Friday, September 28, 2007

A Charmed Life

Sometimes there is nothing like seeing your life through someone elses eyes to remind you just how good you truly have it and what a charmed life you do indeed live. I really do try to remind myself of that every day. I have a wife who really, truly loves me. I'm not really sure why some days, since I'm probably a bit challenging to love, but she does, and I know it. I have 2 kids who are grown now and don't hate me. In fact, I think they even love me, and we have a great relationship. From my personal experience, that's not always the case with parents and children. That has to be at the top of the things I have to be grateful for, but it doesn't stop there.

In my average, routine day I get to drive along the ocean and see the surf breaking on the reef. I get to see all the amazing colors of the ocean, the brilliant turquoise of the water above the sand patches, the deep luxurious blue of the deep water, the greenish sections which are over vegetation. I just can't get enough of the ocean, when you grow up somewhere like Michigan and then you move to a tropical paradise, the ocean is something you hopefully never take for granted.

I drive down roads lined with coconut palms and hibiscus flowers. I am living in a place that hundreds of thousands of people from Japan, Korea, China and Russia want to come to for a vacation. And I get to dive whenever I want to! I have a cool underwater digital camera so I can bring back images of what I see and share them with other people.

I have a job that I love, and get to work with some great people. I make a comfortable living, I'm certainly not going to die rich, but I feel we've had a good life and we've managed to share it with quite a few people over the years. And now I have Stars & Stripes, the military newspaper publishing my stories and pictures, and not only that but they're paying me for it! How cool is that?

I've gotten a few comments on Link Referral lately that have really driven home the point that I do indeed live a charmed life though. I thought I'd share a few with you.

Opalyn from http://hellophilippines.blogspot.com had this to say: If my blog is interesting, this blog is mindblogging! There are lots of interesting photos and posts. I'm afraid of the ocean but this blog is amazing! Someday, I may want to go for a dive!

Rayne from http://www.advancedscientifichealth.com/ said this: This site is great it brings back old memories I lived in Guam for 5 years in the mid 70's and flue to Saipan several times to dive of the reefs. I love the underwater photos and your site. I will be back many times to enjoy what you have to share.

Szilard from http://just4fun2u.blogspot.com/ said: Cool blog i fell in love on the first site :D. Really like it because it's clean no ads. The pictures are nice and great idea with the videos. The contents quality is also superb. Nice job keep it up..

Betty from http://topblogs.gotoscience.com had this to say: Wow, just vist this blog you wont be sorry ! Some of the images are of unbeliveable quality. The best blog I have seen !

Maxwell from http://www.auctiva.com/stores/viewstore said: Thank you so much for sharing your story and your interest in the under water world. Photos are wonderful with gorgeous colors. Love it and wished I could do what you do.

Mercy from http://getpaidtofart.blogspot.com said this: What I like about this blog is that this person is having a profound experience on his journey. The way things are described make you wanna go there yourself, or feel like you're already there. And the pictures are so beautiful..

Greg from http://www.JustGregsJuice.com said: Wow. Those are beautiful photos. I have bookmarked your page. I would love purchase some photos for my son's room..

Like I said, there is nothing like hearing from other people to make you really realize just how good you have it. I truly appreciate all the comments people have given me about my pictures and my blog, it's nice to see that someone appreciates it.

And for any of you who do want to purchase some of my underwater pictures, you can do that on my smugmug site. Smugmug makes it very easy to order the pictures, you can choose the size and finish you want. You can even get them printed and mounted on canvas if you like. Just go to www.saipandiver.smugmug.com browse through the pictures, and when you find one you like, there should be a button on the upper right hand side just above the picture, a "buy this" button. Just click it and it will then let you choose exactly what size and finish you want. I have the pictures priced affordably, and Smugmug does a great job of printing them, I was totally impressed with their quality. Thanks for your support and interest, it makes something I love just that much richer!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cellphone Envy Among Fish - What's Next?

Yesterday when I was visiting my friends at PTI and getting my cellphone replaced, Darryl mentioned that he had just read my blog and wondered if I left my cellphone in the fishbowl for Ralph. At that point I had taken the cellphone back out, I just put it in to take the picture. But then after I got back to my office, I got to thinking, why not? I bet Ralph was enjoying being the only pet fighting fish with his own personal Motorola Razor cellphone. I'm guessing that in addition to Ralph enjoying the novelty of it, it would also make a great conversation piece. Although that would also mean that I would have to tell the story of how it wound up in Ralph's bowl in the first place, and I would continually have to admit to being absentminded enough to take my cellphone diving in the first place. And if you don't know how my cellphone wound up in Ralphs bowl, you'll have to read the post about it yesterday. But Ralph was staring across the desk at the cellphone that once was his with those sad fish eyes of his, so I figured what the heck.

