Sep 302012

I didn’t intend to be absent from the blog for this long.

But something strange happened…  I decided to relax on my vacation.

Plus, I was caught up in the beauty of this magical place and wanted some time away from the myriad gadgets that clutter my life  I use on a daily basis.

Here is one of the views I enjoyed this week.

And here is one more.

Where was I?

Sep 192012

The titan triggerfish is well known to those who dive and snorkel the tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans.  It’s dramatic coloring, relatively large size (30 inches/75 cm) and cartoon-like eyes render it a very attractive subject for underwater photographers.

Titan Triggerfish, Maldives

But is it safe to photograph this species?  Do you dare get too close?  Is it true that the titan triggerfish attacks divers and snorkelers, or is this only a myth?

It’s not a myth.  However, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the water.  The truth is that some male titan triggerfish in certain regions, and during certain seasons, have a tendency to charge at and/or bite divers and snorkelers who unknowingly enter their “territory”.  The “territory” is generally a cone shaped area directly above their nest (which is usually found in the sand close to and around coral).  The widest part of the cone shaped area/territory is at the surface.

Titan Triggerfish, Rangiroa – Photo by Mr. Reeftraveler

Sometimes the fish will simply make a quick charge at the diver or snorkeler to “evict” them from the nesting territory.  In other instances the fish may bite the diver or snorkeler as they are trying to flee.  But most of the time, a titan triggerfish will ignore a diver or snorkeler.

My what large teeth you have

Mr. Reeftraveler was bitten by an aggressive titan triggerfish several years ago.  Here is his account of the story.

“It was a beautiful day of diving on the Great Barrier Reef’s Ribbon Reefs near the Cod Hole.  As I was swimming amongst the colorful variety of sponges, coral and invertebrates, I suddenly felt a stabbing pain in my calf and knew it wasn’t simply a nip from a curious damselfish or a hungry sergeant major.  I turned around and was surprised to see a large titan triggerfish, doral fin erect, readying itself for another charge at my leg. Upon first glimpse of the wound, I could see the distinct tooth marks from the googlie-eyed fish, and I quickly slapped my hand over the open wound and began to swim away towards the direction of the boat.  I swam slowly upward to avoid an uncontrolled ascent.  Not wanting to leave well enough alone, the fish followed and nipped at my fins as he angrily escorted me away from what I then assumed was his nesting area.  After 30 or 40 feet, the triggerfish zoomed away back towards its nest,  and I was able to continue safely back to the boat to have the wound cleaned.  It was later that I learned that the titan triggerfish protects its nest in a cone-shaped pattern, and that if I had descended instead of swimming upward I would have been out of its protective zone far sooner.”

Titan Triggerfish, Maldives

So what should you do if you see a titan triggerfish?  Should you immediately flee the area, or should you stay and watch this beautiful creature (photographers need not answer – I already know your response)?

Titan Triggerfish, Fakarava – Photo by Mr. Reeftraveler

Most of the time, the fish will ignore you.  Watch the fish from a distance for a minute or two and look for signs of agitation (including an erect dorsal fin or charging or darting).  If the fish seems ambivalent about your presence, go ahead and take photos.  It’s best to stay at the same depth as the fish and as far away as possible (while still close enough to get a good shot).  The Maldivian titan triggerfish shots that I took above were from a distance of about 4 feet.  If you find yourself face to face with an aggressive titan triggerfish, remember to swim away horizontally at the same depth.  This is the quickest way to exit its territory.  And while swimming away, swim backwards while keeping your eyes on the fish and point your fins toward the fish.  If it decides to bite, let it take a chunk from your fin instead of your leg.

Two Titans, Maldives

Have you ever seen a titan triggerfish?  Ever been bitten?  Did you think this was a myth? Let’s hear your stories…

Sep 132012

At first glance, I didn’t see her and almost continued on.

And then, I saw movement…

Hawksbill Sea Turtle, South Ari Atoll, Maldives

Between the coral and the perfectly camouflaged giant clam, this hawksbill sea turtle looks just like a fixture in this shallow Maldivian reef.

Sep 092012

One thousand miles south of Hawaii, and just six degrees north of the Equator lies an atoll that has seen such dramatic events as a global war and a mysterious double murder – yet it has never been home to a permanent human population.  It’s name is Palmyra Atoll.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Many of you have never heard of this tiny incorporated Territory of the United States.  Even fewer of you will have the chance to visit this remote refuge in the North Pacific Ocean.

What’s there to see on this minuscule atoll with no hotels, restaurants or beach clubs?  Why would anyone want to spend time there, much less endure the arduous journey?  The main reason for Palmyra’s allure is its rich and unique wildlife habitat.  In 2000, it’s main island (Cooper Island) was purchased by The Nature Conservancy, and in 2001 it was declared a National Wildlife Refuge to be administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Today, Palmyra is home to a research station administered by the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium.

Palmyra Vegetation
Photo Credit: NOAA

Swimming Hole, Palmyra
Photo Credit: Kevin Lafferty, US Geological Survey

Palmyra is home to a vast coral reef system (16,000 acres of reef), teeming with marine life and over 125 species of coral.  Divers and researchers report seeing a mind-blowing number of sharks in Palmyra’s waters – a sign of a healthy ecosystem.  The abundant shark population co-exists with manta rays, whales, dolphins, tuna, Maori wrasse, turtles and numerous species of reef fish.

Convict Tangs on Palmyra Reef
Photo Credit: Kevin Lafferty, US Geological Survey

Manta at Palmyra
Photo Credit: NOAA

What makes Palmyra mysterious?  For one, it’s a place that most will only read about.  But Palmyra enthusiasts know the real reason for the veil of mystery – the shadowy double murder of 1974, brilliantly chronicled in the book And The Sea Will Tell by Vincent Bugliosi.  This riveting book was my introduction to Palmyra, as well as the start of my obsession with this little dot in the ocean.

Other things to know about Palmyra:

  • Palmyra is part of the Line Islands archipelago.
  • It is home to over one million seabirds, second in population only to the Galapagos Islands.
  • It was a US Naval Air Station from 1939 – 1947, primarily used as a refueling station.
  • Private sailboats and powerboats may visit for a period of up to 7 days.  No more than 6 vessels may visit each month.  The atoll is a 5-7 day trip from Honolulu.
  • The atoll is home to several endangered species such as the Coconut Crab and the Green Sea Turtle,

Further Reading

The Natural Conservancy

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium

Jane’s Oceania