Moorean Creatures of the Deep, Large and Small (Part 1)

Out here on Moorea, we spend our days diving and snorkeling to study the reef, and, as such, we get some pretty incredible photo opportunities. The trouble is, our boat is usually so packed with gear that bringing a clunky dive camera is often not an option (this thing is a bit of a monster).

Me before my second dive with my new camera, trying to hide my fear of flooding the housing…

However, I also use photos to monitor my experiments; for example, I am currently running a long-term study looking at the effects of nutrient pollution on reef communities. The idea is that nutrients enhance the growth of fast-growing algae that can then out compete corals for reef space (to read more: https://michaelgil.wordpress.com/research/). Thus, photos of my study plots to monitor the relative abundance of corals and algae are invaluable to evaluate changes over time.

This is a shot from above of one of my study plots, which I will monitor for the next year to evaluate changes in coral and algae cover. The little knobs are juvenile corals that I epoxied to the cinder block. The three poles are rebar, drilled into the dead coral below to ensure the cinder block is not swept away by a storm in the coming year. The black square is a ‘photo quadrat’ used to keep the scale and perspective uniform among subsequent photos of the same unit, and the color bar allows us to use color-correction software to keep colors uniform.

In addition to being used as an invaluable data-collection tool, sometimes I get to use my camera for entertainment. For the next two posts, I will share some of my favorite underwater shots from this summer, capturing creatures large (see below) and small (see next post).

On just my second dive with my camera, I had some great luck, running into both a hungry hawksbill sea turtle, who couldn’t stop eating in front of us…

A camera-friendly hawksbill sea turtle scarfs down algea and coralomorphs as a frantically try to get a quality close up.

…and a beautiful ~3.5 m (10.5 feet) lemon shark, who was fortunately less hungry than the turtle:

A 3.5 m (10.5 ft) Lemon shark circled us throughout our dive. Normally fearful of people, these particular individuals are used to getting hand fed by local dive tour guides. This can lead to obvious problems…

We were thoroughly ogled by a triggerfish (reminiscent of our GoPro encounters earlier in the season):

Curious triggerfish at our safety stop.

And at the end of the dive, we posed for a group photo:

Julie, Adrian and I gathering ’round the fish-eye dome lens.

Later, while scoping out potential study sites, we had a pitstop at a popular stingray feeding site off the northwest corner of the island. Here, tourists can hand-feed stingrays, who are more than happy to aggregate in large numbers for the event. Though I don’t condone feeding wild animals, especially predators (what happens when you show up empty handed??), the spectacle makes for some unforgettable photo opportunities.

A Moorean stingray swims past me in search of free food.

Yes, the sharks get in on it to. Here are a pair of blacktip reef sharks circling us with a group of needlefish. Everyone, even the turns in the sky, had food on the mind.

And one more (my favorite) stingray shot, for the road:

A hungry stingray studies me as it casts a surreal reflection on the water surface above.

I’m happy to report that these first few plunges with my new camera were incident free (i.e., no flooding!). Please check out my next post, in which I will share some images of the tinier life forms we find out here.

Mike

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