No fun for this waterbaby ☹

The aftermath of Cyclone Debbie and water turbidity

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I love putting my Marine Biology degree to use and volunteering for colleagues in their research, and I had signed on for a number of data collecting expeditions in the first half of this year, but my excitement was dashed when Cyclone Debbie reared her head in March, kicking up sediment, increasing freshwater runoff.

Many of the species we were to observe or tag left the area and hadn’t returned with enough population to warrant a survey. Additionally, the turbidity and visibility of the water hampered the chosen sites and work was delayed or cancelled for the time being. So I was left with a big sad face.

I would have loved to get involved with a study on the silt deposits from run-off on the reef, or how nutrient run off increases certain organism population or algal blooms in the area; but no-one I knew was conducting a foray into these areas at the moment. No luck for this girl. I was tempted to conduct my own study just for the fun of it, but that kind of endeavour takes a little bit of money and extra volunteers. I can’t justify the time an effort spent to organise when I should be writing. That’s how I weigh up every activity at the moment: is it worth me taking time of writing or not? Only because I’m determined to finish some projects this year, no matter how strong the call of the sea!

I did get one small morning survey for starfish species. A bit of light snorkelling on a sunny day in a more remote area of the Sunshine Coast to compare to the more popular and trafficked areas. More to monitor the impact of tourism and industry on the local species.

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Though because it was only a short amount of time to get the job done, I didn’t have the opportunity to swim around photographing some of the sights for my blog. Though I did manage to get a selfie – the only good one out of ten. My photographer had a hard time keeping the camera still.

It has been the least scientific of all my adventures. And without incident of my clumsiness. Prone to slipping on rocks, falling down, tripping – or getting slapped in the face by a turtle. I endure all of this for my love of the ocean and its inhabitants. Looking forward to a few adventures nearer to Christmas. Turtle tagging, some research into plankton species which will mostly be conducted in a lab, a trawling sample, and maybe a coastline survey. Sadly no dugong studies this year.

I’m still wanting to do some more nosing around in the natural spring in my back yard and get a population survey of what is right under my nose. I hear the spring has been seeded with Barramundi!

But writing first.

Head Under Water by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2017. 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.

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…

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.

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.

It’s serious work, bruising your bum… by Casey Carlisle

I can hear a ringtail possum… oh no, it’s Casey falling down.

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For those who know a little about Melbourne’s Maribyrnong River, you’ll know that the name comes from the Aboriginal saying ‘mirring-gnay-bir-nong’ translated as ‘I can hear a ringtail possum.’ Part of this beautiful estuary lies right at my back door. I walk my dogs along it of an afternoon; sit in the park beside its banks for picnics and the occasional break from the office to write in a creative-inspirational surround.

I’ve been involved in marine research in the past (you can read some stories in my previous blogs), however recently that habit has fallen by the wayside. Lacking the connections I had in Townville, Darwin or Perth; and I certainly don’t have the expendable time I used to having spent long weekends away on a fishing trawler or research vessel. But I do desperately miss the scent of salt air and marine adventures.

Then one afternoon, with three fur-babies dragging me along a path next to the Maribyrnong River, I almost smacked my forehead with a realisation. There’s got to be a way I could get involved right here. I mean it’s not more than twenty paces from my front door! And so I jumped on the computer once I got home and shot off a few emails… and was rewarded by getting in contact with Andrew, currently completing his Honors degree – and yes, he needed help collecting data for his research.

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Map complements of Melbourne Water

I met with Andrew two months ago to volunteer as a Research Assistant (along with five others), to identify and record numbers of species, measure water temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity, pH levels, nutrients, faecal  contamination and metals in the waterway. The small group of recruits met every Sunday to survey a football field sized area, ending the day in a barbeque and a glass of beer or bubbly. Little did I know that this was not only the beginning of a great time with some hilarious people, but the birth of the “Butt-plant Betting Pool.” Only because I had the displeasure on our first outing to trip and fall … twice… and then again the following weekend.

ImageAlong with discovering that there are ten species of native fish and four species of exotic fish in the area nearest to my house, of 70% sampled was dominated by the Eastern Gambusia.

In the summer months you can find gentlemen fishing off the banks and pontoons for Bream and Jewfish; one of which was witness to my slip, landing on the hard edge of the warf. I sported a grapefruit sized bruise for two weeks. It must have looked so glamorous as I toppled over, flailing my arms and legs Kermit-the-frog-style. But the elderly gentleman respectfully never cracked a smile in amusement. Anonymous fisherman – I humbly thank you!

ImageI can’t say the same for Dan, another volunteer, whereupon watching me slide on some treacherous mud, like Bambi on ice, only to land in fully seated position in the warm brown silt. I just loved spending the afternoon looking like I had sharted. But I got to hold an Eastern Long-necked Turtle and Pobblebonk (Southern Bullfrog) and managed to catch and release a Short-finned Eel.

My next fall from grace was helped along by a comedic friend (Dan) when he brandished a Freshwater Shrimp (Atyidae) in my face – it was primary school all over again. Happily, karma justified my retaliation later that day when he managed to stir an ants nest; I only wish I had my phone on to capture his awkward slapping dance.

There is a lot of redevelopment going on around my suburb, and more catchment areas with ponds in parkland are sprouting up along the riverbank. It’s wonderful to see what will now grow into beautiful little nature reserves. A bountiful number of birds, bats and land mammals can be enjoyed if you chose to peruse along the walkways and jetties. A great deal of history is waiting to be uncovered, with Aboriginal artefacts, mounds and sacred trees along Maribyrnong River’s meandering path to the ocean. Additionally, you can also find the occasional Heritage registered site.

And for those of you who are interested, the “Butt-plant betting pool” ended at 6 falls for 8 weekends, netting Ashley a cool fifty bucks (which she is splitting with me).

So the next time I’m kicking back under a tree, or on a park bench to do some writing by the river, I have a much more intimate knowledge of what lurks beneath it’s waters and hides in the banks. Although I wasn’t swimming with sea turtles or diving on a reef, I certainly got to get my feet wet (and the seat of my pants).

*For information on Andrew’s Honors Thesis, findings are set to be published in a Journal after his graduation. I will post a link for interested parties upon its publication.

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© Casey Carlisle 2014. 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.