Thursday, May 31, 2012

South Shore Maui Dive

On and isolated island way in the middle of the pacific some might feel a bit claustrophobic. My advice to those people is to look in the water. Once you realize how much there is to explore underwater your island suddenly feels expansive.
I dove along the South shore of Maui off a very popular beach today with sea turtles, moray eels, all kinds of reef fish and a few nudibranchs thrown in for good measure. The highlight was when I came across this snowflake moray eel out in the open swimming along. Whether he was looking for a new home or on the hunt I'm not sure. I stayed with him for over ten minutes. We came face to face several times and a goat fish swam over and swam right next to the eel for a while seeing if it would flush out any little fish.

 I took my time looking under ledges and in cracks and crevices for new nudibranchs. I managed to find some kangaroo nudibranchs and some phyllidias but nothing too out of the ordinary. A slipper lobster camouflaging in with the rock ceiling did almost escape my gaze but for the most part I just enjoyed spending this time in crystal clear water with all these different sea creatures. Swimming alongside the moray for so long is something I will remember for a long time.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Swimming with Humpback Whales

A very special encounter. You never know what might swim by.

Strange Sea Creatures

The underwater treasure hunt continues. I headed off to one of my favorite muck diving locals for what turned into a 2 hour marathon dive and came out with some pretty fun pictures. These tiny juvenile Hawaiian damselfish on the right proved to be a very tough photo subject. They would dart in and out of their coral apartment stopping for just the slightest moment. They will grow to be about the size of my hand but these two were still about thumbnail size.
   The octopus on the left could have engulfed my hand. I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye as this octo dipped into a little hole. I focus my camera on its eyes sticking out looking at me and I waited. Eventually the octopus emerged and darted off to another, deeper hole to hide in. I snapped a picture just as he emerged and with a super fast shutter speed the background behind him became black making a portrait-like effect.

As always when muck diving I had my eyes open for nudibranchs. This swallow tail slug on the left was cruising fast (for a slug) across the sand. About the size of my pinky it was the biggest swallow tail slug I have seen yet. The pinks and oranges of the much larger kangaroo nudibranch never cease to amaze me. Its plumes of gills frilling out from its back and two rhinophores near the head are always favorite photo subjects for me.
    I thought I may go the whole dive without seeing a gloomy nudibranch but finally towards the end of the two hours I caught up with this little guy trying hard to stay on the rocks. There was a little surge today but it held tight. I think the contrasting blue and black and this nudibranch make it one of my favorites.
White Margin Nudibranch
  At this point in my diving career out here in Hawaii I have seen so many white margin nudibranchs that unless it is something special I usually don't take their picture. This one however was huge. And by huge I mean about the size of my pinky. This really allowed some of the detail of the skin and rhinophores to show in the photo.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Yellow Margin Spanish Dancer Nudibranch, Hexabranchus aureomarginatus

Taken in the rich blue waters off the back side of the island of Lanai this yellow margin spanish dancer nudibranch, Hexabranchus aureomarginatus, is the first I have ever seen. Found only in the Hawaiian Islands, this nudibranch can grow to 8 inches in length, making it one of the largest in the world. Up till now I have only seen the red margin spanish dancer.

My friend Ben found this one climbing along a vertical wall in Lighthouse Cove during his reef tour. I jumped in to identify what type of nudibranch it was and was very excited to find a new one for me. It unfurled and danced a bit before my camera was brought to me. I tell people every day out in the water is like a treasure never know what you will find.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Maui Underwater Perspective

Even though your classes will tell you to never do it, sometimes for the underwater photographer a solo dive can allow you to go your own pace. It does increase the risk a little but as long as you stay within a breaths distance of the surface the added risk is minimal.
Today I headed out to visit one of my favorite location off the South Maui coast to get a different perspective. I often look for very small nudibranchs but today I aimed to get a bigger picture and different views. I punched up my shutter speed to get some fish pictures and worked with my white balance to get some contrasting reef scenes. And what turned out to be one of my favorites shown here to the right was taken from inside a cave where you can freedive into and then surface inside of. The light entering the cave is reflected off the surface of the water inside the cave. Two turtles shared this space with me as I set up for this shot.
I don't often spend alot of time taking fish shots unless its something I've never seen before because initially the fish will run. If you wait and let them get a little acclimatized to you then you can snap some close up shots. This orange and blue potter's angelfish was keeping a close eye on me even when he was facing the other direction. I inching my way forward got me close enough to this arc-eye hawkfish to snap his picture before he jetted off.
 Then something really fun happened. I was watching a moray eel when I noticed a few millet-seed butterfly fish zipping around me. Then there were a few more...and a few more. And soon they started cleaning me. Nipping at my hair, hands, and face, it was a yellow blur. They didn't hurt and I thought it very funny, especially when they would stare into my goggles looking at their reflections. I've seen these butterfly fish clean turtles before and I had them clean me on two other occasions but for some reason they won't do it every time. And I did take a shower last night, if that's what you were thinking.

