Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fiji: Disco Diving

For the past several years, the New England Aquarium has participated in a joint expedition to Fiji, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other conservation-minded groups and individuals. The last expedition took place in October and November 2010. Stay tuned to this blog to follow the team as they dive to collect data on the health of the coral reefs, pick up trash where they find it, check in with the villagers to see how some conservation initiatives are faring and further develop connections with the people that live on these beautiful Pacific islands.

Dr. Stacy Jupiter brings us today's blog from UndeNAI’Aable II dive site, Ra Province, Fiji Islands. The photos are from regular blog contributor Keith Ellenbogen.

Calling all groovemeisters and hipsters. Turn on ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and get your strut on. Grab your funky shades and comb your ‘fros, it’s time to go disco diving again! Fortunately between Keith and I, we have both the funky shades and the ‘fros. I’m sporting a yellow lens over my mask, and as for Keith, his hair speaks for itself. (Follow this link and scroll down to get a good look at that head of hair.)

As we climb into the NAI’A skiff, a harvest moon rising in the night sky looks electric orange through my tinted lenses. I’m excited. It’s been over eight months since I’ve been immersed in a glowing reefscape. I wonder if this time I can contain my shrieks of delight. Who needs LSD when you are “Light Sensory Dumfounded”?

When excited by blue light, proteins in the tissues of algae, corals, anemones and even some fish, shrimp and worms glow in a full array of psychedelic colors like a dance club under intense black lights. Because Keith can’t see the glowing spectacle, my task is to locate for his camerawork the hippest of reef creatures, who have outfitted themselves in a range of fluorescent greens, oranges, reds, blues and purples for the occasion. I’m good at my job.

I quickly spot a disco lizardfish, followed by a groovy goby whose fluorescent orange backbone is illuminated through its diaphanous body. Knowing Keith’s penchant for patterns, I search out coral colonies of Leptoria, Diploastrea and Lobophyllia which I know to have intense glowing bands or lines alternating with deep shadow.

Scientists are not entirely clear on why the reef organisms glow, either during night or day. Some argue that they may have fluorescent pigments that act as "sunscreen", protecting corals or the algae (called "zooxanthellae") in their tissues from the sun's harmful rays. However, this is still much debated. Others have suggested that the pigments may help the zooxanthellae convert light energy to food in darker environments.

Regardless of the reason, I am thoroughly enjoying my reef ‘trip’, despite the ripping current sending us in all directions across the hillocky terrain. Far too soon, I realize that I have nearly depleted my tank and we have reached the 60 minute maximum bottom time. I give Keith the “thumb’s up” signal, in this case both as a signal to ascend and because the freaky colors have given me an ear-to-ear grin.

As I hop back on the transom of the NAI’A, I do a little boogie in my booties. Oh yeah, I love the night dives.

-Stacy Jupiter Ph.D

Note: These photographs were taken using fluoresence photography. The images and the colors were not manipulated or edited in Photoshop. Check out even more remarkable fluorescent underwater photographs here! Stacy is a Massachusetts native, former New England Aquarium Fishes Dept volunteer, a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon, and now Wildlife Conservation Society's Director of Fiji Program based in Suva.

Facebook Comments


Post a Comment