, assisting participants with 3,530 identifications, to date. He says, ”In INat, we are blessed with a learning experience supported by several very knowledgeable people and because of this I have learned so much.”
You can still find Peter swimming with a small group of people within the Bold & Beautiful Manly (B&B) group every weekend and holiday. When oceans conditions are favourable, he will snorkel, photographing marine life between 8 to 14 m depth. To facilitate these photos, he took a course in freediving which he recommends to everyone. He warns us, however, to take an actual course with a qualified instructor, rather than learn the skill on YouTube or from books, as freediving is risky and you must learn from a freediving master how to deal with the risks. I recently learned that Peter has been introduced to SCUBA diving, and his initial response has been favourable, in spite of his lifelong commitment to breath-holding. We may be seeing a whole new range of observations from him as he expands his exploration using compressed air.
Given that he both swims and snorkels, he only uses compact-type cameras. Starting off with the GoPro as it suited his needs, fitting in his wetsuit. Noticing that some members of his swimming group were fond of the Olympus TG4, he purchased a TG5 just prior to his first trip to Lady Elliot Island. The result was 12,000 photos taken around the Island, with both the Olympus and the GoPro. To complete his swimming ensemble, he has a specially built bum-bag that holds both cameras, torches for night snorkels and other things as required, allowing for free hand swimming.
For post processing, Peter uses two applications:
  • Microsoft Photos application is easy to use and usually does an adequate job, and
  • Forever Historian 4, which he claims is able to achieve a better result and improve photo quality.
Peter truly enjoys his time in the water and appreciates the diversity and complexity of this world he is documenting. Much of his swimming, and photography takes place at well-known fish “hot spots” such as Cabbage Tree Bay and Lady Elliot Island. The diversity and complexity of these environments when mixed with the sudden and unexpected observations appeals to him and promotes his significant contribution to Australasian fishes and citizen science.
In his own words, here are some parting thoughts to enhance our time spent underwater,
  • “Enjoy: there are times whilst snorkelling, I experience bliss. I really enjoy floating in 3-D space. You dive down and it is no effort, you see beauty all around, you are content. This is what it is about.
  • Most of the time, I dive when I see something from the surface. In less-clear or deeper water, you will tend not see anything near the bottom. Dive down anyways. You may happen on some bioluminescent Mysid shrimp or a lion fish.
  • There are lessons to be learned from each dive. What could go better? Progressively solve problems.
  • I have a pet theory that sea creatures can sense your intent or nature and react accordingly. I know that certain fish recognise me and will cautiously approach.
  • Whilst swimming, I pick up rubbish to dispose of back on shore. Another pet theory is that the more rubbish that you pick up, the more interesting sightings you will encounter. This is often the case though is probably a measure of observation capability.”
Postscript: It might interest you to know that for the past two years, Peter has produced an A3 flip calendar using the photos that he’s taken in Cabbage Tree Bay and Lady Elliot Island. The result is very attractive and each year he does a small print run and gives them to friends and sells them to other B&B swimmers at cost. It is a fitting reminder of the opportunities which he sees in each dive and swim, and of the contributions he has made to our project and citizen science.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member Harry Rosenthal. Thank you Harry!
Posted by markmcg markmcg, January 31, 2019 02:20

Comments

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Great achievements! @fiftygrit Your observations never cease to intrigue, whether it be sharks, rays or leatherjackets :)
Some memorable shots: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/12151201, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/9246725, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/12154057.
Thanks for writing it up :) @harryrosenthal

Posted by henrick about 2 years ago (Flag)
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Congratulations @fiftygrit glad to have helped introduce you to scuba and look forward to seeing lots of new observations!

Posted by tonydiver about 2 years ago (Flag)
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@tonydiver I wondered who the 'introducer' was. :)

Posted by markmcg about 2 years ago (Flag)
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Woohoo awesome effort Pete, need more LEI ones though! ;-)

Posted by frannyfish almost 2 years ago (Flag)

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