Saturday – It’s Not All About Diving

Posted in At Sea, Under the Sea on April 4th, 2010 by MadDog
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Regular readers of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  probably think that Saturdays are all about the edgy sport of diving, photography and taxonomic names. One might be forgiven for thinking that it’s all so unbearably geeky. If you’re not a diver, but you’ve been around them, you know that they can be a snobbish lot, making whooshing noises with their gear and strutting around arrogantly in their wetsuits. Well, the truth is, everybody looks better in a well-fitting wetsuit, even me. It’s like an all-body girdle. You’re trimmer when you need trimming and you bulge in the appropriate places. So, one might be forgiven for wanting to be a diver. It’s semi-cool. Sort of like driving a Datsun Z car.

Hah! Saturday is not all about diving. It’s also fun for a very pleasant gang of people half my age who enjoy the pleasure of getting out on the water and away from the office. Here we are on Faded Glory  with Sanguma  in the distance heading for Pig Island  for some tropical water pleasure:It was a strange sort of day – half sunny, half  gloomy.

When we tied up with Sanguma,  the inevitable Scrabble game began:If you click to enlarge, you can see that Ush has a fairly good selection of letters to play with. Maybe that explains the expression on her face.

When the sun came out, everyone got into the water:Each boat has a generous selection of “noodles” to assist in the floating pleasure.

Monty Armstrong and I both did two dives, so it was not all fun and games. Monty just bought a new Canon G11 with the factory underwater housing, the same rig that I use. I feel a contest coming on:Richard also has the same camera and housing. We have yet to coax him to bring it into the water. Above is a nice little starfish that I snapped. I’ll have many more underwater shots later in the week.

Jade and Andrew Marshall were out on their boat with some friends and their very cute three month old Blue Heeler. After a dunking in the ocean, which he did not appear to enjoy, he was warmed up by Ush. Not surprisingly, he did seem to enjoy that.

Everybody seemed keen to get out again for the evening to enjoy the wonderful phosphorescence in the water. I was skeptical about the weather, but agreed to have the boat ready to leave at 17:30.

On our way out, my fears for the weather proved well founded when the western sky got very angry:It turned out to be a fairly miserable evening. We suffered rain, mosquitoes, a pesky chop which kept the boats bouncing against their fenders and finally a cold wind which drove us all back to Madang by 20:00.

Nevertheless, all was not wasted. We encountered a small group of mermaids frolicking in the warm sea:There is seldom anything such as a bad Saturday in the Land of Surprises.

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A Starfish Is Born

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on March 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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We have, over the last ten years, lost nearly two thirds of the financial support for our work here. That figure is adjusted for inflation. What that means is that if we depended on our remaining supporters alone, we would not be eating. Going into all the reasons that support has been dropped would be a fruitless exercise, so I’ll forgo boring you with that. It would be unfair of me not to mention that we still have financial backers who have shown no sign of abandoning us and our work. Without them, we would have to leave the work which we came here to do. We would, of course, remain in Madang. It is forever our home.

So, we are left more or less to our own devices to maintain an income level that is conducive to staying alive. Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.  In aid of this, we’ve taken on work to increase our income while remaining full-time on our current jobs. We are both a lot busier than the average mid-sixties couple but I reckon, since we handle stress very well, we’ll probably live longer for it.

This requires some rather tricky juggling. We have to find work that we can do at home or during times when we are not required to be at the office. Another thing that we had to do was set up a registered company to do business. It was a complicated process, since we are technically “foreigners”, but we’ve completed it now and our company is duly registered as J & E Enterprises Limited.

Our company logo might amuse you:We wanted a retro look and I think that we got it. The logo is based on an image that you saw in this post.

There is a certain irony in all of this. We had built up a small business in the USA in the late ’70s with the aim of becoming rich. Okay, okay, we knew we were never going to be rich, but private schools for our son were within our reach. As the business became more and more cut-throat, we found day-to-day dealings were becoming ethically impossible to stomach. The whole game was, as they say, going to the dogs. About that time we decided to sell out and get off the planet. That’s how we ended up in Papua New Guinea. It’s as far as we could get without a space ship.

