March 29th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

Yesterday we were back at Pinel Island, and I was back to photographing two of my favorite creatures there: vinegaroons and dwarf geckos. Vinegaroons, sometimes called whip scorpions, are Arachnids (like spiders) and they have no venom. If disturbed, however, they can spray acetic acid at you, which is how they got their name. I also found a few of the dwarf gecko Sphaerodactylus sputator. The largest one I have seen yet, pictured below on a plastic plate, was also pregnant. You can see the bulge of the single egg on the left side of her body. I also took a couple close ups of sea skeletons, a chiton and an urchin.

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March 28th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

Beautiful skies are quite common on Saint Martin, but photographs of them tend to disappoint. Below are a few attempts to capture some of the magic, like the sun coming up over Goat Mountain and setting across the bay. Plus some boats!

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March 24th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

Last week at Pinel I was able to test my new super special macro flash rig. The setup consists of two strobes mounted on the end of my macro lens, which are triggered by the built-in flash. I used the setup with my 85mm macro lens and used diffusers on both the flashes. On Amazon, most of the reviews are by dentists who use this setup to take photos of teeth.

Overall, I found it works quite well. Reflective surfaces still have a bit of glare, but overall the lighting is softer and more even, while still allowing me to have greater depth of field and sharper focus. I was also delighted to find a couple dwarf gecko eggs, one hatched, one unhatched. I believe these geckos typically lay a single egg, which is quite large compared to the size of the lizard. I also saw the smallest gecko yet, probably less than half-an-inch long including tail.

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March 20th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

Jenn and I hopped on the boat to Creole Rock and Roche Marcel to do some super slow diving. At Creole Rock, we did a 65-minute dive where we only went about 100 meters away from the boat and had a maximum depth of 6 meters. For photography, this is probably the ideal type of dive, especially with the 85mm macro lens. As we crept along the sea grass, sandy areas and shallow reef, we found loads of interesting fish, crustaceans and other creatures.

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Next, we headed around Bell Point to Roche Marcel where we did a shorter dive at a slightly quicker pace and more tiny creatures. Thanks to Stuart’s directions, we also found the almost-cave that is a large hole in the rock covered with colorful encrusting sponges.

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March 18th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

One of the great things about Octopus Diving is that, when they have the chance, they go out in search of new reefs and other potential dive spots. That’s how they found Chris’s Reef and Kusasa Reef and what led them to start diving Roche Marcel and Molly Beday. Even better, if you are friends with them, you might get to go out looking for new dive sites with them. This is how we ended up at a couple new spots in the general vicinity of Tintamarre.

The first spot looked like a 15 meter deep reef in the channel between Anguilla and Tintamarre. We motored out, dropped in and found it to be 35 meters deep, 98% sand and 2% sea urchin. I guess you win some and you lose some. It was still quite fun, though. The red heart urchins looked like underwater coconuts and long-spined sea biscuit was motoring around the bottom pretty quickly for an urchin.

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Heading closer to Tintamarre, we dropped in between Japanese Reef and Circus. The reef was generally pretty similar to the nearby official dive sites, but once we drifted down towards Circus, we did get to have fun in a large cave system with a number of openings and passages. After spending a while down there, we popped up above the cave, surrounded by our own bubbles gradually percolating through the holes in the reef.

Also, as you may have noticed from the photos, the dome scratch repair was pretty successful. I think there may be some optical distortion in spots from uneven sanding, but it’s a lot less noticeable than giant scratches!

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March 17th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

I took advantage of the calm weather and clear water and did a bit of snorkeling in the bay. A bit offshore, where the turtlegrass meets the sandy bottom, there are rolling patches of unattached seaweed mixed with trash, including lots of snorkeling masks, even more plastic cups and bags and a few young fish and other critters hiding amongst the flotsam. I also found a crab pot with a bunch of crabs and one cowfish that did not seem pleased with the situation.

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March 17th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

A couple months ago, I put some pretty serious scratches in my Ikelite dome, which clearly showed up in any wide-angle or fisheye photos I took with the dome. Rather than get a new dome, I got a Micro Mesh kit for acrylic restoration. It was about $40, or about a tenth the cost of a new dome.

Essentially it’s a bunch of very fine sandpaper that you use progressively. First, you use regular sandpaper to sand out the scratches, if they’re big enough to warrant that, and mine were. Next, you use the micro mesh sandpapers, which go from 1200 to 12000 grit. At each step, you sand in one direction, ninety degrees from the last step, making sure to eliminate any traces of the previous sanding. After finishing with all the sandpaper, you buff it with a special paste.

Does it work? Yes. As you can see from the photos, things start off looking bad, but quickly get better, until the dome is totally smooth again. The toughest part is the edge of the dome, where it is hard to always remove the previous sanding. In my case, I ended up with a few small sanding scratches at the edge of the dome, but they don’t show up underwater because water is essentially the same density as acrylic, so it fills in minor scratches.

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March 16th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

Below are some photos and video of a lettuce sea slug (Elysia crispata) that we found while Extreme Shallow Snorkeling near the pier on Pinel Island. These are a common sea slug in the Caribbean, but they are not commonly seen because they are very small and well camouflaged. The skin frills on the sea slug’s back increase the surface area to increase oxygen absorption from the water.

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March 15th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

After having seen the giant caterpillars of the tetrio sphinx (Pseudosphinx tetrio), I was quite excited when Sally brought over a present: a tetrio sphinx pupa she had found while sweeping the porch of her new house. The large pupa was wiggly and mysterious, although you could see the outlines of the wings, eyes and proboscis through the shell. After hosting the pupa for a couple weeks in a large jar, the moth finally emerged, clinging to a paper towel to pump out its wings. Unfortunately, much like our beloved Crépe, the wings never expanded fully and after the sphinx disappeared for a day, I found it dead.

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March 13th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

While I was napping on the beach on Pinel, Madam J and Katie found a dog with an iguana in his mouth. Thankfully, they woke me up and brought me to see the iguana, post-dog attack. Normally iguanas will leave quickly if approached, but this one was clearly injured and perhaps not very mobile, so it was easy to get photos of it as it eyed us warily and whipped its tail. As you can see from the photos, it has a large subtympanal scale and heavily barred tail, clearly marking it as the common or green iguana and not the lesser antillean iguana that I was hoping to find on Pinel. There is still hope, however, that the lesser antillean iguana still lives on Tintamarre.

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