Category Archives: Competition

Long and short format essay competition to generate contributions

Marybelle on mooring

The Therapy Ship

For me, 2015 was as crap as they come. In fact, it could even be described by short words that have no place on a family site like the Lair. I lost my job. To make matters worse, no-one told me why. Then I suffered the indignity of applying for my job, complete with eight letters of recommendation from colleagues, and didn’t even get a start.

The trouble with jobs like ours is that they’re not just jobs you ‘do’. They’re jobs you eat, sleep and breathe. Mine was looking after red-finned blue-eye, a tiny fish from the springs in western Queensland which is just about kaput, so I was in deeper than most. As a consequence I fell pretty hard. I remember being on the phone to Ebb one day from Warwick, and telling him I felt like I’d lost my identity. It didn’t help that I’d applied for a couple of other jobs and got interviews but no cigar. The feedback from one of the guvvy gigs was that I was ‘too honest’. Yeah right. Maybe being 47 had something to do with it? Maybe looking like Gandalf about to jump on a Harley had something to do with it too? Neither was mentioned. The doctor whacked me on happy pills and said I should leave my guns locked up and my daughter found a psychologist. Like I said – not much of a year.

What do you do when everything unravels so spectacularly? The lyrics from an old Richard Clapton song (for those of us old enough to remember) bounced around in my brain: ‘Get Back To The Shelter’. Luckily I had one.

Adam and Marybelle

Years before I ever became involved with fish, my partner and I moved to the small western NSW town of Lake Cargelligo. Lake’s the back-end of the central-west and the beginning of the far west with a smidgin of Riverina thrown in. It’s crazy. Half Aboriginal, half sheep-and-wheat, with generous dollops of Old Testament religious fundamentalists scattered about for good measure. I’ve loved it ever since. Both of our kids are Lake locals as a result. Back then I was teaching music in all the schools: not a bad way to meet everyone, and luckily for me, most of them were still there 10 years after we dragged the kids to Brisbane and I really needed to – literally – get back to the shelter. Nobody gives a rat’s about PhDs and publications in Lake – they just like familiar faces. Back down the Newell I went, back to our little farm on the northern shoreline. I built and tidied and cultivated. Thankfully we kept it!

Just before Christmas, and I’m guessing just when the pills properly kicked in, my best mate Mick (hasn’t everyone got one?) carted me along to a clearing sale. We used to do it all the time: bid on piles of junk, drag them home, then get chastised for hoarding. Nevertheless, the Marybelle was a really weird thing to find at a clearing sale in the boonies. About 20 feet of glass-over-ply. Displacement hull (I’ve never seen another within several hundred km). A boat someone had obviously dragged all the way to the back county from the coast, sitting on a dodgy customised trailer that had been tricked up to make it happen. We guessed it hadn’t seen the water since it landed in Lake. There were dead things in the cuddy cabin and water in the bilge. No steering. I discussed it with a few mates who are also water people from around the Lake: nah, piece of crap, not worth worrying about was the general verdict.

It was a cheap sale. Most of the junk lots went for two and four dollars. The Marybelle was auctioned towards the end, just before the caravans and cars. Mick reckoned have a bid. He said even if it didn’t float it’d make a good kid’s cubby or ornament. I said I’d go to $300 but that was it, especially given I was pretty-much unemployed. There was only one other bidder – a bloke from Euabalong up on the Lachlan which is even less ‘displacement hull’ than Lake – but he bailed out at $160. Going once, going twice – sold to number 27. The auctioneer winked and shook his head. The description on the docket said ‘deep sea boat’. We waited till the sale dissipated and gingerly dragged the monstrosity two doors back to Mick’s. Ah well – could be fun, just like old times.

On board the Belle Emma and Dad

Emma Kerezsy and Dad on the water

We hooked up a Landcruiser to the Marybelle and the old twin cylinder diesel fired first or second go. You can probably imagine what was exclaimed – again it’s not Lair-friendly. We hosed out the wasp nests and dirt from the intake and the impeller pumped water. Same reaction. I spent a hot afternoon up in the cabin sorting out the drum steering, and Mick welded up a big trailer extension. Then, the moment of truth came on December 30. We found a quiet spot and backed the keel boat into the shallow lake (yeah – we needed every inch of the extension). The Marybelle floated. I clambered in and fired up the putt-putt. The Marybelle chugged to life. We did a ‘town lap’, waving to friends and anyone else who’d wave back, and then we piloted the old boat all the way back to my place and moored her to a stump in the channel. Unbelievable.

