Monday, April 30, 2012

2012's First South Swell

 Finally a south swell big enough to surf hit maui! I have been waiting since last summer for the southern shores of maui to light up again with waves. These pictures were taken by Heidi Miller right in front of our boats at Ma'alaea Harbor this past sunday. It was the tail end of the south swell that I had been surfing for 4 days straight! Yesterday I surfed before work and then again after work right before my baseball game. Phew. Sore muscles tell it all. I can't wait for more south swells to come! The day before at this same surf spot the waves were about twice this size and I even pulled into a barrel before getting spit out onto a nice shoulder of the wave.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Return to Muck Diving, Maui Style

Since it is one of Heidi's favorite dive sites she really wanted to get one last muck dive in before heading out on a month long tall ship sailing adventure to the equator and back with S.E.A. So we headed back to our nudibranch heaven and it did not disappoint. We saw ten different species of slugs. And as you can see from these first three pictures of brightly colored kangaroo nudibranchs the visibility was incredible.

 The term 'muck diving' can be a bit confusing. I know it brings images of silt everywhere and not being able to see your hand in front of your face. But the 'muck' doesn't refer to the visibility of the place but rather the bottom. The viz can range from very poor to very good. This was the clearest this site has been for us yet.
  Besides the nudibranchs we also found a rare Hawaiian green lionfish, hiding in the halimedas grass. Another rare find, a squat anemone shrimp, was a first for me. The brown with white polka dotted pattern on the shrimp at first made me think I had spotted a new nudibranch.

This blue, black, and golden slug is called a swallow tail slug. They are a little different than nudibranchs, notice the lack of exposed gills on the back when compared to the black and blue gloomy nudibranch pictured below it. We always find a number of gloomy nudibranchs here but today there must have been twenty or more slowly sliding over the sandy bottom.
   But the two that really stuck out were these imperial nudibranchs. Head to tail in a classic mating pose, these two trailed each other across this silt covered rock.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Muck Diving Hawaii

If you have never heard of "muck diving" before it doesn't sound very alluring. Even when you know what it is its certainly not for everyone. Muck diving is all about diving off the reef in muddy, silty flats or sand covered rock accretions. The draw of muck diving for divers and especially for underwater photographers is that this underwater landscape houses and is the hunting ground for thousands of unusual creatures. Some of the most colorful, fantastic creatures won't be found on the reef.
Muck diving has become very big over in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. New and beautiful creatures are still being found by adventurous divers and photographers in this region. But I wondered if this kind of diving was limited to the far off reaches of Oceania or could be found closer to home. That is when we started discovering muck diving here in Maui, Hawaii. Everyone comes for the beautiful reef and blue water, but the variety of rarely seen creatures that can be found at some of these sandy dive sites would be enough to draw in even the casual scuba diver looking for something wildly different.
Here along one of the longest stretches of beach in South Maui my girlfriend and I began our muck diving search. Fifty yard off the shore a sandy rock accretion stretches out parallel to the beach. At first glance it is devoid of any life except for some orange sponges and a sparse cauliflower coral. But as we drop down and search the nooks and crannies we start finding moray eels, octopus, shrimps, and the real prize, nudibranchs!
Gloomy nudibranchs, white spotted, swallowtail slugs, imperial, kangaroo...we started to lose count. How all of these nudibranchs ended up here, and why they stay is still a bit of a mystery. Some are completely out in the open flaunting their bright colors and beautiful patterns. Apparently camouflage is not the name of the game here in the muck as it is on the reef.

We had been on hundreds of dives on reefs all over Hawaii yet each time we go muck diving we find new creatures we have never seen before. For those in the know muck diving has become a staple of any full diving itinerary. Now it seems you don't have to wait until a big Indonesia live-aboard trip to try it. There may be an undiscovered sight with new and amazing creatures much closer to home.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spanish Dancer in Flight: Hawaii Night Dive

