Massive Coral Bleaching at Planet Rock

Posted in Under the Sea on March 7th, 2011 by MadDog
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On Saturday I had my last dive in Madang for several months. We went out to Planet Rock  in Astrolabe Bay.  I had not been there since October of last year. Fortunately I’m feeling much better than I was then. I distinctly remember feeling suicidal on that dive. Things are greatly improved since then. Life could get interesting, so I’m happy to stick around for a while. I still have important work which provides me with a living and I have many other good things in my life. I’m coming around. I’m on my way to adventure for several months starting in two more days. All this is good news.

What is definitely not good news is the massive coral bleaching that is happening all up and down the coast near Madang. I’m not an expert on anything, but I think that I can safely say that the episode is caused by the rise of local water temperature.

I can remember when the average water temperature on a dive to twenty metres was about 27 or 28 ° C. Now it is more like 30 or 31. This is certainly enough to trigger coral bleaching on a long-term basis. If bleaching episodes last long enough, the coral dies completely and the reef becomes broken rubble in short order. New coral growths have a hard time establishing themselves on rubble, because it is not a solid foundation. As soon as a new colony begins to grow, the bit of rubble is disturbed by wave action caused by storms and the colony is dislodged.

Here is a large plate coral which looks to me as if it will soon be rubble.

Nearly this entire colony is affected to some extent.

Here is a close up of another type of coral which will most likely not recover. It’s difficult to tell without specialised knowledge whether or not the coral polyps will survive. To me, it appears that these are empty shells.

It looks bad enough up close.

It looks even worse from a distance.

This patch of dead or dying coral is about a hundred metres long.

Here is another badly bleached area about fifty metres wide.

All around the top of the rock we saw hundreds of patches of bleached coral during a forty-five minute dive. I would say that this is an increase of about fifty times as much dying coral over any cases which I have seen before. It is very worrisome.

We did not spend the entire dive surveying dead coral. Rich Jones found this little octopus in a hole.

It is devilishly difficult to photograph something back in a hole. You simply cannot jam in enough light for a decent exposure back in the hole without overexposing the coral which is surrounding it. In the shot above you can see one of the legs and the eye.

The octopus had captured a shell occupied by a hermit crab and it was busy trying to extract it for lunch when we came along. I pulled the shell from its tentacles so get the picture above.

Then I was faced with an ethical dilemma. Do I turn the hermit crab back over to the tender mercies of the octopus to suffer its natural fate and allow the octopus to enjoy its rightful meal or do I carry the shell a few metres away and drop it, giving the hermit crab a new lease on life, but leaving the octopus hungry?

I decided to put things back the way we found them and let nature take its course.

But I did feel bad for the hermit crab.

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More Coral and Flatworms – Ho-hum

Posted in Under the Sea on January 25th, 2011 by MadDog
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A week ago I would have bet against a long delay until my next post. That was before I remembered that I would have a house guest for the week. To further delay me, PNG Power arranged a splendid display of incompetence by switching the power on and off over nearly the entire weekend. My dinky UPS was not up to the task. When It got to the point at which I could not safely shut down my computer before the UPS gave up with a shriek, I decided that I could use a break anyway.

Today I’ll show a few more coral and flatworm images from our dive on the wall at Blueblood.

I looked through my pitifully inadequate marine invertebrates reference book for this coral without success:Likewise, this specimen escaped the attention of my book:I’ve found the web virtually useless for identifying organisms. Give me a big, fat book anytime. Once I have narrowed down the possibilities by leafing through the pages and scanning the images quickly with my calibrated eyeballs, I can pretty quickly determine what it is, or at least that my book doesn’t have it.

Pretty much the same thing applies to flatworms, such as this little beauty:It’s easy to identify which of the items here is the flatworm. It’s flat. In fact, they are so flat that they remind me of the creatures inhabiting a bizarre two-dimensional world which sprang from the mind of the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott in his novel Flatland written in 1884. The work was  a not-so-subtle dig at certain aspects of Victorian society.

And here is a junior Flatlander:

This is an infant version of the previous one. This one was only about five millimeters long. You may note that the image looks a bit grainy. This is because of the digital noise from the sensor. I had very little light here, so I had to push the sensor up to ISO 400. On the Canon G11, this is the threshold at which noise becomes a problem. This was made worse because I had to take only a portion of the frame, since the critter was so small.

Here is another denizen of Flatland:

In this shot you can see the fault with the flash arrangement on the Canon G11 factory underwater housing. If you get too close with a macro shot and need to use the built-in flash you will find that the lens portion of the housing casts a shadow on the lower part of the image. You can see evidence of that here in the blue cast in the bottom portion.

I’ll finish with a couple of more unidentified coral images:

There’s a spiky one.

I don’t know how to describe this one:

A princess castle under the sea? Okay, I’m reaching now.

The headstone for Eunie’s grave should arrive from Australia this week. I’ll be contacting my friend Shane at Lae Builders to find out how quickly he can construct a cement monument suitable to hold the headtone. Taking care of Eunie’s resting place is something which I must see to before I leave for Australia and North America hopefully before the middle of March.

I wish that I could overcome the anxiety which I feel when I think of planning my trip. I know from experience that I will be okay once I get on the plane out of Madang. It’s always the same. However, the planning for this journey is going to be very tricky. I have some very important things to do. My future welfare will depend on the results of my efforts in ways which are new in my life.

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Flatworms and Ice Spikes – Yikes!

Posted in Under the Sea on January 14th, 2011 by MadDog
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I can remember seeing ice spikes before, but I never had an opportunity to capture a photograph of one. A few days ago I opened the freezer door to get some ice and I got a surprise also. One of the cubes was topped by a perfect little ice spike. Here it is:

I’ve read that the purity of the water is a key factor in the formation of ice spikes. My water here at home is all rainwater which is stored in a big cement tank under my front porch. I suppose it is relatively pure, as there would be no dissolved minerals as are found in ground water. The spikes form when the water is freezing. If conditions are just right, they grow in the final stage of cube formation. Since water is one of those rare and peculiar substances which actually expand when freezing instead of contracting, the little bit of water that is finally freezing keeps expanding and the only place it has to go is up.

I’ll show you a few shots from our dive up on the wall at Blue Blood last Sunday. It was Flatworm Day, but I’ll get to them later. While we’re on the subject of strange looking things, here is a Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinosa):

These look like balloons, but they feel like . . . nothing! They are so incredibly delicate that I don’t see how they survive. If you fiddle with the polyps they contract and leave a razor-like skeleton exposed.

Here is one of the many flatworms which we saw. I have never seen so many individuals and so many different species in one place. It’s a little hopeless for me to look up the species name, so I won’t bother:

I’ll be showing images of the other species which we found over the next few days.

This coral shot has a wealth of detail in it. It’s worth a click to see the delicate structure:

I’ve uploaded it at a larger than usual resolution so that it can make a good desktop background.

This is one of the largest colonies of this reddish coral that I have seen:

Finally, I’ll throw in a Flabelina  genus nudibranch. This is one of the better shots that I have of these. They are only about 30 mm long, so it’s difficult to get a really good close up:I don’t know where this depression is going. There seems to be no bottom. At least I’m still mostly functional. I get up and go to work except on days when I’ve notified the office staff that I have something else going on or I have urgent personal things to which I must attend. I socialise, I write. In short, to outward appearances I seem to be relatively normal. Inside smoulders a train wreck. In this heap of rubble the fire is spreading. I’m still rejecting drugs, because I still believe I can manage without and I don’t want to trade what I think is a manageable situation for one which lasts for an indeterminate length of time and may or may not help me. Furthermore, at the end of any treatment, I’d be left with the problem of getting off the drug. This can sometimes cause its own problems.

Even as bad as I feel now, as I look back over the last four months I have to acknowledge that I can mark progress month by month. Some of it is very significant progress. I’m sleeping much more easily and the nightmares have relented. The panics have receded into the dark corners. I sometimes feel those cold fingers reaching out, but they no longer pull me to the floor. Social gatherings have become easier to tolerate and I can sometimes feel good for an entire evening. Suicide no longer seems like an option. That’s a lot of improvement.

My friend Alison Raynor just suggested to me that I should start concentrating on how much I’m going to enjoy my trip to Australia. I think that’s good advice.

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More Salty Goodness from Leper Island

Posted in Under the Sea on January 10th, 2011 by MadDog
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I’m now one dive behind. Our last Leper Island  dive was some time ago. Yesterday, which was Sunday, we did a dive on the wall up at Blue Blood in a spot where I had not been before. I’ll be showing some images of the incredible variety of flatworms we found there. That’s for later. Today, I’ll show some more shots from the Leper Island  dive.

With the help of friends beginning on Friday evening, I managed to keep myself distracted over the weekend – Friday at the Country Club for a very difficult quiz, Saturday on Sanguma,  with Rich Jones and Jenn Miller and Sunday up at Blueblood with a group of friends. Distraction was particularly important to me, as Saturday marked four months since Eunie’s death and I desperately needed to avoid deepening my depression by brooding on it over the weekend.

I imagine that distraction is important to anyone suffering from severe reactive depression. I’ve been depressed for longer periods of time – this episode is in its sixth month and is pushing me closer to the edge than I have ever been. I’ve never before suffered depression so profoundly disabling. It is very scary. There is no aspect of life left untouched by it. It drags down every joy and leaves its ugly traces in every dark corner of the mind.

Strange as it may be, I’ve experienced some significant comfort from a friendship with someone who is equally depressed for other reasons. Comparing notes and discussing symptoms and coping strategies has been very helpful to both of us. The most valuable thing for us, however, has been to have someone to talk to who understands exactly the feelings which are so troubling, someone who is experiencing them at the same time. There is great value in speaking the with the same vocabulary and sharing the same emotions.

Again, a blessing.

On to the pictures.

You’ve seen the Sailor’s Eyeball (Valonia ventricosa)  many times here:

This is a particularly nice one. Repeating myself as usual, I’ll mention that this is the largest single celled organism on the planet. It’s an algae. The skin is like tough plastic and transparent. It’s full of green fluid.

Here is an image of a plate coral that is clearly dying. You are looking straight down on the colony:

Everything below the white line is dead. The white line shows where the symbiotic protozoans have either died or been expelled from the polyps. Above the white line, the coral appears more or less healthy.

Here is a starfish which has lost part of a leg to a predator. It has begun to grow back, but it appears comically small:

It will continue to lengthen and thicken until it matches up with the rest of the previously stubby leg.

Here is a coral garden shot with a big colony which brings to mind a mountain covered by rice paddies:

I enjoy trying to make these little reef scenes appear to you as close as I can get to what I saw with my own ancient eyes. It is a pleasant distraction with some minor purpose. It is infinitely better than watching the television set, an addiction to which I have not been able to put aside. Distractions . . . Blessing or curse? I suppose it depends on the nature of the distraction, eh?

Here’s another reef scene with a spiky coral:

I saved the best for last, hoping to end up with something a little more flashy. Here are a couple of Nemo wannabes for your amusement. Specifically, they are Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula)  hovering in the protection of their beautiful Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica):

The colours are not natural due to my use of flash, which puts artificial sunlight where it never shines. Still, it does make a pretty picture.

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Leper Island Curiosities

Posted in Under the Sea on January 7th, 2011 by MadDog
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The diving has been sporadic over the holidays. People were off cavorting elsewhere and I was hiding out. Now things will hopefully be returning to something resembling normality, me being one of those things. I’ve picked out some of the more interesting images from our last dive at Leper Island  to display here this evening. Fish seem to be more and more difficult to chase. I don’t think the fish have changed. It’s me. Though it seems impossible, I am becoming even more lazy. Let the fish come to me.

Corals don’t move around much, in fact, not at all. They provide easy fodder for my hungry lens. I’m particularly on the lookout for colourful specimens. Part of my laziness is demonstrated by my lack of attention to species names. I’ve decided that they are not so important after all. All that they do for me is provide lots of Google hits. Let the colours speak for themselves and we’ll stick with generic names such as “coral” and “sponge” and so on. This coral is strutting its stuff in a most flamboyant manner:

One might suspect that I’ve fiddled with the colours in this shot. While that’s true, it was minor fiddling, mere accentuation. I might be forgiven for that.

This coral is altogether different from the previous one. While the former was flashy, this specimen is so subtle that one might not appreciate it at a distance:

Ah, but up close it is a different story:

The violet colour sprinkled with great care across the tops of the colonies is exquisite. I don’t know what it is and I have not seen it before. I’m happy for it to remain a mystery. We need our mysteries, eh?

Well, I’m tired of coral all ready. Restless, that’s what I am. How about a sponge? This one is outrageous:

Yes it really is that bright. I often wonder if these colours have any purpose. But, then again, I often wonder about a lot of things.

Now here is something which one doesn’t see every day. Dive buddy Rich Jones spotted these two nudibranchs presumably doing what comes naturally:

It’s worth a click on the image to see the clarity that is possible from a cheap underwater outfit such as my Canon G11. Passable stuff for an amateur on a budget. I could never get images such as this when I was shooting on film.

I cropped the shot down and used a Photoshop trick of repeatedly enlarging the image by 110% until it is about four or five times as large. It can then be sharpened to make it appear as if the shot were taken at an impossibly close distance. It’s now possible to see what they are doing. Well, not exactly. It’s just a jumble of miscellaneous spindly bits:

Never mind. It’s a private party, anyway.

Tomorrow marks four months since Eunie departed from Brisbane to claim her reward. Kindly people ask me almost daily, “How are you doing.” That’s a good question. I wish I had an answer. All in all, I suppose that I’m doing, as they say, better than expected. In fact, I am doing considerably better than I expected and I don’t fully understand why. For a while there I wasn’t sure if I’d be around to welcome 2011. I’m sure that I am being cared for by my creator. If I didn’t believe that, I simply wouldn’t bother. Wasting away seems to be a popular alternative. However, over and above the care from above, I’ve also gotten huge attention and love from my friends. Moreover, giving credit where it’s due, I’m coming to realise that my survival is largely due to whatever minuscule amounts of common sense and wisdom which I absorbed from my dear wife over the course of nearly a half century. That’s a lot of training. Even for someone as slow as I it was bound to be helpful when things got rough. Thanks again, babe.

I must end my hermit episode. People will give up on me if I don’t make an effort. Tonight they are having some kind of quiz thing at the Madang Country Club. Though I’m not a member, Rich will sign me in as a guest. I think I’ll venture out. I wonder if anything has changed?

Anything could happen.

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Weird Light – Dallman Passage

Posted in Under the Sea on January 3rd, 2011 by MadDog
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It’s a new year. I have my work cut out for me. Most of the horribly unpleasant chores which were generated by Eunie’s illness and subsequent death have now been disposed of by a mixture of desperate prayer and grim determination. Some things are improving. I’m marking 2011 as The Year of Rehabilitation.

As one friend recently pointed out to me, 2011 is also the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese Zodiac. I give absolutely no credence to anything vaguely astrological (as opposed to astronomy, in which I am very interested), but sometimes it’s amusing to delve into the ways others view reality. I Googled Year of the Rabbit and came up with this outlandish description of those born under that sign.

People born in the Year of the Rabbit are articulate, talented, and ambitious. They are virtuous, reserved, and have excellent taste. Rabbit people are admired, trusted, and are often financially lucky. They are fond of gossip but are tactful and generally kind. Rabbit people seldom lose their temper. They are clever at business and being conscientious, never back out of a contract. They would make good gamblers for they have the uncanny gift of choosing the right thing. However, they seldom gamble, as they are conservative and wise. They are most compatible with those born in the years of the Sheep, Pig, and Dog.

Well, I’m here to tell you that practically none of that applies to me. I will admit to being vaguely articulate, but ambitious – HAH! I don’t have an ambitious bone in my body. I’m happy to just sail along. It is true that nowadays I seldom lose my temper, but that is mostly because of good training from my wife. Forget about clever at business also, but my word is my bond. It is correct about gambling. I believe that it’s foolish. Whatever wisdom I might have was born of error recognised as such.

So much for astrology.

UPDATE: Before I get a flood of comments, I’ll admit that I completely missed the point of the whole zodiac thing. The year in which I was born, 1943, was the year of the Sheep, according to the Chinese. So, of course, the attributes of those born in the year of the Tiger would have nothing at all to do with me. I haven’t bothered looking up the attributes for those born in the year of the Sheep. I doubt that they would be any more accurate.

However I did appreciate this bit of wishful thinking from another site.

According to Chinese tradition, the Rabbit brings a year in which you can catch your breath and calm your nerves.

I could use some of that, but I don’t need astrology to deliver it. Do I sound as if I’m trashing astrology? No, I’m not. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t fit into my world view. Arguing about world views is someone else’s job.

Good friend Monty Armstrong came over on Thursday afternoon for a dive, along with sweet Meri, Monty’s dear wife. We set into place a new buoy in front of my dock to keep Faded Glory  from drifting off. I very much appreciated this, since the buoy and its heavy chain have been sitting in my lounge room for quite a while. We went to Dallman Passage.  The water was murky and the light was poor. It did, however create some interesting images.

The weird light lent a ghostly appearance to many of the coral colonies:

I’m reasonably sure that this colony is sick. It looks to me as if it’s bleached. Bleaching occurs when something causes the coral polyps which make up the colony to expel the symbiotic protozoa which live in the coral and play a crucial role in its health. You can read more about it in Wikipedia.

The strange light also made this Solitary Coral (Fungia fungites)  glow:

I’ve not seen one of this yellow colour. It may be a natural variation or it may be bleached.

In most of these shots, the background appears very dark. That is because of the high contrast ratio between highly reflective objects and other less reflective ones. It was an unusual condition worth capturing. I was also using a very small aperture (ƒ/8.0) in order to get the greatest depth of field (the maximum amount of the image in focus):

As we descended to twenty metres, the light dropped to practically nothing and I was forced to turn on my flash. In this shot of Sea Squirts (Didemnum molle)  you can see an unnatural rosy glow in the highly reflective white areas:

This shot of an Epaulette Soldierfish (Myripristis kuntee)  is interesting because of the parasitic isopod which has attached itself to the fish’s head:

It is amusing that, in this case, being parasitised might have an advantage. It seems that females are more attracted to males who wear a silly hat. You can read a little more about it here in this post.

The small aperture paid off in this shot, which shows a group of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllys reticulatus)  darting in and out of the protective coral:

With the low light level, a long slow shutter speed was demanded. I think that this shot was taken about about 1/20 second. That’s too slow to stop the motions of the fish, so they look a little blurry. However, if you look at it positively, it does convey a sense of motion.

This week I start a major remodelling job on myself.

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The Material Disconnect

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 12th, 2010 by MadDog
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It has been a strange week. Our bruised and battered little group of survivors suffered fresh wounds. I have been hammered by wild mood swings. I found myself unable to cook, sleep or write for several days. I’m not sure why I chose this week to take on a very hard job. In reality, I suppose that it was because the support which I needed to take it on was available.

Since I returned alone to Madang from Australia, carrying Eunie’s remains in my backpack, I have laid on the bed each night and tried not to think about her clothing, shoes and the heavy blue box of ashes behind the closet door a little over a metre from my head. I want to think of Eunie; oh, how I want it. But, I don’t want the memories to be provoked by things.  I find it very disturbing when I’m suddenly confronted by fear, loss and profound loneliness when I look at objects which initiate those emotions. Unfortunately there is hardly a place in Madang where my eyes can rest comfortably. The memories I desire are those which come spontaneously from inside when I sit staring at the sea or the sky, when my mental space is not crammed full of images of objects. She can break through the remaining clutter and touch me.

So, one evening last week Trevor and Karen came over to help me “survey” the situation and devise a plan. As it happened, I had come home from work early that afternoon, because I could not keep my eyes open. I lay down to sleep for an hour or so. Upon waking, I felt strong enough to begin. I decided to take on one drawer. It was the top drawer in the tiny chest which we shared. I talked to Eunie as I worked. I whispered my new theme song over and over, Oh, baby. Oh, baby.  When I had finished the top drawer without collapsing, subduing intrusions of negative emotions as best I could, I decided that I might as well continue. Within an hour or so, I was surprised to find that all of the contents of the three drawers were sorted and piled neatly on the dining room table.

By the time Trevor and Karen arrived I had nearly worked my way through the one metre of closet space allotted to Eunie’s hang-up items of clothing. As we sat at the table partially covered with Eunie’s things and ate the pizza which my friends had brought with them, I could not escape the feeling that I was putting on a brave face for them. I know that they are very worried about me. They helped me to decide which things should go to the Country Women’s Association to benefit the charitable projects which Eunie had supported for decades and which should be held aside as special gifts for her friends. Once again I felt a profound appreciation for the kind of emotional support which is given to me so freely and unconditionally.

In the morning I took some of Eunie’s nice cotton pull-over tops over to my next door neighbour’s house for her to give to her daughters and nieces. One of Sisilia’s daughters, Esmerelda, came over to help me to carry Eunie’s clothing to the back seat of my truck. After she left, as I stood there surveying the sad little scene, I did what came naturally. I took a picture:

As you can see, all of Eunie’s clothing, everything that she owned, could fit on the seat. I found that startling. It seemed to me to be such a small collection. Eunie was always beautifully dressed, but spent very little on clothing. She had a knack for choosing wisely but modestly. She looked great and smelled great. Nice perfumes were her only luxury.

Quiet elegance. Subtle sensuality. Beauty which gets under your skin:

My baby.

Okay, we need a transition here. I may as well make it abrupt. I have to get up and get ready to go up to Blueblood on Rich Jones’ boat. I have to do something to try to lift my spirit. I did get some decent images yesterday. This is a young Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri):

As they grow older they get more freckles and grow darker. You can find other images of them here by searching for “freckled”.

I like this shot of a tubeworm growing out of a large coral head with Rich Jones hovering in the background:

Nice depth.

Rich spotted this tiny nudibranch. I don’t know the name of it:

I couldn’t get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the little bits at the front which were vibrating frantically in the current.

This is a kind of sea squirt which I have shown here before:

It strikes me as very elegant, indeed.

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