August 01, 2021

If 4000 people held hands...

Hi fish-fans,
I'm delighted to be able to inform you of another project milestone. Australasian Fishes now contains observations from over 4000 people.
I wanted to give you an 'on the water' analogy of how incredible this is. So, with your indulgence, I'll ask you to imagine all 4000 of us holding hands with our arms outstretched. In this friendly display of community, the Conger line (enjoy the pun!) would extend most of the way from Sydney Harbour Bridge to South Head, a trip that would take about 15 minutes on the ferry.
So, to each of you, thank you so much for your contribution. I hope that despite the tragedy of Covid-19, by this time next year, the Conger line will extend out of The Heads and depending upon your preference, either north towards the tropics or south into more temperate waters.
Posted on August 01, 2021 06:56 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

July 22, 2021

Member profile - Lachlan Fetterplace

Perhaps the most famous invention of the 15th century was the printing press. Much is known about the use of the device for the early printing of bibles and psalters from the Gutenberg Press; however, few people are aware that another group quickly saw potential in this revolutionary invention. They were the early “scientists” of the day. Working across the known world at the time, including India, China, Greece, France, Germany, England and Austria, there were many people engaged in what today we might call science. Even though separated by great distances, these individuals did not always work in a vacuum, and many were highly interested in sharing their knowledge and results with others, as they experimented in areas as varied as turning lead in to gold to mathematics and astronomy. Usually writing in Latin, this community quickly found that using the printing press, they could publicise and share their discoveries within their community of like-interested individuals across many countries, who previously had to wait for handwritten books or manuscripts to be circulated. Such papers contained the experience of their contemporaries or outcomes of experiments. The printing press rapidly improved communication through the mass production of books and papers. This acted as a revolutionary catalyst to the early science community, these early publications eventually developed into the many scientific journals we have today.
More than 500 years later, another communication revolution acted as a further catalyst to scientific disciplines, the Internet. Through the digital universe, scientists, both citizen scientists and professionals found a means of instantaneous communication for the sharing of ideas and experiences. With the tools of the digital age, it suddenly was easier to find people, from anywhere on the planet, who shared your particular interest and with whom you could easily exchange ideas and information. Such tools also allowed the birth of modern citizen science, providing forums and platforms for an army of individuals online, joined together in common interests in furthering research and providing a resource to the professional scientific community.
Current examples range from the “low-key” Facebook special interest groups to very specific scientific forums for high level sharing of information, research techniques and results. An example of one such forum or blog can be found on the Home Page of the Australasian Fishes project called Fish Thinkers ( This site describes itself as “a collaborative effort by a group of aquatic researchers who among other things have an interest in fishing, surfing and the marine and freshwater environment in general. The blog covers current research, but also short articles, reviews and pieces about anything vaguely related to the aquatic environment.” While there appears to be nothing about turning lead to gold on the site, it demonstrates the simplicity and power of widespread scientific communication, through non-traditional channels in the digital age. Such sites provide a very wide-ranging, open source of communication where almost anyone, who has a scientific interest in fish, through the tools of cyber-space, can meet and share ideas. Thank goodness it is not in Latin.
One of the founders of Fish Thinkers is the subject of this Bio Blurb, Lachlan Fetterplace. Lachlan has conducted almost 1,000 identifications for iNaturalist (933 for Australasian Fishes) and although, as you will see, his schedule is extremely busy, still finds the time to support our project.
Lachlan graduated with a PhD in marine science from Wollongong University, in 2019. His PhD, he tells us was focused “on the ecology of soft sediment associated fishes and the implications for fisheries and marine protected areas (MPA) management – methods were mostly BRUVS and acoustic telemetry.” For those interested, through the Fish Thinkers website you can read an abstract of his thesis and request a copy or download directly from Lachlan's thesis is titled "The ecology of temperate soft sediment fishes: Implications for fisheries management and marine protected area design.". During his academic studies, according to Lachlan, he also got distracted by lots of side projects on shark and ray biology and on human-shark interactions, amongst other things. As you can tell, Lachlan finds it hard to say no to anything to do with fish.
In 2017 Lachlan moved to Sweden and is now based at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, in the Department of Aquatic Resources (SLU Aqua). He is working in their fisheries stock analysis unit, acting as their marine ecologist. He estimates, only about 20% of his time is spent on stock analysis work with the remainder spent on numerous projects. He tells us such projects include, “Lots of camera-based monitoring research – from looking at marine mammal bycatch in small scale fisheries to recreational fishing effort around MPAs, to underwater video sampling of fish. I also have been working on reviewing recreational fishing regulations in Swedish MPAs, ecosystem-based fisheries management in the Baltic Sea and various other projects…a lot of projects with more on the way. I also just finished supervising my first Sweden based student, which was good fun.”
As indicated by the wide range of interests found on Fish Thinkers, Lachlan’s academic career was a little unconventional and reflected his various interests. He tells us, “I started Uni straight out of school, which was a complete waste of time on the academic front (but very fun, lol). I dropped out after 1.5 years and did other things…travelled and surfed a lot. In the end, I went back to Uni in my 30’s and loved it, I was lucky enough to do some work with the marine park authority (later DPI) in Jervis Bay and when I finished my degree I went straight into honours and then my PhD which were both in collaboration with NSW DPI.” At this time, he did a bit of free diving, and sometimes SCUBA. Lachlan explains, “I am not a super experienced scuba diver. I surf, fish, and explore…I like to puddle pirate too (dip a net the rock pools to see what is about) with people that don’t or can’t get out into the deeper water.”
Project participants will note that an increasing number of images in the project are the result of remote cameras. This is an area now familiar to Lachlan. “A lot of the research work I have been involved in uses remote video camera monitoring and I mostly film things, so my actual photography skills are pretty bad really. That being said, I have filmed many things using remote techniques that would never have been filmed or photographed otherwise, either because they are too deep or in spots people rarely dive. It’s not too hard for anyone to film in quite deep water these days so there is no reason people can’t send a camera system down to say 200m and take a look (and record the obs on the Australasian Fishes project of course) – we have a paper coming out soon that details how to build a cheap off the shelf remote system to do that actually.”
From reading past journal posts, (see Archives for May 2019 - Behind the power of iNaturalist) we have learned that the iNat software was actually born out of a university student project, not dissimilar to the origins of Fish Thinkers. When speaking about the early days of his blog, Lachlan says, “It is a science communication initiative that Matt Rees (another marine scientist from south coast of NSW) and I set up during our honours/graduate studies. The rough aim was to start conversations around sustainable fishing, ecology, natural history and research on these topics but to do it in a way that wasn’t purely academic or popular media – there are lots of people out there that are interested in research on fish for example but don’t want to read the papers but do want to learn and talk about the results and outcomes in more depth than you will get in a news site. On the flip side it was also a good way to collaborate on citizen science and get help and input from the wider public on lots of things. For something that has never had any funding and that we have had to squeeze in between work and study and family etc it has been surprisingly successful…it seemed to fill a niche and we have met, worked with, taught, collaborated and learnt from so many people through Fish Thinkers. It’s in a bit of a caretaker mode at the moment (though for some reason we still get 200+ hits on the blog a day) but I would like to spend more time on it and hopefully we can make time to get some more people involved at some point- it’s pretty good platform for early career researchers in particular to use as it goes directly to a targeted audience who are all interested in everything to do with fish.”
There is discussion in social media that blogging has gone out of fashion, however Fish Thinkers is clearly a way to apply the technology of the day to creating a simple forum which engages both professional and citizen scientists. Like the first printing press, it spreads experience and knowledge, rapidly across the globe. Unlike printed media, it is far more interactive, and will provide inspiration for additional such sites, as well as applications for future digital technologies. The best part, however, it is not in Latin.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on July 22, 2021 04:20 by markmcg markmcg | 8 comments | Leave a comment

