Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Island Sightings

1. TWO MANTA RAYS, cruising past us on separate mornings at our study site right in the middle of a working fish catching dive. Having never seen a manta ray before it was the most lovely and bizarre experience to be looking up from a chaos of hand nets and clove oil and scared little blue and yellow fish in plastic bags to see this beautiful creature winging past, when I'd always thought that at some point in my life I would have to pay lots of money and travel 3 days on a boat to go to some godforsaken Indonesian Bornean island especially to see them. With the first one, the first thing I saw was a couple of really quite large remoras right next to me which cruise around with it -- the first thing I thought was "crap, there's got to be something HUGE in the water, what are the bets are it's a giant shark?" but then it turned out to be a manta! There are no photos as only my assistant had her camera with her to take photos of caught fish with, and she says by the time she had finished gaping at them and gotten to her camera they were gone...

2. Our frog doing this most horrible looking belching thing on the shelf yesterday. He kept gulping and his whole body looked like it was convulsing with each gulp. We were really worried but later on he hopped out on his nightly hunt looking as healthy as ever so we have decided he was just eating a really big spider. Here is a picture of him, not belching, in Helen's hand.

3. A couple of unbelievable dead calm days. Even on the best of days in Malaysia I had never seen the sea look quite like this -- like glass, so reflective I couldn't figure out where the reefs were to drive around them. Yet if you looked straight down you could probably do fish focals from the boat, so ripple-less and still was it, and we saw some lovely big rays in the lagoon sand on our drive home from work that day, and visibility was like being out on outer barrier at over 20 metres. Apparently more such calm periods are on the way as the summer develops, woohoo, it makes a gorgeous change from the 25-30 knot wind we had for a few days last week.

4. Don't like putting on a suit everyday to go to work? Here are my work clothes:

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Lizard Island Part II

Our first day off here on Lizard, after a rather unexpectedly successful first week, i.e. we are actually on track. Perhaps having gone through the vagaries of last season I am now simply a little hardier and less liable to let things get me down, but in truth there has been very little to do so thus far. This is a rather pleasantly surprising state of affairs -- I feel I must savour it whilst it lasts, before the inevitable big problems kick in (they didn't do so till after the first week last time either... but fingers crossed). I'm absolutely sure at least something is going to go badly pear-shaped at some point, it probably wouldn't be a field season if it didn't, but I'll jump that hurdle when I get to it.

Notables so far:
- A tiny little squid that jumped onto our boat and lay in the middle of it turning very red and looking rather upset. I put it back in the sea but didn't see whether it survived or got chomped.
- A couple of schools of similarly quite tiny little squid hanging about under our boat
- A really large juvenile harlequin sweetlips -- for divers these are the spotty ones which swim in this totally bizarre flamenco dancery way. This one was about 15cm long!
- A green treefrog that lives in our bathroom. He sits on a shelf next to the sink, and occasionally in the packet of new loo rolls. Sometimes in the day he wanders out in search of food I guess, but mostly he sits and watches us brush our teeth. I've found him in the shower cubicle every so often as well, making it a neccessity to ensure one is not cooking frog before turning on the hot water.
- A boat breakdown as we were trying to move from one study site where we'd decided the current was too strong for comfort to another -- rather than not being able to start the boat, for a while we couldn't stop! I had absolutely no control over the throttle, could neither speed it up nor slow it down, trying to put it into neutral resulted in an insane revving noise and general unhappiness, so we drove at this rather compulsory speed back to the station -- at least I could still steer the thing -- and managed to switch it off just off the station, from where we got towed back by our gallant rescuers and switched to another boat. The second one wouldn't start between dives either, so we had to do two dives at the same site, but we somehow managed to get home when we were done. The drama! Later on in the day when we were heading out on the fixed first boat (turned out its throttle cable had broken -- a first in 19 years of the station's maintenance officer's tenure here) I rather belatedly realised that we were very low on fuel and by the time we had refueled it would have been such a short dive we gave up. It was just... one of those days! Much of fieldwork is learning how to deal happily and flexibly with uncooperative weather, currents and broken down boats I think...
- Several turtles coming up for air seen from our boat.
- No sharks at all! Rather odd.
- No crocodiles, which I have no problems with whatsoever.
- Cold water. At 24-25 degrees this may not sound too bad to some but being immersed in this for up to 80 minutes barely moving because you are watching a little fish that moves all of about 10 metres over the dive doesn't help. At the moment I am wearing a LOT of neoprene. Well not precisely at this moment as it is enough neoprene to fairly quickly induce heat exhaustion on land and also as sexy as wetsuits are I don't think much of them as fashion statements, but you get the idea.
- Great weather, after a first few very windy and rainy and generally mucky days. In contrast today it is blazing hot and about 5 knots wind (a nice little breeze). My days off always have gorgeous weather and I am never out making the best of it diving!

I'm settling back in -- it's the early days that are probably the easiest, but life here is good. We even had popcorn and beer whilst watching Crash (new additions to the somewhat limited film library!) last night, followed by our traditional day-off pancakes this morning. Yum.