Wednesday, November 23, 2011

White Rock Dive Review

I am always looking for a new place to dive and explore so it was a thrill to try a new site along the south Maui coastline known as 'White Rock'. It is a little trek across some beautiful beaches and some sharp lava outcroppings to get to the entry point but it was definitely worth it.

Right off the bat we had a white tip reef shark hanging out in this great swim thru. Then we started finding our treasured nudibranchs. The gold laced nudibranch on the left is always one of my favorites. Our big new find came when Heidi checked some Spanish Dancer eggs which look like a velvet rose and found some egg eating nudibranchs on one of the 'petals'.

 You can see how small the nudibranchs are. They get their red color from the eggs they are feasting on. This is one of those times when it pays to have done your research. Who would have thought to look on nudibranch eggs to find more nudibranchs!?
 One of the benefits of going slow and checking all the nooks and crannies for nudibranchs is that we commonly find moray eels hiding in their lairs. Sometimes they are easy to spot like this zebra moray to the left, and other times we only catch a glimpse like this yellow headed moray to the right. Occasionally we get very lucky and see an eel totally out freeswimming the reef.
 Another rare find thanks to Heidi's sharp eye was this flame angelfish. They are reclusive and very shy, diving back into the finger coral to hide. I had to stay put for a while before this one came back out just long enough for a quick picture. A juvenile yellow tang and a squirrelfish share hiding places with this beautiful angelfish.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Whale Shark at Molokini, No. 2

 I've been to Molokini many times but it never fails to surprise me. The beautiful water is almost always a constant but whats in it can vary greatly from day to day. Molokini sits a few miles offshore from the Maui coastline so swim bys by big pelagics are something I always hope for. Today I was in for a treat!
Right when I jumped in I looked down to see a 16ft whale shark cruising by under me. A whale shark! I always hope to see something like this when I jump in at Molokini but this time I was totally unprepared. I quickly grabbed my camera, let air out of my BC to start descending, tried to catch my breath, realized I still had my snorkel in instead of my regulator, kept descending, switched my reg to my mouth, kicked hard after the quickly disappearing whale shark, snapped a couple of pictures, and then it was gone. Phew. I also glanced at my dive computer and realized I was at 94ft. What a way to start a dive! I couldn't believe it. There was a much smaller (4ft) grey reef shark following the larger whale shark and a couple of giant trevallys cruised the area off the dropoff as well. I couldn't help looking up and out to the deep blue to see my whale shark swim back and while I didn't see him again I did see the giant trevallys cruising around and a big 4-5ft barracuda eyeing me from afar. It took a long time into the dive for my breathing to return to normal and my concentration to be direct enough to look for nudibranchs, which was my original plan. And find some I did!

  Luckily some of the nudibranchs at Molokini are really big. This blue dragon nudibranch can exceed half a foot in length! The first one I found was dangling on a tiny piece of algae, perfectly posing for the camera. Another giant was found snaking its frilly blue body among the hard corals.

 This white margin nudibranch is one of the more common ones that I see out here but in the picture on the right is a red spotted nudibranch which I've only seen once on the north shore of oahu. That rounded out the nudibranchs for the dive but with how long I spent looking out into the blue I may have missed many.
The views underwater at Molokini live up to its repuatation as a world class dive site. Typical sites are big schools of fish all throughout the water column, fish lining up to get cleaned like this surgeonfish, unicornfish, and goatfish on the left, and a rarely seen site like this species of lobster that I have yet to identify. All in all I think it is a pretty incredible site to have within striking distance of a kayak.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Flatworm Night Dive

 Last night Heidi and I decided to try out some new scuba equipment by tackling a night dive at Makena Landing. Things started out a little hairy as a purge valve on Heidi's BC popped off and started leaking air plummeting her to the bottom (about 3ft down.) But it turned out to be an easy fix...even in the dark, so the dive continued.
  The water was so filled with plankton that it was looked like warp speed on Star Trek. All kinds of small drifting organisms sped past us in the current. I managed to snap a shot of this wild looking jelly as it drifted by that couldn't have been bigger than my thumbnail!
Finding this Hawaiian Starry Octopus was a huge payoff early on in the dive. I always love finding octos and this is one that is quite rare, endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, and nocturnal. You can see the mass of plankton above it in the picture on the right. 

 We checked out a few caves on our dive and not surprisingly they were filled with resting turtles. Some fresh water could also be seen trickling through the lava to mix in with denser sea water. Looking around for any kind of unusal cave dweller I came across this longnose butterflyfish resting the night away upside down on the ceiling of the cave. It is very fun to see these fish at night when they spike up their dorsal fin like a mohawk.

