Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hawaiian Sea Turtles in Action

 Another day of beautiful water here off Maui's south shore. I was checking out a spot just down the street as a possible sea turtle research area. It took a while before finding the first turtle but then he led me to the motherload, turtles everywhere! If you look closely you can even see a turtle in the background of the picture below. Beautiful colors, designs, and mannerisms make these guys great photo subjects.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Road to Hana w/Hunter

Hidden waterfalls, black sand beaches, places where you could get lost for days off the beaten track...that is what the road to Hana means for me. It is a big adventure and alot of driving but the magnificent scenes are like something out of a movie.
 Every time I have a new visitor in town Hana is always high on the list of places to go. This time Hunter and I rented a car from Kihei Rent a Car, which prides itself on being one step up from Rent-A-Wreck so we really put the car through the ringer. A guide book or the Hana CD are essential for anyone taking this trip. The big tour buses make the stops at all the well signed places but its the hidden gems that are the real finds of the trip. It is easier than you think to be swimming under a waterfall that you have all to yourself. 

It is also essential that you stop to take in the views and smell the flowers. And as with everywhere out here it is even more important to respect the land. This is a place that sees so many visitors that the only way to remain pristine is the old motto 'take only pictures, leave only footprints.'
On this trip the rains would sneak up on us quickly and then leave just as quickly. That can be tough for a photographer but at least we had just enough changes of clothes to make it work. Having rain on your trip also means the the waterfalls are going to be going off. Add some big waves to the mix and you've got an incredible force of these rivers meeting the immovable objects of the sea.

The rains can also make certain treks a little more adventurous, like the cliff hugging trail leading to the hidden red sand beach near Hana. And other activities like swimming in the Seven Sacred Pools out of the question completely.

While the intense weather can dictate what you get to do on your Hana trip its affects can turn an ordinary view into a breathtaking landscape. This little church is where a friend of mine wants to be married some day...after stopping and really taking in the vista here I can see why.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Diving the Carthaginian

 Sometimes all it takes is a little 'can-do' attitude and pointing in the right direction to make really incredible adventures happen. I had wanted to take Hunter on one of the best kayak dives you can do here on Maui, out to the shipwreck of the Carthaginian, but was greeted at the shoreline with sizable waves and with 6 or so surfers riding each one. Not to be dismayed we unloaded our kayak, put together all of our gear, and with some intrigued bystanders watching loaded up the kayak at the shoreline.
  I imagine people had their cameras out to take pictures of the two supposed tourist about to get smashed into the rocks by waves but we would show them. The first wave peeled right around out bow sending a spray of water that Hunter, sitting in the front, blocked for me. Always the gentleman. Then a second bigger wave came so we paddled hard and hit it nose first just as it broke. This time I could see the wave form a perfect V as it broke all around Hunter and filled our boat with sea water. Luckily the kayaks are hard to sink so we powered on. I told Hunter we were all good just before I saw the mother of waves forming in the distance. With a kayak full of water and heavy scuba gear we paddled forward keeping the bow pointed right at the oncoming wave. The wave broke just before it hit us and once again Hunter took the brunt of the force. I may have gotten a little splashed by this one, but we were through! On to the wreck.
 You can find the wreck by looking for a bright orange buoy marking the mooring line attached to the stern of the wreck. You are not allowed to tie up to this but we found a submerged bow mooring last time so we tied up here. I was pleased to see we would have the wreck all to ourselves. We descended through the blue, passing schools of triggerfish and Sergeant majors, and a lone great barracuda before making it down to the wreck.

The shipwreck attracts all sorts of life. We found nudibranchs, frogfish, and even had a flyby from a couple of spotted eagle rays. At nearly 100ft deep you can't spend too much time at the bottom unless you use special air mixes in your tanks. Luckily right at the end of our bottom time we heard the telltale whir of the submarine coming in to show the wreck to tourists who would rather stay dry. I wonder what they thought of the two of us hanging out on this shipwreck at the bottom of the ocean....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wailea Turtles and Nudibranchs

Early morning shore dives in Wailea are always the way to go. Tons of animals are stirring and the waters are almost always nice and calm. The wind sometimes kicks up in the early afternoon which is a good motivation to wake up early on your day off or your vacation.
Having the local knowledge of wear to go is also an incredible cost saver. For $4 I can rent a tank and be ready to dive. It always amazes me when I see these people paying $600/night laying on the beach as I walk by in my scuba gear wishing they could do more than lay on the beach. I get another bonus when I kick out to where a dive charter boat is anchored to start my dive. As I descend I often think about how great it is to live in a place like Maui. 

