What the devil……?

Every venture into our amazing marine world provides me with an opportunity to learn something new and to interact one-on-one with some wonderful creatures.

During one dive in Port Phillip Bay, located in Victoria, Australia, the Southern Blue Devil’s iridescent blue colours immediately caught my eye.  Scientifically known as Paraplesiops meleagris, this beautiful fish is endemic to southern Australia. The Southern Blue Devil can only be found in the beautiful waters between Perth in Western Australia to Port Phillip Bay in Victoria to a depth of up to 45m.

The Southern Blue Devil loves to live under ledges and in crevices and caves. They are fiercely protective of their territory, especially during breeding season. My first encounter with the Southern Blue Devil was during breeding season. The male of this species can be a little aggressive if you get too close to their territory, especially if you have any blue colours on your SCUBA kit or wetsuit. My SCUBA mask at the time was made of clear perspex and rubber lined with bright blue rims around the eyes. Thinking I was a competitor for it’s territory, this male Southern Blue Devil told my SCUBA mask in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t welcome.

Southern Blue Devil 1: Dalton Koss HQ SCUBA mask 0.

The Southern Blue Devil on the defensive mode due to my blue rimmed SCUBA mask coming across as a potential competitor.
The Southern Blue Devil on the defensive due to my blue rimmed SCUBA mask appearing to be a potential competitor.

Although quite a visually funny story, here are some other interesting facts about the Southern Blue Devil.

Fact 1. Similar to human finger prints, adult Southern Blue Devils can be individually identified and monitored due to their unique pattern of markings on the lower part of their gill cover.

Fact 2: Adult pairs will stay together during the breeding season, protecting their eggs that are usually laid on rock surfaces in narrow crevices.

Fact 3: The Southern Blue Devil is protected by law across Australia as they are endemic, that is, they are not found anywhere else in the world.

Fact 4: Known to be curious, the Southern Blue Devil will usually interact with SCUBA divers even during non-breeding season.

Fact 5: The Southern Blue Devil loves to eat small crustaceans, snails, worms and sometimes other small fishes.

If you ever have an opportunity to SCUBA across Australia’s southern oceans, look out for the Southern Blue Devil. In fact, it will probably find you first.

The Southern Blue Devil loves living in and around crevices, ledges and caves.
The Southern Blue Devil loves living in and around crevices, ledges and caves.
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Estuaries

Taking inspiration from my paper that was published this week, this week’s Dalton Koss HQ Marine Fact takes a look at estuaries.

Estuaries are fascinating systems that are often forgotten natural spaces. This is because they are neither freshwater nor seawater, rather they are a mix of the two. One of Dalton Koss HQ’s favourite sayings is to be in a liminal state meaning that the subject is never in one state of being. This is true for estuaries where saltwater from the open sea mixes with freshwater that flows down from uprivers and streams. As the chemical makeup of saltwater is more dense compared to freshwater, the saltwater will sit under the freshwater layer. This saltwater layer usually decreases in depth as you move up the estuary away from the ocean. Additionally, sediments from both land and ocean meet and mix in the estuary.

Hawkesbury Estuary, New South Wales, Australia.
Hawkesbury Estuary, New South Wales, Australia.

Due to this unique combination of water and sediments, estuaries are incredibly naturally productive places that provide protection from the rough seas. Fish use estuaries for migrating and reproduction, birds feed and nest on the side of estuaries and there is even documented evidence that suggests larger mammals such as whales and larger fish species such as sharks use estuaries as reproductive areas.

As estuaries are directly linked with the ocean they are often influenced by tides. Some estuaries are devoid of water at low tide making it very easy to walk across from one side to the other. Estuaries provide humans with a number of services that contribute to our health and wellbeing. In the field of environmental economics this is called ecosystem services as the natural system (ecosystem) is providing us (humans) some type of service that contributes to our health and wellbeing. Here are some examples of estuary ecosystem services:

1. Humans take out fish and shellfish from estuaries as food to eat.

2. Many of the mangroves, coastal shrub and salt marsh that grow along estuary shores remove pollutants from the air providing us cleaner air to breathe. These same plants can trap sediments amongst their roots which decreases erosion and soil run off into the water. This in turn provides stability to houses and human made infrastructure built along the estuary.

