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Marine Life Blog » Papua New Guinea » Papua New Guinea – Field Notes, December 2008

Papua New Guinea – Field Notes, December 2008

Anna & Ned DeLoach and Paul Humann

We are just wrapping up our month in Papua New Guinea. It is the first time Paul, Ned and I have been back here since 1995 and we’re wondering why it took us so long.

Friends at Dinner

Friends at Dinner

Our 1995 trip was aboard a liveaboard dive boat so this time we decided to try a land-based resort. Tawali Resort, located on the northern coast of PNG’s East Cape, is lovely and we were lucky to have been joined by many friends. We all appreciated Paul’s planning and attention to travel details – it made for a grand month.

Paddlefin Cardinalfish

Paddlefin Cardinalfish

One of our missions this year has been to collect photos for the fabled Tropical Pacific Invertebrate book. Many inverts come out at night, using the cover of darkness to feed. This means we…more to the point, I, have to night dive. I don’t like to night dive and Paul does not night dive so Ken Marks took the heat off of us by joining Ned on Tawali house reef dives every night after dinner. Ken got us all excited when he came back with reports of the beautiful paddlefin cardinalfish, Pseudamia zonata. This was a new fish for our personal life lists so this meant a night dive for me would be inevitable, though hearing about the small cavern that rained silt with every exhaled breath made procrastination easy.

White Jaw Cardinalfish

White Jaw Cardinalfish

Ned’s dedication also paid off with photographs of the rare White-Jaw Cardinalfish, Pseudamia amblyuropterus and what we thought was a beautiful pelagic octopus.

 

 

 

 

Ned shared the photo with Dr. Roy Caldwell and Dr. Crissy Huffard who think it may actually be a settling phase (paralarva) of a Long-Arm Octopus, possibly a Mimic or Wonderpus.

Settling Octopus

Settling Octopus

I will night dive if there is a compelling reason. A study of our moon-phase calendar revealed that the timing might be right for coral spawning in the area so I started asking the staff. On a late afternoon dive on the house reef, Wendy McIlroy and I noticed blue sea stars on the tops of coral heads, all up on their tippy-toes. 

A closer look revealed streams of spawn emerging from their legs. We also noticed normally fat cushion stars stretching upward as far as their thick bodies would allow. They looked pretty comical in their pseudo cone shapes. Butterflyfish, pecking away at their surfaces gave away the fact that these stars were also spawning. At dinner one of our guides, Sebastian, reported that he believed corals would spawn this week because he saw sea cucumbers spawning on the afternoon dive. In Bonaire, we always see many other invertebrate species spawn the same week of the coral spawning so we were encouraged.

The next morning, I introduced myself to Rob van der Loos, co-owner of Tawali and captain of the Chertan liveaboard. Rob was ashore briefly and I took the opportunity to quiz him about coral spawning. He gave me his prediction for the best night to start looking, along with the caveat that we all know: nothing in nature is guaranteed. Manager Marnie agreed to a boat night dive to Coral Gardens two days hence and we started, cautiously, talking it up.

We did several dives on Coral Gardens, leading up to our night dive so everyone could be familiar with the site. The stars of the site are two gorgeous Lacy Rhinopias, members of the scorpionfish family. PNG is famous for these fish and these two were stunning specimens. 

Lacy Rhinopias

Lacy Rhinopias

On Monday night after dinner we headed out with twenty-four high-hoped divers, and me, nervous as a cat. Into the water at 8:15, we were barely in five minutes when lights started waving frantically. We all converged on a group of dinner-plate sized platydoris nudibranchs – fantastic to observe, but not spawning coral. Around 8:30, I found one small coral head with obviously swelling polyps. At about the same time, others were finding coral heads just starting to spawn. Strobes were firing all around so I knew enough was happening that we couldn’t feel “skunked.” 

Spawning Coral

Spawning Coral

At exactly 9:00 p.m., the entire reef exploded in a storm of gametes. We were even able to get great photos of the “slick” of coral spawn floating on the surface. Good on ya Rob!


