Weird Light – Dallman Passage

Posted in Under the Sea on January 3rd, 2011 by MadDog
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It’s a new year. I have my work cut out for me. Most of the horribly unpleasant chores which were generated by Eunie’s illness and subsequent death have now been disposed of by a mixture of desperate prayer and grim determination. Some things are improving. I’m marking 2011 as The Year of Rehabilitation.

As one friend recently pointed out to me, 2011 is also the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese Zodiac. I give absolutely no credence to anything vaguely astrological (as opposed to astronomy, in which I am very interested), but sometimes it’s amusing to delve into the ways others view reality. I Googled Year of the Rabbit and came up with this outlandish description of those born under that sign.

People born in the Year of the Rabbit are articulate, talented, and ambitious. They are virtuous, reserved, and have excellent taste. Rabbit people are admired, trusted, and are often financially lucky. They are fond of gossip but are tactful and generally kind. Rabbit people seldom lose their temper. They are clever at business and being conscientious, never back out of a contract. They would make good gamblers for they have the uncanny gift of choosing the right thing. However, they seldom gamble, as they are conservative and wise. They are most compatible with those born in the years of the Sheep, Pig, and Dog.

Well, I’m here to tell you that practically none of that applies to me. I will admit to being vaguely articulate, but ambitious – HAH! I don’t have an ambitious bone in my body. I’m happy to just sail along. It is true that nowadays I seldom lose my temper, but that is mostly because of good training from my wife. Forget about clever at business also, but my word is my bond. It is correct about gambling. I believe that it’s foolish. Whatever wisdom I might have was born of error recognised as such.

So much for astrology.

UPDATE: Before I get a flood of comments, I’ll admit that I completely missed the point of the whole zodiac thing. The year in which I was born, 1943, was the year of the Sheep, according to the Chinese. So, of course, the attributes of those born in the year of the Tiger would have nothing at all to do with me. I haven’t bothered looking up the attributes for those born in the year of the Sheep. I doubt that they would be any more accurate.

However I did appreciate this bit of wishful thinking from another site.

According to Chinese tradition, the Rabbit brings a year in which you can catch your breath and calm your nerves.

I could use some of that, but I don’t need astrology to deliver it. Do I sound as if I’m trashing astrology? No, I’m not. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t fit into my world view. Arguing about world views is someone else’s job.

Good friend Monty Armstrong came over on Thursday afternoon for a dive, along with sweet Meri, Monty’s dear wife. We set into place a new buoy in front of my dock to keep Faded Glory  from drifting off. I very much appreciated this, since the buoy and its heavy chain have been sitting in my lounge room for quite a while. We went to Dallman Passage.  The water was murky and the light was poor. It did, however create some interesting images.

The weird light lent a ghostly appearance to many of the coral colonies:

I’m reasonably sure that this colony is sick. It looks to me as if it’s bleached. Bleaching occurs when something causes the coral polyps which make up the colony to expel the symbiotic protozoa which live in the coral and play a crucial role in its health. You can read more about it in Wikipedia.

The strange light also made this Solitary Coral (Fungia fungites)  glow:

I’ve not seen one of this yellow colour. It may be a natural variation or it may be bleached.

In most of these shots, the background appears very dark. That is because of the high contrast ratio between highly reflective objects and other less reflective ones. It was an unusual condition worth capturing. I was also using a very small aperture (ƒ/8.0) in order to get the greatest depth of field (the maximum amount of the image in focus):

As we descended to twenty metres, the light dropped to practically nothing and I was forced to turn on my flash. In this shot of Sea Squirts (Didemnum molle)  you can see an unnatural rosy glow in the highly reflective white areas:

This shot of an Epaulette Soldierfish (Myripristis kuntee)  is interesting because of the parasitic isopod which has attached itself to the fish’s head:

It is amusing that, in this case, being parasitised might have an advantage. It seems that females are more attracted to males who wear a silly hat. You can read a little more about it here in this post.

