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…

 

 

WA Shark Hazard Mitigation Program proposal summary

Clear-Tiger-Shark-Picture-In-Deep-Blue-Sea

The good

  • Limited area
  • Limited time
  • No nets = less bycatch
  • High release rates

The bad

  • 26% of total captures from the trial program were within the specified target range
  • Bycatch of “non-target” shark species
  • No estimation of tiger shark population

The ugly

  • Catch of female tiger sharks significantly higher than male tiger sharks
  • No evidence to suggest that a drum lining program will achieve the policy objective of improving ocean safety

 Proposal summary

Metro and South West Marine Managed Areas. Source: http://gallery.mailchimp.com/26c3400f39a2a193da8d06aae/files/5a5f625a-6a30-4a52-8535-00af8115542b.pdf

Metro and South West Marine Managed Areas. Source: Western Australian Shark Hazard Mitigation Drum Line Program 2014-17 – Public Environmental Review

The proposal is to place up to 60 baited drum lines approximately 1 km offshore from selected high use swimming beaches from 15 November to 30 April each year. The “target species” for the program are great white sharks, tiger sharks and bull sharks greater then 3 m in total length (from the tip of the snout to the furthest tip of the tail). These drum lines will not be placed in any marine park zones. A further 12 baited drum lines may be temporarily deployed at any place (within WA waters) at any time in response to identified shark threats or incidents. It is proposed that these temporary drum lines will be allowed to be placed in marine protected areas after consultation with the Department of Fisheries Operations Manager and the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

 Trial program

Drum line

Example drum line configurations. Source: Western Australian Shark Hazard Mitigation Drum Line Program 2014-17 – Public Environmental Review

The WA Government ran a trial baited drum line program from 25 January 2014 to 30 April 2014. During this period, 163 tiger sharks were caught, the majority of which were female and less than 3 m in total length. 99 were released alive while 64 either died or were destroyed as they were over 3 m in length. 5 short fin mako sharks were also captured of which only 1 was released alive. 1 dusky shark, 1 spinner shark and 1 bull shark were also captured and released alive. 7 rays were captured and released. No great white sharks were captured.

3 tiger sharks were fitted with acoustic tags. one of these is confirmed to have died shortly after release. Another was picked up by a reciever 30 min after release and the state of the third shark is unknown.

Risk assessment

An environmental risk assessment has been conducted for the proposal. It found that there were either no or negligible risks to the population status of two of the three target species, all of the non-target species and the broader ecosystem. The program was considered to pose a low risk to the population status of tiger sharks.

Issues with proposal

Although the environmental risk assessment appears to be quite thorough, there is no population estimate for tiger sharks, which form the vast majority of catch from this program. There is also no estimate for post release mortality. Compared to commercial and recreational catch estimates, the expected mortality of tiger sharks from this program is quite low, bit it should be kept in mind that the number of tiger sharks killed by this program is additive to the fishing mortality of sharks. Additionally, there is no estimate of the mortality to tiger sharks from illegal fishing. Despite this, the program was considered to only represent a low risk to the population status of tiger sharks.

The proposal touts the trial program as a success. However, the stated target species for the program are great white sharks, tiger sharks and bull sharks greater than 3 m in total length. 163 tiger sharks were captured of which 47 (28.8%) were greater than 3 m  total length. No great white sharks were captured. A single bull shark of 1.97 m total length was captured. So of 180 total captures (including bycatch), 47 were within the target range.

The program was considered not to pose a threat to any matters of national environmental significance (MNES), primarily because of the low environmental footprint (i.e. limited area and time). However, the impact to world heritage sites, such as the Ningaloo Coast and Shark Bay, which are located away from the impact area did not appear to be well considered. Although the proposed location of the baited drum lines is at the southern extent of the tiger shark’s range, they are known to be highly migratory. The program is expected to capture approximately 300 tiger sharks in each season. Given that there are no estimates for post capture mortality and no estimate of the current population of tiger sharks in the region, the impact that this program may pose to world heritage sites in the wider area are unknown.

