Improving the Eel Garden Dive Site

Posted in Under the Sea on March 1st, 2010 by MadDog
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I had no business diving on Saturday. I’ve been fighting off a cold which turned into sinusitis and a bronchial infection for over two weeks now. However, I could “pop” my ears after taking a 12-hour Sudafed, so I decided to have a go for a shallow dive. When I flipped over the side of Faded Glory  onto my back and sank about a meter before popping up again, I knew I’d made an error of judgement. However, as I was already in the water, I decided to grab my camera and see if I could get deep enough to do any good.

My ears cleared okay, but my entire head felt as if it was being squeezed in a vise. There  lot of cavities in your head that are supposed to be filled with air at normal atmospheric pressure – that’s you’re sinus cavities. When you’re congested, they don’t connect up right and you can’t equalise pressure between them. It hurts like billy-blue-blazes. I found if I went down only a half meter at a time, and kept equalising all the time, I could keep the pain manageable.

For you divers out there, keep in mind that I have over 2,000 dives, so I have a fairly good idea of what I can actually get away with. I was pushing the limits and taking a calculated risk that I wouldn’t rupture a blood vessel. Don’t try this at home. Just because I do stupid things doesn’t mean that we’re in a contest to see who can be the more stupid. Be the winner – stay safe!

Here you can see Richard Jones taking a depth measurement at the level of a stainless steel pin cast into the reef. We will attach a chain to it with a float about two meters below the surface. To that, we’ll attach a short rope with a ring in the end and a small surface float to mark it:When approaching for a dive, someone (appointed by the captain – ME) will dive over the side holding a moring line, run it through the ring, and then hand it up to another crew member to be tied off to hold the boat in position. This way we don’t have to drop anchor at dive sites. We are usually very careful to aviod damage, but sometimes it happens. Note that you can see Faded Glory’s  anchor lying in the sand just beyond him in the distance.

We gave up trying to get funding to put in permanent moorings at all of the popular dive sites. There are plenty of agencies who talk the talk about saving the reefs, but none that we’ve found who walk the walk. My advice, if someone approaches you in Madang about “saving our reefs” is to ask them to give you a list of active projects for which they are spending money to do something useful instead of just moaning about it. I’m fed up with aid agencies that show you the fancy brochures and web sites, but give you the blank stare when you ask for money to do something that will actually get the job done.

With my head pounding like a jackhammer, I descended to about six meters and discovered a fish that I’ve never seen before. I was lucky enough to get a couple of good shots of this Six-Spot Goby (Valenciennea sexguttata): Hey, this fish has six blue spots on each side. Shouldn’t it be a Twelve-Spot Goby? It’s not exactly gorgeous, but It’s a new one for me, so I say hurrah!

Here’s our beautiful little friends the Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  sparkling like jewels above the sandy bottom of The Eel Garden near Pig Island: There are both males and females there in that image along with a variety of other species. A typical “fish soup”.

You’ve seen the Nudibranch (Phyllidia varicosa)  here before, but not one this large, I don’t believe:This one couldn’t have hidden behind two golf balls. The colours are gorgeous. It looks like some kind of fancy candy.

This is a particularly nice shot of a Longfin Bannerfish (Heniochus acuminatus)  which I certainly did not think was going to be worth saving:It just flashed past me as I was clearing my ears for the hundredth time. I swung my camera around and pressed the shutter release in its general direction. When I checked the shot on the screen, I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t have gotten that good a shot normally if I’d spent all day trying. Sometimes the camera just does its job.

This is a funny little image of some arms of a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  sticking out of its hidey-hole:I don’t know what it was doing crammed down in there. It certainly isn’t any kind of normal behaviour that I’ve seen before. They are usually our where they can wave their arms about in the breeze.

Since Rich Jones was spotting for me, I knew that I’d get something special. He found this Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)  hiding down in a crevice:It was a devil of a shot to get. There was too little light and the flash just made it all garish and contrasty. I finally set the camera for a very tight aperture to get the best depth of field and backed off the flash power to its minimum setting. I was surprised to get anything at all, let alone the nice shot above.

There’s something going on the image above that puzzles me. There are far too many antennae in that image. There must be two shrimp in that hole. Where is the other one? It looks like it could be behind the visible one. I leave the reader to ponder that one.

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More Reef Scenes – For Pity’s Sake, Somebody Stop Me!

