Sunday, 5 July 2015

End of Week 1

Fisheries Institute

I’ve now had a full week working at the Fisheries Institute and I’m getting to know my way around and even beginning to remember some names. Everybody here has been very welcoming and I’ve been introduced to the current projects being undertaken. Across the site there are a number of different areas, I’m currently working in the Mollusc section - a lot of research has been done on oysters and disease resistance. There is also work being done involving ocean acidification and increasing temperature (both very likely to be exacerbated by future climate change), and the effect that these could have on the oysters. 

Just some kangaroos on the golf course
The Port Stephens Fisheries Institute has also done some research into pipis. The pipi (Donax (Plbidonax) deltoides) is a bivalve mollusc that filter feeds by extracting microscopic matter (particularly phytoplankton) from the water. They are commonly found in the surf zone along high energy beach coastlines throughout south eastern Australia and are used by humans as bait for recreational fishers, and also more and more for human consumption (particularly in Asian markets). Commercial landings have declined dramatically from more than 500 tons in 2004-5, to less than 100 tons in recent years. These drops have been attributed mainly to commercial catch.  At the same time, the price they fetch on the market has significantly increased - to the point where they an reach US$45 per kilo! The recent reductions in harvest numbers have caused an interest in both trying to raise wild population numbers by reseeding wild stocks, and in the potential for pipi farming. Although so far research into these areas is only in the early stages.

While I am here I will be involved in some preliminary research into pipi breeding techniques - success of different spawning techniques, what conditions (temperature, salinity, food, etc) result in best recruitment of pipi larvae, and maybe even some research into the effect of harmful algal blooms (HABs) on pipi growth and health. 

Driving along Stockton beach in the midwinter (which on that day meant
blue skies and around 18 degrees)

This shipwreck is the MV Sygna which
ran aground in a major storm in 1974
and has been here ever since
Last week we drove out onto Stockton beach in search of some pipis - this beach is HUGE. It is 20 miles long and in some places over half a mile wide, and there are sand dunes more than 30m tall! Vehicles must get a permit before heading onto the beach, and even then it is only allowed at certain times. Having never driven on a beach before, this was a bit of a shock to my system. But it was definitely an unforgettable experience!

Collecting the pipis themselves was also a new experience for me. They live just beneath the surface of the sand close to the waters edge and so we searched for the bumps that they create in the surface, and then wiggled our feet around until they sank a little - where we could then feel if there were any shells beneath us. It was like some silly pipi dance, and it was definitely the strangest way I've ever collected beasties for an experiment, but it worked surprisingly well and we collected over one hundred different-sized individuals in a couple of hours!

*There are rules regarding the number of pipis that are allowed to be collected, and there are also times of year and specific areas where pipi collection is not permitted. Fisheries officers monitor fishing areas and fishers not complying with the rules can be fined up to $20,000! I felt a little guilty removing pipis from the beach, but knowing it is to conduct research that could eventually lead to enhancing the wild population helped a bit*

Pipi collection dancing. Sorry for the terrible camerawork -
difficult to hold the camera still whilst wiggling and trying not
to fall over 

Back at the lab we made sure they were comfortable gave the pipis a little time to recover from the shock of being caught before opening a few of them up and attempting strip spawning (manually recovering gametes from the pipis, mixing the eggs and sperm in a beaker, and monitoring for any fertilisation and development). Pipis are naturally broadcast spawners (they release many gametes at once into the water column and through sheer number some of these manage to fertilise and grow), however the cues for the release of gametes are not yet known. During my time here we might also try exposing the adult pipis to a number of different environmental conditions to try to make some observations about what could induce natural spawning.

Pipi surgery

Aside from work..

On Thursday I attended the weekly meeting of my host rotary club: Nelson Bay Rotary Club, District 9670. I enjoyed meeting many club members and learning more about the projects that the Club has been working on. I also met Geoff Diemar - a local big name in the oyster farming industry - who invited me to come along to visit his oyster farm at some point during my stay! It would be great to view oysters from the industry side of things as well as the research side and I am looking forward to taking him up on his offer and learning more about the industry. I was also asked to say a few words about who I am and what i'm doing over here but I was very nervous and not very well prepared so unfortunately it wasn't a very good talk. I have offered to give a more prepared presentation in a few weeks time though to try to improve upon this.

In addition to this Rotary event I was very honoured to be invited to the District Changeover on Saturday evening. This was a very large event where the past years leadership teams for a number of clubs were thanked and the new leadership teams announced. It was really interesting and great to see people being thanked for the incredible amount of time and effort they put into the roles they perform for their respective Clubs. It made me even more aware of the amazing work that Rotary do, and I felt very honoured to be one of the young people sponsored by the organisation - it really is an amazing opportunity, and I am determined to make the most of it and learn as much as possible. I would also like to stay involved with Rotary when I return to the UK - I think they do a phenomenal job with all the projects and charity work they undertake and I would love to be able to contribute to that if I can.

At home Jenny and Doug continue to make me feel very comfortable staying in their lovely house - I am extremely grateful to them for offering to host me during my stay here and I hope that at some point in the future I can host them in the UK! On Saturday during the day we went on a short but steep walk up the nearby Mount Tomaree. It was a lovely day (I still can't believe it's mid-winter here) and we saw a couple of whales breaching a few kilometres offshore!

Mount Tomaree is right on the neck of the bay - so looking back inland
you can see the calmer waters of the bay (on the right), and the wilder
waters of the open ocean (on the left) which is where whales can be often
be seen on their journey along the coastline

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