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.
Archive for August, 2015
Aug 31, 15 Comments Off on Smithsonian Explores Klein Curacao in a Sub
Good morning friends, how was your weekend out there?? I apologize for the lack of postings lately but we have been super busy playing with the folks from the World famous Smithsonian Institution. Last wednesday was spent taking load after load of supplies to the Chapman (the white ship seen in the 2nd photo) and getting ready to set sail for the remote island of Klein Curacao early thursday morning. The top photo shows our 2.5 million dollar mini submersible named the “Curasub” on the back of the research vessel the Chapman heading out to sea on the way to Klein Curacao. The second photo shows the Chapman anchored at Klein Curacao and the bottom photo shows the view of the desolate island from way above the Chapman, both of these killer shots are compliments of our sub pilot Barbara who has a mini-drone and boy does she know how to use it! Check out her link below and be sure to “like” her page as we greatly appreciate the use of the photos.
www.facebook.com/aerialtakes by Barbara van Bebber.
So once we arrived at Klein Curacao we first lifted our giant floating platform into the water with our onboard crane and once that was in place and tied up the sub was next. Once the sub is in the water and in the floating dock we do a bunch of last minute checks and then toss in some scientists and off we go to the abyss. Every time the sub took off I jumped in the water with camera in hand and did a fun photo shoot underwater of it’s passengers and once that was over I used up the rest of my air exploring my new underwater world. I have a bunch of new photos to send you that I took while the sub was deep below exploring the darkness in search of new and exciting finds. Back on the ship I had two aquariums running filled with very cold water ready to photograph any and all new finds the Smithsonian might return with. The sub was usually gone for around three hours at a time giving me and many of the others onboard time to either go diving, snorkeling, exploring the island, or as many did, just grab a book and a drink and kick back in the warm tropical sun. In the two days we were on the island the Smithsonian did four submersible dives bringing back many finds for yours truly to photograph and yes, I will be sending those as soon as I get them ready. One of my favorite finds was a small, strange looking hermit crab living inside a live anemone, you have to see it to believe it. Other items I loved included a super weird giant sea-cucumber with a bright red foot, a beautiful long spined sea urchin with crazy colors and another fish that will blow your mind. Beside fish and creatures they found all kinds of beautiful antique bottles from the 1800’s and all the bottles were filled with small shells that most likely crawled in but couldn’t get back out, bottles are a death trap for many crustaceans. On my fun scuba dives I saw turtles and rays and some of the best looking brain corals I had seen in a long time, this is such a great spot to go diving it’s just a long ways a way!
We are all busy this morning cleaning and putting stuff away, I have to get back to work…
Have a wonderful day and stay tuned for more.
Aug 26, 15 Comments Off on Yellow Pencil Corals, Madracis auretenra
Hi all, we are having a super busy day getting ready for our two day trip to Klein Curacao with our sub and lots of VIP’s. I just got back from the ship, I took a whole car load of diving gear and camera stuff over and that is just my stuff. I think we are taking around 60 tanks this time, there will be non-stop diving on this trip so I should have a ton of new photos for you on monday.
Here is a beautiful colony of Yellow Pencil Coral or Madracis auretenra that we have at 50 feet out in front of our lagoon. This is one of the last colonies we have that has not been destroyed by our local fisherman and their careless anchors. These colonies are home to countless fish and creatures and it’s a favorite coral for juvenile trunkfish, one of our all time favorites.
Madracis auretenra, commonly known as yellow finger coral or yellow pencil coral, is a colonial species of stony coral in the family Astrocoeniidae. It is a fairly common species and is found in the Caribbean Sea and Western Atlantic Ocean. At one time this species was not recognised, but it was split from Madracis mirabilis on the grounds of morphology and depth range.
