Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Weird and the Wonderful

The term muck diving refers to diving in areas where the bottom is sandy, muddy, murky and/or littered with rubble, rocks, tires, old fishing equipment, discarded shoes and various other things. While you’re not apt to find a whale shark here, plenty of other fascinating creatures call this environment home. I shot the following pictures at Sand Castle in Gorontalo with my Olympus uT8000 in about 3 m of water.

A pair of Starry Moray Eels

Reef Stonefish

Juvenile Lionfish

Hermit Crab

Porcelain Crab on Anenome

A pair of Ambonian Shrimp

Sea Urchin

And here's one more shot from Shadowlands. This is a reef site, not a muck site, but it's where I saw my first boxer crab so I was pretty excited. These guys are so cute! Note the tufts of anenome he's clutching in his claws like boxing gloves.

Boxer Crab

Taking pictures underwater is a lot of fun but I feel very frustrated by the limitations of my camera. If any of you reading this are underwater photographers, can you please suggest a good quality diving camera for me? I don't want to invest in something super expensive, but I want a camera that's good enough to offer me a lot of creative flexibility. Hendra, my new photographer friend, recommends the Canon G11, which he considers to be a semi-pro camera. I'd love to hear some other recommendations as well.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Perfect Day in Gorontalo

The first dive of the day was the type of dive that left me grinning from ear to ear as I surfaced. Rantje had taken me to Cliffs for the first time where we had 30 meters visibility and a lot of fish action. In addition to the usual schools of fusilier and purple anthias, there were a surprising amount of large parrotfish, a couple rare Burgess butterflyfish and many cute blue belly blennies that are endemic to Gorontalo. Oh, and there were scrawled filefish, banded trevally, batfish, unicornfish, scissortail dart gobies, and callosus starfish too. And the backdrop to all of this spectacular marine beauty was a series of beautiful sunlit columns cut into the coral wall. Rantje would guide me to each column and then signal that I could go in and look around. Surrounded on three sides by coral walls only several meters apart, I would lean back and follow the columns of corals, fans, sponges and resident fish up to the surface with my eyes. Then I would swim out and follow Rantje to the next one. Simply stunning.

The second dive of the day was at Mystic Point – a favorite muck destination in Gorontalo. No sooner had we descended than Rantje called my attention to something black and white that was slithering over the rubble. It was an extremely long banded sea krait – a type of venomous sea snake. This particular snake might have been around two meters long; it was pretty massive. We followed it for a bit as it poked its head into the holes and crevices in the substrate, hunting for food. Rantje later told me that divers in Gorontalo only see these sea kraits maybe once or twice a year. Continuing the dive, we soon stumbled upon an Emperor Akihito fantail goby, a new species named after the Japanese emperor in 2005. Then we found crab eye gobies, which are some of my new favorite fish. These cute little guys have two twin dots on their dorsal fins. As they move themselves forward on their pectoral fins, they give the illusion of a crab scurrying sideways. They are adorable to watch.

The dive continued to delight with tiny treasures: we saw an exquisite juvenile emperor angelfish, a teeny tiny striped coral hermit crab, amponian shrimp, translucent cleaner shrimp, a small white juvenile lionfish, a ball of juvenile striped catfish, bulb anemone with a baby clownfish and even several baby barracuda! And then there were pink anthias (common only in Indonesia), banded pipefish, ringed pipefish, a giant moray eel, a colossal school of convict blennies, weedy gobies and, to top it all off, we saw over 13 reef squid hovering above a boat rope when we ascended.

It was a day of Gorontalo diving at its best.

Meeting a Celebrity Diver

Several months ago I read an article in Asian Diver magazine about a divemaster named Noldy Rumengen from Manado who is so good at finding small creatures that he recently had a new species of pipehorse named after him (Kyonemichthys rumengani). Imagine my surprise when I showed up at the Oasis Hotel ready to dive one morning only to have Rantje introduce me to a guy named Noldy from Manado who would be diving with me the next day. We shook hands and then I headed off to the dock with Rantje. On the way I asked him, “That’s not the same Noldy from Manado who has a pipefish named after him, is it?” Rantje smiled and confirmed it was the very same person!

The next morning, Noldy, Hendra the photographer and another photographer friend of theirs named Michael and I climbed into Rantje’s car, off for another adventure. I was slightly star struck to be in the company of someone I recognized from a magazine and who has done tens of thousands of dives in his lifetime. But Noldy and his friends were very friendly and approachable. After our second day of diving together they invited me back for a beer at the Oasis Hotel and we sat for hours in the tropical courtyard talking about diving, underwater photography, and life. This was exactly the type of evening I had imagined last summer when I day dreamed about my future life in Gorontalo – relaxing over drinks with new diving friends at the Oasis Hotel, home of the only dive operator in town.

With Noldy Rumengen from Manado