Journal archives for June 2018

June 03, 2018

Member profile - Henrick Michael

Citizen science projects are very human endeavours, but are supported by computers and algorithms. Such projects are never successfully driven by the machines. In everyday life we see such algorithms at work everywhere, from social media to insurance premiums, as we live in a world of artificial intelligence (AI), digital modelling, efficiency and automation. In the waters of New Zealand and Australia, very little is truly computer driven. It is refreshing to see projects like Australasia Fishes (AF), admittedly using a digital platform like iNaturalist as a collection tool, but behind the data, it is very much driven by the participants, and their love of our regional waters and their willingness to get wet. This may not be the way forever as remote sensing and increased computer processing speeds approximate the functionality of the human brain. But for now, that is in the future and the hard yards are still achieved through human effort and dedication.
Today’s engine of AF remains its people and their passion. The majority of the project requires the actions of people dedicated to a goal. It requires people to leave the comfort of their homes and security of their digital screens to venture out in to raw nature. For projects like AF to succeed, people need to take risks and go into or upon the water. Such people need to take cameras and record the natural environment as they experience it. They need to capture their recorded images and load them to the technology, providing information about name and species. Other people, most of whom have never actually met, are needed to verify identification of each fish and point out new discoveries and range extensions. Finally, people will be needed to find the current and future scientific gold in the data generated.
Henrick Michael is one of those people who has greatly contributed a lion’s share of the substantial human energy needed to keep a citizen science project like AF afloat (pun intended). His name will be familiar to those working on the project as he has provided fuel and momentum, not only by virtue of his individual scientific curiosity, but also through the raw “horsepower” of his passions and interests in advancing knowledge. Henrick’s rise in the project has been meteoric, as he’s quickly cemented his position as a significant contributor to science and as a motivator to other participants. At the time of this writing, Henrick is ranked 18th on the project’s Observations Leader Board, contributing well over 400 observations of for the project of 109 different fish species. Very impressive for someone who only joined the project in March 2017. What is even more impressive is his record of fish identifications. On the Leader Board he is now ranked at #3 with a total of 6,913 fish identifications. His identifications cover a wide range of fish, demonstrating a surprisingly extensive knowledge of fish taxonomy. In addition, his comments to participants have been both wise and supportive to contributors. When he sees an image he likes, he often takes the time to include words of encouragement and support for fellow participants, recognising their contribution, while making his own simultaneously. It is all very impressive, however, what is MOST impressive, is that he is only 18 years old! That’s a lot of project horsepower from one of our youngest contributors.
Henrick grew up in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, developing a fondness for the coastal heathlands and aquatic world. Enjoying fishing, swimming and diving in that unique fish hot spot. Throughout much of his high school years he frequently swam in the ocean as practice for regional relay swimming comps, but this sport focus later evolved into a scientific interest in freediving, exploring both Botany Bay and Sydney harbour as well as the numerous bays between. Along with this also developed an interest in nature photography of various birds and other animals, however, fish have become his primary interest. Most of his knowledge of temperate & tropical species comes from personal observations and from buying referencing material to assist in identifying all the species he observes. Two favourites of his collection include R.H.Kuiter’s ‘Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia’ and ‘Tropical Marine Fishes of Australia’ by fellow Australasian Fishes Project member @ralfmagee, and others. Both should be on all participant’s bookshelves. While AF has benefited from his interests he also is involved in other citizen science projects, joining RedMap Australia in 2016, who suggested he should join the Australasian Fishes Project. Henrick comments that he feels he owes a great deal of his knowledge of fish taxonomy not only to reference books, but also to project participants such as @markmcg & @sascha_schulz, who helped him with his IDs since he first joined the Australasian Fishes Project. Learning the skills of fish identification, he recalls that quantitative features including the dorsal spine number, scale, fin size and number are often quite difficult to commit to memory so he tends to look for alternate qualitative features as well, any striking morphological features e.g. caudal keel plates, tubercles, appendages. Also, spacing of dots and markings, proportions and orientation of these features as well as colours of course to help him tell fishes apart.
When asked, he considers himself a freediver, although snorkelling in shallower waters also provides many opportunities to capture great shots of seldom seen or cryptic species which interest him. Although, currently studying Architecture at UNSW he makes a once a week or fortnightly trip to sea. He has developed his own techniques, for example, taking wrasse photos. His personal method includes simply tapping the seafloor a couple times, spiking their interest towards the vicinity of the camera, as most likely invertebrates may have been stirred up from the substrate. He reports that Gunther’s, Senator, Moon & Southern Maori Wrasse align with this behaviour most accurately.
While he considers himself a novice underwater photograph his volume of output contradicts his self-confessed view as a hobbyist. He bought his first 5mp waterproof camera in 2014. Then, a 10mp waterproof Kodak camera in 2016. Nowadays, he uses a 16mp Panasonic waterproof camera, preferring to keep his camera a small, easily portable camera attached to his dive belt. This has proven quite effective in keeping his hands free until reaching the seafloor, enabling deeper dives.
Unusual for his cohort, Henrick is not a fan of computer games, as studying architecture keeps him very busy. It is clear from his developing body of work that nature photography holds a fascination for Henrick. As he is a digital native, he utilises social media for some of his imagery. Visiting is Flickr site https://www.flickr.com/photos/161149194@N04/ you can easily see the groundwork he is laying for a long-lasting interest in nature photography. This has greatly benefited the project and he courteously reminds us that all photos should be credited when due. Finally, he encourages all participants to keep up the good work, as he is aware of scientific value in the images we collect. His approach to fish is also to occasionally try to be unusual in his photography and encourages us to record clarity, colours or unusual angles which can make for a wonderful image. He summarises by saying, “Simply recognising one’s efforts provides the photographer with possible newfound interest, increased passion and ambition to get out there again!!!”
Getting out there again, in nature, where computers, algorithms and processing speeds take a distant second place to camera skills, passion for the sea and a love of nature is what Henrick reminds us. Age is no barrier, nor is time. When driven by curiosity and a willingness to contribute to science and to support others in the same quest, projects like AF will continue to grow and have an impact on our knowledge.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on June 03, 2018 08:51 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

