Corals and Friends

Posted in Under the Sea on October 5th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Today’s lecture will provide you with utterly useless information about coral. I’m certain that you will find this to be an illuminating and valuable experience. There will be no quiz at the end.

We’ll start with this ordinary image of a fan coral. This is the way we usually show them – flat side facing the camera, so that one can see that they are fan-shaped. Fascinating, eh?

What does make this picture mildly interesting is that you can see a very young Feather Star taking advantage of the food-rich water flowing through the fan. Both critters are filter-feeders. When I got these images at The Eel Garden near Pig Island,  the water was full of yummy plankton and other edible bits and pieces. Everybody was getting a good feed, but we were getting stung by some of the more vicious floating creatures.

Here is a small cluster of Fan Coral seen edge-on:

I seldom think to photograph fan coral from this angle. It is a fresh perspective.

Here is a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  resting between two different coral species:

Some corals are able to coexist very close to each other.

Other corals need their space. This shot is really quite interesting (yawn):

Here we can see a hard coral completely surrounded by a leather coral. I suspect that what is going on here is that the hard, staghorn-like coral in the centre is producing some chemical that tells the leather coral, “Back off, Jack!” This phenomena is quite common in nature. It was the keystone observation in the discovery of antibiotics. In 1928, Professor Alexander Fleming noticed that some glass plates which he had coated with a film of Staphyloccus  bacteria had some spots of mold growing on them. Around each mold colony was a clear ring free of the bacteria. The mold was Penicillium notatum.

Okay, enough of that.

Here is a cute shot of Geneviève Tremblay learning to steer Mike Cassell’s Felmara:

We had a gathering of the usual suspects up at Blueblood last Sunday. I rode up on Felmara,  because I did not want to drive up the coast alone.

I think often about how fortunate and blessed I am to have such a fine group of friends. Here is the mob gathered around the table after a good meal:

I decided to have a little rest in the hammock.

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

I had a long conversation last night with the lady who is handling my claims at the health insurance company. My friend Trevor Hattersley is helping me to sort out this very complicated mess. The lady gave me some information about a different way that I can submit claims. It will allow me to submit all of the as yet unpaid invoices and request that the providers be paid directly by the insurance company. I was not aware of this. I am close to breaking the backs of my two credit cards. This new way of submitting claims will probably save months of time getting all of the claims settled. It will also save me a lot of interest on the amounts on the credit cards.

That conversation removed part of the heavy, very stressful load of concern which I’ve been carrying. Last night I got nearly five hours of sleep. I have been averaging three. I call that a big improvement. I have plenty of serious challenges ahead, but now this one seems much more manageable.

I’m feeling very grateful.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sea Squirts – Living On the Edge

Posted in Under the Sea on October 3rd, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

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.

Tags: , , ,

Bubbles and a Beautiful Lady

Posted in Under the Sea on September 30th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Regular readers of this journal will already know that I’m in a pretty bad space and have been for a few months. Nevertheless, I have to hang onto a few “normal” things to help stabilise my life and restore some semblance of order. Writing here is one of those normal activities. Today, I will show you a couple of images of one of the more amusing varieties of coral from my dive last Saturday at The Eel Garden near Pig Island.  I’m also going to add a couple of images of Eunie just because I like looking at them and I feel better when I do.

This is Bubble Coral  (Plerogyra sinosa), which has appeared here many times before. If you put “bubble” in the search box, you will find many images. Why one would waste valuable time doing so, I can’t imagine, but there are all kinds of people. The derivation of the common name is obvious. It is a kind of coral, and the puffy bits of the polyps look like, well, bubbles. It is also known as Pearl Coral, which works for me. It grows only in the Indo-Pacific area.

Bubble Coral can project long, stinging tentacles which allow it to defend its turf. Other corals are stung by these if they grow too close, so they automatically keep their distance. Good fences make good neighbours.

In this shot you can see some juvenile anthea in the water behind the Bubble Coral. You can also see, if you click to enlarge, how much particular matter was in the water on Saturday. When the water is full of specks, you have to get up very close to the subject or the images are useless.

The shot also suffers from two kinds of motion blur because I was using a shutter speed of abou1 1/8 of a second. I allowed the camera to move very slightly during the exposure, blurring everything a little and the fish, as they are wont to do, were moving.

Rob Small (A. K. A. The Butterfly Man) took this shot a year or two ago up at Blueblood.

Having been away from our blood families for nearly three decades, we have found a wonderful surrogate family among our friends in Madang. Putting a baby on Eunie’s lap was always a sure way to make her smile.

This shot was taken by Geneviève Tremblay at the last party we threw at our house before leaving for Australia. Not to put too fine a point on it, it was Eunie’s last party.

The expression on Eunie’s face is priceless. “Ooooo, strawberries!” Eunie loved parties.

Tags: , , ,

Underwater Pencil

Posted in Under the Sea on August 1st, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

I’ll be less chatty today, because I spent most of the day up at Blueblood. We are also dealing with a health problem which Eunie has been suffering through for a couple of months and a definitive diagnosis is probably not going to be available with the medical technology available here in Madang. It is very likely that Eunie will be leaving Madang in the next few days to go to Cairns where more sophisticated equipment is available and we can figure out what is causing her illness. Any treatment required for her problem will be available also in Cairns, so we’re certain that it’s the right move to get her out of here as quickly as possible. We’ve decided that I’d be pretty much in the way while that process is in progress, so I’m staying in Madang until we know what’s what.

I need to distract myself and possibly you also. I’ll show you a few more images which we got during our dive at The Eel Garden on Saturday. Here are a trio of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  with Ush cruising past in the background:

There was a lot of particulate matter in the water, so I had to blur the distant background to get rid of it. It turned out to be a pleasing effect.

You might be surprised to find a pencil on the bottom at twenty metres, but if you hear the story, it will make sense. Divers sometimes use pencils to write on plastic slates. This one was accidentally dropped, I suppose. Why didn’t it float to the surface? It’s wood, eh? Well, after several submersions at depth, they soak up so much saltwater that they don’t float any more;

Here is a flock of Three-Spot Dascyllus (Dascyllus trimaculatus)  drifting around their somewhat crowded anemone host:

They appear to have only one spot at first glance. If you get close up you can see a paler spot. However, search as I may, I have never found the third spot. Obviously whoever named the fish was math-challenged.

This is just a nice little reef scene – not much to say about it:

This is my most favoured shot of the day. I snapped it just as I was coming up at the end of the line to reboard Faded Glory:

So, now you know what it looks like when you’re watching your diver friends clambering back on the boat. The big bubbles which you see in the foreground are mine.

I hope to have more information by tomorrow evening concerning our plans for the near future.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Out With the Girls

Posted in Under the Sea on July 31st, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

The ladies predominated the numbers on the boat today by three to one. We had five divers in the water today at The Eel Garden near Pig Island.   I got some pretty pictures of marine critters and a couple of nice shots of two of my favourite models. This morning it looked like a rain-out. The sky was dismal and the sea was up. By 10:00 the sun was out, but it was still a bumpy ride. I’m all worn out from the day’s fun, so I’ll spare you a lot of my usual senseless chatter.

We went Triggerfish hunting, which can be a risky sport, but there were none around. I had thought to give the ladies a thrill, but the fish were not cooperating. Down at the bottom of the sandy bowl, I found one of my favourite anemones with a pair of Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus)  staying close to their Bulb Anemone host Entacmaea quadricolor:


I’ve been photographing this same anemone for years. Every picture is different. How could I get bored with it? These are very likely females.

Down on the catamaran, the underwater fashion shoot was all set up. The water was clear and the light was right. Geneviève Tremblay took her turn first:

I don’t think that I have to tell you that Geneviève is female.

About that time a huge school of Purple Anthea females (Pseudanthias tuka)  came rushing past:

What’s going on here?

The next thing I see is Ush doing a “Tiger Ambush” pose:

Need I mention that it is a female tiger?

I have no idea if this pretty little Starfish (Fromia nodosa)  is female or not. In fact, my science fact bin is empty. I can’t remember if there are  male and female starfish and I’m far too tired to care:

It certainly looks feminine.

That’s it. I’m finished.

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

More Eel Garden Goodies

Posted in Under the Sea on July 19th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Here is the way I like to see Faded Glory’s  anchor. This is a shot from The Eel Garden near Pig Island.  There is a big sandy bowl there which makes a good anchorage. You can safely drop anchor there with no worry of damaging any coral. Coral damage when anchoring is a constant worry for us. Fortunately, we can usually see the bottom clearly and find a bare rock or sandy spot in which to drop anchor. After getting in the water, we always check the lay of the anchor to make sure that we will inflict no damage.

Nevertheless, there is sometimes broken coral. We have no money to put in proper moorings at dive sites. A few years ago we all contributed to having about a dozen stainless steel hooks drilled into the reefs. There were to be floating buoys on each site. We could tie up to these buoys and avoid dropping anchors on the reef. Withing weeks, all of the floats on the buoys had been stolen. At the present time there is only one buoyed dive site, The Green Dragon  B-25 bomber.

Local divers have no money to do this. All we can do is be as careful as possible. Several representatives of so-called environmental organisations who claim to want to do wonderful things to “save the reefs” have sat in my office and extolled the virtues of their efforts. I have yet to find any of them who will actually come forward with the funds to provide proper facilities to protect the dive sites from anchor damage. Talking to school kids is fun and it’s cheap. In my opinion, it is about as effective as spitting on a forest fire. When am I going to find an environmental organisation which is ready to put its money where its mouth is?

That’s enough rage for a Monday morning.

This is Fire Coral. It’s name is not a joke:

Back when I was young and exuding clouds of testosterone fumes, I enjoyed the macho look of diving without a wet suit. I had a little more blubber as protection from the chill then. Our water averages about 28-29° C, so as long as you keep active, you don’t get cold. I remember a few times when I inadvertently brushed against fire coral. It is a distinctly unpleasant experience. If I had to describe it, I would say that is not unlike having been mauled by a tiger and then getting someone to pour vinegar into the wounds. It will  get your attention.

Way down in the bottom of the sandy bowl at The Eel Garden is a Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  which I have been photographing for several years:

Th odd thing about this anemone is how it changes colours. Sometimes it looks sick. I remember when we used to keep a salt water aquarium. I would bring back anemones and keep them in the tank until they began to look a little tired. Then I would put the back where I got them. After a while, they would regain their original healthy look. Finally I got tired of all the work and guilty about all the stress I was causing to poor critters which had done nothing but give me pleasure. I gave the tank away and decided to look and not touch.

I don’t know why these Sea Squirts (Phallusia julinea)  are so outrageously yellow. I photograph them often because they always make an interesting image:

In this shot I used a very throttled-back flash to lighten up the foreground and allow the background to appear darker. I’m discovering many new techniques as I get bored with doing the same thing week after week. It reminds me of when I bought a new Corvette back in our rich days. Every month I drove it faster. Finally I got a speeding ticket and decided to sell it. What I’m doing now is much safer.

I love the colour contrasts in this shot of a Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus):

It one of the effects that I’m working on. I want to get some contrast between the artificial sunlight from the flash and the saturated aqua and blue shades of the water at deeper stages of the dive.

One of the things which I have always loved about photography is that there are a gozillion ways to take a picture of the same thing. How may ways could you photograph a tree? It fascinates me. After years of shooting underwater, I’m now getting bored enough by it to start exploring seriously. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

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

Light and Shadow – Two Views of Beauty

Posted in Under the Sea on July 18th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

We had bright prospects on Saturday morning. The sun was shining in a partly cloudy sky and there seemed little chance of rain. However, when we got out into Tab Anchorage  it was clear that the sea was restless. The rolling waves promised an uncomfortable hour for any friends who were not safely under the surface of the water in the blissful calmness of Mother Ocean.

I never saw the ocean until I was twenty-five years old when Eunie and I took our infant son to Panama City, Florida while I was in Advanced Helicopter Training at Ft. Rucker Alabama. I was stunned. It was the first time I had seen a body of water wide enough that I could not see the other side. It had the aspect of infinity. Since then I have learned a curious fact. Practically anybody can get sea sick if conditions are bad enough. It takes a lot to get me sea sick, but I have been truly miserable for hours at a time during very rough passages. Therefore, I am very sensitive to the condition of my passengers. We found ourselves driven by the waves to our favourite calm cove at The Eel Garden near Pig Island  for the third week in a row.

There are a few places where we can dive even though the sea state might drive other boats back to the Madang Club for an early beer. Fortunately, The Eel Garden is a dive which never grows dull. Here Faded Glory’s  anchor and chain rests safely on the sandy bottom while the mottled lighting of the sand indicates the chaotic waves on the surface:

I decided that there were plenty of opportunities for high depth of field shots in these conditions. Here comes “Deep Focus” again.

Within moments of settling to the bottom I was presented with this little tableau. On the bottom is a Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata)  and hovering above is a Bicolor Angelfish (Centropyge bicolor):

Old-time PNG residents who enjoyed diving or snorkeling always called this “The Steamship’s Fish”, because its colours are those of the Steamships Trading Company which was one of the major suppliers of the bits and pieces of our daily lives.

Turning around the other direction, I found one of God’s Little Jokes, a bright, toy-like Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata):

Every single time I see one of these I feel a smile coming to my face. It’s something that simply can’t be stopped. In my head, I’m thinking simultaneously, “Why?” and “Why not?”

Still within the first minutes I came across this pair of Six-Spot Gobies (Valenciennea sexguttata).  This made me particularly happy, since this is only the second time I have photographed this species. The first image was less than I usually hope for. This time I got much better lighting conditions and two  of them:

Double the fun! Please don’t ask me why they are called Six-Spot Gobies when there are clearly seven spots. (We’re counting the blue spots, in case you’re wondering.)

Now we come to the images which really make me smile. Genevieve Tremblay just got some shiny new gear. She was diving with a borrowed set which had some serious deficiencies. There was nothing dangerous about it. It was simply not up to the standards which are comfortable for a new diver. Here she is teasing a Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  and grinning at me:

How cute is that, eh? The lighting was very nice for this shot. I didn’t need to use flash and the depth was shallow enough that It was easy to get natural skin tones.

This shot taken at about twenty metres on the old catamaran shows an effect that I’m trying to learn. It’s Genevieve again with a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  in the foreground:

I could have Photoshopped out Genevieve’s hair standing on end, but decided not to. We sometimes look a little odd underwater. It adds to the charm of the image. I have a bunch more of these shots from Saturday which I will show soon.

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