The Marybelle hasn’t stopped putt-putting since, and the smile hasn’t left my face. I’ve dragged a few lures from time to time but as yet the ‘Belle is fishless. Doesn’t matter: that’s not what she’s about. The Marybelle’s a ship – not a boat – and I reckon she’s about the only one west of the mountains. So I’ll keep putting for as long as I can, because it’s a bootload better than the alternative.

2015: as crap as they come, but it couldn’t have finished better.

Outboard drawing


This is a general call for written and pictorial contributions relating to the theme of ‘boat’. We’ll accept canoe, kayak, dinghies, rafts, pleasure craft, fan-boat, house boats and cruise ships and those pushing the envelope. No word limit, and multiple images are allowed. Judges yet to be determined, but brace yourself for the subjectivity of the occasion. Do it for the love first and foremost and allow your competitive nature to play second fiddle. It can be descriptive, emotional, deep or funny, or whatever you want essentially. Gutter language will be frowned upon but not necessarily excluded. Dave Roberts, you’ll be happy to know the t-shirts are of better quality these days, but you are going to have to earn it all over again. Closing date: end of April.



Listy modelling shirt

By-catch……or just a little curious?

Regular visitors to the Lair may recall that some time ago The Woodsman (Dave Wood) and I (Listy) submitted a short article to the Lair about by-catch in fisheries research – see it ( We even boldly suggested a competition for the best by-catch item which could net (ha!) somebody a prize. And now, at the end of June, it’s time to follow through (fnar!) and pick a winner. I’ve let Woodsman do that – he’s got a better eye for these sorts of things (apparently – although I just reckon he didn’t want me to award the win to myself).

To recap, “by-catch” refers to other aquatic or semi-aquatic creatures/things we catch in our sampling equipment. These things may tell us just as much about the waterbody under investigation as the target fishes, because:

  1. Fish may eat them
  2. They may eat fish

Please note that fisho’s are legally required (with good reason), to employ measures that minimise the risk of death to by-catch in our sampling routine – such as fixing the ends of nets above the waterline for air-breathing things, or regular checking of equipment to remove by-catch. We at the Morays Lair endorse these precautionary measures.

We’ve had plenty of entries. There were some crackers (literally), and some bottlers too!

Crackers and bottlers

Here are the contenders in order of ‘intrigue’ score (a completely unscientific, very subjective scoring system from 1-10).



SCORE: 11 WINNER! (Pic. Dave Morgan) Most people set nets to catch aquatic organisms, Dave Morgan and Steve Beatty set theirs in search of potential partners. Looks like this trip was a winner, although the victim looks a little deflated at the prospect of being caught!

Dave will need to keep an eye out for the post as he will soon be the proud owner of a limited edition “The Morays Lair” fish-finger t shirt (ably model by Listy below) for his ‘catch’.

Listy modelling shirt

[Editor's note: Listy not just an intellectual colossus]



SCORE: 8 RUNNER UP! A stick… big deal you might say. But how many sticks have you had in your net that have a word as awesome as TECHNODOUCHE and a smiley face drawn on it? Uber cool! (Pic. Thomas Espinoza)


Morgs and Freshy

SCORE: 7 This toothy critter was a little bit snappy (fangs very much) after being trapped for a while. (Points were deducted for working in a dangerous location to start with- it’s just not fair on the rest of the competition) (Pic. Supplied by Dave Morgan but taken by a Queenslander)



It may not have the fangs and menace of the guy above, but is certainly up there in the interesting stakes (Pic. Thomas Espinoza) SCORE: 7


Python Linklater

SCORE: 6 Sadly this slithery serpent is not orange and does not have bells attached (see Listys rant about snakes in the original By-catch post), luckily for it, two caring fisho’s were on-hand to release it (see pic below). (Pics. Danielle Linklater)

Linklater and friend

NOTE: If you are concerned about the knife, don’t be. It was used to cut the python free.


