Lizard Log 26/8/14 – 30/8/14

Day 25 26/8/2014

The wind had dropped slightly this morning so we braved the lagoon again. We went to a site on the edge of the Palfrey reef system which I hadn’t been to before. The coral there looked to be in quite good condition. It would be worth doing some more transects along there. It was a bit surgy underwater, but the reef gets a bit of protection from the Bird Island reef. As we were swimming back to the boat, after completing our transects, we found a huge plate coral with a big school of sweet lip under it. They were pretty curious and came right up to Kylie for a photo.

Sweet lip hanging out under a plate coral.

Sweet lip hanging out under a plate coral.

We did our second dive on another section of the same reef. We decided to try this section because we were on a falling tide and the reef edge was deeper than the first site. Unfortunately the reef edge had none of the corals we needed, so we went up onto the reef flat. It was nice and protected in behind the big Porites bommies which made up the reef edge. We found a few G. brochus colonies up there which was good as I haven’t been able to do too many transects on them yet. It just takes me forever to find the little buggers as they bury themselves deep in A. loripes heads, which are really dense.

As we were heading back to the boat, we found several artificial reefs out on the sand. One of them had a plastic cage over it. It looked like an abandoned caging experiment. We took a couple of photos and then headed to the boat. We told the director about them and found out that it was a really old experiment, long since finished. They will be removed soon. It’s a bit of a shame as they now have quite a bit of growth on them. But it is a good reminder that we need to remove all of our equipment from the field when we’ve finished. Especially when working in a World Heritage area.

Old experiment left in the field.

Old experiment left in the field.

This afternoon we said farewell to the two Australian Museum researchers who had been our lab buddies for the last five days. They were good fun to share a lab with.

Day 26 27/8/14

Today we went back to the same reef system we’d visited yesterday. The wind had picked up again, but it was still quite manageable underwater. We got some great data over our two dives. The only downside was that the battery on the GoPro ran out so we couldn’t take photos of the corals on our second dive. It’s not essential, but it helps with coral identification and I’m planning on revisiting all the photos to make a visual complexity estimate of the corals.

We found a couple of beautiful big Nembrotha nudibranchs (I think) on our first dive.

Nudibranchs

Nudibranchs

Day 27 28/8/14

Kylie and I headed out to Palfrey again today. One of the Bshari lab group students came out with us today. She was documenting wrasse interactions with cleaners. She snorkelled around the boat, following fish, while Kylie and I went about our business. Luckily, she is Swiss, so she didn’t get cold on the surface while Kylie and I froze on our two 90 minute dives. Acclimatisation is a …. not very nice thing….

Kylie spotted an octopus watching us from a hole in a coral head on our second dive. After we’d completed the transect near our friendly cephalopod, we swam off to find a new transect site. When we found a good spot, Kylie swam back to collect the transect and bring it to our new site. She swam past the octopus’ hidey hole, but it wasn’t there anymore. When she got to the transect, the octopus was there checking it all out, running its tentacles over the PVC tubing and tape measures. When it saw Kylie it ducked into a hole, but kept one tentacle on the transect. They’re such inquisitive animals!

Curious cephalopod

Curious cephalopod

Kylie and I were both feeling quite tired in the evening so we decided to have an early dinner and get an early night. I love socialising here with the housemates, but it was so nice to lay down and turn my brain off early.

Day 28 29/8/14

Kylie and I had a bit of a later start today because our resident baker, had made bacon and cheese rolls for breakfast. Delicious! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Awesome housemate!

The wind was blowing hard today. We had a pretty rough boat ride out to our site today. Kylie and I were both feeling pretty knackered today so we decided to just do a single dive at Trawler Beach. Under the water, the conditions were quite manageable and we got four transects completed.

Kylie being useful

Kylie being useful

Bumpy boat ride

Bumpy boat ride

This afternoon I got stuck into organising my data. It’s a big job so it’s good to get a head start on it before I get back from the field. I also took the opportunity to catch up on the emails that have been building up and filling in some of the collection forms for the various permits and databases I’m a party to.

Day 29 30/8/14

Kylie and I got back out to Trawler today for our dives. The wind was still blowing hard on the surface, but underwater was fine. It felt cold though! I’m going to have to resort to zipping up my wetsuit I think.

We decided to pick our way through the patch reefs and head to Trawler Beach for our surface interval. We took shelter at the eastern end of the beach, near the mangroves. The water was beautiful and still there and it was reasonably out of the wind. It was still a bit cold though as it was a pretty overcast day. I know we’re supposedly in the tropics, but it is cold in a wet wetsuit with a 30 kt wind.

Trawler Beach

Trawler Beach

As I was donning my dive gear in the water for the second dive, a big green turtle came up from the reef to see what was happening. It circled me and then casually swam off when Kylie turned up with a camera. It had two great big remoras accompanying it. One of the remoras was bigger than the poor turtle’s shell!

It was BBQ night again tonight. The decision was made to hold the BBQ in the beach house because of the wind. Although the wind had dropped by the time we went down to the beach for sunset drinks and it was actually quite pleasant. It’s more intimate in the beach house though and you can talk to more people so it was fine.

Sunset

Sunset

Lizard Log 22/8/14 – 25/8/14

Day 22 23/8/14

We got moving early today to take advantage of the high tide. The wind was really strong today. We did a dive at horseshoe but got knocked around a lot there. We were copping swell from 2 different angles. Our transect setup kept falling apart. It took us 45 minutes to run 1 transect. Previously, we managed to get three transects in about an hour at this site.

