Project Home for SPID (= SPecies ID)

Raja Ampat diving trip

Species ID Flashcards

"Let's go diving in Raja Ampat, in Papua, Indonesia. It will be fun!" said Swmbo. "BarefootConservation.org lets you (pay to) volunteer to help with scuba diving surveys of fish species, and teach the locals English! All you have to do is learn how to identify 200 fish & coral species, which will be relaxing! Here are the .pdf files they emailed us."

The .pdf files listed fish names with a photo for each fish. I doubted my ability to learn anything other than which fish photo appeared where on which page, and I panic at the thought of actual work, so I created these fish species flashcards which you can install on your laptop and/or phone. It seemed like a good idea at the time: I could easily extract the species' name texts into a spreadsheet, and semi-automate downloading the photos from Wikipedia, so we should be all home by Christmas.

But then I was outraged at how the same fish can look very different at various life stages. E.g. the next 3 photos are of the same species; the middle photo shows it transitioning from juvenile to adult:

SPID Pomacanthus Imperator LKJH 3 200 Flipped juvenile Pomacanthus imperator (CC By SA from Wikipedia)

SPID Pomacanthus Imperator LKJH 4 200 transitional Pomacanthus imperator (CC By NC from https://www.flickr.com/photos/pacificklaus/27370711378 )

SPID Pomacanthus Imperator LKJH 2 200 Flipped adult Pomacanthus imperator (CC By SA from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_angelfish )

So for species with radically different forms I collected more photos than Wikipedia has, which required allowing for multiple photos per species, which required keeping track of each photo's source for CC copyright attribution. That took a lot of work.

Then I realised that some species are so similar that I needed even more photos (at least at the initial stage of learning a species) to understand what was important re distinguishing very similar species. I was too lazy to collect further photos, and anyway for some species there are not enough CC-shared photos to do the job, so I created automatic links to fishbase.org to get reliable photo collections for each species. (I had started with automatic links to Google Images, but found they are often unreliably identified.) The current arrangement works well for me: it allowed me learn which parts of which fish to focus on when I first started viewing a fish, and gave me sufficient repetition to learn all those @#$% names, which for me is the hardest part.

I find it easier to remember a species if I can learn a bit more about it, e.g. its feeding, habitat, genus etc, so I also created links to the detailed descriptions on fishbase.org and Wikipedia. Automating that was very easy.

The Anki open source software that displays the flashcards is very good, and synchronises your learning across laptops and mobile phones. The synchronised learning is a nice feature: I suggest you do your initial learning on a PC or Mac so that you can use the links to fishbase etc to get to know each species, but later you may like to get some revision done on your phone while travelling. Ankiweb.net will synchronise across your phone & laptop which species you have learnt and which species need more repetition.

Anki is free for PC, Mac, Linux, and Android. You can either pay Anki's tax for having an iPhone, or export the flashcards into Memrise so that you can use them on an iPhone for free. To be fair to Anki, it is great software, and its iPhone tax is its developer's way of supporting himself so that he can support Anki. Disclaimer: my phone is an Android.

I realised early on that it would be far easier to sort the photos and their copyright permissions into a spreadsheet before importing everything into Anki. Along with the fish flashcards, I have uploaded this spreadsheet (and tips on importing it into Anki) so that other people can update the flashcards as they wish – don't look at me, I'm too busy having holidays.

Carbon Offsets

"But wait! Is it ethical to fly there? Global warming threatens the coral that feeds the fish, and flying generates a lot of CO2."

Good question, given that many corals are surprisingly heat-sensitive, and so have been wiped out by warmer seas. Raja Ampat's corals had only just survived warm sea events in the previous 2 years because it is at the mixing point for two major ocean currents, and this may not last.

But by being 'eco-tourists' doing 2 weeks of diving to see diverse fish, we encourage the locals police over-fishing. Apparently this has ended local fish-dynamiting.

According to some Carbon Footprint calculators, we will need to create a new lasting forest with at least 6 trees to absorb the carbon we released from aviation fossil fuel. We could alleviate poverty in a third-world nation that has had its forests cleared using one of these re-forestation programs, or we could plant trees on former pastureland in Australia that used to produce cattle and their methane.

Next trip we will attempt to incorporate carbon neutrality into the air-ticket purchase, because afaik the most cost-effective form of carbon-neutral air travel is bio-kero, and it would be good to encourage the move from fossil aviation-fuel to solar-grown aviation fuel. The most reliable form of carbon-offsetting is to not burn fossil fuel in the first place.

Indonesian vocab flashcards

"You speak Indonesian, don't you?" said Swmbo. Well, I spoke a little, 30 years ago. Back then, as I left Indonesia I ticked the words I had learnt in the little dictionary I had used, figuring that if I wanted to re-learn Indonesian it would be easier to re-learn the words I had already learnt and found to be useful. I have put them into yet another Anki flashcards deck, along with vocab I think may be useful for a diving trip in a remote area. There are already a lot of Indonesian vocab flashcards that folks have shared, but you might like the fact that I created this deck from a spreadsheet that made it easy for me to group them into a sensible order for efficient learning.

btw, this little book is a relatively painless way to consolidate a useful amount of Indonesian. It might even be a useful starting point if you have no familiarity with the language.