WaterRat Fyke

SCORE: 6 Rare to see one still trapped. Those teeth are like scissors and normally result in some pretty major net repairs. (Pic. David Wood)


Lizard Lure D Roberts

SCORE: 5 After trawling the brain cells Dave Roberts netted this little idea for a lure design. (While not actually caught in a net, there is a net in the background of this photo. Close enough for us!) (Pic. Thomas Espinoza)



SCORE: 5 This bloke is a bit crabby for two reasons, firstly he is 1000km from the ocean and secondly someone is hanging onto him. (Pic. Thomas Espinoza)








By-catch gone mad

The Mildura larrikins, Listy Ellis and Dave Wood, have taken it upon themselves to run a competition for the best photograph of by-catch during a freshwater fish ecology field trip. Purchase of the last set of shirts sent the Lair into receivership. Further, it was recently revealed via the Facebook Investigations Bureau that Dr David L Morgan had stolen one of the prototype shirts from the Mareeba Campus. So it is fantastic that Listy and the Woodman have decided to fork out the funds for a new batch of shirts. Thanks fellas. Photos can be directed initially to Ebb ([email protected]).

Public OPinion image SMeredith

Photo finish for short format competition

With the strongest field in the history of essay competitions at the Lair, a split decision has forced Ebner’s hand in having to shell out for two more T-shirts. To top it off, no Queenslanders were in the mix. The winners as judged by Allswell, are David Wood of Mildura and Shaun Meredith from the other side of the continent. One of the contributions is a an audio-physical weapon of choice while the other has a conceptual slant.


Silence is bliss, turned up to 11: the headphone

By David Wood (Mildura)

Data entry can take hours. Upon arriving back from time in the field or time spent in the lab, all the data you have collected needs entering into some form of database. There is nothing better than to take the tedium and boredom out of entering data than some tunes to keep you motivated.

As I share an office with other staff, the type and volume of music is somewhat debated. Well it’s not really a debate, I just try to make everyone feel included. So out of courtesy, i.e. losing the debate, the headphones are jacked in and some sweet tunes selected. With the headphones in, the hour’s just wiz by as numbers tumble in front of your eyes, matrix style.


But wait, there is an added bonus of having headphones in your ears. It means you can work in silence. The ability of said headphones to cancel unwanted noise (and not the fact that they are putting out about as many decibels as a jumbo jet during take-off) is a real winner in a busy workplace. That way, not only does it cut general background hubbub but completely obscures distracting conversations (e.g. a rundown of what -insert name of ‘cute’ pet- did last night) and stupid questions (e.g. Why does Excel hate me so much, what did I ever do to it?) by your colleagues, sitting right behind you.

If it weren’t for the headphones and the time saved from ‘distracting noises’, I would still be entering data from last year. That is why I consider the headphone my number one choice in the scientific arsenal.


Weapon of Choice: I’ve got a big one.

By Shaun Meredith

My ultimate weapon of choice in the world of fish ecology is opinion.

I’m not talking about the confrontingly shallow heresies that you find in a three second media grab, or the glib one-dimensional extremism that gets farted out by self-confessed “interest” groups to anyone that will listen. That stuff is bland and predictable like the arse-end of a carp’s gut.

Public OPinion image SMeredith

I don’t mean the spit-laced opinions of ego monkeys wielding loud hailers, either. Good opinions rarely rhyme, and rebuttals for that populist rubbish can be found in the comms plan of any decision maker worth their salt. And I certainly don’t mean the ideological retching of a seven-day-a-week necktie whose opinion is formed by a sense of entitlement and well-connected mates. Too often these are the opinions that we need to bother to change.

The opinions I covet are the timely and considered thoughts of a well-informed nerd – someone who has a near-complete understanding of the big picture and the small, and whose opinions are informed by both logic and emotions, without being tainted by self-interest. Someone who thinks about how things are, not how they should be. Someone who has listened to opposing views and has sought to understand them – even adopt them if they prove incontrovertible. Someone who pauses a little before answering your question.

Because opinions really do change the world every day and in every way. And I reckon that if you look hard enough, the scientific method is just as applicable to the informed opinions that our decision makers rely upon, as it is to the fisho’s dreamy hypotheses that flow freely like beer after a hard day’s fieldwork. I find that just a little bit comforting.