Our second dive was much nicer. We dived the reef between Bird Island and South Island. It was still blowing a gale on the surface, but underwater was fine. We managed a few more transects and then called it a day.

It was BBQ night tonight. We met a few more of the tradies working on the resort and had a good catch up with some of the other researchers here.

Day 23 24/8/14

Did a couple of good dives today. The wind was stronger again than yesterday so we tried to target a slightly deeper reef in order to avoid the surface swell. By deeper, I mean 4 m. We did our first dive on a bommie between Bird and South Island. There wasn’t a lot of acroporid coral there, but we got enough for a couple of transects. The dive itself was quite nice. I saw the biggest sweet lip I’ve ever seen! The photo doesn’t really do it justice.

Big sweet lip

Big sweet lip

We did our second dive on the reef adjacent to the bommie. There was more acroporid growth, but the site had been hit pretty hard by the cyclone. My partner, Kylie, found a couple of beautiful little pipefish.

pipehorses

pipehorses

In the afternoon, we took a couple of the guys working with the Australian Museum up to Mermaid Cove.  The ride up was a bit bumpy but the cove itself was nice and protected. The two guys went off to collect gastropods while Kylie and I went for a snorkel. There was a lot of damage from the cyclone there. Some stretches of reef were just bare rubble with the odd clam poking through. We did find a big Porites bommie which was packed with tropical rock lobsters and there is still plenty of fish life around. Just not many gobies :(

Rubble

Rubble

Tropical rock lobster

Tropical rock lobster

Looking for gastropods

Looking for gastropods

Day 24 25/8/14

The wind was crazy this morning! We actually decided to head back to the Clam Gardens for our dives today because the conditions in the lagoon were atrocious. As we rounded Osprey Islet, the wind, which funnels through the little valley where the airstrip is located, hit us hard. There was so much spray that I had to stop the boat to get a sense of where I was headed and put my mask on for the rest of the trip.

At the Clam Gardens, the wind was still blowing hard, but it is so close to shore that the wind doesn’t have enough distance (fetch) to stir up much of a swell. We did our two dives there, but were stretched pretty hard to find enough Acroporid corals. At least we weren’t getting pummelled underwater, but the trip back kind of made up for it! The boat was almost airborne a couple of times. I was on and off the throttle most of the way back. I’d go as far as saying that it was probably the worst conditions I’ve seen at Lizard. I’m sure it gets worse, but I’m yet to experience that joy.

In the afternoon, I took the two Australian Museum guys up to Watson’s to look for more gastropods. One of the station volunteers also decided to join us. She’d heard that there were octopus in Watson’s Bay and really wanted to see one.  The wind had thankfully died down a bit by the time we departed so we had a bumpy, but not uncomfortable ride up there. I decided to stay dry (although I got soaked on the drive up there!) and go for a walk. I decided to have a look along the Pandanus Track so I strapped on the hiking boots and set off. The track runs behind the dunes to a little paperbark swamp. It wasn’t a massive walk, but it nice to be out of the wind for a little bit.

The trusty old hiking boots

The trusty old hiking boots

Unfortunately, no one else had much success this afternoon, but everyone was happy. The boys only found a handful of gastropods, most of which they’d already collected and there were no octopus sightings. So we headed back for a warm shower. But then there was no hot water because it’s a solar system and it’s been overcast all day. The first world problems just keep on coming!

Lizard Log 18/8/14 – 21/8/14

Day 17 18/8/14

Grant and I went out to Lizard head again today. I have decided not to focus on re-capturing the fish from this site because, even if I get most of the fish from here, it would only be a tiny fraction of all the fish we collected last year so I’m not going to have the numbers to run any reliable analyses. But I wanted to get some more habitat saturation data from there while the conditions allowed us to dive there. We got six transects done in the morning before the wind picked up too much so that was excellent!

By the end of our dive the wind was getting quite strong so we dashed over to Ghost Beach again to take shelter and eat some lunch. We had the rest of our crumbed fish in wraps with some lettuce and chilli mayonnaise. Almost as good as last night’s dinner!

For our second dive we headed over to Big Vickey’s reef. It was quite uncomfortable on the surface because the swell wraps around Palfrey Island there and the wind had us anchored side on to the swell. So we geared up quickly and jumped in. This was the deepest dive we’d done on the trip so far at a whopping 8m! It was much better down there out of the swell. We ran a few more transects then headed back to the boat. On the way back we saw two huge stingrays buried in the sand. One of them had a remora sheltering under its tail.

Stingray lifting off

Stingray lifting off

Remora sheltering under a stingrays tail

Remora sheltering under a stingrays tail

Back at the station, I had a cooking lesson with one of our housemates, who bakes just about every day for us! Such an awesome housemate to have :) I had heaps of bananas which were getting a bit old so we whipped up a big batch of banana bread only to realise that we don’t actually have a bread tin here. We ended up making the mixture into muffins which worked a treat!

Day 18 19/8/14

It was Grant’s last wet day today. Great news for him as he’s headed home to his family on Thursday. It’s melancholy news for me because he’s been a fantastic help over the last few weeks and I’ll miss his company, but with his departure comes the arrival of my partner which I’m really looking forward to.

There was a conversation at sunset drinks last night about fieldwork volunteers. One of the researchers wasn’t too impressed with their assistant. This particular assistant was a lovely person, but apparently wasn’t very helpful in the field. I must say that I’ve been really impressed with all of the people who’ve helped me out with my research, past and present. But the conversation was a good reminder that good research assistants are worth their weight in gold! I’d like to just take a moment here to say a great big thank you to all research assistants, especially mine, who have been awesome! Without you guys these projects couldn’t happen. You really are the unsung heroes of the research world!

