Australasian fishes's Journal

Journal archives for April 2024

April 04, 2024

Member profile - Craig Lewis

The project is fortunate to have people who live in extremely “fish rich” environments. For example, the waters and islands around Coffs Harbour, NSW are home to many diverse tropical as well as temperate fishes. Many of these fortunate project participants have turned their attention to investigating the diverse marine life at their door for iNaturalist, developing skills in both photography and fish identification to extend their contributions to citizen science.
In this Bio Blurb, we ask a series of questions to one such project contributor, Craig Lewis, who is in position 14 on the project Observations Leader Board. He’s known in the project as @divercraig. Craig has been with the project since 2019 and has contributed 4,667 observations to iNaturalist. Of those 3,124 have been for Australasian Fishes. His observations cover 426 different fish species, clear evidence he lives in a fish rich area.
One of the great strengths of Australasian Fishes is the willingness and ability of the more experienced members to pass along tips and advice to the less experienced members. This is often mentioned in the project’s Bio Blurbs. In this edition, Craig is willing to offer his advice and experience in the pursuit of citizen science and underwater fish photography.
1. What were the origins of your interest in nature and fish?
I have been interested in nature and wildlife since I was very young, probably influenced by my parents who had an interest in wildlife. For a while I toyed with the idea of a career in marine biology, but it did not eventuate. Once I met my better half in Sydney in the 1980’s we were busy with raising our two sons and careers in inland parts of New South Wales. It wasn’t until we moved to the coast that I became interested in diving. Someone lent me some dive gear which I tried in Coffs Harbour Marina, and I was hooked. Years later, I am more passionate about diving and conservation in the oceans than when I started, and I now enjoy self-reliant diving, as well as diving with my regular dive buddy who also is an underwater photographer.
2. How often do you go diving? Is it all SCUBA?
I like to get out diving off the coast of Coffs Harbour every couple of weeks. We are spoilt for diving off Coffs Harbour as the Solitary Islands Marine Park extends along this part of the coast, with the majority of our diving occurring at offshore islands in the park. Coffs Harbour is not a shore dive location, and most diving is done around the islands or bommies out to sea. I also regularly dive Nelson Bay and Southwest Rocks and have been fortunate enough to also go overseas for numerous dive trips.
When diving I am always on SCUBA and never dive without my camera. Some time ago I became involved with two underwater research groups which made me more interested in underwater photography. The two groups I am involved with are Reef Life Survey (RLS) and the Solitary Islands Underwater Research Group (SURG). Through my work with these groups, I have been fortunate enough to meet some talented and learned experts in marine fields, as the National Marine Science Centre is also based in Coffs Harbour. It has been a real pleasure, and a learning experience, being able to talk to marine experts in fish, molluscs and invertebrates.
3. Could you tell us a little about your camera gear, what are you using now?
My current underwater camera is an Olympus OM1. I use an AOI housing and ports. Lighting is via two SUPE D-Pro strobes. I also have a Go-Pro mounted on my housing. I regularly use four lenses depending on the subjects we want to photograph; an Olympus 7-14mm Zuiko Pro, Olympus 12-40mm Zuiko Pro, Olympus 60mm macro and have recently bought an Olympus 90mm macro lens.
My Olympus camera uses a cropped sensor, so it is advantageous with reach and the size of subjects in frame but said to be limited with dynamic range. Compared to other camera systems, I believe the colour coming out of Olympus cameras is superior. Another advantage of the Olympus gear is that the OM1 body is smaller than some full-frame camera bodies, and the lenses are considerably smaller and lighter. This is a benefit when travelling with underwater camera gear overseas, and also when diving, as I can get into tighter areas that larger camera systems cannot. My camera rig is lighter than some full-frame set-ups which is also beneficial when diving as it requires less effort to dive with, which can help air consumption underwater.