Conclusion

tigershark2On paper this program appears to be quite well thought out and is backed up by an environmental risk assessment. It is commendable that the WA Government is investing a considerable amount of funding into research initiatives and programs such as surf lifesaving. However, I am still ethically opposed to the proposal. I know it might sound hypocritical for me to write this, living in a state which has had a beach meshing program operating since the 1930′s, but I think the NSW program stinks too. In comparison, the WA proposal seems to be quite palatable.

However, the very basis for these programs is to make people feel safer about swimming at the beach. Shark bites, while terrifying and tragic for those involved, are incredibly rare events. In 2013 there were 10 unprovoked shark attacks in Australia, according to the Australian Shark Attack File. Of these 10 attacks, 2 were fatal. The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia reports that 110 people drowned at beach and ocean or harbour locations in Australia in 2013. According to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, there were 1193 road deaths in Australia in 2013. I could go on and on about things that are more likely to kill you than sharks, but there are already a plethora of websites and amusing memes circulating which adequately cover that topic. The point being that the WA Government is proposing to initiate a lethal program with little studied impacts to the wider ecosystem to address an issue that is (forgive the pun) a drop in the ocean.

Ironically, I think the NSW Government has summed it up nicely on their Primefact page about the Bather Protection Program: “While shark attacks are exceptionally rare events, there is a risk inherent in swimming in any waterway. The only way that you can 100% guarantee you will not have a shark encounter is not to go into the water”.

If you would like more detail about this proposal, there are some useful links below or as always, please feel free to contact me using the contact form below. Again I would like to encourage people to take a moment to write a submission to the EPA on this proposal. Feel free to use any of the details from this post, but I would appreciate it if you didn’t just copy and paste.

Links

Public Environmental Review – Western Australian Shark Hazard Mitigation Drum Line Program 2014-2017

Support our Sharks – Action Alert: Stop the WA shark cull

Australian Government – information on world heritage sites

Predicting ecological consequences of marine top predator declines

Southern Fried Science – 24 species of sharks that have killed fewer people than Jack Bauer on 24

Contact

 

Western Australian Shark Hazard Mitigation Drum Line Program

White_shark

The Environmental Protection Agency in Western Australian are now accepting submissions for public comment on the proposed WA Shark Hazard Mitigation Drum Line Program 2014 – 2017.

I would urge people to have a look at the documentation here and to make a submission here. On the face of it, I am personally opposed to the idea for the following reasons:

  1. I like sharks.
  2. Many species of non-target sharks are captured on drum lines.
  3. Other forms of marine life such as whales and turtles could become entangled.
  4. Great White Sharks, one of the “target” species, are listed as vulnerable under Western Australia’s legislation (Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (Western Australia)). Great White Sharks are also listed as vulnerable under national legislation (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). 
  5. Shark control programs such as those implemented in NSW and Qld have not significantly reduced shark attacks.
  6. Many, many more people die at the beach from drowning than shark attacks (don’t get me started on things that kill more people than sharks).

But don’t take my word for it. At least read the executive summary for the program and make up your own mind. Over the next couple of weeks, while the submission period is open, I’ll be reading through the rest of the documentation  and some other material. I’ll try to post the juicy bits on here for you. Please take this opportunity and let the WA Government know what you think of the program.

Useful links

Conversation article on the WA shark mitigation program

CSIRO publication on shark attack patterns

My personal favourite, the Great White Shark Song.

I’m Indo It!

The SY Indo Siren

I’ve just returned from an excellent diving holiday around Raja Ampat in Indonesia on board the SY Indo Siren. The Indo Siren is a beautiful wooden boat. Her creaking timbers and gentle rolling were pretty effective as a sedative after three or four dives and a Bintang or two.

The holiday actually began in Perth, meeting up with my partner who was staying with her friends there. We had a lovely time coffee tasting (the wine tasting had been taken care of by my partner and friends the previous day), dining and learning to play 500. We also met up with one of my friends who took us to Freemantle for lunch.

