Sunshine Coast

I spent about 3 weeks living and working on the Sunshine Coast, in Queensland AU. My host Abigail Elizur is a professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast, specializing in fish endocrinology. One of her biggest contributions is figuring out how to get Bluefin Tuna to reproduce reliably in the hatchery/captivity. She works closely with Wayne & my other hosts down in Port Stephens.

My task at USC was to get my oyster gonad tissue processed, embedded in paraffin wax, sectioned, mounted on slides, stained, and imaged. The USC has centralized lab space & instruments, and Abigail’s post doc Mai was my fantastic mentor, so I got everything accomplished. Here are some photos of the situation:

USC campus:

Learning how to use the tissue processor from Dan the man:

Mai showing me how to embed with paraffin wax & section:

Imaging slides.

I lived with one of Abigail’s PhD students, Tomer. He had a beautiful house on the top of the hill in Buderim, which overlooked some forest area and the ocean beyond:

My favorite coffee cup

On the weekends I explored the Sunshine Coast and found some great running routes.

I ran in the Sunshine Coast 10k (first in many years), conveniently located at the beach nearest my house (Maloolaba).

Found a great run around the nearby Glasshouse Mountains, and climbed one of the little ones for a view. I did that one a couple times.

I also found that running on the USC track was a convenient way to get some exercise after dark.

Overall life on the Sunny Coast was great. The weather was sunny (duh), ~65-70F, and there was lots to see. My hosts were extremely welcoming, and Mai was especially wonderful. Here is Mai working on her Sydney rock oysters- I helped her inject them with peptides for one of her experiments.

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Life at Port Stephens

I spent 6 weeks living and working at the NSW DPI fisheries research centre. Here are a few photos of the place.

Mike Dove showing me the “flats”, aka Ostrea angasi, that I would soon torture.

Kyle Johnston drove me out to their oyster lease for some more flats. Growers use off-bottom methods to avoid mud worm infection (Polydora!), and “overcatch” (fouling by barnacles, wild oysters spat, etc.). Here you see their system of floating cages attached to lines.

The first week or so was soooooo rainy- downpour!

My project at Port Stephens was simple – see if I could get the flat oysters to spit out larvae, using Olympia oyster methods developed by PSRF, and which I have used in my previous experiments. Flats and Olys are in the same genus (Ostrea), and have similar reproductive strategies. They both are hermaphroditic, and they brood larvae. However, don’t quite know what triggers flat oysters to make or release gametes.

Temperature is a common trigger for other bivalves, and it works for Olys. So, for 5 weeks I held my flat oysters in 3 temperature (18C, 21C, 24C) with plenty of food. My daily tasks includes feeding, cleaning, and checking for larvae.

These rolling garbage cans (or “bins”) make for good oyster tanks:

I drained tanks every other day over a 100um screen to check for larvae (they are small, ~150um)

I sampled oysters three times (week 0, 3 & 5) to look at gonad, and to save tissue for gene expression.

Me in my standard sampling pose.

Here’s one of my trusty helpers, Erica. She is a “uni” student from Sydney working on growing algae with fancy new LED lights, and she stayed in the bunk house with me for a few weeks. She brought movies, and gave me a love for basic action and super hero flicks.

Not pictured but who was critical:

  • Pandora- a fellow Iowan (she’s from Fairfield!) and shellfish researcher who was living in Port Stephens at the time. She volunteered with me for a while day! We also played trivia and generally bonded over our identical life trajectories.
  • Wally- Mollusc team, Angler. He shucked hundreds of oysters for me and made the best fish and chips. Also, I jinxed him by asking if he’d ever cut his hand while shucking an oyster. He said yes, then immediately poked a hole in his hand, but was okay (after a hospital visit).
  • Brandt- Mollusc team, fellow coffee snob and homeowner. The go-to guy for all my project needs, and very supportive during my stay. He also co-owns a USA-themed sweets shop! Tended my oysters while I went to Sydney.
  • Kyle- Mollusc team, stoic, spear-fisherman. He arranged project supplies and stepped in to help wherever needed.
  • Aiden- Mollusc team, from Cairns. Roomy in the bunk house. We shared a love for Australia Ninja Warrior, and watched all the Taken movies together.
  • Mike- Mollusc team, surfer, Mr nice guy. Critical in project design, practical application, and really was a pleasure to work with. He brought me recreational supplies (bike, paddle board).
  • Wayne- Mollusc team, mountain biker, the brains. So much knowledge packed into one person. My primary host and advisor- critical in every step of my stay. Fed Jake & I lamb and Australian Shiraz. Showed me my all-time favorite running trail!
  • Steve- Mollusc team, flat oyster guru, safety officer. Questions about flat oysters? Ask Steve.

