Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Turtles Turtles Turtles

Here are a few pictures of turtles and other events that take place on the average work day for us in Shark Bay, Australia.

Oh that Tiger Shark

Fanny and I with a beautifully posing Green Turtle

Jordy and I releasing the beast
They just keep getting bigger.

Loggerhead equipped with GoPro


Building Underwater Fences

Adriana's got this turtle

Launching Cuvier under Captain Kirk's supervision. (taken by Simon Alan)

Lets find us some turtles (taken by Simon Alan)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Evolutionary Nostalgia

We have made the most of our time off and did a little sight seeing up and down the coast visiting several of the bluffs overlooking the ocean.  One of the highlights was the stromatalite colony and rock formations on the edge of the bay.  Stromatalites are small rock spires formed by cyanobacteria.  Without these ancient microscopic life forms the atmosphere may never have been able to support large and complex life forms such as us.  We were there to pay our respects to one of the last remaining and still living remnants of these rare beauties.  I could feel a sense of evolutionary nostalgia hanging in the air.

We then moved down south a bit more to Shell Beach.  It is exactly what is sounds like.  The tide was low and you could walk out around 200 meters through 2-4 inches of water.  We had some fun taking photos and then rounded off our trip with a stop at each scenic bluff along the way back.

Shark Bay (Taken by Fanny Vessaz)

Stromatalites (Taken by Fanny Vessaz)

Stromatalites and Kirk (Taken by Adriana Weil)

Stromatalites (Taken by Adriana Weil)

Shell Beach (Taken by Adriana Weil)

Dragonball Adri (Taken and edited by Tyler Roberts)

Shell Beach (Taken by Adriana Weil)

Pied Cormorants and Red Cliff (Taken by Fanny Vessaz)

Shell Brick Quarry (Taken by Tyler Roberts)

The Tiger Shark

I am not sure if I can do justice to this story so instead maybe you can take a look.  We were coming back from a productive day of turtling and happened upon a Tiger Shark.  This beast was just offshore of Monkey Mia and would dip eerily in and out of sight of as it slipped effortlessly through the water.  It looked lazy and calm as if it was inviting us to jump in with it for a nice pleasant swim.  I was lulled into a nice false sense of security and was ready to hop in next to it for what would have been a great shot of the beast except that Jordy wisely said, "No one is getting in the water with that."  I am glad he did because I am still here and who knows what that shark might have done.

We did at least get a multitude of fantastic pictures and one or two great GoPro video shots.  I wasn't allowed to go for a swim with it but I could hold the camera in my hand, hang my body as far as I could over the gunnel of the boat and drop my hand in right towards the shark.  It was about 3 meters (10-12ft) long and obviously powerful.  Jordy would work the boat up calmly next to it and I would repeat this process over and over again.  The results were gripping.  Once as I had my hand in the water it turned right towards us.  It dropped under my hand no more than a foot below and gave us a nice clear shot.  My heart definitely skipped a beat or two as I saw it come straight for me but continue on passing up the mostly bony offering protruding towards it.  That little pass by did give us a beautiful shot of it which you can check out below.  Simon Alan, a visiting scientist and photographer snapped a great shot of the shark cruising by which is also below.

Looks like a predator to me.   (taken by Simon Alan)

Hey buddy  (taken by Simon Alan)

The Blowfish II and Tiger Shark   (taken by Simon Alan)

Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort

I have finally had the chance to upload some pictures of Monkey Mia, The work we are doing and the surrounding area.  The winds continue to blow and we are running out of shore work.  The forecast doesn’t look great either.  I can’t wait to get back on the water for some more diving and GoPro camera deployments.  A few days of rest is always relaxing but the novelty wears off quickly and then I am antsy to get back to work. 

Around the Resort
No caption needed

The Trailer Park.  Everything in the green fence is ours.

Adriana and I at the entrance

Our homely little gathering place

My Shitbox

This one was dead... phew! (taken by Adriana Weil)
Dancing in the dunes (taken by Adriana Weil)

Night Time

Nightshot on the beach

So many stars

One more for the night.


Kirks looking clean

The Jellyfish

Airport flagger and the jellyfish.

An International Power Strip.

...And a Couple More

Making a Monkey of Myself at Monkey Mia with a Monkey tail Mustache

The Whole Crew; Adriana Weil, AnnaRose Adams, Fanny Vessaz, Tyler Roberts, Jordy Thomson and Kirk Gastrich.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


It has been a busy couple weeks and we finally have a stretch of some windy weather to give us a little down time.  The work has been some of the most fun I have ever had.  We began by doing some hookah scuba diving and cleaning out underwater exclosure cages.  The cages keep out grazers and small fish that eat the sea grass and the experiment uses several combinations of different sized wire mesh to determine just how each class of grazers affects the grasses.  Working on it has been hard but fun. We dive for 2-6 hours in a day and  often for longer than 2 hours at a time.  This is definitely not your recreational diving but i have been having a great time with it none-the-less.

Another side to that project is building and maintaining the cages.  We have been sawing through tons of the mesh and building the cages on the surface before setting them up underwater.  This is probably the most hazardous thing we have been doing because as you saw tiny metal shards are sent flying all over the place.  Don't worry because its always safety first and we don't rush or take and stupid chances.  However you do invariably end up with a lot of little pokes and welts.  I love it.  It makes me feel like I have really been working hard and accomplishing something if I end up sore and a little bruised at the end of the day.  Remember the feeling when you were a child running around outside all day getting scraped up, dirty and exhausted?  Its that same feeling that I get working here.  Every scrape has a story and almost always a funny one.

As for the turtle wrangling aspect of the job, there is nothing in the world quite like it.  Ive only caught a couple myself but its amazing.  It begins by cruising around in the boat and just looking for turtles.  My first thought was that this couldn't possibly work very often but that was before I found out just how many turtles are in Shark Bay.  The feeling on the boat is usually quite reserved and silent aside from the occasional tension relieving jokes.  You could call it the calm before the storm because once you do spot that turtle things happen fast.  One person hops up on the bow and holds on to a rope much like the reins on a horse.  Jordy is superb captain and maneuvers the boat just right to get you alongside the turtle.  As the person on the bow your heart is racing as you contemplate jumping down into the water directly on top of a massive and extremely powerful reptile with one very large beak on its head.

Those few seconds just before Jordy flips the boat into neutral and gives you the go ahead can feel like hours as the adrenaline pulses through your body.  Finally the moment is right and you send yourself careening down onto the beasts back.  Now if the water is shallow enough all you need to do is get a good hold on it, point it up and stand up but in the deeper water everything gets a bit trickier. Either way there is always someone else on board the boat just waiting to jump in and help if needed and help is usually needed.  The boat gets anchored and we bring the turtle around back where we use a harness and winch or just some good old fashioned elbow grease to get it up on board.  Measurements are taken, tags are applied and the GoPro camera package is set in place on its back.  This is all done in as efficient a manner as possible to reduce the amount of stress put on the turtle.  Of course jumping on its back in the water might seem like an aggressive way to get it in the first place but the truth is that it has the least impact.  With nets and entanglement is common and often harms the animal.  We put our turtles back in as good a shape as before we captured them, only with a few more temporary accessories or turtle bling.  The whole process from capture to release takes about 30 minutes. 

The camera package is attached with 4 hour dissolving links so the next day we are back out in the water locating and picking up tags.  It is a lot of fun to watch the videos of turtles you have caught.  You get to know them a little and they all have quite unique personalities.  We have accumulated quite a bit of data already and are making great steps into understanding the foraging habits of both Green and Loggerhead Turtles.  I love being a science nerd.