ABOUT

Avid outdoorsman and underwater photographer, Barry Brown has spent the last 12 years documenting life above and below water in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. He is currently working with the Smithsonian Institution documenting new Caribbean deep-water species and building a one of a kind database. His underwater images can regularly be seen in Sport Diver, Scuba Diver and on the Ikelite website. His image of a "Collage of Corals" seen under blue-light at night recently placed in the TOP 10 images for the 2014 NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) photo contest.

General

Archive for August, 2013

Aug 29, 13     Comments Off on Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Nyctanassa violacea

Good morning from Curacao. This is for my bird-lovers out there that constantly beg me to post a photo of one of our many tropical birds. This is a Yellow Crowned Night Heron and is yet another first for us, he must have been just passing through. This one landed right in front of us, grabbed a big crab (top photo), choked it down and flew off, it was like a watching a bird dine at a fast food restaurant, we never saw him again! The Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea, formerly placed in the genus Nycticorax), also called the American Night Heron or squawk, is a fairly small heron. It is found throughout a large part of the Americas, especially (but not exclusively) in warmer coastal regions; an example occurrence is the Petenes mangroves of the Yucatan.

A related heron, the Bermuda Night Heron, was endemic to Bermuda, but became extinct following human colonisation.

Adults are about 61 cm (24 in) long and weigh 625 g (22.0 oz). They have a white crown and back with the remainder of the body grayish, red eyes and short yellow legs. They have a white stripe below the eye. Juveniles resemble young Black-crowned Night-Herons, being mainly brown flecked with white or gray.

In warmer locations, some are permanent residents; others migrate to Central America and the West Indies. They may occasionally wander north to the lower Great Lakes or Ontario after the breeding season.

These birds stalk their prey or wait in ambush at the water’s edge, mainly at night. They mainly eat crustaceans, mollusks, frogs, aquatic insects and small fish.

This has been such a busy week that in order to get any riding in I left the house at 6:00am yesterday and got in a two hour ride before work, that’s a first!! I then spent the rest of the day with photo shoots and working in the deep-water lab and again came home wiped out!

Hope all is well out there, have a great weekend!!!!

Barry

 

Aug 28, 13     Comments Off on Eating Lionfish, Fried Lionfish, Lionfish Recipes

Good evening readers, I have a delicious fried lionfish for your viewing pleasure tonight and I figured since we are on the topic AGAIN why not share with you the top 5 myths about lionfish, compliments of our friends at National Geographic.

Myth #1: Lionfish are poisonous.

Truth: Lionfish are venomous, not poisonous“ there is a difference. Although both venomous and poisonous animals produce a toxin that can be harmful to other organisms, the method of delivery is different. Venomous organisms use a specific apparatus like spines or teeth to inject their toxin. Poisonous organisms, on the other hand, require their victim to ingest or absorb the toxin. Lionfish possess venomous dorsal, pelvic, and anal spines that deliver toxin through an unpleasant puncture wound. Each spine is surrounded by a loose sheath that is pushed down during envonemation, compressing two venom glands located down then length of the spine. Neurotoxic venom then travels through two parallel grooves up the spine and into an unhappy victim. On the bright side, this means that as long as you stay away from the spines, you’re good to go!

Myth #2: Lionfish were released in the Atlantic when an aquarium flooded during Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Truth: Lionfish were first spotted near Dania, Florida in 1985, years before Hurricane Andrew. The initial source of the invasion can be pinpointed to personal aquarium releases, probably by people who’s lionfish were getting too big for the tank or eating the other fish. A recent study suggests that the invasion can be narrowed to just eight or twelve individuals who interbred. Over time, larvae dispersed up the east coast of the United States and the Caribbean through oceanic currents, bringing the lionfish invasion to its current size and severity.

Myth #3: Predators can be trained to hunt lionfish on their own.

Truth: There have been numerous instances of predators such as sharks, eels, and grouper feasting on lionfish  but typically only after a diver has offered the lionfish to them first. This raises concerns due to the inherent risks involved with teaching wild animals to see humans and expect a free meal. There have even been reports of sharks, eels, and barracuda becoming aggressive towards lionfish hunters in anticipation of handouts. Additionally, a recently released study that examined lionfish/predator abundance throughout the Caribbean over the course of three years determined that there was no correlation between native predator densities and lionfish densities, suggesting that native predators do not influence the successful invasion of lionfish. As great as it would be to have native predators feasting on these invaders, it looks like humans are really the only true lionfish predators in their invasive territory.

Myth #4: You can’t eat lionfish.

Truth: Because lionfish are venomous, not poisonous (see above!), there is no harm in eating the lionfish meat. Once you dispose of the spines, there is no risk of envenomation, and you’re free to prepare your lionfish as you choose. Fortunately for the eco-friendly fish lovers out there, lionfish are delicious. Their white, buttery meat lends itself to any number of different recipes. In fact, there are many restaurants throughout the Caribbean and southern United States that are featuring lionfish on their menus to promote awareness while satisfying customers. Check out last week’s blog post for a few of my favorite lionfish recipes.

