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From landlubber to marine biologist

Yvette Barry, 06 Jul 2016.

Obsessed diver, sea slug guru, unlucky fisherman (of mainly toadfish):  meet marine biologist Dr David Harasti. He verifies many of the community sightings logged on Redmap in NSW. How did this landlubber from Canberra –  who spent his youth fishing for carp in lakes –  become a marine biologist and underwater photographer?

It started with koalas

David Harasti’s road to marine science began two decades ago and nowhere near saltwater. 

He studied environmental science at the University of Canberra with dreams of becoming a Park Ranger.

“It seemed like a glamourous job and I wanted to look after the cute and cuddly animals like koalas and kangaroos,” he says.

But near the end of his degree he plunged into his first SCUBA dive. 

That’s all it took.

He was hooked for life on the underwater world and decided to jump career boats. He nabbed a job straight out of university in the marine section of New South Wales’s Department of Environment.

Now, 20 years and 3000-plus dives on, the marine biologist has had a varied career from seahorse research and tagging turtles, to threatened species management and studying Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Photo above: Biologist David Harasti at work underwater.

Sea slugs and photography

Harasti has a particular soft spot for nudibranchs (sea slugs) and spends much personal dive-time exploring the ocean floor for new species and taking their pictures.

“I’ve discovered about 20 new species so far and have been fortunate enough to have one named after me (Okenia harasti)!” he says.

Photo above: Not many people get a sea slug named after them. This is Dr Dave Harasti's one called Okenia harastii.

The self-taught underwater photographer’s images of nudibranchs and fish are used in many scientific journals and books.

But Harasti’s fishing career has never quite reach such highlights: he’s trying to teach his young son to fish but only manages to snag toadies.

“I might know a fait bit about marine fish but I have to say I’m easily one of the worst fishermen,” he says.

“As I grew up in Canberra I spent a lot of time fishing for carp in local lakes and needless to say, my fishing experience growing up was pretty limited.”


Harasti is one of Redmap’s 80+ Verifying Scientists and reviews many of the sightings logged in NSW.

He says divers are in the water around Australia more than scientists are able to and can help collect information on their local seas. 

Check out Harasti’s two websites helping divers identify marine species on their dives:  The Marine Species Database,, and

Here are some of Harasti's favorite photos he loaded onto

These are some of David Harasti's favorite photos of marine life at


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