From Perth we flew to Denpasar. We spent the morning doing the obligatory bargaining and shopping in Kuta. The highlight for me, was finding a lady with a tiny store down one of the many back streets selling fresh fruit. We were introduced to Salac or snake skin fruit. The skin is very much like snake skin, but once peeled away, the fruit resembles garlic. The taste is hard to describe, but dry and sweet. not like garlic at all.

I must admit, Kuta was not my cup of tea, and I don’t think that it’s a good representation of Bali. But more about Bali later.

Indonesia Map

Click to zoom

In the evening we met up with the rest of the dive group, including my sister, who we were to spend the next 14 days. The following morning we all departed Denpasar and flew to Makassar, the main city on Sulawesi where we spent the night. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much of a chance to look around Makassar or Sulawesi, and again, I don’t think that our hotel was much of an indication of the rest of the city.

From Makassar we flew to Sorong, on Western Papua, where we finally met our tour director, Jan (that’s the Dutch name, pronounced Yaan).

We boarded the SY  Indo Siren at the harbour and set sail (or motored, if you want the boring true story) that evening for Waigeo where we started our diving.

Click to zoom

Click to zoom

We spent the next ten days cruising around the islands of Raja Ampat, diving three or four times each day. From Waigeo we sailed (motored) south to Misool, then rounded the cape at Koon, down to Banda and then north west to Ambon. The water was a balmy 28 degrees and that spectacular clear blue colour. We did a lot of wall diving and current diving and even a couple of exploratory dives. The diving stand outs for me were seeing the pygmy seahorses and the ghost pipefish, an animal that I’ve been trying to find for over a decade! We also did one dive at Batu Kapal, or Ship Rock, where the visability must have been approaching 50 m!

Most of the reefs were carpeted in very healthy coral and sponge communities, and there were massive schools of red-tooth trigger fish fluttering above the many of the dive sites. We often caught sight of schools of jacks and trevally harassing schools of baitfish and the odd dog-tooth tuna or rainbow runner or barracuda coming in for a look. It is too difficult to describe all of the diving we did here and photos never do it justice, but I’ve tried to give a glimpse in the photos at the end.

Kayak race

Kayak race

Above the water, we made landfall in Arborek village, in Waigeo, where we went for a walk through the village and along the shoreline. In Misool, we went for a ride in the dinghy through the spectacular islands of Farondi and swam in a beautiful lagoon surrounded by steep jungled peaks. We did a historic tour in Banda where we saw the old Dutch forts and a nutmeg farm where we were treated to breakfast made from the fresh farm produce. In Nusa Laut, we delayed the diving program for a canoe race with the local children from Akoon village. Rich (one of characters in our dive group) and I managed to almost capsize our kayak, which happened to belong to the village chief and had his keys and cigarettes in it! but we bailed out just in time to stop the kayak from overturning. Phew!

crew

The Crew

We finished up our diving trip in Ambon, where we said our farewells to the crew, who had shown us an excellent time.

A special thanks to our dinghy driver, Fendi and our chef, Ishmael, who put in the extra effort to get to know us a bit more. You guys made our trip that much more memorable. A big thanks to all of the crew for keeping the boat running, the dive deck functioning and the beautiful warm towels and refreshing drinks after the dives! I’d also like to thank Bill and Julia of Dive Jervis Bay for keeping the trip running smoothly and getting the whole group through the many airport transfers. You guys made it look easy!

At the conclusion of our diving trip, my partner and I decided to spend a couple of days on the north coast of Bali in a beautiful little fishing village called Tejukula. The three hour drive to the north took us through Ubud. The stone carvings and wood works of Ubud soon gave way to rice padis and thick groves of tropical jungle as the road began to wind up into the mountains. At the top of the range, we took a break to admire Bali’s highest peak, Kintamani. Then it was all down hill (literally speaking, not figuratively) to the black sand coast line of Bali’s north shore.

We stayed at Cili Emas, a nice secluded retreat right on the beach. Cili Emas was a beautiful relaxed resort, with only six villas. The German owners, Nicole and Yohan, made us feel very welcome and the staff were lovely. We especially enjoyed having a chat with Komung who made us feel right at home.

