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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Henry Leith and the Green Dragon

Posted in Under the Sea on January 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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No, I have not taken up writing children’s fantasy stories. A couple of days ago Anita, Wouter and I went diving at Wongat Island  on The Green Dragon  B-25 Mitchell bomber and the coastal freighter wreck, The Henry Leith.  It was an amazing day of diving, as the water in that area was as clear as I have seen it in over twenty years. Both wrecks could be clearly seen from the surface. Anita’s father, Jos, stayed on the boat most of the time, as he is pleased to do so. We all took some time while we waited for a safe period between dives to take a walk on the beautiful beach.

We started our day at The Green Dragon.  Here is an amusing shot of Wouter peering through one of the waist gun ports. There is an identical port on the opposite side of the fuselage. I stuck my camera through it and snapped Wouter as he shined his dive light around examining the ammunition feed chutes and other equipment scattered inside:

Under the port wing of the bomber there is always a mob of these fish. I should know the name of them, but it escapes me at the moment and my big fish book is at the office:I’m luxuriating in the glory of a 31.2KBS connection at my house. It took me only two years to get my phone line repaired by TELIKOM. We learn patience here in Madang – or we leave. We’re suffering another mass exodus of expatriates recently. Economic woes, lost contracts, fears of violence and a general dismay concerning the rapid deterioration of the cival infrastructure has caused many to abandon Paradise. It makes me sad to lose so many friends.

If you are a regular reader of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi you will be familiar with this scene. It is a Blue Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii)  fleeing in terror:Or, maybe not. If there were any sense to this situation, it should be the other way around. These creatures are remarkably tolerant to a close approach, as long as you do it slowly and don’t surprise it. If you put STINGRAY in the search box, you’ll find many other posts with images of this fascinating critter. We nearly always see one or two at The Henry Leith.

On the deck we found this juvenile Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):They are very easy to photograph, as they seldom move unless you actually poke them, but they are difficult to find. They normally lay in wait for a meal on a coral rubble background where they are extremely difficult to see.

Also on the deck, at the stern, we found this lovely juvenile Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans):The common name refers to its numbers not its appearance. They are commonly seen, since there are plenty of them. There is, however, nothing common about their form. They are beautiful beyond description.

At the end of the dive, while hanging near the anchor line waiting for my blood nitrogen to bubble out like a fizzy drink, I took this image of my air bubbles racing to meet the sun:If life gets to be any more enjoyable, I’m going to have to hire someone to take part of the load. I’m pretty well maxed out on pleasure.

Maybe it’s just a mood swing.

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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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Our Reefs – Our Life – for Our Way

Posted in Opinions, Under the Sea on October 1st, 2009 by MadDog
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I just submitted an article to Our Way,  the in-flight magazine of Airlines PNG with the title Our Reefs – Our Life.  It addresses the issue of “The Other Carbon Dioxide Problem” that is gradually sneaking into the news. Today, I’ll give you a (very) condensed version of the article and show you the fifteen images that go with it. Sorry if it seems a little disjointed. I just jerked out whole sections of text to make it short enough for a readable post. The original ran about 1,600 words.  [please read the UPDATE at the end of the post]

Covering more than 5.4 million square kilometres of the Southwest Pacific, one percent of the Earth‘s surface, the Coral Triangle extends from Indonesia in the west to the Solomon Islands in the east and the Philippines in the north. It contains more than 3,000 species of fish. More than 600 species of reef-building coral, seventy-five percent of all coral species on Earth, abide here.

The hottest debate involves the complex issue of the Carbon Cycle. Carbon dioxide combines with water to form carbonic acid. This happens as rain falls through the atmosphere. You can perform a simple experiment in your kitchen to understand why this is important. Fill a glass half full of water and add a few spoons of vinegar. Vinegar is acidic. It will be your substitute for the carbon dioxide dissolved in the ocean water. Drop a small sea shell into the glass. When you come back in a few hours you will see bubbles forming on the sea shell and rising to the surface of the water. These bubbles are carbon dioxide.

The animal that once inhabited the sea shell worked very hard to build its house by extracting carbon from the sea water to form calcium carbonate, one of the primary structural materials of the ocean. If you had put the sea shell in plain water, nothing would have happened. However, because the water is acidic, it is reversing the building process by pulling the carbon away from the calcium carbonate, combining it once again with oxygen, and releasing it again into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Research has disclosed that in the past 250 years the oceans have absorbed about 530 billion tonnes of excess carbon dioxide, triggering a thirty percent increase in ocean acidity.

The acidity of the oceans remained relatively constant over the last 20 million years. Projections now indicate that ocean acidity will double by the year 2100. Go back to your kitchen and try that little experiment again using twice as much vinegar.

