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 January, 2014

Jan 31, 14     Comments Off on Whitespotted Filefish, Cantherhines macrocerus, Filefish

Good morning friends, it’s finally Friday!!! It’s been a weird week for me with a strange like cold that is still holding on which has been keeping me from diving and biking. The island is again being hit with high winds which in turn create rough seas and colder weather but the good side is, no mosquitos!!

I have a photo of my buddy Mark from the World famous Dive Bus Hut playing with or following two beautiful Whitespotted Filefish, Cantherhines macrocerus. These are usually very easy fish to approach and photograph because they are so curious and a complete joy to watch.  

Filefish (also known as foolfish, leatherjackets or shingles) are tropical to subtropical tetraodontiform marine fish of the diverse family Monacanthidae. Found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, the filefish family contains approximately 107 species in 26 genera. Filefish are closely related to the triggerfish, pufferfish and trunkfish.

Their laterally compressed bodies and rough, sandpapery skin inspired the filefish’s common name; it is said that dried filefish skin was once used to finish wooden boats.

Appearing very much like their close relatives the triggerfish, filefish are rhomboid-shaped fish that have beautifully elaborate cryptic patterns. Deeply keeled bodies give a false impression of size when these fish are viewed facing the flanks. Filefish have soft, simple fins with comparatively small pectoral fins and truncated, fan-shaped tail fins; a slender, retractable spine crowns the head. Although there are usually two of these spines, the second spine is greatly reduced, being used only to lock the first spine in the erect position; this explains the family name Monacanthidae, from the Greek monos meaning “one” and akantha meaning “thorn”. Some species also have recurved spines on the base of the tail (caudal peduncle).

The small terminal mouths of filefish have specialized incisor teeth on the upper and lower jaw; in the upper jaw there are four teeth in the inner series and six in the outer series; in the lower jaw, there are 4-6 in an outer series only. The snout is tapered and projecting; eyes are located high on the head. Although scaled, some filefish have such small scales as to appear scaleless. Like the triggerfish, filefish have small gill openings and greatly elongated pelvic bones creating a “dewlap” of skin running between the bone’s sharply keeled termination and the belly. The pelvis is articulated with other bones of the “pelvic girdle” and is capable of moving upwards and downwards in many species to form a large dewlap (this is used to make the fish appear much deeper in the body than is actually the case). Some filefish erect the dorsal spine and pelvis simultaneously to make it more difficult for a predator to remove the fish from a cave.

The largest filefish species is the scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus) at up to 110 cm (43 in) in length; most species are below 60 cm (24 in) in length. There is marked sexual dimorphism in some species, with the sexes possessing different coloration, different body shapes, and the males with larger caudal spines and bristles.

Have a great weekend all, 

Barry

Jan 30, 14     Comments Off on Coral Letters, Symmetrical Brain Coral, Stony Corals

Good morning friends, I have some cool example of “Natural Coral Letters” for your viewing pleasure today that were recently photographed just outside on our Substation reef with a 105 macro lens. What your looking at is a type (no pun intended) of stony corals called Brain Coral which can include, Symmetrical Brain coral, Knobby Brain Coral and Grooved Brain Corals and they all have these fun letters. I am still searching for some of the hard to find letters like an “A”, “O”, “P” and a “Z” but have most of the others. I also have photographed some that look like animals and fun shapes or faces and patterns so divers next time your out stop and really look at a giant colony of brain coral and see if you can spot something cool!!

Brain coral is a common name given to corals in the family Faviidae so called due to their generally spheroid shape and grooved surface which resembles a brain. Each head of coral is formed by a colony of genetically identical polyps which secrete a hard skeleton of calcium carbonate; this makes them important coral reef builders like other stony corals in the order Scleractinia.

Brain corals are found in shallow warm-water coral reefs in all the world’s oceans. They are part of the phylum Cnidaria, in a class called Anthozoa or “flower animals.” The life span of the largest brain corals is 900 years. Colonies can grow as large as 6 or more feet (1.8 m) high.

