Rachel Down Under!

Happy 4th….belated!

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on July 28, 2011

After an afternoon of cheering the Swans to victory (go Sydney!),

we made our way back to my apartment for an impromptu America Party, where we mixed North and South America in a belated celebration of the 4th of July!

With caipirinhas in one hand, and US flags in the other, we brought one of my favorite holidays to life with party favors sent all of the way from Virginia!


Having fun, Luana?

We may not have had firecrackers or icecream (too cold!) or a poolside bbq, but our belated 4th of July party was definitely a celebration I will remember when I think back on my time in Australia.


Wild West

Posted in Australia, Perth by rssmith218 on July 13, 2011

Think this photo was taken on the Great Barrier Reef?

Guess again! Last weekend, I made my way to Western Australia (my last Australian state!) for a week in Perth, the state capital, and the largest remote city in the world. Western Australia is huge- you could fit three Texas-sized states into its boundaries- and, like a good deal of Australia, the state is mostly empty. Well, mostly empty of people anyway- as you can see above, there was plenty of wildlife! Photo credits in the post to Joey and Damon.

I traveled to Perth to attend the Australian Marine Science Association annual conference, where I presented a poster, and caught up on the latest marine science research from all around Australia. The conference was actually held in Freemantle, a historic port just outside of Perth’s city center. These maps should help you get your bearings:

West coast, baby!

And here’s Freemantle!

The AMSA conference was a great opportunity to hear presentations in the broad field of marine science, and it was great to mingle and make contacts with people from all over Australia. The conference was very student-friendly, and it was great to get feedback on the work I’ve done this year…here I am with my poster!

However, sometimes it did feel like we were spending about as much time taking in conference presentations as we did taking in the delicious beers at Freemantle’s local microbreweries.

Little Creatures!

After four days of presentations and numerous pints of beer, the conference came to an end, complete with marine animal balloons and Johnston lab antics.

Happily, several of us stayed on for the weekend in Freemantle, and it was great to have time to take in the local sites. We spent a lovely day exploring Rottnest Island, a public reserve just off the coast of Freemantle, as you can see here.

We took a ferry over to the island, and rented bikes and snorkel gear for a day of explorations.

Ready to go?

On the road!

On our tour around the island, we took in the natural features of the landscape- the beaches,


and dunes.

We evenutally made it to the end of the island, and we stopped for lunch at this remarkably beautiful bay!

Some of us were too distracted by the clear blue water to focus on lunch and Damo jumped in right away to have a snorkel! Can you spot him in the photo below?

Of course, it was hard not to jump in after him!

Swimming in the Indian Ocean in the middle of winter isn’t as warm as it sounds…are you guys cold?

Post swim, we hopped back on our bikes to venture to the other end of the island; of course, we found another beautiful snorkeling spot and had to test the waters yet again!

So what is under all of that water?

An amazing temperate reef! I couldn’t believe the number and diversity of fish here…

Baby Australian Salmon- how many can you count?

Beautiful corals!

Damon even spotted a giant crayfish!

During our bike trip, we spotted some terrestrial wildlife as well. Check out these ospreys that were nesting in the bay at the end of the island.

And on the road, we came across this blue-tongued skink, who was not as happy to see us as we were to see him!

And lastly, we came upon the island’s most distinctive species, the quokka, a small marsupial that is found only on one other island off of Western Australia and in a small colony in another Western Australian bay. Quokkas are not afraid of humans, and we came across several of these little guys on our ride.

So cute! We finally returned to the ferry terminal for the ride back to Freemantle- you can even see Perth in the distance!

The next morning, Mel and I wandered around historic Freemantle, picking up a crepe at the Freemantle Markets as we enjoyed these historic buildings.

Beautiful buildings!

In the afternoon, I took to the water with Joey, Damo, and Glenn for a lovely sail around the Indian Ocean.

Let’s get the boat in the water!

Who’s ready to go sailing?