The small aperture paid off in this shot, which shows a group of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllys reticulatus)  darting in and out of the protective coral:

With the low light level, a long slow shutter speed was demanded. I think that this shot was taken about about 1/20 second. That’s too slow to stop the motions of the fish, so they look a little blurry. However, if you look at it positively, it does convey a sense of motion.

This week I start a major remodelling job on myself.

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The Material Disconnect

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 12th, 2010 by MadDog
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It has been a strange week. Our bruised and battered little group of survivors suffered fresh wounds. I have been hammered by wild mood swings. I found myself unable to cook, sleep or write for several days. I’m not sure why I chose this week to take on a very hard job. In reality, I suppose that it was because the support which I needed to take it on was available.

Since I returned alone to Madang from Australia, carrying Eunie’s remains in my backpack, I have laid on the bed each night and tried not to think about her clothing, shoes and the heavy blue box of ashes behind the closet door a little over a metre from my head. I want to think of Eunie; oh, how I want it. But, I don’t want the memories to be provoked by things.  I find it very disturbing when I’m suddenly confronted by fear, loss and profound loneliness when I look at objects which initiate those emotions. Unfortunately there is hardly a place in Madang where my eyes can rest comfortably. The memories I desire are those which come spontaneously from inside when I sit staring at the sea or the sky, when my mental space is not crammed full of images of objects. She can break through the remaining clutter and touch me.

So, one evening last week Trevor and Karen came over to help me “survey” the situation and devise a plan. As it happened, I had come home from work early that afternoon, because I could not keep my eyes open. I lay down to sleep for an hour or so. Upon waking, I felt strong enough to begin. I decided to take on one drawer. It was the top drawer in the tiny chest which we shared. I talked to Eunie as I worked. I whispered my new theme song over and over, Oh, baby. Oh, baby.  When I had finished the top drawer without collapsing, subduing intrusions of negative emotions as best I could, I decided that I might as well continue. Within an hour or so, I was surprised to find that all of the contents of the three drawers were sorted and piled neatly on the dining room table.

By the time Trevor and Karen arrived I had nearly worked my way through the one metre of closet space allotted to Eunie’s hang-up items of clothing. As we sat at the table partially covered with Eunie’s things and ate the pizza which my friends had brought with them, I could not escape the feeling that I was putting on a brave face for them. I know that they are very worried about me. They helped me to decide which things should go to the Country Women’s Association to benefit the charitable projects which Eunie had supported for decades and which should be held aside as special gifts for her friends. Once again I felt a profound appreciation for the kind of emotional support which is given to me so freely and unconditionally.

In the morning I took some of Eunie’s nice cotton pull-over tops over to my next door neighbour’s house for her to give to her daughters and nieces. One of Sisilia’s daughters, Esmerelda, came over to help me to carry Eunie’s clothing to the back seat of my truck. After she left, as I stood there surveying the sad little scene, I did what came naturally. I took a picture:

As you can see, all of Eunie’s clothing, everything that she owned, could fit on the seat. I found that startling. It seemed to me to be such a small collection. Eunie was always beautifully dressed, but spent very little on clothing. She had a knack for choosing wisely but modestly. She looked great and smelled great. Nice perfumes were her only luxury.

Quiet elegance. Subtle sensuality. Beauty which gets under your skin:

My baby.

Okay, we need a transition here. I may as well make it abrupt. I have to get up and get ready to go up to Blueblood on Rich Jones’ boat. I have to do something to try to lift my spirit. I did get some decent images yesterday. This is a young Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri):

As they grow older they get more freckles and grow darker. You can find other images of them here by searching for “freckled”.

I like this shot of a tubeworm growing out of a large coral head with Rich Jones hovering in the background:

Nice depth.

Rich spotted this tiny nudibranch. I don’t know the name of it:

I couldn’t get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the little bits at the front which were vibrating frantically in the current.

