LIRRF Spring 2022 Update
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Dear <<First Name>>
Sex on the reef may seem a risqué topic for our family friendly newsletter, however the story of this year’s mass coral spawning event around Lizard will educate and delight all.  On two evenings in mid-November researchers at the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station (LIRS) ventured out in anticipation of this wonderful natural event and LIRS co-director Anne Hoggett shares what they discovered this year.
Coral spawning at North Point, 12 Nov 2022. Photo: Anne Hoggett
We’re pleased to relay that the Station is extremely busy currently with close to full occupancy and next year’s bookings are strong. During November, 11 research teams were on site, including five that are supported by our Foundation. 
  • Makeely Blandford (2020 Gough Family Doctoral Fellow; James Cook University) is studying the influence of habitat degradation and fragmentation on coral reef fish communities. She has just completed the final field trip for her PhD. 
  • Eric Fakan (2022 Gough Family Doctoral Fellow; James Cook University) is working in a similar field, assessing the impact of habitat quality on the survival and fitness of coral reef fishes. He will complete his field work in late 2023.
  • Valerio Tettamanti (2022 Zoltan Florian Marine Biology Fellowship; University of Queensland) is studying development of the visual system and colouration in damselfishes. Valerio will return in 2023 to complete the field work for his PhD. 
  • Prof. Maria Dornelas (University of St Andrews) and Assoc. Prof Joshua Madin (University of Hawaii) have their long-term study of coral communities back to its usual schedule after two years of Covid-related disruption. They were jointly awarded a Critical Grant in 2020 and their large team includes several sub-projects. 
  • Prof. Morgan Pratchett (James Cook University) conducted research on Crown-of-Thorns Starfish during two trips to LIRS during the month and on another ship-based trip further north. Morgan was awarded the 2023 Critical Grant for this important work (see below)

 US undergraduate students learning research skills from Prof. Morgan Pratchett’s team at LIRS
A good number of applications have been received for Fellowships and Grants to commence in 2023.  The Selection Committee is currently assessing applications and awards will be announced in January.  Of these applications, we anticipate the Foundation will support in the order of four new doctoral fellowships and four new post-doctoral fellowships.  These fellowships, initiated in 1984, are exceptionally valuable for early career researchers, in many instances kick starting careers, and providing the opportunity for recipients to work in a collaborative and supportive environment.
In 2020 the Foundation initiated support for a new grants category, Critical Grants, and three have been offered to date. These grants aim to support research that is deemed critical yet funding is challenging to secure at the time it is needed. The most recent critical grant recipient is Prof. Morgan Pratchett of James Cook University.  The Foundation is supporting year one of a multi-year study aimed to identify key areas where Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (COTS) outbreaks initiate.  Research into early detection is critical to help control impending outbreaks and help mitigate the devastating impacts these coral eating animals wreak.  Understanding this complex COTS problem is urgent, with the next outbreak expected to occur within 3-4 years.  We were delighted to have Morgan as guest speaker at the dinners held in Melbourne and Sydney recently.  Morgan was joined by Anne Hoggett and together they gave us a most informative and engaging evening.

Prof. Morgan Pratchett speaking at our dinner at the Australian Museum in October

Our website is updated regularly with posts written by researchers and other news.  A recent post shares a progress report by Dr Chris Goatley (University of New England) and Dr Simon Brandl (University of Texas Austin), the 2020 John and Laurine Proud Postdoctoral Fellows.  Chris and Simon are studying the function, biodiversity and distribution of the tiny, camouflaged reef dwelling fishes known as cryptobenthic, or cryptos.  Noting that cryptos may provide two-thirds of all fish tissue eaten by reef predators, their work aims to better understand what’s happening with these species which form a critical foundation to fish communities on the reef.

Enclosing an area of reef to capture the fishes within. Photo: Kyra Jean Cipolla.
We urge you to take 3 minutes to view the wonderful footage of a pair of reef octopus, shared via the link below.  The footage shows a female busily hunting for food, with a male in the wings, far more interested in valiantly (successfully?) trying to mate.  It’s fascinating and shows nature at its best and was taken in waters off Lizard by a long term visiting researcher and marine science educator, Dr Andy Lewis.  We suggest reading the text around the video first, as it provides good insight about the pair. 
And to further inspire, we share a post below written by a poet, Dr Caitlin Maling, who visited Lizard Island pre-COVID.  Caitlin shares one of her poems, as well as explaining how her time around researchers inspired her recent work.  Her book of poems has recently been shortlisted for the Prime Ministers Literary Awards.
2023 is shaping up to be an exceptionally busy year at the Station.  Many new and ongoing projects will be supported by our Foundation, including planning for the second Coral Reef Study Tour for select NSW high school students.  Most significantly, next year marks the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Station and there will be many achievements to recognize and celebrate.  We thank all our donors for your ongoing interest and support, which continues to enable the Station to function so well. 

Best wishes
Kate Hayward
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Fish Work – a poet’s view
It was August 2017 when I first flew from Cairns to Lizard Island Research Station. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. While I had written a book of poems previously on the ocean and fishing landscapes of Cervantes in Western Australia, I had no exposure to the Great Barrier Reef beyond one snorkelling expedition 10 years earlier.


Big coral spawning event in 2022
Most species of hard corals on the Great Barrier Reef take part in a mass spawning event over a short period, once a year. It’s a remarkable sight and, every year, most people at LIRS are keen to go out and see it –  even if their research has nothing to do with it. This year was no different. Many of us went out over two nights, 11 and 12 November, and were rewarded both times.


Lizard Island’s smallest fish, and where to find them
Our project focuses on a group of tiny, camouflaged reef-dwelling fishes known as cryptobenthic fishes or, more simply, cryptos. These fishes are highly abundant on many of the world’s coral reefs, often accounting for half of the fish present on a reef. However, because many crypto species spend their lives hidden from view, they are very difficult to study and have often been overlooked.


Why Donate to support science at the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station?

  • Because the Great Barrier Reef is hugely important;
  • the science advances knowledge of life and informs reef conservation;
  • the Station is one of the world’s best coral reef field research facilities and helps develop the next generation of marine scientists;
  • the science depends on continuing donor support;
  • LIRRF provides a super-efficient funding channel where you will see your funds being put to good use;
  • and because we have a sense of wonder.
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Our mailing address is:
Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation
Australian Museum
1 William Street
Sydney, Nsw 2010

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