Lauadi, a.k.a., the very famous Dinah’s Beach, was our favorite muck site. The bay was large enough to park the boat for the day. Being able to come and go as we pleased allowed us to fan out and explore. Everyone got into the spirit of the hunt and we followed our guides’ examples and left sticks marking every find for the next diver who wandered by.

Octopus

Octopus sp.

We saw everything from the Pegasus Seamoth to Ornate Ghost Pipefish – enough to even satisfy the muck veterans. I found a great little octopus, one we hadn’t seen before.

 

 

Juvenile Lionfish

Juvenile Lionfish

 

Ned found a half-inch lionfish and got Bruce Zavon to keep an eye on it while he went up and changed tanks. They marked it with the “traditional” stick and it was actually sitting on the same rock when the rest of us went down to shoot it. Several others in our group found other tiny lionfish on the same day so they must have recently settled at the site. We had a good laugh over the field of sticks that we had all placed to mark things of interest.

Yellow emperor shrimp

Yellow emperor shrimp

Lauadi has a large population of sea cucumbers. There was an interesting array of creatures that called the sea cucumbers home: emperor shrimp (big, small, with eggs, all colors), porcelain crabs and scale worms. Ned hit the jackpot with a yellow emperor shrimp with violet claws.

Near the end of one dive, off in the distance, I saw a sea cucumber in an upright, vertical position. Could only mean one thing: it was spawning! I got great video of the two resident emperor shrimp eating the spawn as it was coming out of their host sea cucumber.  

Cyerce Nudibranch

Cyerce Nudibranch

After four dives, to the great relief of the group, Paul finally found the cyerce nudibranch that everyone else had already seen and he got the shot. He had reason to be so excited – it is beautiful. 

 

 

Several other dive sites close to the resort were coral and fish sites. We dived Barracuda Point several times and found the current was the “luck of the draw.” If the current was running, the fish were all out feeding which made for really dramatic images. On top of the shelf, the population of anthias, damsels and wrasses were about the densest we’ve seen.

Lynn's pipefish

Lynne's Pipefish

Paul commented after one dive that it was the clearest water he’d dived in 20 years. Wow. If there was no current, we were able to mosey around in the rubble areas. Lynne van Dok, Queen of Moseying, kept telling us about a little pipefish she had been finding all week and lo and behold, she found two at Barracuda Point. They were so tiny!  According to pipefish expert Rudie Kuiter, they are an unusual color form of Micrognathus pygmaeus. 

Tawali sends at least one of its boats out every day to the offshore sites. We looked forward to filling our libraries with wide-angle, colorful reef scenes and we weren’t disappointed.


 But we also had plenty of opportunities to see the famous pygmy seahorses and crocodilefish and of course, all kinds of fish behavior. 

Pygmy seahorse

Pygmy Seahorse

About three weeks into our four weeks here, Paul and I decided we needed a bit of a break, so we decided to do a couple of dives on the house reef and take it easy the rest of the day. Ned, the Energizer Bunny of diving, rarely skips a dive, so he went for a full day out on the boat. Chatten Hayes, Claire Davies and I set out from the Tawali main dock to poke around in the shallows with no particular agenda. Chatten calls this “snuffle diving.” We spent a long time watching two Crabeye Gobies (Signigobius biocellatus) feed and dig in the sand. One kept pecking at the other as if to say, “Dig faster.”  They were so cute that I made a mental note to come back at dusk and see how they bed down for the night. 

On the way back to the dock I noticed a large aggregation of Convict Blenny juveniles, Pholidichthys leucotania, placidly hanging over a shallow reef area. Several years ago in Indonesia, our good friend, the late Larry Smith, had shown us the den of the adult but we were on a liveaboard and had to move on before we could spend any time with it. Since then I’ve looked for a den every time I’ve seen the juveniles. A second mental note: when I come back to watch the crabeye gobies go to bed, follow the Convict Blenny juveniles and find the den.

Being able to dive a site over and over is a great luxury. It is fun to become familiar with the residents and it allows us to observe fish behavior over a period of time. So I headed out the next day for a late afternoon house reef dive to watch the crabeye gobies and to my great dismay, there was only one! I looked everywhere and found many smaller individuals, but not the mate to the one we had watched the day before.