Myth #5: There’s nothing we can do.

Truth: They may be excellent invaders, but locals throughout the non-native range have developed some pretty ingenious solutions and it’s working. Dive operations remove lionfish regularly, meaning you’ll be hard pressed to find lionfish on most of the popular dive sites. Lionfish derbies, or fishing competitions that award prizes for the largest, smallest, and most lionfish captured, are becoming more popular and are an excellent way to clean the reef and spread awareness. From 2009-2012, derbies run by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) removed a grand total 0f 10,231 lionfish, and that number is rising. Additionally, a mini-industry has arisen around these spiny invaders as individuals develop increasingly more effective tools for removal. Although many researchers agree that complete eradication of lionfish is impossible, there are certainly ways to keep the population in check and protect the native marine ecosystems of the Western Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean.

I also found these two cool links below for you!

Watch a video on Lionfish preperation, http://www.deathtolionfish.org/recipes.html or try one of these tasty recipes, http://www.lionfishhunter.com/lionfish-recipes.html

Have a wonderful day tomorrow, Barry

Aug 27, 13     Comments Off on Blue Tang Aggregation, School of Colorful Fish

Hi gang, yesterday after doing three dives with the submersible and clients I came home as tired as a man can be and I didn’t even have the energy to go riding! For the past few days I have done a bunch of deep-dives and we have all been fighting some heavy current, this a many of my fellow divers know can really wipe a person out! Then on top of all of that throw in some blistering hot sun and crazy humidity and you will feel just like I do this morning, drained and in need of coffee!

My intern Laila is leaving back to Germany this weekend so I only have a few more days to teach her as much as I can about general photography. She seems to enjoy photographing people the most so everyday I tried to arrange for her to shoot a different person, will be great for her portfolio.

That’s about it other than this large school of Blue Tangs we saw when out diving with Jeff Corwin on Monday and for once I had the right lens!

Sorry short, have a great day, Barry

Aug 27, 13     Comments Off on Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin, Curacao Substation

Good morning from Curacao!! Well, yesterday turned out to be one of those days that you hoped would just keep going and going but as we all found out there is just so much you can do in one day! We had the honor of having Jeff Corwin and his film crew show up yesterday morning filming a segment of the invasive lionfish that are currently invading the Caribbean!  Jeff Corwin, as most of you already know is an American animal and nature conservationist, best known as host and executive producer of the “Animal Planets” cable channel television programs and “The Jeff Corwin Experience” and “Corwin’s Quest”. He is currently working with the Georgia Aquarium in a an all new program called, “Ocean Mysteries” which airs on ABC, if you haven’t seen it yet, your going to love it!! Here is the link to Jeff, the Georgia Aquarium and Ocean Mysteries, please take some time to check it out and add this into your weekly viewing pleasure, it’s valuable information about our planet that we all should know. http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/ocean-mysteries/

The first thing we all did yesterday was get the sub ready for Jeff and his crew and with a little twist, we attached a first ever spear-gun to the front of the submersible in hopes of finding a new way to remove lionfish from the deep. Jeff and his crew have been traveling all over the Caribbean and up and down the East coast in search of lionfish in hopes of learning what makes this fish tick and to help find a way to remove these eating machines from our reefs. Many folks out there still don’t understand how serious this problem really is!! If you lived in the water like we do here and you saw a noticeable drop in all your beautiful baby fish, wouldn’t you want to help?? And yes I agree, man will never be able to remove them all (YET) but we can help to keep the numbers down by keeping our own house reefs or favorite dives sites free of them. As I have said before as well, these fish are capable of giving birth to hundreds of thousands of babies in just a few days, think about what this will do and is doing to our reef system. For you land-lovers think of it like this, if you had 300,000 mice or rats move into your home overnight wouldn’t you try to do something to remove them?? So thankfully we have professionals out there like Jeff Corwin that not only want to educate the World but  have dedicated their lives to the cause, yet another reason to tune in every week!

The Corwin crew took off yesterday in the sub at around 10:00 and returned from their lionfish mission at around 12:30 and during so visited depths down to 1000 feet! As the sub left the dock and started to descend down the reef, Tyler (videographer, seen in photo 3) and I did a quick photo shoot at around 50 feet and then proceeded to follow the mini-submersible down to 120 feet and there we waved good-bye! The current ended up being very strong sweeping Tyler and I down the reef in the wrong direction but no worries we just ended up exiting at the Sea Aquarium instead and doing a fun photo shoot with the sea fan on the way out. During the sub-dive, Jeff Corwin and our pilots Barbara and Bruce caught two or three lionfish which were brought up and quickly frozen, these fish will be saved for the Smithsonian scientists that will examine the stomach contents later this year. Then later in the day, after a group photo, I called my buddy Mark from the World famous “Dive Bus Hut”, http://www.the-dive-bus.com and asked if he wanted to join us or better yet, help me search for lionfish to be used in filming with Jeff and Tyler and of course he said yes! The dive was fantastic, I mean really how many people get to dive with Jeff Corwin?? As you can see from the last photo Jeff is truly a Navy Seal underwater and I was blown away by his diving skills! After the dive we had Jeff and the crew autograph a few photos and then said our good-byes, it was like I said in the beginning a day we wished would never end! Thanks again Jeff for all you do for the environment and making our day here so much fun!

