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.

Slugs in the nud’

At Dalton Koss HQ we come up with some creative names to describe some of the more interesting creatures that can be found in our marine front yards.

Slugs in the nud’  are nudibranchs. Nudi what? Nudibranchs.

Nudibranchs are oceanic snails, do not possess a shell and are mostly brightly coloured.

To break it down, Nudi = nude and branchs = gills. As these snails do not have shells for protection, their gills are nude and exposed (see image below).

Without a shell covering, the nudibranch's gills can be found on the top part of its body and exposed to the water.
Without a shell covering, the nudibranch’s gills can be found on the top part of its body and exposed to the water.

Nudibranch Facts

1. The bright colours of nudibranchs are used as defence mechanisms to avoid predators.

2. Many are able to camouflage with their surrounding environment, such as corals and sponges.

nudi3 fixed
3. Nudibranchs do not make a tasty meal. In fact, they are toxic and poisonous to eat. This is because nudibranchs feed on the stinging cells of sea jellies, anemones and corals.

4. Nudibranchs can be found at different depths in both warm and cool ocean waters.

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Although not in the same size category of many other sea creatures, they do create a level of excitement for DKHQ when spotted under water.

Seahorses & Seadragons

Amongst Dalton Koss HQ’s favourite animals and plants are the enigmatic seahorses and seadragons.

Are they real? Do they really exist?”, DKHQ is often asked.

 Yes, they are real and live in both tropical and cooler oceans across the globe.

Regarded by most as resembling half horse half fish, these gentle oceanic creatures spend their time slowly cruising amongst seagrass meadows, seaweed gardens and coral looking for small shrimp to eat.

Both seahorses and seadragons belong to the bony fish family, Syngnathidae, which also includes pipefish and pipehorses (a DKHQ marine fact for another day) .

Seahorses tend to have an upright vertical position while stationary or moving,  while seadragons tend to have a horizontal stationary and moving position. Although seahorses and seadragons look different, they are closely related.

There are some AMAZING facts about seahorses and seadragons.

FACT 1: The seahorse and the seadragon are the only animals in the world where the male gives birth to the babies. Yes, you read correctly! The only animals in the world where the male gives birth. Female seahorses deposit their eggs into the male seahorse pouch where they are then fertilised. The male seahorse will carry the growing babies in the pouch until they are born, which is why some male seahorses look like they have a very big belly. This reproduction approach is very similar for seadragons, however,  the male seadragon will carry the babies in pouches that are attached to their tail rather than in their belly.

FACT 2: Seadragons can only be found in the cooler waters across southern Australia and no where else in the world. The Weedy seadragon is Victoria’s marine state emblem, while the Leafy seadragon is South Australia’s marine state emblem.

FACT 3: If you have an opportunity to dive amongst the tropical reefs of South East Asia, keep your eye out for the pygmy seahorse. No bigger than an average sized thumb, pygmy seahorses will only live on specific types of coral.

A pygmy seahorse attached to coral in the beautiful reefs of Malaysia. Image by Dr Elizabeth Strain.
Spot the pygmy seahorse attached to coral located in the beautiful reefs of Malaysia. Image by Dr Elizabeth Strain.

The next time you are snorkelling or diving amongst seaweed gardens, seagrass meadows or coral reefs, keep your eyes open for a beautiful seahorse or seadragon.

OUR GRASSY OCEAN MEADOWS

“Grass that grows in seawater?”, Dalton Koss HQ is often asked. Yes, grass that can grow in and withstand seawater. But how?

Seagrass is similar to land-based grass, having leaves, veins and roots. The leaves grow from the base of the leave and reproduce with flowers and seeds. Many individual seagrass plants found growing together is termed a seagrass bed or seagrass meadow. Seagrass meadows can be found across the globe, usually in coastal areas close to shore where sunlight can penetrate the water column. Like all plants, seagrass needs sunlight to grow.

The different parts of the seagrass, Amphibolis antarctica, or commonly known as the sea nymph.
The different parts of the seagrass, Amphibolis antarctica, or commonly known as the sea nymph.

Although seagrass meadows may not look like much to the casual observer, they play an incredibly important role in supporting not only the health of our coasts and oceans, but also to humans. There are so many incredible facts about seagrass that DKHQ would like to share with you.

Did you know that seagrass meadows are nurseries for baby sea animals, providing shelter and protection from bigger animals and food to help them grow? Most of the fish we buy to eat would have spent some of their younger years living and growing in seagrass meadows before swimming to the oceans as adults.

An eleven arm seastar (Coscinasterias muricate) and small mussels (Electroma georgiana) living in swan grass (Zoestera muelleri).
An eleven arm seastar (Coscinasterias muricate) and small mussels (Electroma georgiana) living in swan grass (Zoestera muelleri).

