Wednesday, June 29, 2011

'Yes, I SEE you Mr Rockfish!'

Towards the end of the second dive at the end of our first day in the Claveria Canyons and I literally do a double take when I catch a fleeting glimpse of my first rockfish; in this case a tasseled scorpionfish. I doubletaked because I wasn't sure if it was actually there or not. I had to get almost right on top of it before I could make sure.

'Yes, I SEE you Mr Rockfish!'

These critters are so ugly that they’re beautiful, at least to me they are.

How could you NOT love a fish that nature has gone to such great lengths to camouflage so perfectly? I mean they aren’t rockfish because they LIVE in rocks, although they DO hang out in them; no, it’s because they LOOK like a rock.

They also have a second claim to fame—they are SUPER toxic. In fact, this family of fish is THE most venomous fish in the world, bar none. Fish of the genus Synanceia (rockfish) do NOT inject venom into their victims by way of fangs—they don’t even have fangs.

They do their self-protective harm through the introduction of neurotoxins into a skin puncture. This normally occurs when an unsuspecting creature, such as an unwary barefoot swimmer, steps on a nearly invisible rockfish’s dorsal fin.

So, for most potentially harmful creatures in the sea, it’s NOT the ones that you see but the ones you DON’T see that get you.

THE number one lesson then that I’ve learned about doing scuba—pay attention. Undersea living booby-traps are everywhere, and it’s why I always wear gloves in tropical waters. And even so, I try NOT to touch anything if I can help it. Of course, it doesn’t matter HOW careful you are; eventually, something IS going to get you, without a doubt.

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We broke the surface coming back into the lagoon through the shallow waters between the spit of land jutting from the eastern mainland and the first island forming the perimeter of that side of the lagoon.

Our excitement from what we had seen that day was so intense that we began to chatter about it right there in the water. We had no doubt that we would head right back to the same vicinity first dive the next day.

I had noticed people splashing and jumping into the water around us as we pulled our way through the rocks of the submerged saddle. A combination of shyness and wariness always keeps me from being open and friendly with strangers, that being the case again, I paid scant attention to the swimmers and whoever it was watching us from up on the large eastern island.

“Hello, what is your name?” asked a young female voice, followed by giggling, which instantly caught our attention.

Three young ladies in water-soaked shorts and t-shirts, all still dripping wet from their water play, were perched above us on the smooth cracked sides of what was once a lava flow from some ancient volcanic eruption.

“Hi!” another called out, obviously thrilled to see us. “Is it fun doing that?” she asked.

Don and I forgot about our dive for a while and just enjoyed conversing with these three flirtatious “mermaids.”

I can’t even remember how many times that’s happened to me over here, where girls and women, dazzlingly beautiful, yet completely unpretentious, act interested—in ME for crying out loud.

Of course both of us are completely spoken for, seriously committed in fact, but that’s not the point. The cool thing is that we KNEW that if we WANTED to that we COULD get to know these charming young fillies. We could have chatted with them until the two of us became waterlogged and sank to the bottom if we wanted to.

And yes, we are both WAY too old for them; at least we WOULD be if we were back home, where the first thing any young thing thinks when they see any male over the age of 35 is “EWWWWW!” And I’m sure you could add a retching sound to that for guys over 50, like us. (chuckle.)

Never mind the social and economic reasons why this kind of thing exists in this place. We hear it all the time, “They only pretend to be interested because they think you can take care of them and their family.”

And I always laugh, “Okay, and your point is…?”

We said our “so longs” to the chatty chipper damsels, leaving them back to their diving and splashing, and made our way back to land.

Weary from the two incredibly exciting dives I dragged my body horizontally through the shallows as far as I could before having to revert to a standing walking land creature once again.

Angry dark storms clouds spitting the occasional rain drop fooled me into thinking dusk was close upon us, but it was barely past 4 pm. The early shade was fine by me, it made me feel cool and relaxed.