3. For those who visit or live along an estuary, looking and experiencing beautiful natural landscapes can create feelings of relaxation, pleasure, peace and enjoyment.

4. Estuaries contribute to the traditions and cultures of Indigenous peoples across the globe.

Within Australia, there are over 1000 estuaries of different forms and types. In fact, over 60% of Australia’s population live along estuaries, for example, Melbourne and Port Phillip Bay, Hobart and the Derwent River Estuary and Fremantle and the Swan River Estuary.  Globally, there are thousands more. As human populations continue to grow, greater pressure will be placed on our estuaries. How to balance population growth, city planning and impacts on our natural environment needs in depth consideration by governments and citizens across the globe.

Whale Rock, Tidal River Estuary, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria, Australia.
Whale Rock, Tidal River Estuary, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria, Australia.

The Intertidal Zone

Over the past few weeks, quite a number of the Dalton Koss HQ Marine Facts have referred to the intertidal zone. Many DKHQ readers have curiously responded with the questions:

  1. Where is the intertidal zone located?
  2. Exactly what is the intertidal zone?

At Dalton Koss HQ we are more than happy to answer these two questions.

The intertidal zone is located along our coastlines, specifically where the sea meets the land. This zone varies all across the globe. It can be made up of rocky shores with many fun rockpools, mudflats or sandflats, mangroves, salt marsh and seagrass beds, sandy beaches and coral reefs. The intertidal zone can be exposed to the rough and tumble of open oceans or located in sheltered places such as bays and inlets. Some scientists refer to the intertidal zone as the littoral zone.

An exposed intertidal rocky shore at low tide along Victoria's Great Ocean Road. Notice the prolific range of seaweeds adorning the rocks.
An exposed intertidal rocky shore at low tide along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. Notice the prolific range of seaweeds and mussels adorning the rocks.

At Dalton Koss HQ we often refer to the intertidal zone being in a liminal state. This is because the intertidal zone is either covered with ocean waters or exposed to the sun and air due to the constant movement of tides. It is never in one state of being within a 24 hour period; rather it is in continuous flux.

Being exposed to two completely different types of conditions means that as an animal or plant living in this zone, one needs to have some incredibly amazing adaptations to survive. Intertidal plants and animals need to be resilient to wave wash, tides and currents, sun exposure, predators and drying out all while trying to photosynthesise/eat and reproduce.

An exposed intertidal sandy flat located along Cape Conran Coastal Park in eastern Victoria, Australia.
An exposed intertidal sandy flat located along Cape Conran Coastal Park in eastern Victoria, Australia.

This makes the intertidal zone a fascinating area to explore and discover the spectacular range of marine animals and plants. To conserve this amazing zone while you explore, please be careful where you tread/snorkel, place rocks back to their original positions when you examine what is beneath and keep all rockpool animals and plants fully immersed in water to reduce their stress.

An intertidal coral reef exposed at low tide located in Fiji's Coral Coast.
An intertidal coral reef exposed at low tide located in Fiji’s Coral Coast.

Chitons

Visitors to coastal shores often come across unusual looking animals hidden in rock crevices. Here at Dalton Koss HQ we strive to help make sense of these unusual sea creatures by sharing our marine knowledge.

Chitons are one of these more unusual finds that many coastal visitors find on the rocky shoreline. With the Ch pronounced as a k sound, chitons have a fossilised appearance due to their numerous armoured plates. In fact, some people call Chitons the armadillos of the ocean as they are able to curl up into a ball using their armoured plates as protection.

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The armoured plates grow from the head to the foot of their body providing protection and camouflage from predators, hence why this animal is also commonly known as the coat-of-mail. The actual animal grows and lives under these armoured plates and its body is not segmented like its armour.