After a couple hours I noticed that Ralph was swimming up to numbers on the phone, and he kept repeating the same pattern. I thought it was very strange, but all the sudden it dawned on me, I wondered if he was trying to send text messages. I mean do any of us really know how much a fish that sits on our desk day after day learns from us? Maybe the reason we have never really learned their abilities is that we've never bothered giving them cellphones before. So I finally started trying to figure out what he was spelling, and the best I can make out, he was saying "mor fud pleez". So maybe his spelling wasn't the best, but Ralph was trying to ask for more food please. Maybe I should set open books in front of his bowl so he can work on his spelling a bit.

So I gave him some more food, and I figured as long as I was at it, I should probably give Tempy some more food too. For those of you who don't know, Tempy is the beta fish in the bowl next to Ralph. Then Tempy came flying up toward his food, but instead of eating it, he started flicking it all out of his bowl, as if he was upset with me or something. I stared in at the tempermental little fish wondering what his problem was. It seemed like he kept doing head nods toward the cellphone in Ralph's bowl. Could it be that Tempy was jealous? Was this the first documented case of cellphone envy among pet fish? I guess you know what I did next. Yup, that's right, I went out and bought Tempy his own Motorola Razor cellphone. After all, I couldn't be showing preference to my fish. So what if his name is Tempy, which stands for temporary, I think he's gotten over that by now. So now all seems peaceful in the fish world on my desk. Tempy and Ralph text back and forth all day and seem much happier about things.

But then I got to thinking, what if some of the evil Dive Masters out there start spreading word among the turtles and nudibranchs that my fish have their own cellphones? Will they be jealous and demand their own before they let me take their pictures in the future? What if one of those dastardly Dive Masters tells one turtle that I've taken way more pictures of one of the other turtles and I've hardly posted any of them? Am I going to have to start watching my back while diving from now on? Just how far will this go? And really, just how jealous and materialistic are fish, turtles and nudibranchs? Have I started a trend that I will live to regret? Will Ralph and Tempy start spying on me for the devious Dive Masters and text them with insider information on me? I think you can see that I may have opened a can of worms that would have been better left closed. Well, I'll let you know of any further updates in this story, but for the time being, if I were you, I wouldn't be giving your pet fish his own cellphone.

p.s. - In the interest of accuracy, I have to admit that I didn't give Tempy a brand new cellphone, I bought him a second hand phone and kept the new one for myself. The rest of this amazing story is more or less true. Well, I do have fish named Ralph and Tempy on my desk, and Ralph does have his own cellphone in his bowl now. However much of the rest of the story you choose to believe is entirely up to you.

Shrinking The World Through Blogs

I've always enjoyed reading, going way back to my elementary school days. One of the highlights of school for me was getting the book order forms and seeing what kind of new adventures I could embark on through the magic of books. I would always devour every inch of the Weekly Reader, and would even be known to go through quite a large number of books in the library. Reading was always a way for me to escape the small northern Michigan town I grew up in and to discover magical places like Narnia, Camelot, the deep, dark continent of Africa, and yes, I would even go diving with Jacques Cousteau occasionally by reading articles about him and his exploits in various magazines.

Reading has always been a way for me to learn about new places and things, a way to crawl inside somebody elses head and to find out what makes them think and feel the way they do. I would disappear for hours on end in elementary school and junior high in my bedroom as I would read about the brand new adventures of going to the moon. I felt like I was actually a part of King Arthur's Round Table as I read about his adventures with Sir Lancelot. I believe that much of my formative education did not take place in schools, but rather sitting in my room pouring through hundreds and hundreds of books.

I still really enjoy sitting down with a good book and losing myself in it for hours on end. Now my tastes have changed to authors like John Grisham, Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy. But my main problem is finding the time to devote endless hours of just immersing myself in a book. That is a big part of the reason that I've come to really enjoy blogs. I can go through dozens of blogs and learn a wide variety of things in my spare time, 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Some of the blogs I read are just because I really enjoy the persons style of writing, such as Tami's Seaweed, Sand and Sunsets. Of course I also really enjoy her pictures as photography is becoming one of my newest interests. I also really enjoy reading Lewie's Swim, Bike, Run Saipan blog, partly because I work with Lewie and this gives me insight into the other side of him. But I'm also discovering that he's a great writer and has a real knack for putting some interesting things in his blog. I also enjoy reading my wife Kelli's - Kelli on Saipan blog. Believe it or not but I even learn a few things about her from reading her blog, and that's always a good thing.