Convict Goby

Adult Convict Blenny spitting sand.

Crushed, I turned my attention to the juvenile Convict Blenny, which by the way are not blennies. They reside in a genus all their own. The fish, hanging out in the water column by day, were slowly descending at dusk and moving toward a small coral head. And just as I arrived at the coral head, the adult appeared, turned and looked at me for two seconds, spit a mouthful of sand and disappeared. O..M..G…. Larry had told me the adult was much larger than the juveniles but I was not even remotely prepared for the size difference. I was hooked.. I had to see more… where had this fish been all my life??? So I waited while over a thousand juveniles streamed into the den but the adult never reappeared. 

Working on Photos

End of the day Fish Talk.

Although it sometimes looked like a Macworld meet-up, cocktail hour was spent sharing the day’s images and reporting critter sightings.

Mac World Meetup

Macworld Meetup

 

 

 

 

I reported the missing crabeye goby partner and Ned consolingly assured me that a snapper probably ate it. Always the optimist, I went out the next evening to look, but still only found one. I spent the dive watching the convict gobies and shot some reasonable video of the really cool adult. Someone told us that Michele and Howard Hall shot them for their upcoming IMAX film so we are eagerly awaiting the release of their film this Spring.

The next day at lunch, Claire reported that the missing crabeye goby was back! Trying not to sound like an interrogator, I quizzed her carefully: Was she sure it was the same place? Were these two definitely a pair? Were they larger than all the individuals in the area? Satisfied, I went back that afternoon to find the reunited gobies, digging away, one pecking at the other…We have since learned the answer to the mystery of the disappearing crabeye goby, which Ned is documenting in our Encounters column in Scuba Diving Magazine.

Whitecap goby

Whitecap Shrimpgoby

One of the things that we find interesting in our travels is how a fish that might be fairly rare in one area can be so common in others. A good example here is the Whitecap Shrimpgoby, Lotilia graciliosa. a.k.a. the dancing goby. We may have seen four specimens in the last four years of diving in the Indo-Pacific but here, we found them on almost every dive . The fish itself is very pretty and very shy, and the shrimp, usually two to three times larger than the partner goby is quite a sight.

Flasher Wrasse

Flasher Wrasse

We also found a nice population of flasher wrasses on the house reef and encouraged by the spectacular shots Ned got of them in groups, spent three more maddening dives watching them do absolutely nothing interesting. 

 

 

 

To us, the best dive trip is one where we leave wishing we had just one more day to get just one more shot of that Convict Blenny or that Spanish Dancer with the Emperor Shrimp. That’s the way we said goodbye to Tawali. It was a splendid trip. ~~Anna DeLoach

Walking Stick

Leaf Bugs

Post script: Paul, Ned and I agreed that our Field Report would cover our underwater experiences and discoveries. We think it best to leave resort and boat reviews to people who can do a much better and more thorough job, but I am going to sneak a couple of topside photos in here. These really do fall into the nature category.  One afternoon on the way to the camera room after our dives, Ned found a great leaf mantis on the walkway. We all rushed up to get our topside cameras only to find Jason Dewey and one of the guides outside the camera room with another one! We had already been finding walking sticks and praying mantises but these leaf bugs took us      over the top. 

Bug Shooters

Bug Shooters

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2 Responses to "Papua New Guinea – Field Notes, December 2008"

  1. Dick and Darlene Hull says:

    Anna Ned and Paul
    Realy enjoyed your photos and report. We have not been to
    New Guinna since our trip on the Telita with Bob Halstead in 1995. We would love to travel with you again — keep us in mind.
    Our Best To All
    Dick and Darlene

  2. Bruce Zavon says:

    Wow, it’s July 09 and i just stumbled on to this blog! Great stuff, pictures I didn’t see before and some of Anna’s videos (at last!) Brings back great memories of the most amazing trip I have ever been on. Could you adopt me? 😉 I posted a link on Facebook. See you in September at Buddy Dive Bonaire.

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