Brain corals extend their tentacles to catch food at night. During the day, the brain corals use their tentacles for protection by wrapping them over the grooves on their surface. The surface is hard and offers good protection against fish or hurricanes. Branching corals, such as staghorn corals, grow more rapidly, but those are more vulnerable to storm damage.

Like other genera of corals, brain corals feed on small drifting animals and also receive nutrients provided by the algae which live within their tissues. The behavior of one of the most common genera, Favia, is semi-aggressive; it will sting other corals with its extended sweeper tentacles during the night. The genus and species has not been defined through the scientific classification segment.

These brain corals also took a serious beating during our last serious season of coral bleaching and many did not survive, they are some of the most delicate of corals.

Hope all is well out there, have a wonderful day!!

Cheers, Barry

Jan 29, 14     Comments Off on Blue-Light Corals, Blue Light Photography, Corals

Good morning all, feeling a bit sick today and will most likely be headed back home right after I send this out. Remember a few months ago when Nicole Sawyer was here from ABC News doing a story for their “ABC News Travel & Life Style Section”?? Well, if you missed that blog, here is the finished product for your viewing pleasure. 

One is a Travel Video that captures the beauty of Curacao & Dutch’s remarkable Sub and research with Smithsonian. 

The second is an article about the secrets of Curacao which is a bit more in depth about Curacao attractions and of course Dutch as the main character. 

CURACAO CLIP: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2014/01/curacao-the-caribbeans-best-kept-secret/

TWITTER CLIP: http://abcn.ws/MkTjpX

I have another glowing Blue-Light coral for you all today and since I seem not to be able to identify any of these baby corals correctly I will just rely on you all again to write me and tell me what species this is. The coral itself was only a few inches in length and as you can see was photographed at night with our blue-lights. During the day the delicate little polyps would be closed and it would like completely different.

Sorry so short, really not feeling well.

Till tomorrow, Barry

Jan 28, 14     Comments Off on Channel Clinging Crab, Mithrax spinosissimus, Crabs

Good morning readers, check out this state of the art GoPro setup just released from our friends at Ikelite!! Everything you see here besides the GoPro is available through Ikelite, http://www.ikelite.com  The new 2000 lumen lights are called, “Vega LED Video & Photo Light” they are some of the hands down best lights I have ever used for video and photo to date!! These little rechargeable lights have three power levels and are a complete joy to use not to mention they look like a million bucks! The GoPro is attached to their new custom made red anodized “Steady Tray” and equipped with both the “Quick Release handles” and the “Pistol Grip” as seen here in the above photo that Aimee was using to film this huge Channel Clinging Crab, Mithrax spinosissimus. You can also buy the “Flex Arms” in 1/2 and 3/4 sections which really allows you to create your own customized GoPro Tray and light setup! Here is the link to the other GoPro accessories, and thanks again Ikelite for even more innovative products!!  http://www.ikelite.com/web_pages/gopro.html

Other than the very cold water last night we had an absolute blast! Aimee kept telling me underwater how much she loved this new Ikelite set-up (in underwater sign language) and for me a happy dive buddy is a great thing! For some reason we came across many of these large crabs last night and each one we found was down inside a big barrel sponge, it was so cool!

Most of you divers know this species by the common name Channel Clinging Crab, but it turns out that it has several other common names, including Reef Spider Crab, and Spiny Spider Crab, among others. The crab’s scientific name is Mithrax spinosissimus, and that designation stays the same, independent of the common name, which varies from place to place. This crab is a true crab’ (as opposed to, say, a hermit crab), and belongs to the Majidae family.

Majidae tend to have long slender legs just like this example above which is why the common names of many species in this family include the word spider’. Majids also tend to have little hairs or bristle-like structures on their carapaces. Bits of material like algae, sponge, and so on attach to those hairs and act as part of the crab’s camouflage.

Note that the walking legs of this species also are rather hairy, and are covered with stuff’ while the business end of the crab those impressive claws, are smooth.