July 01, 2021

Lost fish found

Hi fish fans,
I am going to share an iNaturalist journal post that you really must see. It shows the power and potential of iNaturalist and its community of users.
On October 15, 2020, Damien Brouste uploaded an observation of what was previously thought to be an extinct fish. Damien’s photograph of a Dumbéa River Pipefish in New Caledonia. has meant scientists have re-discovered one of the fishes named in the Search for the Lost Fishes campaign
The journal post you must see is called ‘The Rediscovery of a Lost Fish on iNaturalist’. It discusses the significance of Damien’s observation and explains how the Dumbéa River Pipefish, which was described in 1981, slipped off of the conservation community's radar and was thought to be extinct.
If a species is believed to be extinct then all conservation efforts cease. Knowing the species still exists however allows conservation efforts to kick back into top gear. The rediscovery of the Dumbéa River pipefish will hopefully focus research on the species distribution, and potential threats. This information can help scientists assess the risk of extinction.
The post states that “Damien's sighting of the Dumbéa River pipefish is the perfect example of how iNaturalist can connect people and give their observations a global platform.” I couldn’t agree more.
The Australasian Fishes Project now contains over 126000 observations of more than 2700 species uploaded by nearly 4000 people. Please continue to upload your observations. Together we are building a comprehensive picture of the ichthyofauna of Australia and New Zealand and who knows, we may even rediscover our own ‘extinct fish’.
Posted on July 01, 2021 04:07 by markmcg markmcg | 9 comments | Leave a comment

June 17, 2021

What fishes live at my dive site?

Let’s say you dive or fish regularly at a particular location. One of the terrific features of iNaturalist that may be of interest to you is the ability to produce a list of the fishes that have been observed at that location, or indeed any location. To give you a quick example, let’s take the Kurnell region in Sydney. Just enter “Kurnell” in the Location search box (see red ellipse on the left image above) and over 1800 observations of 153 species are retrieved. You can view these observations as a grid of photographs, a list of species, or as points on a map (see orange ellipse). The data can be easily downloaded as an excel file by clicking on the Filters button then choosing Download.
Retrieving observations by locality and displaying a grid of individual species photographs can make identifying a fish much easier. Again, an example would be instructive. Suppose you have photographed a butterflyfish you didn’t recognise while diving at Lord Howe Island. Simply enter “butterflyfishes” in the Species search box and “Lord Howe Island” in the Location search box (right image above), then click the orange Go button. Finally click on the species tab which will display a gallery showing an image of each butterflyfish species observed at Lord Howe Island. Of course, this gallery only shows butterflyfish species for with the Australasian Fishes Project has observations. Your photograph might show a species that has not been recorded from the region, in which case please upload it. 😊
A powerful feature of iNaturalist that you may not be aware of is the ability to create your own ‘Places’. Many Australasian Fishes Project members regularly upload observations of fishes washed up on particular beaches. They might find it useful to define their own places on which they can search. To do this, first check that your area of interest doesn’t already exist by typing the name of your place of interest into the Location search box. If it doesn’t appear, you can define your own place by clicking on “Places” (see left image below), then clicking on the "Add a New Place" button. Finally, draw a polygon that encloses your area of interest and give it a name. The right image below shows a polygon drawn around Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia. Feel free to set up your own personal places, perhaps for your favourite dive location, angling spot or even your research locality.
Posted on June 17, 2021 04:57 by markmcg markmcg | 3 comments | Leave a comment

