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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Colorful Nudibranchs From Raja Ampat

Risbecia tryoni

Some of the more spectacular creatures to observe while snorkeling at Raja Ampat are the numerous nudibranchs, or sea slugs. Tucked among the many sponges, soft corals, and colorful tunicates these gaudy, ornamented animals are tiny visual jewels. In Raja Ampat these slugs, because they are so abundant, seem much easier to spot than in many other marine areas. And like everything else in Raja, there is great diversity allowing you to see at least one new flamboyant species with each different snorkel site visited.

Nudibranchs are so colorful for a variety of reasons, to warn predators and to fool them, for camouflage, and because some have toxins which can taste bad to predators. Many can incorporate stinging cells from the anemones they eat, while others hijack the poisons from the sponges that they ingest. Thankfully for the snorkeler we are most interested in locating, observing, and photographing them so simply th fact that they ARE extremely colorful makes for a bit of an underwater treasure hunt when trying to locate these small (most are less than 3-inches) critters. Below are photos showing some of the slugs we encountered on the most recent Oceanic Society snorkel trip to Raja Ampat in Oct/Nov of 2011.

Nembrotha cristata
Chromodoris annae
Elysia ornata
Halgerda batangas
Caloria indica
Phyllidia ocellata
Nembrotha chamberlaini
Chelidonura varians
Chromodoris coi - laying eggs
Flabellina exopata
Nembrotha kubaryana
There are some terrific sites on the web to learn about nudibranchs and see detailed pictures of them and many other marine animals for id'ing your photographic finds. I have listed some of my favorite below. Here is link for a great book for id'ing Nudibranchs.

MarineLifePhotography - Keoki & Yuko Stender
Secret Sea Visions - Burt Jones & Maurine Shimlock 
Sea Slugs of Hawaii - Cory Pittman & Pauline Fiene
Underwater Photography Guide - Nudibranchs

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Raja Ampat - Snorkeling Indonesia's Marine Jewel

Soft Corals Aplenty
Just returning from snorkeling the northern islands of Raja Ampat. This was the first year of Oceanic Society's snorkel expedition to this biodiversity hotspot located within Indonesia. Arriving in Sorong our group of 13 was taken to the Bidadari, a dive (or in this case snorkel) live-aboard. This vessel would serve as our ocean platform for the next 11 days. Located in the coral triangle, harboring over 500 coral species and more than 1300 varieties of fish (some just recently discovered), Raja Ampat has the distinction of being considered the most diverse coral reef ecosystem on the planet.

Each day snorkeling these remote reefs, our group was rewarded with amazing encounters. One day we were treated to a "herd" of Bumphead Parrotfish, A school of over 30 individuals paraded by us, with all members being at least 60+ pounds or more. Their size, confident manner, and shear bulk, made me think this might be the marine equivalent of savanna elephants passing one by on safari.

Bumphead Parrotfish
On other days we let the currents take us along multicolored walls covered in tunicates and soft corals. We floated along as if we had fallen down the coral reef "rabbit hole" and much like Alice, never knowing what crazy wonder lay around the next corner. These walls were rich in "macro" marine critters. Tiny animals that Raja Ampat is also know for. Here the sharp eyes of our Indonesian guides Dalton and Caroline, spotted many different types of nudibranchs. Some pictured below. The crypsis continued with scorpionfish, pipefish, and Wobbegon sharks all hidden in plain view.

Nembrotha chamberlaini
Tasselled Wobbegong
Halgerda carlsoni
Getting up each day we never knew what to expect. Each site always had a surprise in store for us and as the trip progressed we all became better at spotting our own "macros" once we took the opportunity to slow down and take a closer look at what nature was putting right in front of our noses (snorkels). Below are a few more photos to share. I will post more about the places we visited, the people that shared these reefs with us, and the coral ecosystem that we were lucky enough to float amongst in the next few days.
Spinecheek Anemonefish
Chromodoris annae
Feather Star
Risbecia tryoni
Snorkeling among the hard corals and Fusiliers

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ulithi Atoll - Micronesia's Snorkelers Paradise

Healthy Coral © 2011 Wayne Sentman
Ulithi Atoll is one of my favorite places to spend time in the water. The snorkeling here is incredible, with vibrant coral reefs and a diverse array of marine life, in some of the clearest water I have ever snorkeled. The clarity rivals another favorite snorkel spot, the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. This past week our intrepid group of Oceanic Society travelers left the Rock Islands of Palau flying to Yap, Micronesia. The following day we boarded a charter plane to fly 90 miles due North to the tiny island of Falalop, part of Ulithi Atoll, the second largest atoll in the Pacific. To say that Falalop is difficult to reach is an understatement. Landing on the 3000-ft. Runway we were met by a good portion of the island's 400 residents. Falalop has a small guest house and it is here that our group of 12 was based for the next four days to explore the nearby reefs and visit the community supported marine sea turtle project.

Multiple Coral Species © 2011 Wayne Sentman
Near to Falalop are an assortment of islands with spectacular coral reef ecosystems. From colorful protected lagoon reefs to outside walls that drop off steeply into cobalt blue waters our group saw sea turtles, sharks, and many fish species. With visibility generally 80-ft or more treasures were to be found all around. Over the 7 years that I have had the privilege of visiting this island and the people that call it home I have always tried to spend as much time as possible in the water. To follow is a small sample of some of the amazing marine life our group experienced on this latest trip.

