Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dive Pics Southern Thailand: Hin Daeng Hin Muang Part III

This was our final dive off Hin Daeng and our final chance to spot the manta ray. So far it has proven elusive and all fingers were crossed as we jumped into the blue....

One of the divers said that sometimes, the more eager we are to find something (while diving) the less the chance that we will actually see it. So with that idea in mind, most of us set out to NOT see the manta ray. Clarke's Anemonefish? Check! ...Threespot Dascyllus? Check! ...Manta Ray? Not going to even bother to check!

This shy moray eel seems so at home amongst the spiny corals. No amount of fish could lure it out of its lair.

This pic is courtesy of my roomate, Joseph. My pic turned out really overexposed. For all the equipment and technology employed, I still couldn't compete with sheer competency of an avid photographer using only a Canon Ixus A600 set to Auto mode. Sigh. Btw, this is a whip coral partner shrimp doing his thing on a, what else, whip coral lah.

"Love...... is a many splendoured thing...." We stumbled onto a pair of octopuses doing their thang. I can just imagine their indignation having a whole bunch of divers snapping pics along with sudden bursts of the flash as they are getting it on.

At the local cleaning station, a lone White-banded cleaner shrimp waits for its next customer to clean and feed on. It's amazing to see big fishes and eels open up their mouth and let these little critters go in and just poke around the area, cleaning them up while getting little morsels of food for themselves.

These little critters are Durban hinge-beak shrimps. Don't they look like the army of vicious aliens from Starship Troopers? Hehehe they're actually less violent than those otherworldly creatures as they act as a laundromat for their masters, the moray eels.

The obligatory nudi pic of the day: Je vous presente Phyllidia ocellata. Looks like he had a bad case of neurofribomatosa and jaundice combined! Hehehehe

I couldn't resist taking this pic of these cute little black dascyllus hovering above their colourful anemone homes; playing and having fun without a care in the world. What a life!

The redtooth triggerfish can be found in mostly tropical waters in the Indo-Pacific region including Hin Daeng. I like its tail, reminds me of the malaysian kite, the Wau.

It took me about five minutes of just floating there just to take this shot of the Blue-ringed Anglefish. Well, actually I took more than twenty pics but only this one turned out good. Sigh, the things we do to get a good shot.

FINALLY! The pièce de résistance! A close encounter with a Manta ray as it floated above our heads! The 15ft-wingspan glider was accompanied by his lesser companion , a small reef shark. Ok, I am satisfied. Back to the boat, everybody. Thanks to Joseph too for this pic as I was too enthralled by the ray to remember to snap a pic of it.

Dive Pics Southern Thailand: Hin Daeng Hin Muang Part II

"Hin Daeng" means red rock while "Hin Muang" means purple rock. the area is made up of small rocky outcrops jutting out into the Andaman Sea. As to its colour, well, I couldn't make out any distinctive colours on them except greyish-brownish rock. But I guess "Hin Greyish-brownish " doesn't sound too glamourous.

Not all clownfish look like Nemo; they don't all have orange bodies with three white stripes. This one has a black body with white stripes, sort of like the zebra. Hmmm.... that's what I'll call it - the zebra clownfish. Surely that sounds more suitable than its actual name - Clarke's Anemone Fish. Cheh!

Remember the Angelinajolie toby? Well, this is her less glamourous cousin, the common pufferfish. Life is so unfair, dont'cha think?

This is a school of Batfish. They seemed to be swimming on their side. And circling the group of us divers. Wonder where are the Robinfish...."Holy Thermoclime, Batfish....!"

On dry land, most poisonous amphibians are often the most colourful and beautiful, as if the loud patterns serve as a warning to would-be predators. The same principal holds true for most of the marine creatures as well, from nudibranches to corals to fish, like the beautiful ragged-finned firefish above. Nice to see, painful to touch. Stay away!

It's interesting how some marine creatures get their names. I would love to find out how this cute little fella is called, of all things, the skunk anemonefish. So does this little fishy have a flatulence problem? On closer examination, it looks like the pink anemonefish except it doesn't have a vertical white band behind the eye. It does however have a longitudinal white stripe from the front of its head all the way posteriorly to its tail resembling a skunk..... Oh.

The surgeonfish is so named for the scalpel sharp blades that are located on either side of the tail base and can produce deep cuts if handled carelessly. One of their most distinguishing characteristics is their amazing ability to completely change their color according to their mood. When calmly swimming about they maintain a consistent color but when a predator approaches the color pattern changes within moments.

This fish was featured in Pixar's Finding Nemo as the maverick but scarred Gill living in the dentist's aquarium. It's called the Moorish Idol, because the Moors of Africa believe it to be a bringer of happiness. And to think I kept getting images of Simon Cowell wearing a red fez and going, "... that was absolutely awful...."

While waiting at the 15ft safety stop, I chanced upon a coral grouper swimming about as if beckoning me take its picture. So I did... and it promptly swam away. Sigh.

Someone seems really eager to surface. Hey guys, wait up!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dive Pics Southern Thailand: Hin Daeng Hin Muang Part 1

Imagine submerging yourself into the open turquoise sea, and as you finally complete equalising the air pressure in your ears, you look around to take in this view.....

... this is why I love scuba diving so much. The infinite beauty of Neptune's world takes my breath away every time I see the flowing arms of the sea anemone dance and sway to the beat of the underwater current.

Once in a while, you get to see creatures that are quite literally, out of this world. Take this pufferfish for example. We all know that the pufferfish is one ugly dude (I'm reminded of my secondary school chem teacher, but shhhh.....); but this is not your garden variety puffer, nosiree. This is one puffer with attitude and knows it. It's called the Papuan toby or Canthigaster papua. If you ask me, I'd call it the Angelinajolie toby (Canthigaster stealrachelshusbandii).

