Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Great Barrier Reef Trip!

These are highlights from a week on a boat at the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea in Australia! I am so so LUCKY!! Paul knew I had been hankering for a dive trip at the GBR for years, knew I was getting depressed despite living in 'paradise' and sent me out to Australia to 'recover' while he held down the fort, took care of Leo, worked, cooked, cleaned, and yes, I do feel guilty!!

I went with my friends from Bangkok: Supisa

and Terry (my ex-boss):

We had 29 divers on the boat the first half of the week. We went out to the Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea, which is pretty far out from the GBR. The reef is deep and there were a lot of sharks, moray eels, an eagle ray. Getting out to the Coral Sea was kind of rough and both Supisa and I lost our dinners the first night, despite the seasickness medication. This was our home for the week. It's the Mike Ball Dive Expeditions Spoilsport boat - they're expensive, but a real first class operation, with a gourmet chef and personal videographer on board. During the second half of the trip, there were at least as many crew as there were divers.

Honestly, I liked the GBR dive sites better than the Coral Sea, but they are certainly more traveled, and you could see evidence of broken coral from past divers. If I were to go back again, I'd probably just explore more of the GBR, and save myself a couple whoozy nights!

So, what did we see? All kinds of crazy creatures!

Yes, there were lots of sharks. Here's a wimpy white-tip reef shark. We saw hammerheads, silver-tips, grey reef sharks too. No great whites! We did a shark feed one day (will post video at some point).

There were some very mellow green sea turtles. Here's one posing.

Many, many giant clams. Clams so big you could fall in. Clams so big you could feed a small village.

Here's a pennant bannerfish, so skinny, you miss them altogether when they turn sideways!

These are Christmas tree worms. They are my favorite. When you try to touch them, they retract into their holes. It's great fun to move your hand over a hole bunch of them and watch them all retract. This photo won the non-SLR photo contest on our boat the first half of the week.

Cod Hole, in the GBR, had these diver sized potato cod.

The coolest stuff is the tiny stuff that you can barely see. This rare green anenome (can't remember what they called it) had a family of harlequin shrimp living in it. You can see right through their little bodies!

Another shrimp in living in a magnificent sea anenome. It took a LOT of swishing to open up the anenome enough to see this guy.

My roommate Susan had a huge Nikon SLR set up with two strobes. She's only been diving and shooting for 2.5 years, but she ought to be a professional. Her pictures are to die for. We went down to 110 feet to find the elusive and rare pygmy seahorse. The first mate happened to know where to find them and he took us down and pointed it out. These seahorses are half the size of your pinky fingernail. I couldn't see them through the camera at all and so it's real hard to find them in my picture. Another photographer didn't see the seahorses and didn't have the camera pointed at the right place. Susan has a beautiful, in-focus picture of the mom and the baby both looking at the camera. I'd post it here but I'm hoping she sells it to National Geographic or something instead! Needless to say, she won the SLR photo contest both times and even the professional dive tour videographer was drooling over her work.

Here's a cute little black-spotted pufferfish. Looks like a little doggy. They swim fairly slowly and are not the most graceful creatures.

Here's the same fish, all puffed up. They do this when they are in danger, to make themselves look bigger and hopefully save their lives. This won the non-SLR contest during the second half of the week. I feel really guilty about this, although all I really did was point and shoot. Everyone wanted to know how I got him to puff up. I didn't let on, but the first mate had a habit of playing with the marine life. He caught the fish, who immediately puffed up. After the guy put him down, the poor little creature was breathing real fast in and out, freaked out but back to normal size.

A trumpetfish (the long skinny thing) with a school of anthias (I think) in the background.

This long yellow guy is another trumpetfish. He was a juvenile, and hanging out with these masked rabbitfish.

Wherever they went, he'd try to swim alongside them. It was really funny. He was using them for protection, as camouflage. He was thinking, "If I swim with them, maybe no one will see me and eat me!"

These titan triggerfish were huge and sort of friendly.

This is a red prickly sea cucumber. It's got these sticky suckers on the bottom, like the suckers on an octopus. My mom likes to eat sea cucumbers. I don't.

The tiny white worms on this sponge are baby sponge synaptids. The tree-like yellow things are tube anenome. They only come out at night. We did a bunch of night dives. You could dive 5 times a day on this boat. The schedule is pretty rigorous if you want to do that. Basically all you do is eat, dive and sleep. I was pretty dead just diving 4 times a day and trying to download pictures in between.