For editing my photos, I use Adobe Lightroom and Topaz Denoise, but try to minimise editing through better practices when taking photos. Initially I had no experience with this software but have found it to be a rewarding experience, although it does take some time to develop a workflow you are happy with.
When considering underwater photography, I would recommend divers start with a basic set-up at first and then progress to more serious set-ups once you learn the basics and if you aren’t put off. A good place to start is second-hand set-ups and if diving, you will generally need some form of lighting. This could be a strong torch but will usually involve having one or two strobes.
Like diving itself, diving with a camera is not for everybody, and to some extent requires different diving methods in that you normally aren’t content with just cruising around watching the underwater life go by. As a photographer you want to be able to capture the beauty you see, and sometimes may spend most of the dive trying to photograph a particular subject and are more focused on a particular dive plan. To be able to develop your photography takes patience, good buoyancy skills and some failures. Underwater camera set-ups can be bulky underwater, are not cheap and can be rendered useless if you have a major flooding event.
4. Could you talk a little about why you were attracted to iNat?
Initially I was introduced to iNat by our local fish expert; Ian Shaw, @ralfmagee, in our discussions about uncommon fish species. I have a natural curiosity about wildlife, a desire to learn and to be able to identify flora and fauna, so iNat is ideal for that, especially when you’re unsure of something. I joined the site and from there became part of the Australasian Fishes Project. I believe this Project is a valuable tool for data collection, which can ultimately be used to protect our marine life and ecosystems.
I generally upload images to iNat every few weeks. I am a photographer who will take plenty of images in the field, which is easy to do with today’s digital cameras. I enjoy taking photos, but I also enjoy the processing, uploading and identification of subjects through iNat. I really enjoy having my observations verified by the peer review process.
The Australasian Fishes Project is a great learning instrument for users, but it is also a valuable resource for citizen science. It has taught me to be more observant and that I can have an impact through my participation.
5. What advice would you give them, or words of encouragement would you offer our less experienced project participants?
The great thing about citizen science is its potential through the sheer number of participants to be able to record data and contribute to a greater understanding of our environment. This will ultimately allow it to be better sustainably managed. It’s amazing that something as simple as a photo can change our way of thinking for a particular species in that it may not have been recorded in that area before or it might be a new species, or it might show particular behaviour not seen previously.
Apart from assisting data collection and observations, citizen science also benefits the people taking part. You become more aware of species and learn a great deal about your subjects. You also have the chance to find something really unusual, which can be verified on iNat.
You can’t adequately protect something without knowledge of it, and unfortunately there are not enough scientists as there are citizens willing to assist.
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The project extends its thanks to Craig, not only for his numerous observations, but also for his willingness to share his insight and passion for marine fish with the Australasian Fishes community.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on April 04, 2024 01:01 AM by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 08, 2024

