More Freaky Underwater Stuff

Posted in Under the Sea on February 2nd, 2010 by MadDog
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I have a few more shots from our recent dive at Magic Passage to show to you this morning. I’m not feeling very chatty today, so you’ll be spared the usual verbal assault that comes along with the pictures. The more images that I process from the Canon G11 the more impressed I am. Now, if I can just find a student, I can get started on something that I’ve wanted to do for years – teaching underwater photography!

This is a cute litte baby Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima) only about as wide as your hand:Awwww, cootchie, cootchie, coo. If you click to enlarge, you will see its “eyes”, which are the turquoise spots around the edges. I had a hard time taking this shot, since I had to get the camera close, but every time I did, the clam would sense the shadow – they can’t really “see”, but simply sense light and dark – and withdraw into its shell.

Here is a nice shot of some Feather Stars (Comantheria briareus):These things are all over the place. There are many different colours. They have little “feet” to hold onto the rocks and they move very slowly about, looking for the best supply of food drifting past. The arms are very sticky and break off easily, so you have to be careful when moving around them not to cause them harm.

This is a beautiful Blue Encrusting Sponge (Haliclona sp):I have noticed that these are spreading like weeds in the area of Magic Passage. I don’t know what that means, but I’m a little worried about it. It is ridiculous that there are no facilities for marine research in Madang, something which I am hoping to do something about soon. More about that later – stay tuned. Anybody out there wanting to do marine research in the area should contact me.

I have a couple of new Sea Squirts for you today. This is a Sea Squirt of the Botryllus genus:The species name was not given in my resource book. It may not even have a name yet. There is so much here that is unidentified. Geeks may notice that the colony is growing on a different kind of Sea Squirt, possibly a species of Polycarpa. You can clearly see the spiracle at the upper left – it’s the big black hole.

This is a Sea Squirt of the Didemnum genus and a real beauty it is:The colour is amazing. You can also see that one Feather Star has chosen this spot to perch for a while. It is interesting that the colours are similar. I can’t imagine that this is anything less than chance, since there are absolutely no brains involved here. It’s blind luck that the hue of the Feather Star and the Sea Squirt colony end up being the same.

Finally, here is another shot of the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis) which I showed to you recently. It is a bit easier to see the fish in this shot:Most of the scorpionfish are well camouflaged. The Papuan is a master. I’m the serious photographer in our little mob of divers, but there are several who are better at spotting things. I let them swim around looking for stuff and I wait to hear someone banging on a SCUBA tank. Then I go over an shoot the critter.

It’s good to have friends.

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A Few Lower Invertebrates

Posted in Under the Sea on January 25th, 2010 by MadDog
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Ah, the pictures are here, but the words, they don’t flow today. If you suffer from writer’s block, it’s handy to have a camera and a wet suit. Let’s jump right in and see if I can loosen my tongue a bit. I have a few recent amusing photos of lowly invertebrates to get us going, including a couple of puzzles. I’ll begin with something that’s not supposed to be here, assuming that I have correctly identified it.

This is what appears to me to be the Red Encrusting Sponge (Monanchora barbadensis):There is no denying that is simultaneously beautiful and spectacular, a combination of attributes not achieved since the days of the likes of Sophia Loren and Elke Sommer. The problem with it being:  it’s not supposed to be here. I can only assume that either I have misidentified it (most likely) or  it has begun to wander dramatically from its home waters in the Caribbean. It is even more stunning in person, as I am certain were Sophia and Elke, though I missed my chance to verify this.

Switching colours and approaching certainty we have here the Blue Encrusting Sponge (Haliclona sp):It’s equally spectacular in colour, but a little more messy in form.

Moving back to a warmer colour, if not improving the shape, we have this rather lumpy orange sponge which I can’t identify at all:I can find plenty of orange sponges on the web, but none of them fit the profile of this blob. It is incredibly bright. You can see it from a great distance. Apparently the colour is particularly good at penetrating sea water. Why anything that can’t move quickly would want to be so flashy, I can’t imagine. It’s like wearing a sign that says, “Eat me!”

This is a particularly neat, round Acropora hyacinthus  coral:This colony was particularly green, which caught my eye.

As I was working with the image, I noted that I had caught more detail than I imagined. Here is a close-up of the center of the colony showing the individual polyps:Quite a lot going on down deep inside there.

