Massive Coral Bleaching at Planet Rock

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

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

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

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

Nearly this entire colony is affected to some extent.

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

It looks bad enough up close.

It looks even worse from a distance.

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

Here is another badly bleached area about fifty metres wide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I did feel bad for the hermit crab.

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Sorry, Just Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on November 1st, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I can’t think of anything to say about living in my skin that doesn’t feel to me like whining. The usual array of great heavy objects falling from a colossal height continue to rain down on my head. This week’s deluge began today. The details aren’t important to anyone but me, so I shan’t bore you. It suffices to say that it’s getting hard to stand up. So, instead of going all sissy on you, I’ll tell you a little story, two in fact.

Way back when, maybe a quarter of a century ago, we were in Lae to buy a car. It was a four-wheel-drive Daihatsu jeepy sort of thing. Anyway, we were in the auto showroom waiting for some paperwork. Suddenly, everyone went sort of stiff and jittery. There were a few nervous giggles, something which usually presages trouble. Everybody seemed to be looking in my direction. After checking my fly, I looked around cautiously. Standing behind me, staring at me with teary eyes was the tallest Papua Guinean woman I have ever seen. I’d guess that she was about fifty years old, but guessing age here is pretty useless. I was paralysed by curiosity and wonder.

A glance around revealed that everyone was looking from the corners of their eyes. Folks here often seem not to notice crazy people. As illustrated by the many people who walk on the very edge of the pavement a half-metre from whizzing vehicles with their backs towards the traffic, the general idea seems to be that if one cannot see the danger, it doesn’t really exist. In this case, there didn’t seem to be any danger, but the woolly forests on my arms rose up in anticipation. She took a hesitant step, seemed to make up her mind about something and walked toward me looking straight into my eyes. That got my attention, as it is almost unheard of. She stopped in front of me and asked, “Are you Jesus Christ?”

To this day, I can’t remember how or if I answered. In fact, I’m unclear as to what did happened next. It must have been anticlimactic.

Okay, another one.

Not too many years after that, I was sitting in our Suzuki jeepy thing in the parking lot of a now defunct food store. Eunie was inside buying some stuff. I was to lazy to go with her. I had the window down. In the side rear-view mirror I noticed a thirty-something guy walking up to the car. Caution always being wise, I pulled my arm in and readied myself for some action. I didn’t like the look of his stride. It was too determined.

Reaching the car, with no preamble he said, “Hello, I’m Elvis Presley.” Ever quick with a snappy comeback, I ventured, “I’ve got a lot of your records.” And that was it. He turned and walked away. You were probably expecting more. There isn’t any.

These two incidents somehow got wired up in my brain. I suppose that the connection is obvious. Whether there is any message there is open to interpretation. Let me tell you what I took away from them. You can decide if it sounds nusto and leave a comment explaining why or why not. It’s all up to you.

Some people have problems with genes or chemistry or injury or illness – that’s a given. Other people go off to lunar mindscapes for less obvious reasons. It’s not so much that they are crazy. It’s more that life has been crazy for them. One copes the best one can. One does what one must do. One deals with it. “Just get on with life.” “Take one day at a time.” This is what we are told. But, what if it all becomes too much? Some are stronger, tougher, more resilient, more anaesthetised against pain than others. Some will survive the onslaught. Others will perish.

I have infinite sympathy for those whose minds are broken, regardless of the cause. However, I am especially sad for those who have been beaten down by life. Perhaps it is because I’ve been there, I’m there again now.  I understand the feeling that one might fall over the edge with the next shove. It’s familiar territory. It’s terrifying.

So, maybe the two people about whom I have thought so many times over the years were not so unfortunate. They seemed blissfully unaware of their predicaments. Perhaps that’s the way to go – silently slipping into insanity without being aware of it.

And now . . . On with the fish.

