Life update: Project for the year

Recently I presented my project proposal to members of the marine biology department at my university. It was a pretty daunting thought, having to speak about what I would like to achieve this year, fully open to to all criticism…good or bad.

It went pretty well with my being able to answer most questions to the best of my ability, given the fact that I am certainly no expert on the topic and particular subject matter. I figured it would be good to share it on here and to document my progress as I continue to work on it…who knows maybe it will even boost my productivity.

250px-pterogymnus_laniarius

The topic I have chosen to work on this year is to complete a Stock assessment of the Panga (Pterogumnus laniarius) found within the Agulhas Bank of South Africa.

Rationale/motivation for the project 

With approximately two thirds of South Africa’s borders being coastal, the fishing industry plays a huge role to the GDP and economy, especially within local and rural communities. For this reason, it is vitally important that we ensure all fish stocks are being harvested sustainably, especially in light of exponential population growth and increased unemployment, so as to ensure that future generations have sufficient food security, employment and that biodiversity and ecosystem function is not compromised as a result.

The Panga, found along the Agulhas Bank of South Africa, is a slow growing species that reaches a maximum age of 16 years. Previous studies have calculated its total mortality, natural mortality and fishing mortality as 0.36 per year, 0.28 per year and 0.08 per year respectively. These fish exhibit a gonochoristic lifestyle with reproduction occurring throughout the year, peaking in winter. In its juvenile form they feed predominantly on mysids, they then move to feeding on brittle stars and amphipods when they are in their sub-adult stage. Once they reach adulthood they feed on larger prey, including crabs, polychaetes, brittle stars and fishes.

This species is the most abundantly caught seabream in SA. It is caught by inshore and offshore trawlers, commercial hand line and recreational hand line. It was most heavily fished by Japanese and Taiwanese trawlers in the 1960’s. Catches peaked between 1964 and 1966 when an average of 16 000 tons was harvested. From 1968 to 1972 catches declined after the establishment of the EEZ and implementation of a foreign quota whereby only 1700 were allowed to be caught per year. With the implementation of this legislation the Panga fishery declined, with most fish being caught in the horse mackerel fishery. In present day the species is caught predominantly as bycatch in the hake and horse mackerel directed fisheries. The small seabream is an important food fish among low income South Africans. Currently the species is not well managed and there are no quotas set in place. The sustainability of the fishery is therefore in question.

Research aims

Attempts at fitting models to fishery data have been thwarted by a lack of resolution. Catches were never assigned to trawls, but rather reported at the level of the trip. I will attempt to calculate a CPUE index based on the trip level data, and together with total catch from all fleets fit a production model. The model will be compared to assessments based on survey CPUE data.

Appropriate targets will be considered and recommendations for suitable quotas over the next five years will be based on model outputs.

Work plan

This project will use catch and catch per unit effort data from inshore (80-100m) trawlers over the last 32 years to fit a simple production model (glm). The trip level CPUE data will be standardised, using area, month/season, vessel and year as factors.  To mitigate other factors affecting q, such as specific targeting we will be throwing out all data found on sole grounds as Panga are not found within that region. These are schooling fish with no stock structure and that will be taken into account as well.

The standardised CPUE series will be used as the abundance index. The catches from all fleets will be used as the catch. The model will estimate B and F and q, from which reference points (MSY) will be deduced.

The assessment will be compared with the assessment of Panga based on the survey data.Using both assessments, I will project the fishery forward and make recommendations on future precautionary catch limits.

So there it is in all its glory… my life for the next couple of months. Lets hope it all goes to plan 🙂


References:

The biology of the panga, Pterogymnus laniarius (Teleostei: Sparidae), on the Agulhas Bank, South Africa. Authors: Anthony J. Booth & Colin D. Buxton

Review: Feral by George Monbiot

Recently I had to read a nature/scientific novel based somewhat within my field and write a 600 word review on it. The purpose of this I think was to allow us (young scientists) to better engage with the biological world around us as well as to introduce us to the world of scientific based writing and critique.