June 07, 2018

Blue Marlin pectoral fin - more 'laid back' than the Black :)

Ralph Foster uploaded this observation of a large marlin washed up on a beach in western South Australia.
We were initially unsure which species it was, so consulted billfish expert Julian Pepperell from Pepperell Research & Consulting. Julian stated, "This is almost certainly a blue marlin, Makaira nigricans." He made a number of excellent comments that can be viewed in the observation (click image, above). In particular he stated that, "The pectoral fin of the adult black marlin is permanently erect and locked in placed through fusion of the bones in the pectoral girdle."That immediately ruled out the fish being a Black Marlin. He also stated, "While it is not impossible for a black marlin to be stranded in that region, there have been numbers of very large blue marlin stranded on beaches from Albany to near Adelaide over the past several years, and historical records of this phenomenon going back to the 1980s at least, with photos showing them to be blue marlin." It's pleasing that Ralph's observation will add to Julian's data set and thus our knowledge of Australian billfishes.
Marlins are classified in the family Istiophoridae, which contains the Billfishes, Marlins, Sailfishes and Spearfishes. In Australia, the family contains five species, in five genera.
Thank you for your help Julian!
Posted on June 07, 2018 05:11 by markmcg markmcg | 3 comments | Leave a comment

June 14, 2018

Impact of Australasian Fishes

Updated 26 July 2018

Australasian Fishes went online in October 2016. Since then, over 33,000 observations uploaded by members have resulted in over 200 discoveries. For more details contact Mark McGrouther.