But back to our day. We smashed out six more transects at Lizard Head this morning and then another four at the reef off Trawler Beach. The tides were really low again so they weren’t really dives. My tank was out of the water most of the time. Again. But we got a heap of really good data so it’ll be worth the crummy diving conditions.

Searching for gobies at Lizard Head

Searching for gobies at Lizard Head

We had the Bashari lab group over for dinner tonight. There was an amazing spread and it was all delicious!

Day 19 20/8/14

It’s Grant’s dry day today before he flies out tomorrow. He’s headed out fishing with Bruce and Cassie for a couple of hours. This morning I went over to Picnic Beach with one of our housemates. She needed to gather some water samples over there and I wanted to see if any of the G. ceramensis  had survived. There was quite a bit of S. hystrix that survived the cyclone, but many of them were uninhabited. There were a few G. ceramensis so I’d like to head back there with my partner, Kylie, when she arrives and do some transects.

Kylie will be leaving this afternoon to join me here tomorrow morning. I’m very excited to see her!

I’ve been doing some data analysis this afternoon, looking at whether habitat saturation differs between social and asocial species. The initial verdict is no. Which is a little disappointing, but hey, results are results. I haven’t finished gathering the data yet and there is quite a bit of variance, so more data could reduce that, but there really doesn’t seem to be any pattern there. This basically means that I should start thinking about another variable which might influence the social behaviour of a species.

Initial analysis looking at the difference between social (S) and asocial (AS) species in the proportion of inhabited corals per habitat. No significant difference here.

Initial analysis looking at the difference between social (S) and asocial (AS) species in the proportion of inhabited corals per habitat. No significant difference here.

I asked one of the researchers here for some advice on the statistics this afternoon and she told me the one thing that all scientists dread – that I have a fundamental error in my data collection. These kinds of errors can’t be fixed and will be present in any kind of analysis and of course in the eventual interpretation of results. The issue is one of non-independence with placing my transects. I think the data will still be useful for species associations, but I probably can’t use it for habitat saturation. So now I’ll just need to draw the link between species associations and social behaviour.

Day 20 21/8/14

Kylie arrived just before 8am this morning! It was fantastic to see her! After a bit of breakfast we got through the diving and boating inductions and set about preparing to head out for the afternoon. No rest for the wicked! :)

The tide was so low that we had to walk the boat over to Loomis before we could put the engine in the water. On the way over we saw a group coming back in from collecting some pH probes. They were doing it on snorkel and weren’t able to free the marker buoy so they asked if we’d be able to collect it for them.

We jumped in at Picnic beach for our first dive and ran a few transects. Sadly most of the corals we found there were vacant. We did find a couple of G. ceramensis and we also found a big coral colony which had four different goby species co-inhabiting it. After wards we went around the corner and jumped back in for a quick dive to retrieve Gabby’s marker buoy.

For our second dive, we went over to Lizard head again and ran some more transects there. The wind wasn’t very strong today so diving in the shallows there was quite fine.

Lizard Log 14/8/14 – 17/8/14

Day 13 14/8/14

The conditions today didn’t look too bad when we were loading the boat. We headed back to the patch reefs around Palfrey for our surveys. The wind was still blowing quite strong, but there wasn’t a great deal of swell so we geared up and got in the water. We conducted our transects and got some more great data. By the end of our fourth transect, we’d been in the water for over 90 minutes so we called it quits. It felt like we were getting thrown around a bit more by the end of the dive, but I put it down to the falling tide. When we got back to the surface though, the wind had really picked up and the boat was pitching heavily and swinging on the anchor. These are only little 5m tinnies so it doesn’t take much to toss them around.

For our surface interval and second dive we moved around to Ghost Beach to get some protection from South Island. We pulled up on the beach for our surface interval and ate an early lunch. We found a whole heap of clam and trochus shells around the rocks at one end of the beach. An old Aboriginal shell midden perhaps?

Ghost Beach

Ghost Beach

While we were eating our lunch we watched another research boat with three divers on board, pull up across the channel. We headed back to our boat to gear up for our second dive shortly after they had entered the water. Our second dive went well and we called it a day after 75 minutes. As we were getting back on board our boat I saw what I thought was the same research boat across the way from us with someone on board waving their arms above their head. I thought that 2 divers might have gone missing or worse! So we hauled in the anchor and gunned the engine across to the other boat. Thankfully when we got there it was another researcher who needed help locating some lost equipment (over $10k worth of gear!). The other divers had finished their dive and headed back to the station and this researcher had pulled up in the mean time. Phew! It certainly had the adrenalin pumping.

The equipment had been marked with a GPS, but for whatever reason, the GPS unit was showing the mark several kilometres out to sea. We searched the area and located the equipment and attached a marker buoy to it. Hopefully, the buoy won’t get blown away with the wind. We were offered a free meal for our help, which we gladly accepted. I took stock of our supplies the other night and they’re running pretty low. So a free meal is really appreciated!

The public phone at the station has finally been fixed after the cyclone toppled the communications tower. I’ve been trying to get through to my partner for the last few nights with no luck, so it’ll be fantastic to be able to make a call and have a good talk.

