BHP Billiton enviros wade into field work on Heron Island
17 November 2010
BHP Billiton employees Anthony McMullen and Adam West rate the hands-on field work as one of the highlights of their participation this week in the CReefs expedition to Heron Island.
Both are visiting Heron Island as part of the BHP Billiton Employee Engagement Program, which sends employees on each of the CReefs Australia expeditions to gain first-hand experience of marine field work.
BHP Billiton is the major sponsor of the CReefs Australia expeditions.
Anthony is a Senior Environmental Scientist with BHP Billiton Petroleum, the company's oil and gas group, in Perth in Western Australia. Adam is an Environmental Community Coordinator in the Sustainable Development Department of Illawarra Coal, in Wollongong in New South Wales.
Anthony and Adam have snorkelled with the scientists at several reef sites around Heron Island. They have assisted researchers to collect samples of bryozoans – tiny invertebrate organisms that create colonies on dead coral or the underside of rocks in coral reefs. They have also helped to search for sipunculids – marine worms that live in burrows or bore into corals.
Back in the lab, Anthony and Adam have worked with researchers to dissect sponges and tunicates and to sift through coral rubble that has been collected to search for tiny crustaceans such as isopods and amphipods.
They have both spent time over the microscope, classifying species for several of the researchers.
Anthony has worked with the parasitology team, dissecting fish to search for internal parasites. In one afternoon's work, he counted more than 1000 flatworms found in the guts of siganid, or rabbitfish.
Adam, meanwhile, has done technical work with the CReefs field trip data manager, learning more about the systems used to organise information about dive sites and specimens collected during the expeditions.
Anthony and Adam agree their participation in the CReefs expedition is proving an interesting experience.
"I have really enjoyed the chance to be involved, hands-on, in the field work," Anthony says.
"My role at BHP Billiton involves commissioning studies of habitats to ensure oil and gas development projects are undertaken in an environmentally sensitive manner. It's refreshing to be reminded, by seeing it first hand on this field trip, just how much biodiversity can exist in a certain habitat type," he says.
Anthony has also been impressed by the collaborative nature of the expedition.
"Most research projects aren't as cooperative as the CReefs program. It's usually an isolated group of researchers working on just one species or one type of fauna; whereas here, the same samples are shared and re-used to identify all sorts of fauna living in the same habitat," Anthony says.
Adam says he has found the trip valuable for learning about how field research is run.
"In my role at BHP Billiton, I conduct a lot of environmental assessments – not necessarily in marine environments, but some in aquatic habitats – so some of the processes I've observed here will be applicable to my work," Adam says.
"It is interesting to draw comparisons between the CReefs project and how our field teams and laboratories operate. I've picked up a few ideas that I will take back to discuss with my colleagues," he says.
"I'm also keen to communicate to our workforce that our company is involved with this important research, which is contributing to the understanding and preservation of biodiversity on coral reefs," he says.
Anthony and Adam are visiting the Heron Island Research Station from 14 to 20 November.