By Anaïs Bond

Image by Anais Bond

I want to learn how to read the wind, see how it sways across the fields.
I want to learn how to trust my breathe, then submerge beneath the surface.
I want to learn how to let go when the currents change direction, and the tide pulls the other way.

I want to look into friends’ teary eyes and tell them everything will be ok.
I want to cry as if my tears are ribbons of gold, cleansing my heart of pain.
I want to watch watercolour flow across canvas, running like rain down the windowsill.

I want to feel like a leaf drifting across the ocean, unknown of direction but peaceful within its place.
I want to feel vulnerable like a ship in the middle of the sea, tender to the power before me.
I want to feel as light as the clouds on a spring’s morning as they drift alongside beautiful memories.

I want to learn how to read the wind.

I want to hear the tides trickle over shingle beaches as the day speaks its final goodbye.
I want to hear nature as if the forests are pulsing in a mellow heartbeat.
I want to hear your voice and spin under the stars.

I want to watch the sky as it wraps the world in bands on peachy slicks.
I want to shine like water trickling through a stream as the sun drops below the horizon.
I want to feel pure warmth as the sun kisses my skin and leaves behind a freckle on my cheek.

I want to swim in the river and share stories with my children.
I want to be as strong as a snow gum in the brisk of winter chill.
I want to grow as tall as the mountains whose beauty stands bold in the vastness.
I want to learn the seasons of being the human I am.

I want to learn how to read the wind.

A photographer, divemaster and remote sensing scientist.

By Tiffany Dun

Valerie Cornet is a current PhD student at JCU, where she has just begun her research project in the field of Remote Sensing in coral reef monitoring. Coming all the way from Hong Kong and the UK, Val completed her Masters degree in 2020. She obtained a high distinction in her research component, awarding her an AIMS@JCU scholarship for her PhD.

Growing up, Val would visit her favourite reef on Coral Island, Thailand and go snorkeling with her family.

“It was a beautiful vibrant, lively reef. We went every single year. It made me fall in love with the ocean.”

Val at Orpheus Island: Photo by Tara Prenzlau

But it was also here when Val first realised that our oceans needed our help.

“One year, half the reef was gone. I was so shocked, what had happened to this magical place I loved so much?”

“And the next year it was gone. No live coral, no fish, the reef was a graveyard. We haven’t been back since.”

Val felt as though she had watched something she loved slowly die.

“It had disintegrated in front of my eyes year after year, and then it was just gone. It was heartbreaking.”

This particular reef had no regulations, so it was not surprising that with the many tourists touching, stepping on and breaking the corals; along with heat waves and recurrent bleaching events, the ecosystem had collapsed.

“I felt as though I had watched climate change occur in front of my own eyes. Since then, I realised I needed to do something.”

Coral Bommie by Valerie Cornet

Val’s intimate experience with the ocean is what drove her towards the field of marine science. For her, it was an obvious path –she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.

“I wanted to do something that matters, to make a positive difference on the planet.”

To leave her mark on the earth, Val felt the need to contribute in some way. Now she hopes to do what she can to help make the world a better place, reef by reef, and it all stemmed from her love of diving.

“I fell in love with diving straight away – I was obsessed. That feeling of being underwater -it was just something else.”

When she was 15, about a year after she started diving, Val started experimenting with underwater photography.

Porcelain anemone crab by Valerie Cornet

Photography opened up a whole new avenue of diving for Val, forcing her to look at the underwater world with fresh, new eyes.

“Diving gave me the opportunity to photograph things that people don’t often get to see and show them to others.”

She began a diving portfolio, @Valgoesdeep on Instagram, which has now gained a following of over 10,000!

Bignose Unicornfish by Valerie Cornet

However, in the past couple of years Val has been concentrating more on her studies and hasn’t taken the time to go diving as much as she would like. Luckily, she has been exploring the ocean in new ways through her Remote Sensing research.

In October last year, Valerie went on a research expedition to Cape York with Schmitt ocean institute. Here, on the Research Vessel Falkor, Val was put in charge of the deep freezing. Samples of corals, sediments, jellies, inverts and sponges needed to be preserved in liquid nitrogen, at -60°C!

The trip was an exciting one, as the team of scientists planned to use multi-beam sonar to create 3D maps of the underwater topography. In this manner, they could create really large maps at once, in areas that hadn’t been mapped before.

In fact, the Falkor made a new discovery –a massive detached reef, taller than the Empire State Building! The reef is over 500m tall with its peak at 40m, and is the first to be discovered in over 120 years.

Newly discovered reef is higher than the Empire State Building, by Schmidt Ocean Institute.

It was also on the Falkor where Val worked in the control room behind the ROV SuBastian, a 4500m remotely operated vehicle with two robotic arms and 10 or so cameras attached.

On one dive in particular, while SuBastian was 800m below the surface, the scientists observed an undescribed species of cephalopod (seen below).

Spirula by Schmidt Ocean Institute

This burrito-like creature is called a Ram’s horn squid (Spirula).

A ram’s horn squid in waters off the Cape York Peninsula in northern Australia, never before filmed in its natural environment. Video by Schmidt Ocean Institute.

Val was one of the five scientists on board working with the ROV in real time. Through SuBastian’s lens, Val was able to watch these deep-sea, alien-like creatures and their strange behaviours.

“It was a bit like being in blue planet – a realm I never thought I would get to explore or discover. It was such a privilege!”

Some more creatures from the ocean’s Twilight zone:

Chiroteuthid squid by Schmidt Ocean Institute
Coffinfish by Schmidt Ocean Institute
Bobtail squid by Schmidt Ocean Institute
Dumbo octopus by Schmidt Ocean Institute

In her current research project, Val will apply the methods of remote sensing that she has learned, using drones and spectrometers, with a focus on developing new bleaching alerts for coral reefs.

While remote sensing has been often used in terrestrial habitats, it is a relatively novel method in marine science. Typically, Val runs into countless problems when mapping marine environments in terms of their reflectivity and radiation. But she is working hard to create a method that is becoming more easily accessible to the public.

Despite seeming to have it all, Val is still trying to figure out her own path and see where life brings her. She still wants to travel Australia and do the things she loves.

If Val could give us any piece of advice it would be this: It’s okay to not find your dream job straight away.

“I used to look down on myself because I wasn’t a straight biologist or remote sensing scientist. But I’ve started to be okay with not being a specialist. Humans are often more generalists and good at a lot of different things, rather than just the one thing.”

“Embrace everything about yourself –embrace it all. You may start as a generalist and you just haven’t found what you want to be a specialist at yet.”

Val says it’s important not to ignore the things you enjoy just because they might not be valuable to your “career path.”

“Appreciate that you have many talents that you can join together to do new things.”

Val at Orpheus Island: Photo by Tara Prenzlau

Val further encourages us to test our own boundaries to discover ourselves.

“It’s important for our self-discovery that we try a lot of different things. Don’t be afraid to do something and fail, or to do something and hate it.”

We are built as holistic humans with different values and strengths. Just as she combined her research with underwater photography, Val reminds us to discover these strengths and merge them together.

In this way, you can create something; a career, and a lifestyle, that is completely and uniquely you.

A marine scientist and creative writer

By Tiffany Dun

Aliya Siddiqi

Aliya Siddiqi is a bubbly, artistic soul who shares her inspiration with all who are blessed to be in her presence.

Often one can spot Aliya working in her natural habitat –at JCU, in The Science Place. But when she isn’t doing research for her master’s degree Aliya often writes free verses to help her to express her desire to change the narrative that Western society has written for our planet. She is often inspired to write about nature and her experiences within it. Here, she can create a space where she can delve into the deep recesses of her mind.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

Aliya has been writing poetry since she was 12 and finds it a perfect way to put the thoughts in her head onto another medium. She uses her writing as her creative outlet -particularly when things aren’t going well, to release her thoughts and reflect upon her present mood.

“I like to just sit and write and see what comes out. Then I can get a better understanding of how I’m feeling in that moment,” she says.

Brain Coral by Aliya Siddiqi

While we often use the logical and analytical part of our minds when working or studying, Aliya encourages everybody to tap into their creative mediums in their spare time. This helps open space for the expression and acceptance of oneself and may encourage us to look beyond our immediate surroundings for deeper connections. For Aliya, it enhances her connection and appreciation of the natural world and her place in it. This connection is deeply important to Aliya, and she explains how it is often lost in translation with many people in Western society.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

Recently, Aliya has been focusing her writing about our disconnect with nature in the Western world, one that is reflected in the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are manipulating nature and it is responding,” Aliya says. “COVID is a symptom of human activities: a net result of the mindless destruction we are leaving on our planet.”

We are a part of the system – things that happen to it are reflected back in us.

“We need to redevelop our relationship with nature,” Aliya continued. “Rather than to look at our resources and think, ‘What can I gain from this?’ We need to recognise that we are a part of it –not separate from it, above it, or in complete control of it –and that’s what is truly important.”

COVID-19 gave Aliya the opportunity to write more, and to reflect on what is happening to the planet on a global scale. “I’ve been writing more about our current society. Growing up in a landlocked city in the USA, I’ve seen how many of us are shut off from nature, so the monopolization and commodification of nature is not something most people even recognize. We’re stuck in a neoliberal narrative.”

As marine biologists, we are taught to quantify the values of ecosystem services and our natural resources. This is a part of what we study –how much money we can make from nature. How much is a coral reef worth to us as a fishery or through tourism? And how can we profit from this ‘free’ resource? But it is here, in our focus on perpetual advancements in capital, that we are wholeheartedly missing the point.

Coral Gardens by Aliya Siddiqi

“Many people get lost in the symptoms of the problem,” Aliya says, “but we are missing the root of the problem. We need to decrease carbon emissions –it’s true. But the actual problem lies in the norms and values of western society, in our drive for the constant accumulation of wealth. Every day we use more, waste more, and exploit more of our planet.”

Most of us lack a deep relationship with nature that is seen in the cultures of indigenous and First Nation’s people.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

We have a vast impact on the earth that often, we don’t even acknowledge. In the prevailing issues that we see today, it becomes all the more necessary to deconstruct how this has happened. Most of the “goods” and “natural resources” that are being exploited only benefit a minority of people on the planet, and most of the individuals that make significant gains from exploitation of the Earth and human labor are wealthy individuals who have no real need to use those resources, except to accumulate more wealth.

In the video she made below, Aliya infers that we do not require much to make us truly happy. We don’t need an excess of material items – just a few, small things that have good quality and use. Ultimately, Aliya contends that it is our experiences with nature and other people that are what makes life worth living.

Heaven on Earth: By Aliya Siddiqi

And Aliya is far from finished –she is only just beginning to leave her positive impact on the Earth. In the future, Aliya hopes to aid those in developing countries, and ultimately to leave this world in a better place than which she found it.

For those of you interested in helping Aliya out in spreading awareness and understanding, here are her top 3 tips in making a change:

1) Disconnect from your phone/technology

Social media, in particular, is a brainwashing tool designed to maintain your attention and steal your time. These apps are designed to keep you addicted, so that advertisers can gain maximum profits from your views on their ads.

Your social media feed is tailored to suit your “user profile,” which has kept track of every click you’ve ever made, every photo you’ve ever “liked” and every location you’ve ever checked in. This narrows your view of the world and can create a bubble of misinformation tailored specifically to you. Just think –all of the time you spend staring at your screen is time you are selling yourself to these companies –missing the magic that could be found in creative outlets, time with friends, or experiences out in nature…to benefit corporations and marketers.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

Aliya encourages everybody to get out and spend some time in nature each day. “When people are forced to sit in silence they get uncomfortable –but once we get past the initial discomfort we can learn so much about ourselves.”

Stingray Stack by Aliya Siddiqi

2) Put pressure on political systems

Aliya knows that many scientists would prefer to stay neutral in political debate. Yet in order for positive changes to occur, there is a pressing need to express an opinion. academics are more protected from political and corporate influence, and therefore have an obligation to go beyond the fundamentals and encourage critical thinking about how people view and use the world around them, and how it will influence future generations. We should all use any privilege we may have to stand up for what is right and advocate for changes to be made in our local communities.

Octopus by Aliya Siddiqi

3) Expand your knowledge

There is an endless supply of knowledge out there –most of it for free. Yet educating oneself is not often promoted in our misguided system, as knowledge does not necessarily make you rich. It does, however, empower individuals to the world a better place, and lead to much fuller, richer lives. Therefore, Aliya encourages everybody to read widely –and not just about the things you are interested in. Read about the things you like, sure, but also read about the things you don’t like. Try to understand things from as many different perspectives as possible, to think outside the matrix of society. Travel, and have constructive conversations with others, listen to what they have to teach you and share what you learned along your own journey. It’s okay to have disagreements, but it is important to gain empathy for other perspectives.

Question everything. Stay awake to the organized chaos. 

Aliya in her natural element (aka the ocean)

By Tiffany Dun

A Plastic Ocean: by Forbes

We are all aware of the COVID-19 pandemic at our doorsteps, but how educated are we on the plastic pandemic?  

Every day over 8 million pieces of plastic make their way into our ocean. In fact, by 2050 it is predicted that the number of plastics in the sea will outweigh the number of fish (1).

Predictions for 2050: By ZeroWaste Initiative

More than 100,000 marine animals and over 1 million seabirds die from ingesting plastics each year. Tiny pieces of microplastics (<5mm) accumulate in fish and up the food chain. Since humans are at the top of the food chain, we consume and are exposed to the greatest amount of plastic toxicity. One in every three fish caught for human consumption contains microplastics (2). So we poison ourselves, unknowingly, on our own dinner tables.

Microplastics in Seafood: By Javier Zayas

Yet despite all we know of the dangers of single-use plastics, we are failing to mitigate through significant individual or policy action. In 2020, plastic consumption and use has skyrocketed, as plastic management and reduction strategies have recently been postponed in the interest of human health (3). With the growing use of disposable personal protective equipment and a higher emphasis on take-away food options, researchers have already found a rapid increase in plastic waste globally (4).

“We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.”
― Terri Swearingen

Here at JCU, Moe Maki and I observed these effects here in Townsville, as we measured the differences in plastic pollution along the Strand and at Pallarenda beach throughout the years 2017-2020.

Unsurprisingly, the highest amounts of plastics were found in 2020 and around park benches, particularly as more people are having picnics and take-away foods rather than dining in. These findings reinforce the importance of plastic reduction and sustainability practices in spite of the new “normal.”

Today, 88% of the sea surface is polluted by plastic wastes (2). But here in Australia, we are privileged. We don’t necessarily see the impact all of our garbage has, which we export to other, poorer countries. These primarily third-world countries reap the consequences of our lavish lifestyles.

A Plastic Earth: By UNESCO Bangkok

In the sea, a great Pacific Garbage Patch lies off the west coast of the United States, and is around 1.6 million km²  -almost as big as Queensland (3). Here lies a gigantic island of rubbish, where a significant amount of human plastics accumulate due to the direction of the currents.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: By CBS

Here, plastics are the main source of our problems. Single-use containers and wrappers which we use for less than 30 seconds will go on to last hundreds of years in our oceans. Sea creatures are at risk of entanglement or disease when they encounter or ingest plastics.

Most Deadly Ocean Species: by BlueSave.org

Ultimately, while the human health crisis of COVID-19 requires full dedication, it is equally necessary to account for our environmental health. We only have one planet, and there is a pressing need for waste management policies to be enforced as soon as possible. Policies should prioritise prevention and overall reduction of single-use plastics.

Individually, we can also make a difference and be mindful of our own personal trail of plastics we are leaving. Think about what you use and the influence you are having on others. Remember that nothing is more important than our earth, our sky and our oceans.

Ego vs Eco: by Permatree.org

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
― Albert Einstein

(What’s a motto? -Nothing, what’s a motto with you?)

By Tiffany Dun

A Day’s End by Tiffany

The Ocean Monkeys firmly believe that life’s purpose lies within connecting with and elevating other humans. We can glean so much from one another -which is why we have decided to build this website and raise awareness of the wonderful happenings around the Townsville region.

