Journal archives for February 2020

February 12, 2020

Member profile - Thomas Mesaglio

In a recent issue of TIME magazine, I came across a photo which immediately grabbed my attention. In an article about the 2019/2020 Australian bushfires, the photo covered ¾ of a two-page layout. The caption described “birds flying across an orange sky” over the Princess Highway in NSW’s South Coast. The picture was lovely, however, the birds were actually bats. Normally I don’t mind an error in magazines but this one reminded me that it is highly likely in the world of the Internet, that all search engines from now until eternity, will pull this image up if someone Googles “Australian birds”.
For those of us who frequently use the Internet to help in fish identification, we know it is often an unreliable authority on fish and animal species. The subject of this Bio-Blurb, Thomas Mesaglio, is a strong supporter of correct identification and finds having the correct ID provided by global experts to be one of the strongest features of the Australasian Fishes project. Thomas is widely known to project participants as "The Beachcomber", and from his work it is clear he is keenly aware of the importance of getting the taxonomy correct. Thomas explains why, “If I found a fish washed up 50 years ago, it might take weeks for me to get it ID’ed. I’d have to preserve it and bring it into the nearest museum. But maybe the expert in that group works at the Queensland Museum, so then the specimen would have to get posted to Queensland, ID’ed, and sent back. This process might take weeks. If the expert in that group was from overseas it would take even longer, or maybe never get ID’ed. Now, someone can take a photo of a fish or any other organism, upload it to iNat, and have it identified by someone on the other side of the planet in two minutes. iNat is an incredibly powerful tool because it connects people from around the world and allows them to instantly share their knowledge with anyone who needs it.”
Thomas has a deep-seated appreciation for the utility of iNaturalist ’s as it has assisted him in his lifelong passion for understanding the natural environment. He credits much of this interest in nature to his frequent visits to the New South Wales costal community of North Haven, near Port Macquarie, where is grandparents moved in the early 1990s. He visited his grandparents often and as he did not have computer games or a smart phone at the time, Thomas, found himself spending all day on the beach or in the bush, exploring the natural world and fuelling his high-octane passion for nature. One of the most important birthday gifts he’s received in his life occurred on his 5th birthday a copy of the Reader’s Digest Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife. He recalls spending many hours gazing at the photos of the natural world and learning the names of everything he saw on the pages. Thomas converted that interest to what he sees in life as well.
His lifelong passion for nature has resulted in a degree in Advanced Science, majoring in Ecology from UNSW. He went on to do Marine Science for his honours thesis and his current day job is working as a lab demonstrator and tutor at UNSW. His contribution to Australasia Fishes, has been significant, where he is ranked as the 10th leading identifier of fish, identifying over 3,400 images for project participants. It should be no surprise that he is a keen follower of the stats on the Project Leaderboard as he describes himself as “competitive”. His work with Australasia Fishes is only a small part of his total contribution to iNaturalist, for whom he has made almost 52,000 observations. It was through the Australasian Fishes project that Thomas first got onto iNat. It occurred during a 6-month internship at the Australian Museum in the entomology department, sorting through East Timor heteropterans. He happened to mention to the Museum’s Insect Curator that he’d found some interesting fish washed up on the beach the day before, as was taken to meet Mark McGrouther , who suggested Thomas upload the photos of them to the Australasian Fishes project….. and the rest is history! Thomas says, “Joining iNat is one of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life given the people I’ve met, the knowledge I’ve gained and the opportunities it’s afforded me, so I owe Mark a tremendous debt of gratitude for introducing it to me.”
If he feels a debt, he is certainly working hard to pay it off. As well as a leading identifier in the project, he is addressing, in his own time, the issue of correct identification of sea life and correct use of scientific language. He is motivated to produce useful books and references on science and nature. To date Thomas has published a short etymology book (https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B082Y712YD), and has several scientific papers still in review right now, waiting to be published, on topics of the natural world, ranging from plant bugs (he was able to name three new species) to goose barnacles. In addition, he is currently writing a field guide to the seashells of North Haven Beach and reports that the project is about halfway done. It will contain more than 150 photographic plates of specimens he’s collected and photographed over the years. Furthermore, he revealed that he is working on a broader guide about beachcombing more generally across the NSW coast. He is indeed, “The Beachcomber”.