We’ve dispensed with the Bad. Now we’ll have the Good and the Ugly. This critter should be familiar to you by now. It’s the Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans):

I think that it’s a reasonably good picture, if you like your fish in full context. We get a nice idea of what it looks like in its habitat. I frightened this one when I poked my camera at it to get it to move to a more photogenic location. I think that it believes that it is hiding now.

Here is a shot from directly above looking down:

No matter what I did, I couldn’t make this shot look nice. It lacks something, but I can’t honestly say what. It simply doesn’t sing. Maybe somebody can tell me why. I have photographer’s block.

Here’s a nice little shot of a couple of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii):

It’s odd that I only now notice that there is also a Pink Anemonefish in the lower left corner. I did not see it at all as I was working on the image. How the mind works! Or doesn’t.

This is a flash-lit shot of some Anthea milling around. The brightly coloured tubular objects are Organ Pipe Coral:

Though the colours are pretty, they are completely artificial. The spectrum of the flash matches sunlight at the surface of the water. You would never see these colours with the naked eye.

This little fellow is a Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus):

They usually dive down into the forest of horns of coral for protection. This one was curious and stayed out to keep an eye on me.

I wonder if he is crazy?

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Of Turbans and Alien Writing

Posted in Under the Sea on October 24th, 2010 by MadDog
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It’s high time that I got back to being a little silly. I miss it. I’ve been far to serious lately. It’s easy to point out to people who are having problems that they might feel better if they would lighten up a little. It’s a bit harder to take the advice if the roles are reversed. Anyway, I know that I need to get some whimsy back into my thinking. Maybe it will leave less room for the too serious stuff to rumbling around in my skull.

Although another Saturday has now passed, these shots are from Planet Rock a week ago yesterday. I haven’t gotten around to looking at the shots at Magic Passage from yesterday’s dive.

The water was very greenish from the layer of brackish water washed out into Astrolabe Bay from the Golgol River. In this “dark reef” style image, I left the green uncorrected, so that you can see what it looked like to me:

It’s a colour that most people don’t expect to see in a marine underwater image. The greenish glow of the light also subdues many of the warmer colours and gives the reef a sickly look.

I’m always raving about spirals in the undersea environment and in nature in general. It seems to be a very useful growth pattern:

Here you can see the very prominent spiral shape in this rapidly growing hard coral. This is an exceptionally nice crop. The image was taken from about five metres shooting straight down. The area you see is about six metres wide.

I enjoy shooting gimpy starfish. It is amazing how many starfish are missing legs, or even more:

Most species of starfish can easily regenerate a severed leg. In fact, if the severed leg is spat out by a fish, as is often the case, the leg will grow new legs and create an entrie new starfish from only the leg. You can see an example of that here.

Getting back to spirals for a moment, Here is an empty house. The critter who lived in it has expired:

I think that it is very likely that a hermit crab which has outgrown it’s apartment will move into this more spacious accommodation soon.

We see the spiral again in this Cat’s Eye Turban Shell (Turbo petholatus). This poor creature was the victim of break and enter. There are a variety of marine creatures which possess the capability of breaking open tough shells such as this to get to the tasty meal inside:

If you try to break a Turban Shell, you can appreciate the power it takes to do so. They are very hard. It would take a few hammer blows to do this kind of damage.

The Turbans are marine snails, so it’s not surprising that the shells look exactly like land snails. However, the marine environment requires heavy-duty protection against predators. To block the most obvious route of entry, the snail produces a door or operculum,  to protect itself.

Opercula are very common in marine snails. The are less often found in species of freshwater snails and only a few land snails have them. The shot above shows some Cat’s Eye Turban Shells and the associated opercula. You can see where the name “Cat’s Eye” came from. The spiral shape is present not only in the shell, but also the opercula. As you can see, there are many different colours and surface textures. These are from my collection.

