Embracing a rare opportunity


TWO people who have been involved in the CReefs Expedition to Ningaloo from the beginning of the base camp set up, are Steven Gregg and Gavin Dally.
Both are from the Museum and Arts Gallery of Northern Territory (MAGNT) in Darwin. They helped the project manager, Shawn Smith, establish the base camp for the operation as well as the laboratory and laboratory equipment.
Steven works as a technician maintaining the MAGNT natural history collections, while Gavin is the collection manager of Natural Sciences at the museum. But they said their roles here at Ningaloo had been a little different.
"I am here to collect polychaete worms, so I am collecting as many as I can, all of the different types," Gavin said.
"They will be identified and put into the knowledge base of Ningaloo."
Gavin said worms formed part of the ecosystem's biodiversity: "they are food for a lot of things".
"The main collecting methods we have been using here at Ningaloo are scuba diving to collect coral rubble, broken up bits of dead coral," he said. "We break these up and pick out the worms".
"We're also using grabs, where you take a sample from the bottom of the sea," he said. "It is a mechanical device that picks up a sample which you sieve and sort out the worms."
Gavin said the worms had to go back to MAGNT where an expert would identify them if they have been sampled before or describe and name them if they are completely new.
"There is a good chance there will be new species found," he said.
"There are quite a lot of worm species here, a good range of worms and that is good news."
Steven said his role at Ningaloo had primarily been to take scientists out on the boats to sample in various habitats using different methods.
"I take the divers out, get them in the water and keep an eye on them to make sure they are safe," he said.
"If they need help in sorting and processing their specimens, I can assist them there as well.
"I have a science background in assisting scientific research, so I can provide support for most of their activities," he said.
Gavin's experience has encompassed a wide range of biological collection, but, "the marine stuff is certainly my personal favourite – that is where my passion lies."
Steven said he was able to contribute his experience in museums to this expedition, particularly in the processing of biological specimens.
"Science is very diverse and if you study one particular group, yes, you can become really focused," he said.
"In my role at the Museum I am spread across the entire spectrum of not only marine research but also terrestrial and other fields as well."
"By being here I am able to speak to people who are specialising in various area, so I am learning something all of the time.
"I am adding to my own professional knowledge base and all these people here are very easy to speak to. I find that they are the best of lecturers – if you have a question it is answered," Steven said.
Gavin was also enthusiastic about CReefs.
"For me the CReefs Project has been fantastic. These sorts of trips are really good for everyone because all of the samples that we collect," he said.
"They will be owned by the state they are collected from, in this case Western Australia, but will be distributed to other museums where they can be worked on by the appropriate experts," he said.
"For instance, the museum in Darwin will receive a lot of the polychaete worms, because we have expertise there.
"The CReefs project has been great for getting taxonomists together, and out in the field doing their thing.
He described the expedition as "showing people the value of knowing what is out there.
"This project is part of the international Census of Marine Life, which is designed to increase our knowledge of what lives in the world's oceans," he said.
"It has really been a pleasure to participate in this project," Steven said.
This was Gavin and Steven's first expedition with the CReef project and they are hoping to join the next one.