Here are a few interesting facts about chitons:

1. Chitons can only be found in the intertidal and upper subtidal zone of rocky shores.

2. The majority of chitons are vegetarian, grazing and eating seaweeds using their radula (see earlier What creates those circular holes on seashells? DKHQ Marine Fact to find out more about radulas).

3. Chitons can live from 1-20 years or more.

4. All chitons have a girdle around their body and plates.

5. Chitons prefer to move around during dusk and at night to reduce their chances of being prey to birds and other larger animals.

6. Sexual reproduction is often associated with a particular phase of the moon or with a tide, in some instances both.

The most fascinating and favourite Dalton Koss HQ Chiton fact is their homing ability. Chitons are able to have a night out crawling around rocks and feeding, but they are able to return to exactly the same spot before the sun comes up. Just amazing for a creature that has no eyes!

SEA SPIDERS

At Dalton Koss HQ we can already hear the arachnophobes fearfully exclaiming, “Sea Spiders! Will they bite me if I go for a swim? Are they poisonous?”

The answer to both questions is no. Sea Spiders are not interested in devouring humans.

Sea Spiders are scientifically known as pycnogonids. You can see in the image below, that sea spiders are not as chunky looking as their land dwelling cousins and are quite small in size (the Sea Spider in this image was no bigger than a $1 Australian coin).

This sea spider's scientific name is Pseudopallene ambigua and was found moving around a subtidal rocky reef inside Port Phillip Heads Marine National Parks, Victoria, Australia.
This sea spider’s scientific name is Pseudopallene ambigua and was found moving around a subtidal rocky reef inside Port Phillip Heads Marine National Parks, Victoria, Australia. The arrows point to several interesting body features.

This is because Sea Spiders have developed a number of really interesting body features over a long period of time. Here are just a few interesting feature facts:

Fact 1: The abdomen of the sea spider is very small and located towards the back of the body, while some of the gut is located in its legs. Their waste products are released directly into the seawater via a diffusion process across their cell walls.

Fact 2: Sea spiders use the same cell wall diffusion process to obtain oxygen, i.e. they have no lungs or respiratory system to breathe oxygen like many other animals.

Fact 3: Due to their very small body size, the sea spider’s reproductive system is found in their legs.

Fact 4: Female sea spiders deposit their fertilised eggs, which are then picked up and looked after by the male sea spider.

Fact 5: Most sea spider legs end in very small claws.

Fact 6: At each growth stage, starting from the larval phase, the sea spider develops a new set of legs until it reaches adulthood.

Fact 7. Sea spiders have a proboscis (think of it as their mouth and tongue rolled into one) so that they can suck out the fluids of animals they eat, for example, anemones, hydroids and bryozoans, but NOT humans.

Fact 8: Sea Spiders live in cool and warm water oceans at all depths.

How can I spot a Sea Spider?

Dalton Koss HQ’s tip for spotting a sea spider is to use a snorkel and mask and slowly drift over rocky reefs at high tide (for safety, always snorkel with a buddy). Sea Spiders are quite small so you need to look closely between seaweed tufts, anemones and other hydroids that grow on the rock.

Geoff Wescott is Leading the way in conservation and environmental management.

Geoff Wescott is an Associate Professor of Environment at Deakin University. In addition to his day job, Geoff has a number of executive leadership roles with Zoos Victoria, Victorian Coastal Council, Australian Coastal Society and the Victorian Marine Policy Round Table.

Geoff chats with Dalton Koss HQ about his conservation leadership journey.

My leadership journey started in 1978. I was half way through my zoology PhD at the University of Melbourne when I started to wonder why I was only focussing on pure science. All I really wanted to do was save the world. I was advised by my PhD supervisor at the time to first finish my PhD and then save the world, however, I was too impatient. I left my PhD uncompleted and was accepted onto a Masters in Nature Conservation at the University College London, paid via my own expense.