A selection of the recent discoveries:

 Contributor  Date submitted Species Discovery
vinrush Jul 12, 2018 Xanthic Buffalo Bream
glen_whisson Jul 14, 2018 Range extension
vinrush Jul 12, 2018 Range extension
harryrosenthal Jun 16, 2018 Range extension
rick-ludd Jun 23, 2018 Size record
glen_whisson Jun 9, 2018 Range extension
ralfmagee Jan 12, 2014 Southern record for the Yellowmouth Moray
dentrock June 16, 2018 New record for Lord Howe Island
sascha_schulz June 10, 2018 Eating a poisonous Tetractenos glaber
vinrush June 9, 2018 Range extension
dentrock June 4, 2018 Range extension
pamelaviolet May 30, 2018 Large white areas


Observation summary:
In addition to the discoveries summarized below, Australasian Fishes has gathered information on schooling behaviour, habitats, strandings, overwintering, tagged fishes, growth, aquarium releases and other subjects.

Subject Number of observations
Range extension / first record 88
Diet / feeding 17
Parasite / fungus 11
New species / newly described     6
Colour pattern 17
Damage / injuries 19
Courtship / reproduction 19
Behavioural information 10
Posted on June 14, 2018 00:04 by markmcg markmcg | 4 comments | Leave a comment