But I also really enjoy discovering new people I've never met and their blogs. Such is the case with Kyle and Svetlana. He's an American married to a Russian living in Russia. Their blog tells about their interesting life and gives me a whole new perspective on some things. I met him through Link Referral and Blog Rush, and we've exchanged blog links. That's the cool thing about the internet is that it lets you meet people you never would have had access to any other way.

One of the comments I get all the time after new people have read my blog is "Thanks for showing me a brand new underwater world that I never would have experienced any other way". People can experience what I see diving every weekend just by reading my blog. The vast majority of them will never have the experiences I have or see the things I've seen, but now they can share in them through my blog.

Blog Rush is a tool that let's you check out different blogs whenever you feel like it. You'll see the widget for Blog Rush just below the About Me section on the right side of my blog. It will have several different blogs listed that you can click on and check out. It's a very cool way to discover what else is out there. It's also a great way to promote your blog to a much bigger audience that you might not have access to otherwise. If you'd like to sign up for Blog Rush, click on my widget where it says "add your blog posts for free". It only takes a minute or two to sign up and then you don't really have to do anything else. Reading is truly a great gift, and experiencing each others blogs can be a magical experience, have fun exploring!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Diving With Your Phone - Not Recommended!

Tuesday afternoon I got a call from Brad, basically forcing me at gunpoint to go diving. Well ok, the truth of the matter is he didn't even have to twist my arm, I'm almost always up for a dive. We headed back to Lau Lau as he wanted to try getting some video of a turtle. It's one of the first dives I've done at Lau Lau in a very long time that I couldn't find a turtle, but it's just as well since Brad couldn't get his camera to work anyway. Of course that isn't about to stop us from having a good time and seeing what we can find. The good news is that the "bait ball" or huge school of Atulai is still there and bigger than ever. They weren't in a tight ball yesterday, it seems like there were just way too many of them. When they first started coming toward us, they just kept coming, and coming, and coming. I've never seen the school that large, so it was very cool just watching them dart all around us like we were just a couple coral heads in the water. This is what it looks like to have thousands and thousands of Atulai flying at you all at a high rate of speed. It is truly phenomenal to be surrounded by that many fish, you just kind of lose yourself for a few minutes and truly become part of the underwater world. We just stayed floating in the water watching this monstrous school of fish darting back and forth all changing direction at precisely the same time as if they were all controlled by a single brain. Boy I can think of a lot of jokes right about now, but I think I'll just leave them all alone. I also spotted this tiny colorful clam tucked in a hole in this piece of coral. I don't ever remember seeing one with this kind of coloring before. Even after thousands of dives, you can still discover things you've never seen before. It's just a matter of taking the time to look carefully at everything and looking in places you might not have looked before. And it wouldn't be one of my dives if I didn't spot a nudibranch or two along the way. This Phyllidia pustulosa was working his way across the coral reef. I just thought he looked cool with those big rhinopores sticking up. Almost looks like he was wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. Then I came across one of the biggest green moray eels I've ever seen, and I've seen some big ones. When I first spotted this guy, you couldn't see his head, all you could see through the 8" wide hole was a green eel body, covering the entire hole from top to bottom. His body was easily thicker than my thigh. I couldn't manage to coax him out of his hole so I don't know how truly long he was. But he was coiled around in this little network of holes, and from where his head was, I found another hole where I could see his tail, it was well over 8' away. This was one gigantic moray eel! On the way back in I spotted what looked like little marble sized cocoons, just like the bigger oblong egg masses from the Philinopsis gardineri nudibranch. There were several all attached to rocks, algae and various things. I zoomed in and sure enough you can see the little individual egg sacks in this one. I don't know what kind of nudibranch laid these, but it's amazing what you see when you finally start learning a little bit about the underwater world. In this pictures you can see several of the little egg sacks all attached to this hydroid. Now the next part of the puzzle will be trying to figure out what lays these egg sacks. The more I looked around this one area though, I realized just how many egg masses were all over the area. There were more of the cocoons from the Philinopsis gardineri all attached to the sand, and there had to be close to 50 of these other little guys all over the place. Just one more reason to be very careful when diving about what you touch and disturb, you just never know what might be there. But as with all great dives, they eventually come to an end. When our heads popped out of the water at the rope, this is the sight that greeted us. This rainbow was coming right down onto the water, not far from where we were actually. I kind of wondered if maybe it was directly on top of us when I saw that huge moray eel, and if instead of Leprechauns at the end of rainbows out here, we have moray eels. Had I known there was a rainbow up there at the time, I might have tried forcing the moray to give up his pot of gold.

