Henry Leith and the Green Dragon

Posted in Under the Sea on January 15th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

No, I have not taken up writing children’s fantasy stories. A couple of days ago Anita, Wouter and I went diving at Wongat Island  on The Green Dragon  B-25 Mitchell bomber and the coastal freighter wreck, The Henry Leith.  It was an amazing day of diving, as the water in that area was as clear as I have seen it in over twenty years. Both wrecks could be clearly seen from the surface. Anita’s father, Jos, stayed on the boat most of the time, as he is pleased to do so. We all took some time while we waited for a safe period between dives to take a walk on the beautiful beach.

We started our day at The Green Dragon.  Here is an amusing shot of Wouter peering through one of the waist gun ports. There is an identical port on the opposite side of the fuselage. I stuck my camera through it and snapped Wouter as he shined his dive light around examining the ammunition feed chutes and other equipment scattered inside:

Under the port wing of the bomber there is always a mob of these fish. I should know the name of them, but it escapes me at the moment and my big fish book is at the office:I’m luxuriating in the glory of a 31.2KBS connection at my house. It took me only two years to get my phone line repaired by TELIKOM. We learn patience here in Madang – or we leave. We’re suffering another mass exodus of expatriates recently. Economic woes, lost contracts, fears of violence and a general dismay concerning the rapid deterioration of the cival infrastructure has caused many to abandon Paradise. It makes me sad to lose so many friends.

If you are a regular reader of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi you will be familiar with this scene. It is a Blue Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii)  fleeing in terror:Or, maybe not. If there were any sense to this situation, it should be the other way around. These creatures are remarkably tolerant to a close approach, as long as you do it slowly and don’t surprise it. If you put STINGRAY in the search box, you’ll find many other posts with images of this fascinating critter. We nearly always see one or two at The Henry Leith.

On the deck we found this juvenile Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):They are very easy to photograph, as they seldom move unless you actually poke them, but they are difficult to find. They normally lay in wait for a meal on a coral rubble background where they are extremely difficult to see.

Also on the deck, at the stern, we found this lovely juvenile Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans):The common name refers to its numbers not its appearance. They are commonly seen, since there are plenty of them. There is, however, nothing common about their form. They are beautiful beyond description.

At the end of the dive, while hanging near the anchor line waiting for my blood nitrogen to bubble out like a fizzy drink, I took this image of my air bubbles racing to meet the sun:If life gets to be any more enjoyable, I’m going to have to hire someone to take part of the load. I’m pretty well maxed out on pleasure.

Maybe it’s just a mood swing.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Henry Leith – A Ghost Ship

Posted in Under the Sea on November 1st, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

On Saturday, we motored up to Wongat Island  in our dive boat, Faded Glory.  There are two world-class dives there within a couple of hundred metres of each other. One is the B-25 Mitchell bomber, The Green Dragon.  The other is a scuttled cargo vessel, The Henry Leith.  Bob Halstead bought the wreck for K1.00 and sank it as a diving attraction. It’s beautifully preserved. I believe that a clever student could probably work up a Doctoral thesis in Marine Biology without ever leaving the thirty-four metre length of this beautiful ghost ship.

I have been stalking a critter for a good specimen shot for about ten years. It is very elusive and quite rare. Near Madang, The Henry Leith  is the only place that I can guarantee  that you might  see one. For now, I’ll call it the “Mystery Fish.” That’s because I want to see if anybody is paying attention. The first person to leave a comment with the correct common and taxonomic name of this fish, based only on this partial view, wins a prize. The prize is that you get to be first:

Mystery Fish - Leave a comment if you know what it is.Yes, I’m cheap. What did you expect, a Rolex?

In the next couple of days, I’ll be showing you the shots that I’ve been trying to get for over ten years.

Here’s another difficult fish to photograph. It’s commonly known as a Trumpet Fish, but you can call it Aulostomus chinensis  if you like:Trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis)They constantly try to hide from you in very curious ways. They assume odd positions. I was upside down with salt water gushing into my sinus cavities, nearly dying to sneeze, when I got this shot. UW photographers have to take risks for their prizes. You can see the railing of The Henry Leith  upside down at an odd angle. Possibly predators have difficulty matching memory-stored food images up with objects in the water if they are in unexpected configurations. That’s my utterly unscientific guess.