Pencil coral forms hemispherical clumps that can be a metre or more across. Each colony is formed of densely packed, cylindrical branches with blunt, finger-like tips. In fore-reef habitats the branches are slender but in back-reef and lagoon habitats they are more robust and the clumps are larger. The hard skeletal material of which the colony is built is in most coral species covered by a thin layer of living tissue, the coenosarc. This coral is unusual in this respect because, as the coral grows, the coenosarc progressively dies back on the lower parts of the branches leaving the skeleton bare, and only the tips of the branches are covered with living tissue. The corallites are from 1.1 to 1.6 mm (0.04 to 0.06 in) in diameter and have at least ten septa.
Pencil coral is a zooxanthellate coral, housing symbiotic single-celled protists within its tissues. These provide the products of photosynthesis to the coral and use some of the coral’s waste products. To supplement this food supply, the coral polyps spread their tentacles to catch zooplankton, feeding mostly on the larvae of crustaceans, polychaete worms and arrow worms.
Pencil coral is a hermaphrodite; individual colonies contain both male and female gonads. Liberation of gametes into the sea is linked to the phase of the moon and other factors. After fertilization, the planula larvae form part of the plankton and eventually settle on the seabed and undergo metamorphosis into polyps. In some instances, M. auretenra has been observed to retain the gametes on its mesenteries and pseudo-brood the larvae briefly before liberating them into the sea.
Pencil coral also reproduces readily by fragmentation, a form of asexual reproduction. Even quite small fragments of the coral are able to survive and grow into new colonies; survival rates in trial studies varied between 29 and 81%, with the rates being highest in fore-reef environments and lowest in lagoons where there were higher levels of sedimentation.
Pencil coral has been used as a study organism to predict the effects of ocean acidification on corals. By manipulating the composition of modified sea water in which the corals were kept, it has been shown that the carbonate or aragonite concentration of the water, the factor usually considered as important predictors, was less relevant than the bicarbonate concentration.
I have to run, have a wonderful week, see you on monday…
Aug 24, 15 Comments Off on Giant Scorpionfish, Predatory Caribbean Fish
Good afternoon all, how was your weekend?? I just got out of the water after doing a quick photo shoot of two visiting tourists inside our five person, two and a half million dollar submersible. After every sub photo session I turn my attention to the reef and look for new creatures to shoot on my way out and today I found a giant scorpionfish at 65 feet just hanging out in the sand. These are such amazing animals, not only are they crazy colorful and patient beyond belief but they also have the ability to completely blend into their environment. These fish will just sit there all day completely motionless and wait for some poor unsuspecting creature or fish to pass by and then faster than you can blink your eyes…. it’s over!
This will be a VERY busy week for us as the Smithsonian Institution arrives today. The plan is to take our submersible back to Klein Curacao aboard the research vessel the Chapman and do more dives in search of new creatures and fish. I will be sleeping in a tent on the little deserted island at night and during the day be aboard the Chapman taking photos of anything new that is found. I have two aquariums onboard that I will have chilled and ready to go and a tripod and camera ready to photograph whatever they find. So if you don’t hear from me this week you will know what is up, next week I should have a bunch of new photos.
Hope you all are well out there…
Aug 21, 15 Comments Off on Sea Grape Fruit, Eatable Caribbean Plants
Good morning friends, I have some ripe sea grapes for you all today that are currently growing outside our office along the road. I shot this photo a few days ago and now all the red ones are gone thanks to the pigeons and all the locals eating them. This is a weird tasting fruit, it’s very bitter and there is hardly any food as the seeds inside are so big.
