Back Under the Sea

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

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

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

When it rains it pours.

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

Isn’t that exciting? One less thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, that’s what friends are for.

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Cuttlefish Hunger

Posted in Under the Sea on June 9th, 2010 by MadDog
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I have a fantastic shot for you today. A couple of days ago I put up a post showing an image of a Cuttlefish. I had looked over the frames which I had taken and chosen the one that I thought was the prettiest. Yesterday, as I was going back over the images from that dive on Planet Rock last Saturday, I discovered something which I had not noticed in my earlier examinations – something which blew my itsy-bitsy mind.

The is the same Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus)  which you saw in the post linked to above. Do you notice anything odd about it? Go on, have a good look before I tell you. Click on it to make it larger:

It quite clearly has a fish sticking out of its mouth. Richard Jones told me that he thought that it was actively hunting when we ran across it. I never thought more about it. It must have snatched this fish with its long feeding tentacles only moments before I snapped this shot. I Googled some “cuttlefish feeding” images this morning and found plenty of examples of the act of feeding, but no others showing a fish sticking out a a cuttlefish’s mouth. I get lucky so often that it is beginning to frighten me.

Today, we’ll alternate back and forth between beauty and weirdness. Some might say that the Cuttlefish is beautiful, but it’s also weird.

Here’s your beauty. It’s lovely Geneviève Tremblay waving “Hello” to you:

Geneviève is a volunteer worker here in Madang. She is a physiotherapist, a much needed skill here in our hazardous country.

I used the “Hello in All Languages” WordPress plugin for the greeting from Geneviève. If you get something other that your local language equivalent of “Hello” please let me know. I’m still testing it.

Snapping back to weird, here is an elegant Longsnout Flathead (Thysanophrys chiltonae):

These are very common on our reefs. They are ambush hunters. Their camouflage abilities are amazing as you can see in this post.

Let’s flip back to beauty for a moment:

Here is a sweet shot of Roz Savage with some lovely orange Antheas and a Feather Star in the foreground. I was so pleased with this shot. It’s definitely going in MadDog’s Little Book of Memories.

Now, this one is not ugly, but it is weird looking. It’s a common Scorpion Shell (Lambis scorpius):

It doesn’t look like much when you first see it laying in the sand.

But, gently turn it over and:

Zowie! That’s a whole different thing there.

Mother Ocean is full of surprises.

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Dive Day – A Little Surprise!

Posted in Under the Sea on June 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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Saturday morning weather looked promising. It appears as if the dry season is arriving on time this year. This will be a great relief to the many people who depend on their gardens for their main food supply. I was feeling quite happy as I prepared Faded Glory  for departure.

I arrived at the Madang Resort Hotel wharf where we meet and rent air tanks for our little dive club from Sir Peter Barter’s dive shop, a generosity which allows us to go diving every week. Most of us could not afford to do that otherwise. As friends appeared, I noticed a strange look on some of the faces. They seemed to be looking over my shoulder as I was leaning over tending to some gear. When I turned around I did a double-take of movie quality. Grinning down at me was Roz Savage, who seemingly had not had enough of Mother Ocean. It was very pleasant to have her along and allow her to be simply “one of the mob”.

The lighting was all wrong for this cute shot of Geneviève Tremblay:

It looks as if she is about to be eaten by the big sea slug in the foreground. It was only about a half-metre long.

A week or so ago, Geneviève took this shot of me checking our anchor line. I don’t often get any decent pictures of myself. This miffs me a bit, because I never tire of looking at myself:Geneviève did a nice job of composing the shot, so all I had to do was Photoshop my love handles down to  less grotesque dimensions. One wants to look as good an one might. The emphasis is on might.  The amusement of exercise escapes me. I simply try to eat as little as possible.

I used up a fair bit of air chasing these Bigeye Trevally (Carnax sexfasciatus)  up and down over Planet Rock:

I was very lucky to catch the bubbles of a diver in the background.

Another treat was this Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus)  which allowed me to snap several shots before it tired of the game and rocketed off with a puff of ink:

Any day when you get a cuttlefish shot is a good day.

I like this one of the little fish hiding right next to the gaping jaws of a Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus):

Possibly they know that this is probably the safest place for them. If you stand behind a bully who ignores you, you are unlikely to be bothered by anybody else.

Though we were trying to allow Roz to enjoy not being the centre of attention for a few hours, I could not resist this shot as were were coming up the anchor line to Faded Glory  after our dive:

I can’t imagine a more perfect day.

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Night Ships

Posted in Under the Sea on March 9th, 2010 by MadDog
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Mmmm . . . stepped out of the front door last night to let Sheba out for a little swim – she likes to skinny dip in the dark – and the lights on the ships across the harbour simply stunned me. Had to trot back inside to get my G11.

I set everything to manual and cranked the ISO up to 800 and got this telephoto shot by bracing the camera against a coconut tree:

What an amazing gadget it is. If I were the Oprah Winfrey of photographers, I’d just give them away to everybody and say, “Go forth and photograph!” We would be so busy having fun that there would be no time for wars. Of course, the world economy would grind to a halt. Hey, wait! That happened already. Never mind.

I backed off the telephoto a little and got this nice little panorama:I’m not feeling too wordy today. I think I may have blown a fuse or something yesterday. Maybe it’s the Aliens influencing me to cool it.

Going back to the images from my dive with Monty Armstrong on The Lady Anne  I found one that I’d forgotten to massage. It’s a kind of Sea Squirt that grows profusely in the rich (read full of sewerage) waters of the inner harbour:Its formal name is Rhopalaea circulata.  I’m actually quite happy with the image, considering that the water was filthy. It marks the first time that I’ve posted an image of a species that is clearly better than anything that I could find on the web (not that a better one doesn’t exist somewhere). Yeah, I’m feeling a bit smug about that. Hey, I work hard at this. Even geeks should get to win once in a while.

This little Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri)  also makes me smile:It gave me every opportunity to capture a good image. If there is any fault for imperfection, it’s the photographer’s. I wish every fish posed so nicely.

Well, I’m running out of words. Some days I feel like I could write all day. Sometimes I do, for magazine articles. Other days, it just doesn’t flow. However, I can’t leave without showing you one more shot of the amazing Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus)  that inspired my bizarre “Aliens” post of yesterday.I had a dream this morning about these critters. Very amusing.

Ursula Andress was in it too.

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To The Aliens in My Front Yard – Live Long and Prosper

Posted in Humor, Under the Sea on March 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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The Laboratory Monks tell us that a huge portion of the genes that spell out what we appear to be (Yeah, I’m a phenotype, just like you. Except I’m less inhibited.) are exactly the same. Okay, lets say that I share like maybe 90% of the genes with my dog, Sheba. That could explain a lot. But, we don’t look much like each other. Chimps are even closer, something like 98%. Don’t take these numbers seriously, I’m not checking them. I’m just sketching the general sketch here. In one sense, I’m nearly as mousey as a mouse, as moosey as a moose . . . you get the picture.

But, when you go into the ocean . . . wow . . . There be monsters there. HARRRGGHH!

When did you ever see anything like this in your front yard?Well, any fool knows that it’s just a cuttlefish, specifically a Broadclub Cuttlefish, technically a Sepia latimanus.  But, have you ever stopped, maybe after a stiff Scotch or two, and pondered just how different  it is? If you think about it long enough, you go all funny. People are always telling me that I think too much. Maybe they are right.

But, how do you shut it off? I mean, look at this thing:You can’t see it here, but it was flashing  me. No, not that way. Waves of brilliant colours were sweeping over its body. If that were not enough, it was growing lumps even as I watched. Check out cuttlefish flicks on YouTube if you want to blow your mind.

They also have this funny (not ha-ha, I mean hair standing up on the back of your neck funny) thing that they do with their arms that seems chillingly communicative. It’s like, “Hey, stupid! Yeah, you. Cat got your tongue? Can’t you see I’m talking to you?” I’ll demonstrate at the end of the post. You’ll be amazed.

As if that’s not bad enough, we have the cloaking devices. You see the alien? I’m one up on you, because I know its secret:Here on Earth we call it the Longsnout Flathead. The Men in Black call it a Thysanophrys chiltonae.  (Thy Chi  for short). I can’t pronounce what their cousins call themsleves back on Betelgeuse XVI.

Okay, now  do you see it? Unlike in outer space, the cloaking device fails to be 100% effective underwater. I think has something to do with refraction angles or some such tomfoolery:Still pretty effective, eh? The eyes are the problem. If they cloak their eyes, they can’t see you. It’s a sort of self-defeating defense. Not much use. The eyes always give them away. They need to work on their technology. Maybe they should feed a few of their theoretical scientists to us. That would give them an incentive to come up with a fix.

Here I have used my soon to be patented MadDog Alien Disclosing Anti-Cloaking Ray Dispenser on this Flathead (a close cousin of the Coneheads, in case you were wondering) to display it in its fully disgusting not-like-me-at-all splendor:I should warn you not to stare into its eyes too long, especially if you click the image to enlarge it. I recently heard of a teenager who did that. It was horrible. He stopped cutting school, quit smoking pot, finished all of accumulation of 1,600 hours of his court mandated community service and stopped saying, “Whatever.” If these things have that kind of power they could take over any time they darn well please.

So, as I always play the safe side and don’t look for trouble where it doesn’t sound like fun, I’m publicly communicating my good intentions to any and all aliens, above or below the Dihydrogen Monoxide interface:

I’m using the same creepy hand signal that the Cuttlefish and Mister Spock use. You thought it was Hollywood, eh? Sucker!

Sheesh, I look like I’ve been raised from the dead. Call me Lazarus. You like my Lieutenant Dangle shorts? I cut the pockets off so people wouldn’t think I was a cast member of Reno 911.  That’s a genuine Harley Davidson belt buckle, by the way, given to me by Trevor Hattersley and Karen Simmons for some event, my birthday or Christmas or something. I can’t remember. I have to keep saying this, because I once attributed the gift to someone else and I’m still grovelling for forgiveness. Ooooh, I’m digressing severely.

Anyway, to all you aliens out there:  I’m a nice peaceable guy. You don’t get in my face, I won’t get in yours. My motto is live and let live or whatever it is you do.

In short:  Live Long and Prosper.

I’ll try to do the same.

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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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