Something that I’ve been looking forward to for almost a year now is the SyngBio conference. Last week I was at the University of Tampa on the west coast of Florida to attend the meeting, which was the third of its kind. Researchers, zoo aquarists and other professionals from around the world, who work with syngnathids (Seahorses, pipefishes and their relatives), formed the 100 plus attendees.
Although I attended the full four days of lectures and seminars, I was invited as a keynote speaker at the ‘Scientific Storytelling’ evening event that was held at The Florida Aquarium on Monday 15th May. Besides floating around on a boat in remote Papua, it was probably one of the most amazing places I have ever done a talk. My podium was directly in front of a huge aquarium window, with sand tiger sharks, huge turtles and moray eels all going about their business behind me.
It has been a few years since I finished my PhD ‘The Biology and Conservation of Gorgonian-associated Pygmy Seahorses’ but the highlight of the SyngBio conference was finally meeting the researchers that I’d cited so many times during my work. Honestly, I was a little intimated to meet some of them. Forget those Kardashian folk, these people are real celebrities! In reality, I have rarely met such an amazing bunch of people. The collective drive and passion was truly inspiring. There are sure to be some interesting projects that will come from the meeting, which I know was the motivation for getting the world’s syngnathid researchers together initially.
Apart from my talk, the other main reason for my visit to SyngBio was to attend the first meeting of the IUCN Seahorse and Pipefish Specialist Group, which was formed last year. This group is part of the Species Survival Commission and, as the global authorities on these fishes, the group’s main aim is to ensure that their wild populations are healthy and well-managed. I was very honoured to be invited to join this small group of fifteen or so members last year. We gathered on the fifth day of the conference and worked on putting together a Species Action Plan for these animals. The fruits of that will become available over the coming months.
I was very kindly sponsored to attend SyngBio by the HW Hoover Foundation, Project Seahorse and a donation from
our own Our Beloved Seas (Wendy and I always donate to a conservation organisation from our trips).
Please stay posted for updates via my Facebook page or here. If you’re a diver and want to help, you can register any of your seahorse sightings around the world through iSeahorse, more here.
I really don’t know what happened to 2015, but what a great years it’s been! There have been lots of amazing expeditions, creatures and publications to my name. I hope you’ve all had a brilliant 2015 and looking forward to 2016 and beyond. Here’s is a little run down of what I’ve been up to over the past 6 months:
Apart from some non-group expeditions, in the six months since my last blog I’ve run trips to Atlantis Dumaguete Resort and aboard Atlantis’ Azores liveaboard around Cebu Island in the Philippines. Most of the guests joined us for the entire 18 days and we saw such amazing creatures as 18 seahorses on one dive, 11 frogfishes on another, thresher sharks, whale sharks, Lembeh seadragons (Kyonemichthys rumengani) plus many more. As always, we donated some of the proceeds from the trip to a conservation organisation. In this case we chose the Marine Megafauna Foundation, who strive to protect the world’s biggest marine fishes.
Just recently also I completed a trip aboard the Bilikiki in the Solomon Islands. I am always blown away by the remoteness of the Solomons. The reefs are pristine and full of life, whilst on land, we went to a village that had never been visited by foreigners in the 60 years since it was founded. I can’t imagine that’s true of many places in the world these days. My underwater highlight was certainly Lynne’s pipefish (Festucalex rufus), which I have been looking for for sometime but had never seen before.