This is a lovely, snowflaky, starry coral which I am pretty sure is the Pipe Organ Coral (Tubipora musica). For once the taxonomic name makes sense, if you remember your High School Latin (yes, I am  that old):Pipe Organ Coral (Tubipora musica) [uncertain]I said that I’m pretty sure about the identification. There are quite a few corals that have a similar appearance. I forgot to look at the base of this one, so I’m thinking it may possibly be some Anthelia  species, which are very variable.

And now, would you care to venture a guess as to what this is? I bet that most people would be able to identify this as the eyes of a stingray which is hiding just beneath the sand.  This is why they are troublesome to divers. You often cannot see it easily until you have already frightened it and it escapes. That’s when the stinger is most likely to get you.Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii)As I approached this one he began to rise up slowly in preparation for flight:Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii)A second after this shot, there was nothing left in the camera frame but swirling sand.

SITE NOTES: I’m hoping that you will find that Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  is loading much faster. I’ve reduced the eqo-stroking clutter in the side bar – the locations of our visitors and a visitor live feed. I’ve also dumped a few plugins that made calls to third-party sites and slowed things down. There are now seven pages on HOME instead of fifteen. I hope that this improves the experience for everyone. I’m also not bothering to link to every phrase or word on which I have posted before. I know that I’m supposed to do that to keep people from drifting off to some other site. However, for dedicated readers wanting to see what else I’ve written before on a given subject, use the Search box, or click on the title of the post that you want to read and you will get a “single” page with that post and up to seven related posts listed beneath. Remember also that you can “Click a Tag” in the sidebar to see all posts to which I have added that tag.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Our Reefs – Our Life – for Our Way

Posted in Opinions, Under the Sea on October 1st, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

I just submitted an article to Our Way,  the in-flight magazine of Airlines PNG with the title Our Reefs – Our Life.  It addresses the issue of “The Other Carbon Dioxide Problem” that is gradually sneaking into the news. Today, I’ll give you a (very) condensed version of the article and show you the fifteen images that go with it. Sorry if it seems a little disjointed. I just jerked out whole sections of text to make it short enough for a readable post. The original ran about 1,600 words.  [please read the UPDATE at the end of the post]

Covering more than 5.4 million square kilometres of the Southwest Pacific, one percent of the Earth‘s surface, the Coral Triangle extends from Indonesia in the west to the Solomon Islands in the east and the Philippines in the north. It contains more than 3,000 species of fish. More than 600 species of reef-building coral, seventy-five percent of all coral species on Earth, abide here.

The hottest debate involves the complex issue of the Carbon Cycle. Carbon dioxide combines with water to form carbonic acid. This happens as rain falls through the atmosphere. You can perform a simple experiment in your kitchen to understand why this is important. Fill a glass half full of water and add a few spoons of vinegar. Vinegar is acidic. It will be your substitute for the carbon dioxide dissolved in the ocean water. Drop a small sea shell into the glass. When you come back in a few hours you will see bubbles forming on the sea shell and rising to the surface of the water. These bubbles are carbon dioxide.

The animal that once inhabited the sea shell worked very hard to build its house by extracting carbon from the sea water to form calcium carbonate, one of the primary structural materials of the ocean. If you had put the sea shell in plain water, nothing would have happened. However, because the water is acidic, it is reversing the building process by pulling the carbon away from the calcium carbonate, combining it once again with oxygen, and releasing it again into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Research has disclosed that in the past 250 years the oceans have absorbed about 530 billion tonnes of excess carbon dioxide, triggering a thirty percent increase in ocean acidity.

The acidity of the oceans remained relatively constant over the last 20 million years. Projections now indicate that ocean acidity will double by the year 2100. Go back to your kitchen and try that little experiment again using twice as much vinegar.

A healthy ocean takes huge quantities of carbon dioxide out of the air and puts it safely on the bottom. As free-swimming creatures die, their remains, containing carbon absorbed from the atmosphere, sink to the depths and are effectively removed from the cycle until tectonic movements subduct them under plates and spew them out of volcanoes again as fresh carbon dioxide. This recycling of carbon takes hundreds of millions of years.

The other important carbon sequestration action of the ocean occurs when creatures use carbon as one of the primary building materials of coral reefs. The effect is the same. Carbon dioxide is removed from our atmosphere and put somewhere more useful and less harmful. An ocean that is too acidic not only cannot play its role in the Carbon Cycle by putting carbon in a safe place, but instead releases yet more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere because of the release of the gas as you saw in the experiment.

A more immediate danger is that the very ability of sea life to reproduce and grow properly is seriously impaired by the increased acidity. Researchers are now finding many more examples of the ways in which ocean life will be stunted and diminished by the increased acidity. Doomsayers predict dead oceans. Dead oceans mean a dead planet.

Atmospheric contamination by the effects of man’s continuing efforts to consume the entire planet are global, but here in Madang, as in countless other places around the world, our life-giving reefs are threatened by local sources of poison. Even as you read this, a debate rages in Madang between the conservation-minded and commercial interests, in the form of a mining company, concerning the relative safety of dumping tailings into Astrolabe Bay, our cradle of life.

The mining company reports that the depth at which the massive quantities of intensely poisonous heavy metals and other noxious substances are dumped is safe because it is below the layer at which surface waters and deep waters mix. Other reports say the opposite. The point is that the killing substances are going into the ocean. It matters little, over the long term, how deep.

To this writer, the debate itself seems insane. The idea of dumping any poisons anywhere into the oceans that sustain life on our planet seems to be madness and those desiring to do it in the name of profit and those governments allowing it need to be called upon to explain and justify such action. UPDATE: Recent reports on safe submarine tailings disposals and the specific plans for this case seem to me to support the position that there will be no significant environmental damage. Not being a scientist, I can only accept that the current plan is acceptable, considering and balancing the desparate need for development.

As individuals, we concern ourselves with our own futures and those of our children, their children, and future generations. Corporations and, apparently, governments have little concern for the distant future. Can we trust those whose primary concern is the presentation of the next annual report at a stockholders’ meeting or the next governmental election to have the future of our grandchildren at the top of their agendas? Let them prove to us that they are trustworthy.

History shows us clearly that we have the power, as collectives of like-minded and concerned individuals utilising the tools of our democracy in a peacefull manner, to force sweeping changes of policy. Does the name Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ring a bell? We can take back control of our future.

Do we care enough? Are we brave enough to do so?

Well, that’s about half of what I wrote. You’ve seen many of these images already on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi:

Goodbye and thanks for all the fish.

UPDATE: My good friend Kyle Harris emailed me in time to keep me from making a fool of myself. I’ll have to do a bit of rewriting before the article is published. The oceans are not, in any way acidic, nor are they likely to be in the near future. On the scale that science uses (the pH scale), where water is neutral, the oceans are alkaline, not acidic. I know this, of course, but my article, as written, makes a dog’s breakfast of it. I should be saying that the ocean is becomming more acidic in the sense that it is less alkaline – it’s moving towards neutral. Since ocean life is used to the alkalinity, the move towards neutral (less alkaline – more acidic) requires that they adapt or die. If the move is too fast, then adaptiation is not possible – there’s just not enough time. I also need to make it clear that the vinegar demonstration is completely unscientific – it’s just a trick. Kyle mentioned studies that indicate that the oceans will not likely reach neutral (pH 7) and move onto the acidic side of the pH scale until about 2200. You’ll have to wait longer than that to see seashells bubbling carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Though I have no defense, and Kyle is absolutely right, I’ll mention that I just Googled “more acidic” and ocean and got 56.000 hits. Aparantly I’m not the only one using the term.

This teaches me a lesson. When I’m dealing with a complex subject, oversimplification is worse that not saying anythign at all. Thanks, Kyle.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stingray Magic

Posted in Under the Sea on September 6th, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

On Saturday morning we motored in Faded Glory  up to Wongat Island  to dive The Henry Leith.  It is a favored spot for stingray watching. The most common type of stingray in the local waters is the Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii).

The trick is to sneak up on them from behind, holding your breath as much as possible and catch them before they get nervous and take off. Often, you will see only their eyes protruding from the sand in which they have buried themselves. It is easy to glide right over one without noticing, which is probably the worst thing that you can do. This one is just taking off after letting me get close enough to get a good shot of him:

Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii) taking off

Now the stingray glides to a spot a few metres away where it feels more safe. This one is headed right into a school of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello),  but they are no threat to the stingray (or me):

Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii) fleeing

When the stingray has gotten far enough away, it settles down onto the sand again:

Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii) landing

It’s fun to chase them around the wreck. Since the water is only about 20 metres here, you can spend about an hour doing it, unless it gets boring. In that case you have the entire wreck to explore while you finish your dive.

This image is not particularly good, but you can see the Pickhandle Barracuda from directly overhead in the shadow of The Henry Leith:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)

There are plenty of potentially dangerous critters in the waters in which we dive, including some rather comical ones. However, we are careful and know what is safe and what is not. It is part of the magic of diving that there is risk. When the risks are considered and dealt with correctly, the risks themselves add to the enjoyment.

Tags: , , , ,

Have Some Fish – Catching Up

Posted in Under the Sea on August 7th, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Since Friday morning, I’ve been working solid until my eyes are blurry on images for two magazine articles. They are both about the East Indies Triangle, the most heavily speciated marine environment on the planet. Madang is in the heart of it. You may have seen some of the images that I’ll be showing you for the next few days, but all of them have been reworked extensively for publishing, so they will all look different, even if you’ve seen them before.

Here’s the Banded Sea Krait, which has appeared a couple of times on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi:

Banded Sea Krait - head detail

This is an egg-laying snake, so it must come onto land to deposit its eggs. I once came across one that had been run over by a car. I took it home and removed the skin. It now hangs in my office. It is missing about 30cm of its original length. You can see that they become quite long as adults:

Banded Sea Krait skin

This is a Bulb Anemone that you have seen before. I reworked the colours to appear more as I saw them with my eyes:

Bulb Anemone

Since I never get tired of seeing bright blue starfish that look like kids’ toys made in Japan, here’s one on which to feast your eyes:

Blue Starfish

It looks silly, doesn’t it?

You’ve seen this shot of a Blue-Spotted Stingray before, but it has been extensively reworked for magazine publication:

Blue Spotted_stingray

It’s one of the best full-length shots of a stingray that I’ve yet managed.

Finally, here’s a spunky Clark’s Anemonefish getting ready to attack me. I was bitten several times by this little fellow. They seldom draw blood, but their tiny little teeth get your attention very quickly:

Curious Anemonefish

It’s time to do some work for pay. I hope to find a few minutes to do another post and post-date it, as I have done with this one, so that my calendar has no holes in it.

Yes, I know that that is called cheating. Sue me.

Tags: , , , ,

Rainy Day – Barracuda Point

Posted in Under the Sea on February 9th, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

When I got up on Saturday morning and heard the rain on the metal roof of our house, I knew all was not well. We seem to be curiously blessed with an abundance of sunny Saturdays – even during the rainy season, of which we are in the middle.

I left my gear at home and went over to the dock to see if anybody would show up for a dive. A couple of hardy friends did show up, so we were off to Barracuda Point at Pig Island to check the conditions.

A current was raging. Since there were only two of us diving, we decided to swim for it.

At first, there didn’t seem to be much to see. All the fish were elsewhere. I fiddled with some bubbles and a Semperina fan coral:
Bubbles rising through a fan coralGetting into the coral now, I shot this image of an Acabaria fan coral. If you click to enlarge, you can see the individual polyps:

Fan Coral

This Ctenocella coral is a beautiful red colour and sways grasslike in the current:

Ctenocella Coral

I don’t know the identity of this sponge, but it is an example of how we often see one sponge growing on another. The tan coloured sponge appears to have a red encrusting sponge growing on parts of its surface:

Sponge with another sponge encrusting it?

Finally, some fish life! This baby Blue-Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii) was hiding under a ledge. He is only about the size of a dinner plate:

Blue-Spotted Stingray - Dasyatis kuhlii

I caught these Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus) hiding in their favourite coral (Seriatopora hystrix):

Reticulated dascylusHere is a YouTube shot of the Dascyllus reticulatus swimming around a Acropora hyacinthus (I think!) coral:
The video quality is not as good as the original. I’m still trying to figure out how to get the best quality on YouTube. You can get the idea, anyway.

Finally, here is another shot of a White Bonnet Anemonefish (Amphiprion_leucokranos):

White Bonnet Anemonefish (Amphiprion leucokranos)In approximately 2,000 dives in the area, this is only the second time that I have seen this species.  Given that all Anemonefish have a free-floating larval stage that must find an anemone in order to survive, it isn’t surprising that they may suddenly appear in places where they were not previously found.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Arm’s Length Friends

Posted in Under the Sea on October 21st, 2008 by MadDog
No Gravatar

A couple of days ago I showed you a few of my fishy friends. Today, I’ll show you the ones that cannot always be trusted. You know the kind I mean. Imagine being Tony Soprano’s next-door neighbour.

Our first unsavoury pal is the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis). It is a camouflage expert. Consequently, it is very difficult to see. I’ve blurred the background in this photo to make the fish more visible. As do all the scorpionfish, it has poisonous spines in the dorsal fin. If you put your hand down on one of these fellows, you would be in a great deal of pain immediately:

Papuan Scorpionfish

Often the first thing that one will see of a scorpionfish is its eye. It is the only regular shape on the entire body and therefore stands out as if it were a traffic signal.

Here is another fish for which the sting is the thing. This is the Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans). Though the stinging apparatus is similar, you will have no trouble at all spotting this critter:

Common Lionfish

The scorpionfish and lionfish are interesting, but not very scary. Let’s move on to something more Soprano-like. This character seems peaceful enough until you start fooling around in his back yard. Meet the Giant Moray (Gymnothorax javanicus):

The Giant Moray

The menacing looking character above was in a hole near Pig Island. I spent about fifteen minutes photographing him. I never felt threatened, though maybe he did. If I would get too close, he would simply pull back into his hidey-hole. Most of the time the mouth was only moving open and shut a little as it pumped water through its gills. However, a couple of times it really showed me its teeth. Very pretty – must have a good dentist.

Getting back to sting from teeth, we have the Blue Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii). I trapped this individual in a little cave and snapped away. I say that I trapped him, but to be honest, he could have left any time he wished. I wasn’t about to try to stop him. The eyes remind me of a goat’s eyes:

Blue Spotted Stingray

 I’ve shown you the Blue Spotted Stingray before here, and here.

Let’s have a look at a fish that has a bad reputation. While populations of Barracuda elsewhere may be obnoxious, the species in this area of the world are pussycats. Here is the Blackfin Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie):

Blackfin Barracuda

The slim, barred fish are the barracuda. The stubby football shaped fish are Bigeye Trevally. They often school together.

I have, on many occasions, finned on my back under a mob of these and gently stroked a belly or two. They will take it for a couple of seconds and then twitch away from the touch. Sometimes they come back for more. It must feel like being petted by an alien.

Last, but by no means least we have the Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrine). Most people already know that it has one of the most powerful venoms on the planet. This is true. Most people also know that its mouth is too small to bite you. This is most definitely not true. Many people die every year from Sea Snake bites – mostly fishermen clearing them from their nets.

I have been very close to these snakes and never even had one seem to notice me. Here’s one at a comfortable distance:

Banded Sea Snake at a distance

And, here’s one at a somewhat less comfortable distance:

Banded Sea Snake up close and personal

The main thing to remember is that they are generally not aggressive, but simply go about their business. Part of their business, however, is breathing. That’s why you do not want to hover over one while you’re watching it. Stay to the side so that when the snake surfaces to breathe, you won’t both be frightened out of your collective wits.

And remember what your mama told you, “Don’t play with snakes and spiders.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,