Book Review – ‘Spineless’ by Susan Middleton and Sylvia A. Earle

Eye-popping photography of fauna not everyone gets to see up close – and this is definitely up close.

Spineless Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Non-Fiction, Photography, Nature, Biology

No. of pages: 256

From Goodreads:

In Spineless, acclaimed photographer Susan Middleton explores the mysterious and surprising world of marine invertebrates, which represent more than 98 percent of the known animal species in the ocean. They are also astonishingly diverse in their shapes, patterns, textures, and colors—in nature’s fashion show, they are the haute couture of marine life.

This collection of more than 250 remarkable images is the result of seven years of painstaking fieldwork across the Pacific Ocean, using photographic techniques that Middleton developed to capture these extremely fragile creatures on camera. She also provides short essays that examine the place these invertebrates occupy on the tree of life, their vast array of forms, and their lives in the ocean. Scientist Bernadette Holthuis contributes profiles describing each species, many of them for the first time. Middleton’s book is a stunning new view of nature that harmoniously combines art and science.

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A break away from fantasy and contemporary books to escapism of a different kind, ‘Spineless’ tempted my imagination as much as any YA novel or artwork in a gallery. Comprised of jaw dropping photography with just enough detail to awe and inspire, igniting the inner observer and scientist in us all. Plus, touching on the artistic with hues of colour and iridescence expertly captured through the lens.

I loved the literary and pop culture quotes scattered through the narrative it provided an additional tidbit grounding this amazing work in the now for folk who don’t have a science degree.

This whole book is a great snapshot of the environmental and scientific landscapes. ‘Spineless’ gives you a great deal of technical oversight, as well as educating the reader about our environment and its threats. But on the whole it simply illustrates the beauty of nature and adaptation in the invertebrate world.

The writing style is both academic and flamboyant at the same time, drawing the reader along on an adventure both informative and inspiring. I was certainly ready to jump back into my marine biology studies after reading the book.

A great addition (and better than a glossary) were the inclusion of Species profiles towards the rear of the book. A photographic reference and brief zoological description.

We also get a bit of the behind the scenes mechanics of how this photography was executed in the final pages, which I feel not only adds credence, but is yet another aspect of inspiration for those thinking about producing their own accounts of nature through the lens.

Overall feeling: Inspiring (and a little fish in shock and awe)

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Week Away (which means no NaNoWriMo for me)

Old high school friends visiting that I’ve known for years, an underwater walk with sharks, and venturing across the tundra at Australia Zoo.

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I was thinking about scheduling some posts for my week away from the keyboard, but it turned out I was too busy getting the guest house ready for visitors – my place was like an episode of ‘The Block.’ I was running around buying styling items, painting, assembling furniture, covered in all manner of dirt, dust and hues of paint. And I never knew my body odour could get so bad… peeeyouuu!

But the space looks fantastic and I’m very proud of the effort.

So instead of creating prose at the computer this week I’ve been staying up late with a glass of champagne reminiscing over high school days, giggling at our antics, and catching up with each other’s lives until late into the night. The days have been filled with wildlife. Sea Life Mooloolabah is a huge favourite of mine – my Marine Biology roots express themselves and my friends and family get a personalised tour through the exhibitions, regaled by my stories of encounters in the wild. I may or may not embellish for artistic and humorous purposes… that’s just the way I roll. Australia Zoo (Steve Irwin’s brainchild) was fun, and attending in the off season, means no lines, plenty of time to stand gazing at the wonderful animals without getting jostled for a prime viewing spot from pushy tourists. Its open plan, ornate gardens and massive statues give a great ambience to the zoo experience. There are no cramped cages and unhappy animals here. Most are rescued or unable to be released into the wild due to being bred in captivity – not that I’m a stout activist, but it is reassuring that the animals are benefiting from care here rather than being abducted from the wild for our amusement.

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Today we just got back from a rainforest walk to the local waterfalls, which was great to spot all the kaleidoscope hued tropical parrots and parakeets and a chance at glimpsing some platypus in the wild (lil’ buggar was too fast for me to snap a quick pic). The only down fall – my hayfever and being covered in sweat from a muggy day – I so wanted to “accidentally” fall into the water at the falls, but forgot to bring a towel and wasn’t about to treat other bushwalkers to this winter padded body.

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After life in the city, moving up into the mountains dotting the coastline has left me with a renewed appreciation for flora and fauna and is always a peaceful and inspiring backdrop for writing.

So if you were wondering where my regular posts were this week – I’ve been renovating, and then got lost in nature. I’ll be back to regular posting in the next day or two, refreshed, revitalised and feeling greatful.

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© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Surprising things on the lawn this morning

I was lucky enough to get a call from an old friend this morning to help with the critters on his grass… sea grass that is.