Then as I was getting into my truck after the dive, I made a horrible discovery. My cell phone was in my swimsuit pocket! Yup, it had been there for the entire dive. So I discovered that Motorola Razor cellphones are not waterproof! You cannot send or receive calls while diving, and if you take it diving, you won't be able to send or receive calls after diving either. The only one who seemed to be happy about the whole fiasco was Ralph, my pet fighting fish. He is now the only fighting fish on island with his own personal Razor cellphone. Maybe I should have been looking for a new cellphone at the end of that rainbow instead of a pot of gold, but then again it would have been underwater too so I guess I really wouldn't have been any further ahead. Such is another day in the life of me!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A New Sighting Underwater

Many of us have been hearing from him for the past couple months now, this cross between a Jedi and a Hobbit who was living in Korea. Brad Derksen had been following several of our blogs for a while and had been leaving comments and sending us e-mails. He told us that he was going to be moving to Saipan. No he didn't have a job lined up yet, but that was ok because he still had some traveling to do shortly after he moved here, so why mess that up with a new job. And he had just bought new dive gear for himself and his wife, and that was the real reason he was moving here, because the diving was awesome. Now I will admit, I wondered once or twice if this was just someone pulling our leg. I mean how many people do you know who move to a strange place with no job lined up just because they have great year round diving?

But sure enough, I went to pick him up at the airport a few weeks ago, and there he was with his lovely wife Jeong-ah. Since then Brad and Jeong-ah have gotten settled into an apartment, they have bought a vehicle, and Brad has gotten his new dive gear wet several times now. This past Sunday Brad managed to hook up with me for a couple dives, so we started out the morning at the Grotto then moved down to Lau Lau for the afternoon, with a pit stop at Oleai Beach Bar & Grill inbetween of course. Here you see Brad in the Grotto with hole #3 behind him. After we went outside of the Grotto and looked around for a while, we came back in to search for nudibranchs for a while. I was totally impressed when Brad found the first Halgerda guahan. He said he had seen them so many times on my blog that he knew what it was instantly. We only wound up finding 2 of them on that dive, but that's ok, we had a great time. I also managed to find a big Lionfish to show him in one of the fan coral swimthroughs. For our afternoon dive at Lau Lau, I was looking for turtles. And when I'm looking for turtles, I tend to cover a lot of territory fairly quickly. Since I know most of their usual spots I will just go right down the line from one to the next seeing where they are hanging out this time. We had gone by just about all the usual turtle hangouts and had gotten skunked so far, when we finally came to the last one and we found this guy. It was a big Hawksbill turtle that was just laying on the coral. He got up and decided to go for a swim, but he was a good sport and went slow enough that we got quite a few good pictures of him and I managed to shoot a couple video clips of him. Brad said this was by far his best turtle adventure because he was able to spend so much time with the turtle. There is just nothing like spending some quality time with a turtle, letting him lead you on a little trip. Here are a couple of the video clips so that you can swim with the turtles as well.
Welcome to Saipan Brad and Jeong-ah, and I look forward to many more cool dives with you!

Monday, September 24, 2007

For Those Needing A Dive Fix

I didn't think about the fact that there might be those who actually didn't get to go diving this weekend, and might be needing a dive fix when I wrote about Kelli's new rack. That was a bit insensitive of me now that I think about it. I mean I figure that it's a given, when it's the weekend it means we'll all be diving. But I have had it pointed out to me that not everyone is as lucky as I am. So for those of you who didn't get a chance to get wet this past weekend, I'll show you a little bit of what I encountered over the weekend. Let me start by saying that visibility was outstanding this past weekend, by far the best I've seen in a while, and it helped that the sun was shining for the most part, lighting up the corals nicely. I went to Grotto Saturday morning and spent some time swimming with a green sea turtle outside #1, then I just kind of hovered above the bottom at about 90' coming back to the Grotto. This big Conus Striatus was at about 100'. You can see where it had been attacked earlier in its life and evidently survived to repair its shell and go on with life. The Striatus is the 2nd most deadly cone in the world. If you're going to pick it up to look at, you want to be sure to only handle it at the wide end. The narrow end is the business end and is where the poisonous little harpoon comes out of.

