Tag-Archive for » muck dive «

Tickling The Feather Star Open for Critters

wpid-P10700940001-2015-02-16-01-38.jpg
See the Clingfish and its pattern?

Crinoids are what divers know as Feather Stars, sporting feathery arms that sway back and forth towards the centre of the body. One of the easiest subjects to photograph, crinoids are prehistoric animals in the class of echinoderms with male and female species found clinging onto coral reef cliffs often asleep in the day or actively feeding at night. The challenge is to photograph the tenants that the Crinoid itself hosts. It’s important to note that no photograph is worth abusing the animal for so please handle your subjects with care as you would a live animal on land. Crinoids are somewhat sticky and brittle. You wouldn’t want to break any of their arms off in your quest to shoot the shrimp within so keep your buoyancy neutral and coax the star to do a grand opening for you. I will teach you how.

After witnessing so many dive guides using their swizzle sticks to roughly ‘part the arms’ of the Crinoid to show divers what it holds within, I felt compelled to write this article to educate the many of you who might follow the bad habit of disturbing nature for your pictures. I practice a minimal disturbance to no disturbances in all my shots. They are never manipulated, nor had my subjects tossed in mid water to get them flaring, fearful or angry and I implore all of you to nurture good habits. The ability to boast of your shots is in the way you photograph them, not how the shot was obtained with manipulation. When you understand marine animal behaviour, you will get your incredible shots. Having spent the last 17 years teaching and 12 years of photographing underwater, I am moving towards educating the diver of the habits that you should possess to encounter your subjects.

What you need in your gear:-
1) Dive equipment of course.
2) Carabiners/loops/holsters to streamline your dangling hoses (SPG/Octopus/reels/SMBs)
3) LED torch
4) Dive computer to record depth and time you see the animal to relocate it next time.
5) No gloves unless you are diving in 15? waters
6) Hood to keep your hair tucked away from curious octopuses
7) Any camera housed in respective cases
8) Marine life guide books

Pre-dive preparation:-
1) Clean your hands after you use sunblock
2) Secure all gadgets with lanyard in your pockets.
3) Identify the subject you want to shoot.
4) Decide with buddy how much time you want to spend on each subject and if you find your target, be considerate to allow your buddy to take shots as well.

It’s not what camera you have but your knowledge of marine life that would get you nearer to the animal. By knowing what your subject lives on and feeds on, you have already increased your chances of finding it. By knowing your reef, you would have access to the inhabitants if you know what feeds on what and when.

wpid-P1070097-20000-2015-02-16-01-38.jpg
The Shrimp also took on the colours and pattern of this Crinoid, Oxycomanthus Bennetti.


wpid-P10700970000-2015-02-16-01-38.jpg
Close-up crop of the shrimp.

The basis of not touching anything in your dive education has been the point of contention in dive circles as we see dive guides competing with one another to find elusive critters with their sticks/pointers and completely lifting the animal out of the sand even though it’s meant to be camouflaged. I found it deeply offensive and I usually stop following the guide to find my own interaction with critters when I am not the one guiding the trip. When marine scientists collect specimens for research, they can’t avoid touching. We are not scientists neither are we collecting any specimens but we want to document them and there would be some degree of touching (hence rule number 1 in pre-dive preparation is to have clean hands) but not to the point of harassing the animal.

Not all crinoids have critters within. There are several species that host them. One of my favourites is the Oxycomanthus bennetti. 9 out 10 animals that I find have ‘tenants’ within them! On this particular one, I found 3 different types of critters! They all form a symbiotic relationship with the host and even adapt to its colours and patterns. Two Clingfish, a shrimp and a crab (not displayed) were darting about as I got closer.

wpid-P10700980000-2015-02-16-01-38.jpg
There are 2 Clingfish in the picture and a shrimp. Can you spot them?

How do you get a Feather Star to open up its multiple arms for you? You only need to tap the spine of the arms gently & softly. As you begin tapping, be mindful that your neoprene suit doesn’t touch any of the brittle feathers or you might end up ripping the poor little thing apart. By tapping with your finger pads softly, it will begin to spread out. Your camera settings would have to be ready for the shot as you might only get one or two shots of the critters within. Set your focusing to Spot and metering to Centre-weighted. Crinoid will stay ‘open’ for you if it feels tickled in all its arms as long as you avoid touching the cilia (feathers). I use a drink stirrer with a ball tip to coax the critter (shrimp/crab/clingfish) into view from the opposite side carefully without touching the Crinoid. Once I get about 4 or 5 shots or a video if the subject is actively moving, mission is accomplished & I move on to other subjects on the reef. Minimal touching and absolutely no disturbance to the Crinoid. It will soon curl up to get back to sleep when it senses no threat.

For more on marine life and nature documentation, follow Pummkinography on Facebook or follow Pummkin on her trips!

Onboard Komodo Dancer – Learning Human Behaviour – Day 3 & 4

Dinners were always served in style. Sit down with a glass of wine as the first course is served by Rizal, who tirelessly wait on us. A purpose-built massive wooden table that acts as an emergency exit from the cabins below, had the capacity to fit 16 divers comfortably, 17 divers cosily. Captain Kassim set sail on the 2nd night towards Sumbawa islands & that’s when the real adventure had begun.