A healthy ocean takes huge quantities of carbon dioxide out of the air and puts it safely on the bottom. As free-swimming creatures die, their remains, containing carbon absorbed from the atmosphere, sink to the depths and are effectively removed from the cycle until tectonic movements subduct them under plates and spew them out of volcanoes again as fresh carbon dioxide. This recycling of carbon takes hundreds of millions of years.

The other important carbon sequestration action of the ocean occurs when creatures use carbon as one of the primary building materials of coral reefs. The effect is the same. Carbon dioxide is removed from our atmosphere and put somewhere more useful and less harmful. An ocean that is too acidic not only cannot play its role in the Carbon Cycle by putting carbon in a safe place, but instead releases yet more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere because of the release of the gas as you saw in the experiment.

A more immediate danger is that the very ability of sea life to reproduce and grow properly is seriously impaired by the increased acidity. Researchers are now finding many more examples of the ways in which ocean life will be stunted and diminished by the increased acidity. Doomsayers predict dead oceans. Dead oceans mean a dead planet.

Atmospheric contamination by the effects of man’s continuing efforts to consume the entire planet are global, but here in Madang, as in countless other places around the world, our life-giving reefs are threatened by local sources of poison. Even as you read this, a debate rages in Madang between the conservation-minded and commercial interests, in the form of a mining company, concerning the relative safety of dumping tailings into Astrolabe Bay, our cradle of life.

The mining company reports that the depth at which the massive quantities of intensely poisonous heavy metals and other noxious substances are dumped is safe because it is below the layer at which surface waters and deep waters mix. Other reports say the opposite. The point is that the killing substances are going into the ocean. It matters little, over the long term, how deep.

To this writer, the debate itself seems insane. The idea of dumping any poisons anywhere into the oceans that sustain life on our planet seems to be madness and those desiring to do it in the name of profit and those governments allowing it need to be called upon to explain and justify such action. UPDATE: Recent reports on safe submarine tailings disposals and the specific plans for this case seem to me to support the position that there will be no significant environmental damage. Not being a scientist, I can only accept that the current plan is acceptable, considering and balancing the desparate need for development.

As individuals, we concern ourselves with our own futures and those of our children, their children, and future generations. Corporations and, apparently, governments have little concern for the distant future. Can we trust those whose primary concern is the presentation of the next annual report at a stockholders’ meeting or the next governmental election to have the future of our grandchildren at the top of their agendas? Let them prove to us that they are trustworthy.

History shows us clearly that we have the power, as collectives of like-minded and concerned individuals utilising the tools of our democracy in a peacefull manner, to force sweeping changes of policy. Does the name Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ring a bell? We can take back control of our future.

Do we care enough? Are we brave enough to do so?

Well, that’s about half of what I wrote. You’ve seen many of these images already on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi:

Goodbye and thanks for all the fish.

UPDATE: My good friend Kyle Harris emailed me in time to keep me from making a fool of myself. I’ll have to do a bit of rewriting before the article is published. The oceans are not, in any way acidic, nor are they likely to be in the near future. On the scale that science uses (the pH scale), where water is neutral, the oceans are alkaline, not acidic. I know this, of course, but my article, as written, makes a dog’s breakfast of it. I should be saying that the ocean is becomming more acidic in the sense that it is less alkaline – it’s moving towards neutral. Since ocean life is used to the alkalinity, the move towards neutral (less alkaline – more acidic) requires that they adapt or die. If the move is too fast, then adaptiation is not possible – there’s just not enough time. I also need to make it clear that the vinegar demonstration is completely unscientific – it’s just a trick. Kyle mentioned studies that indicate that the oceans will not likely reach neutral (pH 7) and move onto the acidic side of the pH scale until about 2200. You’ll have to wait longer than that to see seashells bubbling carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Though I have no defense, and Kyle is absolutely right, I’ll mention that I just Googled “more acidic” and ocean and got 56.000 hits. Aparantly I’m not the only one using the term.

This teaches me a lesson. When I’m dealing with a complex subject, oversimplification is worse that not saying anythign at all. Thanks, Kyle.

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More Underwater Canon G10 Shots from the Eel Garden

Posted in Under the Sea on July 5th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ve had time to work up some more Canon G10 images from the dive on Saturday at the Eel Garden near Pig Island.  I’m still a little disbelieving at what’s coming out of this relatively cheap camera. It makes me wonder what we’ll be able to do in another five years. 3D?? Who knows?

Here is absolutely the anatomically best shot that I’ve ever gotten of a Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus):

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)

What I usually get is a pretty reddish-orange blob with some detail. Sometimes you can actually see the spine on the the cheek. With the G10 I’m getting scales  on the side of the fish! If you click to enlarge, you’ll see a lot more detail than I’ve been able to show you before.

