Finally Some Science

After returning to Sydney on Friday night, I was, as the Aussies would say, very keen to get started with my field work. I targeted Monday as my start day, and spent most of the day Sunday preparing by planning out my sites and filling and labeling vials. After much consideration, I decided to go “green” with my transportation needs and buy a bike.   I spent Saturday checking used bikes and new bikes on the web and at two different bike shops.  After all my research, I decided to buy a new hybrid bike, the new 2012 Giant Roam.

So, Monday began with a trip to the bank and then straight off to the bike shop. Luckily, the low tide was late in the afternoon and I had time to take care of all of this and make my way to the site at a purposeful, but not stressful pace. It was a beautiful day and I had a great first bike ride up to Circular Quay (pronounced “key”). From there, I took one of the many ferries to Manly Beach. I have to say that I really love that ferries are a form of public transportation here. Steven Colbert once said that he doesn’t take public transportation because you can’t spell “emotional abuse” without “bus.” You can, however, spell it without “ferry.” They always seem to put me in a good mood, and the ride to Manly is a stunning 30 mins across much of the harbor. I’ve posted a bunch of pics on FB recently to that effect. The other great thing is that all the ferries (and trains for that matter) have space for bikes. Shelley Beach is a quick bike ride down a promenade and beach bike path to Shelley Beach from Manly Wharf. I locked up my bike and set off on my hike, or bushwalk, towards the rocky intertidal area. Yes, Australians call hiking bushwalking.

This is where things get exciting for a field biologist. You can plan and prepare to your hearts content, but you still never quite know what you’re going to find when you get out there. You have to be ready for anything, make quick decisions about the best use of your time, you experimental design and, most importantly, make quick decisions about your own personal safety. In the intertidal, you are constantly aware of 3 primary forces: waves, tides, and daylight. Tides and daylight can be planned for but easily lost track of, and waves need to be carefully minded at all times. Your head has to be on a swivel and you need to be constantly watching and listening. It’s one thing to get wet, it’s virtually guaranteed, but it is quite another thing to be swept out by a wave. The other part of the excitement is the prospect of new discovery. Will the animals be there? Will you be able to find them? And most importantly, will you see something really cool?

The first thing that I noticed when I got out there was that the tide was probably going to be too high for me to find my sea star species. Calcar likes to hang out in the low to middle intertidal on bare rock that is fairly wave exposed. If the rock bench is stratified and wide, they can be found easily, but this rock bench was much shallower and much of the area I needed to get to was still under water. Given that I only had two hours of day light, I was pretty certain that I was going to come home empty handed, but you never know what it might look like over the next boulder field.

Along my hike, I did encounter some cool looking sea creatures. This anemone was extremely abundant in the huger intertidal, and it has this amazing bright color to it. It is known as a Waratah Anemone or as a Cherry Anemone.

This sea star is Parvulastra exigua and is another species that I am studying for my dissertation. It’s common on the same shores as calcar, but is usually found much higher in the intertidal. They are also pretty small, about the size of a half dollar coin. This one has a really striking mottled red color pattern, and is the only six-rayed individual that I have seen.

While the tide was still dropping, I noticed that the swell had begun to intensify over the last hour as well. I did finally find calcar along the rock bench here in the picture. You might notice that it’s still completely covered in water. The waves were crashing over it regularly and I only had a few seconds at a time to scope out this effectively giant tide pool. I stood, waited, and watched. After I had to runaway from a couple of big waves, I decided that it would be best to leave this site for another day and another tide. Sometimes you need to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. I was by myself, far from help, and the waves were only getting bigger. I also wasn’t in full wet gear (previous experience in the Sydney intertidal never got more than my socks wet), so I would be risking a lot and guaranteeing an unpleasant, wet ride home.

This wasn’t easy for me. Truthfully, I have never walked away from samples before. I have not gone out to a site or left a site after not finding anything, but never left known unsampled sea stars behind. However, I also realized that I usually am under a much bigger time crunch for sampling and spending lots of money to be out there. Thankfully, my fellowship gives me both time and money. I have to keep reminding myself that I can relax a little bit. It’s day one of many. So, I sat happily on my ferry ride home. At the very least, I now had valuable info and GPS coordinates for the future. My samples vials were empty, but day one in the field was still a success.

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