02/26/2015, West Shore of New Guinea
The most vivid and unusual sea urchin we have seen in countless hours of snorkeling across half of the planet.
The name New Guinea always had an exotic tone, far away, half way around the world, head hunters. Now, the towering rock cliffs which rise from thick green jungle of western New Guinea is a quarter mile from our anchor. Having become accustom to our primitive surroundings, New York City is now the exotic place on the other side of the planet.
Through Indonesia, we had been reef hopping along the shores of islands to continue our underwater explorations which began far to the north west, in the Raja Ampat area of Indonesia. We have now sailed to Triton Bay, an indentation of the west shore of New Guinea, in a quest to swim with the large Whale Sharks that frequent the area and whatever new discoveries there might be. It would be useless to name all the islands we have been to in this area. Few people have heard of them and they would be very difficult to find on a chart. But if you ever make it here, ask anyone at the newly completed, thatch roofed huts at the SCUBA dive operation named Triton Bay Divers and they can map all the best locations for you.
Just like in Raja Ampat, the discovery of completely unique marine life continues. No where in the world have I ever seen a 2.5" diameter, royal blue color, sea urchin with vertical rows of short spines like the one pictured above. We have now found only a few on only one remote reef. But we recently saw in a reef guide that they are found from here westward towards the Indian ocean. For a short while, we thought we had a completely unique creature in our camera lens.
Rebecca certainly has the eye for the tiniest of marine animals and those larger fish which are well camouflaged. I would not get one quarter of my unusual images if it were not for her microscopic and camouflage-penetrating vision. As an example, to the right, in the Photo Gallery, in the Triton Bay Underwater folder, see if you can pick out the Scorpion Fish in the newest addition of images.
The water temperature here is 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, we use light weight wet suits as we can be in the water for 4 hours at a time. There are a lot of nutrients in the water so the visibility is only about 30'.
01/21/2015, Raja Ampat, Indonesia
The oddest and most mobile sea cucumber we have ever seen.
Rebecca and I have seen thousands of Sea Cucumbers laying on the sandy bottoms of coral atolls and reefs throughout the Pacific. They are generally a dark drab color. The cylindrical shape is about a foot long and 3 inches in diameter tapering at both ends. Since they are mostly made of water, they are soft and spongy when squeezed. There is some color, texture and size variation to the different species. Sea cucumbers don't crawl fast. A sea star or sea urchin or conch could easily out run a cucumber. If there is a current or surf, or fan it with your hand, a cucumber will roll around out of control. They have no fins, arms or jointed legs. Their feet are like that of the sea star. Usually, cucumbers just leisurely move along sifting through the sand for "nutrients" dropped by all the other aquatic animals. With a diet like that, few marine animals would think of eating a mature cucumber. But if so, the cucumber has defenses. They can lay down a trail of incredibly sticky substance which would clog up the feet of a pursuer. Plus there are toxins which can be sensed by hungry marine animals. But of course, what most of nature will not eat, the Chinese will consider a delicacy and will pay a high price for dried and smoked cucumbers. In most Pacific nations, because of over fishing, cucumbers are now on the do not take list. Even the natives we met who harvested cucumbers for the Chinese market would not eat them..."They taste like what they eat." So when I now see a sea cucumber on the bottom of a reef tending to some else's business and filling an important roll of cleaning up the environment, I am happy to see he missed the gathering bag and drying rack of a native, and there will be no smiling Chinese wispping a bad breath.
But one day, in snorkel gear, Rebecca and I were flipping our way over a very remote yet colorful reef in the Raja Ampat area of Indonesia. Coasting over a sandy area in 6 feet of water, I could not have been more startled by a sea cucumber than if I had seen a toothy crocodile. We have seen some amazing marine life found only in these parochial waters but never could I have guessed a sea cucumber would be able stand on its tail end and wave its upper 2/3 into the gentle current. It really looked like an over weight cobra minus an Indian fluter. The cucumber didn't seem to mind me swimming around it taking pictures with a strong flash. Certainly, this species is the highest technological generation of cucumbers. We found out it is the Graeff's Sea Cucumber and it is debated when it is standing up into the current, whether it is feeding on plankton or propagating. But this image shows one of the many feeding pads extending from its mouth indicating feeding....but then, is it sniffing for a girlfriend? When maneuvering around the bottom, several of the white round pads extend from its mouth to feel around in the sand and alternately retrieve food.
Like most of the world, Indonesia is overpopulated with people. If the natives could eat coral there would be only sand left on the reefs. But there are protected areas which have been preserved for so many years that now some of these reefs are teeming with more fish than we have seen anywhere else in the Pacific. One afternoon Rebecca and I came upon a 250 pound grouper. In all the reefs of Florida or the Bahamas I had never seen a grouper a third that size. But Rebecca said that fish was the small one compared to the grouper she had seen the day before. We have seen so many 100 pound Hump Head Wrasses that I was wondering if there were any small ones. But it isn't just more fish, it is the species and diversity found only here.
I fell into a new hobby of photographing nudibranch. These are colorful and unique marine snails which have no shell. Fish do not bother Nudibranch as they sense how poisonous they are. Better still, all this is found in waters with a tropical temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
A while back we picked up a SeaLife DC1400 under water camera. The whole kit cost $500. There are plenty of programmed and manual settings with a 14mb memory. A year ago October, I used the camera to take all the images for our annual Blue Water Sailing article, called "What Worked, What Didn't", to demonstrate its capacity to take magazine quality images. It is all I need for the photography I intend on doing in a wet environment.
I will stop rambling and just put more under water images in a folder called Raja Ampat Underwater to the right. Raja Ampat means King Four apparently the name has something to do with the four kingdoms which once existed in this part of Indonesia.