I have recently added four brand new expeditions to the 2018 roster. I know this seems terribly far away, but time flies! Our 2016 is basically full and 2017 is going the same way, so we figured it was time. There are more details about trips below, alternatively keep an eye on my website, which I keep up to date: OceanRealmImages.com/Expeditions
2016 | I’ve been very fortunate with my trips filling up very quickly and there are only a couple of spots remaining to join my expeditions in 2016. These last spaces are on the trip I’m leading for Dive Worldwide to Atmosphere Resort, Dumaguete in the Philippines. To read more about this expert led ‘Dumaguete Dive Festival‘ please follow the link above or contact Reservations@DiveWorldwide.com
2-12th March 2017 (10 nights) | All of Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia. Indo-Siren Liveaboard. ‘Four Kings Expedition‘ as an expert led group tour for Dive Worldwide. For more information please follow the link
above or contact Reservations@DiveWorldwide.com
23rd June – 3rd July 2017 (10 nights) | Underwater Photography Workshop at Siladen Resort, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. For more information please follow the link above or contact Ana@Siladen.com
NEW | 22 – 31st August 2017 (9 nights) | Muck Magic Trip 1 – Sangeang Island & Bima Bay aboard Damai II (Labuan Bajo to Bima). This ‘Our Beloved Seas’ trip is a joint trip between Wendy Brown and myself. We have recently added this and the trip directly following it, but the second trip filled in minutes! If you’d like to join us in these exceedingly rich and rarely visited areas for critter hunting please contact Wendy or myself(Richard@OceanRealmImages.com) for more information. We expect space to fill fast.
NEW | Galapagos Islands aboard Galapagos Sky
25th February – 4th March 2018 (7 nights) | Trip 1
4-11th March 2018 (7 nights) | Trip 2
Wendy and I have repeatedly been asked by our guests to plan some trips to destinations outside the Coral Triangle. However, knowing how our regular guests love that area’s warm waters we have planned back to back trips to the Galapagos Islands in February/March when the waters of these mystical and historic islands tends to be warmer and clearer – whilst maintaining their renowned bounty. As always, I’ll be giving talks and this will be the perfect place to share my passion for evolutionary biology, which was the subject of my Master’s degree.
NEW | 23rd July – 1st August 2018 (9 nights) | North Cenderawasih Bay & Mapia Island aboard Dewi Nusantara(Manokwari to Manokwari). This first trip aboard Dewi Nusantara will take us to new ground. Whilst we will start and end the trip in Cenderawasih Bay, we will take this opportunity to visit Mapia and its surrounding islands 100NM north of the bay, and the equator. Here the remote and very rarely visited reefs are bustling with life and ripe to be explored.
NEW | 3 – 13th August 2018 (10 nights) | Classic Cenderawasih Bay aboard Dewi Nusantara (Manokwari to Sorong). Starting in Manokwari, we will sail to the southern reaches of the bay in search of the area’s world renowned whale sharks. We plan to spend a couple of mornings face to face with the sharks before continuing our search for other amazing fishes found only in the bay. It is well know for the high numbers of endemics, which you’ll learn all about in my talks!
I haven’t only been underwater since my last update; I’ve been busy writing too. I’ve continued with my regular series in both American and British Sport Diver Magazines, with ‘Get More from your Diving: Critter Hunting’ and ‘Species’ respectively. I’ve also written the following stand-alone features:
‘Titillating Twilight – The Lure of North Sulawesi’ – Asian Diver
‘A Japanese Spin on the Night Dive – Hot Ke Night’ – Asian Diver
‘Changing Seas: Evolution in the Ocean’ – Scuba Diver AustralAsia
‘Solomon Islands: Reefs at the Edge of the World’ – Scuba Diver – Ocean Planet
‘Shooting for Science’ – Scuba Diver – Ocean Planet
‘Diving Mini Breaks: Australia’ – Sport Diving
‘Diving Mini Breaks: South Pacific’ – Sport Diving
‘Bird’s Head Natural History Notes part 1: In Appreciation of Damsels’ – Bird’s Head Seascape website. A new series about my adventures in the BHS.
I’ve also had a couple of cover shots for Asian Diver and Sport Diving magazines as well as having my shot ‘Whip Gobies and Eggs’ judged as a finalist in the ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year.
Thinking ahead, I will also be speaking at the ADEX dive show in Singapore from 15-17 April 2016, so come along if you can!
Five Favourite Firsts of 2015
– I am always on the hunt for new and exciting beasties under the sea, so I thought as a final whimsy I would share my top five new finds of 2015. After 3,000 plus dives there’s still so much to see. This is why I keep diving and we always donate what we can to help preserve the amazing oceans.