Day 14 15/8/14

We’ve been seeing quite a few of the species that I’ve been calling G. bilineatus out on the reefs here, but I’m not sure that it is G. bilineatus as G. bilineatus has only been documented from the Red Sea as far as I know. I haven’t been able to get a clear photograph of one in the field to send out to an expert. I was talking about this dilemma at breakfast this morning and Gabby had the bright idea of collecting a few to photograph under the dissection microscope. So I spent the morning checking that our collection permit and animal ethics approvals would cover us for collecting and keeping a few fish over night. All good there! So we packed some coral and fish tagging gear into our field bag and geared up for a dive.

As I was gearing up I remembered that I had downloaded the GPS track from the day we previously found this species, so I ran back to our lab to look at the location where we’d seen them. No one was in the lab when I got there and as I was sitting at my computer I heard a crackling noise from behind me. I turned around and saw that a ceramic mortar and pestle with a bunch of lab instruments had spontaneously combusted! our lab-mate had been sterilising his equipment with ethanol and flaming it, pretty standard practice, but some of the ethanol hadn’t evaporated and had pooled in the bottom. The heat from the instruments was evidently just enough to ignite it! Exciting stuff!

We had previously found some of the G. bilineatus out near Horseshoe reef so we headed back there for our dive. It wasn’t as windy today as it has been, but there was a pretty uncomfortable swell on the surface and it was raining. We found the corals where we’d previously seen the fish pretty easily and set about collecting the fish. As I was trying to get one of the unconscious gobies out of an A. gemmifera, a coral crab grabbed hold of it and started picking at the poor goby’s fins! I had to poke the crab with a cable tie to get it to bugger off. I finally got the fish out of the coral and the poor thing had scarring down its sides. It is alive and well now though :) We ended up with three brown ones and two light ones. All have the blue lines through the eye, but the light ones have a red pattern along the base of the dorsal fins which dissipates into spots at the head (see pictures below).

Back at the station we got out the tattooing gear and gave each fish an individual marking since they were all being stored in the same tank. This will allow us to identify which fish came from which coral when we release them tomorrow. I have accidentally released a fish into the wrong coral before and it knew straight away. It didn’t want to come out of the bag and swam away from the coral as soon as it was free. So we want to avoid that in the future.

In the afternoon I put the fish into smaller plastic bags to take photographs of them. The brown ones actually lost their colour when they went into the plastic bag, probably a stress reaction. In this state they look very similar to the light ones including the red pattern along the base of the dorsal spine. Once back in the tank, they regain their brown colouration. Interestingly, the light ones don’t change colour at all.

dark variant

dark variant

Light variant

Light variant

Dark variant - colour loss

Dark variant – colour loss

Day 15 16/8/14

It’s BBQ night tonight and Grant and I don’t have any BBQ food left! We managed to borrow a fishing line and some lures from Dom, so we’re hoping to catch a fish for tonight.

Today is the first day where there’s been no wind! It was beautiful on the water. We did a quick snorkel in the morning to take back the fish we’d collected yesterday then took advantage of the good weather and went outside the lagoon to a site called the Washing Machine. Underwater, the site had been hit pretty hard by the cyclone, but there were lots of small corals that survived. We only found three G. rivulatus and a G. spp D. the whole time we were diving. I collected the G. spp D for measurement and fin clipping because I didn’t find too many of them last time. We ran one transect on a colony of G. rivulatus but there was not much around it. It’s still useful data though as it will be indicative of a low habitat saturation site.

G. spp D

G. spp D

During our surface interval we threw the fishing line in and trolled down the east wall, in the yellow marine park zone. We got a couple of hits, but nothing hooked up. Our BBQ night was looking a little sketchy.

After we’d tried fishing for about an hour we were going to head to our second site, but as I throttled up, the engine was only revving at about half its usual RPM. The boat wouldn’t even get on the plane. So we limped back to the station. When we got there and told Lance (one of the station caretakers) about our engine troubles, he tried to take it for a test run to diagnose the problem, but when he twisted the throttle he got no response at all on the engine. We were lucky to have made it back to the station at all! Lance dragged the boat out of the water with the tractor and set about the repairs while I gave the hull a clean.

Since our boat was high and dry for the afternoon, we decided to join a group going out for a fun dive at Coconut Beach. Grant decided to freedive instead of taking all the SCUBA gear again. I love diving so I got all my gear together. The dive was really lovely, with beautiful clear water and reef sharks and turtles and octopus and cuttlefish and of course, all of the usual reef fish.

Grant dropping down to say hello to the divers

Grant dropping down to say hello to the divers

After the dive, Grant joined Lance and Maryanne on a quick fishing trip back up to the north side of Lizard Island. They got back just after sunset, with grant carrying a great big grin and an even bigger shark mackerel! Our BBQ night was saved! Apparently it was good afternoon for fishing. Another group came back with a huge Spanish mackerel and four smaller shark mackerel.

We coated our fillets in flour with a bit of salt, pepper and lime zest and cooked them on the BBQ hot plate. They were fantastic. Thanks Grant!

Day 16 17/8/14

The wind has been increasing steadily again today, but it was still low enough to get outside the lagoon. Lance has done great job on our engine. It runs so much more smoothly than when we started using it.

We went out to Washing Machine again for our first dive and ran a couple of transects. The water was beautifully clear today, but it was low tide, so the dive was a bit surgey. Grant found a beautiful big lion fish at the base of the shelf we were diving.

Lion fish at the Washing Machine

Lion fish at the Washing Machine

Working hard

Working hard

After our dive we did a bit more fishing, taking advantage of the good conditions. Grant pulled in a nice sized shark mackerel again. We are definitely set for food now.