You’ve seen images of this Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata)  here before, but I’m showing you this one because it’s the best specimen image that I’ve managed yet. It shows all of the features needed to make a positive identification:Not that that’s critical in this case. There’s simply nothing else that looks anything like it.

Finally, here’s an image that features not one but two  Sea Squirt species in one frame:The green slimy looking stuff is a Sea Squirt (Lissoclinum patellum)  which I only recently came to the realisation of what it is. I’ve been looking at them for years, wondering what the heck they were. They look for all the world like blobs of moldy mint jelly. The tan thingie in the middle I am less sure about. I previously thought that these were some kind of sponge. Now I’ve changed my mind (easy enough). I now think that this also is a Sea Squirt of the genus Botryllus.

Did the earth shake for you?

Never mind. Just do as I do. Look at the pretty pictures. I can’t remember the last time that I actually read  National Geographic.

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Wrapping Up 2009

Posted in Under the Sea on December 31st, 2009 by MadDog
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After yesterday’s dark and whiny rambling through the back alleys of my nearly comatose mind, which prompted friends to call to see if I was planning to depart post-haste to greener pastures (or no pasture at all), I should maybe craft some slightly more upbeat prose. As a recovering (seemingly forever) bipolar, I need to be reminded once in a while that things are never so dark as I may wish to paint them on a down day. The flip side of that, as those who’ve experienced that hideous roller-coaster will instantly proclaim, is that things are never so bright either.

But, never mind. I’m over that. My craving for sympathy is satiated and I still have plenty of pineapple upside-down cake left. Today we will meet a couple of new characters and visit again with some old friends. A few days ago I took KP Perkins for her first dives after the completion of her Open Water Course. On our second dive, we went to The Eel Garden near Pig Island.  There, on the sandy bottom I got this pitiful shot of what we call a Leaf Fish. The “book” common name is Peacock Razorfish. This the juvenile phase of a species variation of Iniistius pavo:It’s a funny little thing. Against the creamy white bottom it looks very dark brown. I had to squeeze very hard on the lemon to get a bit of detail out of the body. Tha’s why it doesn’t look like a very good picture. We call it a Leaf Fish because, unless you are looking for it, you will be fooled by its colour, shape, the little topknot looking like a stem and its insane wobbly swimming motion into believing  that it is a leaf.

Here is another new something for you. It’s a coral, but I’m unable to determine the species name, since I can’t find it in my book. So, I’ll just call it Spiral Coral for now:What intrigues me about this coral is the striking resemblance between this overhead view and images of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction. Say what? Well, it’s a famous family of oscillating chemical reactions which can create amazing visible spiral patterns such as this:

I wouldn’t care to claim that I understand these reactions in anything other than a very general way. The details were not covered in CHEM-101 forty years ago. Nevertheless, the images were still im my mind and I could look them up with “spiral chemical reactions” using Google images. Ain’t the web great? Anybody can seem like an authority on anything. Wait, maybe that’s not  so great.

Well, here’s a spiky old friend from only a few days ago. It’s a Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas):I’m sure that it’s the same one that I showed you before. It lives there.

Here’s another old buddy, the gorgeous Tomato anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus):It this shot you can see the strong blue tint that is often seen in the white vertical bars. I’m not sure if this is really pigmentation – it doesn’t appear to be so. I think that it either some sort of reflection of the sky (it seems to be more common on a sunny day when most of the sky is blue) or it is a property of the surface of the skin similar to butterfly wings that produces colour by means of optical effects at the nanometric level. But, who knows? Maybe God just paints it that way. I’m no expert.

Here’s another bit of underwater eye candy that you’ve seen here before. They are Sea Squirts (Polycarpa aurata):I like to think of them as elf shoes. See, they have nice little elastic bands around the ankles so that they won’t fall off in the midst of mischief-making.

This is a shot that I really like. It’s our old friend, the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)  way out at the end of his front porch:They usually stay right next to their hidey-hole. It’s rare to see one that doesn’t have its tail down the burrow. This one has strayed a few centimetres away. You can see the trail of “dust” that it kicked up when it last came out only a few seconds ago.

I had one chance at the shot above before the little spotted pixy dived back into its burrow. The image turned out perfect. Though it’s not colourful, it is exactly as I saw it.

That is as close to diving as I can get you unless you’re ready to get wet.

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Coral Lovers Only

Posted in Under the Sea on December 11th, 2009 by MadDog
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Today we’re looking at coral pictures (mostly). But first I want to tell you about the most beautiful screen saver on the planet. Understand, that’s just one man’s opinion. It developed as an homage to Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  You can find it here. You have to sign up for an account, but there’s no money involved. It does require an Internet connection occasionally to give the full effect of evolvement, but it works fine without one. Here’s a screen shot of the home page. If you like to fool around with screen savers, give this one a shot.The electricsheep.org siteNow, on to the coral and whatever.

Wouldn’t you know that the first one up is a species that I can’t find. I tried Googling “cup coral” which is the obvious name for this, but I couldn’t find anything like it. My invertebrates book is of no help. If you know the genus and species of this thing, please leave a comment:Cup coral (species unknown)It is about six or seven centimetres in diameter.

I am pretty sure about the identification of this coral (Acropora cerealis): Coral (Acropora cerealis)It is one of the most common species here. It is very delicate. A brush of a fin can knock off a huge chunk.

This one is quite beautiful when the sun is shining down through the water. It is a species of the Montipora  genus:Coral (Montipora species)It has many tubeworms embedded in it. None of them came out to play.

This is another very pretty coral (Pachyseris speciosa).  Both this and the one above are massive. They are often over two metres across:Coral (Pachyseris speciosa)Sometimes what is growing on, in or near the coral is just as interesting. Here Sea Squirts (Atriolum robustum)  grow surrounded by Porites  coral:Sea Squirt (Atriolum robustum)Well, they obviously don’t grow on the coral, but on a bit of dead coral that is embedded in the Porites. 

I’m a bit of a fan of Sea Squirts. This one you’ve seen several times before. You can enter ‘molle’ in the search box to see previous posts. This one is Didemnum molle.  It has a nice coral, which I think is Goniastrea australensis  in the background:

Sea Squirt (Didemnum molle)The shading on the molle  is hard to get right.

Here’s another molle  with several species of coral in the background:

Sea Squirt (Didemnum molle)The molle  is about five centimetres across. You can also see a couple of Dascyllus reticulatus  in the background.

Did I mention that I’ve never been bored on a dive?

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Obie Goby

Posted in Under the Sea on October 8th, 2009 by MadDog
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Today was a Tsunami Day in Madang. It started out with a rather unremarkable sunrise. I staggered out to the water’s edge dragging my tripod behind me like a broken crutch and sat down to wait. This was as good as it got:

A Sunrise Panorama with glassy water (15 second exposure)

That shot was stitched together from three frames of fifteen-second exposures. The water is nicely flattened out and glassy. Too bad the sunrise itself was so flaccid. Otherwise, it might have been perfect. Story of our lives, eh?

We heard the tsunami warning on CNN. However, as usual, CNN was not aware of the existence of Papua New Guinea. Sometimes I imagine imaginary conversations in the CNN studio:

ANCHOR:  What’s this blobby looking thing here on top of . . . what is that, Austria?

CAMERAMAN:  Uh, no. That’s AustrALIA, not AustrIA.

ANCHOR:  Yeah, yeah, but what’s the blobby thing?

CAMERAMAN:  Dunno.

ANCHOR:  Let’s get rid of it.

Do you suppose that we would all disappear?

Anyway, when I got to work I had an email from Kyle Harris, our official science dude and tsunami watcher. He said that it was going to arrive at 11:25 or thereabouts. I looked at the clock and calculated just how much time I could waste writing in my journal before I needed to get into the truck and go over to Coronation Drive with my camera to see if I could get a cool shot of a giant wave curling over the top of my head. I got all excited just thinking about it.

At about 10:30 we got news that the warning had been cancelled. The tsunami was a little weak in the knees and got all tired out before it could get to us. This, of course, did not in any way affect the unrolling of a normal Tsunami Day in Madang. I heard that government offices and business were all closing. I suppose that there was a big traffic jam on Modolin Road as everybody at once decided to head for Nob Nob Mountain. I say, “I heard – I suppose” ,because I never left the office. I was still thinking about the incredible shots that I missed. Tsunami Days are getting to be like spur-of-the-moment holidays in Madang.

Hey, I’m not complaining. I’d rather see folks get a hundred days off for false alarms than see one poor schmuck get washed off the beach while pointing his camera straight up at the water. Especially if that schmuck is me!

So. How about some fish?

This is a Five-Bar Shrimpgoby, some species of Amblyeleotris,  I think. My reference book is a little vague on this one:

Five-Bar Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris sp.)

Here’s another individual under different lighting conditions on the same dive:Five-Bar Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris sp.)

These little guys have about 2,000 relatives that are also classed as Gobies. The family includes some of the smallest vertebrates on the planet – tiny adult fishes no bigger than the diameter of a pencil.

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)

The one above is a Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata).  They are not called Shrimpgobies because they are small, though small they are. They are usually partnered up with a small shrimp which lives in the same hole and keeps the house tidy by pushing all of the loose gravel out. The shrimp feeds on tidbits rejected by the goby and the Goby’s poo. Yes, poo. Little goes to waste in the ocean.

Now that I think of it, I have a shot from about five years ago of a Spotted Shrimpgoby with its little buddy (Alpheus ochrostriatus): 

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata) and commensal shrimp Alpheus ochrostriatus

This is a kind of Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata)  that you’ve seen here before. When I see a nice one, I can’t pass it up. It looks like some kind of joke to me:

Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata)

This character is a Pennant Bannerfish (Heniochus chrysostomus):

Pennant Bannerfish (Heniochus chrysostomus)It’s another of those pesky critters that stay just beyond the effective range of your camera. Pfffft! Psychic fish; who needs them? This is the best shot that I’ve managed yet of one of these snooty little creeps with the redundant name. Hey, a pennant is a banner, right? Okay, but it’s like  a banner.

Never mind.

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More of Magic Passage

Posted in Under the Sea on October 6th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’m about to run dry of images from last Saturday’s dive at Magic Passage. I have just a few more. I have to admit that I often take the easy route of showing pretty fish pictures instead of actually writing,  which is the whole point of this journal, at least for me. However, coming up every day with something interesting to write about is a heavy load. It would be so  easy to turn the journal into a soapbox for my increasingly unstable thought processes and poorly thought out plans for saving the world. Believe me. You don’t want  to know.

So, let me do it to you again, one more time.

I’ll start with something that is so pretty and so absurdly flamboyant, that it gives me a little hiccough of a chuckle every time I see one – the Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus):

Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)

You’ve seen them many times here. This one is so pink and frilly that it makes me think of teenage girl heading off the the Junior Prom. I should mention that the last time I saw a girl heading off to the Junior Prom was in about 1960. I have no idea what they wear now.

This is just a little throw-away shot of a reef community on the top of the barrier reef at Magic Passage. My theory is that I should toss these shots in occasionally so that you can get an idea of the general habitat appearance:

Reef Community

These have no common name. They are a kind of Sea Squirt (Atriolum robustum):

Sea Squirt (Atriolum robustum)

They always make me think of little alien houses.

You’ve seen it before and you’ll see it again until you can’t eat fish any more – the wonderfully peaceful Silver Sweetlips sub-adult (Diagramma pictum):

Silver Sweetlips (Diagramma pictum)

Compare this shot with the one from a couple of days ago. You’ll see it’s a much better exposure. I have many better ones than this. I think that this one shows the silvery tone of the skin better than some of my shots.

These little mates are Bluestreak Gobies (Valenciennea strigata):

Bluestreak Goby (Valenciennea strigata)

I spent maybe ten minutes shooting thes two. They are forever darting about and keeping a wary eye on you. They don’t want to hide, because that would put a serious crimp in their play time. But, if you get too close, they will dart in to a hole quicker that you can see. It’s just a puff of sand.

I got this nice shot when the pair swam in front of an overturned Trochus  shell. The play of light and colour in this shot pleases me greatly:

Bluestreak Goby (Valenciennea strigata)

Though I seem to be here today, I’m really not. I’ve scheduled this post to go out automatically. I’ve gone out to the bush to start a little fire-fight with Sanguma.  I’m taking my sword and armor with me. If you don’t know what that means, then stay tuned. If you do, then wish me luck or, if you’ve a mind to, say a little prayer.

Risky business, man. I’d rather swim with the sharks.

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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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