Author: Michelle Neil

Science Geek. Wife. Mum. #SciVol with @CSIRO. Play sax in 20 piece big band. Cook & artist in my *spare* time. @CitSciOz tweeter & Secretary. #scicomm

Elysia australis – The Elusive Australian

It was Sunday the 10th of February 2018. The day dawned a great deal cooler that the previous 40⁰C we had been experiencing in Adelaide that week. A small bus load of tired but happy delegates headed out to visit Aldinga Reef, home of one of ReefWatch SA’s longest running citizen science projects, on the final #CitSciOz18 Road Trip.

Approximately 40 minutes later we arrived at Aldinga Beach where we were met with light winds, sunny skies and our citizen scientist hosts; Neville Hudson and Thelma Bridle.

Hard rolled ball of seaweed at Aldinga Beach (pic: Michelle Neil)

After a brief chat we donned our old sneakers or aqua shoes and headed down the long winding raised path to the sand below. Once on the sand we marvelled at the hard rolled balls of seaweed on the beach before venturing out on the shifting sharp rocks of the reef.

On the way out to the ReefWatch SA monitoring site citizen scientist, Stuart Harris from Canberra stopped to take a look into one of the many rock pools. He thought he saw something interesting so grabbed his phone and his new Go Micro 60X microscope and started snapping a few pictures.  Thelma came over to see what Stuart had found and took a few as well for her own records and later verification.

We were all intrigued by this tiny white spotted green sea slug obviously trying to find food but no one was sure what it was. An ID was needed!

What have you found, Stuart? (pic: Michelle Neil)

(You can see the video on our Facebook page.  If you look very carefully you can even see the moment that Stuart spotted the Elysia australis.)

Elysia australis under the 60x (pic: Stuart Harris)

A week went by and I wondered what happed with the identification of that small green sea slug. I asked Stuart for a copy of the photo and sent it through to our ACSA National Coordinator, Amy Slocombe, to see if anyone at the Australian Museum could provide an ID.

A few hours later an email from Neville popped into my inbox:

“I am following up on your visit to our local reef at Aldinga Beach just over a week ago. One of your colleagues located a sea slug we had not found before. He photographed it with a telephoto lens attached to his telephone. Thelma Bridle, local volunteer, also took a photo and subsequently returned a day or so later and again found the slug. It did take her an hour of searching so this fellow is not common. It has been identified as Elysia australis. With this email find two photos; 0458 was taken when you were on the reef the other, 30461, was two days later. I think you will find the photos and the story behind this fellow interesting.”

30461 Pic (Thelma Bridle)

Intrigued I jumped over to the Atlas of Living Australia and typed in Elysia australis. Imagine my surprise to find there was only 7 listed records of the species in Australia – one of which was from one of our ACSA members, Libby Hepburn.  Yet none of those records appeared to be from South Australia!

Some of those 7 Australian records were quite old too:

I excitedly shared my research with Neville and Stuart. If the 2 sightings were uploaded into the Atlas then that would make more of this picture complete. You never know, it could be important!

I hadn’t found out much more about the species by this stage – only that they are found “throughout Australia” which to me seemed a bit vague and didn’t match what I was seeing on the ALA website. Although I did manage to find one page on the defunct Sea Slug Forum which at least had pictures!

Meanwhile I had received an email from Amy, our National Coordinator who had managed, via a colleague Dr Mandy Reid to get an identification. She kindly showed Stuart’s pictures to Dr Richard Willan, Senior Curator of Molluscs, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory who confirmed the sighting:

“According to Dr Wilan, Elysia australis is the commonly used species name for the native Australian sap-sucking sea slug and that it is already likely recorded from South Australia but overlooked because of its habitat (very high tidal rock pools).”

Neville shared my frustration:

“You asked if the Elysia australis is rare. This was something I wasn’t sure about. I had an information sheet Thelma had sent me and my reference books didn’t help me a lot. From the computer I noticed that there have only been 8 Living Atlas records noted. (I hope I have been reading the Living Atlas site correctly.) However, I went to another site; “Sea Slug Forum” and I found the question from Clare Norton 11th Sept 2000 below:

September 11, 2000

From: Clare Norton

I was wondering if you had a photo of Elysia australis? Also, I have heard that this species is found in rockpools around Sydney and Wollongong. If this is correct, I was wondering if you knew of any localities where they are likely to be found? I am interested because I have to do a project for uni about developing an experiment to sample E. australis. I don’t actually have to conduct the experiment but I have searched for them without success and it would greatly help me to design an experiment if I could actually observe some in the field.

Thanks for your time and help,

Clare Norton

Unfortunately the Sea Slug Forum, once affiliated with the Australian Museum no longer accept new posts as it was discontinued in 2010 according to Wikipedia. Both Neville and I were interested to note that the founder, Bill Rudman wrote:

“Since 1998 when the Forum began I see 14,523 messages have been posted. They range from simple identifications to important new biological discoveries. I had hoped the Forum would be an example of how the world wide web could be a vital tool in bringing amateurs and professional scientists together to learn from each other. I give my thanks to those in the Museum who have supported the site, to my professional colleagues worldwide and all those great and enthusiastic amateurs worldwide, who have made my dream a reality. Unfortunately I had thought this would become a permanent site. I will continue to try and resurrect the site as a functioning forum. If so it will have the same address.