We are doing three customer runs today which means I will be underwater a lot! Have a great day!

Barry

Aug 25, 13     Comments Off on Tiger Tail Sea Cucumber, Holothuria thomasi

Hello gang, there goes another weekend and I hardly have anything to show for it, man do they go by fast!! Friday afternoon Jeff Corwin arrived with his film crew and did a segment on hunting lionfish with the deep-sea submersible. Hours before Jeff arrived the Smithsonian took off on another deep expedition and for the first time ever we speared a lionfish with the sub all thanks to our sub pilot Bruce who is in the process of inventing a way to shoot lionfish at depth. The one they speared was at around 425 feet and they saw others deeper down to 525 feet, crazy right!! So when they got to the surface Jeff did a segment with Carole Baldwin of the Smithsonian and the whole thing is about lionfish eating new undiscovered fish species possibly to the brink of extinction! Plus they filmed Carole doing an autopsy on the lionfish and finding 5 recently eaten fish in the stomach but because of them being partially digested she will have to do a DNA test back in Washington to determine the exact species. Jeff and his crew will be with us all day tomorrow filming and I will be doing an underwater photo shoot with him in the morning as he takes off in the sub so hopefully with his permission I can send you all a photo or two. 

On Saturday I left the house at 6:00am (still dark) and met a friend at 6:30 a few miles away. We ended up doing a fast paced 4-hour mountain bike ride and hit every trail there was in a 40 miles square area, it was a blast! We both ran out of water at one point but here in Curacao there is a snack on every corner so drinks were pretty easy to find! After that I met the lovely ladies from the Smithsonian and took them beach combing for a few hours until finally I was getting sun-burned and my body said take a break! In the evening once it finally cooled down I took the dogs out for their daily 2-hour hike and then at 7:00 met the Smithsonian for dinner, that’s what you call a full day!! Today was fairly quiet, a big hike in the morning followed by a big bunch of nothing!

Here is something pretty cool that Carole Baldwin found on our dive at Playa Forti last week. This is a Tiger-Tail Sea Cucumber and unfortunately you can only see about three feet of it in this photo, the rest is hidden under the reef. While I was shooting it, I must have scared it because after taking this shot it quickly retracted back into it’s body and disappeared under the reef!

Holothuria thomasi, the tiger’s tail, is a species of sea cucumber in the family Holothuriidae. Although it is the largest sea cucumber known in the western Atlantic Ocean, it is so well camouflaged that it was 1980 before it was first described. It is placed in the subgenus Thymiosycia making its full name Holothuria (Thymiosycia) thomasi.

Holothuria thomasi receives its vernacular name from its resemblance to a tiger’s tail. It takes the form of an elongated cylinder with rounded ends and can reach 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) long. It is mottled with patches and streaks of dark brown, golden brown and white, sometimes with irregular rings of colour. On the upper side there are papillae, thorn-like projections, which are dark brown tipped with white. The underside is paler and has several longitudinal rows of tube feet. The animal has no eyes and the mouth is at the anterior end surrounded by a fringe of about 20 shield-shaped tentacles. When it is feeding, this end is enlarged. When small, individuals move about freely, but larger ones conceal themselves in crevices or under projections and are seldom seen.

Holothuria thomasi is found in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding areas. It lives on coral reefs, hidden among the bases of corals at depths of 3 metres (9.8 ft) to 30 metres (98 ft). Its favoured habitat is the escarpments of the outer reef, between the outer ridge and the steep reef slopes.

Holothuria thomasi is a scavenger. Keeping its posterior end firmly anchored in a crack or underneath a rock, it sweeps the surrounding sand and algae-covered rocks with the front third of its body. The tentacles grab the detritus, sand, gravel and algae that it encounters and pushes them into its mouth. It then processes this material in its gut and expels the inedible fragments through its anus.

Well, big day tomorrow, I need to get some sleep!! Have a great Monday!!

Barry

Aug 23, 13     Comments Off on King Neptune Sculpture at Playa Piskado, Curacao

Good morning friends, what a fun-filled busy week this has been!! Yesterday my Intern Laila and I took for the day to go diving at Westpunt and ended up doing one dive at Playa Forti and the other as seen above at Playa Piskado (also known as Playa Grandi). Our goal was to find the famous King Neptune statue/sculpture that resides here at Playa Piskado (means fish) on the reef at around 35 feet and is very easy to find. This was the first time I had ever been to this dive site and definitely want to go back as it has lots to offer even great parking, sandy beaches and a very easy shore entry. Laila and I mostly just swam around the area with the cool-looking King Neptunes sculpture and got to test the new dive lights that we just got from our friends at Ikelite which I must say not only look great but work great even during the day!! Both dives were wonderful, we saw many turtles, juvenile Queen triggerfishes, beautiful sponges, a giant dogtooth snapper, lots of eels and on and on, and the water was crystal clear!! Here is the only info I could find on on the statue, if any of you have any other info please let me know and I will update the post.

