Journal archives for April 2020

April 03, 2020

New clingfish record for Sydney Harbour

This stunning little fish was observed by Kim Dinh. It's currently being referred to as Genus A, the undescribed Brownspotted Spiny Clingfish. This observation is probably the first time this undescribed species has been recorded from Sydney Harbour.
Kim told me that she, "found it at Clifton Gardens, amongst the kelp on the net. The depth was about 3-4m. It attracted my attention because I have never seen a yellow clingfish before and thought it was just a normal clingfish with a bit of colour variation. Afterwards I showed the photo to John Sear who was impressed and suggested I post it on iNaturalist.
Clingfish experts Dr Kevin Conway and Dr Glenn Moore are working on this and other Australian clingfishes.
To capture this image Kim used an Olympus TG5 camera with an Olympus housing and Inon 2000 strobe.
Posted on April 03, 2020 04:11 by markmcg markmcg | 3 comments | Leave a comment

April 12, 2020

Wow! 1000 members!

Australasian Fishes went online on 4 Oct 2016. Little did we know that in under 4 years, the project would grow to nearly 80,000 observations with contributions by more than 2,400 people.
I'm delighted to announce that we recently welcomed the 1000th member to the project. @kytes is an Australian zoologist with an interest in natural history and enjoys spending time in nature looking for and identifying animals. Kytes stated, "[I am] happy to contribute my observations to science". Kytes has uploaded observations of fishes from Burleigh Heads, Queensland and Port Phillip Bay, Victoria (Smooth Toadfish in the image above). Thank you kytes, we are delighted to welcome you to our community.
As you can see from the graph above (click it for a larger version), the growth in membership is encouraging. In fact, in the few weeks it has taken me to get my act into gear and write this short piece, another 17 iNaturalist users have joined Australasian Fishes.
"Why don't all contributors join?" I hear you ask. The reasons are many. Often observations are made by holidaymakers who only have an image or two of fishes to contribute. Sometimes the person has an interest in another group of animals and a fish happened to be photographed along with 'the animal of interest'. These observations can provide interesting information about the prey items of birds. I suspect that there are also quite a few people who upload an observation to 'test the water', but for one reason or another don't follow up.
So, to all of you 1000 people who have 'followed up', thank you. Together we have created a hugely valuable resource that continues to grow. :)
Posted on April 12, 2020 01:55 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

