Trying out a Transect

We had spent the morning up at the house, listening to Benji’s lecture on permaculture, before heading down to the beach bar to plan out the Kuruwitu Activities blackboard. The Marine Park offers several activities that people can pay to do, raising money for both the locals and the Park. This includes things like glass-bottomed boat trips, reef walks, culture walks into the village, snorkelling and dolphin watching trips. It’s a great way for local fishermen to make money, as they have such an extensive knowledge of the reef, without damaging the ecosystem. Win win.

After rubbing all of the previous chalk and prices off Cam, Yael and I had to wait for the board to dry so we went in the sea to try out our first transect. It’s a very simple method of taking data and we’ll be spending more time doing it outside the reef when we start scuba diving, but first we had a couple of goes at it inside the reef. There are three pieces of equipment you need, a 20m long rope attached to a metal pin, a whiteboard that can be written on underwater and a timer. The way it worked was that once we reached the sea grass we would firmly plant the metal pin into the sand. Then we unspooled the 20m of rope, making sure to keep the line as perpendicular to the beach as possible. Once at the other end of the 20m we would put down the reel near a memorable landmark and put on the timer for three minutes to allow any fish we disturbed while laying down the rope to return. On our first one we were lucky and just next to our 20m mark we had a lovely little moray eel. We watched it swim languidly across the sandy sea floor and then, as if by magic, it completely disappeared into the sea grass.

At the top of the whiteboard you filled in the details of your name, the visibility, the date, the time and the transect number. When the three minutes was over, one person would be in charge of reeling the rope back in and one person would be in charge of writing down what they saw. The person with the whiteboard would swim in front and note down the species and number of individuals about two and a half metres on either side of the rope. Then once you reached the metal pin you pull it out of the ground and swim back over to your landmark. You put the pin in there and then continued unspooling the rope for another 20m away from the shore. And so we continued like this five times. The first couple of transects were a little thin on the ground, with only a few species of fish but by the fourth or fifth we were frantically scrawling to try and keep up with the species that crowded around the reef. The method is a little bit limited because it can be difficult to know whether a fish is in your survey area or not and they’re always moving so you’re at risk of counting things twice. But it did feel really exciting trying out some data collection for the first time.

After the transect practice we had some lunch and Yael and I went down to the beach bar to revise our fish species. We were coming along pretty well apart from one species that no matter how many times we went over it, would disappear from Yael’s mind. This was a convict surgeonfish, quite a flat yellow fish with black vertical bars along its body like prison bars. There were a lot of them on the reef so it became something of a running joke that after all this time she still couldn’t remember.

We sat on cushioned sofas down on the beach and looked through the PowerPoint that Cameron had sent us. I think I was slightly at risk of knowing the order of the fish in the PowerPoint better than the actual species themselves but we were trying our best. When I got to the convict surgeonfish I covered the name with my thumb and showed it to Yael.

“Which one is this?” I asked emphatically and started to laugh when she looked at me unsure.

“Oh no, I know this one, I know this one,” she said, putting her face in her hands.

“Yes you do.” I replied helpfully, “Now what is it?”

“C… C… C…” she started and trailed off. I nodded encouragingly, “I really do know it, just tell me and I’ll remember,”

“Nope.” I replied “We’ve done this about fifty times you must be able to remember,”

For a few moments she was lost in thought.

“Cardinal fish!” She declared with conviction. I shook my head.

“Con…” I hinted

“Convict sergeantfish!” She exclaimed

“Sorry what?” I asked, unsure of whether I had imagined the ‘t’ or if she had got it wrong.

“Convict sergeantfish…?” She replied suddenly tentative.

Surgeonfish not sergeantfish,” I said and she groaned.

“Here I’m gonna write it on my arm so I can’t forget,” and in huge block capital letters she spelt out ‘CONVICT SURGEON!’ across her forearm.

Later on, after Cameron and I had studied and taken notes on the volunteer guide for an hour or so, I turned to Yael. I grabbed her arm, covering the letters with my hands.

“Yellow fish, black stripes,” I said with a grin.

“Oh no, no, noooo,” she squirmed, trying to tilt her arm and see the words but they were properly covered.

There was a silence.




  • Permaculture lecture with Benji
  • Planning the Kuruwitu tourism blackboard
  • Transect practice and snorkel
  • Fish revision
  • Planning and writing the volunteer guide for the project
  • Walk along the beach at sunset
  • Writing onto the Kuruwitu blackboard
  • A couple of drinks down at the beach bar
  • Finishing Wolf of Wall Street

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