We gushed and exclaimed over the wonderful sights we had just witnessed while shedding our gear piece by piece. Carefully dropping my tank and BCD to the concrete floor I plopped hard onto the wooden seat slats, still breathing hard from the effort of walking up from the water with all that crushing weight. It was okay though; the fresh memories of that wondrous underwater world just right out there made every ache and pain completely worth it.

The girls scurried over us, breaking down our gear and rinsing each separate piece while we mostly rested. My wife had me stand while she unzipped my wetsuit down the back and began spraying me down inside the suit and out with fresh water from the pavilion’s hose. Yes, we let them baby us, take care of us, something they really seem to take great pleasure in. Who am I to stand in her way?

Our post diving routine was already set. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the local market so the girls could buy cold drinks as well as meat and vegetables to cook for the evening meal. We never accompanied them. The mere sight of a foreign tourist is enough to jack the prices up double.

Back at the hotel I washed the salt off me in the shower while the girls cooked together over a charcoal stove in the hotel's outside communal kitchen. Unfortunately, the hotel doesn't offer meals or even much in the way of drinks, so we were on our own in that respect.

We could have driven down the road a piece to one of the handful of eating places in Claveria, but the girls don't mind cooking that way. And better yet, the food they cooked was just fine by me.

Yup, Don and I are spoiled as heck. We ARE lucky dogs!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chasing a krait, then ogling an eel

This is probably a Laticauda colubrina or Laticauda laticaudata, all the online photos I found of those two species look similar to the one I videoed (see below) in the canyons outside of the Claveria lagoon.

It seems that every single dive trip I’ve ever been on I see at least one krait, or banded sea snake; and this trip was no different. We made a total of 8 dives this trip and saw this single snake.

I never get tired of seeing them. Just knowing that their venom is ten times more poisonous than that of a King cobra, always makes it thrilling to observe them.

The first time I saw a krait is back when I was still just a snorkeler. When it happened I made an immediate retreat, meaning I swam backwards, always keeping my eyes locked on the thing. All I knew then is that every sea snake is potently venomous and that was enough. I was scared to death.
Of course, I found out later that sea snakes are rarely aggressive toward humans as can be seen in my video. All this poor fellow wants to do is get the heck away from me.

I have seen them act very curious and begin to swim toward me, which always caused me to swim backwards and away. But once learning how difficult it would be to be actually bitten by one I’ve become a lot more blasé when I spot one.

And since I started seeing my role underwater as a photo / video-diver, I am now the pursuer, looking to “shoot” everything I see, with my camera as my “weapon.”Did you notice?

Doing research on kraits reveals that they are mostly nocturnal and THAT explains why I usually only see one or two of them during each trip. Out of my 60 dives I’ve only made one at night.

In my You Tube submission above it makes sense to include the short segment of the juvenile moray eel after the minute plus scene of the Laticauda, since morays are one of the kraits favorite meal items. Although I assume that kraits go for eels small enough for them to swallow, and based on the small size of most of the snakes I’ve seen, they likely only go for baby eels.

Wikipedia states that the Laticauda can get up to 11 feet long. I would LOVE to film one close to that length. I’m sure I'd be scared to death and yet thrilled to the bone, all at the same time.

We saw only the single moray in the canyon, which is out of the lagoon channel to the right or east. It wouldn’t be long though before we would find a spot so populated by the things that we ended up naming the spot after them. More on that in an upcoming post.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Claveria Lagoon Mystery Creatures: What ARE they?

Diving the Claveria lagoon area turned out to be a great experience. I do have to say though that the primary draw of the place is the underwater terrain--the grand canyons, the intriguing caverns and meandering fissures. It also turned out to be a good thing that we dove "the dead zone" before diving the lagoon, otherwise the sparse sea life of the lagoon would have seemed even more few and far between, especially after doing so much diving in the sea life rich areas around Puerto Gallera.

Even though the lagoon area was indeed low on bio-mass we did manage to see quite a bit of bio-diversity, although to find that diversity we had to work very hard. In fact, in between being continually stunned by the dramatic terrain visuals around us, we took it upon ourselves to search every nook and cranny for anything biological. And if it was something new, a life form that we'd NEVER seen before, well, THAT was a bonus. And lucky for us we had a LOT of those kinds of bonuses.

