Category Archives: fun

#WorldParksCongress wraps up #WPCMarine

I worked some of the longest days of my career at World Parks Congress and dealt with a variety of event teething issues never experienced before. On the upside, I met some amazing people (including the wonderful Sylvia Earle, who I interviewed for our webtv channel) and worked with a great team from the French Marine Protected Areas Agency. Please make sure you check out our videos at http://oceanplus.tv/en/

 

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Sylvia Earle being interviewed at Ocean+ pavilion

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Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, Manly, Sydney

 

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Bull sharks – salinity tolerance little-studied despite river attacks

While putting together a presentation for a Marine Biology subject on lionfish (and throwing in the recent controversy over plagiarised lionfish research), I struggled to find much research on an equivalent marine creature that has developed the same low salinity tolerance.

There were papers on the more well-known euryhaline species (those that tolerate wide ranges of salinities) but surprisingly little on bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) and their emergence as key predators in northern Australian rivers and lakes. This is strange given the heavy reporting on shark attacks far upstream in the Brisbane Times, Courier Mail and ABC TV among others.

Juvenile bull sharks have even been found in golf course lakes and unconfirmed reports stated there have been sightings in the Wivenhoe Dam. From what I could find in my research, freshwater bull sharks had a less-developed rectal gland (along with kidnyes, responsible for salt excretion) than their marine cousins and adults were less likely to shift back into marine waters from their freshwater range.

As for competition with longer-term inhabitants of the region:

 

Wintry Warrnambool

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20140723-132435-48275171.jpgWhile I’m missing the summer flat spells and warm weather activities, there’s something special about winter on the Shipwreck Coast. No tourists around, fresh cold southerlies and some calm clear days when the whiting are biting! Here’s a few shots of the local marine sanctuary from last week- some heavy downpours have caused the river to flood but the area still looks petty impressive.

Gearing up for World Parks Congress in Sydney

In the midst of my final year of university and having a baby daughter join the family, I’ve also been organising with the French marine agency AAMP to help them out at the World Parks Congress in Sydney in November.

I enjoyed working with some AAMP members in Fiji last year and was keen to join them again for this major event, so hopefully it works out that I can help them with media and communications in the lead-up to and during the event.

In the meantime I’ve been freelancing as an adviser to the Department of Environment and Primary Industries and helping them put together a promotional video featuring their local staff and the coastal and farming landscapes in this area.

Speaking of which, Warrnambool photographer Oat Vaiyaboon has been shooting some great footage with his drone and GoPro, including this recent effort:

Local marine sanctuary loved and ignored in equal measure

This is a great recent video from the Friends of the Merri Marine Sanctuary, a small and dedicated group helping – as one goal – to remind local people about the amazing natural features and marine life on their doorstep.

At a lecture and networking day on the weekend hosted by Deakin University and the Victorian National Parks Association, a member of the Friends group mentioned how hard it can be to get the support and interest of people outside the conservation community. I could see similar parallels with another spectacular  occurrence that Warrnambool people often ignore.

Living near one of the calving grounds for southern right and humpback whales, people in this area can tend to be ambivalent about the excitement generated in the tourism industry each time the whale watching season approaches.

A recent humorous list of 30 things only a local would understand had this gem at number 23:

Courtesy: standard.net.au

Courtesy: standard.net.au

 

Funny (maybe just as a Warrnambool local) but it highlights that disinterest I spoke of – we’re happy the whales are here but we’re just as happy to ignore them because it doesn’t suit us to stand around for hours (and it can be hours between ‘showings’). Same goes for conservation – local people are generally happy that someone is doing it but not bothered to get involved themselves.

What can you do with apathy like that? It was an open question to the weekend’s session and though there were some good suggestions, as usual it was hard to come up with the perfect answer. My idea was to keep the good work these people do at the forefront, tell the media, tell politicians, help to get relevant policy change at the state and federal level and let your own passion inspire other people. Al Gore was one who helped ‘cure’ apathy over climate change on a global level but it’s even more important to make small communities like ours care about the natural wonders they take for granted.

Seadragon, sunset and seascape

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Seal pup all grown up!

20131220-162409.jpgSpotted this seal and his mates a few months ago hanging around the marine sanctuary. It wasn’t long before one of them worked out that begging for fish in front of the pier is an easier way to get snapper carcasses and other tasty leftovers!
Seals in this area don’t have too much to worry about: the larger colony at Lady Julia Percy Island has to contend with a variety of sharks including makos and threshers and the occasional opportunistic orca.

