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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Sea Squirts – Living On the Edge

Posted in Under the Sea on October 3rd, 2010 by MadDog
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On Saturday we went out to Magic Passage in Faded Glory.  This is the first dive that we’ve done with her since she rolled over and sank on the day we left for Australia. I was a bit apprehensive, because submerging your boat in salt water is not something that is good for it. There was a stong current coming through the passage into the anchorage and the water was wonderfully clear. Unfortunately, there was a thin layer of condensation inside my camera housing, so I got no images. I did not warm the camera and housing  to drive out any moisture before sealing it.

So, today I’ll show some images of a few of the very strange creatures commonly known as sea squirts. More properly called tunicates, sea squirts live just above the edge between invertebrates and vertebrates. Because I am so lazy I ripped this directly from the Wikipedia article on tunicates.

Most tunicates feed by filtering sea water through pharyngeal slits, but some are sub-marine predators such as the Megalodicopia hians. Like other chordates, tunicates have a notochord during their early development, but lack myomeric segmentation throughout the body and tail as adults. Tunicates lack the kidney-like metanephridial organs, and the original coelom body-cavity develops into a pericardial cavity and gonads. Except for the pharynx, heart and gonads, the organs are enclosed in a membrane called an epicardium, which is surrounded by the jelly-like mesenchyme. Tunicates begin life in a mobile larval stage that resembles a tadpole, later developing into a barrel-like and usually sedentary adult form.

There. That is probably way more than you wanted to know.

This is one sea squirt which you have seen many times before here in MPBM. It is Didemnum molle:

It is very delicate and floppy. It reminds me of a bag full of lettuce.

I still have some difficulty knowing for certain whether I am looking at a sea squirt colony or something else. I am pretty sure that this is a colony, but I can’t identify the species:

My resource book tries to cover all of the invertebrates of the Indo-Pacific region, so it contains only a tiny fraction of all species.

Again, I’m at a loss to identify the species, but I’m reasonably certain that this is a sea squirt colony. There is a bit of overlap in appearance between some sea squirts and some sponges; this complicates identification, at least for me, a rank amateur:

This is another bag-like sea squirt, though they are much smaller than the D. molle:

Just from these five images you can see the wide variety of forms. These colonies grow on little stalks which are not visible in this image. They look like strange little bushes growing on the reef:

Sea squirts are a hot topic in the field of medicine. Researchers have found chemicals which are effective treatments for various cancers. Other research indicates that there is quite a bit to learn from sea squirts which may teach us how to regenerate human organs.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The bizarre parade of physical symptoms accompanying my grief and stress continues to march through my life. I wasn’t expecting this. For weeks, long before Eunie passed on to her reward, adrenaline was coursing through my body and giving me the shakes. Insomnia was my constant companion and still is. Three or four hours of sleep a night seems to be my limit. My toes feel like ice cubes and my ears are on fire. The backs of my calves feel very cold, but are warm to the touch. What’s that  all about? Some symptoms fade and are replaced by others. The daily small panic attacks have reduced in number and intensity. They have been gradually replaced by a permanently clenched jaw. I have to tell myself a hundred times a day to unclench and stop grinding. My jaw hurts.

I feel a bit silly complaining about such trivialities. Well, insomnia is certainly not trivial, so I’ll complain about that. I was taking Temazepam to catch a little sleep. When I finally got around to reading about it I discovered why that bit of sleep began to diminish as time went by. It’s a temporary fix and may end up causing more problems than it fixed, since it reduces the body’s ability to sleep naturally. Okay, so much for “better living through chemistry”.

Among my many fond memories I can relish the time when I could get a solid eight hours of peaceful slumber.

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Little Fishies

Posted in Under the Sea on June 2nd, 2010 by MadDog
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It looked pretty scary outside this morning at about 06:00. I thought the world had caught fire for a moment. Never mind. It was just a big black cloud. It’s Wednesday here – middle of the week day. Ho-hum day. It’s too early in the week to be tired. It’s too late in the week to start any big projects. It’s not close enough to the weekend to begin to slack off. It’s just a work day. I had it in mind to be very productive today. I had nothing on my schedule to take me away from my office and I was determined to see how many of the little nagging projects that I’ve put off I could pummeled into submission before the day ended. I suppose you can imagine how that is going.

However, I did just finish my lunch while I was working on something else (I must vacuum my keyboard crumbs soon) and I’m going to celebrate the successful commencement of digestion by showing you The Big Black Cloud:

There. Isn’t that scary?

The title of this post is Little Fishies.  Here they are:

You know when I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of creating an underwater image? Well, I’ll tell you when. It’s when you look at one of my images and think to yourself, “He faked that! He took that shot through the glass of somebody’s perfectly maintained aquarium.” Yeah, when you get suspicious, I get all puffed up and start bragging about what a great photographer I am. I’m such a glory hound.

Yeah, well, anyway, here’s a very uneven Linckia multifora  starfish. It’s been leg bitten several times:

You know why I keep taking pictures of these and showing them to you until you want to scream, “Stop, STOP! Enough with the starfish amputees!” Well, I’ll tell you why. It is because they make me think of the amazing powers of regeneration which humans possess. No, we can’t regrow limbs – yet. But we can regenerate our emotional, spiritual and intellectual aspects by simple acts of will accompanied by hard work and behavioural changes. I have regenerated so many parts of me that I hardly recognise myself. Most of these chopping offs and regrowings have been prompted by the “What a jerk!” response of people with whom I interact. It’s like getting a smart slap in the face and then saying, “Oh, thanks. I needed that.”

Well that’s enough of whatever that was. I love shapes. I think that I must be a very visual person. I know that I’m no longer an olfactory person. I still can’t smell anything, but at least the phatosmia is getting less obnoxious since I started snorting Nasonex. Eunie uses it and I thought, “What the . . . ” I’ll give it a shot – really – two up each nose-hole each day. The smell of smoke is fading.

Hmmm . . . I drifted off-point there – back to shapes:

The Sea Squirt (Didemnum molle)  on the left makes me think of a buffalo (American Bison, to be exact) which has rater gruesomely had it head chopped off. The one on the right evokes vaguely uneasy gurglings in my cerebellum, but doesn’t provide any words to go with them. All I’m getting is visual blub-a-lug-a-blug. There may be something obscene there, but it’s not registering.

Come to think of it, It could  be Carl Malden’s nose, but I can’t be sure.

Mystery Stuff – Possibly a Protopalythoa  species anemone? I think so:

There is are so many things down there to see that it makes me wish that I could live to be a hundred. I think of the line of Shakespeare when Hamlet says to Horatio “There are many things in heaven and earth, Horatio, that are not dreamt of in your philosophy”. Hamlet  (Act I Sc V)*

Both of our beautiful Fishtail Palms (Caryota gigas)  are fruiting again:

This concerns me a bit, because these trees usually die when they have given their all to reproduce.

That seems like such a shame to me. I’d have been dead since 1969.

* Quoting Shakespeare is like using semicolons. All it proves is that you’ve been to college. Pffffft! College is the new high-school. I’m left for dead in the dust again!

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Coral Lovers Only

Posted in Under the Sea on December 11th, 2009 by MadDog
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Today we’re looking at coral pictures (mostly). But first I want to tell you about the most beautiful screen saver on the planet. Understand, that’s just one man’s opinion. It developed as an homage to Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  You can find it here. You have to sign up for an account, but there’s no money involved. It does require an Internet connection occasionally to give the full effect of evolvement, but it works fine without one. Here’s a screen shot of the home page. If you like to fool around with screen savers, give this one a shot.The electricsheep.org siteNow, on to the coral and whatever.

Wouldn’t you know that the first one up is a species that I can’t find. I tried Googling “cup coral” which is the obvious name for this, but I couldn’t find anything like it. My invertebrates book is of no help. If you know the genus and species of this thing, please leave a comment:Cup coral (species unknown)It is about six or seven centimetres in diameter.

I am pretty sure about the identification of this coral (Acropora cerealis): Coral (Acropora cerealis)It is one of the most common species here. It is very delicate. A brush of a fin can knock off a huge chunk.

This one is quite beautiful when the sun is shining down through the water. It is a species of the Montipora  genus:Coral (Montipora species)It has many tubeworms embedded in it. None of them came out to play.

This is another very pretty coral (Pachyseris speciosa).  Both this and the one above are massive. They are often over two metres across:Coral (Pachyseris speciosa)Sometimes what is growing on, in or near the coral is just as interesting. Here Sea Squirts (Atriolum robustum)  grow surrounded by Porites  coral:Sea Squirt (Atriolum robustum)Well, they obviously don’t grow on the coral, but on a bit of dead coral that is embedded in the Porites. 

I’m a bit of a fan of Sea Squirts. This one you’ve seen several times before. You can enter ‘molle’ in the search box to see previous posts. This one is Didemnum molle.  It has a nice coral, which I think is Goniastrea australensis  in the background:

Sea Squirt (Didemnum molle)The shading on the molle  is hard to get right.

Here’s another molle  with several species of coral in the background:

Sea Squirt (Didemnum molle)The molle  is about five centimetres across. You can also see a couple of Dascyllus reticulatus  in the background.

Did I mention that I’ve never been bored on a dive?

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Our Reefs – Our Life – for Our Way

Posted in Opinions, Under the Sea on October 1st, 2009 by MadDog
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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.

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More Canon G10 Underwater Goodness

Posted in Under the Sea on July 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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You wouldn’t think that something called a Tubeworm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)  could be very pretty. You might be wrong:

Tubeworm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)

I shot the one above inside the reef at the west end of Pig Island.  I’m not completely sure of the identification, because there are several that have similar characteristics.

Many of the marine worms are quite beautiful. Have a look at these Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus):

Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus)

I showed some Sea Squirts the other day. Here is another shot of Didemnum molle:

Sea Squirts (Didemnum molle)

This is yet another kind of Sea Squirt (Phallusia julinea):

Sea Squirt (Phallusia julinea)

There are so many species of Sea Squirts around this area that I think one could write a book about them. I doubt if it would make any best-seller lists, though. No money there.

I do love patterns. This Coral (Favites sp.)  is one of my favourites:

Coral (Favites sp.)

You have also seen a lot lately of the Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus):

Spinecheek anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)

The Spinecheek is an easy target for the Canon. It stays close to its anemone and will actually hold still for as much as a half-second, a rare thing for an anemonefish to do. They are among the most nervous and paranoid of fishes. When I’m shooting them, I sometimes imagine Woody Allen dialogue escaping from their tiny, toothy mouths.

The Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  is another fishy friend that is easy to shoot:

Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)

Usually the problem with the Lizardfishes is that it’s a bit difficult to see them in the first place. You have to find one before you can take its photo. What usually happens is that I don’t see it until I’m close enough to make it move. Then, since they are so quick, it’s difficult to see where it went.

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Additional Miscellaneous Visual Rambling

Posted in Mixed Nuts on July 8th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday afternoon the Finisterre Mountains seemed moody and hulking under a very busy sky as seen from Tab Anchorage:
Panorama of the Finisterre Mountain Range from Tab Anchorage

We surely spend more time in this calm body of water inside the barrier reef than anywhere else.

Today seems a good as any day to catch up with some escaped images. As I go back through shots that I’ve taken recently, I often find ones that seem to deserve a second look. I listen more carefully. I try to find a message, or at least an interesting mumbling.

This shot reminded me of the absurd number of defunct sailboards that are floating around Madang. Countless expatriates have brought them in at great expense and then left them stranded. Hardly anyone here actually sails them, so they eventually loose their sails and become giant floatie toys:

Old sailboards never die

I have a very nice Mares sailboard under my house. I bought it for practically nothing, went out on it a few times, and finally decided that I wasn’t going to get good enough at it to make it worthwhile. I lent it to a friend who kept it until he left. I then went searching for it and found it abandoned near a warehouse with the sail thoroughly rotted. So, now it rests under my house waiting for someone to play with it.

At Blueblood last Sunday, Trevor Hattersley came to me with some interesting ‘flowers’ that the kids had found on a vine. Me being me, I instantly took a picture. Then I began to examine them:

Strange flowers?

Hey, these are not flowers. I’d like to see the flowers, but we were obviously too late. These are little seed pods:
Seed pods
I broke one open. There is a seed at each point of the ‘flower’ petal. I should have taken a shot of the seeds. Ah, well . . .

Here is another shot that I got on Saturday of the same bulb anemone that youv’e seen before:

Bulb anemone at the Eel Garden

I’m experimenting still with the new Canon G10 and it’s interesting to see how lighting changes from dive to dive affect the finished shots.

Here is another shot from last Saturday. These are a kind of sea squirt called Didemnum molle:Sea squirt - Didemnum molle
They are very squishy and delicate. The size ranges from your pinky fingernail to the size of your fist. They feed by pumping water through the pores in the mantle out through the opening on top. I always imagine that they look like a little village on an alien planet.

Like any village anywhere there are always a couple of weirdos who paint their houses the wrong colours. Fortunately, in this village, it doesn’t hurt the neighbours’ property values.

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