NOTE: For best appreciation of the underwater organisms below, I highly recommend you click on each photo for the full sized version. You won't be disappointed.
1. For instance, this round thing is shaped like a coconut and is about the same size as one. I found it attached up in the dark corner of a cavern. I have no idea what it is. And THAT is the theme of this post: Mystery Creatures. Or maybe I should call it, Can YOU tell me what this thing is?!

2. This mass of plump-polyped brown fuzz-covered anemones, and I'm only assuming that anemones is what they are, are like none I've ever seen. Too me, they look like fat chocolate noodle worms. Today, when I showed this photo to my navy diver buddy, who has literally thousands of dives under his belt, he declared that they looked like "turd anemones." Hilarious, kind of. He's seen more underwater life forms than many marine biologists and yet he's never seen any of the creatures in this post either. There are more different species of animals in the world's oceans and seas than anyone can imagine, at least I never did until recently.

3. I spend hours on internet sites on marine species, pouring over hundreds of photos and STILL I cannot find most of the life forms I snapped in the scores of photos I took around the lagoon. These guys for instance, between 6 and 18 inches across, attached and exposed on rock walls throughout the area, they look like glass candy bowls, UNTIL you touch them and you realize they have the apparent composition of a Jello mold (see the youtube video above). Get within a few feet of them and their gaping openings close reflexively, perhaps defensively. Touch them and it's exactly like jiggling a bowl full of jelly or a water balloon. I'm thinking though that they close up as a predation type action--maybe small fish, plankton, or whatever it is that they eat gets trapped and consumed. Who knows? I would love to find out. Because of their gelatinousness I thought they might be some kind of species in the "jelly fish" family, but there's nothing listed anywhere like these cookie jar shaped jelly like water balloon beings.

4. The first time I saw this stuff I was amazed at how brightly green it is. I mean NOTHING is this luminescently green, at least not in nature, not grass, not trees, not anything. Another incredible feature is its texture—it’s finer than baby hair. It’s so fine in fact that I could not quite capture its delicateness in any of the photos. It is so diaphanous that it moves in the most miniscule of currents; so, it’s in continuous motion. It never stops, and because of that it seems that the settings on my camera would not stop capture the fine detail of each thready tendril. Before I knew better, I would have assumed that it is some kind of sea plant, but now I realize that most things growing in the sea that LOOK like plants are actually part of the animal kingdom.

5. At first glance, I thought that THIS green stuff was the same as the green stuff in photo #4 above. Of course, when comparing them side-by-side other than a slight similarity in color, they are obviously not remotely alike; but that’s not what happens during dives when viewing items that are geographically separated. The normal mind, or in my case, the lesser mind, does not take in the nuances all that well DURING the dive. I saw the green color and made the incorrect connection—oops. Only later, when I went through all the photos did it become clear that they are two separate species. Compared to the vividly green angel hair stuff in photo #4, the stuff in THIS photo is shorter, rougher in texture and a much darker less glowing hue of green.

6. Ah, more jelly creatures—these transparent ones are even more fascinating to me than the translucent cookie jar style of jellies above (see #3). This type seems similar to its brother jelly above in that it also has an elongated opening, although it doesn’t seem to draw closed when approached or tampered with. What fascinates me is the visibility of its inner workings. The opening looks like a predation trap, with the long teeth like spikes allowing smaller prey in but not out.

7. When I saw one of these bright red bows resting on a sea ledge some 40 feet down I swam over to it to retrieve it for disposal. Reaching for it I was disgusted, seeing it as an unwanted piece of gaudy human refuse contaminating an otherwise pristinely hidden natural world. But when I grabbed a corner of it and tugged, it remained firmly attached to the rock. I took a closer look. Within a second I realized it wasn’t rubbish at all.
Once again, I came upon a form of life that I had never seen anywhere else. Even Tom, my retired navy diver pal was puzzled. I saw at least 20 of these bright red flower or bow like looking things scattered widely. They averaged between three and four inches across. I wonder what they are?