Posted in Under the Sea on February 24th, 2010 by MadDog
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Man, I’m just freakin’ out! Good things are popping up like Jack-in-the-boxes all over the place. I’m hoping to be able to make some highly amusing announcements over the next couple of weeks. Eunie and I will have several bits of news that will surprise a lot of people. (No, we’re not  having a baby!)

None of these involve web connectivity, unfortunately, as the MadDog/TELIKOM war continues. Today’s dispatch from the front:  A spy informs me that several major cables, affecting hundreds of customers, are full of water and the equipment used to clear them out is not being employed. This is a problem that can be fixed and someone has simply not fixed it. I talked to the manager this morning and he said that he has instructed the crews to use the equipment to blow the moisture out of all of the cables. We’ll see how that goes. It should improve service for many customers. He also informed me that the long-awaited USB dongles for Internet connections should be available shortly. Let’s see what the definition of “shortly” turns out to be.

Wow, I’m in a good mood today. I’m going to make the most of it. If it doesn’t rain this afternoon I’m going to give myself the PM off and take a Harley ride with a friend. I hope to have some photos tomorrow. I got this schmaltzy picture of the sunrise this morning:I saw a remake of Hair  the other night and the tune of Good Morning Starshine  has been tickling my neurons at odd moments. It was generating extremely strong vibes this morning. So strong, in fact, that I added a fake star to the image above.

Good morning starshine
The earth says hello
You twinkle above us
We twinkle below

Good morning starshine
You lead us along
My love and me as we sing
Our early morning singing song

Gliddy gloop gloopy
Nibby nobby nooby
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba dabba
Le le lo lo
Dooby ooby walla
Dooby abba dabba
Early morning singing song

Well, that certainly made me feel better. I hope you know the melody so that you could sing along as I did. It took me several tries to get the words right. It was a pleasant little task, requiring a nimbling of the tongue that I haven’t practiced since my acting classes. (What a waste of time that  was.)

I am presently listening to a lovely female artist by the name of Bebel Gilberto. She was born in America of Brazilian descent. She sings bossa nova as it was born to be sung – very smooth and sensual.

Before I start stinking the place up with more fishy stuff, here’s a nice panorama of Madang across the harbour from my house:I got the shot yesterday afternoon. It’s a stitch-up of nine frames.

First, I’ll show you the cute little chubby nudibranch with the disgusting name (Phyllidiella pustulosa): It’s hustling along at top speed along a white sponge.

Now, here is a coral of the Lobophylia  persuasion:Might make an interesting desktop background or screen saver if you’re in the mood for a little day-tripping.

Ah, and now on to the reef scenes. The two are quite similar, but with amusing differences in detail, showing how, in a few seconds the scene changes:You’ll probably by now recognise the Ornage Finned Anemonefish (Amphiprion chrysopterus):I suppose that I’ve annoyed you sufficiently for today, so I’ll say adios  until tomorrow.

Adios.

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Massive Rainbow Heralds More Fishy Things

Posted in Under the Sea on February 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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Let’s start out this morning with something that we don’t see every day. If you’re a regular reader, you know that our house faces east and looks out across Madang Harbour. If condition are just right, as the sun is lowering in the west and it is raining over Madang Town on the peninsula, we might get a bit of a rainbow. A few afternoons ago we got a spectacular double rainbow. I was too slow to get the camera going, so I missed it. Wouldn’t you know, a few days later, we got another good one. Fortunately I was just getting out of the car and had my camera with me. I ran out to the back of Faded Glory and grabbed this five frame series which I stitched together in Photoshop to make a rainbow panorama:I’m a bit surprised that I got no red in the rainbow. It is usually pretty strong. Maybe someone out there can explain it.

I have some more shots from our dives on Saturday at Pig Island where we hunted the Eel Garden and Barracuda Point. The Eel Garden is a favourite place to stalk the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):It’s not fair to use terms like “ugly” for such a creature. They probably look fine to each other. In fact, this is probably the Steve McQueen of scorpionfishes.

If I’m making less sense than usual today, I’m blaming it on my horrible cold. I feel as if my head is stuffed full of cotton and I can’t concentrate on anything. I should be at home in bed, but I’ve finally coerced the TELIKOM technicians to do a bit error rate test on my line to my house so that I may get back an Internet connection. Unfortunately, they have no vehicles on the road. The manager mentioned something about registration, so my guess is that someone either forgot to register them or the cheque bounced. Either is equally likely – or both.