Sadly I completely forgot to take photos of/with most these fine folks (huge mistake!). I also met other uni students living in the bunk house. Listing them here for my memory: Blake, Emily, Paco

Results?

In the end, I got larvae from 4-5 oysters at 24C, 1 oyster at 21C, and none from 18C, suggesting that high temperature induced/accelerates reproduction. I will look at gonad tissue more closely soon.

Oyster larvae are cute, here’s a video to prove it:

 

 

 

Sydney

Attended a conference in Sydney and spent a great few days exploring the city.

Highlights: fantastic Thai dinner, Japanese bakery, spicy soba noodle bowl. Eating bbq kangaroo and oysters with some Texans.

The day I arrived I headed to the Taronga Zoo and met some friends from my program. Not usually a zoo person, this one was entertaining. Again, birds.

Diana playing chicken with an emu:

Caught a ferry across the bay to downtown Sydney and headed out for a beer and tasty soba with Diana, Cody and Josh.

Next day went to the Asia & Oceania Society for Comparative Endocrinology Conference at the University of Sydney, which is beautiful. Met folks I’ll be working with when I go up north (from Abigail Elizur’s lab). In the evening went on a great run through Sydney’s “CBD” and the arboretum, then grabbed very good Thai food & beers with Diana & Cody.

On a free day I explored Sydney. Visited the fish market (ridiculous) to pick up oysters for dinner and eat a skewer of bbq baby octopus, found a mall full of just Asian restaurants and bakeries, and jogged through the U. Sydney campus area. I took the oysters to bbq at Diana/Cody’s place – they were staying temporarily at their host’s beautiful house. I introduced them to the amazing barbequed oyster, and they grilled some kangaroo steaks, which were pre-marinated in a Korean bbq sauce, were very lean, and super tasty.

Check out all this seafood:

A “Bin Chicken” waiting for scraps

Oysters! In Australia they pre-shuck oysters to sell in grocery stores, at markets etc.

Fish farm

A couple weeks ago I spent a day on a commercial fish farm. The farm is an open ocean net pen, and it produces Kingfish. It’s the first of its kind in this area, and I believe is somewhat of a pilot project for net pen aquaculture in New South Wales.

I joined to help Jake sample the fish. He is comparing the microbiomes in fish farmed in the ocean versus land, and to see if differences in growth can be explained by their gut bacteria.

We started early, catching the boat at 6am, just before sunrise.

Today was a harvest day. It took ~1hr to get out to the pens. When we arrived they immediately got to work by deploying a net into the pen, and corralling the fish into a small space.

They then used a crane to repeatedly scoop up the fish in a net, and drop them into a hopper.

Two people were stationed in a sanitizer container to process the fish using a machine that hit their head and cut a vein. They then were packed on ice in totes. The fish are not gutted on this boat, but packed whole. Everyone on the boat works during the harvest- even the captain who was in the processing container.

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I helped Jake by grabbing fish from the chute to weigh, measure and hold while he swabbed them:

We saw whales! Either humpback or southern right whales (?) a couple hundred yards away – this area is a whale migration route so they are very common. Difficult to see them, but I think there were 4.

Dolphins also followed us home

And pelicans greeted us back to Port

Welcome to Port Stephens

AKA bizarro Manchester.

Main take-aways: The facilities are impressive, and the bunk-house is much better than I expected. Also, it is in fact winter here.

Pros of visiting in the winter:  The critters that can kill/maim you are hiding – brown snakes, bull ants, etc – and no need for mosquito netting at night. Also, I basically have the hatchery space to myself, and the bunkhouse is not crowded.

Cons: Short daylight – the sun rises around 7am and sets around 5pm. Also, it’s poured for 2 days straight.

Half of my time in AU will be spent living and working at the Port Stephens Fisheries Research Centre, which is a facility run by the New South Wales (state) government.  There’s a fantastic shellfish aquaculture group here, led by Wayne O’Connor, Mike Dove, & Kyle Johnstone.  They work primarily on the Sydney rock oyster – a native species that is widely grown commercially – but also work on the Pacific oyster a bit, some pearl oysters, and the Australian flat oyster (Ostrea angasi), which I will be studying.