Member profile - Meta4

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the sand, at a local beach, taking a break between dives where I was taking fish pictures for the project. Several of the nearby rockpool swimmers, also locals, recognised my gear and came over to say hello, and generally enquire about sharks.
This time, as one of the swimmers walked over, we both noticed a large sailboat leaving the river for the open ocean. My friend remarked that it was his dream to one day, buy a sailboat and travel around the world.” Looking at me, he must have picked up that I did not share his dream. “Yes,” I remarked, “I like 'the idea' of sailing the world, as a concept, it sounded quite pleasing.” I was probably not very convincing. I do, however, have what I believe to be, a typical realistic 'sailing off into the sunset' story. In my case two of my friends who met and dated for a while, decided sailing was their future. They both sold off all their worldly belongings, bought a sailboat, tried to learn how to sail, failed to learn the basics, had a falling out and eventually, went their separate ways, selling the boat. Perhaps that put me off the idea of cruising the world, without worries.
That said, there must be something magical as well as educational about traveling around on a private boat, exploring the remaining 70% of the earth’s surface. For someone interested in the natural environment, it must be a life-changing experience, bringing the naturalist into close contact with the environment.
An example of someone who actually sailed off into the sunset is this bio blurb’s subject, Owen. He is one of the leading fish identifiers in the project. Known to project participants as @meta4, he is ranked 7th on identifications list, contributing 15,621 identifications to Australasian Fishes. He has posted over 66,551 identifications across the iNaturalist. Personally, I am extremely grateful to Owen, especially with his identifications of marine tropical fish, of which he seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge.
Before his experience cruising, Owen grew up in Queensland. (He notes that for the last five years, he’s been 'exiled' to an inland town in Victoria.) Growing up, Owen was always interested in nature, but was obsessed with marine and freshwater life. He tells us that, “By age 9 or 10, I was making dip nets, exploring local creeks and keeping freshwater fish. I bought my first fish book (Jacaranda pocket guide to fishes of Australia by G.P. Whitley) and started learning Latin names.”
A couple of years later, Owen was snorkeling, observing and catching fish in the wild. He kept up with his aquarium hobby and by the time he was in high school, he spent afternoons and weekends working in one of the first aquarium shops in his area which featured marine fish.
This appears to be the real beginning of a career path to becoming a passionate naturalist. He tells us part of the job of working in the shop was, “Unpacking the new shipments to see which brightly coloured species had arrived. This was always exciting.”
Upon leaving school and getting a job, he suddenly had an income that went on scuba equipment and underwater cameras. Furthermore, he kept a saltwater aquarium and continued to find much pleasure in observing marine fish in their natural environment. As mentioned above, he lived aboard a yacht for four years and dove all along Queensland's east coast and spent a year in Papua New Guinea. As you might expect, the cruising experience made a big impression, as previously he had a career in big computers (when that was a thing), but after his time at sea, he found it difficult to settle down. Career changes followed.
He was next employed as a nature guide at Cape York and Qld National Parks for 20 years. Later he went to uni and got a science degree. With the degree he tells us, “I worked in environmental consulting as an ecologist and got to travel all over Queensland as well as large parts of the Northern Territory and NSW.”
Being a naturalist as both a profession and a hobby has remained with Owen. He tells me that he spends some time on iNat most days. “I started because I had an interest in the orchids of Victoria and wanted to learn what's here and where they are. I also did it to stay in touch with the plants and animals I was familiar with from back in Queensland and learn more about the flora and fauna of where I'm living now. Fish were always my first love and I usually start with fish on iNat, before moving on to see what orchids and general flora and fauna are showing up.”
He finds that iNaturalist is an exceptional educational tool, expanding his understanding of the natural world, even in places he has never visited. He tells us, “I haven't dived in southern Australia and before I found iNat, I mostly knew the temperate fish fauna from books. But iNat has been a great way to increase my knowledge of that area. I have a lot of fish ids on iNat, but they only account for about a quarter of my total. Biogeography has always fascinated me and I've always been interested in what occurs where, what doesn't and why. iNat gives a great overall view of the ranges for a wide spectrum of species. iNat is also good for finding others with interests that overlap and exchanging information. I've made some good friends through iNat and had some memorable field trips with them.”
With his vast professional experience with nature and the iNaturalist software, I asked Owen to give us some words of advice for our newer project and iNat participants. He suggests, “iNat isn't just for posting your observations, it's a great information source. You can use it to find out what occurs where you are or anywhere you are interested in and see photos that show the variation within a species, much better than books can.”
For those posting observations, Owen suggests, “When you are uploading to iNat, the better your photos, the easier it is for someone to id. The subject should be in focus and where possible, prominent in the image. It helps if the image shows the features that help to id the species and distinguish it from similar species. If you don't know which features will help to id something, the better the photo or photos, the better your chances of getting an id.”
Using trees as an example, Owen tells us, “Eucalypts are a good example for this. To identify most eucalypt trees, a botanist needs to see details of the bark, the leaves, the buds and gumnuts as well as the tree shape. Often, I can come close to an id for a eucalypt tree from just the bark or a general photo, but can't tell which of three very similar species without seeing the buds or gumnuts. It's frustrating to see so many eucalypt uploads that just have one photo and are probably never going to be identified.”
It’s remarkable to think that the dream of cruising the seven seas can either set you on a fulfilling, lifelong path of loving and learning about the natural environment or result in a messy divorce and a cheap sailboat for sale. Take your pick. Personally, I am very grateful to Owen, who has contributed so much to the Australasian Fishes project and fish identification, and I am slightly grateful to my divorced friends who, not only provided me with a good apocryphal story, but may have prevented me from having to quickly sell a large boat after a falling out. The dream of cruising is still intact.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on April 08, 2024 11:01 PM by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 24, 2024

300,000 observations!

Just in case you missed it, the Australasian Fishes Project recently passed another significant milestone. The project now contains over 300,000 observations.
The 300,000th observation was submitted by project stalwart Harry Rosenthal. It shows an Eastern Smooth Boxfish photographed in Port Hacking.
Congratulations Harry!
Posted on April 24, 2024 06:20 AM by markmcg markmcg | 1 comment | Leave a comment