Local market

Kuday showing us how to prepare banana flower at the Singaraja markets

We took a day tour around the local area with our driver, Kuday, who gave us a much better insight into Balinese culture, than what Kuta gave us. We visited several temples and drove up into the mountains to Gitgit waterfall. We explored the local market in Singaraja and the botanic gardens in Bedugul. We visited the Banjar hot springs and the twin lakes. My favourite parts of the tour were the local markets and also stopping for coffee at Kubu Kopi plantation on the narrow mountain road where we tried some spiced coffee and cacao coffee with local treats.

On our last day in Bali we had planned to hire scooters and explore the local area.  But unfortunately, my partner succumbed to a bout of Bali belly. Not wanting to slow the team down though, my partner instructed me to get out and about and report back on what the area had to offer. So off I went on my scooter.

I decided to head up to a nearby waterfall. I rode my scooter as far up the path to the fall as I dared and then walked the last couple of kilometres up the narrow windy dirt track. Several times I had to jump into the bush to let the local kids past on their scooters! The walk up to the waterfall was beautiful, but I was a little saddened to be walking along a path with a flowing aqueduct on my left and a bone dry creek bed to my right. At the fall, the natural flow of water had been completely diverted into the aqueduct. Despite this the waterfall was beautiful and the water was very refreshing after walking through the 30 degree heat.

Pande

Pande and friends

After checking in on my partner I decided to head in the opposite direction. I took a small road leading up into the mountains. By this stage my faithful steed was in need of a drink, so I pulled into a local store selling petrol in vodka bottles. The store owner’s son, Pande, was sitting outside with some friends playing a guitar. I pointed to the guitar and asked what they were playing. In response I was given a big smile and asked “you play”? I ended up sitting and playing a few songs with them. Though our spoken conversation wasn’t very successful (despite their decent English speaking ability and my terrible Indonesian) it was one of the most memorable events of the trip. The international language of music and a good laugh is just as good as any spoken communication in my book.

After leaving Pande and his friends to their guitaring I continued along the mountain road. It was a very scenic drive, winding along the narrow road surrounded by lush jungle and steep terrain. Riding through several small villages was fun, smiling and waving at the kids, dodging chickens and trucks and being chased by dogs. After climbing the mountain for about half an hour, I still wasn’t even close to the top, so I decided to head back down.

That afternoon, it was time for us to leave Cili Emas. We wound our way back up the mountain pass and down through Ubud and back into the hustle and bustle of Denpasar.

We had a fantastic few weeks in Indonesia. I feel like we’ve only just scratched the surface of this little corner of the world. I can’t wait to head back to see what else there is to discover.

Diving Photos

Batu Kapal

50 m Viz!

Morey eel

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Huge seawhips

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Lots of fish

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Under Arborek Jetty

Exploratory

Exploratory dive at Madorang

GobyPro

GobyPro

I thought it might be a good idea to start a collection of goby pics. I didn’t take enough last time I was out in the field so stay tuned for the remaining species. But here a few to get started on. Apologies for the ones in plastic bags. That’s just how we collect them. Next time I’ll try to take more photos of them in their corals, although that gets pretty tricky as they rarely come out onto the branches.

First up, meet Gobiodon erythrospilus. AKA “Spots”. These ones can be found on just about any reef with acroporid corals on it. Very closely related to G. histrio. In fact, they were previously thought to be variants of the same species. On Lizard island we were mostly finding these in A. tenuis, A. millepora and A. nasuta. Usually they are found as a pair of monogamous breeders, but occasionally we found them with one or two juveniles inhabiting the same coral.

G. erythrospilus

G. erythrospilus

Next is the closely related Gobiodon histrio. AKA “Stripes”. Both Stripes and Spots have the vertical red bars on the face, but Stripes (as you might have guessed) has horizontal stripes along the body. Stripes was almost exclusively seen as pairs or on its own during our last trip, with only one exception. Although it has been observed occasionally in larger groups on previous trips. My research is all about why animals form groups, so to see a usually asocial species forming groups of up to four individuals is quite exciting. Later trips will focus on measuring ecological differences between these colonies.

