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17 September: Two Out Of Three Aint Bad (Timor-Leste Expedition)

By: Michael Hugill, Category: Science, Date: 17 Sep 2012

Arrive in Dili? Check. Pick up the ethanol? Check. Collect freight? Not yet. What do scientists do when they can't do what they usually do?

Timor-Leste Marine Expedition #22

Michael Hugill © Australian Museum


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We arrived in Dili around lunchtime after a smooth forty-five minute flight from Darwin and made our way to our accommodation (overlooking the Banda Sea no less) without fuss. Lauren's warhead-shaped microscope case did raise a few eyebrows at Dili Airport security, but that was it.

Many of the things I'd read or heard about Dili appeared immediately to be true, so allow me to do a little scene-setting with the help of a few semi-colons: it's hot and humid in the day but not unbearably so - a nice sea breeze blows often; the people are indeed friendly; the roads are a pleasant kind of organised chaos; the presence of Christianity (90% of the population is Catholic according to Lonely Planet) is visibly evident in the many churches and crosses; and I noticed the graffiti is the hand-written, heartfelt kind - old messages of protest, romance and very often just people's names.

After settling into our rooms, we split into teams for the afternoon: one to fetch the ethanol, one to pick up our freight (diving gear and collecting apparatus), and one to hang out in the swimming pool. I only found out about that third team after we got back from the farmacia with the ethanol (in fairness, though, someone had to stay behind and do the administration tasks).

While the Freight Team was unsuccesful in its mission (we had been warned that processing these things can take time in Timor), collecting the ethanol was an important victory: without it, green fish specimens might come to be named blue specimens.

"An early Australian Museum expedition was collecting in tropical Queensland," Lauren told me at dinner, "when they ran out of preserving fluid, and so started using rum. One of the Green Tree Frogs they collected was was later observed back in Sydney in its jar, obviously no longer green as it was given the latin name Litoria caerulea. 'Caerulea' being Latin for blue."

We have 90 one-litre bottles of ethanol. No specimens in rum for us.

Without our gear, tomorrow's dives will have to be delayed. No time will be wasted, however. A new plan for tomorrow was hatched over dinner, with some members heading to the wharf in the morning to scrape the pylons for sessile invertebrates, some heading to the fish markets to see what species they can find there, and Nerida and Greg will be sifting intertidal gravel on the beach in front of us for sea slugs and polychaete worms.

And in actual fact, Lauren, Rosemary and Greg are out night collecting on the beach out the front of our hotel as I type this.

Oh and to be fair to the Pool Team, they did discover the first specimen of the trip. I believe it's a new species that will most likely be named 'Shetland Shark':

Greg and Nerida's specimen

Follow our expedition on the Timor-Leste Expedition homepage and look out for updates from our Facebook and Twitter accounts.