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18 September: The Art Of Improvisation (Timor-Leste Expedition)

By: Michael Hugill, Category: Science, Date: 18 Sep 2012

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. With their equipment still being processed by Customs, our marine scientists got inventive.

Timor-Leste Marine Expedition #32

Michael Hugill © Australian Museum

You would think in the year 2012 that collecting specimens, undertaking research, doing science wouldn't be possible without lasers, sensors, nifty gadgets and the latest in outdoor clothing technology. Well, it turns out all you need is a bin, some plastic bags, a knife and a wetsuit.

With all our diving and sophisticated collecting equipment being held up at Customs, the scientists did what scientists tend to do: they attacked the problem and came up with solutions.

I joined marine biologists Penny Berents, Anna Murray and Pat Hutchings on a collecting trip to a wharf some twenty miles (actually it was 20 minutes) walk from our accommodation. Once there, Penny swam out to the various pylons with a snorkel, a knife between her teeth (actually she held it in her hand) and some plastic bags stuffed into her wetsuit.

Penny worked to prize and scrape off clumps of encrusting fauna and flora (such as algae, ascidians, hydroids and sponges) from the pylons, in effect removing small pieces of habitat. She carefully placed them into plastic bags she got from the kitchen and stuffed them back into her wetsuit.

The samples were then examined back at the table where we eat our meals (honestly, there are times when I can't tell if these guys are about to eat a meal or do an analysis). They are then preserved in ethanol in whatever jars, containers or sealable plastic bags we can find. Ethanol is really the collector's friend.

Unable to get out on the boat to dive for samples, the 'Fishos' (Jeff Leis, Barry Russell) and 'Cephalodist' Mandy Reid took a taxi to the fish market and gathered samples there. This is actually a perfectly legitimate way of collecting and upon returning to our hotel, Barry, Jeff, Mandy and the hyperactive Mark McGrouther set about identifying the fish they'd bought rather than collected.

Mark also did a little bit of trapping using the P.E.T. method:

Earlier in the day, I watched amphipod-seekers Rosemary Golding and Jim Lowry find exactly the creatures they were looking for simply by using their hands, a plastic bin and a device called a 'pooter'. I'm seriously considering devoting an entire post - or at least a Youtube video - to this 'pooter', so stay tuned.

As Jim sucked on the pooter (see what I mean about this pooter thing?), evolutionary biologists Nerida Wilson and Greg Rouse were busily taking microscope photographs of sea slugs and worms in the makeshift lab they'd constructed in one of the bedrooms.

They had earlier scooped up coarse sand from the beach with a cut-out plastic bottle, before placing it into a bucket borrowed from the Dive Centre. They then elutriated and decanted (swirled and sifted basically) to leave them samples for analysis.

These samples are then put under the microscope where tiny animals like this sea snail can be seen and photographed:

Greg and Nerida's specimen

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