On completion, I came back to Australia in 1979 with two Master degrees under my belt and no conservation job. I ended up being a tutor in biology at the University of Melbourne, which was a little ironic. However, through sheer persistence and networking, I successfully landed the role of Executive Director for the Conservation Council of Victoria (CCV; now Environment Victoria). This was my first leadership job, responsible for the strategic operations of the CCV and management of 5 staff and 125 community-based nongovernment conservation groups that in total comprised of 125,000 members. The CCV was still quite young, 5 years in operations, comparatively to other organisations.

After three years in this role I realised that trusted and available academic advice was missing from the conservation movement. As the CCV’s Executive Director, I wasn’t able to access or obtain technical information related to conservation and environmental management as credible evidence to inform reports and reviews. This inspired me to go back to study in 1981 and complete a PhD in Coastal Zone Management at Deakin University. To keep my finger on the pulse, I remained a voluntary officer at the CCV for the duration of my studies.

By combining my PhD findings and learning’s as the CCV’s Executive Director, I put together a briefing package and did a tour of parliamentary members. The then Liberal/National Party Coalition picked up my findings and with their election win in 1992, I was appointed to my second leadership role as the Chair for the Coastal and Bay Management Council Reference Group. It was in this role that I worked with a group of wonderful people to help shape, galvanise and push the Coastal Management Act 1995 to be legislated by the Victorian State Government. Through this Act, I was appointed to serve on the first Victorian Coastal Council in 1995, although not as the Chair due to my political persuasions. Simultaneously, I became Head of Department at Victoria College and oversaw the merger with Deakin University. I also enrolled on a Williamson Community Leadership Program (now known as Leadership Victoria) in 1992, where I realised my life long journey and commitment to community leadership.

This flowed on to further leadership roles including: Director of Parks Victoria, Convenor (Chair) of the National Parks Advisory Council, Member of the National Oceans Advisory Group, Chair of National Reference Group of the Marine and Coastal Community Network, Zoos Victoria Board, Victorian Coastal Council Board Member, President of the Australian Coastal Society and Convenor (Chair) of Victorian Marine Policy Round Table. I fulfilled all of the above roles while remaining as an Associate Professor of Environment at Deakin University.

Associate Professor Geoff Wescott is saving our coasts.
Associate Professor Geoff Wescott is saving our coasts.

The six key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership are:

1. Vision: it is necessary to have vision for yourself and your organization. You need to understand where you are going.

2. Energy: you need energy to implement your vision.

3. Integrity: this is critical within any system you are part of. Without it, you have little to no credibility.

4 & 5. Passion and Persistence: these two words are not mutually exclusive. Passion is needed but can be over flogged. Together with persistence, these qualities become omnipotent. These two qualities within the conservation context come and go due to burn out. Conservation is a series of long battles where young people who have a lot of passion become cattle fodder and end up leaving with very few lessons to take-away from their experience. There is a high attrition rate within the conservation field, with very few long-term conservationists staying in the business for more than 30 years. Passion and persistence teaches you self-protection to ensure you survive the long battles.

6Inclusiveness: you need people with on your journey. Make sure that you share the credit and wins with others.

There have been key successes, challenges and failures in my leadership journey:

Successes: Coastal and marine work in Victoria, across Australia and at the global level. 

Challenges: I was brought up in the working class western suburbs of Melbourne. Although I have great street sense, it didn’t teach me the intricacies of leveraging networks such as the old boys club or how to access mentors. I learnt these lessons on the job, which were all very critical during the 1970s, 80s and 90s and even to this day. Although this knowledge can be acquired, there were many people who were, and are, privileged to be in these networks via their school and family affiliations. As a physically smaller person you need to work harder at being a presence in the room. If you do not have a big physical presence, and the charisma that comes with it, you can often be overlooked.

Failures: Although I don’t necessarily see it this way, it is possible to see my day job as a failure. I have been at the same level, at the same institution, in the same continuing position for over 25 years. However, if it wasn’t for this ‘failure’, I would not have been able to fulfill my life long journey and passion for conservation.