Scales tell the story of a farmed rainbow trout

Scales tell the story of a farmed rainbow trout

There are common grumbles during my Marine Biology degree (sometimes from my direction, often from others) that there’s not enough practical work and too much theory.
While both are necessary, the most visually interesting is obviously those good prac classes that people go away raving about, such as yesterday’s look at methods of ageing farmed (and somewhat sickly-looking) rainbow trout.
This  photo is taken from a scale reader – showing scales from below the lateral line on a 1+ year old trout, with growth lines (annuli) helping indicate the age.
The trick is picking scales from the fish that haven’t regenerated and so have been on the fish for its lifetime – not an easy task on a small fish brought up in a farmed environment!
My ancient phone doesn’t take the best shots (I drowned my smartphone on another field prac earlier this year and reverted to the old Nokia) but you can still make out the circular lines on the larger right portion of the scales.
The lecturer also showed us how to remove the otolith (ear stones) from the fish to assist with age identification by measuring the growth rings, and also measuring the teeth and intestine to determine feeding category (such as herbivore, omnivore, predator).
I’m in the middle of writing an essay on the age, diet and reproductive capacity of southern bluefin tuna (thunnus maccoyii), so practical work such as this helps to give an appreciation of the work that goes into academic research on those topics.

Blue shark attacked by Jaws! Ok, not Jaws but still…

Another one from the “Overhyped Shark Attack” Files, this one is a little more unusual than the common ‘Jaws bites man/woman/pet pitbull’ stories.

Bastion of truth and journalistic excellence*, UK’s Daily Mirror had this report on a blue shark caught by fishermen off Cornwall with reasonably small bite marks sustained by a “10 foot” shark of some description…

Supposed experts are said to be looking into the attack, which happened when one of the fishos hooked a 60lb blue shark and then watched a larger shark – thought to be a great white – takes bites out of the blue before they could pull their catch onboard.

The reporter makes the surprising mention that “Although it usually eats other sea creatures, it attacks between five and 10 humans a year around the world and has killed 29 since 1990.”

Many gossip rags don’t usually admit that white sharks are ravenous for human flesh, so this is a big admission for a tabloid.

More from the fisherman who snagged it:

“The blue shark looked like someone had taken a machete to it.

“There’s nothing round here that can do that sort of damage. I sent the ­pictures to a shark expert and he ­believes it could well be a great white.”

Well, that’s sorted then: if an ‘expert’ says so, great white it is! But probably not. Great whites can roam vast distances and aspects such as climate change-affected ocean currents or shortage of food (i.e. seals, not people) may have encouraged one closer to the UK southern coast.

Without more confirmed sightings and review by real experts, we’ll have to wave this off as a poorly-identified mako attacking a small bluey and leave it at that.

 

Photo: Mirror.co.uk

Photo: Mirror.co.uk

*For those not aware of sarcasm, this is a relatively straightforward example. The Mirror sits slightly above other UK papers The Sun and the defunct News of the World for integrity and believability.

Palau weighs up cost of banning foreign trawlers; Fiji conference beckons

The MPA News is a regular and very word-heavy newsletter with usually at least newsy story to interest those not excited by the remaining policy-driven interviews (some would call them ‘boring but important’).

This piece from the latest newsletter looked at Palau’s plan to ban foreign commercial fishing from their Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nautical miles from a country’s coast), a strategy that will deprive the country of license revenue but boost the local fishery and of course the sustainability of fish populations for the long-term.

Palua, north-west of Papua New Guina

Palua, north-west of Papua New Guinea

Earlier this year, President Tommy Remengesau of Palau announced he intends to ban foreign commercial fishing throughout his nation’s 604,000-km2 EEZ.  A study group is now examining the “total marine sanctuary” proposal, as it is known.  The examination will include how the large protected area would be financed.

Like Kiribati and other Pacific Island nations, Palau generates revenue from the sale of commercial fishing licenses to foreign tuna vessels.  The closure of Palau’s EEZ to foreign commercial fishing would result in a loss of fishing license revenue.  Umiich Sengebau, Palau’s Minister of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism, told MPA News the marine sanctuary study group is exploring all possible options for offsetting that revenue loss, including conceivably a reverse fishing license mechanism like PIPA’s.

That being said, Palauan waters are not as tuna-rich as other nations in the region, and as a result Palau is not as dependent on fisheries revenue as Kiribati and others.  Palau has focused instead on other revenue sources, particularly the use of environmental protection as a lure for foreign tourism.
This led Palau to designate its waters as a shark sanctuary in 2009.

In a speech in Monaco this year, President Remengesau said, “People have started to equate Palau with sharks.  Palau has effectively cornered the market on seeing sharks.  This is only the beginning of what the protection of apex predators can accomplish for us.”

An article on the total marine sanctuary plan, as well as Palau’s new initiative to test the use of drones to enforce its shark sanctuary, is at http://bit.ly/totalmarinesanctuary

On another note, I’ve signed up to volunteer at the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas in Fiji in December.

A uni lecturer (written about previously for her efforts in promoting seaweed cuisine) helped to initiate contact with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, which saw my previous PR and journalism experience as a useful addition to their conference team.

Should be a fascinating experience, as well as chance to explore more of Fiji in between long days at the conference!

Conference promotional poster

Conference promotional poster

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