Okay, I suppose that you are wondering when the silliness would make its entrance into the scene. Well, I am forever on the look-out for aliens. I confess that I have never seen one, but that means nothing. Perhaps they do not wish to be seen.  However, to the astute and careful, dare I say enthusiastic observer, evidence of them is everywhere. One simply has to have the proper perspective.You may care to scoff. Do so if you wish. Nevertheless, I’ll use the favourite argument of UFOlogists, quacks, conspiracy theorists, Discovery Channel pseudo-science and all others who wish to convince others of their ideas despite the lack of genuine evidence. No reputable authority has yet proven that this is not alien writing.

Therefore, it must be true, eh?

By the way, it says, “Live long and prosper.” In Vulcan it would be, “Dif-tor heh smusma”.

UPDATE: Reader Pvaldes points out that if you tilt your head very hard to the left so it is nearly horizontal and examine the Alien Writing image you will be able to read the message. It clearly says, “Hi” (or maybe “Hy”). You can read his remarks in the comments section.

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Salty Fun

Posted in Under the Sea on October 19th, 2010 by MadDog
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Last Saturday, my friends and I motored out to Planet Rock  in Astrolabe Bay  for a morning dive. Going out to the rock is always a gamble. It can be a great dive, world class, really, or it can be miserable. Poor visibility caused by runoff from the Golgol River,  strong currents and bumpy water can make the fifteen minute trip out a waste of time. This time, the water was flat and there was no current. A thick layer of very turbid water from the river lay on top, making conditions below dark and greenish. The images required quite a lot of colour correction.

The top of the rock is quite flat, laying about eight metres below mean tide. Here you can see some of us, led by Richard Jones, just slipping down over the side to explore the slope around the edge:You can see Faded Glory’s  anchor resting in the jumble of wave-damaged coral. The life on top of the rock is constantly assaulted by wave action, but regrows very rapidly.

Soon after getting wet, I saw this lovely Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata)  tightly nestled into a crevice:

The light was very dim and greenish. I vacillated between flash and no flash. I much prefer the natural “that’s the way I saw it” colours. I used no flash in the shot above. The colours are natural. However, if the light is too dim, camera settings become a problem. The shutter speed will be so slow that the image will be blurred. In that case, you have to flash.

The result, while being pretty and colourful, does not represent the colours of nature. The spectrum of light from the flash is completely different from light at depths more than a very few metres, because of the absorption and scattering of certain wavelengths by sea water:

I enjoyed the dive much more than any I have done since returning from Australia. I attribute that to my plan to help my brain to rewire itself and find a new normality which allows me to find satisfaction and joy in the everyday activities which formerly spiced my life and gave me a measure of happiness. More about that later.

Because the peculiar lighting seemed to be giving me some opportunities to try some effects that I’ve been thinking about, I jumped in with both feet and produced some high contrast “dark reef” shots:

These are just a couple of the series which I shot. I’ll be showing some more of them later. I do like the effect. I didn’t try to hide the green cast in the shot above. On most of the rest of the images, I subdued it.

Here is another “dark reef” image. This one works nicely for me. I particularly like the way it brings out the globular shape of the coral in the centre:

I got about thirty usable images from Saturday’s dive, so you’ll be staying wet for a while. I also got some very nice shots when I went up at Blueblood on Sunday. I’ll be mixing those in over the next few days.

Which brings me back to “how did it go”? Excuse me while I take a Tuesday dive back into my diary mode.

Dear diary,

Well, this weekend I decided, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” I either need to be proactive to toss off these blankets of depression, self-pity and misery or continue in the current state, which is quite unacceptable. If I stop to examine the situation objectively, I can see that there is no reason for such a pitiful state of mind.

So, my attitude should be that if nothing is hindering me from enjoying the moment, then I should reject negative chatter in my head, which distracts me, pay attention to what is happening, and allow myself to react “normally” – as I once would have.

It’s a little tricky to get it right. I had some false starts which felt like faking. Then, during the dive I forced myself to concentrate on the photography and not let my mind wander. Back on the boat, I paid attention to what was being said and let myself be captured by the pleasant mood of my friends.

Up at Blueblood on Sunday, I engaged in a ruthless game of Pétanque. Late in the afternoon, for the first time in ages, I got into the water with friends and tossed a Frisbee – badly. I laughed out loud. I leapt, I splashed.

