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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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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Reef Scenes – The Magic Kingdom

Posted in Under the Sea on December 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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It has been a joy over the last few years to get truly into the digital age of photography. Having learned the smelly-chemical method before I was twelve years old, I stuck to the film media for several years after the first digital cameras. I had inadvertently joined the massive ranks of ‘serious photographers’ who were shouting down digital cameras of the time as playthings not worthy of the art. They were  pretty miserable at first. My first digital was a 1.3MP model which was okay for snapshots, but inadequate for anything else.

One of the great frustrations (among many) of shooting underwater on film was that I could never, except by dumb luck, get an image to look the way that I saw it with my own eyes  – in other words – natural.  I have discovered, especially in the last year or so, that the secret lies in the techniques used. I’m not going to bore you with all that. If you’re interested, I’ll trade all of my secrets for a case of beer. It’s not a big deal.

However, it does give me severe pleasure to present to you images that look exactly as the diver (me) saw them, or at least as close as I can get. For instance, you often see close-up shots here that are products of careful shooting and laborious processing with Photoshop. The truth is that we seldom actually get that close. Here is a more normal diver’s eye view of a Spot-Tail Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellicandus):Spot-Tail Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellicandus)It may not be spectacular, but it’s what the diver actually sees. If you are going to get any closer to this little butterflyfish, your name had better be Houdini.

On the other hand, it is sometimes nice to get close. These polyps on a Sea Fan (Acabria sp.)  seem to be a white mass from a metre away. It is only when you get close that you can see their flower-like beauty:Sea Fan (Acabria sp.)It shots such as this, getting the colours right is the most difficult part of the job. When I can sit back and think to myself, “Yep, that’s just as I saw it.” then I know that my work is done.

Here is a group of Purple Anthea females (Psudanthias tuka)  with stalks of Whip Coral (Sea Whip – Junceella sp.)  in the background:Purple Anthea [females] (Psudanthias tuka)The colouration of the Purple Anthea is problematic. In most cases, they do look purple in colour. However when viewed with the light at a different angle, they often appear more blue, as in this image.

Here is a beautiful Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya [Roxasia] sp.)  with more Sea Whips in the background:Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)It is such a pleasure to sit back after fifteen or twenty minutes of work and say, “Uh-HUH!  That’s just the way it looked to me.”

Here is another coral species that has been a bother to me for a long time (Tubastraea micrantha).  It is a deep, deep forest green colour and is found only below about twenty metres where the light is beginning to dim to shades of blue:Coral (Tubastraea micrantha)It is devilishly difficult to get the deep green colour without trashing all of the rest, even with Photoshop. This is the best that I have managed so far. It came at the cost of desaturating much of the surrounding area. However, I can attest that the colour that you see on the coral itself is exactly as I saw it. Just ignore the stuff beside it.

Another type of image that I enjoy capturing is the community as a whole. Here is a little anemone garden featuring the Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus).  These are females. The male, in this unusual case, is much less pretty, being more or less solid light orange:

Coral Reef Community with Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus) [female]
It’s such a thing of wonder to glide up over clump of coral and look down on a beautiful scene such as this. I can’t imagine ever tiring of it.

Your mileage may vary.

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Back Into the Briny Deep

Posted in Under the Sea on April 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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It has been a few weeks since I’ve been out diving. The weather has been miserable and nobody is motivated to go out in the rain. Yesterday, however, I did get lucky and had two divers and a snorkeler on the boat. We went to the south end of Leper Island.

I thought that I had my camera fixed, but it still locks up when I go deeper than about five metres. I think that I know how to fix it now, but I can’t be bothered to work on it because I’ll be winging off to Port Moresby and Brisbane on Wednesday (yikes, only two days away!). I’m going to try to post every day, but it may not be possible. If I go missing for a day or two, I’m not dead (probably), I’m just on the road.

I’ll show you a few shots that I did manage to get on Saturday, even though all I could do with my camera was press the shutter release. Here is a small school of Blue and Yellow Fusiliers (Caesio teres):

Blue and Yellow Fusiliers (Caesio teres)It’s not a particularly good shot, but the pattern of their bright yellow tails scattered across the image is amusing. I have another image of this fish in A Nasty Customer and Fancy Pants.

These Bblackspot Snappers (Lutjanus ehrenbergii) swam past in a constant stream for two or three minutes. There must have been thousands of them:

Blackspot Snapper (Lutjanus ehrenbergii)The water on the surface was quite cold, at least by our standards. It was raining a little and the wind was picking up. It was a delicious experience to dive down under the cold fresh river water on top into the wonderfully warm water below. Our average water temperature down as far as you dare to go is between 28 and 29° C (82-84°F).

I’ll finish up today with a nice little shot of a small mob of female Purple Antheas (Psudanthias tuka):

Female Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)The Antheas are among my favourites in the category of small fish. There are a multitude of varieties here. They float like clouds of jewels over the coral.

I will probably have one or two more posts before I’ll be reporting from Brisbane.

G’day, mate.

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