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

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