The name, The Beachcomber, may be slightly misleading, as it infers an interest only in marine life. In his words, “I’m definitely passionate about a huge range of different things and I try to dabble in most things. In some ways I think this probably hinders me a little bit in the field, because I try to divide my time equally between trying to spot birds, insects, fungi, etc., all at the same time, so I probably miss a few things from each group. Having said that, I still enjoy the jack-of-all-trades approach because I get to appreciate everything. If I’m in a new area I’ve never visited before I’ll usually focus a bit more on birds. I’ve now seen 198 bird species, so I’m always keen to see new ones. Other than that, beachcombing is my forte. I’ve spent thousands of hours, if not ten thousand plus hours, on beaches, mostly North Haven Beach, and I still regularly find new things. That’s ultimately my goal no matter what group I’m focusing on or where I am; I have an obsession with seeing new things that I’ve never spotted before.”
This jack-of-all trades approach to nature has resulted in work in a global initiative of iNaturalist, called the City Nature Challenge, which was mentioned in a past Journal post (See: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/australasian-fishes/journal/28566-city-nature-challenge-makes-its-way-to-australian-shores-in-2020 ). Thomas is taking a leadership role, ensuring that Australia will participate for the first time in this global examination of nature, literally, in our backyards. In his own words, Thomas explains why this challenge is so important and why he’s helping to organise Australia’s participation, “In a world where biodiversity and the natural environment are more threatened than ever by climate change and habitat loss among other drivers, it’s critically important to engage as many people as possible with science to get them interested in the natural world. The City Nature Challenge (see: http://citynaturechallenge.org/) is therefore a great way to introduce people to nature. Showing everyone the amazing biodiversity that can be found in your own backyard or local park sparks a great connection with nature and drives people to then expand their horizons and explore national parks, beaches, etc. This means everyone, no matter your age or where you live, can participate in the CNC. You don’t need to be an expert, and you don’t need any money or specialised equipment. All you need is a phone or camera and you can contribute.”
“That 2020 will be the first year Australia is participating in the CNC astounds me. We’re one of the most biodiverse countries in the world; simultaneously, we also have a shocking record with extinctions and species becoming endangered. The combination of these two makes it imperative to understand our biodiversity before it disappears. If we don’t know what’s out there, we can’t protect it. I’m hugely excited for Australia to finally take part in the challenge, and am very confident all four of our participating cities can make it into the top 5 cities in the world. “The challenge runs from 24 to 27 April, so please help Thomas by joining, by sending in observations and by assisting with identifications.
A last word of advice from Thomas regarding correct identification, a skill which Thomas taught himself and he offers advice to project members on how to develop their own skills in nature identification. “Identification wise, my knowledge is almost entirely self-taught and comes from a lifetime of collecting specimens. I collect everything from feathers to crab moults to insects, but my biggest collection is my seashell collection. I have ~5000 shells covering 400+ species collected from between Sydney and Port Macquarie, many of those from North Haven Beach. So, my biggest piece of advice for developing better identification skills is to actually get your hands on specimens or see species in real life, rather than just looking at photos or reading descriptions. Yes, you can ID photos using field guides, but nothing beats actually having that a specimen in front of you or in your hand. So, if you want to develop your skills at IDing seashells, head down to the beach and pick up shells. If you want to get better at IDing birds, go out birdwatching. You’ll be amazed at the extra details you pick up.”
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on February 12, 2020 10:36 by markmcg markmcg | 9 comments | Leave a comment

February 29, 2020

Latest publicity for Australasian Fishes

An article promoting Australasian Fishes has recently been published on the Finterest website. Thank you to Siwan Lovett for laying it out so professionally.
The Finterest website describes itself as “Your home for stories about our Australian native freshwater fish”. The site contains a wealth of information, including information about the Native Fish Recovery Strategy, introduced fish, movement and migration, and indigenous knowledge.
I encourage you to look at the article about Australasian Fishes, but while you are on Finterest also have a look around the site. Maybe, like me, you’ll be interested by “True tales of the Trout Cod".
Posted on February 29, 2020 22:35 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment