Au revoir, ReefHQ

reef HQ building noticeReef HQ Aquarium is about to close for a year for an extensive rebuilding project.

The whole structure is thirty years old and is looking tired; quite apart from that, its surrounding have changed: a building which was a great use of the site when it was shared by the Magnetic Island ferry terminal and the Omnimax theatre is now awkward, almost dysfunctional. The big reef and predator tanks will stay where they are, for obvious reasons, but everything else will move. It will take at least a year, and it starts in February.

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Sharks and forests

No, sharks don’t live in forests: I have two quick stories today, just sharing a couple of recent good-news stories associated with some really nice photos and videos.

First, forests: a 30-year feud between loggers and green groups in Tasmania ended late last month with a deal between the parties. More than 500,000 hectares of native Tasmanian forest will be protected from logging, while about 140,000 cubic metres of sawlogs will be made available to the timber industry. The agreement doesn’t give any group everything they wanted (which suggests to me that it was probably as fair a balance as we could hope for) but the mere fact that we have an agreement is worth something.

But the main reason I wanted to mention it here is that the Wilderness Society, who have been working for the protection of Tasmania’s wild forests for many years put together this amazing slideshow of the forests which will be saved. Do take a look – it’s beautiful.

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The Rainforest comes to the Aquarium

Reef HQ Aquarium has carried out some major projects recently. Some of them are still under way but I am happy to report the completion of the Rainforest Tree exhibit:

Rainforest tree exhibit
The Rainforest Tree exhibit, modelled after the trunk of a fig tree

One might ask why an aquarium celebrating the Great Barrier Reef should need a rainforest exhibit but the answer is fairly simple: the rainforest is all part of the same ecosystem, intimately linked through the water cycle. Rains fall on the hills, and the water drains through the rainforest, farmlands and mangroves to the coastal waters of the GBR lagoon. What happens to it on the way –  picking up sediments and nutrients, for instance – has immediate effects on the seagrass and corals, and on everything that lives on and amongst them. The aquarium has a lovely freshwater wetlands exhibit next to the tree with a mangrove exhibit not too far away to complete the sequence.

The three glass-fronted display cases contain (left to right) Green Tree Frogs, a Green Python and Red-eyed Tree Frogs. I have already posted a picture of the first of these – here – so here are the other two:

Red-eyed tree frog on branch
Red Eyed Tree Frog, Litoria chloris

Something funny about its eye? Read about the nictitating membrane.

Green Python
Green Python, Morelia viridis

The Green Tree Python is a beautiful creature and has pride of place in the exhibit. She isn’t as thrilled by that as the aquarium’s visitors are by her, being nocturnal by nature. However, she does often sleep where people can see her.

Green Tree Frogs – not always green

Reef HQ Aquarium has been building a rainforest display for the last few months and it has reached the stage at which animals are introduced. This one surprised me:

a very dark Green Tree Frog
Green – yes, really – Tree Frog, Litoria caerulea

The Green Tree Frog, Litoria caerulea, is very common around Townsville – indeed, all the wetter parts of Queensland – and it usually merits its common name. Here, for instance, is one in my garden:

Green Tree Frog
Green Tree Frog showing more normal colour

The Wikipedia article does say, ‘Its color depends on the temperature and colour of the environment, ranging from brown to green,’ and we often see examples with a dull olive-green coloration but the one in Reef HQ in a (so far) black and grey-brown setting is the most extreme I have seen.

More information: The home page will take you to all sorts of useful or fun stuff about frogs.

Greener computing: newsletters

As a member of several small clubs and societies, I (like many of my readers, I am sure) receive several newsletters every month, and as a newsletter editor myself I notice the presentation as well as the content. I see a gradual but inexorable trend towards newsletters which are both posted in hard copy via snail mail and sent via email, or have even gone all the way to online-only distribution.

As a conservationist (like many of my readers, I am sure), some of the emailed newsletters disappoint me. I’m sure their editors – well-meaning, under-appreciated folk one and all (like many of my readers, I am sure) – don’t realise that computing has a significant environmental footprint. That means, of course, that reducing the electronic size (the file size) of an emailed newsletter is worthwhile, saving carbon emissions just as an emailed newsletter saves trees and postie-bike emissions (as well as postage costs) in the first place.

How can we do it? What makes a ‘big’ file?

Saving a few test documents on your computer shows that words alone aren’t a problem. Twelve pages of text might become a 100-200 KB file – not big at all. Drop a photo into it, however, and file size explodes to perhaps 3 MB (that’s 3000 KB). Think, “Oh, a smaller photo will be okay,” and down-size the photo in Word and it will still be 3MB.

Oops! Why?

In a word, Word. By default, it saves the photo with the document at its original size, even when it shows and prints a much smaller version. If you’re foolhardy or a Word expert, you could dig down into its dialogue boxes to change that setting (look for “Compress Pictures”). Alternatively, and more reliably, you can re-size the photo before inserting it into your document. Use any basic image-editing software (Picasa is fine) and “save as” a new name so that you haven’t over-written your best-quality original.

How big does the photo need to be?

In the monthly newsletter I edit for Reef HQ Aquarium, my column is 7.6cm wide so I can simply set width=7.6cm. For an extra benefit we must look at “resolution”, which is how many pixels (dots) per inch (dpi), and save at the right width and the correct resolution. Glossy-magazine resolution is 300dpi, newspapers are more like 120dpi and computers have improved from a blurry 72dpi to around 96. More dots means a bigger file, and there’s no sense in printing anything people can’t actually see, so I have settled on 150dpi, which is better than screen resolution and just as good as the photocopier can achieve for the hard copies.

composite image at different resolutions
Reducing resolution from 300dpi to 150, 72 and (an extreme) 36dpi reduces this small picture’s file size from 140KB to 40, 16 and 12KB. The first change saves the most memory and is the least visible.

The composite image above isn’t necessarily at the stated resolutions any more although it does accurately represent the amount of change from one resolution to the next. This pdf is the same sequence of images at their original sizes.

Sending your newsletter as a Word file (.doc or .docx) can turn it into alphabet soup if the recipient’s computer doesn’t have your favourite fonts, and may even make it unreadable to anyone who hasn’t got the latest version of Word, so we should normally turn it into a pdf. In Windows, there’s one last tweak here: go to the preferences for saving pdf files and choose the “save at minimum size” option. The saving is smaller but worthwhile.

Using these strategies results in a newsletter of twelve A4 pages becoming a pdf of about 1000 – 1200 KB (1 to 1.2 MB). It would be between two and ten times that size with the same number of photos just dropped into the Word file and edited there – slower to send, slower to open, and burning up between two and ten times as much CO2 at every step for no visible benefit. Incidentally, the advantages of re-sizing your photos apply just as much to web pages: shrinking them to the right size and resolution will speed up page loading and save CO2 without any noticeable impact on the readers’ enjoyment.

A slightly different version of this article is due to appear in Waves, newsletter of the Reef HQ Volunteers Association, very shortly. Click here to download an earlier issue and see what it looks like … you might enjoy some of the articles, too.