Blurry Fish and Barrel Sponges

Posted in Under the Sea on February 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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Sometime I like amuse myself by going back through my accumulation of thousands of underwater images to find the ones which I first rejected as real.  Usually this rejection has to do with some technical fault such as bad focus (usually an image-killer), impossibly filthy water (sometimes fixable by laboriously removing the spots) or motion blur. Of the faults, motion blur is the easiest to turn into art. It sometimes generates a very interesting image. Here is a Many-Spotted Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides)  which I tried to capture with a shap shot at Magic Passage:

The attempt, as you can see, failed miserably. Both the fish and the background are blurred. Nevertheless, a tiny, nagging tickle in the back of my skull kept mumbling, “Play with it, idiot.” I always pay attention to these messages from my id. As you can see, with a little work, the wasted pixels redeem themselves. A mistake becomes art. I don’t know if I’d want to hang it on the wall, but it provided me with a few minutes of not  thinking about computer networks. That’s a blessing.

Here is another one that I saved from the bit dumpster. The Silver Sweetlips (Diagramma pictum),  one of my favourites, hangs out in mobs at Magic Passage. You can find many more images of them here on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi by putting “pictum” in the search box. Is is a very beautiful fish:You can see in the shot above that the background is relatively unblurred (relatively, as I say) but the fish was moving quite smartly. This transforms the beautiful yellow spots of the sub-adult into concentric yellow arcs which give the image the impression of some kind of weird, mustardy fingerprint. Fingerprint? Okay, let me reboot . . . nope, still reminds me of a fingerprint. What can I say?

At any rate, a strange piece of chintzy art is better than wasted pixels. I might actually hang this one. No, wait. I’m far too lazy.

Here’s a shot of the Silver Sweetlips sub-adults hanging in the current. These are very chilled-out fish:

They gang up like sulky teenagers on the corner by the liquor store, waiting for some sucker to buy them a bottle. I’m sure that if there were an equivalent of Mary Jane for fish, this mob would be toking up.

I did mention something about Barrel Sponges.

Here are two Barrel Sponges (Xestospongia testudinaria)  at Magic Passage, right in the area of the highest currents:
When Barrel Sponges get really big, they are very heavy and present a huge surface area upon which a strong current can push. It’s not surprising that they occasionally get knocked over. Here you can see one that is hanging on and one that has been toppled. Not to worry, the severely tilded sponge can continue to grow. When knocked down like this, the sponge continues to try to grow up towards the light, so some of the ones which have been over on their side for a long time have very peculiar shapes.

I’ll wrap up with this anemone with one little anemonefish guarding it:
I have one hour left to load the boat and get to the pick-up point for our regular Saturday dive. I’m outta here.

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The Papuan Scorpionfish – Junior and Senior

Posted in Under the Sea on January 31st, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I have some more shots from my dive at Magic Passage yesterday in a ripping current. That’s exactly what you want at that site, as long as it’s coming in, bringing cold, clear ocean water. It make for great visibility, but it was a little too strong yesterday, making photography difficult. The strong currents there cause a lot of swirling around the features of the passage, so, one second you are being sucked in one direction and the next moment, it’s just the opposite. It can be hard on cameras and heads alike.

But first, here’s this morning’s yummy sunrise, a five exposure panorama:

For the techno-geeks out there, this shot was taken at first ligh, just enough to barely read the knobs on the camera, hand held from the bobbing stern of Faded Glory and shot at ISO 1600. Not bad for a point and shoot camera. Click to enlarge and have a look. There was noise, alright, but I smashed it into submission with the normal settings of Noise Ninja Pro after merging the frames in Photoshop. This is a huge reduction of the original which was about 6000 pixels wide – enough to paper your lounge room wall.

Back into the water, here are some very young Silver Sweetlips (Diagramma pictum)  right at the mouth of Magic Passage. I got this snap shot as I was fighting against the current. The G11 did a fine job:You all know that I like “find the fish” shots. This isn’t the most difficult one that I’ve shown you, but it’s still a good example of a master of camouflage:It’s a rather large specimen of the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis),  probably the most common variety of scorpionfish that we see here. Did you find it quickly?

