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 :(


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).


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.


G. erythrospilus


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.


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


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

View original 757 more words

Lea Tonga (The language of Tonga)


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


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:

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.


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.


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



Western Australian Shark Hazard Mitigation Drum Line Program


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!


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 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


Huge seawhips


Lots of fish


Under Arborek Jetty


Exploratory dive at Madorang