A tragic typo

Introducing the Rabbitfish

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Siganus Fuscescens:

While I started the trip underwhelmed by the concept of these little rabbitfish, I have come to be quite fond of them, despite their failure to conform to our expectations. I guess, as always, I grow to have a thing for the underdog, and their refusal to do what our hypothesis says can only endear them to me.

We have about 20 of them brought in from the first day of seine netting. Our attempts at further nettings have not yielded any of these happy moments, although I got to pull a pajama squid and a pregnant seahorse out of the net and release them back to the bay. So cute.

Here are a couple photos of low tide across the street from the research station to compare with the first day photos. We walk across those mudflats, dragging the wagon with the 50m (164ft) seine net and several tubs to hold fish in. This morning, our 4 AM seine was postponed to 6 AM (blessedly), but we had to walk out in the dawn to again scuttle through the cold muddy water in a chain-gang.

That mangrove tree in the right was the same one in the picture from the previous post.

I have not had many moments to take a lot of pictures. Part of it comes from my having grown sensitive to how frequently members of our lot will hold up the world to horde in for a picture, including demanding to keep fish and other sea life up out of the water suffocating in order to capture the moment. Therefore, I have become a bit more of an opportunist for esoteric little snaps.

Here are some birds I have happened upon:

Rainbow Lorikeets love the banksia flowers in the yard of the research station.

We thought he might be a really well done statue until he started hissing and growling.

My new friend who watches the communal eating area and keeps most of the other birds from boldly attacking our food.

Everyone else tended to be creeped out by him standing over their dinner plates, so we bonded.


Finally, photos of Mia and Daniella's birthdays

It was a while ago, but a group of us got together for an ostensible study group that turned out to be a gentle little birthday celebration for Daniella and Mia. We met for dinner and then engaged in ridiculous gluttony at a cafe specializing in chocolate...like seriously.


Daniella is excited

Mia is ecstatic but a bit daunted by our choice of desert

A different angle...

And then the rest of the gang joining in the tom-foolery...

Shira and Jacqui

Rodney and Tyler, always good for face

Shira, Jenn, and Ryan (Rubics)

Kimberly photobombed by Jon

Bianca and Leah

Jenn and Alissa

cooties and chocolate



Jon, looking pleasant

Tyler and Rodney, as the new boy band Colate!

Birthday girl and me
Oh, and I discovered that terrible street art knows no international boundaries.

Seine of omission

This morning, our coterie left UQ for the coast. We bussed over to Cleveland and caught the ferry across Moreton Bay to Dunwich. The coming week is going to be spent here at the Moreton Bay Research Station on Stradbroke Island (Straddie, as it is known to the abbreviation-loving Australians).

I figure I will try to get this post happening before things get into full swing. We are having a pretty gentle first evening, and I wanted to do this after submitting my University of Cape Town application (one more thing off the next-semester check-list, yay!). Although there is internet here, time will be the limiting factor. Our research schedule is going to be pretty intense, and our bunkhouse rooms are shared among the teams, some needing to arise at ungodly hours with the tides.

This league of extraordinary students has been divided into six research groups. We had to prepare research proposals a week ago. My team will be engaged in the glamorous study of chemosensory preferences (essentially, smell attractants) for a toxic little fish known as the mottled spinefoot, happy moments, or dusky rabbitfish.

Following our arrival, we had a little time to wander on the beach right across the street. The tide was in, so the beach was quite tiny.

After lunch, we spent some time in the wet lab setting up our apparatus. This consists of two small tanks that receive a constant in-flow of water. Each of those small tanks flows into a larger tank that has a division in it, and the water continues out of that tank to return to the circulation. We will place a couple different smell-attractants into the two small tanks, and see which side of the division in the main tank the test-subject fish prefers. Our data will help other researchers bait their cameras to observe this fish and gain better understandings of their habits.

Around mid-afternoon, the tide had gone out (well, way out). We changed and went out to seine net for organisms. Our group needed some rabbitfish, and other teams required other species. We also encountered a singray, a blue-ring octopus, and a pesky pelican who was always hovering to see what he could steal from our net. As I was at the lead of the chain gang hauling the monstrous net, there are no photographs in my possession of this exhausting little ordeal. It is hard to describe something that is simultaneously horrible and horribly fun.

Three of us waded out into the water. Around our ankles was a rope with small lead weights (to run along the ocean bottom). With our hands, we pulled a rope with floats. The net hangs between the two ropes to sweep through the water to gather critters. A sideways shuffling step was recommended to avoid stepping on stingrays. However, the substrate of the bay is an incredibly soft mud. While my lead foot was sliding out in front of me, the tailing foot would sink into the mud. I then would need to pull that foot out of the mud and slide it forward, giving my front foot time to sink. Repeat ad nauseum.

