For Fish Sake!

If you love seafood, as I do (or know people who love it), I would highly recommend watching “What’s the Catch” which aired on SBS last night. If you missed it you can catch up on it here.

What's the Catch

The three part series follows Matthew Evans (of Gourmet Farmer), former chef and restaurant critic, on his mission to raise awareness and start a conversation about the origin, practices and sustainability of the seafood that we eat. Last night’s episode focussed mostly on prawns and seafood labelling.

In the spirit of starting a conversation about sustainable seafood, I’d like to talk about one of the most staggering statistics mentioned in last nights episode, which was that in Australia, we import 70% of our seafood! I think that figure is worth repeating here and it’s a figure that I would like to encourage my friends to pass on to their friends.

70% is massive! In the 2008/09 financial year that figure equated to 193 000 tonnes of imported seafood (Fisheries Research and Development Corporation). That’s 1 930 000 000 standard servings of fish in a country of just over 23 000 000 people – about 1.5 standard servings per week per person. The NSW Food Authority recommends eating 2-3 serves of fish per week. That means that half of our recommended maximum weekly fish consumption is coming from overseas (assuming that every single person in Australia eats seafood and sticks to the NSW recommendations, which they clearly don’t, but I think my point still stands). I see this as an issue, as it indicates that we’re not supporting our local fisheries.


Some people tend to think of commercial fishers as indiscriminate pillagers of the sea. However, In Australia, most commercial fishing is highly targeted and must conform to strict environmental regulation. I can’t deny that there are bad apples (or should I say smelly prawns?) amongst the bunch, but overall, the fishers themselves know the importance of fishing sustainably. It is their business and livelihood after all. My experience of Australian fisheries is that they are generally supportive of sustainable practices. We need to get behind these fisheries which have strict environmental regulation and good practices rather than continuing to buy cheap imported seafood, of which we have absolutely no control over how it is produced  (not to mention the carbon footprint involved in importing 193 000 tonnes of seafood).

In my opinion (having worked in fisheries organisations in Tonga and Australia), Australia does have some of the best managed fisheries in the world, despite what some conservation groups might say. I’m not suggesting that Australia’s fisheries are perfect, I know we still have a long way to go, and I think that the consumer has a big part to play on that journey. Keeping our fisheries sustainable requires solid governance, research, extension and compliance (to name but a few components) which all costs money.

Australia’s Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF) is held up as somewhat of a gold standard in industry best practice (for the prawn trawling industry). Whilst acknowledging that there is still a large amount of bycatch produced in this fishery, the NPF really has done an outstanding job of improving their practices. They have been able to research and implement technologies to reduce bycatch (over 50% reduction in bycatch), develop management plans and conduct continual stock assessment modelling and ecological risk assessments because they are one of Australia’s largest and most profitable fisheries.


Which brings me to my point; If we, as consumers want premium quality management of our fisheries we need to start supporting our fisheries and be willing to pay a premium for the seafood produced. Supporting our fisheries means that the individual fisheries industries will have more money to put toward sustainable management and implementing good environmental practice.

That starts with knowing where our seafood comes from (seafood labelling has a big role to play here) and choosing the sustainable options. That’s not always easy to do, but I think that keeping our fisheries sustainable is worth hunting around for that option. To help you to make those choices, I’ll put a few links at the bottom of this post. I highly recommend watching the rest of “What’s the Catch” and please engage in the discussion on sustainable seafood!


If you have any other resources that you’d like to suggest, please leave me a comment and I’ll add it to the list.

Guides and Recipes

Good Fish Bad Fish – A page dedicated to sustainable seafood with an excellent seafood guide including a seafood converter to convert less sustainable choices to more sustainable ones. Contains good summaries of ratings given by other organisations.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society’s (AMCS) Sustainable Seafood Guide – A simple “traffic light” system for seafood. An easy to use and understand tool but keep in mind that the simplicity of this system may miss some of the subtleties of choosing sustainably and may conflict with other agencies. For example Banana Prawns are categorised as yellow or “eat less” whereas MSC has certified the NPF where the majority of banana prawns are caught.

Sustainable Table’s Seafood page – Sustainable Table advocates sustainable food choices from all sources, not just seafood. But this is their seafood page with some excellent information.

The Good Fish Project – An AMCS initiative. Good summary of fishing and harvesting methods here.

Sustainable seafood restaurants

Fish & Co. – Fully MSC certified restaurant, meaning that if you wanted to, you could trace the fish on your plate all the way back to the vessel it was caught from.