The darker the purple color the more ripe they are and once ripe they literally fall off the tree so you have to pick them immediately! I haven’t seen a lot of animals eating them but every person that walks by sure is, especially the locals who have been filling up bags and containers and running off with them. Locally this tree or plant is called; Dreifi di laman, or Mata di Druif, I’m just sticking with saying Sea Grape myself. The Sea Grape plant is certainly not a vine like many of you have in the States. This plant can grow to the surprising height of 30 to 50 feet tall, but ordinarily most are found to be in the 12 to 13 foot tall range. Originally the Sea Grape, Coccoloba uvifera was a native of the Caribbean, but now can even be found in Argentina, and much of Central and Southern Florida even on the Gulf side! It has been known to grow wild on some sandy beaches, but has been often used on the ocean side of Florida as a windbreak or to add a tropical setting by landscapers for large condominiums or hotels on beach side. The sea grape itself is extremely hardy, and since it is a tropical plant, it grows wild in beach strands, coastal grasslands, coastal scrubs, and coastal hammocks. The plant somehow acclimates itself to its locations. For instance if found growing on the beach on a sand dune, it will remain basically a shrub, whose thick foliage will rarely show a distinct trunk to hold it up, as it must resist sand and salt spray that is almost constantly found on a beach. After fertilization the grapes appear, at first green but then ripen to a beautiful bluish-purple color and are wonderful to eat, although they do have a slightly acidic taste.
So Wednesday I made it to Miami and picked up my new (used) bike and returned back to Curacao the same day. The trip went well, both flights only took two and half hours each way and I kept busy at the airport eating everything in sight! I haven’t ridden the bike yet as my thumb is still healing and it’s needs to go the shop for a few adjustments.
The Smithsonian will be here again next week and we will be leaving with the sub to the small island of Klein Curacao for a few days, I think that is the 27th and 28th so if you don’t hear from me you will know where I’m at.
Have a great out there…
Aug 18, 15 Comments Off on Curacao Dive Sites, Playa Forti West End Beach
Good morning friends, I had a request asking about diving at Playa Forti. For those of you not from here, Playa Forti is a beach located near the village of Westpunt on the north-west side of the Island. The quaint little beach has sheer cliffs on one side and a crystal clear ocean on the other and it’s always super calm water. There are steps leading down to the beach which is covered in small pebbles and a snack bar and restaurant at the top. Close to the restaurant, there is a spot where you can make a 10 meter (over 30 feet) jump from a cliff into the sea. I did it once and my buddy Leon did a full out swan dive off this thing, to say he surprised us all that day would be an understatement! Diving here is really great, the single only downside is carrying your dive gear up and down the 30 foot of stairs, it’s similar to 1000 steps in Bonaire but not near as steep! The first thing you will encounter once underwater is sand and lots of it, in fact you can see at least 100 feet in every direction and it’s just sand! But sand is great.. There are countless creatures and fish that love sand that you may not see in other dive spots like the beautiful flying gurnards, those alone are worth the trip. We also commonly spot turtles and rays not to mention eels and all kinds of crabs, I really think you will love this spot! After about 10 minutes of swimming straight out towards the reef you will start to encounter these lone outcrops of corals and sponges like you see above and trust me when I say you could spend a whole dive just looking at these as they are covered with life!
I TRIED to fly to Miami on Sunday to pick up my new bike but once again good o’l American Airlines had mechanical issues and they were grounded! We all sat there for hours waiting, seven to be exact and it still never left, I finally gave up and called Aimee to just come get me, what a joke. I am going to try again tomorrow, we will see….
Lots going on, I have to run.
Aug 14, 15 Comments Off on Deep French Butterflyfish, Prognathodes guyanensis
Good morning from Curacao…
Here’s two beautiful Deep Water French Butterflyfish, Prognathodes guyanensis that we recently discovered at around 450 feet! The top fish is a juvenile and is around the size of a quarter and the bottom photo is an older butterflyfish and measures around four and a half inches in length, not much difference in the two right?? The main differences are the black spot on the juveniles back and it’s first two dorsal fins are black, other than that you would almost think they are the same exact fish. The little juveniles are so fun to watch, they really keep busy and boy are they fast! For a photographer this fish can be a real challenge to shoot as it’s black and light yellow. I used two strobes and shot this little treasure above at 160/F-32 with my Nikon D-800, it’s razor sharp and can be enlarged to any size.