 But the real star of this night dive were all the flatworms that we found. Four different species, two of which Heidi and I had never seen before.
 A white stripe flatworm continues on its collision course with a fuchsia flatworm in the picture top left. One of our new finds an orange rim flatworm, Psuedobiceros sp.4, is top right. And a beautiful black, orange, and blue flatworm called a Hyman's Flatworm,  Psuedobiceros hymanae, was our last big find and a great way to end the dive. (pictured below)

This yellow head moray eel comes out to hunt at night. He didn't seem to scared by my light. At night and in the water I can understand why he feels so confident, he is in his element as a top predator on the reef.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Incredible Nudibranch

 You never know what you will find if you look. There has been a full moon lately which means high high tides and low low tides...the latter great for tidepooling. This nudibranch would have escaped notice if we hadn't been searching for similar creatures. Heidi found the first of these guys by spotting the two green tipped rhinophores. It still took some careful inspection to make sure that this was in fact a nudibranch, and not some sea weed waving in the moving water.
 After some in depth research in our books and internet Heidi located this species of nudibranch which is scientifically known as Marionia hawaiensis.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Underwater Wreckage of the old Mala Pier

 I am always looking for great shore dives here in Maui. Being able to go scuba diving from the shore is a great way to have a laid back, flexible dive where you don't have to worry about catching a boat or paying alot of money to charter a dive cruise. $4 a tank is all you need if you have all of your own gear like I do.

 The wreckage of the old Mala Pier is one of my favorite shore dives on the west side of Maui. The water is always clear, is doesn't get much more than 35ft deep, which means you can stay down for a long time. Plus there is the added benefit of seeing turtles, sharks, and eagle rays on almost every dive. Maybe I have just gotten lucky.
  The wreckage at the site makes it very similar to a shipwreck dive. The hard concrete pillars from the old pier gave the coral something to attach to which in turn attracts all forms of life. With all of the big animals roaming around sometimes it is hard to remember to look for the small stuff. But here at Mala there are tons of shrimp, nudibranchs, and other hidden treasure waiting to be found.
 My first Red Lionfish!
White Margin nudibranch
My buddy Pat and I went for a dive the other day before our All-Star baseball game and searched out some of these small treasures. Here is what we found...

White tip reef shark
Goat fish flashing their colors
Banded Coral Shrimp
Red Barred Hawkfish

Lizard Fish waiting for the ambush

Imperial Nudibranchs, possibly mating

Fuchsia Flatworm
You don't want to mess with this moray eel

Leaf Scorpionfish

Monday, November 7, 2011

Diving with Ed Robinson

 Ever since I started exploring the underwater coastline of Maui I have been searching for people who have shared my passion and that have local knowledge of the lesser explored Maui reefs. We have amazing shore diving opportunities but much fewer deep diving sites that can be reached easily from shore. So I have been asking around the dive shops and with fellow divers about who visits some of the more advanced, deeper sites and everyone has referred me to one place, Ed Robinson's Diving Adventures. So I finally made it in time to check out their shop (it closes at 2pm) and talk with one of the Dive Masters and with Ed's wife. They could really see my passion for diving and they invited me and Heidi out on one of their Adventure X dive trips which Ed still comes out on and leads.
   There have been a few fish that have eluded us so far mainly because they are found in deeper water. Things like bicolor anthias and long nose hawkfish are found at sites a little farther from shore and in a little deeper water. They were both high on my list and when dive site ideas were being thrown around on the boat, it is up to us where to go on these Adventure X trips, I mentioned the long nose hawkfish. See we headed off to a place called Hawaiian Reef which is an 85ft deep pinnacle on the way out to Molokini. And wouldn't you know it, we found a longnose hawkfish about 5 minutes after hitting the bottom! He was alot smaller than I expected.

 After exploring Hawaiian Reef and Magic Rock we went to a slightly shallower site with big schools of Ta'ape, or blue stripe snappers, and soldierfish. It was here that we saw a green and a white leaf scorpion fish and one of my favorite nudibranchs, a gold laced nudibranch trudging across the sandy bottom.

Leaf Scorpionfish
At the end of our dive we were hanging out at 15ft doing a 3 minute safety stop to off-gas some of the nitrogen built up when out of the blue a pod of spinner dolphins emerged! Just when I thought the day couldn't get any better!

Just talking to Ed and the other guides I could tell they had the same explorer mentality that drives me to search out new places and adventures. They have stories of exploring airplane wrecks in almost 200ft of water and finding isolated rocks far off from their already isolated deep dive sites. Suzie, Ed's wife also told me how she would grab on to a line and have Ed pull her behind his boat looking for new and interesting sites down the wild south coast of Maui. All in all my kind of people.