It was a beautiful day on the South shore of Maui and the visibility reports were coming in positive all day so Heidi and I came up with the plan for a night dive at Makena Landing. It turned out to be more than we could imagine, with photo opportunities around every turn.
   Our first big find was my first adult Spanish dancer nudibranch. Our underwater lights lit up so many shades of red, orange, and pink along its sinuous body. I had seen juvenile spanish dancers in shallow tidepools at night before but never this giant. Spanish dancers can grow to a foot in length, making it the largest nudibranch in the world. Usually I have to strain my eyes to focus on tiny nudibranchs much smaller than a finger. Often we come across spanish dancer egg cases which look like velvet roses attached to the rock.
   These nudibranchs have something in common with spanish shawl nudibranchs which I often found in the waters off California. They are able to swim and cover vast areas by undulating their body like a dancer from Spain whipping her shawl around her. It is a sight to behold and something I have been waiting for for a very long time. If you really want to see this you will have to get over your fear of the dark because they are nocturnal.
    Lots of other nocturnal creatures were seen this night at Makena Landing. This jeweled anemone crab has a rainbow of colors and big beautiful anemones which can always be found attached to its shell. It comes out at night to forage for organic materials in the sand. Its eyes, way high up on stalks, are very useful for watching out for nighttime predators like this barred moray eel. Although luckily for the crab, the eel's razor sharp teeth are more for hooking into octopus than crushing through a crabs hard shell.

   The last two big sightings were both fish. Heidi spotted this scorpion fish perfectly camouflaging into the sand. There are hundreds of different species of scorpion fish but when it moved and flashed the bright underside of its pectoral fins I knew immediately that it was a devil scorpion fish. Beautiful, and deadly, it has poison in its many spines.
  Dangerous in its own way, this huge eyed porcupine fish put on a rare performance as it slowly swam with its mouth wide open. With teeth made for crushing, unwary divers have been known to lose a finger to the cute and seemingly harmless porcupine fish.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Poli Poli: Hiking the Redwoods of Maui

 Redwood trees on Maui?! This island really does have it all. 6000' up the slopes of Haleakala lies the hidden nature paradise of Poli Poli. Hiking trails, hunting, camping, rare bird sightings, and giant redwoods await those adventurous enough to tackle the windy offroad driving that leads up from the town of Kula.
 Usually this elevation is shrouded in clouds. We were very lucky on this day because it was clear and sunny and at least twenty degrees colder than what we left behind at the shoreline. We hit the Redwood Trail after taking our non 4X4 Nissan Versa along the "4X4 only road" to the final parking lot. If it hasn't rained in a few days the road is totally passable for any car. 

 As we hiked through the changing landscape we kept wondering if we had hit the redwood grove yet. Once you see it though, you know. The huge, although still young, redwoods emerge out of the mist. It was then that we noticed the fog rolling in. It gave the forest a mystical feel. As a photographer I was hoping that this would happen. The coastal redwoods are massive, and as straight as an arrow.

 Not only is the hiking incredible, but the views of lower Maui are well worth the drive. You can see from the north shore to Ma'alaea bay. And if you stick around until sunset you may get one of the most colorful tropical sunsets anywhere on the island. It can give you a hint of the Pacific Northwest or just awe the nature lover inside. If you have been living on the island and are looking for something way different, from the trees to the smells to even the sounds of the birds, Poli Poli State Park is the place to go.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wailea Scuba Dive

 A couple hundred yard kick out from Wailea beach yields an expansive reef filled with graceful sea turtles, different coral formations, juvenile fish, and lots of hiding places for moray eels.

Today the turtles were plentiful as I had the reef all to myself. No boats tied up and only the occasional fly over from a stand up paddle board which are become a hugely popular option with beach combers here in Maui. A couple of turtles were fast asleep in their caves, out of sight of any would-be predators in the area. And then I came across a couple of young turtles set atop the reef, covered with hovering colorful fish cleaning the algae off its shell. Surgeonfish, potters angelfish, and yellow tangs were all in on the feast, sharing the buffet of algae on the turtles shell.

   Wailea Point is also one my of favorite nudibranch hunting reefs. Today was a bit light with only two Vericose phillydias, but while searching the nooks and crannies for slugs I came across eel after eel. Zebra morays, white mouths, and one big yellow margin moray all inhabit this reef. Some people feel threatened when they come across an eel. It does look threatening with its snake-like face sticking out from a crevice, opening and closing its mouth. This behavior is how moray eels pump water over their gills to breathe, and can be an impressive defensive display, showing off many razor sharp teeth.

 For a beginner dive or an advanced slug hunt Wailea Point is high on the list of shore dives here on the South shore of Maui. Just remember to slow down and watch where you put your hands!

Friday, April 6, 2012

White Rock Dive, Maui

Another dive at White Rock but this one with a little south swell. As you can see from the picture above of the wave about to crush me, the water was moving which meant a bit murkier conditions than normal here at White Rock. But I decided to focus on the small things like this white margin nudibranch on the left and one of my favorite animals to find, a wire coral goby almost indistinguishable against his wire coral home. See if you can find him in the picture on the right.

Then a couple of trembling nudibranchs to finish off the dive.