Like so many reef creatures, this species forages mainly at night. During the day, they hunker in the reefs, under ledges, and in cavelets. Because of their size, they can’t wiggle into small cervices like so many smaller species can do. Still, they can be difficult to spot during the day, since their decorated carapaces blend so well with their surroundings.

These crabs inhabit a range from the sub-tropical western Atlantic to the Caribbean. They can be found in reef areas along the coasts of southern Florida, through the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, and throughout much of the Caribbean

We have 2 dives with the submersible today so I need to get moving!

Later all, Barry

Jan 27, 14     Comments Off on Tiger Grouper, Mycteroperca tigris, Sea Basses

Good morning friends, how was your weekend??? I know a bunch of you out there are locked in freezing temps and snow so it would be mean of me to tell you how sunny and beautiful it is here so I won’t even go there! I spent a good part of Saturday getting our car ready for it’s annual inspection which it did not pass last year! Each year here in Curacao you have to take your car to a government run inspection agency and pray your car passes. We just spent the last few months having rust holes repaired, putting new shocks on and doing tons of motor stuff like a new radiator and getting a tune up, so it should pass now, cross your fingers! I also spent Saturday building a big outside area for our four little red footed turtles. For the past year we have had them up on our porch in these big terrariums with caves and ponds but now it’s time to get them into a bigger, more fun environment. Yesterday, Sunday was our annual “Run for the Roses” event which is the islands largest cancer fund raising events and draws thousands of people. The events you can enter are, the walk, all different lengths, the run, a 2.5K swim out in the ocean and the extreme mountain bike ride which I did and won. Aimee did the long, cold swim with around 500 other people and finished in around 44 minutes and she did one of the bike rides as well. Our friend Stijn won the 60k bike ride and even though all these events are for fun and supposed to be non-competion events we all end up going all out just the same.

I have a beautiful, rarely seen Tiger Grouper, Mycteroperca tigris for your viewing pleasure today. The tiger grouper (Mycteroperca tigris) is a species of fish in the Serranidae family. This grouper has a tapered body, often reddish, with vertical stripes on its sides. It also may have, darker, dusky lines on the sides of its body. Young individuals are bright yellow and I have only ever seen one and never got a photo. This fish lives in sheltered reef areas. Growing up to 35 in (86 cm) long, the average weight is around 10 pounds. Groupers are big robust predators that draw in food by sucking it into their mouths. They usually live in five to 20-50 feet of water but with that said the one and only yellow juvenile I once saw was in 80 feet of water?? 

Considered solitary species occurring in coral reefs and rocky areas, it is considered an ambush predator that hides among the coral and sponges and is easy to approach. Although awkward in appearance, groupers can cover short distances quickly. Feed mainly on fish, which is drawn into their gullets by a powerful suction created when they open their large mouths. Held securely by thousands of small, rasp-like teeth that cover the jaws, tongue and palate, the prey is swallowed whole. This species is protogynous hermaphroditic, all fish smaller than 37 cm are female and all fish larger than 45 cm are male.

Have a wonderful day all, we are starting a new photo campain for Ikelite starting tonight so stay tuned for some fun new stuff.

Barry

Jan 24, 14     Comments Off on Bottlenose Dolphins, Female Bottlenose with Calf

Hello from a little place called Curacao. We have a very busy day on tap here at Substation Curacao today and I’m not looking forward to jumping into that  cold water!! This is typically our coldest month for diving with water temps in the low 70’s! Alright, for all you out there laughing at my so called cold water temps this is considered very cold water here, heck even the fish are getting cold and the dolphins are wearing wetsuits! And yes I know most of you crazy folks out there dive in cold lakes and oceans all year but we are not used to it here and honestly if it gets any colder I will have to get a thicker suit!

