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.

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


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:





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.