Love.Fish – Though not MSC certified, they obviously care about where their fish comes from and support local fisheries.

Certification agencies and Non-Government Organisations

Marine Stewardship Council – The most rigorous international certification scheme available for seafood. See here for an interactive map of the certified fisheries.

Aquaculture Stewardship Council

International Union for Conservation of Nature – For threatened species lists. Keep in mind that these lists are based on international data and may not accurately represent local populations. This works both ways; just because one species is sustainable in Australia doesn’t mean that it’s sustainable on a global scale.

Government organisations

Australian Government Department of the Environment – Australia’s export fisheries which have been assessed against the Australian Government’s Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries.

Fisheries Research and Development Corporation – A good resource for fisheries statistics and information on fisheries research.

Australian Fisheries Management Authority – For information on the management of Australia’s Commonwealth managed fisheries. i.e. fisheries operating within 3 – 200 nm of the coastline. For state managed fisheries (within 0-3 nm of the coastline) see the individual state fishery pages.

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences Fishery Status Reports – Status reports on Commonwealth managed fisheries.


GobyPro issue 2

Welcome to the second edition of Gobypro!

It’s been quite a while since the previous post of GobyPro and we’ve been out in the field collecting more photos.

As promised in the last issue of GobyPro, Oranges are up first. We called these guys ‘Oranges’ because their species name is citrinus, which kind of sounds like citrus. G. citrinus is found mostly in big bunches of staghorn corals like A. intermedia. We usually saw them in large groups with two dominant breeders. These are the giants of the Gobiodon world, reaching sizes of up to 6.5 cm! Despite their massive size they were extremely difficult to capture as they would retreat right down into the coral. I really want to capture a few groups of these ones to see if they have a distinct size based hierarchy, but no luck so far. While I was diving in Indonesia recently, we found a group of G. citrinus which were black in colour.

G. citrinus

G. citrinus

G. citrinus black variant

G. citrinus black variant

Next we have the lemons, G. okinawae. These gobies are a very distinct bright yellow – hence the nickname “lemons”. We also called them lemons because we often found them living with a G. citrinus colony, forming a pretty little underwater orchid. Unlike most other species of Gobiodon, the lemons are the only species in this genus which like to hang out at the branch tips of the corals and often hover above and even move between corals. We found individuals ranging from 1.0 cm to 3.5 cm.

G. okinawae

G. okinawae

Goby Trivia

Some species have a high hypoxia tolerance and air breathing ability, meaning that they can stay in their corals even if the coral becomes exposed at extreme low tides.

Nilsson et al. 2004. Coward or braveheart: extreme habitat fidelity through hypoxia tolerance in a coral-dwelling goby

We saw this incredible ability on the last field trip during a king tide.

A G. erythrospilus, high and dry

A G. erythrospilus, high and dry

In the next issue of GobyPro:

An unidentified species of goby that we found on our last field trip.

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I won a competition!

Woohoo! Just thought I’d share this great news. I don’t win things very often, usually because I don’t enter, but this time I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring and now I’m the proud owner of a copy of Aaron Wong’s new photobook, “The Blue Within”. I din’t win the big prize of a free trip on board one of the Siren fleet boats, but my photo took out the month of May competition. I’m pretty chuffed :)


Back in May this year, my partner and I went on a live-aboard dive trip in Indonesia on board the SY Indo Siren. On board I saw that they were accepting photographs for a competition. I only have a GoPro, which I’ll admit doesn’t generally take award winning photographs. I’ll also admit that I am a complete hack when it comes to any sort of photography. I know the photos I like and dislike, but otherwise words like “composition”, “F-stop”, “aperture” and “focal length” are pretty lost on me.

But, I liked this photo. So I submitted it and apparently the lovely folks at Worldwide Dive and Sail also liked it. Thanks guys!

Lizard Log 31/8/14 – 4/9/14

Apologies for the slight delay in getting this post up. We’ve been hanging out with a good mate in Townsville for the last few days. Whilst there we did a dive on the SS. Yongala.

Diving the SS. Yongala off Townsville.

Diving the SS. Yongala off Townsville.

Without further ado, the final Lizard Log for this field trip.

Day 30 31/8/14

The wind had dropped quite a bit today which was a great relief. We were able to get out to the Palfrey reef system, near Horseshoe reef today. It was shallow, but clear and the sun was shining so it was quite pleasant. We got heaps of transects done on our first dive.

