Ooooo, Yummy Tube Worms for Breakfast

Posted in Under the Sea on October 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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I woke up feeling faintly queasy this morning. Maybe a little too much partying yesterday? Who knows; there are so many bugs here that you could get sick every day of your life with a different one – no repeats! I’ll play the trickster this morning and offer you a breakfast of Tube Worms, specifically, Sabellastarte sanctijosephi: Tube Worm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)I don’t know if it is named after St. Joseph (surely there is more than one St. Joseph – hmmm . . . seems there might be five  others) or some person whose surname was Saintjoseph.

Here’s another shot showing the beautiful double-bowl shape of these critters:

Tube Worm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)All of these images have excellent detail. Click to enlarge so that you can see the fine, featheryness of the ‘arms’.

Here is another example:

Tube Worm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)They are filter feeders, grabbing tasty bits from the water and conducting them down the pipe. In the shot above you can clearly see the tube in which the animal lives. Only the feathery feeding apparatus is exposed. If in the least disturbed, the feathers disappear into the tube faster than you can see.

Premnas biaculeatus,  the Spinecheek Anemonefish is getting to be a regular sight here:

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)That’s because I’m seeking to capture the definitive specimen shot of this beauty. My theory is that, if I take enough pictures of it, eventually I will have taken the most perfect image of it ever captured. This asssumes, of course, that I’m going to live long enough to manage that trick.

Okay, one more shot for today. This is another frame of a series of a ship coming in to Astrolabe Bay  in the morning sun. I showed you a gloomy image from the series yesterday. Here’s a slightly less gloomy shot:

Sunrise and ShipThe ship look so insignificant on the vast sea. That’s what I was going for in this shot. It’s welcomed safely into port by the rays of the morning sun.

Hmmm . . . waxing rather too poetic this morning.

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Sunset Dreaming

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 17th, 2009 by MadDog
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Morning is my second favourite time of day. I’m usually up by about 05:30. The first thing that I do is look out of the front windows of our house to see what’s going on in the sky. The sunrise a few mornings ago displayed itself as a beautifully muted array of pastels. Here’s the wide-angle shot from our front yard:Sunrise in MadangIf you’re wondering about my favourite time of the day, it’s when I sit down in my favourite chair, with my favourite beer, my favourite brand of cheap cigars, a bit of favourite reading material and pet my favourite (only) dog, Sheba. I can feel the stresses of the day evaporating like a cool misty haze around me.

A minute or so later, I got this image with a mid-telephoto setting:Sunrise in Madang

Man, I love those colours. It’s too bad that, here in the tropics, sunrises and sunsets fly past so quickly. In general, they last about ten or fifteen minutes at the most. That’s because the sun (and moon) are rising and falling straight up or down, not at an angle as in temperate zones. You have to get your camera out and be ready. I have missed fantastic sunset shots by being only one minute too late.

Yesterday, I showed you an image of this same Notodoris Minor  Nudibranch. This image was taken at Planet Rock  with flash:Nudibranch (Notodoris minor) at Planet Rock

The one from yesterday was captured by available light at about 30 metres. You can compare the difference.

Here’s our old favourite the Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculatus)  also at Planet Rock:

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus) at Planet Rock

I’ve been concentrating very much on getting good specimen shots. I’m trying to get a publisher for a coffee table book called The Fishy Families of Madang.  Anything for a buck.

On the way back from Blueblood last Sunday on Felmara,  Mike Cassell’s boat, I caught our friend Frauke Meeuw dreaming in the sunset light:
Frauke Meeuw dreaming in the sunset

It is redundant to say that happiness is a state of mind.

So, I won’t say it.

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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 Canon G10 Underwater Goodness

Posted in Under the Sea on July 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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You wouldn’t think that something called a Tubeworm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)  could be very pretty. You might be wrong:

Tubeworm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)

I shot the one above inside the reef at the west end of Pig Island.  I’m not completely sure of the identification, because there are several that have similar characteristics.

Many of the marine worms are quite beautiful. Have a look at these Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus):

Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus)

I showed some Sea Squirts the other day. Here is another shot of Didemnum molle:

Sea Squirts (Didemnum molle)

This is yet another kind of Sea Squirt (Phallusia julinea):

Sea Squirt (Phallusia julinea)

There are so many species of Sea Squirts around this area that I think one could write a book about them. I doubt if it would make any best-seller lists, though. No money there.