8. This one looks like a cross between raw meat and lettuce—the color of uncooked fresh deli meat with the shape of leaf lettuce.

9. Once again, I thought this lettuce looking organism was identical to the one above. They have similar color, texture and shape, but comparing them side by side in the photos tells the tale. They appear to be different. I will assume that both are either a type of sponge or soft coral.

10. Here’s another leafy vegetable like thing. As I said, perhaps all these similar looking creatures that look like they should be in a salad bowl are some kind of soft coral or sponge. I’m at a loss, but I’d love to find out.

11. Now here’s a sublime looking life form, like soft jiggly jelly beans. To me they also resemble a greenish mass of toad eggs. Each roundish disc is the size of a lima bean and the darker green shape in the middle of each one is shaped a bit like a kidney bean. So beans, beans, beans—jelly, Lima and kidney.
These soft masses seemed to inhabit warmer waters between 10 and 20 or so feet down. Each separate disc is loosely attached to the mass so that each one tends to undulate separately as slight currents pass through them. (See my youtube video above).

12. Until this moment I thought this one was a separate species from all the others; but now that I’ve more closely examined it I’m almost certain that it is prolapsed version of creature #3 above. I notice that it also has the rubbery bladder feel and look to it as the ones above, although it has three separate kidney shaped bladders instead of one round whole body. But what confirms to me that it is perhaps a damaged version of bladder jelly creature #3 is its warty center; looking closely, the warty brown and white material the same as the inside of the water balloon like creatures above (#3).

13. Whether this is something alive, like a hard coral, or maybe a kind of casting made by some creature to use as a dwelling, I have no idea; just as I have little idea what ANY of these organisms are. I may not know what they are at the moment, but I’ll continue my quest to identify them no matter HOW long it takes. It would be great if some marine knowledgeable reader recognizes them and lets me in on it. Now THAT would be fantastic. It’s why I numbered them in case I get lucky and someone clues me in. Please?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hilarious "ostriches" of the deep

This entire post is about this one video. It’s a little long, almost 6 minutes, and was even longer before I whittled it down some. Even so it’s one of my favorite clips from the Claveria trip. I’ve probably watched it more times than any of the others. I think I enjoy it so much because it really showcases some of the mysterious beauty and attractions of what I now like to call “The Claveria Canyons.”

The video begins as we enter the canyon labyrinth by way one of its largest entrances, perhaps THE largest, as far as I can remember.

As I swim forward with the camera there is some kind of strange looking temperature inversion going on, causing a very visible stratification. I should have begun filming sooner while we were still above the milky deeper waters trapped beneath the clearer upper waters, but I neglected to start recording until we were already moving through it.

The view of the slowly swirling murk hugging the seafloor below looked just like the cemetery set out of a horror movie. The sight of it really creeped me out, but I confess that I liked the feeling. I half expected a monster hand to grab at me suddenly from within the greenish obscure soupiness just beneath me.

Entering the canyons, swimming over what looks like a submerged beach, was an eerie experience, especially with the relatively tranquil yet hazy conditions of the water at that time. That’s another wonderful thing about diving—we passed by that same spot two, maybe three times on different dives, and each time it all looked different. Visibility and sunlight or the lack thereof, the tides, wave action, so many variables, all change the look of the terrain. It happens that way topside as well, but not nearly as radically as it does down under.

Two minutes into the film and Don stops to point at something out of the shot. Directly behind him, a solitary house-sized boulder provides a perfectly centered backdrop. The shot couldn’t have turned out better if I had planned and directed it.

I pan to the left and up so the viewer can get a feel for our depth at that moment and then back down to check out what has caught Don’s eye.

What he sees isn't immediately discernible to me. There is the flitting of a myriad of blue fish along the wall but I cannot grasp what would cause him to stop and point. I move in closer and that’s when I realize that some very active bright blue fish are darting into little hollowed out areas up and down the rock face. I’ve seen similarly shaped but differently colored fish at Puerto Gallera, but never learned what species they are or even what possible genus they belong to.