This little nudibranch was only about 1/4" long and was on the same rock as all the Pterolidia ianthina, those are the long purple nudibranchs. When you take the time to seriously look for nudibranchs, you'll find them all over the place, but it takes a lot of patience and a knack of spotting them. It was also a very good day for Halgerda guahan in the Grotto, as I saw about a dozen of them. Most were just cruising around by themselves, there were on the algae covered rocks, in holes in some of the boulders, a couple of them were going across the rubble, and then I discovered these two. It should come as no surprise that I happened to find a couple of them mating. I swear some of them start doing it as soon as I jump in the water just to show off. I also discovered this past weekend that this particular nudibranch feeds on the white sponge you see between them. Now I know it's very common to go get a snack or a sandwich after "doing it", but it seems these two are killing two birds with one stone. They decided to eat while doing it, I guess that might give them a little more stamina, I'm not really sure. I had several groups of Japanese divers come over to see what I was taking pictures of, so I pointed them out and then let them all take their pictures too. I'm thinking the Grotto is going to be known as the nudibranch cave dive before too long.

I only had time to do one dive Saturday as Kelli had me on kitchen duty later in the day. I was whipping up a batch of stuffed mushrooms, and they were amazing, even if I do say so myself. Sunday I had a chance to do a couple dives with Brad, who just moved here from Korea recently. We did manage to find a turtle to take some pictures of, but that will have to wait for tomorrow's post.

Kelli's New Big Rack

There were any number of things I could have started out talking about this week, but I decided to talk about something that has my wife totally excited. There comes a time in life where you realize that yes, you can just be content with the equipment you've been given, but that doesn't always stop you from dreaming about what if.... And of course what guy isn't proud of his wife with a new bigger rack? I mean let's be honest for a minute here, yes, having a new big rack is great and all, but if you just leave it tucked away in the "closet" all the time, what is the point? Sure it still serves its purpose and brings you pleasure, but if you're honest with yourself you have to admit that half of the fun is showing it off too! Who doesn't like to inspire a little bit of rack envy once in a while?

Now I realize that to many of you who know Kelli, you never would have thought she would have ever thought about such things. But the truth is, yes, even Kelli has thought about what life would be like if she had a bigger rack. And being the supportive husband that I am, of course I only wanted anything that would make my wife happier. The bigger rack was completely for her happiness, I'm just glad that it makes her so happy.

Now being a guy to the core, I also realized that if she got a new rack, it might induce a case of rack envy among some of her female friends. Because once you've finally got a bigger rack, half the fun is showing it off, right? Well, we had a dinner party at our house Saturday night and had several friends over. Kelli was so busy getting the food ready at first that she had forgotten about her new big rack for a few minutes. So after a little reminder from yours truly, I got her to open up and show off that gorgeous new rack. And there you have it, Kelli's new big rack in her food pantry. What, you thought I was talking about something else?

