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.

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

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)

Spineless Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.gif

Spineless Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.jpg

 critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© 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.

No fun for this waterbaby ☹

The aftermath of Cyclone Debbie and water turbidity

 IMG_20170121_185212.jpg

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.

HUW 01

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.

DCIM100GOPRO

Me and Aaron posing for an underwater selfie.

Head Under Water by Casey Carlisle.jpg

© 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!

Turtle Taggin take two Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

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.

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.

Image

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.

Image

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!

Image

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.

Image

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.

Thar’d be a dragon in them thar hills! … by Casey Carlisle

Not something in a fantasy novel, but it’s hovering in front of me.

Image  One on my great loves (apart from a great themed cocktail party), and something I wish I had more time to do is dive. Or even roll up my sleeves and get involved in some marine research projects again – as long as it doesn’t involve fish guts – I have an unfortunate story about that too! Maybe once I’ve gotten a few novels under my belt I’ll dip my toe again. But for now, trips down memory lane will have to suffice. Well that, and the occasional Clive Cussler novel.

Scrolling through my photo collection I happened across one of the most unusual creatures I’ve crossed paths with during my dives – The Leafy Seadragon. Our dive was actually about monitoring Dugong populations (which was amazing in itself – so stay tuned, I’ll blog about that later), but when seemingly underwater foliage drifted past my goggles, moving in a very uncharacteristic way, I became transfixed. A tiny undersea dragon eye-balled my swirling read hair and took pause. Guess I was just as fascinating to it?

Image

Endemic and unique to Australia, Seadragons (Phycodurus eques) grow to around 350mm and feed on small

crustaceans that populate kelp beds. These unconventional animals can live in excess of ten years and often remain undetected as they blend so easily into their habitat, which lies along the southern coastlines of this big Island.

 I love the fact that Australia holds so many exclusive species, and feel truly blessed to witness much of it firsthand!

With five of us on the dive, spending a few days to visit four sites around the Western Australian shoreline, I snapped a small photo collection of this unusual critter. The only thing that could have made it more awesome is if it did, in fact, breathe fire – how cool would that be?

ImageLucky enough to have high visibility in shallow waters and a nearly all-female crew, our research team was more like Sex and the City on a Trawler. Every evening we’d crank up the radio and drag out the cocktails (Hmm, there’s a party theme in there somewhere.) I also had some of the best calamari on this expedition, fresh from the ocean, and prepared under the sunny cloudless skies.  Unlike the reef dives, teeming with life, this one felt serene; like standing in a large paddock atop a hill undulating in an afternoon breeze – except it all existed underwater.

So medieval times have not washed away with the tides, it just hid it’s mythical creatures under the meniscus, quietly snacking in grassy meadows. Though you may not need a sword and shield to fight this dragon, I highly recommend night time beverage and a wiggle under the moonlight.

Image

© 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.

I could have been Ginger on my own version of Gilligan’s Island! …. by Casey Carlisle

Image

ImageBlue skies, calm azure seas, tucked into a life vest on a ship with eight hot guys… was I wrong to wish for a shipwreck?

And I’m not talking about a singles cruise, or a fishing trip with the boys. I had signed on for a couple of months as research assistant tagging turtles along the Far North Queensland coast on weekends, monitoring their migration patterns and population dispersal. Just shy of completing my Marine Biology degree, of which I was completely in awe of, having grown up in the CentralianDesert, so every attempt was given to volunteer for assisting the PhD students in their practical studies. I managed to participate in many, but this was, by far, my favourite.

Not only was there great eye candy, I could lavish in the warm coastal currents, scuba dive, and have said cuties help slather on yet another layer of sunscreen. The hard part – long hours, (about 22 hours on the vessel) and having to baby sit a couple of the lads with motion sickness (albeit brought on by the previous nights drinking game). We would catch and release continuously through the night as well, and what little sleep I did manage, was disturbed by farts, burps, coughs and groans of the men resting soundly: I had many thoughts of dropping them overboard just for some peace and quiet.

We found an alarming number of turtles garnished with plastic rubbish and a lurking Great White (maybe it was following the trail of vomit behind the boat?) There was also evidence of silt killing off a part of the coral and seagrass beds, kicked up from the shipping lane.  However the rest of the journey was filled with pristine waters and its coulourful inhabitants. It certainly raised my awareness in how our garbage is disposed and recycled, and the importance of environmental impact studies on industry.

It was a fantastic experience diving in waters with great visibility and contributing to a cause bigger than yourself. Meeting a group of socially aware and intelligent young men and actually having a constructive conversation without any awkwardness or need for a drink in one hand. I must have snapped at least 10 rolls of film (no digital

Image

camera back then) of the gorgeous ocean, above and below the waterline… and the hunky shipmates. So what started as a chance to hitch on a trawler and dive on reefs around our fair town for free on the weekends, and enhance my education, turned into an exercise in a global consciousness. I think I’ll trade in Gilligan’s Island for Captain Planet any day!

Save the turtles! Save our Oceans!

© 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.