Trumpet fish always make for good photo subjects with there long body sliding into the photos background and out of focus. And something that I've wanted to try for a long time but always forget was so take a picture of a moving fish while panning. I finally remember with this Moorish Idol and the outcome was pretty fun. Its almost like a Moorish Idol at warp speed with his long white banner billowing out behind him.

Raccoon Butterfly Fish
Something else I wanted to capture with these photographs was the contrast of the reef. Dark overhangs and sun rays lighting up different parts, the texture of the waves overhead with the silhouettes of turtles and fish, there are just so many variables when you are out there taking photos. Even if you dive the same place over and over you will always see something a little different. Even before I got in the water for this dive I noticed these purple flowers at the waters edge. Still makes me think of my mom's garden.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mahi Mahi: Underwater Photo

30 miles offshore of Maui where the ocean drops off to 10,000ft or more, any kind of debris drifting in the water can provide protection for juvenile pelagic fish. Today we came across a large green fishing net under which many different fish were hiding. Even though I feel a little bad about taking these fishes' makeshift home away these net can prove disastrous for marine mammals, sea turtles, and ocean going birds. So I turned around the research boat to grab the net and get a little ocean karma.

 That is when we saw it. Flashes of yellow streaking through the water. It was the bright yellow fins of mahi mahi, or dolphin fish. Until now I had only seen the silhouette of one jumping near a kelp raft off Catalina Island or on a dinner plate. Never before had I seen one under the water, much less had an opportunity to take its picture. I was very lucky as these three mahi mahi did not seem overly scared of me. They circle back a few times and I was able to snap this picture before they disappeared off into the blue. Another big one checked off the list.

--Dai Mar

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Kings Highway: Hiking on Lava in flip flops

At the end of the road past Kihei, Wailea, and even Makena you get to an impassable lava field. This lava flow is less than 1000 years old and it still very barren. While the rugged, uneven terrain stops all vehicles and most travelers, some people persist and step foot onto the ancient 'King's Highway.' This is an old coastal path that led completely around the island. Legend has it that warriors would patrol the coastline day and night to make sure they were never surprised by a war party from a neighboring island. Some people claim to see the spirits of these warriors still this day. These ghost-warriors are commonly called 'the Night Marchers.'

It wasn't the night marchers that made me caution my spur of the moment decision to take this adventurous was the fact that I was wearing little rubber sandals! If you take a close look at the picture of the actual trail you can see how uneven the loose lava rock is that you tread upon, not to mention sharp! It is all A'a lava which is the very sharp, brittle kind that makes you say ah ah ah when you step on it. Luckily my flip flops didn't bust and the only injury I sustained was a devil keawe tree thorn deep through the bottom of my sandals into my foot. A suppose little blood sacrifice to Pele, the volcano goddess was only fitting.
Even with that little injury the hike was amazing. Hidden coves, sandy beaches, underwater caves, cliff jumps, overlooks, and even alkaline pools trapped in the lava filled with tiny red shrimp all await those adventurous enough to explore Maui's southern coast.

tiny red shrimp filled this alkaline pool deep within the lava flow

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What Americans Don't Understand About Traveling


  All I wanted to be growing up was a traveler. I thought nothing could be as exciting as seeing new places, meeting different people, and getting out of my comfort zone. The only problem was I was so excited about the adventure that I didn't get out of my comfort zone. Without anyone telling me to be scared about being in a far away land or to be worried about getting lost I instead soaked up all that was around me. Through these eyes the true wonder of new experiences could be enjoyed. I was lucky.
  So many people do have those around them telling them to be scared. Some will say 'its dangerous.' or 'you shouldn't travel because you are American.' I bet the people saying this have not traveled.
  Whether or not people liked American was one question I was very curious about, being American and all. The years after 9/11 Americans all over were stitching Canadian flags to their backpacks while I was being initiated into an all Japanese futball team or invited to an Indian family's rooftop to watch the kite runner festival. It turns out people love Americans, even if they aren't crazy about American politics. It turns out the rest of the world is very interested in us. Why we want to come there, if we live up to the stereotypes, if we all have huge, green yards...
  "So you don't ride horses and carry a gun?" I've been asked before. I love being an ambassador for the U.S.A. One of my best friends in Tokyo told me that I changed his entire vision of what people from America are like. He may have just been shocked that I knew how to play soccer, but it felt great to represent my country in a good way. That could be you.
  My biggest regret and one that I always work on bettering myself at is being outgoing and putting myself out there. This is how you will really get to experience traveling. It will help you meet people, get invited to see the other side of that culture, and maybe move you past a tourist to become a friend.