We did our second dive at Lizard Head. The coral there was in really good condition. It didn’t even look like a cyclone had come through though. I found a couple of my corals and a few gobies, but the corals were so thick I couldn’t get them out. I need to decide now whether to devote the time to get them out so that I can re-measure them or to focus on the habitat saturation surveys. It’s a difficult decision because I haven’t found many of my gobies from last time so the data I’m getting from that component is unlikely to yield anything. But if I don’t get that data it’ll take me six months to re-run it.

Back at the station we filleted and skinned the fish. In the evening we crumbed the fillets and shallow fried them. We served it up with chilli mayonnaise and some salad. It was the best meal we’ve had here at Lizard!

Grant filleting his mackerel

Grant filleting his mackerel

Lizard Log 11/8/14 – 13/8/14

Day 10 11/8/14

Pretty horrible day out on the water today. It wasn’t as windy as it has been, but there must have been just the perfect combination of wind direction, tide and swell that created the terrible underwater conditions. Grant and I spent most of the dive bumping into each other and chasing our equipment around the site. Then just to cap it all off, I lost my reel and the GPS unit we use to mark the sites. I thought it was clipped to the catch bags, but it didn’t make it back into the boat with them. We searched for about an hour, but it was well on its way to Cape York by then.

The loss of the GPS means that I can’t easily locate my sites from last time, which is a bit of a blow, but honestly, we’re not finding too many tagged corals, even when I can get to my old sites. The loss of my reel hurts even more. It was a custom built reel and it has been on a lot of dives with me. It’s hard to describe a good reel to someone, but this was a good reel. It never tangled on me and I never had a birds nest. It spooled as smooth as the day I bought it. It probably sounds like I’m harping on about it, but I loved that reel!

Day 11 12/8/14

Had a much smoother day today. We decided to avoid the bad conditions, where the good sites are and go to a more sheltered site called the Clam Gardens, in Watson’s Bay. The diving there was much easier, but there weren’t many Acroporid corals for us to survey.  We ran a few transects and found a few goby colonies so that was ok.

Habitat saturation survey

Habitat saturation survey

During our surface interval we pulled up on the beach for some lunch and went for a walk to the other end. Unfortunately we didn’t take the recent king tide into consideration and when we got back, the boat was almost grounded. Luckily there was just enough water to push it back out. 10 more minutes and we would have had a long wait.

Lovely sunset this evening!

Day 12 13/8/14

Grant and I decided to brave the rough conditions back at Palfrey today. The swell had dropped quite a bit and we had the rising tide, so there was plenty of water over the reef we were surveying. That made it much easier to conduct our transects. We still got knocked around a bit by the surface chop, but it was nowhere near as bad as the other day. The reefs around palfrey are in quite good condition compared to many of the other reefs. There are still lots of really big colonies of A. millepora. We found a couple of really big groups of G. erythrospilus and G. unicolor. Most of the corals surrounding these colonies were inhabited, so I wonder if I’ll be able to see a pattern of increasing group size with increasing habitation? Interesting. I also noticed that the big colonies today contained a mixture of species, so I wonder if the high levels of habitat saturation at this site forces some species to become more tolerant of co-inhabiting with other species? What would the costs/benefits of sharing the habitat with another species be? How could I measure that tolerance? Is it driven by habitat saturation or coral size? Or a combination of both? So many questions! Isn’t science grand!

On the previous transects, Grant and I have both been going along and measuring corals and looking for gobies. Today we tried an alternative method where Grant does the coral ID’s and measuring while I go goby hunting. I think it works out a bit faster. We managed 4 transects in our first dive and they had heaps of corals on them. I think we’ll stick to that system.

Lizard Log 7/8/14 – 10/8/14

Day 6 7/8/14

Last night was the windiest night so far. I’ve been complaining about it every night so far, but last night was the worst. I had to sleep with a pillow over my head, but every time I moved the pillow fell off and the wind would wake me up again. Nevertheless, we arose early, ready and rearing to go (it took me a couple of coffees to get to that stage).

We decided to head back to Ghost beach today, but to a different part of the reef so that Grant could practice his fish and coral ID. By the second dive he was confident enough to go it alone and I’m proud to say, smashed it (smashed the task, not the coral. ‘Smashing it’ is a good thing in Australian speak!) and he didn’t break any dive gear!

Grant smashing it!

Grant smashing it!

We caught a good variety of species including another lovely little G. okinawae and one that looks like a G. unicolor but has an orange margin around the eyes and two short blue eye bars. I’m calling it G. bilineatus for now, but this may not be correct. I don’t think that it’s G. oculolineatus because the colouring doesn’t seem right. I tried to take photos of it, but none of them turned out. They’re reasonably common here, so I’ll have to try for a better pic next time.

We got news in the afternoon that the barge was going to be delayed by a week. The Barge brings over all of our food and research equipment that won’t fit on the plane. Thankfully we’re not waiting on any equipment, but some of the other researchers in our house were waiting on liquid nitrogen to freeze their samples. A plane is going to fly a small amount of food out to the station next week. Grant and I think we can go the distance on our food, with a little help from the free food stockpile and some small items which we’ll piggyback onto Wren and Gabby’s order. Thanks guys! It does mean that I’ll be without booze for 3 weeks though as my booze order didn’t turn up on the last shipment.