I almost missed this one. I was so busy focusing the camera on the shrimps (lower left) that I completely didn't see it. Thanks to Yanni (again) for alerting me to this beauty in front of me, a juvenile Longnose Hawkfish. Isn't it cute?

The nudi-enthusiast in me couldn't resist taking a shot of this common nudi, a Phyllidia varicosa, even though the rest of the team were already 10 meters away. It's times like this that I miss Chris, my partner-in-crime when it comes to nudi-hunting.

I am not too sure about this fella, is it a reef oyster or the more exotic pearl oyster? If it's the latter, then, dang! I should've opened it up to check for treasure.

Someone commented that moray eels have very smiley faces. This fella seems like he's in a good mood, eh? Say cheese!

The juvenile emperor angelfish is one of the most difficult subjects to shoot (along with my other nemesises, the juvenile sweetlips and the yellow boxfish). It flits around and ducks into dark corners and swims around rocks and pops in and out of the corals and....

...and when it grows up, it will look like this fish, Emperor Angelfish Sr. I prefer the mature version more because it is of course a lot bigger and more regal looking. But more importantly, it doesn't run around like a headless chicken!

At the end of each dive, we would have to make a safety stop at a depth of 15ft or 5m for about 3 minutes to get rid of the excess N2 gas still trapped in our circulation. It is also a very good opportunity to snap panoramic pics of the coral beds and the fishes that live in them as there is lots of sunlight at this shallow depth which affords me very colourful and lively shots.

All too soon, another dive is over. And one by one we surface using the rope line as a guide so we don't go up too rapidly lest my ultra-conservative dive comp start beeping its head off again.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dive Pics Southern Thailand: Refugee Cave

One of the most interesting aspects of scuba diving is the otherworldly feeling you get when you're underwater. The sensation of weightlessness (provided you got your buoyancy right) and the ability to glide through the water effortlessly can sometimes make you think that you are Superman.

And along the way, you get to see creatures that are strange and wonderful in its shape, size and colour. Taking pictures of these sea creatures helps me to remember what I've seen and also allows me to learn more about them when I get back on land.

Our third dive brought us to another of the Koh Ha islands, Koh Ha Nue which sports another underwater cave system called Refugee's cave. Yanni gave me a few pointers on the approach as well as lighting required to take good shots while cave diving which I hope I put to good use.

It was indeed an exhilirating experience to explore the limestone cave with its side chambers, narrow passageways and interesting marine creatures on its walls. I wonder if they're also called stalagtites and stalagmites underwater?

Torchlights were required to navigate through some of the darker chambers and one gets a bit disorientated and claustrophobic at times. Sue (one of the divers and my dive buddy for this trip) wasn't too sure if she wanted to do this... but afterwards she was so excited that she wanted to do it over and over again.

I hung around longer in one corner of the cave to try snap a few shots as per Yanni's instructions and this pic (above) is the best shot. What do you think?

Ok. Had enough of underwater caves. Time to head to the light at the end of the tunnel. I see the light.....

Along the way, I saw lots of nudis and here is one of them: Ribeschia pulchella. Asther, correct ah?

Market scene at the local seafan.... this little fishy went to market, this little fishy stayed at home.....

As we surfaced, you can see the exhiliration on everyone's face. It was a very good dive. One of my personal favourites so far. Erm... guys, look behind you... Boat approaching! Boat approaching!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Dive Pics Southern Thailand: McDonald's Cave

Our second dive involved an exploration of McDonald's Cave (or Jimmy's cave). It owes its name to its twin arch shape, not unlike the famous Golden Arches. But no Big Macs were found here. And the only fries available are of the anchovie type.

It's situated in the reef around Koh Ha Yai, another of the Koh Ha islands. It was an easy dive, not too deep and lots of macro-life to observe and snap pics of. Time to put my new u/w strobes to the test!

Another nudibranch I have never seen before. Isn't it beautiful? It also has a very beautiful name: Halgerda carlsoni. I just read that nudis taste terrible, so they don't get eaten very much by fish and other predators. One bite is enough to turn off their apetites. No, I didn't taste it.

Another type of cleaner shrimp, this almost invisible little bugger resides deep in a sea anemone. It employs a symbiotic relationship with the anemone, in return for its laundry services, the shrimp is protected from hungry fishes looking for a quick bite.

Asther, do u think I set the strobe too bright? Or wrong angle? But I kinda like the contrasting effect with the dark blue background. What do you think?

Phyllidia varicosa's the name and it was a huge one, by nudi standards. At least 6 cm. Yeah, I know, the strobe's a bit off centred. Oh well....

This is one of our Thai divemasters, Nun. Or was it King. Or.... my apologies, I kinda forgot his name. Anyway, this pic was taken as we were diving in the crevice surrounding the cave of fast food. Not easy to manouver and it was essential that we got our buoyancy under control to avoid hitting the walls or worst, the coral reef. UPDATE: He's Nim. And Asther's totally crazy bout him..... had he been bigger sized. Asther, jangan mare ye? ;-)

Believe it or not, this is a worm. Sea worms burrow into the rock, secrete tubes into which they live in. The apparatus you see is part of their filter feeding system. This thin flimsy formation traps microscopic food particles which it then channels into its mouth at its base.

Erm... Chromodoris lochi? UPDATE: it's a Phyllidiopsis striata, Asther thinks. Hehehe.

No, its not King Neptune's handphone. It's a live sea shell, I think it's called a Murex shell. Would have made a great house deco item.... had it's occupant been dead or abandoned it.

Ok. As usual, Asther, Chris, Yanni, anyone who spots any mistakes I've made, please let me know. Your contribution is very much appreciated.