There are more than 100 different species of butterflyfish found distributed throughout the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, meaning that the butterflyfish is a salt-water species of (marine) fish. The average butterflyfish is fairly small and generally grows to around 4 or 5 inches in length. Some species of the butterflyfish however, are known to grow to 8 inches (20 cm) long and some butterflyfish individuals have been known to grow to 30 cm in length. This fish is most closely related to the marine angelfish which is similar in color but the marine angelfish is often much larger in size than the butterflyfish. They can also be distinguished from angelfish by the dark spots on their bodies, dark bands around their eyes and the fact that the mouth of the butterflyfish is more pointed than the mouth of the angelfish. Butterflyfish are diurnal animals which means that they are feeding during the day and resting in the coral during the night. Most species of butterflyfish feed on the plankton in the water, coral and sea anemones and occasionally snack on small crustaceans . Those butterflyfish that primarily feed on the plankton in the water are generally the smaller species of butterflyfish and can be seen in large groups. The larger species are fairly solitary or stay with their mating partner.
I have a sick dog at home so I need to go check on her, we think she ate a dead iguana??
Have a wonderful weekend all..
Aug 13, 15 Comments Off on Eastpoint Curacao Underwater Reef Scene
Hey gang, things have been busy as of late, I spent all day yesterday in the deep water labs photographing new finds collected from a recent collecting trip to Klein Curacao. One of the coolest finds is another “possible” new fish species and as soon as I get the go ahead I will post the photo for you and the whole planet to see, it’s super beautiful! I spent hours photographing a juvenile deep-sea butterflyfish and could not have completed that task without the help of my colleague Barbarba. We also have a bunch more live slit-shells but those are all headed to Japan sometime next week for study and my favorite find of them all was a 1700’s bottle that I will for sure post for you all to see.
I always get requests for gorgonians which to me resemble an underwater forest and like trees are home to so many different creatures! These underwater soft corals are a blast to watch as they sway back and forth with every passing wave, it’s truly a very relaxing thing to watch!!
The submersible is headed down in a few minutes, I need to run and take some photos…
Aug 11, 15 Comments Off on Curacao Frogs, Cuban Tree Frog, Cute Frogs
Good morning friends, here’s the super cool new frog we found high up on our balcony last week called a Cuban Tree Frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis). Aimee and I have found this frog in our yard and on the balcony before and captured it for photos more times than I can count, but have never successfully got a picture until now. The reason is.. this frog is an escape artist! No joke, every single time I caught him in the past and put him in something while I went to get a camera he would find a way out! This cute frog is around four inches in length and can leap great distances making him very hard to catch! We have also noticed he can climb up just about anything and is an expert at hiding!! I love the top photo, he just sat there on this palm leaf completely chilled and relaxed as if to say “go ahead, take your photos, I’ll wait”!! My wife like so many didn’t really want to touch it thinking he would be slimy or warty but this guy was neither just soft and cool to the touch as they have such cool skin. Like the lionfish this is another invasive species that does not belong on Curacao but with that said they are welcome to hang out at our house, we don’t mind.
A frog’s skin is protective, has a respiratory function, can absorb water and helps control body temperature. It has many glands, particularly on the head and back, which often exude distasteful and toxic substances. The secretion is often sticky and helps keep the skin moist, protects against the entry of moulds and bacteria, and make the animal slippery and more able to escape from predators. The skin is shed every few weeks. It usually splits down the middle of the back and across the belly, and the frog pulls its arms and legs free. The sloughed skin is then worked towards the head where it is quickly eaten.
Being cold-blooded, frogs have to adopt suitable behavior patterns to regulate their temperature. To warm up, they can move into the sun or onto a warm surface; if they overheat, they can move into the shade or adopt a stance that exposes the minimum area of skin to the air. This posture is also used to prevent water loss and involves the frog squatting close to the substrate with its hands and feet tucked under its chin and body. The color of a frog’s skin is used for thermoregulation. In cool damp conditions, the color will be darker than on a hot dry day.