Sumbawa & Komodo islands seem to harbour some monstrous sized reef life and their pelagics are ginormous. Giant Trevallies are gigantic, Titan Triggerfish titanic, gargantuan Gorgonians that can wrap you twice over. The Napoleon Wrasse waltzes into schools declaring itself the emperor of the reef and Giant Groupers (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus) prance the neighbourhood without a trace, giving away its camouflage only when it moved. I was many a time, frightened by one in close proximity when I hovered to take pictures over the colourful terrain. The more vibrant cousin, the Coronation Trout (Variola louti), was more visible as it changes colours upon entering & leaving the reef, the prime reason for my decision to take more videos.

wpid-P6138539-2014-06-25-01-17.jpg

By this time, everyone except Team Russia (language barrier), was warming up to one another around meal times as food had always been the centrepiece of conversations in Asian communities. Free access to the soda fridge meant I get to be sugar-powered by Coke after a nitrogen-loaded gawking session underwater. Again the swollen moon made everything explode, not sure if they got excited but I sure did when I caught the courtship ritual of the Trumpetfish at Padang Bai. Could it be that we would get to witness the spontaneous spawning of the reef at this time of the year? It’s hard to contain my joy…..

wpid-P61704980000-2014-06-25-01-17.jpg

Anticipating the view of the recently erupted Sangeang volcano that sent a 19km plume of ashcloud into the sky, eager beavers like us (Team China & Team Malaysia) continued to check our location with the map & GPS to see how far off we were & if there was a possibility to get near. The Captain expressed that he was not going to take the risk as molten lava can be seen miles away in the following nights. We were told to get a glimpse of it when we moved closer to Komodo.

wpid-P6138551-2014-06-25-01-17.jpg

Team Austria had to be the walking pharmacy and most medically-equipped couple ever. On the first few days, they kindly whipped out a magic bottle of eardrops that dry out people’s ears as one member of Team Everything-Is-Wrong had gotten an ear infection. Very soon, Team Austria took out some Voltaren pills for one member of Team USA who had gotten a sprained ankle from an injury before she went onboard. She was also my lovely roommate! Her enthusiasm for muck dives was unquenchable as she voraciously searched the guidebooks after each dive for the things she had found.

wpid-P6138803-2014-06-25-01-17.jpg
By that time, I was getting to know everyone except one aloof member of Team China who doesn’t speak English & required his diving buddy to interpret dive briefs to him. A man of few words, he was exceptionally expressive underwater, gesticulating to his awesome interpreter buddy who happened to be an incredible photographer. I think I like him already! We can sign language! And so it was that I would speak Cantonese to him & he would speak Mandarin to me……..bliss!

wpid-GiantClam-2014-06-25-01-17.jpg

wpid-P6138821-2014-06-25-01-17.jpg

wpid-P6138528-2014-06-25-01-17.jpg

wpid-P6138517-2014-06-25-01-17.jpg

Roughing It At Rottnest

wpid-wpid-RottnestGroup-2011-03-17-19-28-2011-03-17-19-28.jpg

I am here in Perth, Western Australia, courtesy of Tourism Australia & Tourism Western Australia & the main event I was covering was called PUPS – Perth Underwater Photo Shootout, which was held at Rottnest Island on the 12 March 2011. This is the biggest underwater photo shootout in Western Australia with 35 divers contesting to get top spots for the prizes of a dive trip in exotic locations in Indonesia & Malaysia amongst the other sponsored goodies that attracted this large number of participants. Leaving in the morning on a fully equipped dive boat with Perth Diving Academy, everyone had assembled their photographic setup to be ready for the first dive the moment the boat stops.

Despite the perfect weather, the sea condition wasn’t particularly good with 2 – 3m swells & 3 – 5m visibility but what we faced underwater on the first dive was even more daunting. Being thrown forward & backwards, wedged into crevices almost mounted on the ceiling before being thrusted by the next surge of motion only to crash into a mini mount. The sea was throwing a tantrum that day & as Humpty Dumpty was clad & layered in a 5mm Farmer Jane suit, having to offset my buoyancy with a 12kilo weight belt didn’t help. I can’t even begin to tell you how many mounts I have come to ‘know’ & little caves that I find myself in. You get the drift???

wpid-wpid-wpid-Seaweed-2011-03-17-19-282-2011-03-17-19-28-2011-03-17-19-28.jpg
The varied types of seagrass & seaweeds in Rottnest Island.

Dave Baxter, the extraordinary underwater photographer who had put together this feat of an event, was my buddy for the day. I can imagine how much laugh he would have had watching Humpty Dumpty sauntering & gasping, having to turn back & see if I’m stuck somewhere beneath the mounts. I couldn’t take a single decent shot on the first dive let alone nice pictures but after reviewing them on my Mac, I was able to show you what a wild time I had by these ‘super artistic’ (fluke) shots generated by the motion of the ocean!

wpid-wpid-wpid-ArtisticMotion-2011-03-17-19-282-2011-03-17-19-28-2011-03-17-19-28.jpg
Put in a collage for fun…..

As one of the appointed judges, I was not running in the competition but I got one of my prized ‘catch’ on the second dive. A friendly & curious wrasse followed me around, watching me up close & wondering why I was turned turtle (ahem…it was a balancing issue with the ultra-buoyant wetsuit & 12kg weights on my belt). The wrasse often came right up to my mask (Dave took pictures) & would even allow me to stroke its tail! It had no problems whatsoever with trusting (clumsy) giants in neoprene & has the curiosity of a cat! Here’s one shot of it while it was staring at my mask:-

wpid-wpid-wpid-P1170157-2011-03-17-19-282-2011-03-17-19-28-2011-03-17-19-28.jpg
Presenting – Le Amigo D’ Wrasse! Unedited, uncropped, unadulterated. Even speckles are left for posterity!

wpid-wpid-wpid-P1170162-2011-03-17-19-283-2011-03-17-19-28-2011-03-17-19-28.jpg
When it stared at my camera…..

Perth Diving Academy provided the diving services on their big boat & the day ended with a barbecue at the yacht club. Judging has been postponed to 29 March. Next on the itinerary would be my journey to Exmouth & Coral Bay!