Journal archives for December 2019

December 09, 2019

Dam Shame!

Everything about this journal entry tugged on my heartstrings.
@hanna76 lives on a property near Stanthorpe, Queensland. Like many Australians, she has watched as the ongoing drought has impacted her property.
Thirty-six years ago, at the time it was built, one hundred Silver Perch fingerlings were released into her dam. Hanna76 said that, “For years I've been able to count about 12 fish, but recent counts showed there were only about five fish left. Now I'm only seeing one or maybe two, and three have died in the past two months.”
When full, her dam is 5m deep (see image below), now it is knee-depth. Hanna76 commented that, “This is the lowest the dam level has been. It has never come close to this low. The former owner who had the dam built in the early 1980s, visited last year and couldn’t believe it was so empty. At that point it was about 1.5 m higher than it is now. The water is now cloudy and about a month ago began to smell exactly like silage. Seeing the visible drop in levels each week has been quite confronting. I've never seen a year like this in the twenty I've lived here.”
In recent weeks, an individual fish has sometimes been seen moving sluggishly at the surface. Hanna76 stated, “The perch must be hardy to have survived so long in probably acidic, low oxygen conditions for the past year.” When asked if she had seen conditions like this before Hanna76 asserted, “Never! Forest is dying. Creeks are dry, Rivers are dry. Dams are empty. I'm really concerned for the future of water under and in the landscape. We are all implicated in it.”
“Without water - rain, ice, aquifers, rivers, creeks, swamps, natural lakes and ponds, the vapour that a forest generates - this planet might as well be the moon. When you know that water is one of the things that will become something we fight to the death for, you realise that the fish and everything else that depends on it are helpless victims of human stupidity.”
I feel for hanna76. Not only has she had to cope with the demise of her dam and its resident fish population, but to top it all off, she is also ill with thyroid cancer. Of her illness, she boldly stated, “It's an analogy for a sick planet and fish who don’t have a choice in the matter. People and excessive consumption of energy in all its forms are the disease. We are making this happen. Climate change and dead fish are the symptoms and you can’t ignore them. The perch want to live just as we do, but they don’t hold the cards. Mind you I don’t know how conscious they are about their imminent deaths, just as we don’t seem fully yet cognizant about the end of the world as we know it.”
Hanna76, I can only try to imagine how you must feel as you watch the dam drying and the fish dying. On behalf of the Australasian Fishes community, we sincerely wish you good health, a full dam and thriving fish.


About the Silver Perch, Bidyanus bidyanus
The Silver Perch is an Australian endemic species that occurs in freshwaters of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria. The species account in the Australian Faunal Directory states "The species was listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN in 1996. It is listed as Threatened in Victoria, Endangered in the ACT and Protected in NSW (listed as Vulnerable) and SA. It is used for aquaculture in NSW and sold to the restaurant trade." Read more about Silver Perch on Wikipedia.
UPDATE (5 January 2020) Sadly, Hanna76's latest observation isn't pretty.
Posted on December 09, 2019 04:31 by markmcg markmcg | 11 comments | Leave a comment