A close-up of a christmas-tree worm. The little thing sticking out is the worm.

We saw a few of these rare leaf scorpionfish. They are poisonous.

This is a lionfish, coming in for a landing! Also poisonous.

An even more poisonous fish, the stonefish. I believe this is the most poisonous fish. It's hard to see, as they blend in so well with the rocks and muck. You can make out the teeth and the eyes if you look closely. The mouth opens up like a cave.

And an olive sea snake. Also very very poisonous. Apparently, the most poisonous snakes are sea snakes. Luckily, they can't open their mouths very wide, so as long as you don't offer up an ear, you ought to be ok.

Where did I come up with all my fish facts? I've always liked diving and snorkeling, but I have now spent countless hours with Leo reading fish identification books. I'm not kidding. He loves to read marine life books. We read about the habits of fish, the lives of coral, the sea squirts, the nudibranchs, the squids, etc. Sure beats those boring dinosaur books!!

This guy is a whitemouth moray eel. We saw one green moray eel as big as someone's thigh, but I didn't have a camera on that dive. This was my first diving with a camera. I first rented this terrible Canon A640 that had a video problem (right during the shark feed, of course). Then I spent big bucks and rented the Canon G10 the rest of the trip. It was awesome. Heavy. 15 MB per picture, but awesome.

Supisa's favorite creatures are the tiny nudibranchs. This is a minor notodoris. Nudibranch's are sea slugs. She's an expert at finding them in the myriad of colorful sea life. Diving is such the ADD activity. You're looking at some fish, thinking of taking a picture of it, and boom, in front of you swims this beautiful new thing that you've never seen before and you chase it, completely forgetting what you were looking at before.

Anyway, as my tribute to Supisa's expert nudi identification skills: here's a whole bunch that she found:

These last two are flatworms not sea slugs, but very similar. They breathe through their bodies instead of gills. The last one looked like a really nice piece of lettuce. Supisa videoed one flatworm crawling across the sandy bottom. It ran into a sea cucumber and slithered right up over it and down the other side. Now that's a good video!

Paul's been working on an art project based on textures. Here's my contribution to the art project. Anenome fish were living in this bulb anenome.

This was a huge montipora confusa coral, probably 10 feet across, and just trippy textures!

Anyway, it was an awesome, once-in-a-lifetime, splurge of a trip! My only hope is that it is still around by the time Leo learns how to dive. I've already promised him trips out to see the reefs out in Asia. I've got some residual TMJ that I'm dealing with now as a result of dragging that regulator around in my mouth for a week, but hopefully will be recovered shortly!

What else to say but:

Love, Debbie

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Kayaking Kailua Bay

We went kayaking in Kailua Bay on Saturday. We put Leo in between us on a double kayak and paddled out to two islands pretty far out in the bay (an hour paddle out). It was pretty rough in spots with white water, but we had Leo hold on (and we all wore life vests) tight and made it through. The first island, Flat island, was a nice bird sanctuary, and completely flat despite being a lava flow. The snorkeling was nothing to speak of but we had so much fun swimming about that we all got sunburnt. We saw a little turtle but hardly any fish. Anyway, it was a great day and a good workout! Next time we're going to get out to Sunken Island which hopefully doesn't draw the same crowds of tourists.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Old like Daddy

Leo and I were reading about neurons last night in his human body book. There's a picture of and embryo's neurons, which branch out a bit to become a fetus' neurons, which then branch out more to become an infant's neurons, and then a 20 year old's neurons. Then the branching reverses and at 40 years old, they look more like an infant/fetus's neurons and at 60 years old, there's hardly any branching at all. I explained to Leo that his neurons had a lot of branches now but when he got to be Daddy's age, they would get old and lose their branches. Leo said, "I hope I have long times before I am as old as Daddy".

Monday, August 3, 2009

Blood type

Leo's current fave book is The Human Body. It's a nice biology text that has great pictures and explains all kinds of neat 8th grade biology. Needless to say, I'm learning a LOT! But I figure he probably is glossing over the discussion of fibroblasts, golgi complexes, and amino acids. Last night, I explained to Leo that he and Paul have type A blood and I have type O blood. He replied, "if I have no more blood then you can give me your blood, or Daddy can give me his blood". I was thunderstruck by how much he was comprehending. I'm starting to wonder how much experimentation we can do on this child by introducing him to a wide range of ideas and concepts.