Last days in the field!

Well, I certainly lucked out with having so much time here in Australia.  The weather and waves did not cooperate for me in July; however, I was able to finally squeeze in my last 3 sites, mostly in the last 4 days that I had planned on doing work in Sydney.  Crazy.

The last few days were extra enjoyable, mostly because the weather and waves had cleared to stellar conditions and I even had some company for two of my 3 days.  I met a new friend in Uluru from Japan who came to Sydney afterwards for a holiday.  She asked to come along with me on my research, and considering this site was nearly 3 and half hours round trip on the bus, I was happy for the company.  She doesn’t speak English all that well, but seemed to enjoy being out in the intertidal.  I taught her the names of the two species that I have worked on in the area and the one that I am working on currently.  She kept saying “pain” every time I took a tissue biopsy.  I tried to explain that there was little pain and that they regrow the tissue quickly.  She kept saying it though, I think just to get a razz out of me.

My second field assistant is my friend Emily Shepard from the EAPSI program.  She was in town for our Program Debriefing (Post coming soon), and asked if she could come along with me in the field.  The day that she picked was as good as it gets.  We had a super low tide, a bright sunny day, and no waves whatsoever.  We even got two sites sampled that day, even with a 25 min bus ride between them.  She seemed to think that I had it easy here, and that she had picked the wrong field to study.  I tried to tell her how extraordinarily nice this day was, but I am not so sure if she believed me.  We even managed to find a way onto the epic Manly Ferry for our return home.

Anyway, here is a shout-out to her blog:

My last and final day of sampling was another Sydney public transit epic.  50 mins on the train and then 45 mins on my bike.  It was another great day, so I just soaked it all in, knowing that soon I would be back home, slaving away on my Dissertation.  Sampling went along without a hitch and I biked back into town, found some decent Indian food for a triumphant dinner, and called my EAPSI Field Season closed and completely successful.

It still had to ride the train back though.


And bike home from the train station….

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


A Solid Week in the Field

Wow.  I spent this entire week either in the intertidal or traveling to the intertidal.  I’ve averaged about 1.5 hours a day on public transit (mostly trains or ferries), about an hour a day on my bike (I really love this Giant Roam- fast, rugged, and versatile), about an hour a day hiking out to sites, and about an hour a day in the intertidal looking for sea stars.  It has been amazingly successful, with the exception of one day that I had to spend tracking down my camera from a University vehicle.  I got it back, but somehow it took 6 hours.  I have now sampled six different localities (populations) and have sampled over 330 sea stars.

I decided that it’s probably in my best interest to not divulge every place that I have gone.  I don’t want to risk someone trying to copy what I am doing.  So, I am going to be talking about sampling sites generally from now on and trying to only share pictures that don’t have any location specific landmarks in them.  Don’t worry, this is only for my field work posts, not the tourist posts.

The whole process has been awesome and exhausting.  I haven’t felt this tired in a while.  I am looking forward to taking at least one day off this weekend, and the tides will limit me a little bit next week anyway.

Here’s a gallery of some photo highlights:  These include sites that I had to repel down cliff faces to get to, a baby blue sea star, and an angry intertidal octopus.  Enjoy!  Or if you prefer FB (there are least some entertaining captions there).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Friday, I had the opportunity to return to Shelley Beach with a good tide and ample daylight.  I easily collected all the samples that I needed in less than an hour.  It’s amazing how easy things can be when you have great conditions and you already know where you’re going and where to find the animals.

The highlight of the day was finding this apparently albino calcar.  I’ve never seen one that was bone white like this, and it was certainly alive and apparently well. Cool.  I also found a 4-rayed exigua that was fire red.  It’s next to a two Australian dollar coin that is about the size of a nickel.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dear Diary, Jackpot! (Day 2 of Field Work)

Those of you that know me well know that I am anything but a morning person.  Basically, field work, SCUBA diving, and ultimate frisbee are the few things that can motivate me to get up before the sun rises.  When I was in California collecting Patiria miniata samples, I spent way too many late nights and early mornings in the intertidal.  Thankfully, I have a lot more time here, so I don’t need to go out at night.  It’s safer and a lot less stressful that way.

Wednesday’s 7am low tide, though, was total fair game. Luckily, one of my new labmates, Hong, needed to go out to take some pH samples that morning as well, so I tagged along with her.  It’s always great to have help in the field, even if it’s just someone there who could call for help if you needed it.  It’s even better to have company when you have to go out into the dark and cold.  (And I was cold! —>)

We set out for Hong’s site first.  She needed to do her sampling before the sunrise.  Who comes up with projects like those?Hong was measuring the pH and salinity of some of the tide pools in a place called Little Bay.  She then also takes water samples. Thankfully, the process is fairly simple and goes fast when you have someone there to act as a scribe (me).  Although, my handwriting is impossible to read on a good day, so she might be regretting that in the future.  We finished up and then quickly drove over to my potential site which was a little further north in Long Bay.  I did manage to snap a couple of sunrise photos before we left.

We had a bit of a hike out to the head of Long Bay, and I was pleased with the habitat I saw as we were walking and as the sun was rising.  I had a good feeling that I would finally secure my first samples of the project.  We walked about 2-3 kilometers out to the point and came upon a patch of prime calcar real estate. Pictured below is a perfect example of calcar habitat.  It’s a wave exposed wide rock bench that is filled with tide pools, small trenches, and a decent cover of algae.  From there, you just need to look in the pools or trenches right along the edge of where the algae is. To the right is a picture of the tide pool that I decided to sample.  This rock bench was also large enough that I could stratify my sampling across two different tidal heights.  A secondary question of my project is whether populations are selected for different tidal heights. This site had two clear distinctions in tidal heights, so I collected to separate population samples from this site.

All in all, I came away with one hundred samples which is by far my all-time sea star tissue collection record for one tide.  It’s a testament to not only how nice it is to have someone there to help you in the field, but also to how amazingly dense calcar populations can be in the intertidal.  A great way to start off my collections!


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.