June 03, 2021

Member profile - Joe Rowlett

There are few natural environments as varied and amazing as the marine environment. Its major attraction, located close and highly accessible for most of our project participants. This extensive variation and close proximity are key drivers in making the Australasian Fishes project such a success. That said, at the risk of being branded a heretic and drummed out of the Australasia Fishes project, I would like to point out there are other things underwater, than fish. If you are still reading, please bear with me for a few minutes before you commence boiling the tar and plucking feathers, to punish my heresy. I have not lost my passion for fish, however, from past bio blurbs it is clear many of us who spend time underwater find the environment itself enchanting on a number of levels. It is clear many project participants find beauty, enjoyment, adventure and relaxation while contributing to the valuable science in the project.
When I hear others speak about how much their time underwater means to them, in some ways it reminds me of friends who say similar things about their bushwalking or birdwatching activities. They love the scenery as well as the hazards the outdoors present. While the outdoors (especially underwater) can be uncomfortably wet and cold, they longingly seek the challenges found in going to a new area, learning the local conditions, navigating unknown hazards and possibly seeing something for the first time. In some ways, searching underwater, in the name of citizen science, is quite a bit like bushwalking. The sea offers a completely new environment, with new hazards and challenges, as well as unique vistas. On the other hand, while bushwalking in terrestrial environments, you can easily tell the difference between a plant and an animal. Even the least seasoned bushwalker would not confuse flora from fauna, as they walk through both familiar and unfamiliar terrestrial environment. There are no stories of vegetarian bushwalkers, searching for bush tucker and eating a cockroach or snake by mistake. The underwater environment is extremely different. Putting aside that you can’t breathe without mechanical assistance or that you can’t yell out a “coo-ee” when you’ve lost contact with your friends, another characteristic of the underwater world is that it is very difficult to tell the plants from the animals.
Thus, participating in our project, with the exception of the cryptic species, it is usually somewhat easy to tell what a fish is. However, it is also only natural that while underwater, looking at fish, that some of the other attractions draw your attention. We know this because looking at the observations of marine life, that many of the project’s participants record items other than fish, in different iNat projects. I confess, I too have photographed and submitted observations of things which are not actually fish and have found that the community which assists with identification appears to be smaller than the fish world. As a result, I have been extremely grateful to those experts who have provided identifications for these unique and fascinating sea creatures.
Of those who are acting as our guides to the non-fish aspect of the marine environment, the name of Joe Rowlett, AKA, Joe Fish, ( is a familiar source of identification support. Joe is the subject of this month’s bio blurb. By way of introduction, Joe’s online bio reads, “He is classically trained in the zoological arts and sciences, with a particular focus on the esoterica of invertebrate taxonomy and evolution. He’s written for several aquarium publications and for many years lorded over the marine life at Chicago’s venerable Old Town Aquarium. He currently studies prairie insect ecology at the Field Museum of Natural History and fish phylogenetics at the University of Chicago.”
Growing up in suburban Chicago, where he discovered, marine life is in tragically short supply, his earliest interests in the natural world were of the entomological sort, however, he describes himself as a bit of a schizophrenic zoologist, wherein much of his published research is in marine biology, his employment has been related to insect ecology. Joe describes his interest in the marine environment thusly, “I used to regularly write articles for aquarium blogs (reef builders, The subject matter tended to focus on obscure or challenging taxa of reef-associated animals, particularly as it relates to their speciation. My earliest IDs on iNaturalist were of the Chrysiptera parasema complex, for an article I was writing at the time, but many of the observations on here were misidentified and in need of curation. Most of my early efforts on here were focused on curating a few Indo-Pacific fish taxa that I had a particular interest in (Amphiprion, Canthigaster, Cirrhilabrus), but that shifted more towards corals as I was researching for my book. Despite being an entomologist, I haven't put nearly as much time into identifying insects.”