Anyway, the Barracuda Point dive was equally productive. Here is a lovely mob of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello) cruising past me:Something is terribly wrong with these barracuda. They are supposed to be ferocious predators. Many attacks on humans are reported. Our barracuda, however , seem to be uncannily tame. I regularly swim up to them an stick my camera withing inches of them. The don’t seem to mind at all. If I get too close, they simply make a bump in the line to accommodate me. If I get closer still, they break the line and join up elsewhere. It’s a breathtaking experience.

A week wouldn’t be complete without some nudis. We’ve been finding many of them recently after a long period during which we hardly saw any at all. This Phyllidiella pustulosa is one of our most common varieties:I realise that I’m showing you a lot of them. I hope you’re not getting bored. We’re all nudibranch geeks here. My speciality is not in identifying them, but rather taking the most perfect images that I possibly can. I want to eventually come up with an identification guide for all of the species in the area. As there are hundreds, I’m afraid that I’m in a race with the Grim Reaper to complete the project.

Another that I’ve been trying to get The Definitive Image of is the Notodoris minor:Put “notodoris” in the search box to see how I’m doing. I’m not sure these shots are better than the last batch.

I certainly have more anatomical detail in these images, but I’m not as happy with the molding of the body surfaces:Since I’m still having to catch up on my posts and I have an impending battle with TELIKOM today, I’ll sign off and wish you a good day.

Please don’t get too close to your screen. I wouldn’t want you to catch this cold.

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Underwater Guest Shooter – KP Perkins

Posted in Under the Sea on February 11th, 2010 by MadDog
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As it’s already after 15:00 today and I’ve not written a word yet, I’ll be mercifully brief. I did break free from the office yesterday afternoon to take KP Perkins for her last dive in Papua New Guinea, at least for the foreseeable future. You may remember this shot of her from another recent post:KP had asked me to give her some basic photography lessons, since her previous experiences had not been very satisfying for her. I took her out to Pig Island  and we dived The Eel Garden. The surface water was horrible. We could barely see our hands in front of our faces. Underneath, is was not so bad.

KP took most of the shots. One of the most difficult things about underwater photography is staying in position for the shot. Most divers are not used to moving their bodies to achieve precision; you just sort of swim through the water like a fish. KP got her introduction to motion blur. Shooting without flash as in this image of a Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata),  will quickly show you how shakey your hands are:Macro shots, such as the one above are the most difficult.

Wider field shots such as this river of tiny catfish (Plotosus lineatus) are more forgiving:The common Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  is good practice, because, as long as you move in slowly, you can get pretty close before it gets fed up and scurries to another location:Still life shots such as these Palm Tree Coral (Calvularia species)  polyps also make easy shots:I took this one. I wanted to show KP how, with good bracing and a two-hand hold, I could get a crisp shot at 1/6 second:The image stabilization in the camera is not supposed to be much good at such slow shutter speeds. However, if you can get braced firmly enough, it yields perfectly good images. The little critter is a Phyllidiella pustulosa  nudibranch sliding downhill as fast as he can.

We switched to flash for a while to give KP a little practice. Here is a terrific shot of a Phyllidia varicosa  nudibranch:I can’t remember looking as bad as this in any photograph. But it’s not KP’s fault:I wish I could think of something funny to say about it.

Here’s a tidy little reef scene with the Palm Tree coral, a Seriatopora hystrix  (the golden one) coral and a couple of little yellow fish which I can’t seem to identify at the moment:KP is a very quick study, as you can see. A couple of hours of Photoshop work after the dive and she already has the beginnings of a respectable portfolio.

This only feeds my desire to to underwater photography courses in the best diving spots on the planet.

Any takers?

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Planet Rock – Nudibranch Metropolis

Posted in Under the Sea on February 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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Last Saturday, with my buddy Rich Jones spotting for me, we had a nudibranch-fest at Planet Rock.  Because of the river water covering the top of the sea mount, there wasn’t enough light to avoid using the flash on my Canon G11. However, this worked to my advantage when shooting nudibranchs.

There are so many kinds of nudibranchs that I sometimes have difficulty identifying them. I have a book on marine invertebrates, but it includes only about a hundred nudibranch species. There are far more than that within twenty minutes of my house. Sometimes it’s difficult to get it down to even the genus level, because species within a given genus can appear wildly different.

Ah, I can hear some yawning out there, so let’s get down to the pretty pictures.

This one is fairly easy. I can tell that it’s a Pteraeolidia  of some kind, probably P. ianthina:I have a very difficult time finding these. They are usually only about 1.5 to 2 cm long. Richard is a master at spotting them, being a total freak about nudibranchs. We spotted two in a row. This is the second one:I know that it’s very illogical, but I sometimes wonder how something like this can even be alive. It is so utterly alien to anything that we are used to seeing. If you think about it, they are no less bizarre than the deep-sea monstrosities that we sometimes see in the news. It’s often said that we know more about the surface of Mars and our Moon than we know about the abyssal habitats of the oceans. I don’t know if that is true, but I can take it in.