Palette Surgeonfish © 2011 Wayne Sentman

Blacktip Reef Shark © 2011 Wayne Sentman

Colorful Coral © 2011 Wayne Sentman

Leopard Wrasse © 2011 Wayne Sentman

Longnose Filefish © 2011 Wayne Sentman

Massive Coral Heads - Clear Water © 2011 Wayne Sentman

Guineafowl Puffer © 2011 Wayne Sentman

Bicolor Fangblenny © 2011 Wayne Sentman

Black-Saddled Toby © 2011 Wayne Sentman

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Snorkeling the Rock Islands of Palau

Yellow Masked Angelfish © 2011 Wayne Sentman
The waters of Palau never fail to delight. I am currently leading an Oceanic Society group of 11 on a snorkeling trip to Palau, Yap, and Ulithi Atoll. We have just finished our first 4 days of snorkeling and have seen some wonderful marine critters. We have covered a lot of area and the visibility has been great. We head out for Yap later tonight and are looking forward to more of the same.

Here are some recent photos so you can get an idea of the colorful reef life that the Rock Islands of Palau have on offer.

Fire Dartfish © 2011 Wayne Sentman
Blacktip Reef Shark © 2011 Wayne Sentman
Nudibranch - Phyllidiella pustulosa © 2011 Wayne Sentman
Clown Triggerfish © 2011 Wayne Sentman
Mandarinfish © 2011 Wayne Sentman
Juvenile Barramundi © 2011 Wayne Sentman
Soft Coral Arch Palau © 2011 Wayne Sentman
Waterspout Palau May 2011 © Wayne Sentman

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Koror, Palau

Monday, April 11, 2011

International Marine Debris Sea Turtles Created with 2010 SWOT Grant

Kenya turtles from Flip-flops © Watamu Marine Association
This past month I finally saw many of the marine debris sea turtles that we asked students and community groups around the globe to create. This project was funded through a 2010 SWOT Education and Outreach grant that I wrote for Oceanic Society this past October. Our proposal was to have various groups from coastal and island communities around the globe collect marine debris from their local beaches and then construct a sea turtle art project out of it. The idea was to focus some attention to the impact plastic pollution (the main component of marine debris) has on sea turtles and their nesting habitats (tropical beach areas). We had 7 groups participate, 2 from Hawaii, and 1 each from Kenya, Suriname, Palau, Belize, and Costa Rica. Most of the groups participating were students but a few were community organizations or in the case of Palau a group of dive guides from Fish'n'Fins. The art they all created was truly inspirational. Along the way each group documented their participation with photos and in some cases video. One of the wonderful parts of this program was that many of the students organized beach collections of marine debris in order to have material to make these turtles. 
Surinamese students collecting marine debris.

Costa Rica students collecting debris

Hatchlings trapped in plastic trash Galibi, Suriname ©Sentman

           These photos show two of our student groups collecting marine debris off of local beaches. These beaches are also nesting areas for sea turtle populations. When the students went out to collect debris they made first hand field observations about the amount and types of plastic pollution they were able to find on their beaches. The volume and diversity of trash made clear to the participating groups just how large a problem plastic pollution is becoming throughout the worlds oceans. Photos like the two here illustrate how both adult and hatchling turtles are at risk from trash that washes up in their resting and nesting locations around the globe. Marine debris is not just an entanglement hazard to turtles swimming in the ocean but
Rope washed up on Hawaiian beach. © 2010 Wayne Sentman
  also can trap hatchlings as they emerge from nests and attempt to make their way back to the ocean. Increasingly plastic pollution that makes it way into the ocean is also finding its way into the marine food chain and is even being ingested directly by sea turtles. A recent article calls the sea turtle the new "albatross" of the seas. This as we are starting to find turtles, that like the Laysan and Blackfooted Albatross of the Northwest Hawaiian islands also have stomachs full of plastic. Given that plastic can take 20 to 1000 years to break down in the oceans it is very likely that almost all of the plastic produced by man that has EVER ended up in our seas is still there. Given the scope of the problem plastic pollution posses to human and wildlife populations the marine debris sea turtle artwork created by the various groups proved very inspirational, serving to remind us that art can offer a unique interpretation of environmental problems. An interpretation that hopefully inspires the viewer to find solutions and change behaviors (reduce use of single-use plastics) rather than be overwhelmed by the problem. To follow are pictures of the art the students created with the debris that they collected.
Gayle Bornovski who oversaw the Palau art project holding the Fishing Float hatchling.
The "Leatherback" from Suriname with a ribbed carapace made from beach collected plastic water bottles.
Oahu Students with their Marine Debris Sea Turtles
Belize students "Turtle" (back left) and Story board they made to go with it. Kenya and Palau turtles in foreground.
International Students in Costa Rica with their Marine Debris Turtle.
Molokai High School Creation - Ho'olehua, Hawaii
Marine Debris Sea Turtles on Display at the 5IMDC
With all of the wonderful art that was made, we managed to display some of the items at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference that was held in Honolulu, Hawaii over the 20 - 25 March. Additionally the two Kenya turtles (pictured at the top of this blog post) made under the direction of professional artist Andrew McNaughton and with help from the Umoja Curio Sellers and the Watamu Marine Association Community Waste Management and Recycling Project ended up continuing their journey around the globe. They were assisted in this migration by new friends in Hong Kong, where they will be utilized to promote community involvement with coastal beach clean-up projects planned for 2011 and 2012. These events will be planned in part by ECOZINE.  Currently the Belize and Palau turtles are being exhibited at the 31st Annual Sea Turtle Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology & Conservation in San Diego, CA.

I am so happy that so many great groups, teachers, and artists contributed to this project. And thanks to their efforts to clean up the beaches in their own backyard used by sea turtles around the globe. A good article that sums up the complete scope of threats to marine turtles can be found on the BioScience website.