Since I bought cheap reef-shoes, I spent a fair amount of time retrieving them after the mud sucked them off my feet. All of this while trying to drag a heavy rope (it often felt like someone was standing on it, but it was just the drag of the water) through waist-chest deep water. Ryan, Max, and I  sang spirituals and work songs (punctuated with curses at the mud) as we trudged out into the bay, made an arc, and returned to shore to drag the net in.

Having performed that bit of labor, I rapidly handed off seine net duties to the others. We all picked fish out of the nets, and Max and I carried the tubs of fish back to the wet lab to sort into holding tanks while the others made additional passes with the seine net.

We then cleaned up and had dinner. While there is likely a need for a couple more trips out to the water to gather fish and algae, the majority of our time is going to be spent in the lab watching fish choose between smells or sitting with data running statistical analyses. Yep, riveting.

Sorry for the wordy post. Here are some pictures I was able to snap off before I ended up getting into the water to work. I have a bunch of random photos from around Brisbane that I need to post sometime, as well as some extras of Lamington. Some day...

Considering a new regular entry for the blog titled "Ugly Selfie of the Week"

Corrine showing off "worm face" with a crab claw

Alissa squints for camera

Alyssa didn't get the memo about silly faces

Yet again, I find myself in some horribly ugly place...

...on a shitty day

Who put the man in mangrove?

Can't be certain, but I believe this is the same pelican who later wanted to "help" with the netting

I will try to post updates and pictures as time and energy permits. However, I hope everyone knows that I miss them and love them. I am very grateful for the emails I receive and often endeavor to reply to them directly (though it is frequently difficult to initiate individual emails).


Should be studying...an update

I realize it has been a while since I have posted anything. My apologies. It has been a rough week and a half.

The return from Byron was rough. The soup du jour of that trip was disappointment. There were promised meals that we ended up having to pay for and free wifi that turned out to be a myth. We reconvened to meet the bus, only it was an additional hour before it arrived, and close to another hour before we departed Byron Bay. The side-trip to hippie-ville was cancelled (I was okay with this, although we did technically pay for it). We made multiple stops along the way back to Brisbane to pick up and drop off other groups. Rather than dropping us off in city-centre when we got back to Brisbane, the bus dropped us off at the university, from whence the majority of us had to catch public transit back to city-centre to get home. It was well after 9pm when I finally returned home.
One last photo, to demonstrate how classy the hostel was.
There are two things from the Byron Bay trip that I have unfairly omitted from my story, and I wish to correct that. Despite the disappointments of the misleading itinerary and the generally disturbing spring-break-like atmosphere, Byron Bay is a beautiful area. More importantly than that, however, is the reception I received from my fellows when I turned up for the bus Friday night. Then, as throughout the weekend, my new young friends frequently commented how excited they were that I joined them for the excursion. I cannot overstate how heart-warming it was to be informed so frequently that people were genuinely glad to have me along. I cannot say that I have ever felt so overtly and explicitly included. Regardless of anything else, that really has the power the make the weekend one of the best.

Then, that following week, I caught the flu...a nice little viral number that laid me up something fierce. I actually missed a day of class, unable to get out of bed. It was 48 hours before I ate solid food. Last weekend's agenda consisted mostly of finishing my research proposal (for the upcoming week at Stradbroke) and reviewing the lectures I missed. Andrew, or the best roommate in the world as I have come to call him, used his GoPro to film the lectures I missed. Bless him.

They have been slamming us with the marine biology portion of this program. We have an exam this Thursday covering the last week and a half packed full of lectures (on Australian water systems, freshwater management, estuary biology, seagrasses, marine invertebrates, marine mammals, marine reptiles, and several other subtopics). Then, we leave Friday for North Stradbroke Island (Stradie, as it is known in Australia). It is allegedly beautiful, and I hope that I will have enough time outside of the lab to enjoy it.

My team (one of six in this bunch of UC students) will be testing the olfactory (well, less specifically, the chemoreceptive) preferences among a species of black rabbitfish (aka mottled spinefoot, stinging bream, black trevally, dusky rabbitfish, and Happy Moment). This species is not well studied. Researchers are setting up cameras to observe them and gain information about their support to reef and seagrass communities. Our study will help the researchers determine how to bait the cameras to attract the fish into view of their cameras. The fish have intense spines and are somewhat toxic. A lovely week lies ahead, without doubt.

I have taken a couple of gentle walks around the neighborhood, encountering a little game of cricket going on in the local park as well as some beautiful wildlife. I will post some more pictures soon.

I have also been hard at work with course-selection, housing applications, and university details for next semester's trip to South Africa. It feels awkward spending time in Australia planning my next trip, as though I am busy dreaming about the future and not being present. Still, it must be done.