Bill Rudman

Was the SeaSlug Forum an early citizen science project from the Australian Museum? It certainly appeared that way!

Since then Stuart has uploaded his sighting to the Atlas of Living Australia bringing the total up to 8 sightings.

Meanwhile I’m left wondering is the Australian Native Sap Sucking Sea Slug, Elysia australis, actually uncommon or just elusive?

0458 Pic (Thelma Bridle)

If sea slugs are your thing, you might want to check out the report from the first Melbourne Sea Slug Census, held 21-22 April 2018.

#CitSciOz18 – An Australian Story

By Michelle Neil

It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly two months since the 2nd Australian Citizen Science Association Conference, #CitSciOz18 in Adelaide, South Australia. For six days I was constantly on the go – averaging around 3-4 hours of sleep per night.

#CitSciOz18 featured international keynote speakers Dr. Caren Cooper and Amy Robinson Sterling, along with Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr. Alan Finkel and Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science 2017 co-recipient Dr. Emilie Ens.  The aim of the conference was to showcase best practice in citizen science and share project outcomes from across Australia and the world. Every continent of the world, except Antarctica was represented too. North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Africa were all there as well as our mates from “across the ditch”, New Zealand. 

Opened by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel spoke about how a German migrant planted citizen science in Australian and why it worked. This was followed by plenaries, short talks, long talks, a podcast with The Wholesome Show, a public talk with Dr Caren Cooper and Amy Robinson Sterling (and little old me), radio interviews, live streaming talks to the ACSA Facebook page and twitter, watching Crowd and the Cloud episode, networking, poster session, chairing a session myself on the Friday afternoon, early morning (4am!) bat catching and tagging near Adelaide Zoo, plus post-conference tours to see Echidna CSI, #greatkoalacount, Wild Orchid Watch (#WOW), ReefWatchSA, breakfasts with new friends and old, lunches, dinners, great food, awesome people, lots of laughs and, of course, relaxing at the local wineries! 

In fact there were there were over 120 talks, posters and workshops falling within the conference themes of  #EngagingCitizens (20), #EmpowerWithData (19), #ShowcasingOutcomes (16), #Partnerships (15), #FieldProjects (14), #SocialResearch (8), #Education (6) and #Communication (4).  The conference was also mentioned more than 2000 times over the three conference days on Twitter as well as Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.  

 Where did it start? 

The planning process for #CitSciOz18 started well over a year ago. One of the first things the Conference Committee decided on was to try and make the conference as sustainable as possible. Plastic pens were out. Backpacks were out. People have their own backpacks and pens after all. Conference “swag”* as it is usually called was out. We even vetoed keep cups – who doesn’t have a few of them lying around? 

Instead it was decided to do a bamboo pen and paper for the conference and, as an added bonus, a t-shirt for all our members. The t-shirts, designed by Ellie Downing and Amy Slocombe with input from the Conference Committee, were a huge hit.  Featuring the tools of citizen science these shirts will soon be available on the ACSA website for anyone to buy. Perhaps at our next conference we might make badges or patches delegates can sew on to the t-shirt? Let us know if we missed anything and perhaps that could be the first badge! 


The official Australian Citizen Science Association shirt – it’s all about the tools of citizen science! Have we missed any? Photo: Michelle Neil

What’s Next? 

Last week I received all of the conference talks via email – audio and video in one continuous stream from 4 different lecture spaces at the University of South Australia. It is probably the largest download my computer has ever had to do. My next job as the volunteer social media moderator for ACSA is to edit all of the 100+ hours of speeches into their individual talks and upload them on to the new ACSA YouTube channel for everyone to enjoy.  

In early May the Conference Committee will meet to go over the conference feedback, discuss what we could do better next time and also start the decision process for #CitSciOz20. We hope to make the next conference bigger and better. Want to tell us how we can do better or even what we did well? Drop us a line. Interested in going to #CitSciOz20? Sign up for the newsletter. We promise we don’t spam! 

If you would like to read more about #CitSciOz18 grab a cuppa and put your feet up to read my colleague Jessie Oliver’s fantastic blog here. I recommend it for a truly great read!  You can also look at the #CitSciOz18 Twitter Moments too! 

As one of our delegates, Phyll Bartram from Kangaroo Island Victor Harbour Dolphin Watch said:  

“Sounds like…Looks like…. Feels like….CitSciOz18! What a buzz!!!!!! 💛” 


*swag has another meaning in Australia as some of our overseas guests found out. In Australia it means bedroll or sleeping bag or to travel with one’s personal belongings in a bundle. I have since found out it was originally an economic term which stood for Silver, Wine, Art and Gold.  I learn something new every day with #CitizenScience! 

Michelle Neil is the Australian Citizen Science Association’s volunteer social media moderator. Having worked in analytical chemistry for over a decade Michelle finds herself in an interesting place – a scientist as well as a citizen scientist, with a passion for science communication. @michelle_neil