Moving closer to the wall, taking shots as Don lights the holes up with his spotlight , I chuckle into my regulator. The holes that these fish are “hiding” in are not nearly big enough to conceal their entire bodies. Much of their tail ends are hanging out. I reach into one hole and tap the fish on the fin just to let it know. It squirms but that’s about it since it’s as deep as it can go. Funny things, I begin calling them “ostrich fish,” after the myth that ostriches bury their heads in the sand to hide, while leaving their entire bodies exposed.

Leaving Don to his own devices for a while, I continue exploring with the camera, capturing each new thing as I first view it. That’s when I come upon a place in the wall decorated by colorful flat patches of coral or sponge and pause when I come upon a deep depression with two baby lobsters seemingly hanging out as if they are sunning out on their front porch.

These little guys are cute, with their colorfully banded little legs and bodies. Each has a host of bright white antennae that they constantly twitch and reach out with; I believe to explore their surroundings. For being so miniscule and apparently defenseless, they are fearlessly curious, actually coming out of the depths of their little rock void seemingly to check me out from up close.

Turning back in Don’s direction on the other side of the gorge, I see that he has something in his hands and it’s not his spear gun. I head over, swimming down to him, as curious as a baby lobster to see what he has.

He has pulled one of the bright blue “ostrich fish” from its hidey hole and is carefully cradling it in his hands. I can tell that the fish is powerful; Don is having a time trying to keep it from squirming out of his grasp without hurting it.

Now that I can see it up close, from the shape of its body, style of mouth, and constantly clicking teeth, I can tell that it is some type of triggerfish. It’s only now that I stop capture the video that I notice that either its teeth or inside of its mouth has a hint of red. And finally, it has a distinctive hornlike dorsal fin that I really love. This unique fish looks like it should be a cartoon character in a Disney movie.

I’m glad Don didn’t hold on to it for long. The little fellow is continuously gnashing and clicking its sharp little teeth together. You can’t hear the tapping teeth in the video but we sure could there in the water.

Once again, as I have with many others, I spent a long time trying to positively ID this bright blue funny fish; but even with all that time checking, I STILL cannot conclusively narrow it down to the exact species of triggerfish. It’s frustrating—it’s either a blue triggerfish or a redtoothed triggerfish. The one in my video mostly resembles a redtoothed trigger, but I’m not sure since the redtoothed pictures don’t seem to have the prominent dorsal fin horn. Now, the blue triggerfish DOES have the horn in most of its photos; but everything named blue triggerfish online show it to have more green than blue on its body. Aaargh! So which is it?

Anyway, watching the video several times again as I wrote this post about it happily reminds me how much I enjoyed diving “The Claveria Canyons.” And yet, there is still more to show. . . Next: chasing the deadly banded sea snake, also in the canyons.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Little Baby Lobsters & Big Old Hiding Octopus

Baby Lobsters

It’s easy to remember what we saw in the water on any particular day. After all, it's all in the photos.

Every evening back at the hotel we religiously download from both cameras. During the day my wife mans the Cybershot up on land; while I of course, use the Canon for my underwater compositions. With the daily download, my laptop file manager has all the photos and videos stored by the day taken. So, it’s simple to keep track of it all for future reference; like now, more than two weeks after the fact.

There are several particularly memorable things seen during those two dives on our first day in “the canyons.”And by the way, if you’ve read any of the posts just before this one, you'll know that area is just outside the lagoon to the east.

And speaking of memorable, looking through the photos now it occurs to me how many lobsters we observed. They are everywhere, even in the warmer waters inside the lagoon itself. Just about every available cubbyhole contains one, two and even three of them.

But here’s the thing; no matter how hard we looked, and we looked everywhere, except for one exception, all we saw were babies or very small juveniles. That realization, that in the environs around the lagoon, there are few large specimens of any of the available sea critter species. They are just not there. Considering how many places there are for them to hide from fishermen this lack of larger fish was a mystery. They SHOULD be there.