Swmbo is a vet scientist who dreams of getting back to her vetting roots. She really likes elephants, and I think for our next trip she wants me to hold an elephant while she brushes its teeth or something. I think that is why she wanted me to get vaccinated for Rabies. Is Raja Ampat that rabid? We also got jabbed for Japanese Encephalitis (the 3-shot version that is cheaper and does not have as many side effects), Typhoid, & Tetanus. Priceline.com.au saved me a lot of money re Malarone (for Malaria), Jap Enceph, and rabies - order ahead, and note that some of these vaccines require jabs at 0, 7, and 28 days.

Dr Rob, barefoot's Medical Officer, said that re our particular island (Pulau Arborek), he has only had one case of Malaria which was probably picked up elsewhere, and no Dengue. He did not say it is OK not to fuss re protective clothing and repellent, so nor do I, but he does not do so himself. Perhaps the biggest problem is that an irritated mozzie bite can get infected, and tropical ulcers do not mix well with seawater. E.g:

CCC insert photo

Re tinea, I had only packed some powder for those few days when I knew I would be wearing socks & shoes. Problem is, each time you enter a hut you (should) dip your foot in a bowl of seawater to wash off the sand, and after a week of bare but wet feet I started to get tinea. Fortunately Dr Rob had supplies of Canesten cream.

Travel tips

Depending on whether you tend to be proactive and/or vengeful, you might want to pack some sturdy airtight plastic boxes that you hope are rat proof, and one or two rat traps. Hint: a stout canvas backpack hanging from the roof containing well-wrapped food in its original wrapping is no match for a hungry rat, who will give you a night of interrupted sleep, and give your bag that authentic 'ripped denim' look.

Underwater photos

"The dive photos I took last time are all blue-green or pink. Do I need a new camera?" asked Swmbo. No - when sunlight travels down through the water to light a fish, the reds get filtered out by the water. And when that light reflects off a fish to travel through water to the camera, the reds continue to be filtered out. You have 5 choices for dealing with the loss of red light underwater.

Dive Torches

5 Torchs Thumbnail

"OK, so the nice man at the shop sold me a torch including battery and USB charger for a mere $255, cheap at half the price. He said it is just what I need. Your turn to buy a torch. btw, we can go night diving, so we will need backup lights. Could you organise that, Sugar?"

I have been a cheap-skate for a long time, I so jumped on the internet and wasted hours on eBay and aliExpress, dismayed at all the negative feedback and 2-month delivery periods. Wanting to guarantee that I would have at least one reliable backup light, and seeking the solidity of bricks & mortar, I ordered from wilderness.net.au, and then found some jewels from amazon.com.au and jaycar.com.au. I have recorded details of these Dive Torches in the hope that you can avoid my suffering.

Reef hooks

Look, I am not really obsessed about being a cheapskate, but the local dive-shop was out of reef hooks, and I was in my local hardware store, so I made this:

CCC insert photo

and it works a treat. The way it is knotted reduces its length to a third, yet it easily undoes.
The actual hook is a bent version of this _over door hook_. It's metal is too soft to hold in a strong current, but neither are Swmbo's arms, so that's not a bug, it's a feature - no discussion of reef hooks should omit mention that dive hooks can kill you. It will have rusted too much for the next trip, so I wasted $2.

Bunnings.com.au has a nice mix of Taskmaster light-weight mini krabs, and so far their springs have not rusted in salt water; you may prefer a locking krab for expensive torches etc.


OK, perhaps I am an obsessed cheapskate. This photo


is Swmbo's $100 dive compass, next to my $4 compass from Daiso, which works fine at least down to 30m.

I am endlessly amazed that folk buy fussy super-accurate compasses, instead of getting a small wrist compass that you can frequently glance at in a hurry. It is not just divers who make this mistake - most cross-country skiers and bushwalkers pocket a compass with a built-in protractor, adjustable bevel, sighting line, and a floating needle. All they actually need is the needle, but with fast easy access.

What you need is a compass on your wrist that you can frequently glance at to keep track of where North is, without having to empty your hand and fumble, or push a button. Otherwise you will be too busy to keep track of where you are going when it matters, such as when strong currents are threatening to separate you from your buddy and hook you into coral, or when you are busy staying upright on your skis in a white-out blizzard, or when you are distracted by thick scrub under a tree canopy that denies you any opportunity for getting a back-bearing from some distant mountain. These are the situations when a navigational blunder is most likely, and they do not require accurate bearings, they only require frequent bearings. In decades of challenging navigation I have never once needed a back-bearing, nor accuracy greater than 15 degrees, and unless I start trekking over vast featureless plains I doubt I ever will.

The Daiso compass is smaller than I would prefer for bushwalking, and I will not swear as to the strength of its magnet nor the durability of its swivel, but it has survived 30 m without bubbling, and is easier to wear than Swmbo's monster.

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Raja Ampat diving trip

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