Joe’s research for aquarium blogs clearly showed him there's a lack of taxonomic expertise, especially for some coral groups. He reminds us, “Species are often known only from brief, antiquated descriptions that are difficult or impossible to apply. Take a group like Dendronephthya, which has something like ~200 taxa according to WoRMS, whereas the actual biodiversity in this group seems to be closer to 10% of that number. And many corals are challenging to identify without high-quality photos illustrating the necessary morphological traits—this is especially true for the stalked xeniids, which can't even be reliably determined to genus-level in most cases.”
It is possible to see how this need of improved taxonomic expertise developed into Joe becoming a leader in this area. For those of us, who have always wanted to write a book about our favourite aspects of the marine environment, Joe actually has done that, a definitive field guide for Indo-Pacific corals. He tells us that it was the culmination of two years’ work and the sourcing of over four thousand photos of soft corals, stony corals, anemones, sea pens and hydroids. Not only satisfied with classification and description, but Joe also used the opportunity to update traditional reef builders classification, based on the most recent genetic analysis. The end result was an 800-page coral guide, titled Indo-Pacific Corals (ISBN-13: 979-8686565975, see: ). He notes, “On face value, it seems a bit preposterous for an entomologist from the Midwest (who has never even dived in the region) to attempt such a gargantuan project. The Indo-Pacific coral fauna has never had an adequate field guide covering it in its entirety, despite the considerable interest there is in the subject from divers, aquarists, researchers, etc. And there's also been a considerable need for a single publication featuring all of the changes to coral taxonomy that have appeared over the past couple decades.”
How does one approach a writing project on this scale? Joe says, “I was initially approached by a prolific diver and author, Andrey Ryanskiy, to help him in identifying corals for a book he was working on, but the project eventually grew in scope such that I ended up writing the book myself, over the course of about 2 years. My goal was to source photos of every genus in the region, which proved to be a monumental challenge. The book includes what are likely the first published in situ photos for many taxa (Clavactinia, Cladangia, Monoxenia, Sibogella, etc) and iNaturalist proved instrumental in pulling this off. I'm going to try to get a second edition out later this year which will include a couple more obscure taxa that I recently found photos of.”
Moving into his true discipline of passion, Joe tells us, “In recent years, I've been involved with an ongoing project at the Field Museum studying the changes that take place to the insect communities of restored prairies here in Illinois. It's a specialized fauna that has largely been wiped out over the last couple hundred years, due to agriculture and introduced species. I'm also working on a molecular phylogeny of the pseudocheilin wrasses with Mark Westneat at the University of Chicago, which should be wrapped up later this year. And I've got a review/reclassification of the Chrysiptera cyanea group currently working its way to publication (which relied heavily on iNaturalist observations).”
Joe’s contribution to iNaturalist has been impressive, with 50,950 identifications, made to grateful people like me, who have benefited from his expertise. He is also impressed with projects like Australasian Fishes, reminding us, “Aussies have done a great job of documenting their fish fauna, but the same can't be said for corals, particularly those from the subtropics. This is more a failing of the taxonomic community, as the divers on iNaturalist have now contributed many excellent observations, but much of the taxonomic work dates to the 19th or early 20th century. For example, Australopsammia aurea is a species that I reclassified in my book, based largely on the photos contributed by citizen scientists. It was described from Port Jackson in 1834, but it soon became confused with a superficially similar tropical species, Tubastraea coccinea. Thus far, it has only been documented from areas around Sydney, but it might occur elsewhere along the southern coastline (though it seems suspiciously absent from the well-documented waters around Adelaide). Like much of the marine fauna in this region, it is imperilled by climate change, which is why resolving these taxonomic issues is so pressing. You can't conserve a species if it isn't being recognized by taxonomists.”
Personally, I am very grateful to Joe for being kind enough to identify many of the non-fish images I post on iNaturalist and while researching this bio blurb, I now realise that I am one of many, divers, photographers, scientists and aquarium enthusiasts who have benefited from his generosity and spirit of sharing knowledge. He works in a very complex environment of taxonomy, the never-ending challenge of better defining life on Earth, which not only improve our enjoyment as we explore the marine environment but will also be crucial to future scientists and ecologists who try to understand the shifting of life in the sea and on the planet.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on June 03, 2021 02:16 by markmcg markmcg | 5 comments | Leave a comment