I think the last time I posted about anything to do with ocean research was back in December last year when I got to do some more turtle tagging and population biometrics. With autumn settling in, it’s pretty nippy some mornings, however, the Sunshine Coast is still boasting warm days and some calm seas. So you can guess this little girl was excited at a chance to get out on the wild blue and do some exploring… Avast me lubbers! Half a day’s travel to a nearby dugong population, Aaron had phoned me up to help him collecting data on a herd he’s been studying.

Me – turn down the chance to swim with dugongs – hell no!

I didn’t have any gear, or an underwater camera, so I’m lucky Aaron was well prepared… usually his calls for help entail me trudging through mangroves, or sitting on a boat. And there is always endless opportunity to make a spectacle of myself, I’m built like a giraffe and co-ordinatedly challenged. But I love it, so my friends have to put up with my trips, falls and ass-pants. But this was amazing! I literally wanted to make a starfish in the seabed it looked so inviting.

Dugong 01 by Casey CarlisleThere was about fifteen dugongs in this herd, and a few swam up close for a nosey. It’d be great to give them a pat, but were observing in the wild and it’s not good to let them get too domesticated. One poor fella had scars across his back – a threat to this species where motorboat propellers catch them travelling over their feeding meadows. But he seems in good health. Many populations in the southern region are in danger, other factors like accidental capture in fishnets have impacted numbers as well.

There were small schools of fish, I glimpsed a cuttlefish and a number of crustaceans on the substrate. I would have loved to wander around and see what else I could find (and snap some pics), but we had a job to do. Did I mention I’m kicking myself for leaving my camera behind? Aaron graciously sent me a few snaps of our outing – probably because I whines so much at being ill prepared to document our outing. Thanks again Aaron – you are awesome!

At least this trip I wasn’t plagued with my usual clumsiness and managed to stay on my own two feet when on dry land.

It looks like the area of the sea grass itself is shrinking. And it had me wondering as to the environmental factors affecting the situation, as we’ve also had a significant event with coral bleaching along the Great Barrier Reef. I shudder to think of a possibility where all the amazing wonders I’ve seen could be wiped out in the near future if we don’t do all we can to protect these colonies, parks and reefs. James Cook University recently released a study that the reef will be dead within 5 years if some major work is not done to save it. I can’t imagine the impact on our parks and industry. It is a daunting thought and I don’t think enough noise is being made to help protect our sea life and their habitats.

Given the water is shallow and there wasn’t a lot of wind around, the water was pretty turgid, so visibility was hazy. I’d love to re-visit on a day with high visibility and low currents, it would be like standing on a hilltop paddock with the cows magically suspended in the air. It made me feel truly humble and I really want to do all I can to help protect this wonderful species. I’d like my children and nieces and nephews to enjoy and appreciate experiences like these.

So my day on the green was a little different, but I still am in awe at everything Mother Nature has to offer.

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Me and Aaron posing for an underwater selfie.

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© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Top 5 Books read in 2015

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I managed over 100 titles last year in my reading and in retrospect I wondered what one’s I would recommend to anyone asking for something new. So, here’s a brief list of my favourite reads from 2015 – 2 are part of a series, and one honourable mention at the end, but these books managed to tick all the boxes for me. Fun, indulgence and engaging…

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Darklife and Riptide

 

This series by Kat Falls managed to cover the genres of Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopian, and Marine Biology – all of which are favourites on their own, but pulled together in one book had me just about melting into a pool of my own making.

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The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Fairest, and Winter)

Though I have yet to read Winter, the rest of the books in this series were a massive surprise. I’m not a fan of fairytale re-tellings, but The Lunar Chronicles had me eating my words. A truly entertaining and unique fable woven over so many volumes with great characters and such an interwoven plot. A masterful task!

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A Court of Thorns and Roses

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Hot of the tail of The Lunar Chronicles, I broke and purchased yet another adaptation of fairy tales (from Beauty and the Beast). I’d heard great things from friends about the ‘A Crown of Thorns’ series, and thought I’d start with this single book rather than tackle a large series again. It did not disappoint, I was truly entranced in the Fae world and our Huntress’ predicament. Truly magical.

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

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I got to read and review a lot of GLBT+ titles this year, the majority of them ranking highly, but this is by far my favourite.

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The Martian

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This is nerd porn on steroids. With so much science and witty repertoire thrown in, this survival story where literally the intelligence of Watney is the only thing saving him from death at every turn on an alien landscape. This is also the only book to get in my top 5 that has multiple points of view…

 

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Life and Death – Twilight Re-imagined

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I have to include this, even though it is not a new novel, but only because it reminded me of a time that got me into reading and writing in earnest. Also the gender swap added another layer to the story and many of the issues critics had with the novel. With the addition of some changes and what-if’s Stephenie was able to address, it was a wonderful gift for the tenth anniversary of Twilight.

 

I also noticed that the colours red and blue (and black) dominate the covers of my favourites – a funny coincidence 🙂

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© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Turtle tagging – take two

…with a girl named Michele who laughed so hard she was choking when a turtle slapped me across the face.