1. Leopard Anemone Shrimp (Izucaris masudai) – Raja Ampat
2. Giant Clam Shrimps (Anchistus demani and Conchodytes tridacnae) – Wakatobi Dive Resort & Raja Ampat
3. Lynne’s Pipefish (Festucalex rufus) – Solomon Islands
4. Red Sea Longnose Filefish (Oxymonacanthus halli) – Egyptian Red Sea
5. John Dory (Zeus faber) – Izu Peninsula, Japan
Finally, if you’d like to hear what I’m up to on a more regular basis, I suggest you check out my FaceBook page | www.facebook.com/OceanRealmImages
I have just arrived in Okinawa, Japan for the 9th quadrennial Indo-Pacific Fish Conference. I presented at the last meeting four years ago in Freemantle with my talk ‘First field studies of the obligate gorgonian-associated pygmy seahorses, Hippocampus bargibanti and H. denise‘. This time round I decided to do a poster presentation for a change, on another aspect of my PhD research.
If you happen to be attending, my poster session is on Thursday afternoon so come and say ‘hi’. The poster is about the polygamy that I observed in Denise’s pygmy seahorses. There is a downloadable version of my poster below and the abstract for the poster is as follows:
A wide range of mating systems have been recorded in syngnathids; however, despite some social promiscuity and mate switching, all studies of seahorse reproduction to date have revealed ubiquitous genetic monogamy. Denise’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus denise) is among the smallest (maximum standard length 24 mm) and most habitat-specific of all seahorses, with individuals spending their entire adult life isolated in small groups on a single gorgonian coral host. We investigated whether the reproductive strategies and social interactions of this species align with those of its congeners. During 217 thirty-minute observation periods we recorded the reproductive and social behaviour of 18 adult H. denise in four groups of differing sex ratio in a wild population of seahorses in southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. We found social polygamy and sequential polyandry to feature in the species’ reproductive strategies, although monogamy was dominant. Social and reproductive behaviours were described for the first time and characterised by daily interactions between reproductively active partners at dawn and dusk conducted in a core area. The use of core areas, a term used for protected regions of the gorgonian host shared for the most part by reproductively active individuals, may have been pivotal in enabling a stable polyandry to develop. Conventional sex roles were observed, with males competing for access to females. The ecology of H. denise appears to have favoured the evolution of mating system plasticity and the maximisation of reproductive output, which may be explained by the species’ small size, skewed sex ratios and density of individuals sharing a single host.
The Oceania Dive Expo will be in Brisbane, Australia between Friday 7th and Sunday 9th October 2011 and I am booked to present! My seminar, which is on Saturday 8th October between 4.10 and 4.40pm, is entitled ‘The Private Life of Pygmy Seahorses’. I’ll be talking about my research on pygmy seahorses and some of the fascinating aspects of their biology that I discovered during my PhD. Check out the website for more information at www.OceaniaDiveExpo.com
Topic Title: The Private Life of Pygmy Seahorses
Pygmy seahorses are well known to the SCUBA diving community, however very little is known about the biology of these tiny fish. I have spent the past four years observing and recording the intimate social interactions of Denise’s pygmy seahorses (Hippocampus denise) as part of my PhD studies. I have been lucky enough to be one of the few people (or maybe even the only person) to see fighting, mating and even birth on such a miniature scale. Through my research I have found that these diminutive seahorses do not live up to the strict standards of monogamy set by their larger cousins.
Two of the seven species of pygmy seahorse spend their entire adult lives on a single gorgonian coral. This specific habitat requirement, small populations and adoration from SCUBA divers put them at risk. Sadly, without great care it is easy to damage these delicate fish. However, my research has highlighted certain diver behaviours that can easily be avoided when observing pygmies. Despite reaching less than 2.5 cm in length, pygmy seahorses have proven to be a fascinating and rewarding study subject. However, this first study of their biology has raised as many questions as it has answered.
Bullet Point Summary of Talk
• Introducing pygmy seahorses and their kin
• Getting to know pygmies intimately
• From birth to death: a pygmy seahorse soap opera
• Divers and pygmy seahorses
• The future for pygmies