Dave Roberts

And the winner is……..

The winner of the long format essay competition is of course a Queenslander, Dave Roberts. The main picture shows Dave in his natural habitat in more primitive times using the standard dip net in the upper Brisbane River catchment. Dr Roberts is understandably ecstatic with the win.


How Tapioca pearls helped develop a non-destructive demersal egg sampling method.

By Dr David Roberts

The problem: How to quantitatively sample the large demersal eggs of a nationally listed threatened species, the Australian Lungfish without harming the eggs or the habitat it uses for spawning.

Working with the Australian Lungfish has presented researchers with many challenges to overcome. One that recently presented itself to me was how to quantitatively describe the progress of a spawning event that occurred in a large impoundment environment. It was important to be quantitative as well as being non-destructive, as one of the key objectives of the study was to track the viability and developmental stages of the eggs over the very long development period that occurs in lungfish from the spawned egg to the free swimming larvae, being upwards of 50 days. We wanted to return the undamaged eggs to the spawning substrate they were collected from and also maintain the fragile spawning substrate (macrophytes and flooded grasses) they were using during the study period.

After a few days scratching around the Web for similar problems and equipment to do the job, it became apparent that this was just another one of the challenges that lungfish throw up. As far as I could determine, a method for sampling quantitatively and non-destructively eggs, larvae and habitat hadn’t been used in this type of application before. So how did we approach the problem?

The quantitative side of the problem was dealt with by deciding on a 1 m2 quadrat enclosure (Fig. 1). 1 m2 was chosen as lungfish egg densities are not overly high and this was a compromise between size and manageability. The standard lungfish egg survey methods developed by Peter Kind and Steve Brooks employs a semi-quantitative push net method using a 1 m2 frame with fine mesh stretched over it and trawling this through dense macrophyte habitat to collect eggs. While this method can be standardised in terms of frame size and length of area trawled for eggs, this method is relative and can be subject to operator variations in deployment method and effectiveness of trawling the substrate for eggs. Using a fixed area of 1 m2 overcomes this problem and allows for true replication of the sampling unit. There were also two other design features incorporated into the quadrate frame including one wall being made of a 1 mm mesh cod end that served to collect the eggs and larvae washed from the sample area. The opposite wall also had a small window of 1 mm mesh in it below the water line that served to improve the laminar flow of water out of the quadrat into the cod end when using a jet of water as described next.

Despite having the quadrat, there is still the need to collect the relatively large eggs of the lungfish (~6–8 mm Ø, see Fig. 2) that are also negatively buoyant and sometimes loosely attached to the spawning substrate. This was achieved by using gentle but constant water pressure from a water jet delivered by a small 1-hp fire-fighting water pump. This pump delivered a relatively constant rate of water flow that can be used to gently but thoroughly agitate the substrate to suspend the eggs and allow collection both from the water column and in the cod end. Collection from the water column was achieved by sweeping a 1mm mesh dip net through the water column while maintaining constant agitation from the pump. Secondly a laminar flow was created into the code end by directing the water jet toward the cod end while agitating the substrate. This pumping and sweeping action was continued until three separate sweeps of the dip net yielded no more lungfish eggs (Fig. 3). This whole process would take 3–5 minutes per quadrat, so is relatively rapid. All material collected in the dip net and cod end are then sorted in trays for eggs and larvae and the eggs are returned to the quadrat they were sampled from.


Fig.1: Diagram of sampler on dry land showing cod end net and small mesh opening to allow laminar flow through quadrat.



Fig. 2: A typical lungfish egg showing dark embryo and clear outer egg capsule. The scale of this egg is shown as the 1mm grey line in the bottom left of the picture. Source of photo is Kemp 1994.



Fig. 3: Sampler in operation showing dip net used to sweep for suspended eggs and hose pipe from water pump used to lift the eggs from the substrate.


