Light and Shadow – Two Views of Beauty

Posted in Under the Sea on July 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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We had bright prospects on Saturday morning. The sun was shining in a partly cloudy sky and there seemed little chance of rain. However, when we got out into Tab Anchorage  it was clear that the sea was restless. The rolling waves promised an uncomfortable hour for any friends who were not safely under the surface of the water in the blissful calmness of Mother Ocean.

I never saw the ocean until I was twenty-five years old when Eunie and I took our infant son to Panama City, Florida while I was in Advanced Helicopter Training at Ft. Rucker Alabama. I was stunned. It was the first time I had seen a body of water wide enough that I could not see the other side. It had the aspect of infinity. Since then I have learned a curious fact. Practically anybody can get sea sick if conditions are bad enough. It takes a lot to get me sea sick, but I have been truly miserable for hours at a time during very rough passages. Therefore, I am very sensitive to the condition of my passengers. We found ourselves driven by the waves to our favourite calm cove at The Eel Garden near Pig Island  for the third week in a row.

There are a few places where we can dive even though the sea state might drive other boats back to the Madang Club for an early beer. Fortunately, The Eel Garden is a dive which never grows dull. Here Faded Glory’s  anchor and chain rests safely on the sandy bottom while the mottled lighting of the sand indicates the chaotic waves on the surface:

I decided that there were plenty of opportunities for high depth of field shots in these conditions. Here comes “Deep Focus” again.

Within moments of settling to the bottom I was presented with this little tableau. On the bottom is a Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata)  and hovering above is a Bicolor Angelfish (Centropyge bicolor):

Old-time PNG residents who enjoyed diving or snorkeling always called this “The Steamship’s Fish”, because its colours are those of the Steamships Trading Company which was one of the major suppliers of the bits and pieces of our daily lives.

Turning around the other direction, I found one of God’s Little Jokes, a bright, toy-like Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata):

Every single time I see one of these I feel a smile coming to my face. It’s something that simply can’t be stopped. In my head, I’m thinking simultaneously, “Why?” and “Why not?”

Still within the first minutes I came across this pair of Six-Spot Gobies (Valenciennea sexguttata).  This made me particularly happy, since this is only the second time I have photographed this species. The first image was less than I usually hope for. This time I got much better lighting conditions and two  of them:

Double the fun! Please don’t ask me why they are called Six-Spot Gobies when there are clearly seven spots. (We’re counting the blue spots, in case you’re wondering.)

Now we come to the images which really make me smile. Genevieve Tremblay just got some shiny new gear. She was diving with a borrowed set which had some serious deficiencies. There was nothing dangerous about it. It was simply not up to the standards which are comfortable for a new diver. Here she is teasing a Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  and grinning at me:

How cute is that, eh? The lighting was very nice for this shot. I didn’t need to use flash and the depth was shallow enough that It was easy to get natural skin tones.

This shot taken at about twenty metres on the old catamaran shows an effect that I’m trying to learn. It’s Genevieve again with a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  in the foreground:

I could have Photoshopped out Genevieve’s hair standing on end, but decided not to. We sometimes look a little odd underwater. It adds to the charm of the image. I have a bunch more of these shots from Saturday which I will show soon.

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Improving the Eel Garden Dive Site

Posted in Under the Sea on March 1st, 2010 by MadDog
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I had no business diving on Saturday. I’ve been fighting off a cold which turned into sinusitis and a bronchial infection for over two weeks now. However, I could “pop” my ears after taking a 12-hour Sudafed, so I decided to have a go for a shallow dive. When I flipped over the side of Faded Glory  onto my back and sank about a meter before popping up again, I knew I’d made an error of judgement. However, as I was already in the water, I decided to grab my camera and see if I could get deep enough to do any good.

My ears cleared okay, but my entire head felt as if it was being squeezed in a vise. There  lot of cavities in your head that are supposed to be filled with air at normal atmospheric pressure – that’s you’re sinus cavities. When you’re congested, they don’t connect up right and you can’t equalise pressure between them. It hurts like billy-blue-blazes. I found if I went down only a half meter at a time, and kept equalising all the time, I could keep the pain manageable.

For you divers out there, keep in mind that I have over 2,000 dives, so I have a fairly good idea of what I can actually get away with. I was pushing the limits and taking a calculated risk that I wouldn’t rupture a blood vessel. Don’t try this at home. Just because I do stupid things doesn’t mean that we’re in a contest to see who can be the more stupid. Be the winner – stay safe!

Here you can see Richard Jones taking a depth measurement at the level of a stainless steel pin cast into the reef. We will attach a chain to it with a float about two meters below the surface. To that, we’ll attach a short rope with a ring in the end and a small surface float to mark it:When approaching for a dive, someone (appointed by the captain – ME) will dive over the side holding a moring line, run it through the ring, and then hand it up to another crew member to be tied off to hold the boat in position. This way we don’t have to drop anchor at dive sites. We are usually very careful to aviod damage, but sometimes it happens. Note that you can see Faded Glory’s  anchor lying in the sand just beyond him in the distance.

We gave up trying to get funding to put in permanent moorings at all of the popular dive sites. There are plenty of agencies who talk the talk about saving the reefs, but none that we’ve found who walk the walk. My advice, if someone approaches you in Madang about “saving our reefs” is to ask them to give you a list of active projects for which they are spending money to do something useful instead of just moaning about it. I’m fed up with aid agencies that show you the fancy brochures and web sites, but give you the blank stare when you ask for money to do something that will actually get the job done.

With my head pounding like a jackhammer, I descended to about six meters and discovered a fish that I’ve never seen before. I was lucky enough to get a couple of good shots of this Six-Spot Goby (Valenciennea sexguttata): Hey, this fish has six blue spots on each side. Shouldn’t it be a Twelve-Spot Goby? It’s not exactly gorgeous, but It’s a new one for me, so I say hurrah!

Here’s our beautiful little friends the Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  sparkling like jewels above the sandy bottom of The Eel Garden near Pig Island: There are both males and females there in that image along with a variety of other species. A typical “fish soup”.

You’ve seen the Nudibranch (Phyllidia varicosa)  here before, but not one this large, I don’t believe:This one couldn’t have hidden behind two golf balls. The colours are gorgeous. It looks like some kind of fancy candy.

This is a particularly nice shot of a Longfin Bannerfish (Heniochus acuminatus)  which I certainly did not think was going to be worth saving:It just flashed past me as I was clearing my ears for the hundredth time. I swung my camera around and pressed the shutter release in its general direction. When I checked the shot on the screen, I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t have gotten that good a shot normally if I’d spent all day trying. Sometimes the camera just does its job.

This is a funny little image of some arms of a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  sticking out of its hidey-hole:I don’t know what it was doing crammed down in there. It certainly isn’t any kind of normal behaviour that I’ve seen before. They are usually our where they can wave their arms about in the breeze.

Since Rich Jones was spotting for me, I knew that I’d get something special. He found this Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)  hiding down in a crevice:It was a devil of a shot to get. There was too little light and the flash just made it all garish and contrasty. I finally set the camera for a very tight aperture to get the best depth of field and backed off the flash power to its minimum setting. I was surprised to get anything at all, let alone the nice shot above.

There’s something going on the image above that puzzles me. There are far too many antennae in that image. There must be two shrimp in that hole. Where is the other one? It looks like it could be behind the visible one. I leave the reader to ponder that one.

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