I arrived on a Thursday night and spent the first day touring around the facility, getting acquainted with the spaces and people. Everyone is extremely welcoming and I’ll have ample space, since they have no active breeding/production during this time of year. I met some of my animals – they are huge!

 

The facility is pretty remote without a car, but I can easily grab rides with people into town for groceries and whatnot.  I also got to check out the nearby Birubi Beach, which is massive, and home to some of the largest sand dunes in the country. There were apparently whales frolicking in the distance, but I didn’t catch any in action! I’ll go back this weekend weather permitting.

 

Bird report: I saw a Kookabura sitting in a tree, many Rainbow Lorikeets, a Golden Whistler and a Willie Wagtail. I’ve downloaded a sweet AU birding app to help identify them – Ian tells me I’m a nerd.

Beverage report: Australian beer is ex-pen-sive, ~$15-20 per 6-pack. It’s pretty good though!  To get a large, black cup of coffee one can order a “long black” or a “fast filter”. There is no selzter-water game here. Kombucha is available.

AU Days 2/3: Orientation

Main takeaways: PhD students who travel are generally very charming and nice people. Australians often eat little tea-like sandwiches with white bread and mayonnaise + _______ for lunch.

Highlights: seeing a ton of gray kangaroo herds, wallabies & koalas. The faint, pleasant smell of Eucalyptus Tree forest. Making friends. Getting my bag back!

Low points: Guided tour in the bitter cold.

I’m participating in the Australia-Americas PhD Internship Program. First 2 full days in AU were spent mingling with other grad students and our hosts from the AU Academy of Sciences.

We met at the Shinedome for the morning for coffee, presentations from the program, and 1-minute introductions from all grad students. Research areas are very diverse and include: polymer science, ancient homo sapiens microbiome, soil science, bull sperm cryopreservation, brain immune cells, plant hydrology, astronomy, and of course oyster reproduction for aquaculture (me). 21 students are from USA, and 19 others are from Argentina, Colombia and Brazil.

Afternoon was spent at the AU Parliament House. Learned that AU doesn’t vote for its prime minister, but instead he/she is appointed by the party in power of the House. In the last general election the more Conservative party took power.

The House chamber

Senate Chamber

In the evening we all attended talks on the science of addiction- AU has a drinking problem and they are trying to get kids to start later and drink less. We then had dinner- pretty good actually! Lamb, mushrooms, sausage, veggie kebabs, and a very pale pale ale.

Next day.

Spent the day at the Tidbinbilla nature preserve up in the hills in a Eucalyptus forest! It was freezing. Learned about fire ecology- there was a massive bush fire in 2003 killing all but 1 koala 😦 4 people and a ton of other trees and wildlife. Now they do control burns. We saw SO many kangaroos – they roam around in herds like deer. Also saw very sleepy koalas (they sleep 18-21 hours/day), wallabies (mini roos), and some little rodent things. Couldn’t fully enjoy the scenery due to the cold.

See the Roos?

Inside the Eucalyptus forest

Hanging out at Hanging Rock. Guides were two aboriginal dudes who showed us some neat tricks like how to make an axe. Also- historically every man had a fur coat out of, say, a possum or kangaroo pelt. Each year one fur was added to the coat, and he was eventually buried in it.

Me with the wallabies

Wallabies

Made many plans to meet up with friends, then hopped on a bus to Sydney at night. Traveling with Jake- he’s from Scripps studying fin-fish microbiome, and will be living at Port Stephens with me for a couple weeks- I’m glad I won’t be alone there!

AU Day 1. Canberra

Main takeaway: this place is filled with bizzaro birds.

High point: jogged around at dusk & saw a flock of white cockatoos with neon green mohawks

Low Point: airline lost my luggage. If not found I will lose important things like project materials, aero-press coffee maker, peanut butter, rum

Canberra is the Capitol if AU, and is reminiscent of Wenatchee or Chelan. Following my Uber driver’s excellent suggestions I jogged up to the War Memorial and saw the Last Post Ceremony and SO many crazy birds.

Joined up with a bunch of fellow grad students for Vietnamese food, not bad! Lots of cool people here from USA, Argentina, Brazil & Colombia.