Due to the amazing root network of seagrass, they are able trap and stabilise soft sediments, sand and other very small items floating in seawater. This means seagrass plays an important role in protecting our shorelines from erosion and helps improves seawater clarity.

In areas of seagrass meadows there are less toxic algal blooms. Seagrass is amazing at absorbing a whole lot of different nutrients, that often contribute to algal blooms, and using it as food to grow.

The seagrass plant is like a small cosmos to itself. It provides a solid surface for other small seaweeds, sponges and animals to grow.

A meadow of Southern strapped (Posidonia australis) in Corner Inlet Marine National Park, Victoria.
A meadow of Southern strapped (Posidonia australis) in Corner Inlet Marine National Park, Victoria.

Worried about high carbon levels in the atmosphere? Seagrass is able to absorb and store large quantities of carbon in their leaves and roots. Let’s protect seagrass so it can be a wonderful and natural way to address our high carbon lifestyles.

If you ever have an opportunity to snorkel in a grassy ocean meadow, do not pass it up! You might just be surprised with what you find.

A beautiful and vibrant red sponge growing in the Southern strapweed.
A beautiful and vibrant red sponge growing amongst the Southern strapweed.

Sea Anemones of the Southern Ocean

At DKHQ we are constantly asked whether some of the facts portrayed on Finding Nemo are true, specifically the much difficult to pronounce Sea Anemone. Pixar did a wonderful job raising the profile of tropical reefs, although to the detriment of Clown Fish who, if the facts are correct, were being flushed down toilets by young children wanting to release ‘Nemo’ back into the ocean.

This aside, the often asked sea anemone questions at DKHQ are: a. can sea anemones sting, and b. can their poison kill humans? The answer to a. is yes and to b. is no. This public fascination with sea anemones inspired today’s DKHQ Marine Fact, with a focus on southern sea anemones.

Unlike the large sea anemones of our tropical reefs systems found across the globe’s equator line, the sea anemones of the southern ocean are comparatively smaller but just as beautiful and colourful. Here are some interesting facts:

1. Southern sea anemones always occur as solitary individuals usually in intertidal and subtidal areas.

2. All sea anemones have one opening, function both as its mouth and anus (this fact usually elicits some funny facial and noise reactions). Sea anemones are carnivores, on other animals.

3. The sea anemone body is supported by water pressure, which means when not in water their body and tentacles become floppy.

4. The tentacles of all sea anemones radiate from the mouth in one or many rows and are hollow. These tentacles contain stinging cells known in marine science as nematocysts. Each nematocyst contains a pressurised coil that can be pushed out to capture prey or used as self defence. The sea anemone use the nematocysts to stun, and in some cases, kill the prey.

5. Nearly all southern ocean sea anemones grow attached to a rock or some other type of hard structure. The exception to this rule (and when it comes to Mother Nature, there is usually one exception to the rule) is the Swimming anemone known by its scientific name as Phlyctenactis tubercles. (See image below). The Swimming anemone can move through the current or crawl along hard structures.

The Swimming anemone, Phlyctenactis tuberculosa.
The Swimming anemone, Phlyctenactis tuberculosa.

So why can’t sea anemones sting us? Our skin is too thick to be penetrated by its stinging cells, unlike many sea creatures with very thin skin. In the case of Clown fish, they have adapted over a long time for their skin to not be affected by the stinging cells and use the sea anemone as a place of protection from enemies.

DKHQ hopes you enjoyed these sea anemone facts and will leave you to enjoy the beautiful colours of some of the southern ocean’s sea anemones.

This beautiful sea anemone is known as Phlyctenanthus australis and can be found along Australia's intertidal shoreline that is exposed to ocean waves.
This beautiful sea anemone is known as Phlyctenanthus australis and can be found along Australia’s intertidal shoreline that is exposed to ocean waves.
This gorgeous red sea anemone is known as the Waratah Anemone and it's scientific name Actinia tenebrosa. This lovely Waratah Anemone can be found along the intertidal shoreline, often looking like a red blob at low tide.
This gorgeous red sea anemone is known as the Waratah Anemone and it’s scientific name Actinia tenebrosa. This lovely Waratah Anemone can be found along the intertidal shoreline, often looking like a red blob at low tide.
This fun orange and white stripped sea anemone is known as Anthothoe alboctinia and can be found under rocks or underhangs along Australia's intertidal shoreline that is exposed to ocean waves.
This fun orange and white stripped sea anemone is known as Anthothoe alboctinia and can be found under rocks or underhangs along Australia’s southern intertidal shoreline that is exposed to ocean waves. There are two variations to this sea anemone, white and orange stripes and brown and green stripes.