May 11, 2021

We've cracked 1600 members!

Hi fish fans,
Our Australasian Fishes Project community continues to flourish.
In early May we cracked 1600 members. We are delighted by this progress. At that time the project contained observations from 3764 people. Doing the maths, just over 40% of contributors have become project members, which is great.
Understandably there are good reasons why some people decide not to accept the invitation to join the project. Some people live in other parts of the world and have only take photos of fishes on their travels and are unlikely to return (certainly not in the foreseeable future). Others are primarily interested in life forms other than fishes (egads! 😊) and feel that they can make little contribution to Australasian Fishes. Some people appear to add a few observations then lose interest in contributing to iNaturalist. Presumably there are users who worry that ‘signing up’ will commit them to something.
There are however, iNaturalist users who regularly upload fishy observations but haven’t joined the project or forget to choose Australasian Fishes when they upload their observations. If you have dive buddies or fishing mates who fit this category, please encourage them to join the project and tag Australasian Fishes when uploading their next observation. The more observations the project contains, the more powerful it becomes.
As the graph shows, membership has risen steadily over recent years.
Thank you troops. 😊
PS. Since starting to write this journal entry, another 11 users have joined the project.
Posted on May 11, 2021 03:25 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

May 03, 2021

Identify fishes with Computer Vision

Have you used iNaturalist’s Computer Vision technology? If so, you may be interested to read about how it works, its history and timeline at If not, you’re in for a treat.
All you need to do to have Computer Vision identify the fish in your observation is to click on the ‘Suggest an Identification’ tab (see 1, above) then click in the ‘Species name’ box (see 2, above). Computer Vision will return a list of likely species based on resemblance and locality as shown above. Click on "include suggestions not seen nearby" to widen your search parameters.
If you would like to identify a fish (or any organism for that matter) but don’t want to upload the observation, try the Computer Vision demo.
I take my hat off to the team at iNaturalist for developing Computer Vision and for making iNat the fantastic platform we all enjoy.
Posted on May 03, 2021 23:45 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

April 27, 2021

City Nature Challenge is on again!

