Monday, June 13, 2011

Welcome to Stradbroke: This Might Get In-Seine

Thought of the day: studying life (that is, the subject of biology) often seems to necessitate a close proximity to death as well.

I arrived on another island research station this morning - not near a beautiful coral reef this time, but next to the wonderful seagrass beds and other habitats of Moreton Bay.  After a brief orientation, lunch, and settling into our rooms, we headed out to the water.  Stepping carefully to avoid things that might kill us, like stonefish and blue ringed octopuses, we waded out to a sand bar.  Saw a variety of neat creatures: a porcupine fish (looks like a puffer fish), a bearded ghoul (looks rather like a stonefish, is not, but is second to the stonefish in terms of deadliness), a couple of crinoids (feather stars), hundreds of crabs (including scuttling armies of soldier crabs), and many other organisms.

Tomorrow, our research projects start for real.  I am working with a group that is studying the impacts of carrion on marine systems, with the variable being the age of the carrion.  It sounds like a simple research project, given our hypothesis, but nothing is easy in science.  Fortunately, we have 3 days of prep work to figure out how this is going to actually become a functional experiment, while we wait for some dead fish to get older and stinkier.

After dinner (and therefore after dark, since it is winter here in Australia), the entire group took a seine net down to the beach, both as an opportunity for everyone to see what sorts of fish are found here as well as practice for the smaller group whose project involves catching fish and performing gut analyses.  We must have all looked rather strange: wearing shorts and water shoes/booties on the bottom, and layers of jackets, hats, and other warm clothing on the top.  Several of the guys waded out into the (dark, and rather cold) water, to drag the large seine net around in a circle.  We found a lot of garfish, a couple of shovel-nosed rays, a squid (which inked in the bucket and made it challenging to find the other fish), and many smaller fish, tossing most of them back after we'd admired them.  Unfortunately, as with any fishing activity, there ended up being some bycatch - fish that got caught in the net and suffered because of it.  I tried to help sort through the net, as well as catch the few fish that were washing up onto the sand; saved some, lost others.  Such is the research life, and I will have to get used to it, though it also provides experience that gives me some food for thought regarding the much bigger issues of bycatch in the commercial fishing industry.

Ten days left of this program, and I still don't know where the time went.

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