  So don't buy the hype about staying home where its safe. Buy a plane ticket instead. It is easier than it has ever been to travel. The world is at your fingertips...

Exploring Underwater Caves: 5 Graves, Maui

Shore diving Maui can be very rewarding. There are many spot on the south shore in the Wailea/Makena area that are very worth exploring. My favorite to take visitors to is a place called 5 Graves. It is just north of Makena Landing and also known as 'Turtle Town' because of the number of turtles there, and '5 Caves' because of the numerous underwater caves and swim throughs created by lava.
  The caves are perfect resting spots for Hawaiian Green Sea turtles and White Tip Reef Sharks. So if you are looking to see it all on one dive this is the place.

My friends Nate, Kelly, and Brian all joined me on this dive and we were extremely lucky. Turtles were everywhere! Some were resting in caves, others coming up to breathe at the surface, and another very hungry turtle chomping on some of the shallow growing algae. The first cave we checked out housed a good sized white tip reef shark pictured above. I went down first, saw him, and gave the shark sign to the group. They all bolted down to check him out. My kind of divers. Eventually they all came back out of the cave and I went in for some pictures. The shark had seen enough though so when I got inside he jetted right past me and out of the cave. It must have looked funny for those guys to see me go into a cave and a shark come out.
Exploring all the caves here can be done freediving, just snorkeling and holding your breath. But scuba is the way to go if you really want to penetrate into the depths. Many of the caves go back much farther than you first think. Here Kelly is checking out one of my favorite caves at this site called the 'skylight cave'. This is a virtual playground for underwater photographers. The caves provide very dramatic lighting which can be challenging but also very rewarding. Plus you will find cave dwelling creatures like crabs, nudibranchs, and octopus that you otherwise don't normally see.

This place never ceases to amaze me. Besides sharks and turtles we saw many kinds of nudibranchs on this dive including my first ever Rosy Phyllidia. Not bad for a place I have visited 50 times. And every once in a while you can see even bigger things here...manta rays...tiger sharks...
So in short don't be put off that alot of the snorkel boats come here. It is really a fantastic site that should be on every divers list when they come to Maui. It is for me!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hidden Gems of Hana

 The road to Hana here on the rain forest side of Maui is already an off the beaten track kind of adventure. But if you have that drive to explore you can find yourself under a 400ft waterfall with no one else around. The beauty of this place is that except a few of the bigger, well known sites most of waterfalls, swimming holes, cliff jumps, and other incredible sites don't see too much foot traffic. But unless you are a local or have done your research there won't be any signs that point your way.

 One of my favorite hikes here that is a pretty easy skill level is the Waimoku Falls hike above Seven Sacred Pools. This is a little beyond Hana and is also a great place to camp. If you do camp here don't just set up in the parking lot, set off and follow the trails. They lead to beautiful, secluded camp sites on the cliffs overlooking the raging seas. We had an owl, the first I've seen here on Maui, fly right into the tall grass near our camp site here. The pools are beautiful but can get a little crowded and hectic when the daily tour charters come through. However 90% of the visitors miss out on one of the best hikes on the island which starts right above the pools. Another 90% of those stop about half a mile into the hike at the first big waterfall thinking they have seen it all.
But those in the know can get so much more out of it. A sharp right at the gate, and a jump over a fence will take you to the 'infinity pool' overlooking the 200ft waterfall. Then past a huge banyan tree you enter an incredibly dense bamboo forest that shades out the sun. Rays of light filter down to shine on the forest floor. Luckily a boardwalk lifts your shoes out of the really damp areas. Side trails lead to swimming holes and water falls and if you make it all the way you are rewarded with a huge 400ft waterfall. After catching a glimpse of it through the jungle it gets bigger and bigger until you are standing right underneath it. Go early enough and it could be all yours to take in.

 Another can't miss, especially for couples looking for the perfect place to cliff jump and spend a few hours is Venus Pools. One of the most beautiful places in Hawaii and one of the least visited. Safe cliff jumping, hot rocks to warm up on, crystal clear water, caves to explore and the waves hitting the shoreline in front of you are some of the reasons to check this hidden gem out. And like the sign says on the way in, "Respect the 'Aina".