I have a cute little Baby dolphin hiding next to momma for you all today. In this position they can swim in the slip stream, saving valuable energy, hardly swimming themselves at all. It is also common for the baby to bump into the mammary glands of their mother, stimulating a milk letdown, and then the calf will nurse. Baby dolphins will nurse for 2-3 years, although at about 8-12 months they will begin eating some fish as well. Toothed whales in general, and bottlenose dolphins in particular, stay with their mothers for such a extensive time for social learning reasons. They actually learn how to be dolphins, much like young humans do. They will learn how to hunt, interact with others of their group, avoid predators etc. It has even been shown that specialized hunting techniques are passed down from mother to calf through the generations.

Have a wonderful day folks!! Barry

Jan 23, 14     Comments Off on Great Star Coral, Montastraea cavernosa, Stony Corals

Good morning, I have a macro shot for you all this morning of a cluster of large polyps belonging to an animal called, Great Star Coral. I shot these out here on the reef during the day and as you can see the polyps are closed but if you went back out during the evening in the pitch dark, they would be open and out feeding.

Great star coral (Montastraea cavernosa) is a colonial stony coral found in the Caribbean seas. It forms into massive boulders and sometimes develops into plates. Its polyps are the size of a human thumb and fully extend at night. Great star coral colonies form massive boulders and domes over 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter in waters of shallow and moderate depths. In deeper waters, this coral has been observed growing as a plate formation. It is found throughout most reef environments, and is the predominant coral at depths of 40“100 feet (12.2-30.5 m).

This coral occasionally has a fluorescent red or orange color during daytime; it has recently been suggested that this color is due to phycoerythrin, a cyanobacterial protein. It appears that, in addition to symbiotic zooxanthella, this coral harbors endocellular symbiotic cyanobacteria, possibly to help it fix nitrogen.

These are also called stony corals or Scleractinia which are simply marine corals that generate a hard skeleton. The skeleton of an individual scleractinian polyp is known as a corallite. It is secreted by the epidermis of the lower part of the body, and initially forms a cup surrounding this part of the polyp. The interior of the cup contains radially aligned plates, or septa, projecting upwards from the base. Each of these plates is flanked by a pair of thin sheets of living tissue termed mesenteries.

Trying to get back into the swing of things around here but not doing a very good job of it!

Have a wonderful day, Barry

Jan 22, 14     Comments Off on Frigate Birds, Curacao Birds, Large Caribbean Birds

Good morning friends, slowly getting back into the swing of things but my internal time clock is still messed up! We are currently one hour ahead of the East coast and a four hour difference in Tucson where I just spent two weeks. Our little island is having some weird weather right now which includes, rain, strong wind and very rough seas so no diving yet.

So remember a few months ago when Jeff Corwin was here?? Well, I would hereby like to inform you that on Saturday January 25 and Saturday February 8, the Curacao Sea Aquarium and our submarine Curasub will star in two episodes of the ABC wildlife adventure series Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin. The shows air in the US at 10.30 EST.

The episode airing on January 25 is entitled “Endangered Coral of Curacao” and covers the work with SECORE (Sexual Coral Reproduction) and is all about innovative coral breeding research. In the episode Jeff Corwin gets educated about the work researchers are doing and about the coral reproduction that is taking place on the reefs in front of the Curacao Sea Aquarium.

The episode airing on February 8 focuses on the dangers the Lionfish represents as an invasive species in the Caribbean seas. The episode shows Jeff Corwin at Substation Curacao and going down with the Curasub to hunt Lionfish on the deep reefs. It also shows Dr. Carole Baldwin of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington discovering that the Lionfish might be eating deep reef fish that are yet undiscovered.

The above photo was taken weeks ago when I was floating at the surface waiting to descend with my underwater camera. I remember just holding my breath and went underwater and pointed the camera up to the sun and hoped for the best, it was a shot in dark so to say. I then ended up using Photoshop to create these colors as the original is a lifeless and boring.

Have a wonderful day, tons to do!