I think this might work.

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Back Under the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on September 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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On Saturday, after what seems like a year, but was only about six weeks, I went back into the water. It was a grey day and Astrolabe Bay  was calm. I went out on Sanguma  with Richard Jones.

Since Faded Glory  rolled over and sank in about two metres of water in front of my dock the day we left for Australia to get medical treatment for Eunie, I have no boat at present. It is at the marine repair shop waiting for me to pick it up. Trevor Hattersley has checked on it a couple of times and says that it’s running well. If the control cables don’t rust and freeze up, she should be good to go.

I tie the stern to a mooring point well out from the dock – usually. Over several weeks the mooring point had been moving closer to the dock. I did not know why. I do know that it was too close. I couldn’t get enough pull on the stern from the mooring, so at high tide the bow of the boat got hooked over the edge of the dock. When the tide went down . . . well you can guess what happened. Water came seeping, then roaring over the transom and the back end of the boat settled on the bottom and she rolled over on her side.

When it rains it pours.

Anyway, this afternoon Richard Jones brought Sanguma  over to my house and I put on my dive gear and went out and wrapped a big chain around the engine block that is the base of the mooring point. I then tied a new piece of rope around the chain and put a float on the end of it. Okay, now I can go over to the marine repair place and get Faded Glory  back home where she belongs.

Isn’t that exciting? One less thing.

At Planet Rock  the water was full of particulate matter. That makes for pretty poor picture taking unless you are up very close. The marine photographer’s mantra in murky water is “the closer the better”. Any time you see a Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus)  is reason enough to take a shot at it:

This is certainly not the best shot of this critter that I have managed. In fact, it’s rather ho-hum. Nevertheless, I saw it and here it is for your viewing pleasure. I have heard that some restaurants serve cuttlefish. I wouldn’t eat one if I were starving (well, maybe). It’s not as if they are endangered, it’s just that they are my friends. One doesn’t eat one’s friends.

The Magnificent Anemones (Heteractis magnifica)  were splendid. The whole top of the rock is plastered with them in many riotous hues. On Saturday most of them were in their “jug” configuration. I confess I don’t know what this indicates. They are usually stretched out more or less flat for feeding. Possibly the day was dim enough that they reckoned it was night:

Who knows what an anemone thinks? I certainly don’t.

This one shows one of the many bright colours on the underside:

I have some more shots of other colours which I will post in a day or two. I’ve backed off to posting every other day, since I need to conserve my strength to mine the mountain of paperwork that has been generated by Eunie’s passing and still do my work at the office. Who knew I would be so busy? I didn’t expect it. Add that to the list of Things I Never Thought Of.

Th last shot here is my favourite. These are Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  with a couple of Bigeye Trevally at the bottom of the image:

They led me on a merry chase to get the shot. When playing with such schools one needs to be careful not to ascend too quickly. That can lead to serious consequences. “The bends” or Decompression Illness is only one mistake away.

For those out there who are checking up on me I’ll say that I’m “doing as well as can be expected”. Actually, my friends are telling me that I”m doing considerably better. I’m having a hard time seeing it that way, but I’ll take that as encouragement. I will go to Divine Word University on Thursday morning to make arrangements for a memorial service in the chapel there. Rich Jones is going with me as an advisor and to hold my hand. I seem to need a lot of hand-holding these days.

Hey, that’s what friends are for.

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A New Library of Articles

Posted in Articles on July 30th, 2010 by MadDog
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For some time I have been thinking about collecting all of the magazine articles which I have written and making them available here on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi. Today, I got myself in gear to start the process. The work is slightly complicated and time consuming. First I have to scan the magazine pages into a compact PDF file. Then I have to get the first spread into an image file. Then I have to go through a process in WordPress that is ridiculously complicated. I want both the link and the thumbnail image to point to the same PDF file on my server in the USA. You would think that WordPress would make this easy. Maybe I took too many Stupid Pills last night when I started working on it.