In 1999 an Artist from Eindhoven, Netherlands, came to install King Neptune in the waters of Curacao. At the local Fisherman’s Bay/Beach (Playa Piskado), right next to Playa Forti and infront of the Church, 30 to 40 meters out, and 5 meters deep (divers should use the pier as a guide).

Take a seat and a photo, but remember to place a Golden guilder on King Neptune for good luck!

Have a great day all. Barry

Aug 22, 13     Comments Off on Lady of the Night Cactus Flowers, Cereus repandus

Good morning friends, sorry about the NO-BLOG yesterday (thursday) but I honestly had no time! So to kind of get you caught up, Wednesday evening our friend Kees (pronounced Case) called and said his giant cactus that he has in his back yard was about to explode with flowers for the second time this year and invited us to come watch the show, again, it’s great to have friends!! We arrived at 7:30 that evening to see the flowers of the Cereus repandus just starting to open as seen in the top photo and by 10:00 the show was on! Aimee was shooting away on the ladder and I raced around the base snapping away as fast as I could, it was out of this World fantastic!!!! The third photo was a major team effort as Aimee and Kees both took turns holding a flashlight trying to illuminate a single flower, not as easy as it sounds. Because of a light breeze we ended up having to do 1.6 second exposure multiple times and by multiple times I mean it took 30 minutes of shooting, it was a bit frustrating!!! There was a full moon as well but I just couldn’t quite get that in the photo, this giant blooming cactus was hard enough to light up with a single flash. The combination of a perfectly timed tropical downpour and the full moon is most likely what inspires this cactus to bloom and it was a show that only lasts one night, by morning they are all gone! The locals here call this plant, Dama di Anochi which translates to Lady of the Night. In Spanish it’s called; Dama de Noche. Turns out the real name is, Cereus repandus or the Peruvian Apple Cactus. Cereus repandus, is a large, erect, thorny columnar cactus found in South America as well as the nearby ABC Islands of the Dutch Caribbean. It is also known as Giant Club Cactus, Hedge Cactus, cadushi, (in Wayuunaiki and kayush.

With an often tree-like appearance, the Peruvian Apple Cactus’ cylindrical gray-green to blue stems can reach 10 metres (33 ft) in height and 10-20 cm in diameter. The nocturnal flowers remain open for only one night. The fruits, known locally as pitaya or Peruvian Apple, are thornless and vary in skin colour from violet-red to yellow. The edible flesh is white and contains small, edible, crunchy seeds. The flesh sweetens as the fruit opens out fully.

Cereus repandus is an unresearched, under-utilized cactus, grown mostly as an ornamental plant. As noted above, it has some local culinary importance. The Wayuu from the La Guajira Peninsula of Colombia and Venezuela also use the inner cane-like wood of the plant in wattle and daub construction.

Hope all is well out there and your having a wonderful summer!

Barry

Aug 20, 13     Comments Off on Playa Forti Dive Site Curacao, Natural Reef Ball

Good evening friends, I just got back from a super fast ride with my friend Dorian and figured why not get an early start on tomorrows blog. Here is another solitary coral, fish and sponge shot from the giant sand area at Playa Forti located on the Western tip of the island. The photo I posted today of the giant stove pipe sponge colony was within view of this beautiful, lone chunk of substrate that was completely covered in sea life! This is truly a unique dive site because of how much sand there is and how far one must swim just to get out to the reef! What I did was just swim from one underwater oasis to another as you see above, I mean honestly if there isn’t much around for fish to hide in they will use what they can for cover. If you look closely even though the photo is so small you will see many fish species, anemones, sponges, and even corals, it’s a block-o-rock that is home to hundreds of different animals! I am planning on going back here tomorrow but this time with a model to help show the size of some of these sponges, if anyone wants to go let me know. 

It’s been non-stop scientists from the Smithsonian running around our place for weeks now working on so many different projects. I have tried hard to sway a few of them to come do something fun with me during the day but they are definitely not here to play, it’s round the clock work for these guys. Carole Baldwin continues to collect deep-water fish and Lee Weigt is building ARMS traps/boxes all day long and yesterday took three of them back down to different depths with the sub. My friend and the new director of the Smithsonian Kirk Johnson and his wife left on Tuesday back to the museum, we are sure going to miss them! We also had a girl show up this week who is trying to get a scholarship from the National Geographic Society and yesterday I did two dives with her as she video-taped the sub in action, will fill you more in on her as the week progresses. So as you can see it’s still go-go-go around Substation, it will be busy all this week and next still!! If any of you have any questions for these Smithsonian guys and gals please let me know and I can ask them, send questtios to, barry@coralreefphotos.com.

Well, I need to take water and seed out to the desert to our feeding stations before work and walk the dogs so I gotta go!