December 26, 2019

Member profile - Tangatawhenua

To most of us in the project, the ocean is more than just a large body of water. Diving recently with a friend, they commented that they love the underwater environment and they feel a deep connection with the sea. It is a sentiment commonly shared amongst the participants in the project, who view their contributions to Australasian Fishes, as a small way to pay something back to their beloved environment. Such intangible connections are one of the elements which has driven the remarkable success of the project.
There are, however, other types of connections with the sea, which relate to longer historical traditions and thousands of years of culture. These bonds are driven by generations of shared experience with the natural world and has become part of not only a cultural heritage, but also the spiritual heritage. The participant featured in this bio blurb, Tangatawhenua, of New Zealand, describes this eternal connection as follows, “ The connection that I hold to the whenua (land) and moana (oceans) first and foremost is a reflection of my culture as within the Maori world there is a lot of symbolism that is drawn from the natural world in all aspects. It starts at the dawn of time when the whenua and moana were at war struggling for dominance, which is still seen today. The next big event continues with Maui fishing up the North Island (called Te Ika a Maui – the fish of Maui). The head of the fish is Wellington and the tail of the fish is the far north where I live, while the South Island is Te Waka a Maui (the canoe of Maui) and Stewart Island is Te Puka a Maui (the anchor of Maui).”
Like many in the project, Tangatawhenua, spent a lot of time with her father who also enjoyed the outdoors. She recalls, “When we were at the moana, lessons there were how to read the oceans, especially the “get out now” warnings and where to find kai (food).” As a young child she was made busy gathering shellfish from rockpools and as she got older, she was "promoted" to getting the kai from areas where there was surge. She says, “At about the age of 5, I was given my first snorkel set and have never looked back. At age 10, Dad taught me to use tanks, but unfortunately in my 20’s, a car accident and one lung later, has meant that tank diving is now only a distant memory.” She philosophically says, “But all good – there is still a lot of interesting critters and things to see within snorkel range.”
Tangatawhenua is well known to the Australasian Fishes project through her ranking of 29th on the leader board, with 425 images for the project depicting 98 species. However, for iNaturalist, at the time of this writing, she has contributed 10,705 images of the environment in which she lives and visits, depicting 1,678 different species. In support of iNat, she has aided in the identification of 11,615 observations and since 2015 she’s posted 47 journal entries on many aspects of the New Zealand terrestrial and marine environment (https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/tangatawhenua). They are truly worth reading.
As a strong advocate for “the people of the land”, Tangatawhenua is also a performer, tutor, poet and composer of Maori. A short work can be found on her AF home participant page. She says, “The moana has often been the inspiration, especially the waves for choreography formations – they can be so tricky!“ She originally joined Nature Watch (as iNatNZ was called back then) where she became interested in photographing marine life. Fortunately, she lives at Otaipango, Henderson Bay (east coast, Pacific Ocean and East Auckland Current), where she says, “The moana is only a couple of minutes away. Within this area there are a lot of different habitats, from enclosed lagoons, guts, open surf beach, outer reefs, inner reefs, sand, pebbles, boulders and rocky bottoms.”
In addition, she describes her home as being. “About a 10-minute drive to the west coast (Tasman Sea and West Auckland Current) and about an hour drive to the north coast (Pacific Ocean) with a harbour south about 15 minutes away and one north about 30 minutes away. This of course gives me the advantage that if the winds and tides are not good in one direction and I really want to get out, I always have other options. All of these options have different habitats, moods and things to find.”
She shares her experience and approaches to the water with participants. “When I get to the beach, I stand on the cliffs and look down, watching the waves, currents and patterns of the moana before deciding which area to explore. This enables me to find all of the different habitats which reflect the diversity of my observations, but after about 4 years of exploring here there, are still areas that I have not been into yet. Who knows what is waiting to be seen there! As I have a 5mm 2-piece wetsuit and hood with socks and boots I am not limited to just going in during the warmer months. During summer I’m in the ocean a minimum of twice a week, but can be up to 5 times a week while in winter, it is about once a week, either wandering the shore and rock hopping without getting in, or sometimes I just have to get in.”
While she doesn’t have a favourite class to photograph, she photographs everything to get a record of what is here. She says, “I always enjoy seeing and photographing wheke – octopus. There are two main species that lurk here and getting shots of their eyes – which help with identification is always a challenge. Some of my photos have been used in the NIWA guide for echinoderms to help people identify different species.”Her journal even features a story about an octopus trying to steal her camera.
As well as enjoying and exploring her intimate connection with the natural environment of New Zealand, she is a strong advocate for project participants getting out of their comfort zone, even when visiting familiar environments. She notes that with summer just around the corner, it is a perfect time to go out at night when a whole new world opens up. She says, “Some fish sleep on their side on the bottom, some stand up on their tail with their nose towards the surface and the snapper put on black and yellow stripped pyjamas. (https://inaturalist.nz/observations/9531983).” While many participants may find the idea of night observing daunting, she offers a few simple rules:
1. Always go with someone – do not go alone. While I go alone in the day, I always go with someone at night.
2. Get dive torches. Each person should carry two different torches with them in case one fails. The cool white light ones light the area up nicely. I use a couple of warm white lights for emergency backup.
3. Find a safe large rock pool. To ensure your first time is enjoyable and comfortable make sure that the large rock pool has a maximum depth of 1m (so you can stand if you get a fright) and one that is cut off from the ocean as the tide drops. This way you will not have to contend with currents and surges. Explore this rock pool a few times during the day to learn the layout and what lives where before venturing in at night.
4. Orientate yourself by the sound of the surf. You can easily loose sense of direction at night, and if you do not use the surf to orientate yourself, practice this during the day so you are used to this on your first night out.
5. Start before dark. For your first foray into the new world, start before dark. This way as the light fades you adjust, instead of plunging straight into a dark world. Take your time and do not be in a hurry to go to another place.
6. Keep together. The easy way to keep together and to know where the other person is, is by their torch. If you cannot see their torch stop, stand up and look around. After a while it becomes a habit to always keep the torch beams in sight.
7. Move to the shallows. Once you are comfortable in the rock pool environment, move onto the shallows but still where you can stand up if need be. The last thing you want to do is find you are heading out to sea thinking you are heading back to shore.
8. Move into deeper water. Once the shallows are comfortable, move into an area that you again know well, but where you cannot stand.
9. Keep shore lights in sight. This one does not apply here as there are no shore lights to be seen, but a lot of night snorkel sites suggest this, and it is a good idea if there are any.”
She reminds us that night photography is also a whole different ball game. “The underwater camera setting used in the day can give good shots of what is in the rock pools as long as the camera is close to them and it is well lit by your dive torches. However, if you are in the shallows the underwater camera setting does not give good photos at night – you need to set your camera to normal. Use your torch lights to light the subject from the side or the top – not directly on it as this will cause the photos to whitewash. Sometimes the best way to light the subject is to get your dive buddy to light from the opposite side you hold your torch while you also light it."
Tangatawhenua's favourite marine observation photo - https://inaturalist.nz/observations/20239577.
We are grateful to Tangatawhenua for sharing her cultural and historic insight with project participants and encourage everyone to try at least one night dive this summer. This is my last bio blurb for 2019, and I wish everyone a successful and fish-filled 2020.
As usual, this member profile was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal. I'd like to take this opportunity, to publicly thank Harry for all the energy he has brought to the Australasian Fishes project and in particular to the fantastic job he has done writing many excellent member profiles. Thank you Harry!
Posted on December 26, 2019 06:59 by markmcg markmcg | 5 comments | Leave a comment