The next ones that I have to show you are among my favourite nudis, the Electric Swallowtails.

This Electric Swallowtail (Chelidonura electra)  is relatively common around here. You can see it elsewhere in Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  Just put swallowtail in the search box and you’ll see all of the posts which contain images.

Here is another individual of the same species. As you can see they are amazingly plastic. I’m reminded of Rubber Man from my comic book days. For example, have a look at this one moving from one bit of coral to another:I estimate that between the two shots above the critter increased its body length by a factor of four. I measure about 164cm (that’s 5’ 4” and a half for metric-challenged Americans) in my bare feet, not exactly a giant. If I could stretch out that far, I’d be 6.5 metres tall. I’d have to bend over to look in 1st floor windows (that’s second floor windows for Americans).

Perhaps I should explain, briefly. In America, the numbering of floors, in common parlance, begins with the floor that is more or less even with the ground, in other words, it is just above what would be the first basement floor. This, in America, is called the first floor. The floor above it is the second and so forth. In much of the rest of the world, the said floor even with the ground is called . . . well, it’s called the ground floor. Hard to argue with, eh? Then, of course, you have to call the next floor the first floor and so forth. Forget mezzanines and such which just add additional confusion. I’ll not get into which is correct or more logical. I’m just explaining the way it is.

Oh, my, I’ve drifted off point again. That’s happening more and more lately. Let’s get back to the nudibranchs.

Here is a final shot of Electric Swallowtails enjoying an intimate moment:I shal not describe their activity. This is a family-friendly site (mostly). Use your immagination.

This is an entirely different nudibranch which is soometimes referred to as the Black Electric Swallowtail, the Chelidonura inornata:As you can see, there are physical similarities, but the pigmentation is radically different.

We saw quite a few of these. In one small area, less than a quarter metre square, there were five enjoying an impromptu love-fest. Here are a couple of frolicking nudis for you:Richard spotted some eggs and attempted to point them out to me. I was busy snapping, so I missed them. I could see him gesturing and attempting to say, “Eggs” through his regulator, It came out something like, “Eblublublelbgshblubelbule”. I couldn’t translate, so I never did see the eggs. I didn’t know about them until I was back on Faded Glory.  I’d never have found the spot again on my own and Rich is limited to one dive because of his insurance limitations. So we said forget the eggs.

However, while snapping away, I peeped on further evidence of a sort of nudibranch Woodstock:Naked nudis doing the boogaloo right out in the open. Shocking!

I wonder what they were smoking.

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More Underwater Critters

Posted in Under the Sea on January 27th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, the charter to Bag Bag Island  is off. There have been several small craft lost at sea in Astrolabe Bay  over the last few days. There’s a fierce nor’easter blowing and the chop is reported to be up to three metres. I’m poor and wild, but I’m not completely insane. The money was good, but the risk too great. As soon as I told my good friend Trevor Hattersley about the charter he called me back several times to talk me out of it. That is what good mates do. Thanks, Trev.

So, I find myself presently incomeless, but safe and dry.

Therefore, let me attempt to entertain you for a few minutes with some miscellaneous pretty pictures and some verbal rambling. This Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  is not the stuff of of raw excitement, but it’s interesting to speculate how something that looks like this is actually alive:I’m reminded of the old Star Trek  episode in which the rocks were sentient, albeit slow movers.

After a few thousand dives and more time underwater than most people spend at church in a lifetime, you get to the point at which you can make educated guesses. Here’s a shot of a motion-blurred Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus orientalis)  and terror-frozen Many-Spotted Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides):I knew how this shot would play out. The Many-Spotted Sweetlips will freeze for a while when it spots you. It will try to hide by pretending not to be there. “Look at me. HAH! Can’t see me, can you?” Then, as it slowly sinks in that it’s being observed, it will begin to swim away, usually without too much fuss. The Oriental Sweetlips, however, is easily panicked and makes haste to use the nearest escape route. I could see around a corner that the two fish were slowly finning in the sluggish current side-by-side. As soon as I popped my head up over the top of the coral bomie, the spotted fish froze for a moment and the Oriental Sweetlips headed for the door – thus the blurry fish image.

