More Salty Goodness from Leper Island

Posted in Under the Sea on January 10th, 2011 by MadDog
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I’m now one dive behind. Our last Leper Island  dive was some time ago. Yesterday, which was Sunday, we did a dive on the wall up at Blue Blood in a spot where I had not been before. I’ll be showing some images of the incredible variety of flatworms we found there. That’s for later. Today, I’ll show some more shots from the Leper Island  dive.

With the help of friends beginning on Friday evening, I managed to keep myself distracted over the weekend – Friday at the Country Club for a very difficult quiz, Saturday on Sanguma,  with Rich Jones and Jenn Miller and Sunday up at Blueblood with a group of friends. Distraction was particularly important to me, as Saturday marked four months since Eunie’s death and I desperately needed to avoid deepening my depression by brooding on it over the weekend.

I imagine that distraction is important to anyone suffering from severe reactive depression. I’ve been depressed for longer periods of time – this episode is in its sixth month and is pushing me closer to the edge than I have ever been. I’ve never before suffered depression so profoundly disabling. It is very scary. There is no aspect of life left untouched by it. It drags down every joy and leaves its ugly traces in every dark corner of the mind.

Strange as it may be, I’ve experienced some significant comfort from a friendship with someone who is equally depressed for other reasons. Comparing notes and discussing symptoms and coping strategies has been very helpful to both of us. The most valuable thing for us, however, has been to have someone to talk to who understands exactly the feelings which are so troubling, someone who is experiencing them at the same time. There is great value in speaking the with the same vocabulary and sharing the same emotions.

Again, a blessing.

On to the pictures.

You’ve seen the Sailor’s Eyeball (Valonia ventricosa)  many times here:

This is a particularly nice one. Repeating myself as usual, I’ll mention that this is the largest single celled organism on the planet. It’s an algae. The skin is like tough plastic and transparent. It’s full of green fluid.

Here is an image of a plate coral that is clearly dying. You are looking straight down on the colony:

Everything below the white line is dead. The white line shows where the symbiotic protozoans have either died or been expelled from the polyps. Above the white line, the coral appears more or less healthy.

Here is a starfish which has lost part of a leg to a predator. It has begun to grow back, but it appears comically small:

It will continue to lengthen and thicken until it matches up with the rest of the previously stubby leg.

Here is a coral garden shot with a big colony which brings to mind a mountain covered by rice paddies:

I enjoy trying to make these little reef scenes appear to you as close as I can get to what I saw with my own ancient eyes. It is a pleasant distraction with some minor purpose. It is infinitely better than watching the television set, an addiction to which I have not been able to put aside. Distractions . . . Blessing or curse? I suppose it depends on the nature of the distraction, eh?

Here’s another reef scene with a spiky coral:

I saved the best for last, hoping to end up with something a little more flashy. Here are a couple of Nemo wannabes for your amusement. Specifically, they are Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula)  hovering in the protection of their beautiful Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica):

The colours are not natural due to my use of flash, which puts artificial sunlight where it never shines. Still, it does make a pretty picture.

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Oddities for You

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on May 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yes, it’s Saturday again and I’ll soon be loading up Faded Glory  to go out for a dive. But first, I have a few odds and ends from the last week to show to you. Morning time is about the only really peaceful respite which I have. I like to get out in the yard with my Canon G-11 for a while to see what photographic opportunities may present themselves.

A magenta sunrise with a passing canoe:

An Air Niugini jet coming in for landing at Madang airport:

I’m still too sleepy to come up with any witty comments about that. I hope that someday we have a decent airline to serve the needs of the people of Papua New Guinea. Air Niugini is just about the worst example of small country government-owned airlines. It’s inefficient, packed with dead wood, far, far too expensive and its routings are disasterous. Current politics won’t allow the proper solution – sell it off and allow some real competition. Of course, the Grand Chief doesn’t need to worry about all this. He has his own jet. So, when you go the the hospital and they tell you that they have no medicine, you can at least be happy that the big man is riding in comfort.

This is a moderately cool shot of the twin Browning M2 50 calibre machine guns on the dorsal turret of The Green Dragon  B-25 Bomber at Wongat Island:

Note metal that is still shiny after being submerged for nearly seventy years.

This is the biggest Sailors Eyeball (Valonia ventricosa)  that I have ever seen. It is the size of my fist:

As I’ve mentioned before, it is the largest single-celled organism on the planet. It is a kind of blue-green algae.

As time is growing short, I’ll leave you with this image of a ship which we saw on the way through the anchorage:

My only comment about this ship is that when we saw it, we all started laughing at once. I’ll leave it to you as a little puzzle. (Hint: try adding a vowel.)

See you tomorrow.

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The Sunrise Canoe

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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The weather in the mornings is very mixed up now. Most mornings are still grey and lifeless. The change of seasons from wet to dry is going to be very welcome. This morning a big storm over the Huon Peninsula was battling the rising sun for control of the sky. It was fun to watch the fracas from a distance:On calm mornings the water of the harbour makes a beautiful reflecting pond.

I heard a little commotion to my left. Usually all that I hear in the morning is the sound of fish jumping. My neighbours were getting into their canoe to paddle over to town:I asked them if they would make a little detour so that I could get a shot of them back lit by the rising sun.

At the risk of boring you, I’ll insert a little photographic note here. If you look at the two images you can see that the colours have been massaged differently. One of the pleasures of modern-day digital photography is that, if you don’t like what your camera (or nature, for that matter) gave you, you can easily change it. If you don’t like red roses, make them yellow or even blue. For the first shot, I liked the overall warmth of the tones more or less as they came from the camera, with only a huge gob of saturation to punch them up. However, when I got to the canoe shot, it just didn’t sing to me. The artificial addition of the blue to the water gave me just what I was after – creating a vignette around the canoe.

Okay, now let’s get wet. I have a mix of the unusual and the common today.

Though this is a common enough critter, many people have never seen one. That is unless you are a regular visitor here, in which case you may be yawning now. It is a kind of Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata):

Aside from the ridiculous colours and peculiar shape, it does indeed squirt. If you get too close to it, it puffs water out and closes its two openings. Here you can see them all puckered up, locking out anything that might come inside for a nibble of its innards.

I’ve also shown Solitary Corals (Fungia fungites)  here many times. This one had a particularly outrageous purple edge:I devoted a few precious minutes to Googling, but I can’t find the cause of the purple discolouration. It is not species related, since it occurs randomly in individuals. Of two lying side-by-side, one may have purple and the other white or brown edges.

You’ve also seen the famous Sailor’s Eyeball (Valonia ventricosa)  here before:It is basically a huge single-cell green algae. It is sometimes refered to as a seaweed. When I Googled the taxonomic name I was amazed at the amount of scientific interest in this golf-ball sized cell. Here’s an example:

The degradation of microfibrils from Valonia ventricosa  by cellulase has been studied. As a result of enzymatic attack the elementary fibrils making up the microfibrils tended to separate and the ends of the microfibrils became oblique or pointed. The terminal planes made angles of 60 … 66°, 33°, or 20 … 25° with the microfibril axis. These planes are assumed to correspond to the 41 , 43 and 45 planes of the cellulose lattice and it is suggested that they are planes along which it is progressively more difficult for hydrolysis to proceed. On the basis of these considerations a suggestion has been proposed to explain the form of erosion cavities formed by soft-rot fungi described by previous workers in wood fibres and tracheids.

Please, if you understand that, would you explain it to me? I get the gist of it, but details make my head go funny.

Moving on to something more connectable to our familiar world we have three Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  playing tag:This is one of the rare shots in which I was able to capture the amazing blue glow that is often seen in the white bars. It is a very weird thing to observe. I think that it is not true pigmentation, but rather some strange sort of refraction, similar to the colours of some butterfly wings and bird feathers.

On the other hand, they are simply very , very pretty.

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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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The Sailor’s Eyeball and Other Salty Amusements

Posted in Under the Sea on March 6th, 2009 by MadDog
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A few days ago at the Eel Garden, near Wongat Island we had very warm, clear water. The temperature at 25 metres was 29°C (more than 84°F). I felt a bit over-warm in my wetsuit.

Down at the catamaran these Vanikoro Sweepers (Pempheris vanicolensis) were swimming behind a beautiful white Sea fan. You can see the tilted deck of the catamaran in the background:

Vanikoro Sweeper (Pempheris vanicolensis) behind Sea Fan

On the hull, I found an unusual Feather Star. I can’t identify the species. I think it’s probably a juvenile from the very few arms that it has. But, hey, I’m no expert. My invertebrates book is pretty slim. It’s an interesting image anyway. You get an idea of the range of colours that you can see within a small area. The image would just cover my hand:

Feather Star (unidentified crinoid)
I’ve always admired the Palm Corals for their beautiful delicacy and subtle colours. This one is a Clavularia species. I have no idea which one:

Palm Coral (Clavularia sp.)

The individual polyps are about 30mm in diameter. They sway gracefully in the current like miniature palm trees – thus the name.

This little beauty is a Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion). There was a pair of them on the anemone, but I could never get the two of them in the frame long enough to snap a shot:

Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion)

There is another similar fish called the Skunk Anemonefish. It looks exactly like the Pink Anemonefish except it doesn’t have the white bar down the cheeks, leaving only the white stripe down the back. Thus the name “Skunk Anemonefish”.

I caught this little crab, which I can’t find in my books, in a coral head. I tried as I might to coax him out, but he outsmarted me. It was embarrassing. He is quite a handsome little crab with his blue eye glimmering in the shadows:

Unidentified Crab

I know you are wondering if I’m going to get around to the subject of the post. Patience, patience.

The Sailor’s Eyeball (Valonia ventricosa) has to be one of the strangest non-animal items that you’ll run across on the average dive. It is the world’s largest single-cell organism. This one is about the size of a golf ball.

Sailor's Eyeball algae (Valonia ventricosa)

And, no, I’m not making it up. It is ONE CELL! As you may have guessed, it is an algae. The cell wall is tough like the plastic that we curse whenever we buy practically anything these days. It is quite durable and completely transparent. The inside is filled with a greenish (surprise) fluid. If you take one for inspection (one per lifetime, please – we don’t want to over-exploit them) and hold it up so that you can see the sunlight coming through it, it looks very much like a dirty green marble. A little rubbing will remove all the surface incrustation.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that the surface shows a refraction pattern exactly like a star sapphire. The star appears to be inside the ball. I’m going to try to get a photo of that sometime.

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