Check out this link I just got about all the problems with this frog!!!
We have a sub dive starting at 11:00 today so I need to get ready for that party!
Have a wonderful day!
Aug 10, 15 Comments Off on Sea Grape Leaf, Leaf Venation, Tropical Leaf
Good afternoon friends, guess what???? It’s been raining!! We have had at least four great downpours in the past week, our island is once again going from dry brown to lush green almost overnight and we are all loving it! Because of all this new wet stuff we found a new frog that we have never seen before and of all places we found him high up on our balcony!? I will try and post those tomorrow he or she is super cute!
I have a bright green sea grape leaf for you all today that I shot outside my window for you all, I just thought it was pretty with the way the sun was shining through it lighting up the little veins.
The veins are the vascular tissue of the leaf and are located in the spongy layer of the mesophyll. The pattern of the veins is called venation. In angiosperms the venation is typically parallel in monocotyledons and forms an interconnecting network in broad-leaved plants. They were once thought to be typical examples of pattern formation through ramification, but they may instead exemplify a pattern formed in a stress tensor field.
A vein is made up of a vascular bundle. At the core of each bundle are clusters of two distinct types of conducting cells:
Xylem: cells that bring water and minerals from the roots into the leaf.
Phloem: cells that usually move sap, with dissolved sucrose, produced by photosynthesis in the leaf, out of the leaf.
A sheath of ground tissue made of lignin surrounding the vascular tissue. This sheath has a mechanical role in strengthening the rigidity of the leaf.
The xylem typically lies on the adaxial side of the vascular bundle and the phloem typically lies on the abaxial side. Both are embedded in a dense parenchyma tissue, called the sheath, which usually includes some structural collenchyma tissue.
I bought a used 2013 Carbon Specialized Epic, it weighs a tasty 21 pounds!! I have to fly to Miami this Sunday to pick it up, the guy is bringing it to the airport for me. The Epic I have now weighs close to 30 pounds, I’m plain sick of pushing all the unnecessary weight!
Aug 7, 15 Comments Off on Finding Mangrove Seeds and Replanting Them
Good morning friends, Aimee and I have been busy at Saint Joris bay for the past few weeks doing our part to encourage new mangrove growth by picking up the seeds and replanting them in the mud, it’s super fun! Photo #1 shows a small section of the beautiful mangroves and the area we are currently planting in. Photo #2 shows hanging mangrove seeds before they fall into the water. Photo #3 shows mangrove seed pods washed ashore waiting for us to find them and plant them. Photo #4 shows the seed pods we picked up in just a few minutes, they are everywhere and not hard to find. Photo #5 shows the pods being stuck down into the mud. Photo #6 is Aimee with her screwdriver in one hand and a pod in the other, I think we planted around 100 here. The last photo shows how the seed pods grow once stuck in the mud.
In this harsh environment, mangroves have evolved a special mechanism to help their offspring survive. Mangrove seeds are buoyant and are therefore suited to water dispersal. Unlike most plants, whose seeds germinate in soil, many mangroves (e.g. red mangrove) are viviparous, whose seeds germinate while still attached to the parent tree. Once germinated, the seedling grows either within the fruit (e.g. Aegialitis, Avicennia and Aegiceras), or out through the fruit (e.g. Rhizophora, Ceriops, Bruguiera and Nypa) to form a propagule (a ready-to-go seedling) which can produce its own food via photosynthesis.
The mature propagule then drops into the water, which can transport it great distances. Propagules can survive desiccation and remain dormant for over a year before arriving in a suitable environment. Once a propagule is ready to root, its density changes so the elongated shape now floats vertically rather than horizontally. In this position, it is more likely to lodge in the mud and root. If it does not root, it can alter its density and drift again in search of more favorable conditions.
Mangroves are various large and extensive types of trees up to medium height and shrubs that grow in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropicsâ€”mainly between latitudes 25° N and 25° S. The remaining mangrove forest areas of the world in 2000 was 53,190 square miles (137,760 km²) spanning 118 countries and territories.
