Posted on October 28 2018
“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to Earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.” - Jacques Yves Cousteau
Photography by Luke Gouvignon at Clifton Beach, Tasmania
My name's Talitha and I am a 19 year old Australian who was born on the West Coast. I spent my gap year living in a very tiny tourist town (with a local population of about 200) named Coral Bay, located right next door to the Ningaloo Reef. I now live in Tasmania, where I have almost completed my first year of a Bachelor of Marine and Antarctic Science, majoring in Marine Biology. When I'm not studying I love to surf, cook plant-based meals with ingredients we source from our local farmers market, and explore the wilderness of our new home. I love to learn, and I am regularly discovering new ways to decrease my environmental footprint.
Did you grow up in Tasmania? What do you love most about living there?
I grew up in a coastal town named Albany (located four hours south of Perth, Western Australia) and moved to Tasmania in February of this year. I was a little bit worried about moving over because I definitely prefer the warmth, however the unique and rugged landscapes of this island makes the cold so much more worth it. It is so hard to decide what I love the most. Everyone is extremely friendly, there are so many flora and fauna species that are endemic just to Tasmania, and I love that it feels like I'm living in a massive country town rather than a city with towering sky scrapers. We can see Mount Wellington from our house and my university, and during winter it often snows on the top which is an incredible view! There are so many places to be explored. I don't think I have ever visited a place that comes even close to Tasmania's coastlines and temperate forests, and not to mention the lack of crowds while surfing! It could be the weekend, offshore the whole day and there would just be myself, my partner and a few other people out. It is definitely a wild wilderness, with most of the West Coast being largely unpopulated and full of isolated national parks and reserves.
Is sustainable living the norm in most parts of Tassie, or is there still a long way to go?
I think that, in general, Tasmanian's are a lot more environmentally aware and conscious than many other states. Plastic shopping bags have been banned since 2013, which is a law that only recently came into place in Western Australia. Just a three minute walk from my university is an incredible little bulk food store that does lunches. It is completely run by volunteers, and everything is vegetarian and waste free. Just about every person I've come across is practising sustainable living in one way or another, and with all the unique ecosystems in Tasmania I think many people acknowledge the importance in conserving and protecting the natural landscape. There are major pushes from the locals to keep the Tasmanian wilderness as untouched as possible, such as 'Keep Tassie Wild', which is a profit-for-purpose business that donates 50% of their earnings to local environmental charities. I believe there is still a long way to go, however I think Tasmania is definitely leading the way.
What does being out in nature mean to you and where's your special place?
Being out in nature, to me, means letting go of the “human” world and delving deep into our natural world. Most people in a first world country have become so accustomed to the comfort of our human world: the safety and security of a roof over our heads, unlimited supply of food and water, and air conditioning and heating to reach our satisfying temperature. It is so easy to forgot that 'we are part of nature, not apart'. When we are submerged in the natural world we are exposed to the elements, reminding us that we are still, indeed, creatures of instinct like the organisms around us. Being out in nature serves as a reminder of that connection, and helps us let go of the expectations that a human society holds of us. It means exploring the land that our ancestors thrived on, and observing the intricate interactions and biodiversity of the flora and fauna that surround us.
My special place changes depending on the environment that surrounds me. When I was in Coral Bay that place was on the Ningaloo, where I would spend hours immersed in the reef and observing the abundance of colour and life around me. In Tasmania it is either surfing or exploring the temperate rain forests or raw coastlines. It is anywhere that reminds me that time is man-made, and challenges me to live in the moment (as cliché as that sounds).
Tell us about Echoes of the Tide?!