This is a kind of sea squirt which I have shown here before:

It strikes me as very elegant, indeed.

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Sea Squirts – Living On the Edge

Posted in Under the Sea on October 3rd, 2010 by MadDog
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On Saturday we went out to Magic Passage in Faded Glory.  This is the first dive that we’ve done with her since she rolled over and sank on the day we left for Australia. I was a bit apprehensive, because submerging your boat in salt water is not something that is good for it. There was a stong current coming through the passage into the anchorage and the water was wonderfully clear. Unfortunately, there was a thin layer of condensation inside my camera housing, so I got no images. I did not warm the camera and housing  to drive out any moisture before sealing it.

So, today I’ll show some images of a few of the very strange creatures commonly known as sea squirts. More properly called tunicates, sea squirts live just above the edge between invertebrates and vertebrates. Because I am so lazy I ripped this directly from the Wikipedia article on tunicates.

Most tunicates feed by filtering sea water through pharyngeal slits, but some are sub-marine predators such as the Megalodicopia hians. Like other chordates, tunicates have a notochord during their early development, but lack myomeric segmentation throughout the body and tail as adults. Tunicates lack the kidney-like metanephridial organs, and the original coelom body-cavity develops into a pericardial cavity and gonads. Except for the pharynx, heart and gonads, the organs are enclosed in a membrane called an epicardium, which is surrounded by the jelly-like mesenchyme. Tunicates begin life in a mobile larval stage that resembles a tadpole, later developing into a barrel-like and usually sedentary adult form.

There. That is probably way more than you wanted to know.

This is one sea squirt which you have seen many times before here in MPBM. It is Didemnum molle:

It is very delicate and floppy. It reminds me of a bag full of lettuce.

I still have some difficulty knowing for certain whether I am looking at a sea squirt colony or something else. I am pretty sure that this is a colony, but I can’t identify the species:

My resource book tries to cover all of the invertebrates of the Indo-Pacific region, so it contains only a tiny fraction of all species.

Again, I’m at a loss to identify the species, but I’m reasonably certain that this is a sea squirt colony. There is a bit of overlap in appearance between some sea squirts and some sponges; this complicates identification, at least for me, a rank amateur:

This is another bag-like sea squirt, though they are much smaller than the D. molle:

Just from these five images you can see the wide variety of forms. These colonies grow on little stalks which are not visible in this image. They look like strange little bushes growing on the reef:

Sea squirts are a hot topic in the field of medicine. Researchers have found chemicals which are effective treatments for various cancers. Other research indicates that there is quite a bit to learn from sea squirts which may teach us how to regenerate human organs.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The bizarre parade of physical symptoms accompanying my grief and stress continues to march through my life. I wasn’t expecting this. For weeks, long before Eunie passed on to her reward, adrenaline was coursing through my body and giving me the shakes. Insomnia was my constant companion and still is. Three or four hours of sleep a night seems to be my limit. My toes feel like ice cubes and my ears are on fire. The backs of my calves feel very cold, but are warm to the touch. What’s that  all about? Some symptoms fade and are replaced by others. The daily small panic attacks have reduced in number and intensity. They have been gradually replaced by a permanently clenched jaw. I have to tell myself a hundred times a day to unclench and stop grinding. My jaw hurts.

I feel a bit silly complaining about such trivialities. Well, insomnia is certainly not trivial, so I’ll complain about that. I was taking Temazepam to catch a little sleep. When I finally got around to reading about it I discovered why that bit of sleep began to diminish as time went by. It’s a temporary fix and may end up causing more problems than it fixed, since it reduces the body’s ability to sleep naturally. Okay, so much for “better living through chemistry”.

Among my many fond memories I can relish the time when I could get a solid eight hours of peaceful slumber.

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More Eel Garden Goodies

Posted in Under the Sea on July 19th, 2010 by MadDog
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Here is the way I like to see Faded Glory’s  anchor. This is a shot from The Eel Garden near Pig Island.  There is a big sandy bowl there which makes a good anchorage. You can safely drop anchor there with no worry of damaging any coral. Coral damage when anchoring is a constant worry for us. Fortunately, we can usually see the bottom clearly and find a bare rock or sandy spot in which to drop anchor. After getting in the water, we always check the lay of the anchor to make sure that we will inflict no damage.

Nevertheless, there is sometimes broken coral. We have no money to put in proper moorings at dive sites. A few years ago we all contributed to having about a dozen stainless steel hooks drilled into the reefs. There were to be floating buoys on each site. We could tie up to these buoys and avoid dropping anchors on the reef. Withing weeks, all of the floats on the buoys had been stolen. At the present time there is only one buoyed dive site, The Green Dragon  B-25 bomber.

Local divers have no money to do this. All we can do is be as careful as possible. Several representatives of so-called environmental organisations who claim to want to do wonderful things to “save the reefs” have sat in my office and extolled the virtues of their efforts. I have yet to find any of them who will actually come forward with the funds to provide proper facilities to protect the dive sites from anchor damage. Talking to school kids is fun and it’s cheap. In my opinion, it is about as effective as spitting on a forest fire. When am I going to find an environmental organisation which is ready to put its money where its mouth is?

That’s enough rage for a Monday morning.

This is Fire Coral. It’s name is not a joke:

Back when I was young and exuding clouds of testosterone fumes, I enjoyed the macho look of diving without a wet suit. I had a little more blubber as protection from the chill then. Our water averages about 28-29° C, so as long as you keep active, you don’t get cold. I remember a few times when I inadvertently brushed against fire coral. It is a distinctly unpleasant experience. If I had to describe it, I would say that is not unlike having been mauled by a tiger and then getting someone to pour vinegar into the wounds. It will  get your attention.

Way down in the bottom of the sandy bowl at The Eel Garden is a Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  which I have been photographing for several years:

Th odd thing about this anemone is how it changes colours. Sometimes it looks sick. I remember when we used to keep a salt water aquarium. I would bring back anemones and keep them in the tank until they began to look a little tired. Then I would put the back where I got them. After a while, they would regain their original healthy look. Finally I got tired of all the work and guilty about all the stress I was causing to poor critters which had done nothing but give me pleasure. I gave the tank away and decided to look and not touch.

I don’t know why these Sea Squirts (Phallusia julinea)  are so outrageously yellow. I photograph them often because they always make an interesting image:

In this shot I used a very throttled-back flash to lighten up the foreground and allow the background to appear darker. I’m discovering many new techniques as I get bored with doing the same thing week after week. It reminds me of when I bought a new Corvette back in our rich days. Every month I drove it faster. Finally I got a speeding ticket and decided to sell it. What I’m doing now is much safer.

I love the colour contrasts in this shot of a Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus):

It one of the effects that I’m working on. I want to get some contrast between the artificial sunlight from the flash and the saturated aqua and blue shades of the water at deeper stages of the dive.

One of the things which I have always loved about photography is that there are a gozillion ways to take a picture of the same thing. How may ways could you photograph a tree? It fascinates me. After years of shooting underwater, I’m now getting bored enough by it to start exploring seriously. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

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Wearing the Captain’s Hat

Posted in Under the Sea on July 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today being Dive Day, I have the usual display of rather boring underwater creatures. I haven’t gotten through all of the shots from today yet. I see some more interesting ones coming up. However, not all of the photographic action was underwater. Ush was back aboard Rich Jones and Pascal Michon’s Sanguma.  Someone passed her the Captain’s Hat and she perched on the stern rail with her now famous shiny red sunglasses. What can one do but take a picture?

Ush is working through her PADI Open Water Course, which means that she will soon be joining us under the sea as well as on top.

Well, I’m playing catch-up today, so the chatter will be minimal. I don’t know what kind of sponge this is, but it is rather pretty, as sponges go:

I’ve been playing with flash intensities for a while. Today I’m showing a few shots where I’m trying to balance flash with natural light. It’s not a big problem when you are near the surface. However, the deeper you go the greater the difference becomes between the spectrum of the light at your depth and the spectrum of the flash, which mimics the sun at the surface. This can create some very difficult colour correction problems. The shot above turned out very natural, according to my colour memory.

This shot of a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  in the strong current which we had at The Eel Garden near Pig Island  was taken under a ledge, so the flash predominates the lighting causing an unnaturally warm tone which I generally dislike, because it is not the way it appeared to my eyes:

The current does lend a nice sweeping motion to the shot.

Here I caught a Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus)  with a couple of Hawkfish in a single coral colony. A lucky shot:

I think that they are Pixy Hawkfish, but I’m too lazy right now to verify that. Who cares anyway? This shot displays a much better balance of flash and natural light.

I’m pretty sure that this is a very young Solitary coral of the species Fungia fungites:

It was only about six or seven centimetres in diameter. The little polyps were vibrating fiercely in the current. I had to take about twenty exposures to get one in which they were not motion blurred. This shot was taken with no flash at all.

This is one of my favourite Sea Squirts (Phallusia julinea):

I just thought about how geeky that sounds. It’s like hearing a grown man, indeed a mature  man, saying “This is my favourite model airplane.” or “This is my favourite miniature toy car.”

Hey, it’s just a hobby.

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Grass and Water

Posted in Under the Sea on July 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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I was standing out in the front yard this morning watching the sun rise up steadily, much too bright for good sunrise shots, and I looked down at my feet. The warm wine light of the fat, yellow orb was casting a very curious glow on the vegetation and shallow harbour water inches in front of my toes. I started to think about it. I took a picture.

It’s a very ordinary image. Yet, the familiarity of my surroundings give me context to extract much more from it than might be apparent to you:

The brown, twisty gnarls are the roots of my coconut trees. They are presently the only thing saving my front yard from melting into the rising waters of Madang Harbour.  The local sea level has risen at least twenty centimetres since we moved into our house twenty years ago. No, this isn’t global warming. It’s a local tectonic phenomena. We are on one end of a small plate which is tipping. Our end is going down. The gnarly roots speak to me.

The area at the edge of the water is almost daily flooded by boat wakes. The constant salting causes great stress to the grass at the edge of our lawn. The fresh grass shoots are vigorous and bright green.

All around me I can hear the splashing of fish. At this time of the morning predators are coming into water only ankle-deep and driving prey up toward the shore. I remind myself of the small life and death struggles taking place within a couple of metres from where I stand.

How much can you pack into an image.? I guess it depends on who is looking at it and what associations they can make.

Well, enough of the early morning moodiness. Have a look at this delightfully curly Feather Star (Comaster multifidus):

I didn’t think much of this shot when I first saw it on the screen. The composition is not so bad, but the varying distances from the flash left me with some spots far too bright and others too dark. It took a bit of fiddling, but I finally reckoned it was good enough to show.

I love Sea Squirts of all kinds. One could easily make a career of cataloging the varieties within a half hour boat ride from my house. I don’t know how you could make a living doing that, but it would be fun. These are Atriolum robustum:

I got some nice depth of field on this shot and the colour balance is spot-on. You are seeing exactly what I saw.

These are the same Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus)  on the same plate coral which I showed to you a few days ago in Sharp and Smooth:

It’s just another frame from the same series. I like the depth in this one, though the general composition is not as good as the shot in the earlier post.

You’ve seen this exact Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  before. I’m going to keep shooting him until I have him nailed down:

One might think that it would become boring doing hundreds (over 2,000 now) of dives in only a couple of dozen locations. I think it depends on what you expect from diving. For me it’s about being with friends, feeling the stress melt away when I slip into Mother Ocean, and photography. You don’t need to spend a lot of money travelling from place to palce like a well-heeled gypsy to get these pleasures. I’m happy to stay at home and squeeze the lemons.

Here’s two more of the Usual Suspects, Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus):

I had some fun playing with the colours in this shot. I can see some areas which are distinctly fake. However, I decided to take some liberties with Mother Nature.

I just don’t want Eunie to catch me. Shhhhhh . . .

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Little Fishies

Posted in Under the Sea on June 2nd, 2010 by MadDog
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It looked pretty scary outside this morning at about 06:00. I thought the world had caught fire for a moment. Never mind. It was just a big black cloud. It’s Wednesday here – middle of the week day. Ho-hum day. It’s too early in the week to be tired. It’s too late in the week to start any big projects. It’s not close enough to the weekend to begin to slack off. It’s just a work day. I had it in mind to be very productive today. I had nothing on my schedule to take me away from my office and I was determined to see how many of the little nagging projects that I’ve put off I could pummeled into submission before the day ended. I suppose you can imagine how that is going.

However, I did just finish my lunch while I was working on something else (I must vacuum my keyboard crumbs soon) and I’m going to celebrate the successful commencement of digestion by showing you The Big Black Cloud:

There. Isn’t that scary?

The title of this post is Little Fishies.  Here they are:

You know when I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of creating an underwater image? Well, I’ll tell you when. It’s when you look at one of my images and think to yourself, “He faked that! He took that shot through the glass of somebody’s perfectly maintained aquarium.” Yeah, when you get suspicious, I get all puffed up and start bragging about what a great photographer I am. I’m such a glory hound.

Yeah, well, anyway, here’s a very uneven Linckia multifora  starfish. It’s been leg bitten several times:

You know why I keep taking pictures of these and showing them to you until you want to scream, “Stop, STOP! Enough with the starfish amputees!” Well, I’ll tell you why. It is because they make me think of the amazing powers of regeneration which humans possess. No, we can’t regrow limbs – yet. But we can regenerate our emotional, spiritual and intellectual aspects by simple acts of will accompanied by hard work and behavioural changes. I have regenerated so many parts of me that I hardly recognise myself. Most of these chopping offs and regrowings have been prompted by the “What a jerk!” response of people with whom I interact. It’s like getting a smart slap in the face and then saying, “Oh, thanks. I needed that.”

Well that’s enough of whatever that was. I love shapes. I think that I must be a very visual person. I know that I’m no longer an olfactory person. I still can’t smell anything, but at least the phatosmia is getting less obnoxious since I started snorting Nasonex. Eunie uses it and I thought, “What the . . . ” I’ll give it a shot – really – two up each nose-hole each day. The smell of smoke is fading.

Hmmm . . . I drifted off-point there – back to shapes:

The Sea Squirt (Didemnum molle)  on the left makes me think of a buffalo (American Bison, to be exact) which has rater gruesomely had it head chopped off. The one on the right evokes vaguely uneasy gurglings in my cerebellum, but doesn’t provide any words to go with them. All I’m getting is visual blub-a-lug-a-blug. There may be something obscene there, but it’s not registering.

Come to think of it, It could  be Carl Malden’s nose, but I can’t be sure.

Mystery Stuff – Possibly a Protopalythoa  species anemone? I think so:

There is are so many things down there to see that it makes me wish that I could live to be a hundred. I think of the line of Shakespeare when Hamlet says to Horatio “There are many things in heaven and earth, Horatio, that are not dreamt of in your philosophy”. Hamlet  (Act I Sc V)*

Both of our beautiful Fishtail Palms (Caryota gigas)  are fruiting again:

This concerns me a bit, because these trees usually die when they have given their all to reproduce.

That seems like such a shame to me. I’d have been dead since 1969.

* Quoting Shakespeare is like using semicolons. All it proves is that you’ve been to college. Pffffft! College is the new high-school. I’m left for dead in the dust again!

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