I do love patterns. This Coral (Favites sp.)  is one of my favourites:

Coral (Favites sp.)

You have also seen a lot lately of the Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus):

Spinecheek anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)

The Spinecheek is an easy target for the Canon. It stays close to its anemone and will actually hold still for as much as a half-second, a rare thing for an anemonefish to do. They are among the most nervous and paranoid of fishes. When I’m shooting them, I sometimes imagine Woody Allen dialogue escaping from their tiny, toothy mouths.

The Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  is another fishy friend that is easy to shoot:

Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)

Usually the problem with the Lizardfishes is that it’s a bit difficult to see them in the first place. You have to find one before you can take its photo. What usually happens is that I don’t see it until I’m close enough to make it move. Then, since they are so quick, it’s difficult to see where it went.

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Underwater Eye Candy – the Canon G10 Again

Posted in Under the Sea on July 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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The fun just keeps on rolling with the new Canon G10 and it’s buddy, the WP-DC28 underwater housing. Certain types of shots seem to come out better, and I’m at a loss to find a technical explanation. All I can say is, “It just works.”

Here’s an example:

Sea Squirts (Oxycorynia fascicularis)

The above are a kind of Sea Squirt, specifically, Oxycorynia fascicularis,  as if you care. I’m sure that somebody cares, but he or she is probably not reading this. In the past, when I’d try photographing these, the green sea squirts would come out very flat looking and lifeless and no amount of post-processing with Photoshop would revive them. Now they seem more lifelike. I’ve had this same problem with certain flowers which are very monochromatic – one colour, and very saturated. The only thing that I can imagine is that the G10 has more dynamic range for each colour in the middle range of luminosity.

This starfish (Fromia milleporella)  is a good example:

Starfish (Fromia milleporella)

The gradations in the red shade spectrum are much more discernible than I’ve been able to get before.

Okay, enough technobabble. It’s probably just magic, anyway. Here is another example. The polyps on this solitary coral (Heliofungia actiniformis)  are much clearer and more three dimensional than I’ve been able to achieve before:

Solitary coral polyps (Heliofungia actiniformis)

Clicking any of the above will give more detail. I wish I could provide higher resolution shots for you to view. My standard size is 1600 pixels maximum dimension, but when I have to compress the files to get them down to around 200K a lot of detail is swallowed up by the JPG compression, so the enlarged versions don’t look nearly as good as my originals. If you ever want high-res versions, just email me and I’ll put them up or make them available to you.  Maybe someday, I’ll start a high-res page where I can put my best shots.

This is an example of a shot where no amount of camera foolery will improve the view:

Decorated Goby [possible] (Istigobius decoratus)

It is, I think, a Decorated Goby (Istigobius decoratus).  There are more Goby species than just about any other fish. My book only has about 200, a fraction of the total number. You can’t do anything to make it more visible because it’s supposed to be nearly invisible.  Taking shots of highly camouflaged critters is always a losing proposition.

Getting back to easy, reliable shots, the Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)  never disappoints:

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)

The shot above, taken with flash, required almost no post-processing. It was a little on the green side, so I corrected for that and cleaned up the backscatter from the flash. Other than that, it is pretty much the way in came from the camera.

This shot of a Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  on the attack is a different story:

Clark's Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)

The water was full of particulate matter, which I had to clean up. It was also very aqua coloured instead of blue. That’s probably a problem with white balance. Since I’m shooting in the RAW mode, I don’t have any. That’s why it’s a problem. In this case, there was quite a bit of work to do on the colours. You can see some fakey traces of it in the fins of the fish.

It’s not perfect, but It makes me grin anyway.

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The Deadly Ice Cream Cone

Posted in Dangerous on March 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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I need to get back into the water. Let’s see . . . If I sweet-talk my boss (that’s my wife Eunie – Yes, really!), I might be able to take off tomorrow afternoon for a dive. I’ll tell you later how that goes.

In the meantime, I’ll get figuratively back into the water by showing you some more shots that we got on the inside of the reef at the West end of Pig Island last Saturday.

Here is something that I’d bet that you haven’t seen all week:

Sea Pen (Vigularia sp.)
It’s a Sea Pen. This one is some species of Vigularia.  It sticks up out of the sand about 20cm and looks a lot like a feather. What is surprising is that if you give it a tap, it pulls down into the sand and disappears! I love to see the look on the faces of divers who have not seen this before.

This thing is a Fan Worm (Sabellastarte indica):

Fan Worm (Sabellastarte indica)
It looks like a dead bird fallen on the coral with its feathers blowing slowly in the wind. If you get too close, it will disappear down into its tubular house so quickly that you can see no movement at all. One microsecond it’s there and the next, it’s vanished. It’s about the size of your hand.

Of course, almost anybody would recognise this is a Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima):

Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima)
This one is hardly a man-eater. I remember in the old movies when a diver would get caught in a giant clam. They can  clamp together quickly, but I seriously doubt if the clam would like to keep your leg inside. It would probably want to spit it out as quickly as possible. This one is about 30cm long.

Here is a different shot of the Spinecheek Anemonefish that I showed to you the other day (Premnas biaculeatus):

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)
The little partner is probably unrelated. I used to think that all the Anemonefish that inhabit an anemone were related to each other. I discovered that this could not be less true. Since there is a free-swimming planktonic phase in the life-cycle, each individual fish must find a host anemone or die. The chance of it ending up on the same anemone on which it was spawned is practically nil. I’ll write more about that sometime. I learned it while researching an article on Anemonefish for Niugini Blue magazine.

In a large sandy area there were thousands of tiny hermit crabs all moving in the same direction in a hurry. I’ve never seen that before and I don’t have any idea what it was all about. Here are a couple of them:


No, I haven’t forgotten about the Deadly Ice Cream Cone. This is a Cone snail (Conus litteratus):
Cone snail (Conus litteratus)
It is one of the most deadly creatures in the ocean. It has a harpoon-like barb that it uses to kill fish. Yes, you heard that right. This snail is a vicious piscivore. This one is about as long as a finger. I’ve seen movies of a cone snail harpooning a fish larger that itself. Here is a video clip of a Cone Snail capturing a small fish:
Is that scary? If you stuck your finger close to the business end, you could be dead in 24 hours. I turned this one over with a stick to I could take the shot.

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Today at a Reef Near You

Posted in Under the Sea on March 9th, 2009 by MadDog
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Just inside the reef at the Western tip of Pig Island there is a spot that few choose to dive. There is a lot of sandy bottom and the visibility is usually not much to write home about. It is, however, chock full of unusual critters.

For instance:  This is a juvenile Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus vittatus). It is rarely seen and looks nothing like the adult:
Juvenile Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus vittatus)I didn’t have a good image of the adult form here at the office, so I ripped this from the web (travelimages.com photo by W. Allgöwer) so that you can see what it will look like when it grows up:

Adult Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus vittatus) - [from travelimage.com]

Regarding the image above, I should mention that the bluish stripes are actually white.

The area abounds with anemones, many with unusual characteristics. Here is a variety of Leather Anemone (Heteractis crispa)  with unusual blue tips on the tentacles:

Anemone (Heteractis crispa)

The visibility cleared up a bit here and there. I was lucky to get this shot of Bluestripe Snappers (Lutjanus kasmira)  with the flash turned on. It took me a while to clean up the backscatter, but it was worth the effort:

Bluestripe Snapper (Lutjanus kasmira)

There are many small Bulb Anemones (Entacmaea quadricolor)  here and a large percentage of them are homes to Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus):

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)

The large individual above appeard a dusky red colour to my eyes. It had much darker than normal pigmentation. This is probably because the individual anemone is also heavily pigmented. Many Anemonefish take on shades that help them to blend in with their host amenome. The flash made the fish here appear much brighter than they appeared to the naked eye.

I can’t seem to stop shooting lizardfish. At least I’m not using a shotgun. This is the very common Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus):

Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)

It always amuses me how fierce that they look when you get a good shot head-on and close-up. The nose here is a little blurry, but I’m still happy with it.

Sometimes the smallest things are the most amazing. This Blue Lipped Coral Oyster (Pedum spondyloideum)  is only about 40mm wide, but the colours are spectacular:

Blue Lipped Coral Oyster (Pedum spondyloideum)

Stay tuned for more fishy features on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.

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