You’ve seen these fat slugs before. It may not sound politically correct to call them that, but that’s exactly what they are, so it’s okay:It’s a Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas),  a particularly pink one. They are usually more brownish. Possibly it has a fever.

Sometimes I need to show you a really bad image just so that you can see that underwater photography is a crap shoot. This is a Blacktip Shrimpgoby (Cryptocentrus polyophthalmus),  a fish which I seldom see:I knew the shot would be awful, because the fish was back in a hole and I couldn’t get close. Nevertheless, it’s the only image that I have of this species. I’m not bursting with pride.

This, however, is a nice little reef scene with a couple of male Purple Anthea (Pseudanthias tuka):When I saw these two, they were engaged in a little ritualised sparring. I snapped the shot as they were returning to their corners for a time-out. That’s why they are swimming away from each other.

Here is a perfectly beautiful image of a nudibranch that I still  can’t identify:I’m going to have to invest some money in a better nudi book.

You’ve seen these Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)  here several times. I’ve mistakenly called them Diverticulate Tree Corals elsewhere. Gonna have to fix that:The one above is particularly nice. Good, symmetrical shape, rich colour; I like it.

Enough of the fishy stuff. Let me show you two UFOs that I caught on camera the other day. Actually there may be three, a big green one with an orange one riding on its back and a purple one up higher:

I yelled at them, but nobody came down to visit. If there were aliens aboard, they must be a snooty lot.

Of course, all that is wishful thinking. The coloured blobs are obviously lens flares caused by internal reflections within the optics of the bright orb of the sun.

Someday I’ll show you my real  UFO shots. They’ll blow you away!

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Undersea Bits and Bobs

Posted in Under the Sea on January 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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Don’t ask me why, but I think of nudibranchs as the furry little bunny rabbits of the sea. They’re not furry. They don’t breathe air. They have no legs. They do sometimes, however, have what may appear to be ears, but are not. Here’s a little funny-bunny Nudibranch (Phyllidiella pustulosa)  for you:As you may have surmised, I’m a bit mentally frazzled today. I have a tentative job to run someone out to Bag Bag Island  in two days and it has me a bit disconcerted, as I usually have more time to plan a trip like that. It’s only about 120 kliks round trip, including a fudge factor for finding the spot where the guy wants to be, but it’s wild country and if you have problems, you’re in for a long, long stay. There are no regular boat runs out there, so the money is good. I can’t afford to pass it up, but I’m not like the fishermen with big boats who tootle out to Bag Bag on a lark. I’ve got to get my act together tomorrow and be ready to go at 06:00 the next day. I need to get used to this kind of work, because there will be a lot of it in our future.

Here’s another P. pustulosa  (I hate that name – it’s so . . . indelicate) for you:

The one in the shot above is a fairly small specimen. Most of those that we notice are three or four times as large. It was crawling on a bit if stuff that wasn’t attached to anything. That’s why I picked it up to show to you. We don’t normally bother the critters unless there’s sufficient reason and a genuine purpose (the reason being that I wanted to show you the size and the purpose was that picking it up was the most interesting way to do it).

This Nudibranch (Fryeria menindie)  is even less bunny-like, but it does have a couple of yellow ear-like appendages:I could not get myself around to shoot this one sraight from the side without scrunching my face up against the coral, which would have induced an itchy rash oozing stuff that you don’t want to hear about and lasting for weeks. Therefore, its front end and back end are slightly out of focus. These are the travails of an underwater photographer. I like to dwell on the minor irritations of life. I do this so that the big ones can’t take up all of my precious moaning time.

I’m a little puffed up about this image. These Trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis)  are difficult to shoot:I managed to fire one off at this fine specimen just as he was attempting to scurry from one completely ineffective hiding position to another. Of course, they can’t really hide. They just like to imagine that they are invisible. All that they require is a few sprigs of sea fan or coral to make them believe that they have disappeared. I can still see them, of course, but the shot is ruined. It’s rare to get a good side shot such as this of one which is not obscured by something.

I include this shot simply because it’s a good example of “what I see when I’m diving”:It’s a little mob of female Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  hovering over a lovely coral formation which I think is Turbinaria reniformis.  It does make a pretty scene. I got that shot at Barracuda Point.

Returning home on Saturday, I stopped right in front of our house and took this shot to the South showing the big wood chip loading equipment at JANT (Japan and New Guinea Timber). They grind up trees to make paper:That’s the Finisterre Mountains  in the background. You can also see the Lutheran Shipping Engineering Yard on the far shore.

I seem to have nothing witty to wrap it up.

Happy Australia Day.

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