Hi fish fans,
In case you haven’t heard already, @thebeachcomber is coordinating the City Nature Challenge 2021 for Sydney.
The challenge runs from April 30th to May 3rd, during which time I encourage you to upload as many observations as you can. The challenge accepts observations of all life forms (not just fishes 😊) so it’s your chance to go nuts uploading all those photos you have taken of insects in the back yard and birds in the park.
Posted on April 27, 2021 03:19 by markmcg markmcg | 4 comments | Leave a comment

March 30, 2021

Member profile - Alex Burton

There is no doubt we live in a Golden Age of Exploration, never before witnessed in history. Inexpensive technology has enabled almost everyone to become an explorer of the natural environment, at a very reasonable price and even from the comfort of their homes. For example, computer applications, such as Google Earth, have allowed people to explore isolated parts of the plant, from the comfort of their living rooms, often making interesting discoveries along the way. Several significant meteor impact craters have been found by armchair explorers, using Google Earth to scan the lesser travelled parts of the planet. We are aware of the availability of inexpensive drones, however, for those Explorers who wish to leave their living rooms and explore the 70% of the planet covered by water, anyone can buy DIY remotely operated underwater vehicles, which can explore the depths up to 100 meters or more. These kits are available to anyone who wishes to pilot a robot to the deep. For those who want to explore the underwater world first-hand, SCUBA and hookah diving is very popular and easily accessible. Exploration which was once restricted to the rich or to scientists, are now open to all. Of course, not to mention using resources such as iNaturalist and Australasian Fishes to help identify the fauna you encounter.
We introduce project participants to some of the professional scientists who assist our project in fish identification in our regular Meet the Scientist bio blurbs. These blurbs provide insight into the world of the professional scientist as well as an expression of our gratitude for their expertise and support. When we consider the availability of inexpensive exploration and looking back at past bios, it may be time to ask ourselves whether the role of scientist will significantly change over the near future? While we use the term “scientist” frequently in conversation and find it often in the media, it is one of those position descriptions which remains a little fuzzy. Unlike plumber, marketing manager or candlestick maker, the job “scientist” probably does not have the same meaning to everyone. For example, if you are not currently engaged in scientific research or development, are you still a scientist? If you are working in research, but do not have a recognised science degree, are you a scientist? The term “scientist” crates various images in the minds of the general population, ranging from the creator of the Frankenstein monster to the developers of COVID vaccines. A common definition is, “an expert in science, especially one of the physical or natural sciences.” This reads somewhat non-specific and open ended.
Perhaps the role of the professional scientist will be changing over time. Evidence of this is clear in the bio blurbs we have been running of scientists in training, PhD students. In this article we meet, Alex Burton @alexburton, who is currently a PhD student at Massey University in New Zealand, studying School Sharks (Galeorhinus galeus) in the Kaipara Harbour. He is looking at many different aspects of their ecology, including their movements around New Zealand (and Australia if they migrate across the ditch during his studies). He is originally from Auckland, and from a young age always held a fascination with the water and its inhabitants. His interest in sharks dates back to his primary school days, when he participated in a science project as part of a class. This interest was reinforced by family trips to locations which included local rockpools or fishing off of wharfs. He recalls frequent visits to the Coromandel where he would fish, swim, and explore local beaches and sea caves.
Alex’s studies and personal interests have joined to lay the foundation for a promising career as a scientist. Alex explains, “In late 2017 I was doing some fish, shark, and ray identification as part of a summer position I had, and my supervisor introduced me to iNat. When I initially started on iNat I focused on fish and sharks, however, as I got more experienced in ray ID, my focus changed to mostly elasmobranchs with the odd fish and holocephalan ID. As I carried on with identifications for other users’ observations and started to add my own observations, @markmcg sent me an invite to join the project in 2018 and I have been a part of it ever since. I used to go on iNat every day, however, in more recent times it has been when I get a free moment to jump on and contribute.”
