Gettin’ Dirty in Sydney Harbor


It’s been a week of gettin’ dirty in what must be the world’s most beautiful urban waterway: Sydney Harbor. After several early mornings, a bit of sea time, and some good ole manual labor, I’m happy to say our field work is complete! We’ve collected sediment samples and epilithic (animals that live on rocks) specimens from four sites and are now ready to hit the lab.

Top: Sydney Opera House as seen while underway to Gore Cove, one of our field sites. Bottom: Side of our SIMS-based research vessel, heading west past the opera house and towards Balmain, another inner-harbor site.

We launched out of the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS), a marine lab in the heart of Sydney Harbour that was established just over a decade ago in a collaboration between four major universities: University of Technology Sydney (UTS), the University of Sydney, Macquarie University, and UNSW. SIMS has provided easy boat access, lab facilities, and much more established means for collecting samples than I’m used to in Seattle. Sample collection didn’t even require trespassing or intertidal bouldering with heavy equipment! It was lovely.

The only downside was learning that Bull Sharks are not just a curse inflicted on the good people of Florida; these aquatic hunters also patrol the waters of Sydney Harbor and also happen to be to source of all my deepest darkest fears (“great whites? tigers? no problem… wait did you say bull sharks?”). So, my usual approach of diving in to collect samples by hand was not going to work. Luckily we were able to deploy tools from the surface to collect samples at the murkiest of our sites. I’m happy to say all samples are now safely stashed in cold storage awaiting analysis, and I still have all my appendages and a beating heart.

Data collection in Sydney Harbour. Left: Deploying the “Van Veen grab” to collect sediment. Right: Transferring a small amount of sediment into tiny vials for DNA extraction, while intern Henna Wilckens deploys the Van Veen grab over the side for another sediment sample.

Stay tuned for more on the wild and beautiful creatures in our samples, and on my adventures in lab as I explore food web relationships in Sydney’s urban marine ecosystems.