Friday, September 21, 2007

#100

After doing a little housecleaning on my blog and removing a few posts, it put me back below 100 posts once again, so this one is now #100. A recently had a friend give me some files containing pictures on an old computer I had given him. Sometimes it's fun looking back at the past and remembering all kinds of things, and there is nothing like pictures to help make the memories come flooding back. These were 2 baby kittens we had in our house at one time or another, there have been so many animals living in our house over the years I can't even begin to keep track of them all. Don't believe me? Well take a look at this... I have no idea what their names were, but these were just two more of the many furry inhabitants of our house over the years. This is what happens when you have a mother who can't say no, or says, "go ask your father". The thing is, I will say no, but nobody seems to hear me. It's like I'm speaking greek or something, all the sudden they don't hear me or understand me. It's always been a massive conspiracy, the kids, Kelli and the animals against me. If there's any question of who won all these years, let me share a few more pictures. It wasn't even Easter and I had lost my favorite chair to 2 rabbits. Everything seemed to come in pairs, since there was Josh & Sarah. After all, it just wouldn't be fair for one to have one and not the other. I will admit there was one animal that I agreed we could get, my favorite dog Jax. We got Jax the first week we moved to Saipan and had him for over 10 years. He was the most loyal and faithful dog you could ever ask for. He was a boonie dog, and was just amazing. I miss that dog all the time. In case you're wondering, I'm not sure who the guy with all that hair is. But let's not get sidetracked here, this post is about the multitude of animals my kids have brought into my house over the years. Let's see what else I can find. With Josh you just never knew what he'd wind up bringing home. One day he came out of the boonies with this coconut crab. He was going to watch the crab for a while and study him, so he set a cage over the top of the crab, but he didn't realize what great diggers the crabs are. The crab made a break for it that night and found his way back to the jungle. This misdirected monitor lizard came into our house voluntarily and wandered into Josh's room where he was promptly captured and turned into a pet. Josh kept Bill for well over a year, feeding him chicken breasts. Bill was named for Kelli's fairly new step brother at the time, who was only a few years older than Josh. But that's a story for another time. This is Caude and Amy, a couple cats we had before we ever moved to Saipan. We inherited Claude when my dad passed away. Claude was more than just a little psycho, it could be from the fact that my dad tried training Claude with a squirtgun, I'm not really sure. But Claude would stand in front of the litter box and growl at Amy and not let her use it. She would finally go on the floor all because Claude was a mean cat. Claude would also growl as he ate his cat chow if Josh & Sarah walked by. It was hilarious as he would growl while chewing, so it sounded more comical than menacing. There are many stories floating around about what finally became of Claude, but the truth of the matter is that he just took a walk one day and never came back. This is Hannah and HUC sleeping on someones bed. Hannah is the pretty tiger cat, HUC is the other one. If you're wondering what kind of name HUC is for a cat, it's an acronym, it stands for Hideously Ugly Cat. But at least HUC had a full tail, which is something most of our cats here have not had. As if it wasn't bad enough with my kids bringing home all kinds of animals constantly, I also had friends who left me their animals to babysit for a while, in this case we wound up babysitting Ichi for almost 2 years. Here you see HUC nursing on Ichi. Ichi was a boy, but it didn't seem to matter to either of them. This is Hobbes. I can't remember how we wound up with a baby cat so small it needed to be bottle fed, but we did. Hobbes was a cute one, I'll say that for him, or her, I don't remember and it doesn't matter anyway. Here you see Hobbes after one of his monstrous eating sessions. He would get so full he could barely walk, he'd just roll around on the bed with that huge belly of his. Now as many different animals as you've seen today, this is only a small fraction of all the animals I've had to share my home with over the years. When I said earlier there was no way I could possibly recall all the animals I wasn't exaggerating. So I decided to do a little calculation of everything I have spent on pet food, puppy treats, vaccinations, vet bills and other associated costs. I came up with about $250,000 over the years. Hey, it's my blog and I can put the amount at whatever I feel like, but it's my figure and I'm sticking to it. I figure that was my retirement fund. So since my kids thought it was more important that we house every animal we came across over the years than for me to have a retirement fund, I'm hoping they'll take me in like all the strays they had me take in over the years when that time comes for me. The way I figure it if they treat me half as well as any of the hundreds of pets I've taken in over the years, I'll be spending my golden years not having to worry about anything more than where to take my next nap. This is Sharkey sprawled out on the couch taking a nap. I couldn't lay down on the couch because Sharkey was using it, but one of these days my day will come, and I can only hope to have it as good as any one of the number of cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, guinnea pigs, monitor lizards or birds that have called my house home over the years.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Back To Being A Solo Dive Bum

After much thought and soul searching this last couple of weeks I have finally come to the conclusion that I need to completely sever any affiliation I had with the dive group that Mike Tripp and I started. I still firmly believe in the ideals and thoughts we had when we initially talked about starting this group. I do believe that much more can be done to effectively market Saipan diving through the internet, and I do believe that a diving web portal, done properly, would be a great asset to anyone looking to come here to go diving. When we first talked about the group I had envisioned a bunch of people with a passion for diving getting together, talking about their recent discoveries, sharing information on the dives and pooling their resources online so it would be much easier for people looking for pictures or information on diving on Saipan to find it. That is really the extent of what I had in mind. But of course as is the case with anything, once you open it up and start having other people get involved, they will all bring their own agenda to the table and will try changing the focus of the group accordingly. That's not necessarily bad or wrong, it's just life, it's the way things go.

I realize that people will have disagreements and arguments, that is to be expected. But when some of the dive "professionals" started using the public forum as their way to bash those that they didn't agree with or that they saw as some sort of threat, all the sudden I realized that this group could easily do much more harm than good if this kept up. There are some very good reasons why I have adamantly refused to go beyond being an Open Water diver for over 32 years now. I feel like the dive industry has turned into a greedy, money grubbing racket in many respects, and I don't want anything to do with that part of it. There are some awesome people involved in diving, instructing and some of the dive shops, and I truly enjoy talking with them, swapping stories with them and sharing information with them. But then there are those who seem to want us all to believe there are "laws" relating to who should be allowed to go diving with who, and that everyone has to follow their imaginary "laws". This faction even talks about "Scuba Police" as if such a thing has ever existed. The bottom line with them is they make their entire living from being a dive master or instructor and they want to protect every potential customer out there. They don't want anyone diving with anyone but them, but of course they will charge you through the nose for it. They will tell you they are the only safe people to dive with, even though interestingly enough, the vast majority of fatal dive accidents here over the years have all been with "professional" divers.

