Sunday, 9 September 2012

Heron Island and the Amazing Marine Biology Field Course

Frank Vorster and Nick Yabsley hard at 'Work'. Photo: Ryan Pearson

By Ryan Pearson
Wow! What a week. Thank you Dr. Tim Stevens and Griffith University for giving us this opportunity. It was a great mix of hard work and harder play. The amount of times I heard the words 'fantastic' and 'beautiful' were off the scale, and they weren't exaggerations. Truly an amazing experience that has topped off my uni experience in my final semester. Here are the stories of the week... and a bunch of pics.

Some very sleepy travellers getting on the ferry to Heron. Photo: Ryan Pearson
There were very few downsides to this experience... the first phase was one of them. We had to meet at uni to catch a bus at 1am on Sunday morning. From here we embarked on an approximately 10 hour (quite uncomfortable) trip to get to Heron Island. But from there, it was nothing but up!

The shipwreck outside of the harbour at Heron Island. Permanently covered in birds. Photo: Ryan Pearson
We arrived at Heron in the early afternoon of Sunday, and after lunch we headed out on a reef walk. We saw about a million birds, snails, clams, corals, and some of the most beautiful tropical island paradise scenery you could imagine. Sure, we were tired, but did we notice it? Nah! Straight after the reef walk we were all in the water for a dusk snorkel in the harbour. Some were excited and some were terrified, but all had a smile on their faces because we were surrounded by sharks! Black-tip reef sharks were some of the stars of this trip, and they were spotted just about everywhere. We also saw big schools of bull rays, eagle rays, guitar fish, white-tip reef sharks, trevally, a wobbegong, and hundred of other reef fish.

The rare twin tailed single headed white tip reef shark :P  Photo: Ryan Pearson
Day two was the start of our very own research projects working out of a proper research station. A first for many of the crew. My group (Team Pearl Fish) selected a project looking at the relationship between a green algae (Turtle Weed - Chlorodesmis fastigiata), and the Turtle Weed Crab (Cahpyra rotundifrons). We hypothesised that there would be a relationship between the size of the algae and the size of the crab that defended it.
The Turtle Weed Crab - Cahyrpa rotundifrons. Photo: Ryan Pearson
A small piece of reef covered in Turtle Weed - Chlorodesmis fastigiata. Photo: Ryan Pearson

This project had us out on the reef at every low tide for the week, which was pretty much at dusk and dawn each day. On the reef we came across some amazing stuff... epaulette sharks, tawny nurse sharks, turtles, rays, flounders, sea hares, and a heap of other critters... all in less that 2 ft of water and many close enough to touch. Other teams projects had them snorkeling day and night and looking at fish assemblages by using baited video cameras, grazing by parrotfish, territorial behaviour in gobies, water chemistry, sea cucumbers, sea stars, and giant clams. These projects were designed entirely by us and our supervisor giving us a taste of real research, an incredibly valuable experience.

Here's Caragh Nelsons video (featuring me) of one of the sharks we ran into on the reef during our field work.

The Giant Clam - Tridacna gigas. Photo: Ryan Pearson
The rest of the week was dominated by research... but whenever we had some free time, we weren't short on excitement. Boat snorkels, and scuba dives at surrounding reefs, night snorkels, meals 5 times a day, and a little bit of drinking (maybe more than a little) with all of the 'interesting behaviour' that comes along with it. So, come time to present our research to the group early Friday morning, many of us were operating on minimal sleep and feeling a bit less than fantastic... but everyone performed well! We then spent our last couple of hours on the island enjoying the sun, the water and the company of everyone who made the week such a success.

Frank Vorster trying to capture the ultimate White Tip Shark photo on his new camera gear. Photo: Ryan Pearson

The ultimate team 'Pearl Fish' on one of the boat snorkels. Photo: Ryan Pearson
In the end, I think almost anyone who came to the island with a fear of sharks, left with their minds a lot more at ease... some even developed a passion for them, and my own fascination for these amazing creatures just grew even more. Despite all of the early mornings, late nights, and hard work, I'm not sure there was a moment all week when we weren't laughing and smiling. This is one course I wouldn't mind failing just so I could do it all again next year.

Here's some more pics for you to enjoy.

A friendly turtle on one of the large bommies on our first dive. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Frank Vorster and Nick Yabsley descend at North Bommie. Photo: Ryan Pearson

Octopus eye. Photo: Ryan Pearson

Photo: Ryan Pearson

Christmas Tree Worm. Photo: Ryan Pearson

Photo: Ryan Pearson
Photo: Ryan Pearson
Flatworm. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Photo: Ryan Pearson

Cucumber bum. Photo: Ryan Pearson

Photo: Ryan Pearson

Photo: Ryan Pearson

Photo: Ryan Pearson

Photo: Ryan Pearson

Shovelnose Ray/Guitar Fish/Whatever you want to call it (Rhinobatos productus). Photo: Ryan Pearson

And two more shovelnoses under the jetty. Photo: Ryan Pearson

Nick Yabsley. Photo: Ryan Pearson

Nick Yabsley finding his inner peace. Photo: Ryan Pearson

Caragh Nelson and Victoria "Scivvy" Baynham diving deep. Photo: Ryan Pearson

Oh.. there was a photo comp too. I won the 'Underwater' category with this pic of a pink anemonefish with its host. Photo: Ryan Pearson

The Common Paul Fish (Paul Maxwell). Photo: Ryan Pearson
White Tip Reef Shark under a bommie. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Photo: Ryan Pearson
Coralglyphs. It's almost my initials if you use your imagination :P Photo: Ryan Pearson

1 comment:

Nico said...

Great post Ryan. Has to be one of the best field trips possible. That black and nudie jusy became my favorite nudi.