Out of the list of about 10 books I chose to read Feral by George Monbiot as I had learned in previous lectures about the theory of Rewilding and was absolutely fascinated by the topic and the future benefits that it could potentially reap, not only for the animals themselves in reclaiming what should be theirs but also for us. We would be allowed not only to reconnect with nature but also to slow climate change, increase productivity and restore declining ecosystem function through the introduction of a few key species. It was safe to say that I was pretty excited for this book.

After reading the book I thought I would share with you what I thought of it. I apologize for the word count (I went waaaaay over my allocated 600 words) but to me every single word and point is valid and it would be a shame to omit them.

So if you will, please see below my review of Feral by George Monbiot. If you have read the book please feel free to let me know what your thoughts on it were 🙂

 


FERAL: REWILDING the LAND, the SEA and HUMAN LIFE

Written by George Monbiotferal-665x1024

Reviewed by Michelle Lee

George Mobiot, an environmental journalist and long-time enemy of sheep, writes a compelling narrative that illustrates the need for rewilding the Earth with creatures either feared or hated by all including wolves, bears and the deadly beaver. He believes that not only will this benefit various ecological systems and lead to possible landscape rehabilitation but will also realign humans to their natural pre-industrial state increasing and conserving our relationship with nature as well as allowing us to engage with our wild and feral side.

Mobiot seems to be perfectly suited to the role of environmental writer having gone through many trials and tribulations on this subject matter. In his early twenties he obtained a degree in Zoology from Oxford University. In 1985 he began working for the BBC as a radio producer of wildlife programmes where he received a Sony award for an investigative piece regarding the sinking of a bulk carrier along the coast of Cork. From there he delved into the world of environmental and political writing where he travelled to places such as Indonesia, Brazil and Tanzania in order to write about the injustices, struggles and assaults on the lives of the indigenous and nomadic people that the world seemed to forget. Thereafter he moved back to the United Kingdom where he continued his life as an activist, rallying against timber companies and the government to ensure the protection of the environment and rural people.  It is in this capacity based off truth and personal experience that Monbiot is able to write a comprehensive novel that captivates and enthrals the reader rather than leading them to a deep and unyielding slumber.

The main premise of Feral is the implementation and future focus on rewilding the unproductive and historical landscapes of the United Kingdom and Europe. Rewilding, being a controversial topic in many scientific circles, is in theory the reintroduction of organisms into their historical habitats before human intervention came about. Mobiot believes that the reintroduction of these species, especially top predators and keystone species, will resume trophic cascade and ecological productivity seemingly lost within these regions.

He goes on to explain the void of nature that is seeming to spread throughout Britain being incorrectly offered up as historical and cultural landscapes to the unsuspecting tourist and landowner. He attacks the subsidy system put in place to protect landowners and farmers explaining that without them the farming community in Wales and Scotland would be in major financial deficit. This he believes can be fixed by the reintroduction of wolves, beavers and various bird species which in will lead to an increase in diversity and productivity promoting ecotourism within the region which he has shown to be a lucrative endeavour.

Sheep and deer, we find out, are his worst nightmares and ultimate enemy, eating up most of the natural lush vegetation before it has time to establish, leading to the symbolic and picturesque grass plains we come to know and love. He goes on in his hatred by explaining that as a result of shifting baselines we assume these beloved creatures are natural to the landscape when in fact they are an “agent of destruction” introduced to the region long ago in the hopes of increasing income by farming their wool and meat.

His scope of work is not wholly theoretical however, with him including his own personal experiences and observations on the decline of nature around him. From the decrease in fish within local estuaries, birds within farmlands and forests within the highlands he notes down the historical and cultural heritage slowly being lost. He explains how nature interacts with humans, allowing them to release their wild side, find solace in an undisturbed place and to relive genetic memories.