Our lives hold a plethora of opportunities for those who seek them. We have observed that by having important connections, one can achieve almost anything.  

Therefore, our motto is connectedness.

Connectedness doesn’t necessarily just mean with other humans, but with all sentient beings. Humans, animals, plants, trees, rocks, even bananas, we are all made up of the same thing.

In fact, did you know that we are 99% genetically similar to monkeys? 80% similar to cows? We even share around 60% of our DNA with bananas.

“Within you lies the sun, the moon, the sky and all the wonders of this universe. The intelligence that created these wonders is the same force that created you.”

Robin Sharma

As humans we often forget that we are inextricably linked to our environment. We are linked within a food web, albeit at the top, but we rely on the energy of the earth around us for survival.

In particular, we are connected to the ocean. If you think about it, we are all sea creatures. We evolved from the sea to walk on land, and still, without the sea we would not be able to survive. In fact, we are not so different from our pelagic relatives. We rely on the ocean for many things – the oxygen we breath, the food we eat and the habitat we require. Imagine an Earth without the ocean, it would probably be desolate, and look a bit like Mars.

Naturally, we humanoids are drawn to the seas. The Ocean Monkeys certainly are, and if you are reading this, then it’s likely that you are one of us, too.

Sina on Water by Tiffany

Our motto is connectedness. And our vision is that if everybody lived in a way where we could reconnect with all life, then there wouldn’t be so much unhappiness in the world.

If you asked me what life’s purpose was, I would say it’s about finding connectedness and bringing it to life. It’s about discovering what you love and having the courage to do it, and bringing all beings together in this great, wonderful world.

By Tiffany Dun

Photograph on Film by Tiffany Dun

What does the perfect world look like?

Renewable energy drives entire countries. Each and every car is powered by solar and battery. In fact, every roof of every house is coated with a solar-powered paint.

Our countries aren’t run by single individuals, who are likely to only be around (and thus plan and envision for) a few years. Instead, parliament is run by a group of diverse and educated young individuals, who work together to make decisions with the interest of the people and the earth first.  

Children are taught to garden, to build with wood and metals and to cook in schools. In universities (which are free), students work on real-life and relevant projects which make a difference in their local communities. Students are taught to ask questions, and to live consciously.

All toilets and irrigation systems now use recycled water instead of fresh water. Every person brings their own bags and containers to the supermarkets when they need to restock their kitchens. Street lamps turn on only when they sense you coming and are dimmed when they aren’t needed.

The thing is, we have all of the technologies and capabilities of making this world a reality -today. Why is it that we live in a country so rich, yet we are so behind in catching onto the ideologies of green lifestyles?

In Iceland, 99% of energy is produced by hydropower and geothermal energy. Norway is similarly run with 98% of production coming from hydropower, wind and thermal energy.

Australia, unfortunately, is lagging severely behind. Today, just over 25% of our energy comes from renewable sources, with the main contributor to our energy still being coal.

Why are we so behind? What is taking us so long?

With a plethora of land and sun, you would think we would cover more area with solar panels. With a coastline enveloped by the ocean, you would think that we would harness the energy from the waves and tides.

Some good news: The cities of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide are now transitioning to 100% renewable energy. The rest of Australia still has a long swim ahead.

Photograph by Gina Karnisch

We are blessed to live in a world and a time where we have access to the masses. Through the internet, we have the capacity to reach and touch millions of lives.  

In our world, we don’t have to worry about feeding ourselves or our families. We don’t have to worry about finding shelter for the night -we have a plethora of time for other activities!

We, the educated class have every opportunity in the world. Knowledge comes perfectly skewered and handed to us on an internet platter. We even possess the freedom to express ourselves through language.

Thus, to most effectively harness our situation, (and in order to achieve happiness -as some psychologists would say), we should dedicate our time to some form of purpose, perhaps one even greater than us.

We owe it to ourselves. In fact, we owe it to the planet.

In this time of great decision, we hold every power to make a change in a positive direction. Either we speak up and take action now, or we sit back and watch our draconian, consumeristic administrators slowly hack down every last tree.

If not us, then who will it be?

If not now, then when?