The name of the company which we sold out was J & E Enterprises Incorporated. Therin lies the irony. When we thought about a name for our new company, we grinned at each other and said, “Why not?”

We also wanted to feature the starfish as a symbol of our business enterprises – no particular reason – we just like it. Here’s the front page of our company brochure:

If you would like to see the entire brochure you can find it in a PDF file here: J & E Enterprises Limited It’s a tri-fold design, so you have to imagine the pages in the proper order.

While on the subject of starfishes, I may as well show you one:You’ve seen the Choriaster granulatus  here many times. It’s as cuddly and cute as a starfish can get.

When I think of our company and how it will make it possible for us to continue our core work here, I want to feel good. It’s a good  thing. I don’t need my work to identify me, but making a positive contribution to my society is  important to my self-image.

A starfish will do nicely.

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Planet Rock – Move Along People, Nothing To See Here

Posted in Under the Sea on March 7th, 2010 by MadDog
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I may as well continue feeding you a steady diet of fish for a couple of more days, at least until I run out of images from our dive on Planet Rock  yesterday. Richard Jones, (A. K. A. “Eagle Eyes”) has been spotting for me. It’s like having an experienced tracker along on a safari. We’re not shooting big game, but I bet Rich could spot a lion’s ears peeking above the savanna grass at 200 metres.

Here’s Rich doing his thing:Not a single nook or cranny escapes his attention.

However, while Rich is poking around looking for treasure, I’m usually takin’ in the scene, man. When you first start diving you’re looking for the big, flashy stuff. After the shine wears off you can begin to appreciate the simple beauty of a starfish:It looks as if it’s strolling along the bottom, which, in fact, it is – though very slowly. I admire the starfish’s lack of urgency. When you pass, there’s always a little whisper, “Hey, man. Stay cool.”

You look for the odd juxtapositions. There’s no shortage of them. Here two species of Solitary Coral seem to be cuddling:Nobody told them that it’s wrong. It’s blissful ignorance. Life is simple in the sea. You only have three things to think about. You eat. You reproduce. You are eventually eaten or otherwise return to Mama Ocean’s storehouse of building materials.

You can never swim far without encountering a bit of magic. Here little jewels of amber hover over a plate coral.They are Reticulated Dascyllus,  but that matters not a bit when the magic overcomes you. Everything is alive and a part of the whole. Identity merges into the gestalt.  Are the Dascullus Reticulatus  and the coral inseparable – needful of one another? Technically, no. However, the sense that you get is that it is all meant to fit together just as it is. Everything is copacetic.

Here and there passes a Unicorn . . . no, not really. Nevertheless, what it is is no less magical:A Trumpetfish hurries to escape the camera. It’s no less a beautiful mystery if you call it Aulostomus chinensis.  The background blurs and the camera strains to follow the motion. The photographer feels a part of the daily life of the reef. I think of the Don Knotts movie, The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  I feel somehow more peaceful and accepted as a fish. I move like a fish, through a three dimensional world. My breathing slows and my body relaxes. I’m in the sea. I’m of  the sea. I am home.

And she rewards me for my admiration, respect and love. She sparkles for me:The sweet Anthea  gather round me and frolic. I join their dance and music rushes through me.

We must protect our mother. If she dies, we shall all perish with her.

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Sunday at the Office

Posted in Under the Sea on February 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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Wooo Hooo, I just LOVE driving all the way to work on Sunday morning to do a post because swampsucking TELIKOM can’t figure out how to twist two wires together so that somebody can get an actual dial tone for more than two hours. However, it does produce the occasional side-benefit. Witness this lovely, if somewhat sombre, morning scene at Coconut Point:The water was all sparkly and the sky looked like it had just dropped some acid. Very trippy, indeed.