Just have to get the sails up and then we’re on our way!

The catamaran was fast, and, even though we were cold and wet, we passed a lovely afternoon out on the ocean.

Of course, you have to stop for a break every now and then….

Our time in Freemantle quickly came to an end, and we headed back to Perth to catch our flight home to Sydney. I made my way into the city early before the flight to check out Perth on my way out of town.

Surprisingly, Perth felt a good bit like my hometown of Richmond, Virginia. The cities are similar sizes and both are cut down the middle by a river, in the case of Perth, the Swan River. I spent my morning hiking up to Kings Park, a beautiful botanic garden that overlooks the city. Check out this view from the gardens-beautiful!

Overall, my trip to Perth was a good mix of work and play, and I am happy to have had the chance to see a bit of the other coast of Australia.

Working it out

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on July 1, 2011

Over the past few days I have been putting together a poster for a conference in Perth next week, and I realize how much my blog has recently neglected the “working” side of my life here in Australia.

Between counting the hundreds of plates we collected in February and March for the linkage project and analyzing the data from my niche opportunity experiment, I have been pretty busy with work these past couple of months (haha, when I’m not on holiday, that is…).

I am presenting the work from my niche opportunity project at the conference next week, so perhaps I’ll go through an update on this project. The last time I mentioned it here, I had just set out panels with my complexity/heterogeneity treatments attached to them, last December, I believe it was. Remember this?

I then returned to my plates a month later, removed half of them from under the dock, and took these plates back to the lab to see what communities had developed over the previous month. The other half of the plates remained out in the water to allow me to observe community development over time.

Time to get these plates back to the lab!

Back in the lab, I began to count the plates. So, what’s under the microscope?

All sorts of good stuff! Bryozoans like Watersipora subtorquata (left) and Bugula flabellata (right),

ascidians like Botrylloides sp,

barnacles like Megabalanus rosa,

and, of course, heaps of serpulids, among hundreds of other species!

You can see that after one month, many of these critters were settling into my different types of structure- can you see the grooves and rows of holes on these plates?

After counting the species on all of my plates within a couple of days, I scraped the plates clean, and brought them back out to the field to develop new communities for another month.

I repeated this process for the following two months and during the last month I also brought in and counted the plates that had been out in the field for the full three months. Look how different they look!

I am still analyzing my data to see whether there were differences between complex and heterogeneous treatments, but I am presenting my preliminary results next week.

Since I am using this post to catch-up on old field work, I also want to quickly highlight a fieldtrip up to Port Stephens from over two months ago (note the short-sleeves in these photos!). In April, a bunch of us volunteered to help Luke and Christine with some experiments at the Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, and what an epic few days it was!

My labmates’ experiments were significantly more large-scale than anything I have attempted this year and we spent three l o n g days in both the lab and the field setting up these experiments. Their work focuses on how genetic diversity and propagule pressure interact to play a role in larval recruitment, and we set up two experiments during our time in Port Stephens.

In the lab, we mixed batches of different oyster strains and added them in different numbers to petri dishes to see how settlement would differ between these combinations.

Larval oysters!

Did I mention that there were a thousand petri dishes?

And that we had to add specific numbers of the tiny oysters to each dish? Yes, this was time-consuming!

The next day, we did the field component of this work, where we made panels (like the ones I made for my experiment) and then performed larval dosing, in which we added a set number of oysters to each plate under the water.

Step one- making the panels!

Almost done, Christine?

Just have to add the lids before they’re ready for the water!

Finally- they’re ready to hang!

While the panels were hanging, we added a certain number of larvae to each plate using a syringe- larval dosing!

A long day of work- are you guys tired?

Overall, our trip to Port Stephens was a crazy whirlwind of science, larval oysters, and some hard-core teamwork!

Now that I have finally caught up on some of the work I’ve been doing the past couple of months, I can begin my next adventure to the other side of Australia- Perth is supposed to be lovely and I can’t wait to see another part of Australia!