Improving the Eel Garden Dive Site

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I had no business diving on Saturday. I’ve been fighting off a cold which turned into sinusitis and a bronchial infection for over two weeks now. However, I could “pop” my ears after taking a 12-hour Sudafed, so I decided to have a go for a shallow dive. When I flipped over the side of Faded Glory  onto my back and sank about a meter before popping up again, I knew I’d made an error of judgement. However, as I was already in the water, I decided to grab my camera and see if I could get deep enough to do any good.

My ears cleared okay, but my entire head felt as if it was being squeezed in a vise. There  lot of cavities in your head that are supposed to be filled with air at normal atmospheric pressure – that’s you’re sinus cavities. When you’re congested, they don’t connect up right and you can’t equalise pressure between them. It hurts like billy-blue-blazes. I found if I went down only a half meter at a time, and kept equalising all the time, I could keep the pain manageable.

For you divers out there, keep in mind that I have over 2,000 dives, so I have a fairly good idea of what I can actually get away with. I was pushing the limits and taking a calculated risk that I wouldn’t rupture a blood vessel. Don’t try this at home. Just because I do stupid things doesn’t mean that we’re in a contest to see who can be the more stupid. Be the winner – stay safe!

Here you can see Richard Jones taking a depth measurement at the level of a stainless steel pin cast into the reef. We will attach a chain to it with a float about two meters below the surface. To that, we’ll attach a short rope with a ring in the end and a small surface float to mark it:When approaching for a dive, someone (appointed by the captain – ME) will dive over the side holding a moring line, run it through the ring, and then hand it up to another crew member to be tied off to hold the boat in position. This way we don’t have to drop anchor at dive sites. We are usually very careful to aviod damage, but sometimes it happens. Note that you can see Faded Glory’s  anchor lying in the sand just beyond him in the distance.

We gave up trying to get funding to put in permanent moorings at all of the popular dive sites. There are plenty of agencies who talk the talk about saving the reefs, but none that we’ve found who walk the walk. My advice, if someone approaches you in Madang about “saving our reefs” is to ask them to give you a list of active projects for which they are spending money to do something useful instead of just moaning about it. I’m fed up with aid agencies that show you the fancy brochures and web sites, but give you the blank stare when you ask for money to do something that will actually get the job done.

With my head pounding like a jackhammer, I descended to about six meters and discovered a fish that I’ve never seen before. I was lucky enough to get a couple of good shots of this Six-Spot Goby (Valenciennea sexguttata): Hey, this fish has six blue spots on each side. Shouldn’t it be a Twelve-Spot Goby? It’s not exactly gorgeous, but It’s a new one for me, so I say hurrah!

Here’s our beautiful little friends the Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  sparkling like jewels above the sandy bottom of The Eel Garden near Pig Island: There are both males and females there in that image along with a variety of other species. A typical “fish soup”.

You’ve seen the Nudibranch (Phyllidia varicosa)  here before, but not one this large, I don’t believe:This one couldn’t have hidden behind two golf balls. The colours are gorgeous. It looks like some kind of fancy candy.

This is a particularly nice shot of a Longfin Bannerfish (Heniochus acuminatus)  which I certainly did not think was going to be worth saving:It just flashed past me as I was clearing my ears for the hundredth time. I swung my camera around and pressed the shutter release in its general direction. When I checked the shot on the screen, I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t have gotten that good a shot normally if I’d spent all day trying. Sometimes the camera just does its job.

This is a funny little image of some arms of a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  sticking out of its hidey-hole:I don’t know what it was doing crammed down in there. It certainly isn’t any kind of normal behaviour that I’ve seen before. They are usually our where they can wave their arms about in the breeze.

Since Rich Jones was spotting for me, I knew that I’d get something special. He found this Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)  hiding down in a crevice:It was a devil of a shot to get. There was too little light and the flash just made it all garish and contrasty. I finally set the camera for a very tight aperture to get the best depth of field and backed off the flash power to its minimum setting. I was surprised to get anything at all, let alone the nice shot above.

There’s something going on the image above that puzzles me. There are far too many antennae in that image. There must be two shrimp in that hole. Where is the other one? It looks like it could be behind the visible one. I leave the reader to ponder that one.

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4 Responses to “Improving the Eel Garden Dive Site”

  1. Ali Says:

    Hey Jan,
    Good Job!
    We tried in vein to get Marine Parks here to replace a couple of float moorings outside the lagoon, at Lady Musgrave (Bunker Group Atoll Southern GBR)
    Parks removed the moorings some years ago and the resulting anchor damage has been devastating. Rangers and Parks are aware of the destruction, but informed us that they cannot afford to be sued by any irrate seafarers whose vessels may be dashed on the reef. Mmmmmm Insurance !!!!!!!!!
    We ended up putting down a “secret mooring peg” in order to have a secure and responsible point to tie up our tinnie when we visit the island. The only difference is that we are at risk of being fined for damaging the reef?
    “Money” ….The anchor of all destruction!

  2. MadDog Says:

    Ali, we’re both cursed and lucky. We’re cursed because nobody, including the government, has any real stake in saving the reefs. We’re simply not important enough. Strangely, for the same reason, it’s a blessing. There is no effective enforcement of any laws – it’s like the Wild West. So, we do as we please.

    A bunch of us dipped into our pockets a few years ago to have those stainless steel pins cemented into the reefs at the most popular dive sites. I think that there are about a dozen of them. Now all of the moorings have been stolen, so we have to go out and find the pins one-by-one and go out of pocket once again to put in mooring systems that won’t be pinched. It will involver getting wet to tie up, but we’re planning to get wet anyway!

    I can see how your problem is much more complicated than ours. Sometimes “civilisation” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

  3. Matthew Kalala Says:

    Hi Mangi Madang, I find your website extremely helpful especially to do with saving our reefs and marine life in general. I am a broadcaster with NBC Madang and I sometimes tell listeners to search your website for anything interesting about Madang,
    Keep up the good sense of humour. Naispla ya

  4. MadDog Says:

    Hey, Matthew, that’s way cool, man. I had no idea that I’m getting famous. Give me a ring or come by my office some time so we can meet and get to know each other. Maybe we can do some interviews. I’ll interview you for Madang – Ples Bilong Mi about your work and you can interview me about whatever you like.