It is clear that early in his scientific studies, Alex recognised the power of citizen science and the increased degree of exploration going on in the non-scientific community. He can relate to the project’s participants, although he has been snorkelling much longer than he has been diving. These days, due to the nature of his research, Alex reports spending more time on the water’s surface than under it, primarily capturing and releasing sharks. His favourite NZ dive spots includes Mathesons Bay and the Goat Island Marine Reserve. He tells us, “Both (locations) have a range of environments including kelp forests and sparse sandy areas, which are very different at night. I have never dived in Australia, however, from images of northern Australia (mainly the Queensland area) one of the main differences we have is that we don’t have coral reefs on mainland New Zealand. Instead, we have kelp forests which can be as fascinating as coral reefs e.g., the number of organisms that can be found in and around them. In the areas that I have been diving, we haven’t seen too many sharks (which is a shame), whereas from what I see from the project’s photo portfolio, sharks are observed very frequently in coastal areas of Australia especially the members of the wobbegong family. Instead, the two most common elasmobranchs that I have seen whilst diving, snorkelling, or during coastal walks are the short tail stingray (Bathytoshia brevicaudata) and New Zealand eagle ray (Myliobatis tenuicaudatus). A few of my diving friends have seen sharks whilst diving in New Zealand, including two friends that had a school shark swim straight past them (one of my observations).“
Like other PhD students we have featured, Alex sees great benefits of engaging the non-scientific community who are exploring the planet in their own way, often with advanced equipment. His engagement in citizen science, is demonstrated through his iNaturalist contributions, which is impressive. To date, Alex is ranked 13th in identifications for the Australian Fishes Project, having assisted in the identification of 3,829 AF observations. For iNat, he has assisted in 11,641 identifications. From this type of support, it is clear he will become one of those future professional scientists who will continuously engage citizen scientists as part of his research, paying them back by sharing his expertise in identification and in discussions.
While he is supportive of all fish types in our project, sharks are truly his passion. He says, “As mentioned previously, I have always loved marine species especially sharks. With this passion came fascination and the urge to learn more about them and the other marine species that they interact with. Something I still strive to do today, as there is always more to learn about various shark and marine species. As I gained more knowledge and experience around elasmobranchs and fish, I would and still love to share this knowledge with people where I can. This is to help with their understanding of various species that they are fascinated with, even if it is through helping people identify various species on iNaturalist or having conservations with interested individuals.”
The job of “scientist” has dramatically evolved over the many years. Perhaps the first scientists were professional/religious astronomers, who were dedicated to understanding the world through the movement of the stars. The next step in the development of the job might have been alchemists, who tried to change the world, by converting lead into gold, however, discovering much about chemistry and the nature of matter in the process. In western society we recall the age of the gentleman scientist, fairly affluent men, who regarded their area of science as a personal hobby or their avocation., not vocation. Today, in the latest stage of the evolution of the position description, scientists require the stamp of approval by universities, evidenced by their degrees, as bona fides of their status as actual scientists.
Future scientists will be trained in not only the methodology of their discipline, but also how to tap and harness the power of citizen scientist explorers. They will learn how, not only to access vast data points created by sensors and the studies of others, but also, how to organise, manage and direct the thousands of amateurs who are already exploring out in the field, collecting information for themselves and projects like Australasian Fishes. The non-professional, citizen scientists represent a vast resource, especially as funding for scientific exploration fails to keep up with mankind’s curiosity. Using such a resource, is not a natural skillset, and I forecast it will be taught as part of scientific methodology as part of the scientific community’s next evolution. Scientists like Alex will be well-versed in the cultivation and use of this asset and will introduce this next level of development to their community.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on March 30, 2021 01:49 by markmcg markmcg | 4 comments | Leave a comment

March 19, 2021

Exciting news! Fish on the list.

The Red Wide-bodied Pipefish, Stigmatopora harastii, has been named by LifeWatch in the 2020 ten remarkable new marine species list. The list includes 9 invertebrates and a single fish species -the Red Wide-bodied Pipefish.
The species is named after Australasian Fishes member, Dr David Harasti, who is a Senior Marine Scientist at Fisheries NSW. Dave’s namesake is very difficult to find in Sydney's coastal waters, due to its incredible camouflage in red algae and sponges. Read more on the Australian Museum website.
Congratulations to Australian Museum Research Associate Graham Short and AM staff member Andrew Trevor-Jones , who named the species. Both Graham (@humuhumufish) and Andrew (@andrewtrevor-jones) are members of the Australasian Fishes Project.
Posted on March 19, 2021 04:49 by markmcg markmcg | 8 comments | Leave a comment