Day 7 8/8/14

Grant joined a group climbing up Cook’s Look this morning, so I had a dry morning. I took the opportunity to do some tidying of the house and our lab space and repaired some of our equipment.

Lyle and Anne (the station directors) very kindly offered to give me their spare case of beer, which I accepted. I’m not a big drinker and probably would have been fine without it (in fact I’m sure it would have been good for me) but Lizard Island is a very social place. It’s tradition to head down to the beach each afternoon for a sunset drink. Then there are the various birthdays and pot-luck dinners. So the beer will be very much appreciated.

When Grant got back from his walk we geared up and took to the water. The wind was still blowing hard, but the tide was so low that the reefs were blocking the majority of the swell. Over the next few days we are building up to a king tide. Many of the reefs are already exposed at dead low tide. Nevertheless, Grant and I found a hole to dive in which contained a few gobies. The exciting find of the day for me was what I think is a true G. bilineatus. It was a reddish brown with the two blue eye bars. The other ones that I think were G. bilineatus are more grey. I think that if there are the true G. bilineatus around, that they might be hybridising with G. unicolor. We also found a nice big A. millepora colony housing a G. quinquestrigatus co-inhabiting with four G. okinawaes.

We also had zero mortalities today so that was a nice win!

G. quinquestrigatus (left) and what I think is G. bilineatus (right)

G. quinquestrigatus (left) and what I think is             G. bilineatus (right)

G. okinawae

G. okinawae

 Day 8 9/8/14

Today was a shocker. We went back to Ghost Beach as it was just about the only place that was calm enough to dive. The wind was really strong. Again. Grant only had half a tank of air. I lost the clip off my GoPro, my knife (which I thankfully found again) and the pencil off my slate. Then I copped some clove oil to the eye. But we got through it.

On the second dive, the tide was so low that I spent most of the time with my head out of the water and I thought I’d killed all of our gobies. I was so upset. I could see that a few of their gills were moving, but they weren’t waking up. We spent over an hour on the boat waiting for them to wake up. Finally, we decided to fill a new tub of water and put them into it. 10 minutes later they were awake and swimming around. We must have gotten a tiny bit of clove oil into the original recovery bucket. Just enough to keep them asleep. I was very relieved to see them swimming around again. So, once again, zero mortalities. Win!

Glad I made those knee pads...

Glad I made those knee pads…

Had a really nice evening tonight. It was BBQ night so everyone was together for dinner. There were also a couple of birthdays so there was cake! Everyone was in really high spirits tonight so it was nice to feed off that atmosphere after a hard day out in the field.

Day 9 10/8/14

Grant and I decided to move onto the habitat saturation surveys today. I’ve all but given up trying to find my originally tagged fish. We’ve only seen a handful of them in the last 8 days. The other factor that I want to measure this trip is habitat saturation, which is essentially the amount of vacant habitat available. The idea is that if there is very little habitat available it could force some species into sociality. What we have been seeing and what we started to quantify today, though, was that there is lots of vacant habitat. Anecdotally, it is very different to when we were here in February, when there was very few vacant corals. I think that the cyclone has killed off a lot of gobies and they haven’t recolonised yet. This is problematic for me as the data that we get from our habitat saturation surveys will not be a good representation of the normal environment.

We had king tides here today so in the afternoon a group of the researchers here walked across to Palfrey Island and climbed to its highest peak. The walk across was really interesting. I found a heap of Acroporid coral colonies which were high and dry and I found gobies in a few of them! As I’ve previously mentioned, they can survive out of water for long periods of time. This ability means that they don’t need to leave their corals to seek deeper shelter, and risk predation, on these occasions when the tides recede below the reef. I’ve never seen it before and I managed to snap a really bad photograph.

Bad photo of an erythrospilus above water

Bad photo of an erythrospilus above water

The view of the reefs and Lizard Island itself was quite spectacular from the top. It was worth wading through the chest high grass and climbing up the rocky slopes on my wet, stinky dive booties. A tip for anyone who visits Lizard and is contemplating climbing Palfrey; don’t climb the light house side. The side with the beach facing the research station is much less overgrown.

View from Palfrey

View from Palfrey

Lizard Log 5/8/14 – 6/8/14

Day 4 5/8/14

Very windy night. Had to resort to using a blanket! Managed to claw my way out of bed for a run again this morning. Feeling a bit sore, but feeling good about exercising again.

Went to my sites at North Station Beach and Osprey today. Nth Station had taken quite a beating. There were lots of upturned corals and dead colonies covered in algal growth. Couldn’t find any of my tags at Nth Station, but found 4 of them at Osprey. Two of my tagged colonies still had their occupants! Although one had lost its partner :(. We recaptured the tagged fish to measure them. It was not easy as the sites were extremely shallow and there was quite a bit of wave action on the surface. My tank was actually out of the water most of the time, but I resorted to SCUBA in order to keep my head underwater. Poor Grant busted his buoyancy compensator so had to spend over three hours in the water on snorkel, mostly in the one place to assist me. The help was very much appreciated. I’m absolutely stoked to have found a couple of tagged fish.

It was Anne Hogett’s (one of the station directors) birthday today. We had a lovely pot luck dinner down at the beach house. Anne’s mother cooked up a lovely chocolate cake for the occasion. Our contribution was a sausage and bean hot pot with mashed potato and kumara. All of the dishes were beautiful. I think my favourite must have been the lentils served with charred coriander seeds. Not bad for an island cook up!