Here is a close up and personal shot of its head:

Pretty, isn’t it? In a functional sort of way.

Thanks to the eagle-eyes of my good dive buddy Rich Jones, I got my first good image of a baby version of the big daddy above. I wouldn’t have spotted this in a million years unless I was stuck on that rock with nothing else to do:It is about 3cm long and fades in perfectly with its surroundings.

I’m very happy with my new G11. The next step is to take both cameras down on the same dive and take identical shots for comparison. Get ready for some techno-babble, but with pretty pictures to soften it.

Then I’m hoping to start conducting on-site UW photography lessons. I”m looking for serious students with at least an Advanced Open Water certificate.

Anybody interested?

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First Drenching of the Canon G11

Posted in Under the Sea on January 30th, 2010 by MadDog
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I won’t waste your precious time today with a lot of blabber. My own semi-precious “time for myself” is withering as my workload increases while my pay simultaneously shrinks. However, I did have a bit of fun today. I did my first dive with my new Canon G11 in its cozy factory housing.I still have a lot to learn about squeezing this new lemon, but first results have me feeling dreamy and wishing I had time for a mid-week dive.

The current at Magic Passage was raging and I had two divers with me with whom I had no experience, so I didn’t get much chance to shoot. I did get enough frames to tell me that I like what I’m seeing from the G11.

Here is a pretty ordinary shot of a Silver Sweetlips subadult (Diagramma pictum).  You’ve seen these many times here before, and much better images. However, this was a snap shot which I did not even expect to save. With a few minutes work, the G11 image came out acceptable:Here is a mob of what I think are Lunartail Snappers (Lutjanus lunulatus)  finning vigorously against the current. Again, as a snap shot, I’m very happy. The G11 seems to save more images from doom because of its increased dynamic range (the range of colours and shades that it can record accurately under varying conditions) and its lower noise level:Again, I didn’t expect for this image to be usable.

Here’s a sweet shot of a Circular Spadefish  or Batfish (Platax orbicularis)  that really illustrates how the two extra stops of dynamic range allow me to save a nearly impossible image:Where I would have had muddy dark areas and blown out highlights (such as the top of the frame), now I have decent detail in the very dark areas and smooth gradations with colour detail left in the very bright areas – just what I was hoping for.

I never pass up a chance to photograph the ridiculous Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata): When God was a little kid, he left some of his toys scattered around the planet. This is one of them.

Here is a close up shot of this very special toy:The detail is amazing. I’ve lost no ability to capture fine details by dropping from 15 to 10 megapixels. I think a lot of the extra megapixels were wasted because they were too small to gather enough light to put together a decent image. The pixel race is over.

Here is a reader favourite and mine also, the lowly Hermit Crab (Dardanus sp.):This little fellow will soon be receiving a notice from the Neighborhood Association for painting his house such an outrageous colour.

Back tomorrow with more wholesome G11 goodness.

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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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Images That Were Nearly Discarded – Bad Fish

Posted in Photography Tricks, Under the Sea on October 4th, 2009 by MadDog
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If you are a long-time reader, you know that I am loath to throw an image away. If I go to all the trouble to get out on the boat, put on all that gear (which is becomming steadily more burdensome year-by-by-year), and fin around for an hour or so snapping pictures of anything that moves and much that doesn’t, then I reckon that even a less than technically acceptable shot deserves a few minutes to see if it can be revived.

I give a poor, but promising image ten minutes. If it still doesn’t amuse me, then I let it go back into the black hole of the tens of thousands of images that I’ll probably never touch again. Here’s a good example. These are Pickhandle Barracuds (Sphyraena qenie)  at about thirty metres on the bottom of Magic Passage:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena genie)

The water was fairly clear, but it was dark there, so I had to make up much of the colour from memory. Since I hate the flashy thing, the deeper I go, the more I have to make up. It ends up being less a photograph and more a funky bit of art.

Here is a mob of Spotted Garden Eels (Heteroconger hassi)  at about thirty-five metres, right at the mouth of the passage. It’s nearly monochrome, but you do get the impression of the wavy critters swaying in the current nabbing tasty bits as they float past:

Spotted Garden Eels (Heteroconger hassi)

You probably know by now that the sub-adult Silver Sweetlips (Diagramma pictum)  is one of my favourites. They were born to pose. I sanpped this shot as a throw-away, because the current was quite strong and I was kicking like a mad man to reach the mouth of the passage. When I looked at the shot on the computer, my compassion overflowed and I spent a while massaging it. That seems to have breathed some life back into it:

Silver Sweetlips [sub-adult] (Diagramma pictum)

While we’re on Sweetlips, I’ll toss out a couple of others. This is the Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus vittatus),  a sub-adult. The adults have many more horizontal bands much closer together. It would be a perfectly good shot, if I hadn’t amputated part of its tail:

Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus vittatus)

I did seriously consider skipping this next one, because it was so horrible that I didn’t think I could make anything of it. This is a bit rarer type of Sweetlips in these parts and it’s difficult to get close to them. I did this at full telephoto on the Canon G10 and it shows the woes of being too far away underwater. The UW photographer’s mantra is, “The closer, the better.” This one is a Diagonal-Banded Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus lineatus).  They are very handsome fish. Too bad this is the best shot of one that I’ve yet managed:

Diagonal-Banded Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus lineatus)

Another surprisingly difficult fish to make into digital bits for your camera is the Trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis):

Trumpetfish - (Aulostomus chinensis)

This also was a snap-shot. The Trumpet fish is, I’m certain, psychic. I don’t believe for a nanosecond in human psychics – please, don’t get me started. But the Trumpetfish knows when you are just about to push the shutter release and moves, qhite gracefully (grinning, I’m sure) just out of range. The only way you can get a clean shot is to see one in the distance, get behind some blob of coral or rock, sneak up close and then pop up like a tank-killer helicopter and kick loose a round.

It seldom works. Oh, I forgot to mention that you have to hold your breath while you’re doing all that.

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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 Magic from Magic Passage

Posted in Under the Sea on August 30th, 2009 by MadDog
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It was a beautiful morning on Saturday with calm seas, something that we’ve not seen lately. This, along with an incoming tide, gave us a chance to dive Magic Passage,  which we have not visited for some time.

As soon as we reached the bottom at about 25 metres, we saw a Black-Blotched Stingray (Taeniura meyeni):

Black-Blotched Stingray (Taeniura meyeni)

It’s been a while since I saw one of these. I was so surprised, since I did not see it immediately (it was behind me), that I had time only for a couple of quick shots before it zipped away. The shot is very poor because of motion blur, but interesting nonetheless.

As we worked our way down toward the mouth of the passage I ran across this beautiful starfish about the size of a dinner plate:

Starfish at the bottom of Magic Passage

This is probably the most common species of starfish around Madang.

Here is a nice shot of Amanda Watson and Pascal Michon moving down the south wall of the passage:

Amanda Watson and Pascal Michon at Magic Passage

A small school of barracuda were pointing into the current. One lonely Midnight Snapper was hiding among them:

Barracuda at Magic Passage

As soon as I got up close enough behind them to be an annoyance, they wheeled around to avoid me and gave me the opportunity for this very nice shot:

The barracuda avoiding me

Down closer to the mouth of the passage a large mob of eels were waving in the current snapping up goodies floating past:

Eels at Magic Passage

This is the best eel shot that I’ve yet managed. They are usually quick to pull back down in their holes as soon as you approach. I don’t know why they let me come so close to them on this occasion.

If you’ve followed our dives before, you already know that the sub-adult Silver Sweetlips is my favourite fish:

Sub-adult Silver Sweetlips at Magic Passage

That is not just because it is a very pretty critter. It is a photographer’s dream fish. They are so calm and placid and unafraid.

They remind me of my human friends. The tropics will do that to you.

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