Have a wonderful day, Barry

Aug 19, 13     Comments Off on Purple Stove Pipe Sponges, Aplysina archeri, Curacao

Good morning friends, sponge Barry here with yet another killer colony of Stove-Pipe Sponges that I found at Playa Forti a few days ago when diving with the Smithsonian group. We were lucky enough to be parked here on a ship and therefore didn’t have to bother with carrying all our gear down the long set of steps which is the only other way to access this site. Once down the steps at Playa Forti head straight out (it’s a long ways) and before you hit the reef turn to the South (left) and you should find these at around 35 feet. The area here is mostly sand and you kind of just swim from one outcrop of corals or sponges to another, it’s really a pretty fun place! When I saw this giant colony of Stove Pipes from a distance I figured they would be broken or damaged in some way but boy was I ever wrong, every tube was perfect! At the base there was a giant anemone, scattered brain corals on the rocks and fish and creatures everywhere, it would be fun to document just how many animals call this purple palace their home! Aplysina archeri (also known as stove-pipe sponge because of its shape) is a species of tube sponge that has long tube-like structures of cylindrical shape. Many tubes are attached to one particular part of the organism. A single tube can grow up to 5 feet high and 3 inches thick. These sponges mostly live in the Atlantic Ocean: the Caribbean, Bahamas, Florida, and Bonaire. They are filter feeders; they eat food such as plankton or suspended detritus as it passes them. Very little is known about their behavioral patterns except for their feeding ecology and reproductive biology. Tubes occur in varying colors including lavender, gray and brown. They reproduce both by asexual and sexual reproduction. When they release their sperms, the sperms float in water and eventually land somewhere where they begin to reproduce cells and grow. These sponges take hundreds of years to grow and never stop growing until they die. Snails are among their natural predators. The dense population of these sponges is going down because of toxic dumps and oil spills.

Another busy day with the Smithsonian ahead and i have a bike ride at 5:00.

Have a great day all, see you soon, Barry

 

Aug 19, 13     Comments Off on Deep-Sea Creatures, Pawsonaster parvus, Starfish

Good morning friends, did you a great weekend, I sure hope so because it’s go-time again! I had a great weekend and got to spend the whole day with one of the Worlds top Paleontologists named Kirk Johnson who is now the new director of the Smithsonian!!  Kirk and I go way back and first met at a T-Rex dig in South Dakota, I was digging bones, he was looking for the fossil leaves around the bones. Then years later I donated a double-Didymocerous specimen to him and the Denver Museum of Natural History that is currently on display in the semi-new Prehistoric Journeys exhibit. We have been trying to get Kirk and his wife down here for years and now that he is part of the largest museum in the World we may be seeing him a bit more. I met them at 7:00 Saturday morning and off we went to climb the tallest peak on Curacao called Mount Christoffel which is located on the West end of our little island. The drive takes around an hour, costs about $12.50 to get in and the hike up takes about an hour and a half, it’s something I send everyone to do if visiting because the view is so breathtaking! When we got to the parking lot at 8:00 it was packed full, this is one of those Curacao activities one should get to when the gates open because of how fast it warms up around here! Also, take a lot of water, a dry pair of clothes, good shoes, NO flip-flops and bring a hat, this can be a very difficult hike. For those of that know me, if I go anywhere I carry a ton of camera gear and this hike was no different! Normally there are lots of birds to be photographed at the summit but on this trip we saw very few. Also, it was a bit dry and the bromeliads we found had already bloomed and only a few still had the red colors, I will send a photo this week to better explain. So in the end I carried 20 pounds worth of gear up the mountain and hardly used any of it but none of that mattered because of the company I was with, I mean who gets to go hiking with Kirk Johnson, it was fantastic! Once back down to the parking lot we drove straight to Playa Forti and ate lunch at the restaurant that overlooks the whole coast, talk about a scenic place to dine! Kirk had Lionfish and they brought out the whole fish fried on the plate, we both jumped up and grabbed our cameras, it was that cool! After lunch we headed to an area called Willibrodus where we stopped and watched the flamingoes feeding out in a well known historic area built by slaves. The rest of the day was spent collecting sea-glass and relaxing and in the evening took the dogs out for a long, fun walk along the coast.

Sunday, I left the house at 6:00am and did a fast paced, three hour, 35 mile mountain bike ride to the North coast and back hitting every trail I could find, it was fun from start to finish!! I then had to be into work at 10:00 for a dive with the sub and the folks from “Yachting Magazine” who are doing a story for the Nov/Dec issue, will keep you posted on that. At 4:00 I took the dogs out for a two hour hike and carried a ton of water to water the frangipani plants we planted out there months ago. So that was pretty much my weekend, what did you all do??

I do have a blue-light photo in the new issue of Sport Diver that is on the stands now, so get out there and grab a copy, it’s good reading!!