All is not lost however and in small doses of hope he tells us of the current programmes and NGO’s aimed at rehabilitating and revitalising natural ecosystems. He speaks of the progressive works being done by eastern European countries in bringing back the bear, wolves and lynx species as well as the works of Zimov in Siberia and its potential climate change implications. He shows us the benefits of bringing back what was lost long ago. Through careful research and real world examples Monbiot paints the perfect picture of current happenings and offers up constructive solutions to what otherwise seems an impassable obstacle.

Mobiot offers up a very relevant novel focusing on topics and personal experiences that we as the readers can connect with on a personal level, irrespective of our careers or lifestyles. He highlights topics that are not only relevant in today’s society but also often dimmed by major media outlets and their respective governments. His writing style is eloquent and easy to follow, for both academics and the general public, allowing us to breeze through chapters whilst engaging with them at the same time. He writes with a fervour and passion that not only captivates the reader but prompts them to think about the subject in a much wider perspective, often applying it to their own environments, increasing public awareness and participation. Though he focuses mainly on issues facing the United Kingdom Monbiot’s scope of work is wide, covering various topics from the reintroduction of the grey whale in the Irish Sea to radical economic agricultural reform (i.e the subsidy system).

With the novel lacking geographical diversity and focusing mainly on the problems facing Europe it appears that ignorance is indeed bliss. With the radical transformation of the uplands being front and centre Mobiot seemingly forgets to include the social and cultural implications that would face local people who through centuries of working the fields and tending the crops have come to develop a history not written in textbooks or stored in libraries but rather “passed on through word of mouth and anchored to the land”. On the establishment of wilderness areas where would these people go and how can you justify their eviction? On these points we are left in the dark. Other topics however, never seem to die down with us being constantly reminded of their importance and influence in Monbiot’s life. So much so that it becomes akin to being repeatedly lectured by a school teacher for your incompetence and general lack of knowledge. A more objective approach on the subject at hand would have offered up a greater perspective of the issue, including all arguments for and against with a more resounding conclusion. In this regard, ironically Monbiot was tame.My main issue with this book however was the fact that Monbiot indirectly put across the notion that nature is there only for man’s pleasure and acts as a buffer for his anger and frustration. He seems to believe that we as humans need to revert back to our wild state in order to truly feel at peace, however once we’ve attained that peace it is perfectly acceptable to go back to our day to day lives. In this way nature is seen as a materialistic object that serves us rather than an interlinking and complex system of which we are a part of.

Despite this I still highly recommend this novel. Through personal experiences and academically sound knowledge Monbiot has constructed a highly relevant and compelling narrative that appeals to readers of all backgrounds. It is an accurate and informative novel that with the help of compelling storytelling indirectly invites the reader to further explore the world around them and contest environmental injustices that go on unpunished and often rewarded within our government systems. With the help of dramatic and passionate wordplay and character connections Monbiot draws the reader to a magical and enchanting world that may have gone unnoticed in our monotonous day to day lives.

Some may say that Mobiot is an idealist in every way with his ideas and solutions being incompatible in today’s ever growing society. I believe this to be false. With increased education, public participation, open-panel discussions and a little bit of hope Monbiot’s dream can be accomplished. With us finally living in amicable coexistence with those deemed feral and wild.


 

Struisbaai adventures

A few weeks ago I went on a marine biology honours trip where I visited the small coastal town of Struisbaai found along the southern coast of South Africa just before Cape Agulhas, the famed tip of Africa. With the cool ocean breeze, good fishing spots, great ocean views and very popular marine inhabitants this town is a sure fire winner for anyone looking for a relaxing and quiet retreat away.

Struisbaai is well known for their resident and friendly stingrays. One of which is Parrie, a short-tailed stingray that was caught and thereafter released back into the harbour by the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. Nowadays he just relaxes and roams the jetty area with his smaller side-kicks often receiving small spoils of leftover fish from the locals.