Mangroves are salt tolerant trees (halophytes) adapted to live in harsh coastal conditions. They contain a complex salt filtration system and complex root system to cope with salt water immersion and wave action. They are adapted to the low oxygen (anoxic) conditions of waterlogged mud.
Lots to do, have a wonderful weekend!!
Aug 5, 15 Comments Off on Underwater Tires, Tires Used for Sponge Habitats
Good morning friends, first off, does anyone know how I can waterproof my little hand cast?? I need a cool homemade design of sorts as there is nothing available for sale here on the island, please let me know.
Next someone was asking about discarded tires which we call “tire coral” which are found at just about every dive site on the island. The question was.. “does stuff like sponges and corals grow on tires” and the answer is YES!! For the most part we never remove old tires from the sea as they are now home to so many different creatures! For instance as you see above, this tire has around five different types of sponges growing on it and what you can’t see is all the beautiful little solitary fish that live inside it and all the cool creatures like crabs and shrimps that live under it, these things do make great little habitats. With that said no one should start tossing more tires into the sea but most of the ones that are here now are being occupied. This tire was found under the town pier in Bonaire last year along with countless others. As I searched with flashlight in hand I noticed some even had eels and octopus inside and many are occupied by the beautiful batwing crabs that I love so much not to mention dozens of species of shells. One thing I am doing more now is picking up glass bottles, those are just death traps for little hermits, once they get in they can’t get back out!
Have a great day…
Aug 4, 15 Comments Off on Invasive Lionfish taking over the Caribbean
Good afternoon all, we just loaded our 6 ton, 2.5 million dollar submersible onto a flatbed truck for it’s journey over to our research ship called the Chapman where it will be loaded onboard for it’s early morning voyage tomorrow. The plan is to take the sub to our little island of Klein Curacao and do a pre-run of sorts before the Smithsonian Institution arrives later this month, we want to make sure the ship is in tip-top running order. I am unable to go on this trip due to my broken hand and not being able to get the cast wet so I will hold down the fort here at substation.
This is one of my resident lionfish that lives at around 110 feet out in front of the Substation lagoon and I try to stop and say hi every time I am out. There are a few lionfish here that everyone knows not to mess with as I photograph them on a daily basis and they have become very docile and super easy to approach, kind of like fish friends if you will. Some of these fish are so used to my presence that they will swim right up to the camera and just hang out there without a care in the world, I will have to do a little video for you. Speaking of video I got a new Go-pro 4 for my b-day way back in July and am waiting for the macro lens and card to arrive later this month, then I can start posting more fun videos for you.
Well, lots to do, I have to run…. Oh yeah, we got a nice rain this morning, it was fantastic!
Aug 3, 15 Comments Off on Scuba Diver Blowing Water Rings Underwater
Good morning friends, I had someone asking if I knew how to blow water rings underwater like my friend Bart is doing above and the answer is NO! I have tried and I know a bunch of people that can do it but so far I have been very unsuccessful, it’s harder than it looks! Bart claims you need to be laying flat on the reef below 50 feet with no surge or current for best results. As you can see from this shot he is a master at this and as the bubbles rise they get bigger, so big in fact two people could swim through them!
So I spent the morning at the hospital after falling yesterday out in the desert and NO the bike wasn’t to blame this time. I slipped on some very loose rock while out walking the dogs and landed on my thumb causing a major fracture, talk about painful! I had ice on it all night but today it looks like a giant blueberry so now it’s in a temporary cast, I get a real one next week. On Saturday I met a friend for a super fun and super fast 31 mile mountain bike ride, man was I ever tired after that sprint! I spent the rest of the day inside out of the heat, these next few months will be super hot here in Curacao, not a great time to visit.
Sorry so sort, just a quick update, hope all is well and your summer is going great!
Be back soon,