Barry

Jan 21, 14     Comments Off on BourbonBike 2014, Testing Mountain Bikes in Tucson

Hi all, I’m finally back!! First off, In response to the hundreds of mails asking where I went, my answer is, Tucson, Arizona! I was invited by my friend Aaron Gulley to test ride the Worlds top, most expensive mountain bikes for Outside Magazine and honestly, what serious mountain biker would say NO to that?? This event called BourbonBike is sponsored by Outside Magazine each year in Tucson and gives a few elite riders a chance to ride 30 of the top road bikes and 30 of the top mountain bikes and then to rate each one on paper after each one hour ride. Sounds like a dream job right?? I didn’t participate in any of the road riding but did shoot a bunch of fun video’s of the riders racing around their 8 mile loop and in general just drooling on all the super-light bikes! After the road bike testing which was done in 3 different locations it was time for the mountain bikes to finally get dirty! The first place we rode was Mt. Lemmon, seen above in the top photo where I had to force these guys to take 1 minute for a group photo, I get it, who wants to stop for a photo when you have all these killer bikes to ride! We started at a park/trailhead about 5 miles up the mountain and from there rode a very fun, very technical trail up the side of the mountain. We ended up climbing for about 35 minutes and then would turn around and fly back down and we did this over and over with smiles plastered on our faces! On the second and third day we rode at a place called Star Pass or Tucson Mountain Bike Park, and folks there are no words to describe the trails you will find here, it’s a thrill a second!!! The bottom photos shows our friend Jen with that smile I was talking about plastered on her face, this was at Star Pass, some of the best trails you will find to ride anywhere! I will keep you all posted on when this review will be available to view on either Outside magazine’s website or in their magazine, it’s one of the greatest outdoor publications in the World!

http://www.outsideonline.com

That’s it in a very tiny nutshell, I just got back and have soooo much to attend to!!!

See you tomorrow, Barry

Jan 2, 14     Comments Off on Healthy Star Coral Colonies, Mountainous Star Corals

Good morning from wet Curacao!! Yes, we finally had a day of rain which is about a month or more overdo!! Usually, I tell divers not to visit from November through the 1st of February but this year has been totally different. In years past I am normally out on my days off photographing little wild flowers and insects that come with our annual rains but so far the rains we have had our just enough to keep the island from drying out. Many of you have written me asking for a new “wildflower collage” which I have done in years past but so far nothing new has sprung up but maybe the new year will bring new rains!?

We had a VERY busy day at “Substation Curacao” yesterday entertaining guests taking them and their families on a once in a lifetime ride down to 300 meters or 1000 feet! For those of you interested the cost is $650 per person which includes yours truly waiting underwater to take your photos as you pass by, you will not be disappointed! Today we have representatives from WWF, World Wildlife federation joining us so keep your eyes on www.seesubmarine.com and you might see us passing by. Oh yeah, FYI, the live feed has a one hour delay, so what you are watching happened an hour ago.

I have a beautiful coral reef photo for your viewing pleasure with Aimee flying overhead in the distance. This is a massive colony of Mountainous Star Coral, Montastraea faveolata, with a few Blade Fire Corals, Millepora complanata near the top right and a round colony of Boulder Brain Coral, Colppohyllia natans at the base.

These three corals are called “Stony Corals” of the order Scleractinia which are marine corals that generate a hard skeleton. They first appeared in the Middle Triassic and descended from the tabulate and rugose corals that barely survived the end of the Permian. Much of the framework of modern coral reefs is formed by scleractinians. Stony corals numbers are expected to decline due to the effects of global warming.

There are two groups of Scleractinia, the first is, “Compound corals” that live in colonies in clear, oligotrophic, shallow tropical waters and are considered the world’s primary reef-builders.

The second group is called, “Solitary corals” which are found in all regions of the oceans and do not build reefs. In addition to living in tropical waters some solitary corals live in temperate, polar waters, or below the photic zone down to 6,000 meters or (20,000 ft).