That notwithstanding, the baby lobsters are adorable. Depending on visibility you can spot them from a long ways off, 10 or even more feet away if you pay attention. The primary reason—the ONLY reason—they are so detectable, despite the fact that they hide in holes and under rocks, are their extremely long and very white antennae. You cannot miss them; they tend to poke way outside their little chosen holes and burrows. I don’t know if they remain white as they mature, but those white whisker antennae are like twitching little lobster beacon beams.

In the photos above and below you can see a few of the little guys. Notice the colorful bands on their legs and the cute miniature claws, so endearing, to me anyway. Their bodies are so slight and insubstantial that they resemble insects more than lobsters.

These small ones evidently haven’t learned to fear anything yet, because I was able to push the camera right up on them and they would remain in place as if posing for me. It really seemed to me that they were curious about me. I’m sure they were watching me as I watched them. You can see it in the photos.
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Big Red Octopus, or is it brown?

Somewhere deep in the maze of the canyons I looked back for my dive partner as I tend to do at least every couple of minutes. I saw him totally absorbed in the pursuit of something. He was chest deep into a very large hole at the bottom of a wall. Both of his arms were up in there along with his spear gun. I went over to see what could be so enthralling.

After a couple of minutes he pushed himself back and out. Shaking his head, looking disappointed, he made both his hands into claws and then held his hands apart in the age old fisherman’s motion for “it was THIS big!”

I knew he must have been trying to get at a large lobster, but later he said this one was more than big, it was a monster. My response, laughing, “Well, GOOD, I’m GLAD it got away!” I always root for the fish (chuckle).

Only a few minutes later I saw him deeply engaged once again, this time with something under a large rock. He motioned me over, which I immediately did with camera in video mode and already on.

As I arrived at the rock he pointed beneath it. Then he held his hands together palms toward me with fingers splayed. Then he made a figure eight with one finger and then held his arms wide apart before finally pointing at my camera. I knew right away what he was telling me: “There’s a really big octopus under this rock; take some pictures!”

With the camera in front of me I pushed it in close and craned my head around it for a view. Don puts his spotlight on it and whenever it’s light envelopes the animal the full effect of its color can be seen—it is bright red with the light and just a dull brownish red without it.

It’s a lesson in underwater coloring, where the deeper you go the less of the full color spectrum is available. At that place we were about 30 feet down, which is why the spotlight or the camera flash is so important for good deep underwater photography, or as in Don’s case, just being able to see the true colors of what he's looking at.

Don has a lot of experience with octopodes and based on the size of this one’s head he thinks its arms would stretch out at least 3 or more feet. I would have loved to have gotten this one out for a better view of it, but it was determined to stay under that rock.

Using a foot long stick I even tried poking it a little to see if it might not grab it for a better view of at least an arm. Instead he grabbed the stick, and try as I might, I could not pull it back from him. Don even tried to push it gently with his spear gun but all it did was clutch it so firmly that he had a bit of a struggle just getting it back.

The bulging drooping head of the octopus is very obvious in the video and photos. You can see its mouth and one eye. The action of its eye, with its odd shaped pupil, is fascinating. I didn’t realize this about octopodes, but their eye balls move to constantly keep their pupils horizontal. In the video you can see movement of the eyeball. It’s very cool.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Origins of the Big White Marble

For two weeks I’ve poured over my scads of undersea photos and videos, but it’s the two vids of the mysterious Big White Marble that has garnered most of my attention to date. There’s just something about it that keeps me looking and asking.

From the moment I saw it shining down there on the sea bottom I was hooked. The improbable sight of a gigantic, brightly white, roundish almost spherical rock, defies explanation, but certainly begs for it. In fact, this post is devoted to my current obsession with this freakish geologic anomaly.

I call this thing an anomaly, but is it really? After all, I’ve only been diving for just over a year and with only about 60 dives in a handful of locations, all of them in the Philippines, perhaps others have seen similar giant globular stones. Until I hear otherwise though, I will continue to assume that MY giant white sphere is unique.