I want nothing to do with people like that, and don't want anyone to think that I approve of their rhetoric, principles or business practices. And because these people are active in the group and very vocal on the public forums online, I need to set the record straight once and for all. I am no longer affiliated with the Marianas Dive group in any way, nor do I support or endorse what their public forum has turned into. I believe that Mike Tripp is a great guy and really wants to make a positive difference in diving here, but because of some of the people who have chosen to affiliate themselves with this group, he may be facing a steep uphill challenge.

I have removed all previous posts from my blog with any reference to the dive group, as it was pointed out to me that my blog popped up when people were looking for information on the group. I will now just revert to being a dive bum who loves to dive and take pictures of cool things that people stuck on dry land will never see without the aid of a diver with a camera.

Swimming With Hawksbill Turtles

Sunday afternoon I went back to Lau Lau to see if my turtle buddies were hanging around waiting for me to come back. Sure enough just as I was getting to the spot that I had spent all the time with the little Hawksbill, he came swimming over to me from the side. I couldn't believe it, it was like he had just been waiting for me and was now ready to go on my dive with me. So instead of heading down the sand fingers, I headed north toward the golf course, with the little Hawksbill swimming along at my side. He wanted to stop and eat a few times along the way, so I would stop and wait for him, then we would continue on. We went through a bunch of swimthroughs together, he ducked down and showed me a few of his sleeping spots so I took some pictures of him in his various holes. But he would always come back out and keep following me.At one point he kind of perched himself on top of a piece of coral that was sticking up. He used his back flippers to steady himself and hang onto it. Occasionally he would wiggle around giving his flippers a good scratch on the coral. For a while I thought he was trying to show me one of his special underwater massage techniques, daring me to do the same. I was content just taking pictures of him doing it, although it did make me want to get a massage later on. After swimming and playing together for just under 90 minutes the little turtle was tired out and needed a nap. He went down into this little hole and tucked himself in for a rest. And that's where I left him. For the previous 90 minutes though I think I actually became a turtle and experienced what their life is like on a daily basis. If you want to see more of the pictures of the turtles from these dives you can go to my smugmug gallery and check out the Turtle gallery. I put together a few of the video clips I took from my time with these Hawksbill turtles so that you can also experience what it is like to become a Hawksbill turtle, I hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Turtle Tales Continued

In my last post I told you about seeing 3 turtles on this Saturday morning dive already, and getting some great pictures of a yellow Leaf Scorpionfish, but I told you the best turtle encounter was yet to come. Fortunately I still had about 1300 pounds of air in my tank, so I was leisurely just skimming over the coral looking for nudibranchs when I came across this little Hawksbill turtle with his tail end sticking up. He was too busy eating to be bothered with anyting else. He was right on the edge of the coral on one of the sand fingers so I just floated there watching him and taking pictures. I was a couple feet away from him at first and he just didn't seem to care at all, so I edged in closer taking pictures. He would look over at me occasionally and just keep on chewing, I don't know whether he is so used to seeing me down there that he figures I belong there or what, but he certainly wasn't the least bit upset by my presence. It's very cool being that close to a turtle so that you can watch his every move, you can actually hear the crunching sound as he bites and breaks pieces of rubble and coral. You can watch his graceful flippers being used to maneuver him into position. And you can get some really good close up shots with the camera. This went over for well over a half hour, the two of us just hanging out in that one spot together. Then he needed a breath of air so he surfaced and I thought that would be the end of it. I had totally enjoyed my time with this turtle and was just watching in awe as he effortlessly glided through the water. He stayed on the surface for a few minutes while I sat there below just watching him. Then he looked back at me almost to see if I was still there and then he came straight back down to me and got right back in his same spot. I don't know if he thought I was some distant relative, maybe a bald headed tank turtle or something. So I just stayed there with him, snapping picture after picture. As cool as this experience was, it's the kind of thing you really want to share with somebody else, to let them experience the magical feeling as well. I noticed a group of Japanese divers about 50' away head down the rope so I decided to go over and wave them over to see this cute little Hawksbill turtle too. As soon as I started to swim away, the strangest thing happened. This crazy turtle was acting like my dog and following me. He was right on my heels and was following to see why I was leaving. He came right over to the Japanese dive group with me and was the perfect photo object. He posed and let them all take all the pictures they wanted. When they were done, he kind of looked at me as if to say, "what next?" I went back over to the spot he was eating and he came back over with me. I stayed with him for another 10 minutes or so, and then quietly slipped away while his head was buried in the hole and he was happily munching away.

