Thursday, February 21, 2008

Look Out Bali, Here I Come!

This is the day I've been waiting for for months. Well actually the truth of the matter is, I've been waiting for it for 8 years, ever since I had my last vacation and left Bali the last time. Kelli and I take off for Bali this afternoon for 10 days and we're both so excited we can hardly stand it. It's been 8 years since we've had a vacation, and needless to say it's long overdue.

I've had some people say to me, wait, it hasn't been 8 years, didn't you just go to Hong Kong in 2006? Yes, I went to get a heart cathaterization and was held hostage in a hospital until my insurance company finally called them with a credit card number. Not exactly my idea of a vacation. But wait, didn't you go to Los Angeles the year before that? Yup, I went there to have an operation on my stomach where they took the top part of it and turned it into a new valve to hopefully keep me from choking to death. That meant I couldn't eat anything for 6 weeks. That was after a 14 hour operation and the better part of a week spent in the hospital. Again, not my idea of a vacation. But wait, weren't you in Manila before that? Yup, that's where I was supposed to get the operation done the first time, but they gave me some horrible infection, nearly killed me and I wound up in the intensive care unit for over a week with horrible sores and blisters all through my nose, mouth and throat and again couldn't eat anything as a result. Yup, I've just been having a blast these last few years every time I leave island. Can you see why I really need a real vacation? This one will be nothing but massages, diving, exploring, taking pictures, eating and enjoying life.

I packed my bags yesterday, all our dive gear, all the cameras and underwater housings, and a couple pairs of shorts and some shirts, and we're good. I'll be taking pictures of everything and bringing them all back to share with you right here. I might try making a post or two from Bali, but no promises, I'll be awfully busy having fun. I'll be back on March 3rd, and will tell you all about it then! See you soon!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More Dive Pics

I've been rather surprised by people's reaction to some of my pictures recently. They've told me they had no idea what it looked like underwater, they have never seen those creatures before, and they can't believe the vibrant colors. Even though we're totally surrounded by ocean, you're never more than a 10 minute drive from it in any direction, the vast majority of people that have lived here their entire life have no idea what surrounds them or what it truly looks like.
Ideally I'd like to take everyone on a dive and let them experience it first hand, because once you are exposed to the magical world beneath the surface of the water, it's like disappearing into an entirely different world. I've been diving for over 35 years now, and have thousands of dives under my belt, and I never tire of seeing the wonders that lie beneath the sea. There is always something new to discover, something you've never noticed before, and the more you look, the more you'll find.
But I realize that there is no way I can take the entire island for a dive, I just don't have that many days left I'm afraid, and frankly, some of you might just scare me to death underwater. But I can do the next best thing, and that is to continue bringing the wonders of the underwater world to you through pictures. I have come to the conclusion that we don't do nearly enough to showcase the wealth of beauty we are surrounded with. We should have stunning underwater pictures everywhere, in all the restaurants, shops, government offices, we should have underwater murals painted on the buildings, and we should have the corridors of the airport lined with spectacular underwater shots.
I'm not saying this because I want to sell a bunch of my pictures, in fact I'm about to buy a bunch of them myself and donate them to a few restaurants and businesses just to get some exposure for the underwater world. We have a bunch of excellent underwater photographers here, Dr. Mark Robertson, Mark James, Mike Tripp, Larry Lee, Ken & Crystal and I'm sure there are many others that I don't even know about. I think it's time to make a concerted effort to let everyone know just how amazing the underwater world is through pictures. Maybe if we have these amazing shots everywhere you look, people will think twice before throwing their empty beer cans in the Grotto, or littering the cliff line outside the Grotto with fishing line, chunks of rebar and concrete. Maybe people will quit using the ocean as a dumpsite and a big garbage can. It can't hurt, what do you say, are you with me?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Virtual Dive

I had so many good dives and took so many awesome pictures that I decided it was time for another virtual dive for you, especially for those of you having to deal with snow and winter right now. I saw this baby dogfaced pufferfish outside of the Grotto Sunday morning. He was playing hide and seek with me in a hole. He didn't want to come right out and let me get a full picture, but he did come far enough out to capture the cute face at least.
Of course it wouldn't be one of my dives without a nice assortment of nudibranchs. This guy was perched on top of this little outcropping of rock, they are only about an inch long so you really have to be looking carefully to spot them. When I do manage to spot one, I'll spend 5-10 minutes with him just shooting a bunch of different shots and different angles to see which ones come out the best. This is probably the most common nudibranch that I see on my dives, I think it's a Phyllidia Varicosa. The purple bumps actually look green underwater without light directly on them. You will see these guys just cruising around on the bottom and on rocks. But again you have to look closely, they aren't very big.
As I was just skimming the bottom outside of the Grotto I caught this attempted murder on camera. The colorful crab in the top shell was trying to kill the spider conch in the bottom shell so he could move into a bigger house. Was this just another case of shell envy or did the crab really have need of a bigger house? I don't really know, but I did carry the crab about 50 yards away and I set the spider conch on the base so he could crawl away.
I was also very excited this weekend to discover a couple Halgerda guahan and malesso's back in the Grotto. I haven't seen any of them for about 3 months now, so it was a very cool sighting for me. I'm thinking that they may vacation in Tinian for the winter months and have just started their return. I don't know if they go into hibernation for a while or what, but it's great to have them back out to photograph once again.
I was really excited when I discovered this Halgerda malesso in the same general area as the guahan. This is my favorite nudibranch to photograph. I love the design on it and the way it contrasts with the deep blue of the ocean in the background. I think they start kicking in with their mating season again in June or July, so that's when to start really looking for them. Right now they are still an unexpected surprise whenever you stumble across one.
I was just floating fairly shallow outside the Grotto burning off my decompression time when I found myself in the middle of this school of Tuna. I could have sworn that I saw Charlie in the middle of it. It's always an awesome feeling to be completely surrounded by fish like this though, especially when they're all fairly good size.
Another thing I always enjoy taking pictures of are the big sweeping orange sea fans that are inside and outside of the Grotto. If you see them in the Grotto without a light, they will just look dark, and you don't realize what a vibrant orange color they really are. But when the flash of the camera goes off, all the sudden you get an idea of just how spectacular they really are.

I also enjoy capturing them with the blue of the ocean showing through when you take a close up of them. I hope you've enjoyed this little virtual dive, I'll post a few more dive pictures over the next day or so, and then it's off to Bali for 10 days. Kelli and I will be doing a little diving down there and of course taking a ton of pictures. I'll try to make a couple posts while I'm down there, but I'll have tons of pictures to post when I get back.

1 Weekend = 7 dives

I managed to get in 7 dives over the long weekend, 1 on Friday and 2 each on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I saw turtles, nudibranchs, lionfish, eels and tons of other things, but by far the most impressive was this Napolean Wrasse at the Grotto. I managed to see him on 2 different dives on different days, which I hope means that he's considering making that area his new home. While not as big as the ones that were speared and appeared in the newspaper recently, this guy was probably a good 60-70 pounds anyway. He made the Bluefin Trevally above him look small, and the Trevally was a good 2 feet long. I'm not about to go jumping into the debate about spearing such a fish and whether or not they're actually endangered. I just want to say it was extremely awesome being in the water with such a huge fish.
While I may be staying out of the spearfishing debate, I am not staying out of the illegal fishing at the Grotto issue. The illegal fisherman have been hitting it harder and harder lately, but this last weekend it was absurd how much fishing line, lead sinkers, pieces of rebar, bolts, nuts, and chunks of concrete that are used for sinkers I cleaned off the coral and the cliff line outside the Grotto. On my Friday dive I noticed that the entire cliff line on the outside between holes #2 and #3 was spider webbed with fishing line. It was also stretched across the opening of the little canyon that divers swim through between the cliff and the big boulder outside of #2. It would have been very easy for a tourist to become entangled in this fishing line and not be able to get loose. Those kind of situations are the ones where panic sets in and tragedy is usually the result. Think I'm exaggerating about the problem at the Grotto? Well take a look at a few of these pictures, and keep in mind these are from this weekend alone. I cleaned the same areas last weekend, so this is all just from one weeks worth of illegal fishing. I pulled over 25 lead sinkers out of the water this weekend, and that's not counting all the chunks of rebar, bolts, concrete and everything they use for sinkers.
Here you see the fishing line tangled in one of the coral formations. Sadly this is what our tourists are seeing more and more when they dive the Grotto. Before they head down on their dive they read the signs about how this is a Marine Sanctuary and protected, and then they get down there and see that we really don't mean it, there is fishing line everywhere.
Fishing line isn't the only thing still littering the Grotto, the Budweiser drinking pigs still seem to be making their visits to the Grotto. I generally pick up 3-4 of these cans during each weekend as well. I guess it's just too much work for these beer guzzling weeneies to carry their own empty cans up out of the Grotto, so I carry them all out with me, in addition to my 75 pounds of gear and all the fishing line and sinkers. My apologies for the blur in the picture, I used my underwater camera and it still had a drop of water on the lens. This was what I brought up out of the Grotto after my Friday dive.
This is what I cleaned off the cliff line Saturday morning after just having cleaned it the day before.
On my 2nd dive Saturday afternoon I pulled this fishing line and sinkers off the cliff line and the coral. Sunday morning I went back out to the same places I had cleaned the day before and this is what I pulled off the cliff line and the coral the very next day. Obviously it wouldn't be rocket science to catch these lawbreakers as they seem to be fishing every single night, so why isn't anybody with the authority doing anything about it? I also saw a fish swimming around inside the Grotto who had been hooked and had a long piece of fishing line trailing from his mouth. Is this really what we want our diving tourists to see at the Grotto? Once again, we have made the laws, but we don't have the desire to enforce our laws and to have them do any good, the proof is in the pictures.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A New Camera & A Weekend Full of Diving!

Everyone's favorite diving dental hygenist, Bev, talked me into going out for a Friday afternoon dive with her. I hadn't had a chance to try my new camera out underwater yet so it didn't take much convincing to get me to go. We went to the Grotto, and as soon as I hit the water I knew it was one of those special days. Visibility was absolutely incredible, and there was no sediment in the water at all, it was crystal clear. We headed out hole #1 in search of turtles, and it didn't take me long before I spotted this guy sitting on the bottom looking up at me. I went down and started taking a few pics and he circled me for several minutes just letting me get all the shots I wanted. Very nice that they're so accomodating like that.
After leaving the turtle I saw this feather urchin walking along the bottom. You usually only see these guys tucked into a piece of coral or wedged into a tight spot, but to see one out walking along the bottom is a fairly rare treat. He must have known I had a new camera and was looking for photo ops. So I took a couple shots of him and then continued looking for nudibranchs.
This is what the feather urchins typically look like, all curled up and perched on a piece of coral. The absolutely amazing visibility of this day made the colors incredibly vibrant, but I have to believe part of it is also the additional megapixels of my new camera. I was totally impressed with it, and can't wait to order some of the prints to see how they turn out.
As I was cruising a few feet above the bottom I finally spotted this little guy perched on a rock. It's a little Annulata nudibranch, a fairly common one, but I was still excited to see him as I've noticed that no nudibranch is exactly common at this time of year. I really like the Macro mode of this new camera, it let's me focus the picture totally on the nudibranch and make sure that he comes out nice and crisp.
As I was cruising along the outside cliff line between holes 2 & 3, I noticed fishing line strung across the passage and wound in all the coral heads on the cliff line. I had just cleaned this cliff line off last weekend, and here it was totally covered in fishing line, pieces of sawed off rebar, bolts and chunks of busted up concrete. I'm guessing that our illegal fisherman are contract workers who work in construction from the looks of what they use for sinkers. I'm seriously considering going out there one night this weekend, catching them and telling them I'll toss them off the cliff if they don't stop fishing in the Grotto sanctuary. I'm getting very tired of having to clean up after these clowns, and if Fish & Wildlife can't catch them, I'm pretty sure that I can.
Here is a shot of Bev swimming along the cliff line heading back toward hole #3. She was just enjoying a relax swim as I was getting tossed all around by the surf in the shallows as I tried to get the fishing line all cleaned off the cliff line. It was just an absolutely perfect day for a dive, the sun was shining, everything was lit up perfectly and the visibility was better than I've seen it in a very, very long time. Then inside the Grotto I spotted this elegant nudibranch feeding on some yellow sponge. Like I said, I'm very happy with my new Canon SD950 IS, the pictues are amazing, and the definition and clarity are superb. I'm looking forward to many more good shots in the coming days!

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Scarey New Underwater Species

I was just going through some of my dive pics from the last couple of months, seeing if there was anything worth posting when I ran across these pictures. I sort of recall letting Zandra use my camera on a dive and her taking pictures of things. This particular subject has been taken on many Japanese cameras over the years although it is rather elusive and tends to swim the other direction when it sees cameras pointing at him. The closest identification I can find a match for is Scaricus Noharicus, that is the latin name by the way.
It is very unusual to see this creature like this, he usually always has a camera in his hands and is ignoring everything and everyone else around him just staring at tiny little critters known as nudibranchs. He's really not very social at all, at least not with people, but has been known to spend inordinate amounts of time with turtles and nudibranchs.
If you ever see Scaricus Noharicus underwater looking like this, please avoid looking directly in his eyes. It is said that he has a hypnotic stare that can totally disorient you and render you into someone who can't get enough of sea slugs. Look around, see if you see his camera anywhere, or see if someone borrowed it, get it back, put it in his hand, while avoiding looking into his eyes, then quietly swim away. Remember, these warnings are for your own good, and if you spend anytime underwater on Saipan, you're sure to run into this aquatic creature.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Turtles, Turtles and More Turtles

Yes, I have been diving. And diving some more, and diving some more. I pretty much live underwater on weekends, and turtles are a big part of the reason why. I just never get tired of swimming with these amazing creatures and watching & studying them. They are a work of art to me, and I always enjoy capturing them with my camera. Usually when I'm diving I'm looking down at the bottom for turtles, nudibranchs, Leaf Scorpionfish or anything that I think may make an interesting picture. But occasionally I look up and I see something like this, a green sea turtle that is coming down almost on top of me. I can't even imagine how many thing my dive buddy Doug and I have missed that swam right above us or right next to us because we were looking down so intently.
When I'm swimming with turtles I'm always looking for just the perfect angle or background setting to take the picture in. This formation outside of the Grotto is one of my favorite backdrops, but it's a fairly unusual thing to manage to catch a turtle at just the right spot to take his picture with the big rocks in the background. This was just one of those charmed days when visibility was good, the turtle was in the right spot at the right time, and so was I.
This particular turtle and I have spent a lot of time together over the last few months. You may wonder how I know it's always this same turtle. If you look closely on his shell at the end toward his head, you'll notice a couple big scratches or scars in the shell. He is pretty easy to identify because of those marks. I don't know if he had a run in with a Tiger shark or what happened, but it does make it easy to know it's him. He's gotten so comfortable around me that he will just sit there and eat letting me park right next to him and just snap picture after picture.
Here is another shot of him where you can see the scratch marks more clearly. I've spent so much time with some of these turtles that I not only know when to find them and when to find them there, but I also have a very good idea of what their behavior will be when they see a diver approach, and where they will head. Could it be that I'm starting to turn into a turtle myself? I can think of worse fates, I'd much rather face Tiger sharks that some of the people that I have to deal with. And finally my buddy decides it's time to go up and get a breath of air. I can easily lose track of time and spend an hour just watching these guys and studying their behavior. That's why I've got a monster tank, I love being able to spend all the time with the creatures down there and not having to worry about running out of air or getting into trouble on decompression time. Yes I do have some whopping decompression stops, but it's a small price to pay to spend some quality time with these magnificent creatures. I plan on getting wet tomorrow and initiating the new camera, hopefully I'll have some cool pictures to share when I get back.

I guess I'm ready to start doing my blog regularly again, but it will be devoted exclusively to my pictures of paradise and possibly a story or two about things that I find amusing. I have no interest in debating with others over politics, social issues or anything else controversial. That may be where the interest and comments are, but frankly I'm just not interested. I'd much rather just share the beauty all around us that I manage to capture through my camera lens. For those who enjoy the pictures and want to follow the blog, you're more than welcome to come along for the ride, and leave comments if you'd like. For those who just want to be nasty and pick, go away. Your comments will not be published and you will have no voice here, this is simply a place for me to share my pictures, my love of diving and the creatures I meet up with underwater.
And it will also be a place to share pictures like these, of phenomenal sunsets and the paddlers out doing their thing. I believe that there is a place for blogs like this that just want to share the beauty of the islands through pictures and give people a look at some of the cool things we have here to see. If no one reads it anymore or bothers visiting it, no big deal, I really wasn't doing it for you in the first place. I guess I've said my peace, and now I can quietly post my pictures and tell my dive stories. And by the way, dive weenies are also not welcome here. Just thought I'd make that perfectly clear before we get back into more underwater shots.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

To the untrained eye, this may appear to be my old dive camera, but it just looks like it. Actually I ordered the new Canon SD950 IS camera, which is 12.1 Megapixels and the new Canon WP-DC19 underwater housing to go along with it. I had looked into getting a housing for the new Canon Rebel XTi that I bought recently, but to get it outfitted properly for what I wanted to do underwater would have set me back an additional $7,000. That made the purchase price of this new Canon compact pretty easy to swallow at a mere $500 for the camera and housing. I may still wind up buying external strobes for this camera, but it will definitely be a fraction of the cost I was looking at.
I really like the fact that this new model has a Titanium case, which hopefully means it will hold up well under the abuse that my cameras have a tendency to have to put up with. This also means that I'll be taking some pretty cool macro shots once again underwater. The light diffuser broke on my old camera housing, which meant that I couldn't take close up shots with the flash, so the color was never quite right. And the most exciting part of all this is that it got here just in time for my trip to Bali. Kelli and I are going to be doing some diving down there, and of course taking plenty of pictures. I'll also have my Rebel XTi and will fill both 4 Gig memory cards up before returning. Yup, I'm as excited as any kid on Christmas, and can't wait to get this new camera underwater. I do realize that there are those like a certain friend of mine which will hate me because of my new camera purchase and because of the fact that I'm going to Bali on vacation. All I can say is, I hope you enjoy the pictures when I get back!