April 23, 2020

Member profile - John Sear

Recently, while on a trip to the US, I noticed an unusual approach to rural road maintenance that was underway in several States. Called, “Adopt-a-Highway” it was common in those States to see a stretch of road, apparently sponsored by a corporation, church group etc. While this program is actually a marketing exercise, where companies pay to have their logo posted on a stretch of road, it did make me wonder about taking personal ownership over sections of the natural environment. While Australasian Fishes operates Australia and New Zealand-wide, it is clear that some participants have decided to implement “Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean”, as their approach to documenting the local fauna. This subject of this Member Profile, John Sear, has explored Australia and has adopted his own patch of the Pacific.
John grew up in a rural area of the Midlands in the UK, spending much of his spare time, as a youth, close to nature. Like many of us he recalls, watching broadcast nature shows, such as those of David Attenborough, however, he says, “The lure of the ocean was a seed sown by Jacques Cousteau. My piscine interest started with a freshwater aquarium and translated to a couple of marine tanks at one stage in Sydney.”
He graduated from Imperial College, London with a Biochemistry degree. Today John is working as a Program Manager delivering business transformation initiatives to large organisations. It is clear that diving and love of nature are his escape from the insanity of corporate life, and over the years he’s nurtured a continued interest in many aspects of life sciences. This is very fortunate for our project.
This early interest in the ocean grew for John, especially after taking a break after five years in the corporate world to travel. His journey eventually led him to Australia, while along the way he snorkelled in Tahiti and the Cook Islands. However, by the time he’d arrived in Fiji, he decided it was time to learn to dive, using SCUBA. He recounts that his sixth dive was on the Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand back in 1991. He was hooked!
He says, “Manly soon became my new home in Sydney and Shelly Beach the local dive spot. In the early 90’s it was quite polluted, and overfished, but since the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve was introduced in 2002 things have changed dramatically. An increase in fish biomass has attracted larger predator species, and the reserve has become a popular snorkelling tourist attraction for juvenile Dusky Whaler sharks between Feb and June. One of the benefits of long-term observations is that with enough citizen contributions any changes in distributions of species can be identified. Fish species being found beyond their normal distribution range can also support scientific hypotheses such as climate change models. Increased numbers of tropical species from year to year is something we are noticing in Cabbage Tree Bay. Observations along the coast will also help validate the models, as temperate species themselves may be displaced farther south. Ultimately, it might provide an insight as to how quickly ecosystems can adapt, or do more sensitive, less mobile species disappear forever?”
Such insight comes from visiting an area often and helping to create records of the changes he observed. As a result, John has contributed 2,392 observations to iNaturalist, documenting an amazing 1,117 different species. For the Australasian Fishes project, he has contributed (coincidentally) 1,117 observations, which illustrate 501 different species. He is currently ranked in 17th place on the Australasia Fishes Leader board for project observations.
It is not surprising that many of his observations are from his Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean area of Cabbage Tree Bay. He is a Manly local who dives most weekends and over the years, participated in species surveys of the area. This sparked his interest in photography, which started with a Nikonos V. Like many of us, he reports, “Several camera floods later, I dive now with a Canon EOS 5D Mk 4, in a Subal Housing. I usually use a 100mm macro lens most of the year and wide angle if the visibility improves in the cooler months. Recently I bought an Olympus TG-6 camera, as a backup for those times when you just can’t pack all the gear. There are so many cameras and underwater setups available now, but a beginner just needs to start with a simple set-up.”
Having developed his own underwater photography skills he says, “Mastering the challenges that present themselves underwater can be frustrating at first but with practice you can improve results quickly. Lighting underwater is important, as fish often require faster shutter speeds, and there usually is less natural light available underwater to perfect an exposure unless you are in very shallow water.”
His images are used to help others interested in his patch of the ocean. He set up the “Fish of Cabbage Tree Bay” website to help people identify what they see underwater whilst swimming, diving, or snorkelling. He reports, “At the time I relied heavily on Mark McGrouther and all his fish expert contacts for identification of the fish I couldn’t find in my books. When Mark introduced me to iNaturalist and the Australasian Fishes project, it provided a fantastic opportunity to put all my images to good use and make them more accessible to a wider audience. The expertise available on this site exceeds that of most diver’s home libraries.”
His Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean philosophy has resulted in regularly diving in Cabbage Tree Bay and recording sightings since 2012. This insight has allowed him to observe many changes, new species arriving more regularly, and seeing some now capable of surviving winter months. He has recorded and photographed approximately 350 fish species in Cabbage Tree Bay and says that there are still many that he hasn’t captured yet that other divers have. He advises others who may want to “adopt a piece of local ocean” to realise that, “Sometimes you need a bit of luck with timing but many fish prefer specific habitats, so you can target specific species in typical habitats, many of which occur throughout the reserve. In particular the juvenile tropicals love rubble piles in shallow water, where you will find butterflyfish, and surgeonfish grazing on algae covered rocks. In recent years colonies of hard coral (Pocillopora aliciae) have moved into residence within Cabbage Tree Bay aquatic reserve. As well as providing habitat for many fish and invertebrates that never used to be seen in the reserve, the proliferation of the coral across barren rock platforms has now provided a climate change survey site for a team from the University of Technology, Sydney.”
While John mostly uses SCUBA, he sometimes will survey new areas with mask and snorkel. He recalls, “I enjoy my travelling and always take a camera, but in 2015 I took the family around Australia on a 13-month epic road trip. With limited space in our camper trailer I did manage to squirrel my housing, fins, snorkel and mask into a “secret” compartment in the trailer. That trip provided an excellent opportunity to capture some fish species in lots of different areas, usually snorkelling and freediving, though I did manage to dive Busselton Jetty and the SS Yongala, both magnificent dive locations.”
His” Adopt-a-Piece-of-Ocean” approach has yielded significant insight into not only his understanding of his local area of Cabbage Tree Bay, but has resulted in him supporting research projects and the benefit of intensively collecting data in a single area. For example, he says, “I think recent attempts to introduce crayweed arose from the fact it used to flourish in the area before sewage outfalls were introduced. In the years before the aquatic reserve was established the reef areas were thick with urchins and with higher pollution levels in the water meant the plant life in the bay was less diverse. Cleaner waters these days allow diversity of seaweed to rapidly flourish. Larger storms have stripped areas of vegetation on the reef as documented by David Booth in a recent paper, but they recover rapidly.
Cabbage Tree Bay supports many niche habitats for different species. The combination of reduced pollution and removal of fishing from the area, has resulted in significant increases in the biomass of vegetation and fish species within the aquatic reserve. The presence of large schools of yellowtail scad now attract larger predatory fish, and schools of tailor, bonito, and kingfish are common. Even regular sightings of the Grey Nurse Shark are a clear indication of the improvement of conditions. They were very rarely seen in Cabbage Tree Bay 30 years ago.”
“The species surveys commenced for me when discussing the diversity with other divers. Individuals always have a different eye and often follow habitual dive patterns. Consequently, the more people recording the more complete a picture you will capture. Surveys written on slates, led to debates over similar looking fish, and this could only be resolved with photos. Fortunately, the arrival of commonly available underwater cameras solved many debates. Diving with other divers too, teaches you to look in different ways, and as you find more you start looking for smaller things. It is only limited by your eyesight which is becoming an issue for me!”
John summarised this philosophy by saying, “There are some remarkable contributors to iNaturalist who I have been very privileged to dive with and learn from. Finding a new species, you haven’t encountered before can also reinvigorate your enthusiasm for a dive site. This can be done by diving with a new buddy, or breaking out from that regular dive pattern, or just picking a small area of habitat and looking more closely. I have recently started contributing data and observations to Chris Robert's (University of New South Wales) current survey, and provided some assistance to David Booth's team now surveying the Pocillopora corals, but would be keen to have a more active role, which is why I keep contributing to iNaturalist. I suspect in the near future scientists will find the available data can be effectively mined to support their studies.”
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on April 23, 2020 05:59 by markmcg markmcg | 3 comments | Leave a comment