Speaking of trippy, I showed you some Blue Coral (Heliopora coerulea)  in a mixed bag of things that I picked up on the beach. It took me a long time to figure out where it came from. There’s nothing that looks like it underwater. Then I discovered that it is actually brown on the outside. I began looking around for the right stuff and finally found a little bit that had been broken off. On Saturday’s dive, I found a big spot where something, probably a clumsy diver, had broken off a couple of knobs:As you can see, it’s improbably bright blue inside. I’d be interested to know what causes this blue colouration, but I’m far, far too lazy to research it. The beach at Wongat Island  is covered with the stuff that has been broken up by natural means and washed up and tumbled. That’s what you see in the image to which I’ve linked to in the paragraph above. The image here is the live stuff that has been broken off.

I simply love these chubby, cuddly looking Starfish (Choriaster granulatus).  They are the puppies of the Starfishes:I noticed that this one was particularly pink, especially in the centre. The do vary somewhat in tint. The posture here is suggestive that it’s leaping over the boulder with its arms outstretched, probably hollering “Whoopee!” Don’t believe it. Their top speed is about a half-metre an hour.

Here’s some very gaudy female Purple Antheas (Pseudanthias tuka)  flitting around at the local mall:The male is around somewhere, probably near the edge of his harem, keeping an eye out for poachers.

I showed you one of these nightmarish Sea Cucumbers (Bohadschia graeffei)  a few days ago:This is a much better shot. It clearly shows the sucker-like food-gathering thingies that reach out continuously and grab onto anything remotely edible.  As soon as one of these appendages has sucked something up, it bends around in a particularly creepy fashion and shoves itself down into the gob of the squishy, prickly, disgusting critter.

You’ve gathered by now, I’m sure, that this is not among my favourite creatures of the sea.

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All the Colours of the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on February 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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This last Saturday was a banner day for photography. My new Canon G11, which you are undoubtedly getting tired of hearing about, was perking along nicely, grabbing shots with much increased dynamic and no noise whatsoever at ISO 80. The ten megapixels that it offers are more than sufficient for the magazine-size shots that I need to do my work. Don’t sniff at ten megapixels. If another camera offers more, but the resulting image is poorer in quality, what good do those extra megapixels do?

Yesterday’s post contained images from this Saturday’s dive also, as will tomorrow’s and the day after. In total, out of about one-hundred exposures, I got thirty-six which I deemed good quality. I’ve never had a two dive day that was more productive. Part of the reason for that was that my old buddy, Richard Jones, was “spotting” for me. He has amazing eyes and can find the smallest critters. Sometimes these are the most interesting. Tomorrow I’ll feature some nudibranchs which Richard found. Your mind will be blown.

But, that’s for tomorrow. Today, we’re doing colours. The dive at Planet Rock  was dark. There was a layer of muddy fresh water from the Gol Gol River  floating over the surface down nearly to the top of the sea mount at about 15 metres. I had to take many shots with flash. Though it is my preference to forgo flash when possible, sometimes it is unavoidable – there’s simply not enough light. In the first two shots, the effects of the flash are not noticeable. It simply acted as a fill light. In the others, the effect is dramatic, though the colours are, to me, artificially bright. They are, however, very pretty.

Green has been my favourite colour since I don’t know when. When I was a small child, it was red. I don’t know when I changed to green. I don’t even know if guys are supposed to have a favourite colour. I don’t talk about it much over the pool table with my mates, though I’m always soothed and mellowed by the green playing field. Maybe that’s why I’m such a lousy shot. Anyway, have a look at this lovely green Coral (Acropora tenuis):Click it to magnify and see the lovely details of the polyps waving in the current. Each little ledge on each tower is an individual animal. It is truly a thing of beauty.

Here’s another Acropora  species with a dramatically different colour:I’m always faintly startled when I run across one of these outlandishly purple corals. They seem somehow out of place. I wonder if a nearby toy store exploded and scattered misshapen shards of bright plastic on the sea bottom.

This shows why we have a pretentious name for the Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica).  You can see a scattering of  Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  chilling out and having a few beers:What a lovely playground they have.  There are few sights in the sea which are as calming and wondrous as this symphony of colour displaying a commensal relationship between vastly different organisms. Neither can flourish without the other.

Starfish fans will enjoy this lazy looking Linckia laevigata.This is the same species which often appears as a bright blue variation.

This Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  contains the brightest red pigment of any creature that I have seen in the sea:This is a very young colony. They tend to become less colourful as they grow. Young ones, such as this, can often be seen as tiny crimson torches thirty metres away on a day with good visibility.

I’m a great fan of Feather Stars. This is a particularly nice image of some species of Lamprometra.  They are difficult for me to tell apart. I’ve been watching old episodes of Fawlty Towers  during the fifteen minutes that I can stop working each day. I can’t get out of my mind what Manuel (he’s from Barcelona, you see) says when he misunderstands a command from Basil Fawlty: “Eet ees deefeecult.”You can clearly see the “feet” of the feather star in this shot. If you gently tickle a foot with your fingertip, the creature will wildly thrash its arms around, waving madly. It’s a most comical sight. I’m going to have to shoot a video clip of it some day.

Here is a close up shot of another individual of a Lamprometra  species Feather Star:I didn’t think that the shot would turn out to be much. Now I’m simply blown away by it. Beware. If you stare at it long enough you may feel yourself getting slightly high, that is if you recognise “high”. Click on it to make it bigger and have a look. It’s mesmerising. This is a living thing. How can that be?

I don’t recommend it as a desktop background.

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Starfish Day for Julie

Posted in Under the Sea on January 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Julie, a Facebook Friend, tells me that she really digs starfish. Because I can use all the friends I can get and Julie never scolds me for attempting a humorous comment on her status changes, I think that her polite hint deserves an appropriate response.

Since I do, despite my geeky aura, appreciate the sentimentality evoked by images of starfish, I’ll set the stage with this mushy shot:

I can hear the murmurings of “Awwwwww . . .” from here. I have no idea who the people were. They simply happened to be standing on the rock while I composed the image. It was a very lucky break.

The truth is, I nearly overstayed my prime time. During an attempt to catch the sailboat out on Astrolabe Bay,  I was nearly inundated by a wave crashing on the rocks:Now that I’ve set the mood in my inimical way, we shall proceed to tickle Julie’s fancy with some yummy starfish.

You know, I’ve seen  this shape before.  There is a logo somewhere, on a product or representing some organization, that is a cartoonish figure of a starfish (two eyes, a mouth, etc.) with the top of the star a little crooked, as if it were wearing a hat which is a bit askew. This Fromia milleporella  reminds me of that:Please keep in mind that this is Annual General Meeting week and I’m sitting here trying to stay interested and not fall asleep. My mind wanders in particularly unusual ways. I keep feeling fluid draining from my sinus cavities. It’s seawater. My wife, Eunie, tells me when to raise my hand to vote on a motion. As you can imagine. I’m a little more distracted than usual.

But wait! Let’s get back to Julie’s starfish. This is one that you’ve seen here many times, the lovely Choriaster granulatus:You may be tiring of seeing this critter, but I’m nowhere near finished taking pictures of it.

Here’s is another which you have seen here many times:I’m sure that everyone out there has seen images of the Mimic Octopus which is able to contort and recolour its body in marvelous ways to appear to be any of several non-octopus critters. However, have you ever seen a Linckia laevigata  mimic a snake? As of now, you have.

It may surprise some that this lump is a starfish:Called a New Guinea Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae),  it appears more like a bumpy, spiky football. In fact, it is supremely tempting to pick it up and attempt to kick it back and forth between divers using the floppy fins.

Of course, we never actually do  that.

Bon appétit,  Juli.

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Wrapping Up a Week of Diving

Posted in Under the Sea on January 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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We ended up a week of diving, bush trips and industrial-strength socializing with Anita, Wouter and Anita’s father, Jos, today. It’s been a pleasure having them with us. Yesterday I realized that I had no photos of Jos. So, I took this shot of him steering Faded Glory:

Jos turned out to be very handy with a boat. On our last day, he handled the boat while the rest of us did a drift dive at Magic Passage. Communications were a little light, as we do not speak each others’ languages, but he is a very pleasant fellow. I wish that we could have had some heart-to-heart conversations.

Here is a shot of Anita and Swami Monty in the water at Magic Passage with Faded Glory,  Jos at the wheel, coming up in the distance:Anita, Jos and Wouter are leaving tomorrow morning. Wouter is an avid diver and runs with a crowd of dedicated techno-human-dolphins in the North Sea. I wouldn’t be surprised if we begin to get applications for diving here in Madang. It’s an entirely different experience from their normal dives. I think that Wouter found it a pleasant break from the adrenaline-drenched sport as it is enjoyed off the coast of Belgium.

Among the critters that we saw on our last two dives at Magic Passage  and Rasch Passage  was this Starfish (Nardoa rosea)  practicing Extreme Yoga:I am able to contort my body like this, having practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen. Okay, okay, I’m not as nimble and Gumby-like as I once was. However, I’ve not yet reached the point, at sixty-six, at which I need to ask myself, “Can I still do that?” This is a great blessing for me, as the physical activities (yeah, all  of them) are important keys to my well-being. I owe much of this to my Dad, an accomplished athlete, acrobat and dancer who taught me the principles of physical fitness as a life-goal and the concept of the body-aware spirit.

We may as well have a look at another starfish. This one, I think, is a Fromia nodosa  with its little toes curled up very cutely: You can’t swing a dead cat here without smashing a starfish. We have many different species and I have neglected them severely. I’m certain that their tiny little feelings are hurt. I’ll fix that in the future.

I got a bit of a “wow” experience from this huge mob of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus):We would normally see a dozen or two in a plate coral. This was a huge plate and was home to a couple of hundreds of these lovely little purple-lipped fish. I love to play “scare the fish” with the Dascyllus.  If you slowly stretch your arm out over the plate with your hand closed in a fist and then quickly open your hand the entire gaggle will dive simultaneously into the coral and disappear. It’s like magic. Now they’re here – now they’re not. If you look closely, you can see them trembling in their little nooks and crannies where they hide from predators.

Barrel Sponges fascinate me. Some of them are huge. This Xestospongia testudinaria  is about two metres from bottom to top. Some are much larger:

You can see a few Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  swimming in front of the sponge. The “purple” in the common name is a relative term. As with many fish, the colour that you see underwater is radically dependent on the depth, the colour of the sky and the condition and tint of the water. Sometimes P. tuka  appears purple and sometimes blue. The yellow dorsal fin edging and caudal fin are constant. The fish appear a bit motion blurred, because I was forced to a slow shutter speed by the low light level.

I am exceedingly happy, nay, overjoyed by this image:As you may gather, I’m easily aroused from my usual “so what” attitude. When I saw this fish, I became terribly excited. That will give you an idea of what a fish geek that I am. The reason for my shaking hands and fumbling fingers is that I have never seen this fish before; it was my first sighting. It is a species of Shrimpgoby (Ctenogobiops tangaroi).  There are several fortuitous aspects of this shot, aside from the novelty factor. First, there is the brevity of the sighting. I barely had time to raise my camera, hold my breath for a few seconds and fire off a shot before it disappeared down its hidey-hole.

Another lucky aspect of this image is that I caught the fish’s partner, a commensal shrimp (Alpheus ochrostriatus)  bulldozing a load of sand out of the shared shelter.

I’m not looking a gift fish in the mouth.

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