The skeleton of an individual scleractinian polyp is known as a corallite. It is secreted by the epidermis of the lower part of the body, and initially forms a cup surrounding this part of the polyp. The interior of the cup contains radially aligned plates, or septa, projecting upwards from the base. Each of these plates is flanked by a pair of thin sheets of living tissue termed mesenteries.

The septa are secreted by the mesenteries, and are therefore added in the same order as the mesenteries are. As a result, septa of different ages are adjacent to one another, and the symmetry of the scleractinian skeleton is radial or biradial. This pattern of septal insertion is termed “cyclic” by paleontologists. By contrast, in some fossil corals, adjacent septa lie in order of increasing age, a pattern that is termed serial and that produces a bilateral symmetry. Scleractinians are also distinguished from the Rugosa by their pattern of septal insertion. They secrete a stony exoskeleton in which the septa are inserted between the mesenteries in multiples of six.

Lots to do today, have a good one!!

Barry

Jan 1, 14     Comments Off on Hiking Watamula in Curacao, Curacao Outdoor Activities

HAPPY NEW YEAR one and all!!!!! Last night sounded like we were being bombed with non-stop, continuous firework displays that went on till 4:00 in the morning!?? Here in Curacao there’s no age limit, no restrictions, no nothing, which means if the Chinese can invent it, you can buy it!! So needless to say there are a lot of injuries each year and I’m sure the hospital is full today! There’s one firework in particular that sounds like 10 sticks of dynamite exploding and is enough to bring you to your knees!! I honestly don’t know how the animals make it through the night here with thousands upon thousands of firework shows going off at once, you really have to see this to believe it! We stayed in all night and watched the shows from our balcony while the dogs hid downstairs, Inca our dalmatian was scared to death!

So since there was no sleep to be had last night we got up early and drove to the West end of the island (45k) to a place called Watamula and from there set out on a fantastic New Years day hike! For those of you with adventure in your blood this area of the island has the hands down best hiking and mountain bike trails you will find! To get to the trailhead first drive to Watamula which is down a semi-rough dirt road and ends in a dirt round-a-bout. Watamula itself is a really cool place where there is a natural hole being fed by the sea. Google, “Watamula Curacao” and you will see what I mean. From the round-a-bout turn right and follow the dirt road until it ends, there you will see the trails, in fact if you look around you will see trails everywhere along the hills, it’s a hikers/bikers paradise!

We arrived at around 7;30am and the first thing we noticed was that most of the Melocactus spec, “Turk’s Cap Cactus” (top photo) had yummy, waiting to be eaten pink fruits sticking out of the top!! These are super tasty and are all edible, no spines, no nothing, just down the hatch!! With each succeeding flowering period the white pillow on top of the cactus grows a bit more and some of the cacti have quite a chimney on their heads, (the Turk’s cap). Formerly these plumes were used in tinder boxes. The fruit (seen above) is pink to pale red and quite edible though without a distinctive taste. The second photo shows a non-flowering Turks cap with the sun lighting up the spines, talk about something you don’t want to mess with!

After about 20 minutes of picking cactus fruit we had two very curious Cara-Cara’s show up (third photo) and land on top of a cactus very near us! Aimee and I both figured that in just seconds they would take off but to our complete surprise they never moved and let me walk all around them photographing them from every angle, what a major treat! These birds of prey originate from South America and now call the ABC islands their home as well. We see them quite often walking along the roads feeding on road-kill and hunting in the brush, they are major scavengers and seem to eat anything!

The fourth photo shows Aimee, Inca and Indi all on top of one of the many scenic overlooks found along one of the countless trails! This is one of the benefits to hiking here, the insane views of the coast! We sat and watched these monster waves roll in and smash into the coastline which fills the air with instant salty moisture, I think we washed our glasses 100 times! Also, the whole area was covered in these little blue flowers as you see in the last photo , it was such a beautiful ground cover. We ended up walking and exploring for two and half hours and only walked a few of the trails, they go on for miles and miles! So that’s what we did today, what did you all do??

It’s late, back to work tomorrow, see you soon!!

Barry

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