The first article that I tried was Heart of the Hunter. from Niugini Blue magazine. You should be able to click on the link or the thumbnail image below to get a new window or tab. It may take a while for it to load, but if you have Adobe Reader on your computer, you can then read the article. The file is about a megabyte, so be patient.

Since that one seemed to work after two hours of fiddling, I decided to add a couple of more while I was on a roll.

This is about diving at Planet Rock. a location about which you have seen many posts if you are a regular reader.

Though it is one of our favourite locations, it is a little farther out and if the sea is rough it can be an unpleasant experience.

The last one for today is The Green Dragon. This is the B-25 Mitchell bomber near Wongat Island.
I hope to find a neater way of doing this. I plan to have a section in the sidebar for Articles, but I haven’t figured out how to get the PDF files over there. It should be child’s play.

Unfortunately, I’m no longer a child.

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Scorpionfish – Fail!

Posted in Under the Sea on June 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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We had a lovely dinner at our house last night with thirteen of us there consuming Eunie’s delicious Midwestern American farm meal. A special guest was there, but I’m not going to keep blasting her name out over the web, because I think that it’s time for her to have a chance to enjoy a bit of privacy. It was a typical Madang dinner party. There was a pile of “happy shoes” at the door, good food, good friends, and good Australian wine. Everybody came to our house by boat, so even the departing was fun. Everybody walks out to the dock, gets into their boats and we all wave bye-bye as if we’ll always see each other tomorrow. And, we usually do.

When I saw the sunrise this morning, the word industrial  popped into my mind:

It seems that I am a compulsive titler – is that a word, someone who titles things? I don’t know. If it isn’t, it should be. Every image has to have a title floating around in my head.

Oh, I can see that I’m boring you. Let’s get to the miserable failure that is the subject of today’s post. This could have been a perfectly good image of a Scorpionfish:

We had just gotten into the water at Planet Rock and I was fussing around making certain that our anchor was not doing any damage and watching divers and counting noses when Richard Jones pointed out this Scorpionfish. It was such a peculiar shape and so well camouflaged that I really wanted to get a good image of it. Sadly, I had time only for a quick snap. Unfortunately,as so often happens, the camera did not focus where I wanted it to. The focus on the rear half of the fish is tolerable, but the head is blurry. Still, it is so odd that it’s worth a look.

I have a lot of trouble figuring out what is a sponge and what is a sea squirt. I was all set to identify this as some kind of sea squirt. Fortunately, I sent the image to my Facebook friend Ana Karinna Carbonini of the Laboratorio de Biología Marina at the Universidad Simón Bolívar. She said that she thinks it is a Sponge, possibly a species of Leuconoide  or Asconoide:

You can take a sip of coffee now while you absorb that. Have a quick glance over your shoulder to see if the boss is lurking about.

At the request of a friend, here are a couple of Anemonefish shots from our dives on Saturday. This is a Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus)  peeking out from the safety of its host anemone:

I particularly like this shot, because it shows a very typical behavior. Anemonefish will often alternate between dashing about frantically around the anemone, coming up close to you to investigate or even take a nip of your finger and then plunging down within the tentacles to peer out and observe the result of the attack. I get more fun from watching anemonefish than anything else under the water, with the possible exception of some of my dive buddies.

For the Disney fans, here are some genuine Nemo wannabes. The Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula)  never fails to live up to its name:

One seems to be shouting at me. By the way, I would call this a failed shot also. Careful examination will reveal that it was a snap shot and I did not take the time to check the focus carefully. Of course, if I had, I would have missed the shout.

Finally, I’ll show you this artsy shot of the beautiful clear view of the reef near Alexishafen late on Sunday afternoon:

We were all peering over the side of Felmara  as we stopped for a swim. The water was crystal clear and the pinkish sunset was alternating with the deep green of the two metres of water under the boat. A little bit of magic.

A little bit of magic is all it takes.

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