The creatures above were found by the Smithsonian at Play Forti a few days ago in the mini-sub/submersible. As soon as I get the depths and names I post those and update this immediately. I do know the smaller, one inch starfish in photo #3 is called, Pawsonaster parvus, talk about a cool little creature and NO they do not have arms.

Lots to, more scientists just arrived from the Smithsonian and the sub is getting ready to leave, talk to you more tonight.

Barry

Aug 15, 13     Comments Off on Sharptail EEL Stuck in a Beer Bottle, Saving Animals

Good morning readers of the blog, our 9th collecting mission with the  Chapman Research Vessel and the new Curasub was yet another big success! We hit the seas at round 1:00 on Wednesday loaded with scientists from the Smithsonian and started the scenic, three hour trip to the West end of the island to a place called “Playa Forti”. We picked this spot because of how easy it is to anchor here and it’s very sheltered from the waves and wind, not to mention how beautiful the area is. Play Forti is known for it’s sheer limestone walls, quaint fisherman’s village and killer diving plus they have a few small secluded beaches that are straight out of the movies! Once the ship parked and the motors were off a bunch of us immediately grabbed our dive gear and with a giant stride off we went! You all know how crazy I am about sponges and this place was thick with them, it was non-stop photo fun. In the evening we all enjoyed a fabulous pasta dinner served with all the fixins and discussed the plans for Thursday, scientists are  so much fun!! Lee Weigt also handed out these beautiful coins he had made to commemorate the Smithsonian’s DROP program and our Substation team, they are super cool and NO, they are not for sale!!

We all woke up Thursday morning to the smell of fresh omelets and coffee made by our Substation crew member Tico, I already told him he needs to open his own restaurant! After breakfast I got my dive gear ready, my underwater housing out and built up and got one of my small aquariums ready for anything new that might be found. I didn’t know it, but before bed the Smithsonian put a light trap out in the open ocean and in the morning came back with the contents. A light trap attracts tiny pelagic fish and creatures and really without a contraption like this scientists would never know what many of these new-borns look like. One of the coolest things they had caught overnight was a tiny, one inch, see-through flounder that was probably about 25 days old and yes I got a photo and will send it out, he’s so cool! The other items in the bucket included a baby flying gurnard, a weird see-through shrimp, strange looking little crabs and dozens of little reef fish that were just born, it was a great way to kick off the morning! After that I got a ride to shore and did a quick photo-shoot of the ship lifting our sub into the water, it was very scenic with the limestone cliffs and calm water. I then raced back to the beach, signaled the boat, and within five minutes had my dive gear on and was in the water waiting for the sub to launch. Since we were parked quite a distance from the reef I held onto the sub and let them pull me out to where we did our fun photo-shoot with the scientists which usually only takes a few minutes. After waving good-by I figured since I am out here why not do some exploring and put this camera to good use. I found countless purple stove-pipe sponges, in fact maybe the most I have seen in one area and yes I tried to shoot them all! I ended up doing a nice hour dive and found so much cool stuff here, I will definitely be back soon to do some more reef photos but this time bring a model. When I got back to the ship it was very quiet, the Smithsonian was either in the sub or out diving collecting specimens. So since I had a little time I grabbed the tiny pelagic flounder and did my best to get a photo which was not easy as I thought it would be and I realized I need to be much more prepared next time for such tiny things! During my shoot and just as the sub was returning, our new intern Laila shows up with her mom who had driven from town and wanted to join in the fun. We helped them out the water and pulled all their dive gear aboard and seconds later the sub returns with finds from the deep. Three of the creatures they found I brought back live to Curacao last night, one was a large Pearlfish found in the anus of a sea-cucumbber and other two things were cool-looking sea-stars, I will be in the lab this morning shooting those. Carol Baldwin, (Smithsonian fish expert) was of course mainly interested in the fish they brought up and was racing around getting those specimens photographed and processed and thinks they may have a few new finds. Along with the fish the sub always bring up bottles filled with little crabs and deep-water shells which will go home with the Smithsonian as well for their collections. Within 30 minutes of the sub returning the next tour was getting underway, which meant I needed to be back in the water for a second photo-shoot. This time I was joined by Laila, her mom and a bunch of scientists and after photographing the sub I joined the group for a super fun dive on the reef. I again raced around from sponge to sponge and each one seemed to be better than the next, I just love this place! This brings us to your photo’s of the day!! On our way back, in about 30 feet of water I could see what looked like a dead eel with it’s belly up???? As I got closer I could now see that it was in fact a Sharptail eel, stuck in a beer bottle and at this point I thought is was dead because it was laying motionless and belly-up!!! I quickly swam down and grabbed it’s very slimy body and picked it up and to my surprise it moved?? I then used my hand to wipe the bottle to see it’s head and sure enough it was not only alive, it was major stuck and looked like it had been in there for quite awhile!! Eels are super slippery and it was impossible to hold onto it’s body and pull, thankfully Laila’s mom came to the rescue. She quickly swam down and grabbed the bottle (photo 2) and I pulled! What I ended up having to do was to grab handfuls of sand and put the sand around his body to help with the gripping! At one point I thought there was no way he was coming out and I actually was thinking how we could break the glass. Finally after many attempts the eel started to move and once we got it moving we kept pulling and then “presto” he was free! We watched as he slowly swam off and didn’t seem to be harmed at all, I’m sure just very hungry!! I always tell divers, pick up bottles but first shake out anything alive inside, these things like all trash are death traps!! Once back to the ship we started packing up our gear for the return trip back and about an hour later the sub returned again with more cool finds from the deep. I think we ended up leaving around 3:00 yesterday, it was a beautiful trip back along the coast and everyone was wiped out from a long day of adventures!

I have to get to the lab, have a great day and a wonderful weekend!!

Barry

 

Aug 14, 13     Comments Off on Brittle Stars on Purple Sponge, Caribbean Sponges

Good morning all, we are getting ready to leave on our short 2 day adventure with the sub and the ship to the West end of the island to an area called Playa Forti. I spent all day yesterday packing up aquariums, cameras, housings, tripods, dive gear, and the scientists and crew did the same. I should be back on-line Friday morning so don’t go far.

I had a question regarding brittle-stars and if they are only nocturnal or do we ever see them out during the day? The answer is, as you can see from the photo I took during the day, they are out during the day and at night. During the day like you see here they really keep their bodies hidden but their arms are out feeding. At night is when we really see them in numbers and like this shot they are mostly found on different types of sponges, I don’t usually see them anywhere else unless you lift up a piece of substrate. If a fish grabs an arm and pulls it off, it will regrow and we have even seen them without any arms still moving around and feeding, pretty cool creatures.

Sorry so short but our ship is getting ready to leave, have a great week, see you soon.

Barry

Aug 13, 13     Comments Off on Smithsonian’s ARMS-Deep Reef Monitoring Project

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Good morning all, our 2nd week of working with the Smithsonian group is underway and going well!! Yesterday they took the sub out and down to 180 feet and collected two of the three ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) that were placed in an area called Jeff’s Ledge one year ago. “The ARMS act as small condominiums for reef life and the longer they are left down the more creatures that will move in”. For this dive we sent down two of our best deep-divers (one was the owner Dutch) who helped pick-up the boxes (they look like milk crates) and load them onto the front of the sub, for the rest of the crates that are still at 400 and 735 feet the sub will be use it’s robotic arms. After the two ARMS crates were loaded onto the front of the sub in our big collecting basket they headed back to the surface and at 60 feet encountered yours truly with his big underwater camera. Before they hauled all these goodies to the lab I wanted to do a fun photo-shoot of the crates in the sub with Chris Meyer and Nancy Knowlton peering out at them through the large dome (photo 1 & 2). Once the crates arrive at the surface they are quickly taken out of the water and submerged in waiting tubs and hauled off to the labs, now begins the real fun. Lee Weigt of the Smithsonian carefully opens the crates (photo 3) and places each different panel (there are 10) in it’s own shallow tray of water (photo 4), (photo 5) shows the encrusted panels laying in their trays waiting to be processed. Chris Meyer then photographs each one of the 10 panels (photo 6). (Photo 7) shows Cristina Castillo and Nancy Knowlton carefully filtering out any live creatures that fell out of the ARMS crates while removing the panels. (Photo 8 ) is a close-up shot of the live creatures that were found in the ARMS, you can see shrimps, fish, brittle-stars, and on and on!! (Photo 9) is the group looking through their live finds and getting them ready to photograph. The last photo is the whole group in the “ARMS processing lab gently scraping the panels and removing samples, this is a long process and takes countless hours to achieve.

Here is a link to the Smithsonian’s site and the ARMS project, and if you have questions let me know and I can ask them directly.  http://ocean.si.edu/blog/uncovering-biodiversity-arms-and-submarine-claw

Tomorrow we are headed to the West end of the island with the Chapman and the sub in search of new finds so I will be off-line for a day or two.

Take care out there, I have to run, Barry

Aug 11, 13     Comments Off on Deep Sea Flounders, Pleuronectiformes, Flat Fishes

Good evening friends, how was your weekend??? Mine again disappeared in a blink of eye and I’m sitting here now trying to recall everything I did??? Saturday morning I left the house at 6:30am and did my weekly three hour mountain bike ride through the wilds of Curacao. During the ride I encountered numerous short rain storms which wasn’t bad enough to stop riding but created some areas of mud that I could have done without! Once home and cleaned up I spent the rest of the day running errands and for once just stayed home and relaxed a little. In the evening we took the dogs on a fun hike to the salt ponds but ended up spending most of our time cleaning up trash along the shore! Today (Sunday) I met the Smithsonian scientists at work at 8:30am and did a dive with them to pick up three of their DROP BOXES they placed on the reef a year ago. These are milk crate looking contraptions that are placed on the reef and encourage tiny reef visitors to move in, like little shrimps, tiny fish, urchins, sea stars and the list goes on and on. This is one way new species and specimens are found and collected. Once the boxes arrive at the surface they are placed in water and hauled off to our deep-water processing labs where the scientists carefully open the crates and see who is living inside, you would be amazed at what cool stuff was in there! So while they were busy underwater picking up these big heavy crates I was there with my camera to document it all and I promise I will send you some photos to better understand this whole thing. After my dive I met the scientists in the lab and photographed them doing what they do, which means opening those crates and unloading all the cool little live creatures, you can’t believe how much work it takes to just go through one of those boxes! The rest of my day was spent out walking with the dogs and doing trail work, that’s kind of my weekend in a nutshell.

Last week I talked about the two very cool and very different flat fish/flounders the Smithsonian found last week in the new deep-sea “Curasub” and finally, here they are. The first and second photo show the flounder that was found at 850 feet and the last photo is the weird looking flounder from 750 feet, talk about weird looking! Flounders are unique, flat fishes that actually lie on their sides, not their stomachs. While in their pelagic larval stage the tiny flounders have typical bilateral fish-shaped bodies, properly aligned fins and one eye on each side of their head. Just before settling to the shallow or deep seafloor, muscles, skin, blood vessels and bones slowly shift into the flattened shape of a benthic juvenile with both eyes on the upper side of their bodies. The eye protrudes noticeably, sometimes appearing to be raised on short, thick stalks. Their exposed pectoral fin is more than a dorsal fin, while the dorsal and anal fins almost ring the rounded body. Flounders can change, lighten or darken their colors to blend with the bottom. Many enhance their camouflage by partly burying themselves in sand or mud. They glide over the bottom with a slight wave-like motion. Many of the flounders are difficult to distinguish like these two deep-water specimens, but with careful attention to subtle markings, many can be identified.

Off to bed, have a great Monday out there!!

Barry

Aug 9, 13     Comments Off on Sargassumfish, Histrio histrio, Sargassum Frogfish

Good morning from the island of no wind called Curacao!!!! Yes, it’s official the wind is gone and it’s HOT!! I seriously take back all the bad things I said about the wind in the past few months, this calm, hot and humid thing is not a whole lot of fun, I think I took 10 showers yesterday just to cool down and rinse off!!

The Smithsonian continues to find new cool stuff everyday in our mini-sub called the “Curasub” which can explore and collect down to 1000 feet. Yesterday the scientists stayed under for almost 6 hours exploring the reef out in front of the Sea Aquarium!! The find of the day was a small goby and another strange deep-water squirrelfish that I will go photograph right after I post this in the deep-water labs. I did get permission to show you some of these new fish they found so next week I will be posting those.

As promised I have a spectacular Sargassum Frogfish for your viewing pleasure today. First off I want to explain what sargassum is. Sargassum is a genus of brown (class Phaeophyceae) macroalgae (seaweed) in the order Fucales. Numerous species are distributed throughout the temperate and tropical oceans of the world, where they generally inhabit shallow water and coral reefs. However, the genus may be best known for its planktonic (free-floating) species. While seaweed may be viewed as nothing more than a smelly nuisance by many beach-goers and sunbathers, it provides important habitat and food for marine life. Sargassum, also known as “gulf weed,” provides critical nursery habitat for many species of fish, crabs, shrimp and other invertebrates, as well as endangered sea turtles. Some of the fish seeking shelter amongst the brown algae include larval and juvenile tuna, dolphin fish (mahi mahi), wahoo, and several species of billfish. The floating algae provides the young with shelter from predators and also food. Later, some of the same fish will return to the sargassum as adults looking for small fish to feed on.

In Curacao our sargassum float resides a long way off shore (about a mile) and drifts with the waves and current out in the open sea. If we get a big storm, like Omar, the sargassum float will be pushed into shore leaving many creatures and animals stranded on the reef or along the rocks. If the water is calm like it is now you can jump overboard with a mask, swim around and under the floating sargassum/seaweed and view all the different baby fish, crabs and turtles that use this stuff for protection. This brings us to the photo of the day. This is one of the coolest fish in the sea called a Sargassumfish or better known as a Sargassum Frogfish that resides and spends it’s whole life in the floating seaweed. It’s little 2 inch body looks just like the sargassum and blends into it’s floating environment better than any creature I have seen!! Yesterday when we were looking for him we couldn’t even see him, we had to move the sargassum around just to find him, he blended in so well and will not move unless noticed. These frogfish will hang or hook themselves to the sargassum and then just wait for an unsuspecting little fish or crab to pass by, it’s so unfair it’s not even funny!! As we watched him yesterday he also went through multiple color changes depending on his background, I tell you this is one of the coolest fish I have ever seen!! We found this guy in a small piece of sargassum that was floating by the Sea Aquarium in our shallow channel, this is strange because there was only this one small piece?? It’s amazing if you think about all these beautiful creatures, mostly babies floating in seaweed out above the deep ocean with no bottom or reef in sight?? Talk above brave!! I get scared just diving out there because you never know what is below you, I mean it’s thousands of feet deep!!

I have to get to the labs and photograph the new fish from yesterday!!

Have a wonderful day, Barry

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