Background – short paragraph on who you are/what you do/related interests/research
I work as a data scientist, which combines software engineering and statistics. I got into the area by first doing an undergraduate degree in computer science at the Technion in Israel, followed by a PhD in data science at Monash University. While I haven’t formally done marine science research, my work often involves developing general tools and techniques for data analytics. In my spare time, I enjoy diving, surfing, and other outdoor activities. I grew up in Israel, but moved to Melbourne in 2009 to do my PhD, and ended up in Sydney 4.5 years later. Recently, I moved further up the coast to the Northern Rivers area. I’m excited about exploring the area and spending as much time in the water as I can.
When did you join RLS, how did you hear about it, and what made you keen to join?
I did my first RLS training dive in August 2014, shortly after joining the Underwater Research Group of NSW dive club (URG). That was after coming back from three weeks in Thailand, where I did some volunteer diving with the New Heaven group in Koh Tao. I was generally interested in going beyond recreational diving to do more marine conservation and scientific diving, and URG came up as a dive club that organises this kind of activity in Sydney. Thanks to the enthusiasm and support of John Turnbull and other URG members, I became a certified RLS diver a few months later. The main things I like about RLS are that I now notice more unusual marine life, I get to dive in places that are rarely dived recreationally, and the collected data is used for scientific purposes.
What was your most memorable dive spot/survey/moment?
Recently, we found ourselves on Eviota in Lihou Reef as Cyclone Debbie was forming above us. While we couldn’t dive, being in the vicinity of a baby cyclone is definitely a memorable experience! Fortunately, we were never in danger, as Eviota is a solid boat and our skipper (Dusty) is very experienced, so he easily sailed us away from the cyclone to safer waters.
Another memorable experience was our dive at a spot we named Surprise Reef. This was on a previous Eviota trip to the northern Great Barrier Reef. From the surface, Surprise Reef didn’t look like much, but when we went underwater we discovered a surprising level of diversity: On my transect I recorded almost 50 species on method 2, and Joe Shields recorded over 100 species on method 1. It’s amazing (and somewhat overwhelming) to see so many different animals in such a small area!
How long have you been diving and which is your favourite dive spot?
I’ve been diving since 2008. I did my open water course in Israel, in the sunken port of Caesarea, which dates back to Roman times. I moved to Melbourne a few months after I started diving, so most of my dives were in Australia. Having dived in various tropical destinations, as well as the temperate waters of Victoria, NSW, Tassie, and NZ, I don’t really have a single favourite dive spot. They’re all good for different reasons, and I’m often happy to just be in the water.
Do you have a favourite fish (which and why)?
Just like with dive sites, I don’t have a single favourite fish. I love them all!
Tell us about the tools you’ve been developing for the RLS website (frequency explorer and flashcards). What is it and what will it help with?
Before my first tropical RLS trip, I started memorising the species that I was likely to see on the Great Barrier Reef. Having only done surveys around Sydney prior to that trip, I realised it’s going to be very challenging, as tropical surveys have much higher levels of diversity and abundance than temperate surveys. To study, I downloaded photos from sites like the Australian Museum, and used a presentation software called Reveal.js to prepare flashcards as slides. I originally used the main RLS site to download past survey data, but as the raw data needs additional processing to infer the relative frequency of different species, I realised I could easily build a tool that displays those frequencies in a more user-friendly way. As both the flashcards and the frequency explorer are generally useful for RLS divers, I was happy to do some extra work to integrate them with the main RLS site. Hopefully the tools would help RLS divers prepare for surveys more effectively, and would also be used by other divers who want to improve their familiarity with marine life.
On a related note, I’ve written a blog post about the flashcards and some thoughts on machine learning and RLS: https://yanirseroussi.com/2016/01/24/the-joys-of-offline-data-collection/
– Thanks Yanir – and we love the learning tools you’ve created!
Please check out the tools here: