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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Leper Island – No Lepers – Never Were

Posted in Under the Sea on February 7th, 2010 by MadDog
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I already went into the whole thing of Leper Island  never having had any lepers on it. If you want to read the quasi-amusing details, you can find them here. On Saturday, we first dived Planet Rock  (more about that tomorrow) and then the southern tip of Leper Island.  I had only about 70 BAR of air left in my tank, but that was enough for forty minutes of bimbling around on top of the reef snapping anything that moves and some that don’t.

For instance, here’s the familiar (to regular readers) female Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata):

The female looks just like the male, minus the big black bulls-eye behind the eyes.

I’m just nusto about spirals. They are everywhere in nature. This coral (Acropora clathrata)  often makes pretty spiral shaped shelves with frilly coloured edges:I’d like to have a coffee table with one of these cast in acrylic plastic. No, cancel that. I’d have to kill about a million coral polyps.

There were some beautiful sand waves on top of the reef. The water above was quite bumpy. There was a lot of chop and some slow rollers coming over the top. This makes the sand pile up in lovely symmetrical waves. It also makes photography difficult, as sand is flying everywhere and you are being dragged around like a two year old child kicking and screaming through the supermarket because mom won’t let you have that 90% sugar breakfast cereal that makes you think that you’re Superman:Never mind. If you eat enough of that stuff you’ll soon be on crack cocaine.

Despite the thorough trashing, I was able to get a couple of nice three frame reef panoramas. The Canon G11 makes this a snap. There is even a stitching feature in the software that comes with the camera so that you can do the job without Photoshop:Much as I hate to brag, I have to mention that one of my previous reef panoramas will soon be on display at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium as a 7 by 2 metre background for one of their displays.

I didn’t think that it was that good. However, after I spent a few hours working on it, making it about 24,000 pixels wide and working the colours over until it made me go mmmmm, I sent it off to them and they liked it. Here’s another one:Now, if I could just get someone to actually pay me  to do this stuff . . .

These last two shots make me feel like the King of the Sea. This is a rarely seen juvenile Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus orientalis):During over 2,000 dives, I’ve only seen one maybe three or four times. They are very cautious. Being only about as long as your pinkie and as conspicuous as a fire engine red 1959 Cadillac, they are understandably secretive.

They usually try to hide under ledges. They never stay still. They swim ceaselessly in a tarty, twirly, Chubby Checkers kind of “Come on Baby, Let’s Do the Twist” dance which doesn’t at all help them to avoid predators. I don’t see where they get the energy, let alone how they  stay alive:I have to mention that I would never have gotten these shots to look as good if they had come from the Canon G10 instead of my new G11. The increase in the dynamic range allowed be to capture both the deep, deep brown and the dazzling whites without losing all detail.

I’m the proverbial happy camper. Except my camp is underwater.

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Above and Below

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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A few days ago in front of our house the sky was sombre and troubled. The lighting was terrible, but I gave it a go anyway. It took nine frames from left to right stitched together in Photoshop to make this rather strange panorama:Front Yard PanoramaIt does capture the sweep of the sky nicely, but it gives a completely distorted idea of what is in front of our house. If you can imagine looking back over your left shoulder as you stand facing the opposite side of the harbour (in the middle of the image) you would see the coconut trees on the left side of the image. Then, as you turn your head slowly to the right you will have to look hard over your right shoulder to see the coconut trees on the right. The image covers about 200°.

How hard can it be to take a picture of a cloud? Well, as it turns out, it’s not so easy, if you want to capture all of the airy nuances:Cumulus Congestus cloudThis nice towering cumulus cloud (Cumulus congestus) was shooting up like a rocket when I snapped it. The trick is to expose for the brightest spot on the cloud. If you set your camera’s metering system (built-in light meter) to ‘spot metering’ you can put the brightest place in the cloud in the center of the frame and your camera will set that as ‘white’. Then you will either need to press the shutter button part-way down to lock in the exposure or use an “Automatic Exposure Lock” button, if your camrea has one. I also used a polarising filter in front of the lens to darken the sky. I think that the polariser also helps to bring out some of the shady details in the cloud.

Here is a shot of the beautiful reef colours at the South end of Leper Island:South end of Leper Island looking North to Pig IslandI guess that I’m lucky, because green is my favourite colour. There are about a million shades of green here. Green is everywhere!

We’ve been keeping a close eye on Kar Kar Island  since it was mistakenly reported that it erupted violently. It looks pretty peaceful in this shot:Kar Kar Island from Tab AnchorageEarlier this year we did see steam and brownish smoke coming from two vents which appeared to be on the side of the crater.

So much for above. How about below?

While diving The Green Dragon  B-25 bomber a few days ago, there was a small school of Humpnose Bigeye Bream (Monotaxis grandoculis)  swimming around under the port wing. I usually don’t pay much attention to them as they are rather a plain fish. Suddenly I noticed this individual who, apparently, had recently barely escaped with his life from a predator:

Humpnose Bigeye Bream (Monotaxis grandoculis) with injuryThat’s a fairly nasty wound. It appears to have happened recently, but already it seems to be healing inwards from the edges. This reminds me of the wound that our dog, Sheba, had on her foreleg.

Sometimes I come across something that is so unusual that it leaves me scratching my head. This is called an encrusting sponge. There are many kinds; this one is a species of Haliclona:Encrusting Blue Sponge (Haliclona sp.)There are, strangely enough, very few invertebrates in the ocean which are truly blue. Aside from the beautiful blue starfish, this is the brightest blue invertebrate that I can think of.

Finally, here is another head-scratcher. When I looked at this image I was stopped for a moment figuring out what I was looking at:Tail of Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina)Glancing at the frames on either side of it, I suddenly realised that it is the tail of the Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina)  which I showed to you a couple of days ago. Given that this snake is at least 1.5 metres long, this gives you an idea of how deeply they go hunting in the crevices of the reef. You can clearly see the flattened paddle-like tail from which the genus takes its name.

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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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The Secrets of Leper Island

Posted in Under the Sea on December 7th, 2009 by MadDog
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There are, so far as I know, no secrets of Leper Island.  I’m just reaching for a title. There’s little mystery concerning it, other than the fact that there were no lepers on Leper Island  (they were actually on nearby Pig Island  or Tab Island  as it is more properly called) . Yes, the lepers were on Pig Island  and Leper Island  was the place where they raised pigs to feed the lepers. Confused? Join the club. I got that information from Tamlong Tab, a man who should know.

What has all that got to do with today’s malarkey? Absolutely nothing. I’m just filling space here. Anyway, here are the lovely Finisterre Mountains  in the background with Leper Island  on the right and Little Pig Island  (which also has another name, but I can’t remember it now) on the left:

Finisterre Mountain Panorama
The big strip of land in the mid distance is Kranket Island.

We had an excellent dive in a spot on the North end of Leper Island  on Saturday. I hadn’t dived this spot for some time, so I had forgotten how rich it is in coral species. Here is a Porites  coral with a couple of very nice Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus):

Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus)

That’s probably my best Christmas Tree Worm shot yet. I’m very happy with it. To give you an idea of the scale, the two worms together would be about as wide as the width of your eye.

This flaccid looking spiky thing is a Divaricate Tree Coral, (a species of Dendronephthya (Roxasia)):

Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya [Roxasia] sp.)

These things are fantastic at night. I think that the structure must be similar to optical fibre. If you shine a strong light into the base, the whole thing lights up like some kind of crazy lava lamp.

I’ll throw this bone to the coral freaks out there and hope that I’ve identified correctly. I’m not positive about the Acropora cerealis  in the foreground, but I am pretty certain about the Seriatopora hystrix  in the background:

Coral - Acropora cerealis (foreground), Seriatopora hystrix (background)

I need to find myself a better invertebrates resource. My book is pretty thin.

This is the Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans):

Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans)
They are usually fairly imperturbable. It won’t move much unless you poke your camera (not  your hand) right in its face and waggle it around. You’d be imperturbable too, if you had thirteen very poisonous spines sticking out of your back. This one, however, got into some kind a weird panic that I haven’t seen before. It started running away from me. When it swims fast, the delicate feather-like fins wave like pennants in a most beautiful display of the flight response. In the shot above, it is just about to swim under a ledge of coral.

In the morning we had all been complaining how hot it was. While we were down on the dive, I noticed that the light was getting dimmer. When we approached the surface we could see that rain was pouring down:

Raindrops from belowIf you click to enlarge, you’ll see some tiny little splash rings where individual drops are hitting the surface of the water.

When we got back on the boat, the temperature had dropped about ten degrees C. Now we were all complaining about being cold.

Spome people are never satisfied.

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Google Earth Learns About Madang

Posted in Mixed Nuts on March 21st, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ve always been disappointed with the satellite images on Google Earth for the area around Madang. Until today. I don’t remember how I drifted to Google Earth again. Something on another web site caught my eye, I suppose. Anyway, I downloaded the latest version and cranked it up to see if Madang looked any better.

WOW! You can see streets and everything. If you try to zoom in to the level of seeing who is parked where, it gets a little fuzzy, but you can see the colours of the cars just fine. No registration reading yet. Can’t see people very well. But Madang is finally coming in crisp and clear:Madang, Papua New Ghinea - most of the town on Google EarthOf course, the first thing anybody does with Google Earth is look for his house. Ours was easy to find. Just south of the end of the airport runway, north of the big pile of wood chips and directly across the harbour from the main wharf:
Our house in Madang is directly across the harbour from the main wharfHere is a shot of Nagada Harbour and the Jais Aben Resort:
Nagada Harbour and Jais Aben ResortThe top island is Leper Island and lower is the north tip of Kranket Island. In between is Magic Passage, one of our favourite diving locations. The reefs are very nicely visible:
Magic Passage - one of our favourite diving locationsThose familiar with Madang will recognise this location immediately. It is the north end of the golf course (at the bottom) and the Coastwatcher Monument at the upper left sticking up like a big white rocket ship. It looks to me as if this shot was taken at about 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning:
The Coastwatcher Monument and the North end of the Golf Course in Madang, Papua New GuineaHere is a nice shot of Kar Kar Island. It’s too bad that the fringing reefs are not visible. Also the cloud cover hides the giant crater where the active volcano sleeps (for the moment):
Kar Kar Island from Google EarthThe shots of Madang were taken before last July. I can tell because the huge mango tree that was behind our office is still visible. We chopped it to make room for an office extension.

It’s cool to join the rest of the world. Now, we too can send someone a link to say, “Here is where I live!”

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