Short-tailed stingrays (Dasyatis brevicaudata) are cartilaginous marine animals that are closely related to sharks. They reach a maximum length of ~4m and width of 2m long and can weigh up to 300kg. These creatures are bottom dwellers who use camouflage and poisonous spines to defend themselves against predators as well as to catch prey. They feed mainly on molluscs, crustaceans and small fish which they sense using electroreceptors found in their gills. Once caught the prey is crushed with their flat teeth. Stingrays are ovoviviparous which means that like mammals they give birth to live young who during gestation are sustained by an external egg yolk as opposed to a placenta, thus making the young independent from the parent.

rays

On arrival at Struisbaai we made for the harbour to say hello to the famous marine inhabitants before settling in for the night. It was so much fun to see these gentle giants so close in their natural habitat as opposed to a constructed display in an aquarium.

Another attraction is their beautiful beaches that give the most spectacular views. These beaches seem almost untouched by us, with no pollution or toxic wash occurring. The sand was also super soft making walking along it all the more pleasurable. Sunset is always the best time for beach strolls making sleep all the more sweeter.

beaches

The next day we headed out on the boat to do some fishing and tagging. I must admit that I did in fact suffer momentarily from seasickness, not having been on a boat in such a long time. Other though had it far worse than me and I couldn’t help but feel terrible for them. We managed to catch several fish, most however were found on the SASSI orange list (meaning that the fishery is not altogether sustainable) While it seemed like there were tons of them at the time I still had a bad feeling about reeling them in, even though they had some scientific merit. All in all, we managed to catch a few Santa, one Red Roman, some skipjack tuna (which we tagged and released) and a smooth hound shark … I can’t really remember what else. We also managed surprisingly, to see a few African penguins! They were pretty far from their home territory which just cemented further the decline they are currently going through due to lack of food in the waters.

ocean

To add a little something extra to our day we headed over to Cape Agulhas, the tip of Africa. Where the Atlantic and Indian ocean meet. Usually on calm days you can see a faint line separating the two oceans but the wind seemed to be our worst enemy with the tides growing with every second. Still it was pretty cool to tick off my bucket list 🙂

The day ended with us having a few sundowners with our lecturers at the fish shack restaurant as well as feasting on a spectacular fish braai, salads and chips. It was a really relaxing weekend in a place I hadn’t been to in a long time, perfectly placed after a stressful few weeks of varsity.

If anyone is looking for a quiet and peaceful retreat along the south coast, I would definitely recommend this place. It’s an affordable getaway that caters to a wide variety of interests.

If I could offer one hint of advice though…. bring an extra blanket 😛

Ice cream

Who am I and what am I about?

2016 was a rough year for me. It was filled with heartache, confusion, stress and anxiety. New friends were made whilst some were lost and food was unfortunately my constant companion. In the end however, I made it. I beat it. I outlasted it.

I have vowed to make 2017 the year where everything changes. New years resolutions were completed but somehow this year they have meaning to me. I want to succeed. 2017 will be my year!

Last year I successfully completed my final year and now currently hold a degree in Applied Biology, Marine Biology and Evolution and ecology, and much to my surprise i was awarded distinctions for two of those subjects! This has helped lead me on my path to complete my Honours in Marine Biology this year. Not just to complete it but to annihilate it and make it my bitch (metaphorically of course).

marine

This year I have also made it my goal to be more confident, self-aware and to lead a somewhat healthy lifestyle ( pizza is still allowed). I want to nurture and grow relationships worth holding on to whilst discarding those toxic to my life.

Finally I want to immerse myself in the world around me, I want to explore, adventure, read and be involved. I want to have a passion and no longer be a sideline bench warmer that watches as life passes me by. I want to be more and live more!

One way for me to accomplish this is to get out of my shell and do what I have always yearned for. To start a blog that will reach out somewhere and connect with at least one person.So that’s what I am doing, starting a blog about the life I live and the ways in which we can lead a healthy and sustainable life that not only benefits us but mother nature and the creatures she harbors.

What will you find here if you choose to continue?

  • Life updates 
  • Sustainable living
  • Thoughts and opinions
  • Cool photographs taken by yours truly
  • DIY projects
  • Book reviews
  • Environmental issues and their solutions
  • Science stuff : Latest in marine research

And probably much much more.

Until then lovelies.