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.

Sunshine, Star Wars, predators and pirouettes all in one afternoon… by Casey Carlisle

Your breathing resembles sounds made by Darth Vader… and try as you might, you can’t silence the noise as you stare at a predator, sinuating in a languid fashion toward you with hungry black eyes.

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It may sound like a line from a horror story, but in fact I was having the time of my life – I thought, since posting about many of the research trips I’ve been involved in under the ‘HeadUnderWater’ tag, this time I’d post about something more recreational…

Stealing away a Sunday on a friends sailboat (how’s that for alliteration), we headed for secluded waters along the Great Barrier Reef to make the most of the sunshine and high visibility waters. There is nothing like cruising along the ocean with a warm salty breeze playing through your hair while enjoying a good book!

Our Skipper, Paul, knew of a great dive spot for coral canyons – a fantastic spot to get an eyeful of the plethora of marine flora and fauna. I’d been visiting small reef crops, grass beds and sandy Bay floors quite frequently and was really looking forward to the experience.

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This day, the water was freezing (because we were close to the outer edge of the reef) and I donned a full-body wet suit. There were five of us on the dive, including two avid underwater photographers (hence the brilliant photos) I met for the first time. As they flippered excitedly about, my buddy, Jasmine and I were content to wade along the canyon wall, ogling and admiring the various familiar species and coral formations. I couldn’t help thinking how amazing this would look during a night dive under a blacklight.

A highlight was the visitation of a curious Grey Nurse shark, meandering in the periphery for a while before heading off to more appetising morsels. Our site consisted of a series of shallow canyons cutting into the edge of the reef that often have large schools of fish and numerous turtles (and the occasional shark). Along the ridges between the canyons, groups of big fin reef squid swim in vertical formation in the water column, rippling with changing colours as they reacted to our presence. I couldn’t help but think of Luke Skywalker zooming through the gully of the Death Star on his bombing run as I paddled in the anemone encrusted ravine. At least no one was firing pot shots at me!

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Taking a break from the fascinating biology, Jasmine and I amused the others with our take on an underwater ballet. And I’m sure if fish could laugh, that is exactly what they were doing, watching our clumsy attempt at pirouettes and jetés in the viscous water. I may admit to many photos being taken of our performance, but then I’d be asked to post them here – so let’s just leave it to your imagination.

Swimming down and out over the gently sloping sand towards 18 metres, you can see some large scattered bommies, each with their own individual makeup of species and each worth a visit – if only we had the time… Jasmine, with her charade to return to the surface reigned in my curiosity.

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Waving to a scaly friend, who looked suspiciously like JarJar Binks, I made my way back to the yacht; looking forward to a hearty meal before heading back to solid ground. A lovely day with new and old friends on a boat aptly named ‘Hyperdrive’ all that was missing was a dog named Chewbacca and someone wearing their hair in side buns, Princess Leah-style.

© Casey Carlisle 2013. 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.