G. histrio

G. histrio

You could be forgiven for making the assumption that our next contender was closely related to Spots and Stripes. Well, since they’re all from the same genus, you wouldn’t be far off. However, G. sp A, AKA ‘Measles’ (so recently described that it hasn’t been properly named yet!) is actually more closely related to G. brochus, an olive green species with no spots or distinct markings (stay tuned for a pic!). Measles has larger spots than G. erythrospilus and lacks the thick red bars on the face. Although the individual below has several confusing spots blurring into bars on the face. A hybrid perhaps? Measles was much less abundant at Lizard island than either of the previous species but did turn up at a number of different locations.

G. Spp A

G. sp A

 

Goby Trivia 

Coral gobies eat toxic algae which they can convert into their own skin toxin. Don’t lick them!

Dixson, D. L. and M. E. Hay (2012). “Corals Chemically Cue Mutualistic Fishes to Remove Competing Seaweeds.” Science 338 (6108): 804-807.

If you’d like to know more about coral gobies or my research, just drop me a line below.

In the next issue of GobyPro

Oranges and Lemons! (aka G. citrinus and G. okinawae).

Contact Form

 

 

The vast unknown: assessing the conservation of soft sediment fish diversity

martyhing:

Check out some of the exciting research being conducted by my colleagues.

Originally posted on fish thinkers:

A quick post to give a bit of background on the PhD research I am carrying out at present, as always, questions, advice and constructive criticism is welcome.

The vast unknown: assessing the conservation of soft sediment fish diversity

Sand.  That grainy stuff that covers vast swathes of the ocean floor. Although perhaps to the casual observer this habitat isn’t as exciting as coral reefs or seagrass meadows, delve a little deeper and you will discover that there is a whole lot happening out in the vast sandy stretches of the ocean. Sand or soft sediments cover most of Australia’s state and national waters and are heavily exploited by commercial and recreational fishing.

Surprisingly, there has been little research into fish ecology on these habitats, with most effort expended on assessing fish found on coral reefs, rocky reefs, estuaries and seagrass. For a habitat that is so heavily exploited, there…

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Jerks

Bloody cyclist jerks! Slowing down the traffic! 

I do feel sympathetic towards motorists, battling the traffic just to make it to work on time and then to turn around and fight the traffic all the way home when all you want to do is sit down with your significant other for a chat and a quiet meal. After all, I am often one of them.

But spare a thought for that jerk your about to beep your horn at, fighting the same traffic, without the protection of your cars’ metallic exterior.

We’ve all seen some cyclists who are undeniably jerks. But are jerks more highly represented amongst cyclists than amongst motorists? Or any other arbitrary group for that matter?

Why don’t these jerks get off the road?!

cyclist_dismount[1]

I must say, the foot path is my preferred option these days. Though not as smooth as the road and often packed with pedestrian traffic, it does have the advantage of a lower density of opening car doors. I’ve had one too many bonding sessions with car doors. So far, I’ve been very lucky and I’m not too keen on pushing that luck much further.

However, the footpath often does not offer any more shelter from abusive tirades than the road does. Unfortunately, my well oiled machine does not make a lot of noise and I tend to scare the odd pedestrian. I have tried ringing the bell to alert pedestrians to my approach, only to be told to “get off the footpath!” or “slow down!” (even though I’m already riding the brakes). I have even been pushed from my bike by a spiteful pedestrian. Though I must say the vast majority of pedestrians are happy to share the footpath.

I also sympathize with pedestrians. I know it’s not pleasant to get a fright when that jerk cyclist sneaks up behind and wizzes past. But is it deserving of a verbal beating? Does that save any face? What does it accomplish? Apart from making someone else feel crap. I assure you, that cyclist didn’t set out to frighten the bejesus out of you (unless they really are a jerk).