Yes, that was finally the end of this amazing day of diving, but I went back to Lau Lau on Sunday to see if I could find any of the turtles again. If you want to find out what happened on Sunday and see some of the video of it, you're going to have to come back again tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Turtle Tales, Not Tails - That's Next

I had the most amazing turtle dives this past weekend. I was just running into them everywhere, and they didn't seem to mind at all. I ran into this big Hawksbill turtle at the beginning of my dive at Lau Lau Saturday morning. He was just sitting on the coral by the sand fingers. I got a few cool shots of him there, and then he just slowly got up and started swimming. He wasn't trying to get away though, so I stayed with him and just kept taking pictures of him. He was a big one, his shell was was 3-4' from top to bottom. He would stop along the way, munch on some algae, look around and then we would swim a little bit more. I spent about a half hour with him and he took me almost all the way over to Lau Lau golf course.

I finally decided I should figure out where I was and start heading back. You don't always realize how far you go when you're being a turtle. When I swim with them and film them, I become one of them. I swim through the same tunnels they do, I skim over the coral formations just like they do, and I stop and just enjoy them when they eat. But they can cover a lot of territory in no time, so it's easy to find yourself a long ways away from where you started out. I headed back toward the pipeline, it took me a solid 15 minutes of hard kicking to get back there. As I was cruising over the coral, something caught my eye that looked very familiar. I went down to check it out and sure enough, it was a Leaf Scorpionfish.

This guy was yellow and the ones I've seen previously have been brown and pink. I don't know if they can change colors to blend in with their surroundings but he was around a bunch of yellow vegetation, so his camouflage was perfect. I'm realizing these are much more common that I had ever thought, it's just that I didn't recognize them before, and now my eyes are getting used to spotting them. You can see why they are so hard to spot, they are almost paper thin. If you don't recognize their fins you'll never spot them as they usually look and act like a leaf in the water. So I had already spent a half hour with a big Hawksbill and I found a yellow Leaf Scorpionfish, could this dive possibly get any better? As I continued heading toward the pipeline, I came across this little green sea turtle. I followed him over the sand flats for a while and he took me over to the pipeline. Then he banked a hard right and showed me another green sea turtle who was just relaxing next to the pipeline. Here you can see the 2 green sea turtles in the same picture, one is just to the left of the pipeline and hte other is on the sand just to the right of it. You don't often get a chance to get 2 turtles in the same picture so I was pretty excited about this. So I spent a little time with the 2 turtles just watching them and taking pictures, neither of them were in a big hurry to get anywhere either. Now as hard as this is going to be to believe and as awesome as this dive was so far, the best was yet to come. However, this post has already gotten pretty long and has quite a few pictures, so I'm afraid you're going to have to wait til tomorrow to read about the best turtle encounter of this dive. I promise it will be worth the wait though!

The Experts Were Just As Astonished As I Was!

I've heard back from the experts and they find my discovery of inter-species mating of these two different nudibranchs just as amazing as I do. Neville Coleman said he definitely wanted it for his new book on nudibranchs, and he also wanted some shots of the Halgerda johnsonorum alone, as it has not been a very widely photographed nudibranch up to now. There are several hundred shots of it now, all on my computer. And I also heard back from Dr. Bill Rudman on the Sea Slug Forum. Here is what Bill had to say, "By definition animals of different species are not supoosed to mate. I have had some doubts about some of the species of Halgerda described in recent years but these two species seemed quite distinct from one another with little evidence of intermediate colour forms. All I can say is keep a look out for possible intermediates and for more matings across the apparent species barrier. Best Wishes, Bill Rudman"

So now the key is to keep an eye out for Halgerda nudibranchs in the Grotto that don't fit any of the previously described color forms or patterns, as that may be the offspring of the johnsonorum and the guahan. I asked Bill what you got when you mated one with the other, he thought it sounded like the beginning of a joke. I think you may just get the Halgerda Blalockii. You know I'll be keeping a very close eye on the situation to see what comes of it. And to those other of you who dive the Grotto regularly and take pictures of the nudibranchs, please let me know if you run across anything different in the coming days. I find this absolutely exciting, it's like exploring a new frontier and you just never know what you'll stumble into next. I know I promised turtle stories and pictures today. I won't break my promise, but I'll make that another post so it's not so long.