Friday, May 25, 2007

The Clowns

We found these two little Anemonefish (Amphiprion chrysopterus) tucked into their anemone home just outside the entrance to the Blue Grotto at the North end of Saipan. These little guys have to be one of my favorite fishes. There is something about the way they move in synchrony, drifting back and forth between the tentacles. They are too cute.

Anemonefish like these live in close association with large sea anemones, each species having a preferred anemone species as its host. Large anemones often host a semipermanent monogamous pair of of adult aneomnefish as well as a cadre of juveniles. Aneomnefish are what is know as protandrous hermaphrodites, meaning that they are hatched as sexually immature fry and remain sexually immature, develop as males, or develop as females based on environmental cues. Groups of anemonefish are matriarchal with the largest individual in the group being the dominant female. If the female dies or is removed from the group, the most dominant male then changes into a female and the rest of the males move up in the hierarchy. Each change from juvenile to male and from male to female is irreversible.

Anemonefish usually spawn around the full moon but during the warmer months in warm temperate waters. Generally, hundreds of adhesive eggs are laid in a patch of cleared rock near the base of the anemone. They are cared for by the male and hatching generally occurs after about a week. The newly hatched larvae drift in the plankton for about sixteen days before settling and seeking a new anemone.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Giving Saipan a Second Chance

It appears that I have not given Siapan quite enough credit. Either my memories from two years ago were flawed or we have visited new and different sites that have given me a renewed appreciation for this island. While the economy of Siapan is still reeling from the drop in tourism following the crash of the Japanese Nikkei and 9-11 as well as from the loss of revenue from the many garment factories which once operated here and have now moved overseas, the island itself has its spots.

On our way into the Port of Saipan two days ago we had to wait for an hour or so while the ship tied up at the dock. Being out in the small boats and done with our work, we took a small detour around tiny Managaha Island in Tanapag lagoon where silken white beaches and waters the color of Bombay Sapphire dazzled our eyes.

Yesterday evening several of us traveled around the east side of the island and then to the top of Tapotchau, the highest point on Saipan to watch the sunset. It was spectacular! To the west we had a nearly perfect set up of clouds and small rain showers while to the east a brilliant rainbow had our backs. As the sun set and the colors deepened we marveled that we are actually being paid to witness such sights. We are indeed lucky to say the least.

Clearly unsatiated, we awoke early this morning (6:00) to head for the Blue Grotto. Similar to a central or south American cenote, the grotto is a sinkhole where the roof of a cave has collapsed revealing a dazzling pool with passages leading out to the ocean. Climbing down 150 steps in full dive gear we splashed into Persian Blue waters gently surging back and forth with the swells. As we descended into the depths we were greeted by a variety of fishes and could see the azure lights streaming in from the open sea. Following the passages out through cathedral vaults, we came upon a pair of anemonefish gently swaying in their little home.

We head back out to sea tomorrow and, while we are looking forward to new sights in the north, Saipan has left a new and better impression. I look forward to our next trip and new explorations.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Crinoids and Clownfish

On a lighter note, In an effort to illustrate some of the more natural and beautiful sites we have seen. I have asked some other members of our expedition to provide some images from their explorations. Allison Palmer and Robert Schroeder have provided some nice examples. The first is this (Davidaster rubiginosa) or Sea Lillie captured by Allison off Tinian. Crinoids are echinoderms and are related to startfish. First appearing in the Ordovician, they are some of the oldest organisms in the ocean.

A few days later, Robert Schroeder happened upon this cute little Dusky Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus) tucked into his cozy home. Anemonefish or Clownfish as they are often known are native to the the Pacific and Indian oceans and are not found in the Atlantic. More's the pity. They are too cute. These small fish live in a mutualistic relationship with an anemone which they adopt and defend. The anemone provides the clownfish with protection while the clownfish may help to aerate the anemone's tentacles and keep them free of parasites.

Tinian and Saipan

For the past few days we have been working around Tinian, Aguijan and Saipan. For the most part the dives have been quite enjoyable with crystal clear waters and killer walls dropping into the abyss. Today I was towing at close to 90 feet when I looked up to see Jake nearly 50 feet above me and yet under an above water overhanging portion of the cliff wall. Spectacular.

The dives around Tinian have been some of the best and have provided more reminders of the not too distant past. Towing along the southeast cost of the island a strange arrangement of stones appeared on the sea floor. Perfectly arranged in an otherwise barren patch of rock and sand. As we drew closer they were revealed for what they were ... nearly fifteen 500 pound bombs neatly stacked side by side. We gave them a wide birth. Bringing World War II even closer to home, Tinian was the launching site for the Enola Gay and Bockscar, the B-29 bombers that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.