Turtle Tagging Take Two Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleI loved volunteering back when I lived in Townsville for Post Grad’s doing research, and I finally got my chance to do it again along the Sunshine Coast (with another girl named Michele) studying the migratory and feeding habits of sea turtle populations. She was also garnering information about how pollution is affecting their health. These trips not only feed the inner Marine Biologist in me, but also act as fodder for my imagination. The science fiction series I’m working on (LONERS) has one novel set on a water planet – lots of room to go wild with alien sea creatures! Not that there isn’t enough under our waves that doesn’t look alien enough 😉

The day started really early last weekend, I was up at 4am and met Michele at the dock for a 5am cast off. She had 10 beaches to visit. With the sun already reaching into the sky, it was warm – a sultry 25 degrees Celsius. Sea turtles usually nest between October and March each year with the peak of the season in Dec and Jan. So this is something I’m going to get to do a number of times in the coming months… I’ll update again on more turtle fun towards the end of Jan – hopefully with some pics this time – when I wrap up the entire experience.

My curse is alive and well. In typical form I ended up on my butt at least once on the trip. Slapped in the face by a sea turtle flipper when helping to attach a transmitter to a new subject. It left a bit of a mark, but luckily enough I can pass it off as sunburn. Michele, however thought it was the funniest thing she had seen and just about wretched over the side from laughter. Maybe I would have laughed too if my brain wasn’t still rattling.

We were also going to rendezvous with a couple of Flatbacks that also have satellite tracking devices – check their health and record data. Although we ended up only getting to 3 during the day, one of whom must have had a tangle with a shark sporting a scarred flipper.

I was happy to report that we didn’t come across any of our reptilian friends fouled with fishing line, netting or plastic pollution – although that is still a big problem. The sky remained clear the entire time, and the seas calm. Got to have a few short swims. But no time for playing about, even if the visibility was dive worthy!
For such a pale skinned ranga, I feel so at home on the ocean. My spleen for a permanent solution to sunburn!! I think I used an entire bottle of sunblock over the day and still ended up pink. Thankfully the next morning it had faded.

We got close to the HMAS Brisbane, a popular dive site in this area, reminding me that I should take a leisure dive and check it out some time. The pics I’ve seen of the site look amazing and supports a slew of marine life. Just think of all the marine flora and fauna! I was in geek girl heaven.

A large ray swam by and I had taken a few great shots… but technology ARGH! I was a little ticked off when I got home because my camera had some sort of glitch when I was recharging, and the footage I’d shot got deleted. At least I have memories J

The best bit was checking out some turtle clutch sizes. That means digging up some nests and counting eggs. I’m just about beside myself with excitement in hopes to be there when some hatch. Baby turtles are so cute!

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There are a lot of groups that love volunteers along the coast for tagging and recording data, so if this article sparks some sort of interest, do an internet search and you are bound to find something…

Catch you on the flip flop…

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© Casey Carlisle 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hello Old friend… I had a whale of a time!

Falling back into old habits – and what a way to jump back into the coast than with some whale watching.

Hello Old Friend Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleI took a quick day trip to do some whale watching yesterday. There are so many places along the coast here offering trips out to indulge in some good old cetacean-staring. It’s not until you get up and close that you appreciate just how enormous these mammals are.

It’s been over 18 months since I’ve indulged in a post around Marine Biology (my other love.) There wasn’t a lot of opportunity when I was living in Melbourne, and now on the Sunshine Coast, it’s on my door step. A Freshwater natural spring on my property and the coastline a 20 minute drive away… it’s about time!

Hello Old Friend Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI caught up with Philip, an old friend from my JCU days who has some contacts with diving and tour establishments locally, and did some light cajoling to get me on a cruise. It’s been over ten years since I’ve been on open water, and forgotten just how much I love it. I was also roped into some manual labour to get the vessel ship-shape before cast off – and cheeky Philip pulled me up to share some knowledge on Humpbacks and what other great marine animals were present in the area. Boy did I have to dig deep having been away from the coast for so long.

We were treated to some curious visitors and rewarded with a few breaches, mind you, you’re out on the water for half the day and the encounter (if you are lucky) may only last 15 minutes.

Hello Old Friend Pic 04 by Casey CarlisleWe also used a hydrophone to record some whalesong too, which Philip collects and sends to one of the Universities. Someone there is trying to decipher whale language. The whole day had me melancholy for my research days.

At least this time out I didn’t trip, or fall, or manage to clumsily do something to embarrass myself – I’m famous for landing on my backside at least once an excursion. The closest to a mishap was narrowly avoiding some spray from a motion sick passenger.

All in all a magical day!

I’m going see if I can do some volunteering with Dugong or sea turtle tagging later in the year; or maybe venture out on my own and do some diving if I can borrow or hire some equipment.

Head Under Water by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.