Validation of the Method

We wanted to validate and establish the efficiency of the methods. We did not wish to use real lungfish eggs for fear of damaging them from double handling and transferring from substrate to quadrat and back to substrate. Using real lungfish eggs would also reducing our capacity to replicate any validation trials due to their relative scarcity. So we looked far and wide for a surrogate for lungfish eggs. We thought about green peas, plastic beads, chick peas, but nothing was quite the right size or had the same buoyancy and fragility of the lungfish egg. But an epiphany happened one day while I was sitting at the food court of a shopping centre and seeing people walking away from the local juice bar with drinks full of small 8 mm clear rubbery balls. That’s, it tapioca pearls (Fig 4.). They were a similar size, and were quite gelatinous and fragile, but most importantly had a very similar negative buoyancy. Using 50 tapioca pearls randomly added to replicate quadrats and allowed to settle for 5 minutes, allowed us to determine a recovery rate of over 95%.



Fig. 4: Inspirational tapioca pearls in their natural habitat.

We did it! We now had a non-destructive, quantitative method to survey lungfish eggs that allows us to repeatedly survey spawning habitats without damaging either the eggs or the substrate and allowing eggs to be returned unharmed. This method will be the subject of a manuscript in the near future once I finish this bubble tea. Yum.


Weapon of choice or object of a tale.

Weapon of choice or object of a tale.

The Lair is welcoming contributions from those with an Australian freshwater fish bent. We are chasing written pieces of two types: short format (less than 301 words not including title) and long-winded (600–1000 words not including title or references). Participants should inform us of a thing they use in fish ecology by penning a potentially interesting tale. The centre of the written piece might be a piece of field sampling equipment (perhaps a type of net, a vehicle, a tool, a hat), a piece of office equipment (e.g. laptop, stress ball, quill, coffee mug), laboratory apparatus (e.g. pipette, stereo-microscope, DNA sequencer) or aquaculture and aquaria stuff (e.g. air bubbler, auto-feeder, trickle filter). Be creative, funny or serious. We would really like to hear from a range of practitioners including geneticists, aquaculturists, behavioural biologists, policy makers, environmental and fisheries managers, and genuine hybrids. Diversity is the rice of strife.

A short format entry should be accompanied by an image. A lengthier piece requires one or two images. One and a half images will not be accepted. Personal anecdotes are encouraged but not essential. Please provide an authentic author name and residential town or city of current occupancy. All tasteful entries will be posted on the Lair.

The prize you ask: one of the first Moray’s Lair T-shirts (in a realistic size of the winner’s choice). Entries for the short format section should be sent to Allswell and long format to Ebb (see ‘Faces’ pages for email addresses). Closing date is midnight 16 November 2014. Judges decision is final, however, complaints and post competition feedback has the potential to be fodder for the website.

Below is an example of a short format essay:

The Dunny Brush

by Allswell (Canberra)

That’s right. That embarrassing tool used to banish skid marks to the dark side of the S-bend would have to be one of my favourite bits of scientific equipment. And no, that is not a direct reference to the quality of my research.

During my PhD study I maintained 68 fish tanks of varying sizes housing happy populations of moggies (Mogurnda adspersa) and rainbows (Melanotaenia splendida). These fish were kept in tip-top condition to induce them to ‘get jiggy with it’ on a regular basis; the powerhouse of offspring for my experiments.

But keeping these fish happy was no trivial matter. Their diet consisted of liberal amounts of barramundi pellets (55% protein) and raw prawns. Combine that with soft Canberra water supply and it meant that tank cleaning was near daily chore. Apparently, excessive nutrient build up in the tanks would result in acidic conditions, sending my fish into dark and unhappy headspaces, and warranted rapid water changes and endless scrubbing and washing of gravel substrate before restarting a tank – only to redo 4 weeks later.

Danswell scrubbing tanksReduced2

Morning cleaning at the Mogurnda Motel 

The dunny brush was key. I tried many different cleaning implements, but none were as ‘tough on stains’ (read: algae) as the dunny brush. For instance, sponges made reaching the back of tanks too difficult. Continually scrubbing took its toll on the skin of my fingers due to long hours in contact with fish food and tank water. Gloves were so inconvenient it was easier just to put up with the peeling. On the upside, it gave me something to pick at while procrastinating.

I digress. My advice for all newcomers to the insane world of breeding fish in bulk – get a dunny brush.


Below is an example of a long format essay:


by Ebb (Mareeba)

When I die, or at least when I am sacked or retire from this field of research, I want my few closest colleagues to remember how much I loved them. Loved the whiteboards that is. I have had many such lovers.