Day 5 6/8/14

Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. The wind was howling and we had a few bouts of rain lashing the house. Got moving early today though. The wind was really strong today which made it pretty rough going on the boat. Grant and I got out to my sites at Ghost beach. Unfortunately Grant busted his 2nd buoyancy compensator of the trip and had to spend the whole time snorkelling on the surface again. Evidently Grant loves snorkelling so much that he sabotages his dive gear in order to stay on the surface! Thankfully my sites were only chest deep again so the dive gear was really only for stability and to keep my head underwater. We found a couple of tagged corals with G. citrinus in them. I did see one of my tagged citrinus’. We also found a coral (tagless) with two of my tattooed brochus (what’s the plural of brochus? brochuses? brochi?…..). Sadly one of these didn’t survive its second clove oil encounter :(

Citrinus

G. citrinus

I hate it when I kill a fish. Especially since this one survived the first round of sampling and a cyclone! Unfortunately, the brochusi do tend to be more susceptible to the clove oil than other species. I also lost an okinawae to a hungry spotted morey eel, who was much faster than my net. Argh!

We also found a couple of big G. histrios. I thought I’d killed one of them too but thankfully it was only playing dead and was alive and kicking by the time we got them up on the boat. On the boat we measured, photographed and took fin clips from all the fish we’d captured (except the previously tagged ones, since we clipped them last time).

Histrio

G. histrio ready for measuring. These amazing fish can tolerate long periods of exposure to the air in case their corals become exposed during spring tides.

 

If anyone is concerned about us cutting off bits of fin, we only take about 1/6th of the caudal (tail) fin while the fish is sedated. We quite often see fish with much more than this missing from their fins from fighting with conspecifics (same species) or predator interactions. They readily regrow damaged fins. It would be similar to taking a nail clipping from a human. We use the fin clips for genetic analyses.

In the afternoon, I helped out another researcher, Gabby, to collect some yellow damsel fish and take some water samples. We went out to Big Vickey’s reef. It was blowing a gale out there and the swell was quite rough. We had to collect the water samples next to some pH loggers that had previously been placed there. Gabby had marked them with a big pink buoy the previous day, but it had dislodged and was long gone. We pulled up close to where Gabby thought the equipment was, ready to jump in and search for it. We threw the anchor in away from the reef and allowed the boat to drift back to the reef edge before tying off. Gabby jumped in and immediately found the loggers, right below the boat! We got our dive gear on and descended. It was a relief to be out of the surface chop. Gabby quickly caught her damsels and took the water samples and we were back on shore in under an hour.

Grant bagging some fish on snorkel, again!

Grant bagging some fish on snorkel, again!

Lizard Log 2/8/14 – 4/8/14

I’m back on Lizard Island for my second round of fieldwork. It’s great to be back in the field and up in the tropics! I had forgotten how hard fieldwork is though. Here is a map so that you can make sense of where I’m talking about.

Lizard Island

Lizard Island

 

For the coral and fish species, I’ll try to put in some pictures, but I’d suggest copying and pasting the names into google if you’d like to know more about them. I don’t get a lot of spare time to write, so what follows is going to be a fairly rough, ‘no-frills’ interpretation of my day to day activities here. If you’d like to know some more specifics, feel free to leave me a comment.

As a brief catch up, in February I was on Lizard Island tagging corals with gobies in them. The gobies were also tattoo’d with a flourescent marking so that we could find and identify them again. Standard length and total length were also measured for these fish. I am now back at Lizard Island trying to find these fish so that I can measure them again in order to estimate their growth rate. I am also interested to find out whether any of the dominant fish have died and if the subordinates in the colony have risen to take their place. This may give me an estimate of the rate at which dominants die off and subordinates inherit the dominant role. However, cyclone Ita ripped through Lizard Island in April. The eye passed right over Lizard Island and it was a category 5 cyclone when it hit. I suspect that a lot of my tagged corals have been destroyed and that many of my fish were killed or have had to find new homes.

 Day 1 2/8/14

Left Wollongong at 2:45 am. Arrived in Cairns at 9:30 and had my 3rd coffee for the day. Arrived at Lizard around 1pm. Staying in Kirby house this time. Collected our food and got our lab set up. My research assistant, Grant did his dive orientation and made up the X-transect which we’ll use for measuring habitat saturation. I labelled sample tubes for fin clips. It was BBQ night tonight. Grant cooked up some amazing T-bones from his cow (thanks Bluebell!). Found the guitar and replaced a string. Think we’re ready to go!

Day 2 3/8/14

Got the rest of the field gear set up and went out for a dive. Dropped my GoPro though. Smashed the red filter and I think the housing has cracked somewhere as it’s getting a bit of moisture inside. Went to Lizard Head first to look for my sites there. Very windy and choppy on the surface. Was quite surgy underwater. Couldn’t find any coral tags of tagged fish. Tried to find a variety of gobies to show Grant. Found histrio, erythro, rivulatus and quin. Grant is picking up the technique very well and ID’s are coming along nicely. 2nd dive was at Palfrey, closer to Lumis. Found more quins, histrio and erythro and also unicolor and 2 beautiful big okinawaes, which were inhabiting a millepora with an erythro! Came back and washed down and logged out etc. Relaxed a bit in the afternoon. Went down to the beach for sunset drinks. Grant cooked up some hamburger patties made from mince from his cow. Delicious! Came back to lab for data entry and set up for tomorrow. Going to head back and play a bit of guitar.

