Journal archives for May 2018

May 12, 2018

Member profile - Harry Rosenthal

As the person who writes the bio blurbs for the project, I hope readers will forgive me for writing this in the first person. It is too creepy to write about yourself in the third person. I have been asked to do a brief article on myself, so here it is.
Citizen Science projects often encompass participants from many generations. On one hand, we have several participants who are “digital-natives”, born to today’s world of the Internet and instant communications, who have adapted to the project’s technology with great speed. However, like many of my generation, I am a “video-native” born to a world where impressions were made and cemented by what we saw on the TV tube. For example, Newton’s Laws of Motion often slips from my memory, but I clearly recall almost every cereal jingle I ever heard as a child on TV. Even today, I recall which toothpaste 4 out of 5 dentists prefer. In summary, television in those early days, had a profound impact on society, especially in terms of how we viewed ourselves, our identity and our neighbours. For example, my father was a loyal fan of the show Sea Hunt. He bought clothing similar to Lloyd Bridges, wore his hair like Lloyd’s and even purchased Voit scuba gear, just like Lloyd’s. The irony was that we lived in New Orleans at the time, and the only body of water large enough to warrant scuba gear was Lake Pontchartrain, a brackish estuary, created by the Mississippi delta and on its clearest day, offered up to three inches of visibility. My first underwater exploration with scuba, was as a 10 year old, with my nose in a new universe of broken bottles and beer cans in this shallow, polluted lake of alluvial mud. Diving could only improve from there, but I was hooked on the underwater world by then.
Like several in the Australasian Fishes project, I aspired to become a marine biologist, but university-level chemistry and physics encouraged a career change. I switched to archaeology/anthropology, and worked for a few years in both land and marine archaeology in the US, the Middle East and Europe. Tiring of a life of poverty as this was well before Indiana Jones, like others of my generation, I sold out, got an MBA, and have spent my career in government, university and the private sector. As a corporate sell-out, I could afford to pursue my interest in underwater photography, starting with a Nikonos II, the only camera I never flooded. It was known as a 100% manual film camera, using large flash bulbs which would implode in your hand, below 5 meters. In the past, I worked in marine construction, underwater search and rescue, and today, while still employed in insurance, risk management and the university sector, I have the good fortune to live in Cronulla, NSW, a waterfront peninsula community offering quick access to varied water conditions on all sides. As a result, you will note, the vast majority of my photos were taken within a lazy kilometre or two of my refrigerator. The majority of my photography today is with a Cannon GX1 Mark ii, in the standard Cannon housing, while using a SeaLife Underwater video light for fill-in light when needed. I am currently on a hiatus from scuba, sorry Lloyd, and when conditions are right, I use a battery operated hookah diving system, which floats on the surface, 10 meters above me, providing air via a hose. The rest of the time is spent snorkelling.
I began seriously working with Mark McGrouther, Collection Manager, Ichthyology, Australian Museum, on the project which has become Australasian Fishes back in 2015, over numerous cups of coffee, making drawings on napkins, iPads and eventually on whiteboards. I was captivated by the power of citizen science and the willingness of so many people to generously donate their time to baseline scientific research. Secondly, I was impressed by the advent of GoPro’s marketing, where they simply asked their customers to post videos on the Internet, giving GoPro widespread free marketing for their product. After several false starts with trying to find agencies to develop in-house, bespoke software to provide the fish identification features we wanted, Mark came across iNaturalist, the world’s leading citizen scientist platform, operated by the California Academy of Sciences. As a video-native, I was sceptical, but quickly we saw that the software was free, battle-tested and had already built in 80% of the utility we’d sketched on our napkins. Since using the platform, the iNaturalist team in the US has worked with Mark to make it more user-friendly for our hemisphere, and we are very pleased with how the platform has operated to date. We are working on the remaining 20% utility at this time, so keep an eye on the journal section for future developments.
It has been very rewarding watching the project grow as it approaches its second birthday in August. There are two elements which stand out strongly for me regarding this type of citizen science project. First, Australasian Fishes is a record of a time and place, which will be extremely useful in the future. For example, if we look at climate change research today, along with satellite imagery and ice-core study, we see many scientists going back to review the weather entries in journals kept by Australian farmers dating back to the arrival of Europeans. It was very traditional for farmers to note in their diaries various aspects of the weather such as temperature, rainfall, etc. These records are proving to be extremely useful in the creation of models of past weather patterns and climate variations. Today, we often hear of “old timers” who say fishing patterns have changed over time. There were more fish and different fish many years ago than today. With photography and digital technology, we can, like the farmers 200 years ago, create accurate snapshots of the conditions around Australian and New Zealand. We can record with scientific precision today's situation regarding the health and distribution of marine fauna. This data, compiled by citizen scientists along with the data from government agencies, such as fisheries, will be useful in our understanding of changes in the oceans over time.
This brings me to the second point, the element of time. It may be some time before the data now being collected by Australasian Fishes actually reaches its full potential. While the project continues to make significant discoveries, see earlier Journal entries, I foresee that there will need to be developments in computer modelling, possibly involving artificial intelligence, before such large databases such as ours will significantly contribute to mankind’s knowledge of our nation’s oceans. In my mind, I suspect the person who will fully utilise the potential of the Australasian Fishes project, is probably in Year 5 at the moment, and will be at university when advancements in computing, AI and nature modelling have advanced enough to fully realise the database.
This is not just whimsy, but there is great present and future value in the project, and I am grateful for all contributors who have shared in the collection of this scientific bonanza, and for a B-class TV show from the 1950’s.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
PS. Harry does know that dolphins aren't fish. :) markmcg
Posted on May 12, 2018 07:47 by markmcg markmcg | 15 comments | Leave a comment