Yesterday Heidi and I took my good friend Hunter on a dive off Wailea Point. It was filled with nudibranchs, turtles, and moray eels. Six different kinds of nudis goes to show you the amount of habitat at Wailea Point that is perfect for these little guys.
 The dive ended with a calm turtle resting on the coral, getting cleaned by some little surgeon fish, and then a big fly by from a huge male sea turtle who for a while looked like he might bump right into us.

Hunter glides between two lava outcroppings covered with coral at Wailea Point
One thing I did notice is that the water temperature is either getting colder or my wetsuit is getting less effective. I'm afraid its a bit of both. Luckily I have a new, thicker wetsuit on the way.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Nudibranch Stumper

A couple of times a month we will run moonlight tidepool programs for Pacific Whale Foundation. They are a great way for a group or family to spend time with a marine biologist while seeing something that is consistently being overlooked. After the sun sets the crowd disperses and heads off to dinner or back to their hotels but for those in the know, this is when all the nocturnal creatures come out. We go on night scuba dives to look for some of these creatures but you can also do it without even getting wet. 
 Tidepooling at night has let to countless discoveries by Heidi and myself. Last night I was running a tidepool program while Heidi scouted ahead when she came lava rock hopping back with news of a new nudibranch. This is always exciting and when I saw it I did not recognize it. A new species for our nudibranch portfolio. We have yet to identify it by should have an answer in a few days after consulting some of the local nudibranch experts.

Friday, February 17, 2012

La Perouse Lava Flow

A few trees and shrubs eek out an existence among a 500 year old lava flow on the south shore of Maui. It is a landscape unlike any other on the island. This is where you can find black sand beaches, underwater lava tubes, feral goats, and the rare endemic hoary bat.
This is also the one place you would not want to bust a sandal, which is exactly what Hunter did today. Taking his chances with the volcano goddess Pele after a 10 year truce once again turned out badly. But a little donated blood to the lava rocks is a small price to pay for such rugged beauty.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Maui Mugging

 The humpback whales that visit us every winter here in Maui enjoy some of the most protected waters in the world. They are protected as endangered species under the ESA, marine mammal protection act, as well as federal laws in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. That one is always a mouthful to say on the microphone. One of the regulations for all ocean-going craft is a 100 yard approach limit. This goes for whale watching vessels, surfers, stand up paddle boarders, sail boats, kayaks and so on. However, some times the whales are not up to date on all of their laws and regulations and they encroach upon that 100 yard limit. When this happens we are not allowed to engage our engines until they exit that perimeter...this is what we call a "Maui Mugging."

 We aren't mugged on a daily basis, but when it does happen it is something everyone on board will remember. Seeing an animal the size of a school bus that is intelligent enough to be curious about your boat creates a memory that can last a lifetime. And some great picture opportunities!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Swimming with Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins

 Snorkeling the big island can lead to some pretty amazing discoveries. Heidi, Susie, and I were snorkeling at the Captain Cook monument enjoying the beautiful drop off just a few feet offshore, something we don't really see on Maui, when our captain spotted some spinner dolphins swimming into the bay.
 Heidi and I swam over to see a pod of spinners about 30 strong in classic resting behavior. They would head down about 50 feet deep and then almost all in unison come up for a few short breathes before heading back down. They would swim in one direction for a little bit before turning a new direction and heading that way before turning back again.
There was a little calf with the the group who stayed very close to mother. We had been in the water for along time and had started to get a bit cold so when the pod surfaced very close all around us it was a sign that it wouldn't get any better and we headed back. I was so excited be swimming with the dolphins and have them so relaxed, even with a baby in tow. Shortly after we made it back to the boat the dolphins slowly headed out of the bay back to the open ocean.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Oceanic White Tip Shark, swimming with...

 I am a shark enthusiast. So any chance I have to see a shark out in nature I am excited. Back in California I would commonly see horn sharks and leopard sharks with the occasional small blue or mako when we did our chums. Then I was lucky enough to swim with great white sharks with the cage dives in South Africa. Lots of white tip reef sharks here in Hawaii with a couple of grey reef sharks out at Molokini, and of course some incredible encounters with whale sharks have been added to the list. But even after all of that, I was not prepared for what I saw today... an Oceanic White Tip Shark! 3 miles offshore, in water over 2000ft deep, this beautiful shark slowly swam around. Its huge white tipped fins giving its identity away when I first saw it about 80 feet away. As it swam closer the thought of all those military ships going down and people eaten by this type of shark did cross my mind but in this clear water, with no blood to draw its attention, I figured the swim by was just a bit of curiosity. I made sure to keep my eyes on it. It was very cool to see some pilot fish hanging out near the dorsal fin. Almost all the pictures of this shark I can find have pilot fish right next to it. If I didn't know better I would think they look like little striped baby sharks protectively swimming next to mom. Maybe they just taste bad.