Some councils are thoughtful enough to provide bike lanes on major transit routes. Unfortunately, since these lanes are often an add-on, they tend to just get squeezed in beside the other vehicular lanes. All too often they are blocked by parked cars or buses or moving vans or emergency vehicles etc. and once again, the cyclists are forced onto the road or the footpath. Obviously, some cities are much better than others in their provision of bike friendly routes (Canberra was great!).

car-parked-in-bike-lane[1]

Many of us are just trying to save a buck. Some of us might be embracing our inner hippie and trying to reduce our impact on the planet. Others might simply be trying to drop those kilo’s after the latest Christmas period. Others still, might have simply lost their licences or not even have a car in the first place. Some might just love the feel of the wind on their faces. Any or all of the above could apply to that jerk slowing you down.

The point I’m trying to make is to give that jerk cyclist a break. When it comes down to it, they’re probably going to catch up to you at the next set of traffic lights, so how much are they really slowing you down? In the end, we’re all (cyclists and motorists) just trying to make it home in one piece.

Scientific Diving – AKA how many bits of equipment can I hang off my dive gear

Most people who have worked underwater can probably relate to this post in some way or another.

gear

For my research, there are a number of items that I need to keep close at hand: slate, spray bottle, fish net, bags, tags, tape measure, torch, camera, GPS, transect line…. Not to mention the regulated safety gear that we need to carry. I usually carry a catch bag full of sciency gear, but I find digging through it frustrating. Many of my bits and bobs are positively buoyant and tend to float away when I go digging through the bag. 

I must say, I do love my BC (buoyancy compensator). It has D-rings all over it which makes attaching all of my equipment much easier. This does however, make it quite heavy which isn’t so good for travelling with. Another frustration for me is all of the clips etc. that I have to buy to attach it all. Anything designed for underwater use is usually haenously expensive.

Another frustration I have is that a lot of my equipment (not my diving equipment) are things made for use on land which means that they tend to rust out pretty quickly. For example our spray bottles are just those typical ones you buy at the supermarket. We are lucky to get 2 weeks use out of these.

One piece of gear the I have found to be quite useful for storing small things like spare cables ties and zip-lock bags, is a thigh pouch. Mine is the Seac Sub one. I know DiveRite also makes one and I think I have seen one in the past by Halcyon (who also make some very stylish pocket shorts which pull on over the top of your wetsuit). Many wetsuit brands also make glue on pockets for your wettie.

I also tend to poke things down into my cumberbund if I’m not planning on moving for a little while (they tend to fall out while I’m swimming). Small things like coral tags and cable ties I slip under the wrist band of my computer.

I’d love to hear ideas from others on how you go about carrying everything you need and organising your gear and solutions you’ve come up with for adapting things (especially spray bottles!!) for under water use.

Why?

The mother of all questions.

It’s the question I am most often asked when I tell people what my research is about. And it’s a question that I often feel awkward about answering.

I’ll be honest. I’m not studying the humble coral goby (species of the genus Gobiodon) for any great world changing purpose. I’m not going to solve climate change or put a halt to the worlds various declining fisheries resources through my work. I’m not going to find the cure for cancer lurking amongst the skin toxins of the poisonous little buggers. And it’s certainly never going to earn me fame, nor fortune.

So why?

Why, for the love of science my dear friend! Because it’s interesting. And, well, they’re kinda cute….

G. Spp A

But, “because it’s interesting” doesn’t seem to cut it with a lot of people outside of my little science nerd bubble (let alone “they’re cute”). Why is that? There seems to be this fixation with answering ‘the big questions of today’. As though nothing else is worthy of more than a cursory glance. It seems that the expansion of our understanding of the natural world and its processes is often lost amongst ‘the big questions’ such as climate change or the cure to cancer (as though there were only one!) or sustainable resource exploitation to name but a few. 

I’m not surprised at this at all and I do understand why these ‘big questions’ are important. In fact, I’m certain that I am also guilty of asking about the relevance of other colleagues’ research in the context of the ‘big questions’ or the ‘management implications’. I guess we’re just so used to being bombarded by the worlds ‘big’ problems and (thankfully) some of the amazing things that people are researching and implementing in order to address these ‘big’ issues that we forget that there’s so much more to this wonderful world of ours.

I’m not suggesting that we should pay less attention to the ‘big questions of today’, but I do think that we need to recognise that these aren’t the only questions worthy of investigation.