I attribute my success to emotional and raw intelligence. I am curious by nature and indulge in extensive and broad reading. I practice integrity, honesty, openness, persistence, and pragmatism in all decision-making. I am a good listener, ensuring I listen to other people and their views across all types of forums. I give my view strongly based on evidence and knowledge. 

I have not used personal funds to financially invest in formal leadership courses.  I am in the lucky position that my Williamson Community Leadership Program and current Company Directors course were paid for by organisations where I have leadership roles. I have invested a lot of personal time in developing my leadership skills and style. It is impossible to quantify and it is not quarantined. I spent a lot of time in many different roles and activities that have allowed me to be where I am now.

I haven’t changed jobs in order to increase my cash flow. I took a job that was consistent (Deakin University) so I could engage in all external leadership activities. I really like the ‘Conservation Catalyst’ idea and lifestyle instead of an evidence based research approach as required by University institutions. By not having job fluctuations, it has allowed me to do ‘ good’ work in the conservation community.

Both major Victorian State Government parties have appointed me because I stayed true to my goal, that is environmental protection and conservation. It does not bother me which political party is in power, as I know why, and for what reason, I am actioning my vision. I stay true to the bigger picture and I have never been opportunistic or offered an alternative view for short-term benefits.

I don’t think I have ever given away my time for free. Sometimes I undervalue my experiences, but I have the view that I am receiving in equal amounts as I am giving. I give enormous time away to the conservation field for less than the market price and experiences listed on my CV, however, I am reimbursed well in my day job. This is part of a big package of one whole. I have a very old fashioned view of being an academic. The pay is reasonable and the freedom is fantastic.

It is important that I maintain my mental and physical health and wellbeing. I go to gym, play tennis and walk everywhere when and where I can. It is important that I get out into nature and keep exercising. Mentally, I need my sanctuaries. One needs to know what one likes and works for them. Nature will always deliver this for me whether it is a creek, beach or wild and remote open natural spaces. A big bonus of being in the conservation field is that you can legitimately go to natural places that are mentally relaxing and reviving. Having a sanctuary is very important. It should be peaceful and allow for self-reflection. To have sustained energy, passion and persistence, one needs that space and place. You will not last if you do not have this sanctuary.

I always assume that I am ahead of the game. A top leadership secret is to stay connected to as many networks and contacts as possible. Keep an open mind and talk to a diversity of people. By nature, people love to gossip and by listening, you learn a lot. Know and listen to your opposition. It is essential that you know what makes them and their industry tick, what is their motivation and why they act the way they do. Read your oppositions work, reports and media stories. I subscribe to the Economist, read widely and extensively and listen to debates.

My top leadership tips are to treat people well, don’t bad mouth or gossip about people and ensure you are loyal down as well as up. You are not a leader if you are not loyal down. Do not think you are better than anyone else. I always treat others as my equal and this is a good place to start.

For those who want to join conservation organisations it is essential to first understand your conservation objectives and then join organisations whose objectives align with yours. Don’t just be a member, offer your services. You never know what you might learn. For example, I joined the Victorian National Park Association (VNPA) during 2nd year university and the Australian Conservation Foundation during 3rd year university as their objectives aligned with my desire and objectives to save the world.

My advice would be to attend leadership presentations, hear talks by people who are leaders. Sometimes you will be disappointed, but more often than not you will learn something new.  Take time to smell the flowers; it is an old expression but relevant to having a mental sanctuary where you can self-reflect. Do not underestimate luck and be mindful when it happens. To be successful and to climb high you need some luck. Last, always question your own point of view

To learn more about Geoff’s conservation leadership journey, read: Conservation Catalysts. The Academy as Nature’s Agent. 2014. Edited by James N. Levitt, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, USA.

Associate Professor Geoff Wescott (on the right) presenting his Conservation Catalysts Chapter at the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia.
Associate Professor Geoff Wescott (on the right) presenting his Conservation Catalysts Chapter at the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia.