Monday, August 28, 2006

I made it back to Santa Cruz and normality (or at least as close to normality as I get). I leave for Bermuda on September 5th. I'll start again with the pictures and writing then.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I logged my 600th dive on my computer today. Unfortunately, my computer seems to be giving up the ghost though. It eats brand new batteries in about three or four days. They're supposed to last for two years. I'm going to have to send it off to the manufacturer when I get home and I have no idea how long it will take for me to get it back. Oh well, at least I have this photo to prove that I logged 600 dives on it.

I was out of the water for a couple of days with a sore neck but that's pretty much cleared up now. We went back to finish up our site on the east side of the island today and we got 7 more fish. We've only dove this one site on that side of the island and there are clownfish all over the place. I wonder if there are other sites on that side that have just as many. We're going back over there tomorrow to have a look around. The anemones seem to like places with a lot of current and, since that site gets so much current, I expect that other sites nearby will too.

I'll fly out of Moorea on Tuesday night around 5 or 6. Then I have to sit around in the airport in Tahiti until after 2am to get on my flight. That's going to kind of suck.

Oops, we're going to eat dinner now and I'm hungry. Bye bye.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Mr. Sea Turtle was the most exciting thing we saw today. We saw quite a bit of him actually. We did two dives in pretty much the same spot. We were told that there was an anemone with two clownfish on it in excatly 10 meters of water at a particular location. On the first dive, I anchored a little west of the spot and we swam along the 9 meter contour. I figures we'd be sure to see it if we just maintained the correct depth and swam in the right direction.

While we were swimming east, I saw the turtle mucking around in the coral apparently eating something. I snapped a couple of quick pictures and we kept going because we had some fish to catch. We swam a long way and didn't see any anemones, so we turned around and went in a little shallower. We saw the turtle again in the same spot on the way back. We went back to the boat without finding the anemone.

We were determined to find the damn fish so we did a second dive in the same place. This time we lined up on a buoy that we were told was near the anemone and swam down the reef slope in that direction. We got to about fifty feet and saw that the reef dropped steeply down to ninety or so feet. I was about to give up and just start taking pictures when Todd finally saw the anemone. 10 meters is 33 feet (that's where the thing was supposed to be). We found in 46 feet of water. Sure that's only 13 feet worth of depth difference but, because of the shape of the slope, that meant that the anemone was several hundred feet from the 10 meter contour line. I'm completely amazed that we ever find these things when we don't have a GPS point but, somehow, we do.

Sure enough, there were two clownfish on the anemone and they went down like bitches. Straight into the net with no problem. I love it when they cooerate like that. We were left with at least half of our air still so I decided to bust out the camera. I got some pictures and video of the clowns and then we went back to visit the turtle. It was still in the same place and it was still eating. The turtle didn't seem to care about me at all. He let me get right up next to him while he was eating and take a bunch of pictures and video. He was smashing up the coral head and eating something off of the coral. I couldn't tell what it was that he was eating though. Maybe algae that was growing on the coral? It was kind of crazy. He was really doing a number on the coral and had smashed a groove through the middle of the coral head. I had no idea that turtles were so destructive. Doesn't he know that those corals can take hundreds of years to grow to that size? Damned irresponsible turtles.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

At Criobe, this is how we roll.

We faced some challenges this morning. We were supposed to take this boat down to the water with the homemade trailer that it lives on. Unfortunately, the rusty wheel broke after we towed it about ten feet. This was the solution that we came up with. The outboard motor is in the back of the truck. We put it back on the boat after we got it in the water. The whole experience had a bit of a third world flavor too it but we managed to get out on the water and get to the dive site we wanted to get to. We even caught the two clown fish we were after.

We dove on the outside of the reef on the north side of the island. It was really pretty and it was much different than the inside of the lagoon. The coral seems to be a lot more diverse and there are a lot more fish. The fish seem to be a lot bigger as well. One of the most conspicuous differences was the sharks. There were lots of black tip reef sharks. A group of four or five of them followed us for most of the dive and circled us while we were netting the clownfish. Apparently there's a tourist diving operation in the area of that dive site that has shark feeding shows. We were speculating that the feeding must not have happened today (because it was kind of windy and they might not have wanted to go out). The sharks kind of seemed like they might be hanging around because they thought we'd feed them.

On the other hand, I've also been followed by this kind of shark on Midway island where there's no tourism at all, let alone shark feeding. Maybe they just like me. These sharks very rarely cause any problems for divers and I never felt threatened by them. I was glad to see them. I got a couple of halfway decent pictures and a bunch of short crappy digital videos of them. I think we're supposed to go outside again tomorrow. I'd really like to see a lemon shark before I go. Maybe we'll get one of those tomorrow. No tiger sharks though please.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

I found a new favorite dive site today. It may actually be my favorite dive site ever. It's much nicer than the site on the east side of the island that I've been talking about. This site is on the west side of the island near a chanel through the barrier reef. It's a wall that's around 50 feet or so high. The water was very clear and there were fish everywhere. The coral formations were very cool with lots of little tunnels everywhere. It was kind of a shame that we were on a mission to find clownfish. I really wanted to just go slowly and really look at things. There were a lot of anemones but surprisingly, we only found two clownfish. We caught them and clipped them fairly easily though so I still had a bit of time to use the camera but the photos don't really do the place justice. We were kind of expecting to see a shark or two out there but we didn't. There was an eagle ray but I couldn't get close enough to get a good photo. The photos that came out alright are in the usual place.

There was another party at Gump yesterday so Marina, Jeremie, Donatien and I all went over there. It was actually at the director of the station's house up the hill from Gump. It was a really nice place with hardly any mosquitos. A good time was had by all. I met a guy named Sea who's working on invertebrate collections for the Moorea biocode project and I got to talk about cephalopods for a while. That, of course, made me happy. I'm going go over to Gump, possibly tomorrow, and see the photos they've gotten of a cute little pigmy octopus that they've found here. I think I may also work on setting up a light trap. That's a gizmo that you put out at night that attracts and traps all sorts of planktonic larvae including tiny little baby octopuses.

It's really really late right now so I'm going to stop now. We won't be diving tomorrow. One of the boats has broken so ours is going to be borrowed for another project. Todd will be here in the morning so at least it will be an entertaining day.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I'm feeling much better now. We went diving yesterday out on the west side of the island but there wasn't much to report. Visibility was only about 20 feet or so because there seemed to be a lot of run off in the area. We found some anemones but only one clown and that one disappeared shortly after I spotted it so we didn't get any fish.

Today we went back to our site on the east side of the island and it was very nice. The current wasn't quite as bad as it had been and we were able to catch the two fish that had been giving us a really hard time and two more as well. Since there were three of us (me, Jeremie, and Marina), I was able to get some pictures of the catching and clipping process.

This is the fish that took forever to catch. All together, we probably spent three hours (over several days) chasing this little bastard around all over the reef. We finally put out the big net and managed to corral him (coral... corral? I'm sure there's a bad pun there somewhere). Anyway, the first step of the process is to find the fish (sometimes an adventure by itself) and get it in the net.

The next thing we do is to measure the fish and write the measurement on the data sheet. The really big ones have to be measured a little differently. We measure from the mouth to the second blue bar and add that to the measurement from the blue bar to the caudal fin. The biggest we've found was over 17cm. The largest reported specimen before that was 15cm. I have personally seen the world's largest (reported) clown fish. Hurray for me. I also put a small car in a large ditch.

After we measure the critter, we clip a small portion of the caudal fin off. They don't seem to like this a whole lot but they swim just fine afterward. The fin grows back. I've seen fish that have been clipped a couple of weeks ago and they're just fine. You can even see where the fin is starting to grow back.In this picture, you can see the net we use to make a corral in the coral. You can also see that Marina has teeny tiny little eyes like some sort of cave dwelling creature. O-kay, that's a lie. She actually just has a perscription mask that makes her look really funny underwater.

Jeremie is holding the little plastic vial that has the fin clipping in it. That little fin clipping will get preserved and sent back to Santa Cruz with Marina where the DNA will be sequenced. After that, all manner of fancy biogeographical stuff will happen and we'll learn about paterns of dispersal for reef fish, and papers will be written, awards will be won, and the grant money will flow like caffine free soda at a mormon wedding.

It's late now so I'm going to bed. Bye bye.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Not too much to report today. Yesterday was more diving in strong current with super genius clownfish who refuse to be caught. We got four but that was it. Marina had just shown up so she went out there with us be didn't dive.

Today, I felt like crap so Jeremie and Marina went back to the same spot again and caught one. I think we're giving up on a few of those fish. There's two of them out there that we've spent at least an hour a piece trying to catch. I slept most of day sleeping. I think there may be live animals eating my intestines. Badgers perhaps? I am starting to feel a little better though.