research

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.

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Lizard Log 7/8/14 – 10/8/14

Day 6 7/8/14

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

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

Grant smashing it!

Grant smashing it!

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

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

Day 7 8/8/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

G. okinawae

G. okinawae

 Day 8 9/8/14

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

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

Glad I made those knee pads...

Glad I made those knee pads…

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

Day 9 10/8/14

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

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

Bad photo of an erythrospilus above water

Bad photo of an erythrospilus above water

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

View from Palfrey

View from Palfrey

Lizard Log 5/8/14 – 6/8/14

Day 4 5/8/14

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

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

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

Day 5 6/8/14

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

Citrinus

G. citrinus

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

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

Histrio

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

 

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

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

Grant bagging some fish on snorkel, again!

Grant bagging some fish on snorkel, again!

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.