On our second dive we moved to Big Vickey’s reef where we came across three of my tagged corals. Unfortunately one of them was completely dead and covered in algae. The other two were intact and even contained the same tagged fish from last time. Great news, but sadly, still not enough to run any meaningful analysis.

We removed the old tags once we'd made our measurements.

We removed the old tags once we’d made our measurements.

In the evening, Kylie and I packed a picnic box and wandered up the beach for sunset. One of the resident seagulls waddled after us and kept us company. I quite like this particular seagull as it keeps all the other gulls away. We enjoyed a couple of sunset beers and a whole heap of chips and dips.

 Day 31 1/9/14

First day of Spring! We dived another part of the Palfrey reef system today. It was much shallower than our dives yesterday, so it was difficult to spot the gobies. We went over to Palfrey Island for our surface interval. As we were walking in over the sand bar, we saw a little black tip reef shark cruising the shoreline. It disappeared pretty quickly when it saw us though.

We had the Bshari lab group over tonight for a pizza night. I really enjoy their company. I had a good chat to one of the researchers about my PhD. It was really reassuring to hear his perspective, looking back at their own experience.

Day 32 2/9/14

Last day of work diving today. I was pretty happy to be finishing up honestly. It’s nice diving in warm water, but the surface conditions have been pretty tough this time around. We dived at Loomis reef today, which I’ve never been to before. It was in really good condition with huge heads of acroporid corals scattered throughout the reef. I was expecting to see some big groups of gobies in these corals, but most of the gobies were still only in pairs. When we did our surveys in February, we found that the group sizes for the social species, were related to the coral size. This doesn’t seem to be the case this time. I suspect that the population is in recovery after the cyclone, but only time will tell.

We went to, the station managers house for dinner tonight. It was a lovely evening with lots of laughs. They cooked up a blue fin trevalley that they caught yesterday. When he caught the fish though, he spiked himself on the lure and had to go to the clinic over at the resort to get it removed!

Day 33 3/9/14

Kylie and I went out for a fun dive this morning. We fly out tomorrow afternoon so we decided to squeeze in a dive before our 24 hour no-fly limit kicks in. The wind was really low today and Lyle said that we might be able to dive at Coconut Beach. We went out around Lizard Head to check out the conditions. It would have been fine for a dive, but the regulations prohibit us from diving without a boat watch person if the swell is over half a metre. It was definitely getting close to that limit and the conditions were predicted to deteriorate in the afternoon, so we decided to play it safe and head back to Big Vickey’s for a dive. We anchored up on the western side of the reef and jumped in. It was lovely to be diving deeper the two metres. We saw quite a few nudibranchs and flatworms, but not many fish. We were just happy to be in the water diving without having to record anything.



We’re winding up now, just going through all the cleaning and finalising paperwork etc. It’s always a little sad to be leaving this place. I love meeting all the researchers here and the social scene is great. But I am ready to go home.

Day 34 4/9/14

It was our last day on the Island today. We decided to kick it off by climbing Cook’s Look, the highest peak on Lizard Island. We set out early from the station and made it to the top in about an hour. We stopped several time to admire the views as we climbed higher and higher. The walk heads out along the ridge to the north of Watson’s Bay and then turns back towards and up the main peak. It was quite steep in places, but the view from the top was beautiful! It would be interesting to do the walk again but later in the day as the sun in the morning reflects off the water in the east and you can’t see the ribbon reefs. It would make for a really hot climb though.

Kylie admiring the view

Kylie admiring the view

After getting back to the station we finished our clean up duties including pulling the boat out and giving it a wash down. We found out that our plane was actually scheduled 2 hours earlier than we’d thought, but that was fine as we’d done most of our cleaning the previous afternoon.

We made our way around the station in the afternoon to say our farewells and then got picked up and taken to the airport. Unfortunately, some of the workmen from the resort were held up and our plane was delayed by about an hour. We were entertained a couple of times by Bruce driving past on the station tractor and blowing kisses at us! We finally boarded the plane and lifted off, passing over the blue waters and patch reefs of Lizard Island.

Flying out

Flying out

It has been a rough (weather wise) trip but reasonably successful. We didn’t get the information we wanted, but I was expecting that. Our plan B worked well though. I now just need to sit down and analyse the data. Thank you to everyone on Lizard Island for making our trip not only successful, but, just as importantly, FUN! A special thank you to Anne and Lyle, the station directors, and Maryanne, Lance, Cassie and Bruce. You guys do a fantastic job of keeping the station operational and creating a great atmosphere there. And you make it look easy! We look forward to seeing you all next trip!

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.



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.



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.



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 :(



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