I miss Fred a lot. I start to focus on how much of this study program is already over and how little is left. The lingering cough hanging on after the flu is obnoxious. It is not always easy to look on the bright side.

However, the weather here turns warmer. There are exciting field trips, including two fairly self-guided research projects, ahead. The Californians and I regularly look at each other, smile, and muse out loud, "Dude...we're in fucking Australia!"

Ultimately, my friends in the programs (both of them) have been very good about keeping me positive and present.  And I have to love that while here, I get these kind of text messages to check on me:


Byron, without the romance

To celebrate the end of the hell week, our posse of Californians booked a weekend at Byron Bay. When they started talking about it, I was so tired I could not really conceive of planning a weekend trip. It was then pointed out to me that I did not have to do any planning. That part was being taken care of. Rather, I just had to pay and show up. Fine with me.

Named for the grandfather of Lord Byron, I believe by Captain Cook himself, the bay encompasses a charming coastline with a lighthouse at the easternmost point of the Australian continent.

Easternmost point of the continent...oooh!

The town of Byron Bay is an odd beach town/resort where Australians and others come together to drink their faces off and have a good time. It is like if Santa Cruz was a year-round spring break destination. Vegas on Sea (sans gambling). Hippie stores. Drinking. High-end retail. Busking galore. Dreadlocks and patchouli in quantities I regularly avoid. Large scale drinking. Beautiful beaches (and beach-goers). Did I mention drinking? Across the street at this moment is an old man with long beard, dressed in vest, slacks and wellingtons, screaming "fuck off you cunts!" at passing cars and invisible presences behind him on the street and sidewalks.

The levels of alcohol consumption and attendant shenanigans were oppressively dull, when not outright annoying. It is good to be reminded how obnoxious my lifestyle used to be. Camaraderie with the other UC-ers has been nice (and in a non-work setting), but their youthful fascination with drinking is a touch tedious, especially while staying in a hostel where we were 6-8 in a room.

I wonder at the insane cruelty of whatever agent booked the details of our group travel.e were housed in a backpacker's hostel down a rather sketchy alley, albeit one that was pretty centrally located.

However, our breakfasts were served at an odd partially jungled squatter camp/artist colony/community centre/backpackers hostel clear on the other side of town. This meant that morning Matthew was a grumpy fuck as I had to wait for other people to pull themselves together for a walk to get my morning nutrients necessary for my participation in the human race.


The Arts Factory, to its credit, did host a lovely population of water dragons generally uninterested in the human presence.

Our dinners, on the other hand, were "provided" (although due to some fun miscommunication, we had to pay for our pre-paid dinners one night) at a shitty nightclub called Cheeky Monkeys. It is one of those obnoxiously contrived attempts to create young happiness through drinking games and encouraged dancing on the tables. It is the sort of place where you just know that alcohol and peer pressure unite so that young women end up in videos they later regret. One of the women on staff tried to start this blatantly scripted conversation with me that I swear was lifted straight out of the South Park episode lampooning Hooters. A charming little place to have enlightened and stimulating conversation over savory vittles.

Some hostel-owner was quite convinced that taking my picture with my friends would spur me to be "more fun" (i.e. dance on the tables to crap music and possibly remove articles of clothing to win prizes. I love being a disappointment.

I found this sign and adopted it as the unofficial motto of Cheeky Monkey's.
Erin and I had a low threshold for the simulated youth culture and instead went out in search of live music, which was provided without cover on both nights at the Great Northern Hotel. It is a remarkable venue with great sound and a decent taste in bands. The one last night was a stand-out. However, I do not recall the band's name, as I was busy watching out for my friend Mia to make sure that she was not accosted by a drunk Irishman who took a shining to the group of us.

Vana's Challenge? Varna's Charge? Something like that.
Ultimately, time spent with some of the kids and the beach provided the true enjoyment of the weekend for me. It was great to spend time together, and to soak up some UV rays and some salt water. Even just taking a long stroll on the beach was lovely.

That's Mt. Warning in the distance again.

All in all, it isn't a terrible place or a bad weekend. I had a really nice swim in the ocean (despite last week's fatal shark attack off that very beach). I am sitting at a very pleasant cafe. There are some entertaining moments and sights here.

Gorgeously intricate sand raking

A group of people "made too much food" and so were walking around offering some to everyone on the beach.

Fake selfie. I was not actually touching the camera.

The sidewalks have little tile-work sealife. I really liked the skull nautilus.

Pleasant content afternoon. Post swim at the beach. Blogging in the sunlight in a lovely cafe on Marvell Street.

Ok. Must rendezvous with the others to bus back to Brisbane. Apparently, though, there is a brief stop-over in some town renowned for its hemp culture. Undoubtedly that is shorthand for a tedious excursion to a lame hippie town while people marvel at the possible availability of marijuana. Resigned sigh...