MH52

G. erythrospilus

MH47

G. histrio

 Day 3 4/8/14

Went for a run this morning. Managed a whole lap of the beach (some sarcastic emphasis on “whole”). Lyle was on at least his second lap and lapped me. Went out to Turtle beach and Watson’s bay for our dives. Both sites were pretty smashed up. Turtle bay was almost completely scoured with very little hard coral growth remaining. Some large Porites survived and encouragingly, there were some acroporid recruits coming up. Found four of my previously tagged corals at Watson’s Bay though which was fantastic. All tags were on colonies of E. horrida which had previously housed some G. acicularis and G. spilophthalmus. No gobies were present this time around though. We took measurements of the corals and photographed some of the destruction caused by the cyclone. Without formally analysing my data at the moment, it looks like 3/4 of the corals decreased in size, while one increased. Watched American Histroy X with a couple of the other researchers in the conference room before going to bed. Was nice to just zone out with a bit of company.

Tag

One of my coral tags. The GPS gets us pretty close to my original sites, but finding the tags is still a challenge.

Upsidedown Coral

A large coral colony flipped upside-down during cyclone Ita.

E. horrida

E. horrida

 

Surrogates for temperate reef biodiversity and their use in conservation

martyhing:

Some more cool research coming from one of my colleagues over at FishThinkers.

Originally posted on Matt Rees:

Earlier this year my co-authors and I published a paper in Diversity and Distributions that examined a cost-effective way of predicting reef biodiversity for conservation purposes. Here is some background on the issues surrounding the design of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and a brief summary of our research findings.

As most of us are aware, our oceans are not as healthy as they once were. On a global scale we are continuing to see a loss of marine biodiversity in our oceans. To address this issue, there has been a push for the global development of MPAs. Although justified by a huge number of studies revealing positive effects, MPA location and configuration is not often based on ecology, but rather driven by social, political or economic concerns. Therefore, MPAs may just be ‘leftover’ areas that do not effectively protect biodiversity and potentially give the public a false sense of security  (see

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Lea Tonga (The language of Tonga)

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In 2010/11 I was lucky enough to take part in an Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development volunteer program in Tonga. I had a wonderful time there and met an amazing variety of people. Whilst on assignment I decided to take Tongan language lessons. Learning this Polynesian language taught me far more about the English language than I’d ever learnt in school (let’s brush aside the fact that I scored less than 50% in HSC English…). But what I really loved about learning Tongan (aside from using the prefix “faka” in just about every sentence), was that the language provided a whole new insight into the Tongan culture.

Atenisi Institute, where I learned lea Tonga.

‘Atenisi Institute, where I learned lea Tonga.

I am certainly no expert in the Tongan language, so if there are any native speakers out there, I’d love for you to jump in here and correct me on any mistakes I might make.

At first glance, Tongan is a relatively simple language, comprising of only 16 letters and being phonetic. i.e. the words sound exactly how they’re spelled. This simplicity, however, leads to a beautifully complex language where words are often made up from smaller components.

For example, “Malo e lelei” the Tongan greeting, would be the equivalent of “Hello” in English. The actual break down of “Malo e lelei” would be “Thank you for being well”. The prefix “faka” has no English translation, but the closest would be “like”. For example, a meeting or gathering is “fakataha” – “like one” – many people coming together to be one. One of my favourites “fakasuva” – “like a Fijian” meant lazy (there is a deep running rivalry between Tonga and Fiji, thankfully, mostly in jest).

Fakasuva? or just making the most of the fact that you caught this ferry at 4 am and you're onboard for the next nine hours ...

Fakasuva? or just making the most of the fact that you caught this ferry at 4 am and you’re onboard for the next nine hours …

One of the most intriguing insights into Tongan culture for me though was that almost all words referring to time were derived from English words. Anyone who has travelled to an island nation is most likely aware of “island time”. It is often misused as an excuse for something being late. It means that something will happen when it happens. Personally, I love the concept, but it’s difficult to implement in a western society where time is so important us.

But back to the Tongan language. “Time” translates to “Taimi”. The days of the week are:

Monday – Monite
Tuesday – Tusite
Wednesday – Pulelulu
Thursday – Tu’apulelulu – “at the back of Wednesday”
Friday – Falaite
Saturday – Tokonaki – I think this meant gathering food for the Sunday feast?
Sunday – Sapate – “Sabbath”

The months of the year are:

January – Sanuali (There is no “j” in the Tongan alphabet, it’s usually replased with an “s”)
February – Fepueli
March – Ma’asi
April – Epeleli
May – Me
June – Sune
July – Siulai
August – ‘Aokosi
September – Sepitema
October – Okatopa
November – Novema
December – Tisema

I find this interesting because, to me, it seems to indicate that in Tonga, there wasn’t much of a concept of marking the passage of time until Europeans arrived. Even nowadays, time almost feels like something that has been imposed on Tonga by the encroaching influence of the western world. Ferry schedules and flight schedules are common place these days of course, but try calling a 10 am meeting. People will begin to trickle in around 10:23 and continue to arrive up until well, basically whenever they arrive.

The villagers of Ta'unga are called to a meeting at... whenever the Chief calls a meeting

The villagers of Ta’unga are called to a meeting at… whenever the Chief calls a meeting

It was something that I found challenging when I first arrived in Tonga, but as time passed by, I embraced it and I grew to love it. Now I really miss it. Some people may think that it’s “fakasuva”. I think that it’s actually a lovely way to live life. To just relax about time and let things happen when they happen.

My supervisor in Tonga. Possibly waiting for a meeting...

My supervisor in Tonga. Possibly waiting for a meeting…