The Late Mrs. Loisette Matilda Marsh AM.

Loisette was a long-term and well respected member of the WA Naturalists’ Club. She died peacefully at home with her daughter Jenny on 21st May, aged 92. Her funeral was held on 1st June at Karrakatta.

“To be known as a sea cucumber is questionable!” she once said. But her name has also gone down in the scientific names of a hermit crab, an anemone, a coral, a mollusc and a seastar. Loisette was a real pioneer of marine biology in WA, with a vast knowledge in that field and a world-wide reputation. Last year, along with Jane Fromont from the WA Museum, Loisette completed and published her Field Guide to Shallow Water Seastars of Australia, describing over 200 species – 60 years in the making.

Loisette was involved in many Club excursions over the years, especially at various sites along the coast, such as Cottesloe and Woodman Point. Some of these were snorkelling activities. Others were “beach sweeps”, in which flotsam was collected and then displayed on a tarpaulin according to its biological classification. Loisette always gave us – kids and adults – plenty of interesting information about the specimens we had seen underwater or collected from the beach. She also raised our ecological awareness with such things as the role of decomposing seaweed in providing nursery conditions for young fish, and the food chains involved.

Born in 1928 in British Columbia, she spent much of her childhood exploring the tidal pools near their home. After some years in Torquay, England, the family moved to Western Australia in 1938. Loisette had a great love of the sea and the outback. She developed a strong interest in photography, developing her own films. She gained a Master of Arts in Zoology in 1956 with a study of Cottesloe Reef, and in that year began SCUBA diving with her husband Brian. They moved to Norfolk Island in 1960 and then to Fiji in 1963, where she taught biology. Returning to Perth in 1968, she became a demonstrator at UWA and joined the WA Museum. Her work there involved hundreds of expeditions along the coast of WA, keeping meticulous notes, writing many scientific papers and building up the small coral collection at WAM to a very large and comprehensive collection. In 1976 she joined the Margaret River Conservation Farming Society and in 1983 moved to Cottesloe.

She retired in 1993 but continued her research projects. She helped Cottesloe Coastcare to lobby for protection of the Cottesloe reef, which was implemented in 2001. She contributed greatly to the knowledge of the fauna of the Western Australian reefs and helped to bring Marine Park status to Ningaloo. And then there was the completion of her Seastars book in 2020.

Her children Jenny and Peter say that she was a perfectionist who loved creating things, that she was adventurous, loved the arts and classical music and enjoyed camping and travel. They say that she never gave up on anything until it was physically impossible to continue. Loisette snorkelled in all weathers and was still snorkelling well into her eighties. She said about ageing: “Just ignore it and carry on”.

Mike Gregson