The whiteboard is a space-time continuum beyond which the computer screen is yet to surpass. It is old school to the younger generation of scientist, but retro to the likes of my cohort. I must confess to having mainly been exposed to an inferior predecessor to the whiteboard, the chalkboard, as a primary and high school student. Some feel as to why I have a negative and visceral reaction to the primitive chalkboard can be gleaned from the unforgettable scene where steely-eyed Quint (the ship captain played by Robert Shaw) drags his salty fingernails down the blackboard in Jaws I (a 1975 film). In school, the screech of chalk on a blackboard was only second to expended Band-Aids on the bottom of a swimming pool as my greatest fear. And to be fair, people swim with sharks everyday. They talk about them, and that is healthy. People don’t talk about swimming with Band-Aids, let alone swimming with used Band-Aids. Some things are so terrifying they are rarely if ever discussed. The West Australian government should cull near shore Band-Aids.

For a techno-dinosaur, I was surprisingly quick to jump on the PC tablet equipped with drawing stylus early in its inception, partly because I love to draw. Frankly however, it has not the touch, traction, finesse nor feel of more primitive options. The whiteboard takes its rightful place in recent history wedged between the blackboard and the computer tablet.

In terms of big-ticket items my office is part turkey’s nest, part computer and part whiteboard. The whiteboard performs three roles. One is for basic lists and reminders. For those of us that are perfectly disorganised this function is nontrivial. Even the organised such as Iain Ellis give this function the thumbs up.

Two is for enabling my personal thinking and conceptualisation. Most commonly the whiteboard carries some words linked with a smattering of arrows or lines in webs or a hierarchy. Sometimes it is just a huddle of words. Words that are topics, questions or points meant to jog thoughts. These word combinations play out in my mind, evolving, else fading away and eventually meeting spray and wipe. Three, is well, a little less easily described. For it is where golf ends and team sport begins.

For me, the third and real strength of whiteboards is that they are venues for some of the most successful scientific communication that I have been fortunate to experience. Sure these venues have also bared witness to unfruitful moments. Yet I would argue this is often where clarity has exposed layers of complexity that I and other members of the team had not properly appreciated. Rather than bore you with endless detail I’ll offer a little of each extreme: the hard luck and the triumphant.

Perhaps the best example I can recall from the unsuccessful whiteboard, was working in a group of four at the ACT Government when we would brainstorm in the meeting room inevitably using a large electronic whiteboard. There were several wins in that environment for the nucleus of a young and upcoming team. However it took a slow learning Ebner to realise after nearly a year that one of the members of the team simply did not work well with whiteboards, while the other three did. A hard lesson learned. Just because I love a whiteboard, doesn’t mean we all love a whiteboard.


At home on the whiteboard 

Positive experiences with teams using the whiteboard have been far more common for me. In fact I could literally bore you silly with some of my favourite science moments being based around conversations and debates facilitated by whiteboards. Ben Broadhurst and I once constructed a home on a whiteboard over a few days. There are three whiteboards in my aquarium room shed. Two of these are vertical surfaces.

Perhaps my favourite whiteboard is a smallish-medium sized pain in Chris Fulton’s office at ANU. A couple of my colleagues have spewed thinking at that board. I also visit there occasionally and sometimes just leave marks of confusion and ideas half-baked. The custodian of that board never fails to steer me truer, progressing the line of thought. Somehow minds can join to some extent from that board; and smarter people than me have maybe even gained a little from my noggin at that interface.

So, black pen, blue pen, red pen and at times green. If possible a thin-tip black pen is my weapon of choice because it enables little subplots or ideas to be captured in an ever-filling car park. And in all seriousness what makes whiteboards special is that they facilitate the clarification of a common image having provided a haven where mistakes can be made and erased.


Benchley P. (1974). Jaws. Doubleday & Company Inc., New York. (311 pages)

Walny, J. Carpendale, S, Riche, N. H., Venolia, G. and Fawcett, P. (2011). “Visual thinking in action: visualizations as used on whiteboards,” IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics 17(12), 2508–2517.

Ju, W., Lee, B. A. and Klemmer, S. R. (2008). Range: exploring implicit inter-action through electronic whiteboard design. In Proceedings of CSCW 2008, pages 17–26. ACM, 2008.