Here is a difficult to photograph nudibranch. They are very small (this one as long as your pinky finger). Depth of field is always a problem:

Nudibranch

I’ve not been able to capture the delicate nuances of shading around the white bumps before. In this shot you can tell that they are white protrusions, not just faded spots.

Here’s another difficult fish to photograph because of the same problem that we have with Clark’s Anemonefish – the huge dynamic range of contrast between the soot-black bars and the snow white patches. It’s a Moorish Idol (Zanclus comutus):

Moorish Idol (Zanclus comutus)

In this shot, I was able to get some detail in both areas; a first for me. I give the credit to the camera’s dynamic range. I’m not doing anything new or different.

Here is a Many-Spotted Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides) lurking under the catamaran wreck:

Many-Spotted Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides)

Like the other subjects here, this is a difficult one to shoot. It likes to hide. If it can’t, it swims away. This shot is nowhere near perfect, but it’s the best of this fish that I have managed to get so far.

To finish up today, here is probably one of the most photographed fish on the planet. Everybody and his brother wants to take home a picture that “I took” of a lionfish. This is the Common Lionfish (looks particularly uncommon to me, but . . . ) whose taxonomic name is (Pterois volitans):

Common Lionfish - sub adult (Pterois volitans)

For a fish that poses so nicely, it is still difficult to get a good shot. Again, the contrast ratio is through the roof. I did have to work a little to get the dark bands up from the depths. This shot was saved by Photoshop.  Nevertheless, I give the G10 credit for giving me a few bits to work with from the bottom of the well.

You’re going to get a lot more underwater photos in the future. I hope you have a taste for fish.

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Arm’s Length Friends

Posted in Under the Sea on October 21st, 2008 by MadDog
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A couple of days ago I showed you a few of my fishy friends. Today, I’ll show you the ones that cannot always be trusted. You know the kind I mean. Imagine being Tony Soprano’s next-door neighbour.

Our first unsavoury pal is the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis). It is a camouflage expert. Consequently, it is very difficult to see. I’ve blurred the background in this photo to make the fish more visible. As do all the scorpionfish, it has poisonous spines in the dorsal fin. If you put your hand down on one of these fellows, you would be in a great deal of pain immediately:

Papuan Scorpionfish

Often the first thing that one will see of a scorpionfish is its eye. It is the only regular shape on the entire body and therefore stands out as if it were a traffic signal.

Here is another fish for which the sting is the thing. This is the Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans). Though the stinging apparatus is similar, you will have no trouble at all spotting this critter:

Common Lionfish

The scorpionfish and lionfish are interesting, but not very scary. Let’s move on to something more Soprano-like. This character seems peaceful enough until you start fooling around in his back yard. Meet the Giant Moray (Gymnothorax javanicus):

The Giant Moray

The menacing looking character above was in a hole near Pig Island. I spent about fifteen minutes photographing him. I never felt threatened, though maybe he did. If I would get too close, he would simply pull back into his hidey-hole. Most of the time the mouth was only moving open and shut a little as it pumped water through its gills. However, a couple of times it really showed me its teeth. Very pretty – must have a good dentist.

Getting back to sting from teeth, we have the Blue Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii). I trapped this individual in a little cave and snapped away. I say that I trapped him, but to be honest, he could have left any time he wished. I wasn’t about to try to stop him. The eyes remind me of a goat’s eyes:

Blue Spotted Stingray

 I’ve shown you the Blue Spotted Stingray before here, and here.

Let’s have a look at a fish that has a bad reputation. While populations of Barracuda elsewhere may be obnoxious, the species in this area of the world are pussycats. Here is the Blackfin Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie):

Blackfin Barracuda

The slim, barred fish are the barracuda. The stubby football shaped fish are Bigeye Trevally. They often school together.

I have, on many occasions, finned on my back under a mob of these and gently stroked a belly or two. They will take it for a couple of seconds and then twitch away from the touch. Sometimes they come back for more. It must feel like being petted by an alien.

Last, but by no means least we have the Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrine). Most people already know that it has one of the most powerful venoms on the planet. This is true. Most people also know that its mouth is too small to bite you. This is most definitely not true. Many people die every year from Sea Snake bites – mostly fishermen clearing them from their nets.

I have been very close to these snakes and never even had one seem to notice me. Here’s one at a comfortable distance:

Banded Sea Snake at a distance

And, here’s one at a somewhat less comfortable distance:

Banded Sea Snake up close and personal

The main thing to remember is that they are generally not aggressive, but simply go about their business. Part of their business, however, is breathing. That’s why you do not want to hover over one while you’re watching it. Stay to the side so that when the snake surfaces to breathe, you won’t both be frightened out of your collective wits.

And remember what your mama told you, “Don’t play with snakes and spiders.”

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