Member profile - Lucy Smiechura

Many participants in citizen science projects such as Australasia Fishes, personally value the project because it connects them with others who share their interests and passions in an area of science. It is a way like-minded people from all over the globe can meet and share ideas and views, knowing that many of these people would have not otherwise have ever made contact. Such is the power of citizen science projects as evidenced by the project’s growth.
There is an exponential benefit, however, to projects such as ours, when connections are made between groups and not only individuals. The example of Shelly Ocean Swimmers is a case in point to illustrate this power. For example, this group of swimmers, formed their own citizen science project called Shelly Ocean Swimmers: Biodiversity Project and in a very short period of time had amassed over 2000 observations, all accomplished by just 19 individuals. There has been a great deal of spill over into Australasian Fishes where Shelly Ocean Swimmer’s leading observers, @lucyinthesea is ranked as 16th overall, followed by @diana88jingfung at #22, @pamelaviolet at #31 and @pam_darook at #34.
The story of Shelly Ocean Swimmers: Marine Biodiversity Project is illustrated through their top observer, Lucy Smiechura, profiled below.
Lucy grew up at the seaside suburb of Maroubra, spending most weekends at the beach, swimming, snorkelling, body surfing or rock hoping to discover the life in tidal pools. As a school age child she received her first camera, a Polaroid instant camera, which started her lifelong dabbling in photography both land and sea.
Starting studies in pharmacy, she changed to biology focusing on becoming a marine biologist, but circumstances led her in different directions, but did not diminish her passion for the ocean. In the early 80’s she completed scuba training and was back in the water every weekend, including taking up ocean swimming at Coogee. Her connection with sea has always been more than something recreational for Lucy, and each time, before entering the ocean she offers a prayer honouring and blessing the ocean and it’s creatures she is about to encounter. As a result she feels a connectedness and an overwhelming appreciation and love for marine life, which perhaps is shared by many in our citizen science project, but for Lucy, she is able to easily put into words.
About 4 years ago she met @pamelaviolet and @diana88jingfung who’d started ocean swimming at Shelly Beach, Cronulla and the trio, who met each morning called themselves the Shelly Ocean Swimmers. At one point the group decided to buy $30 Aldi underwater cameras to take photos and videos of their exploits and over the years the group has gathered momentum with more enthusiastic swimmers and snorkelers joining with their cameras.
They each eventually upgraded to Olympus TG4 cameras, finding the features for both photos and videos were the best for any compact camera. Wanting to keep their hands free for swimming. They also created their own way of carrying the cameras using a lanyard, tool belt and small tool pouch from Bunnings. They were set for hands free swimming. This kicked off an entire new dimension for the group, overnight transforming an ocean swimming group into a marine exploration group. Photography allowed them to look at their familiar waters in a whole new way, a way they’d never previously imagined, featuring underwater photos and videos, and resulting in records of their activities, images of fishes and even the creation of their own YouTube channel, on which you can view nearly 700 videos. This group has no fear of technology, but uses it as a tool to enhance their experience and knowledge of marine life.
When Pam and Greg Melrose (@pam_darook, @greg_goatfish) joined the group, there was a strong injection of marine conservation and education in to the group. Other nature educators joined over time as well, and out of this, the swimming group turned in to underwater photography group and created their present project: The Marine Biodiversity Project. Pam and Greg understood that all pieces of the puzzle were coming together to create some excellent outcomes for the community and for marine science. With the introduction of the group to the iNaturalist citizen science platform, now both projects, one strictly local and other regional, have benefited from their mutual collaboration. The Australasian Fishes theme of contributing to scientific knowledge has been a natural marriage to their daily passion and excitement every time they set out in to the waters of Cronulla. Fuelled by their deep comradery, esprit de corps, sense of fun and adventure, and their desire for ongoing personal learning and contribution to the greater body of scientific knowledge, they wade out into the ocean every day excited and eager to discover a new species of fish and other marine life that they haven’t seen before to add to their projects’ observations.
As with many in Australasia Fishes, photography lessons were on the go in the ocean classroom in all kinds of conditions and weather. The group are now skilled in checking ocean conditions and picking locations that are most ideal for snorkelling and photography. They have so much fun exploring our local habitats, that you can literally hear their screams of excitement when any of them discovers something. In addition they’ve learned to converse very well with each other through snorkels amidst the screams of excitement and laughter.
The group is about more than underwater photography and fun. They are actively lobbying legislators to grant protected marine park status for critical areas in Cronulla, including Shark Island. Making these areas No Take Zones to preserve the rich biological environment in these areas for generations to come. Their growing database, is providing the observational data for local conservation groups who are developing a Marine National Park Proposal for the Sydney Bioregion. They feel they are part of something big, not only the scientific work of Australasian Fishes but also in the long term goal of creating Marine Sanctuary Zones to benefit future generations as well as adding to current scientific knowledge.
In summary, it is interesting to see the degree of leverage projects such as Australasian Fishes can receive from groups like Shelly Ocean Swimmers. They are recording, for posterity, a snapshot of a region at a point in time. They passionately contribute to the project through volumes of observations. In return the project offers them a platform for their own interests and passions. It has introduced them to a community of people who have helped feed their hunger for greater knowledge of the marine environment as well as introduced them to like-minded, motivated people who have supported their Marine Biodiversity Project and conservation aspirations. Prior to meeting this special group, I had no idea of the power of synergy such citizen science projects were capable of. The Shelly Ocean Swimmers is an example of such synergy, with mutually beneficial outcomes. To give you a feeling for the passion of the Shelly Group, I will quote Lucy’s own words,
“I enjoy my involvement in the iNaturalist projects immensely. I love being in the field, capturing life as it happens. Every day is filled with joyful expectation and camaraderie. As a snorkelling photography group we have bonded like a pod of dolphins with a deep connection with each other as well as with our underwater environment and its marine inhabitants. We love to explore and play in our special part of the ocean. Our motto is “We always find something new!” Being immersed and enveloped in the expansive ocean has brought me back to full circle to fulfil my earlier dream of being a marine biologist. Now I enjoy my life as a citizen marine scientist with a whole bunch of fun-loving crazy marine explorers!”
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Thank you Harry! :).
Posted on June 14, 2018 07:12 by markmcg markmcg | 3 comments | Leave a comment

June 28, 2018

Ambon Puller from LHI

Another new record for Lord Howe Island! This time it’s an Ambon Puller, Chromis amboinensis.
Andrew Green photographed the fish on 13 Feb 2018 off Malabar at the north of the island.
Until now the species has been recorded from north-western Western Australia and Queensland. This is the first record from New South Wales waters. It is not known from New Zealand. View more information on the Australian distribution.
Ambon Pullers live in coral reef habitats throughout the Indo-west Pacific region.
View all records of Ambon Pullers in Australasian Fishes.
Thank you Andrew!
Posted on June 28, 2018 06:31 by markmcg markmcg | 2 comments | Leave a comment