Echoes of the Tide is a blog that I decided to create in June of this year. I love to write creatively, but I also love to share what I am learning at university and my journey with a sustainable lifestyle. I started sharing my thoughts and facts on Instagram posts, however there is a character limit which can be difficult when you're trying to put forward what you are wanting to say and have to cut out sentences to fit it all in. There's so many interesting concepts I've learnt in this year alone, such as Antarctic Krill have the ability to lose their sexual maturity during Winter to conserve their food stores, and the mating call of Weddell seals is one of the most unearthly noises I am sure anyone has ever listened to. Whilst studying a science degree I have realised that perhaps the biggest issue scientists face isn't the research itself, but communicating this research to the general public. Before I started my degree I had never read a scientific journal, I didn't know that Google Scholar existed and I had a very little understanding of finding and recognising credible sources. Through google we have access to thousands of websites with just one click of a button, and I've come to learn that it is so important to be able to recognise pseudoscience and to call out websites that are misinforming people through cherry picking or using unreliable sources. I've realised that it would be a waste to spend so much money on a degree if I wasn't willing to share what I learn and discover, especially when there is so much misconception about environmental issues such as climate change. Echoes of the Tide is a platform for me to share my thoughts, the knowledge that comes with a degree and perhaps to educate people on these environmental issues that I am confronted with.
What has your freediving journey been like?
When I lived in Coral Bay I was snorkelling just about every day between shifts, so that's when I started properly getting into free diving. I remember the first time I wore a weight belt while diving on the Ningaloo, I sunk to the sand and kept as still as I could. Within a couple of seconds this tiny fish swam right up to my face and was just hovering in front of my mask! It was a really eye opening experience for me, because I had never previously thought of fish as curious creatures. It wasn't until we left Coral Bay and were back in Perth over Christmas that I completed my Stage A with Apnea Australia. The course consisted of theory, pool training and open water dives. I learnt so much about how our bodies respond to submersion via the dive reflex, and it is amazing how quickly our bodies can adapt to the changing environment. I am so glad I completed this course because I discovered there were so many times I had potentially put myself in danger, such as diving all by myself, not matching my dive times with my recovery times and also showing early signs of hypoxia. I haven't done much freediving in Tasmania, so I have mainly been training through dry static breath holds, which I love to do to challenge myself and watch them improve! We are heading back over to Western Australia for the summer and I am planning on (hopefully) completing my Stage B. My biggest dream since I was 14 has been to free dive with humpback whales in Tonga, which I am doing next September. So I am really excited to continue to challenge myself and become more comfortable with longer and deeper dives.
What has been your favourite encounter to date with a marine animal?
It is so hard to pick just one! It would have to be out of our encounters with humpback whales in Exmouth, or dolphins in Monkey Mia.
As we worked full time in Coral Bay, we would get 1-2 days off a week. We would usually go up to Exmouth on these days (an hour and a half north of Coral Bay) and spend the whole day surfing. Exmouth is a haven for whales during humpback season, as they rest in the Exmouth gulf before they continue their journey back to the Antarctic. We had so many incredible encounters that would always leave me in absolute awe and fascination over their extreme curiosity. There were multiple occasions where pods or individuals travelled past very close to shore. One time an individual in a group of three spy hopped to check out the surfers, and another time there was one on its side just behind the breaks, pec slapping for about 15 minutes! Another incredible encounter was when my dad and my partner were surfing and I was watching on the shore, and this mother and calf was logging about 10 metres away from them.
Another extraordinary marine animal encounter was in Monkey Mia. Monkey Mia is renowned for it's dolphin interactions, so we stopped by for two nights on our drive back down to Perth. All the dolphins are wild, however over generations they have become extremely comfortable with humans due to fisherman feeding them many years ago. The whole two days we were simply sitting in the shallows, watching the dolphins swimming past. My partner decided to grab two shells and “clap” them together to make a tapping noise to see if the dolphins would respond. I was sitting right beside him in ankle deep water, and this female swam straight to us, almost over our laps, checking out what the noise was! She then swam away and turned around to check it out again. It was truly incredible to witness her intelligence and curiosity first hand.
Tell us a phrase that means something to you?
“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to Earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.” Jacques Yves Cousteau
I love this quote because I think it represents the true mystery of the sea. It's the only place on our planet where humans are weightless, and one of the last few places that isn't inhabited by our own species. I think it is also the only place where many people truly feel free, which that in itself should be enough to make our oceans and its organisms worth protecting.