First its dimensions: From the video, based on Don’s presence on and near it, the round rock appears to be almost 6 feet in diameter across the top. From top to bottom it’s obviously much less than that, probably barely 4 feet. I’m gratified that I have clips of my dive partner in proximity to it; otherwise, if I based its size strictly on my faulty memory of it I’m sure I would try to say it’s much larger and more perfectly circular than it actually is.

On that note, I now know that my memory of it is based mostly on examining it from above. I remember that I mostly stood on it or hovered directly over it, which is why my impression of the shape has been that it was like a giant chalky marble. But, now that I’ve watched the videos several times I can see that its true shape is squatter, more like a pill or an enormous M&M.

As I said though, in my mind's memory the stone was much larger and therefore I also imagined it to weigh some enormous amount, perhaps in the tons. I’m sure it probably is quite heavy but I’m reconsidering the idea that it weighs some enormous amount.

Aside from the reality that it’s not nearly as big as I thought, there’s also the possibility that its volcanic origin might also mean that it’s not nearly as heavy as it might first appear. I say this based on my own local experience with the volcanic stones I find all the time while digging in my yard.

We live on one of Pinatubo’s pyroclastic plateaus, so I can say fairly confidently that every rock and stone I find out there is volcanic in origin. Most of the stones I’ve found, just like my underwater find, are roundish and smooth. I don’t know if this is because they were river stones at some time in their existence or if they were formed that way. I will guess that its most likely the latter. There is so much I DON’T know, but the point is that aside from their smaller size there is a distinct similarity to their big white round underwater Claveria cousin.

So what about its weight? The big white marble is obviously volcanic in origin, as is all the rock in the lagoon area. Since it IS volcanic and LOOKS porous, there is a distinct possibility that it might be a large pumice boulder. It looks very much like the pumice I dig up in my yard all the time. Many of the pumice stones I find are actually buoyant. I tell my girls they are "magic stones" and then have them place the stones in the fishtank where they float for hours before becoming waterlogged.

But, not all volcanic rock is light; from what I've read, many types are quite dense and heavy. Still, I MUST suppose that the big white stone is actually relatively light in weight, based on my observation of the stone’s surface. Look closely at the exterior and it’s obvious that whatever process is forming (and maintaining) its polished circularity is even now in progress. From top to bottom flecks of its exterior are being chipped and ground off. I believe there is only one answer as to how such a thing could be happening.

And I do not misspeak when I say it IS happening. From the look of it the flecking and grinding process is most definitely ongoing. It is also obvious that since the stone is round and that the fresh reductions on it are all over its surface, including and especially the upper areas, that the process causing this controlled external "polishing" is the movement of the stone against the rocks and boulders surrounding it. That means that the giant ball of rock is not just rolling, but tumbling! Trying to imagine such a thing is almost impossible, but it’s THE only explanation.

THAT is the reason I postulate that its density must not be as substantial as its bulk makes it appear. Clearly a very heavy rock would not be able to roll around as this one apparently does; not unless it was perfectly round and perching on a flat surface. And look again at the big white stone; it is actually nesting among other stones, thus it would take an enormous amount of force to get it rolling around in that “nest.”

So what is the enormous “force” that could roll around this giant boulder like a marble in a can? And there IS visual evidence that the “marble in a can” analogy is exactly right—look at the white hit marks on some of the massive stones surrounding it. Some of the white scuffs appear to be more than twice the height of the stone itself.

Considering the violence of such a thing, it’s surprising to me that the ball shaped boulder has not cracked and broken into pieces as its being flung around. As to what could possibly be doing the “flinging,” I’m certain that it is a combination of two forces, or better said, it’s a combination of one force powerfully channeled by a confluence of both geologic and hydraulic conditions.

The geological conditions are two, or even threefold:

First the "big marble" itself—I’m fairly certain that it first originated when it broke off one of the slabs of rock partially forming its “nest,” probably when the "mother slab" itself slammed into the ground. See the “mother rock” in the photo? It’s “baby,” the eventual marble shaped rock, must have already been roundish
at “birth,” or nature’s “shaping process” could never have begun to begin with. If it wasn’t already fairly round at its inception then the forces of nature would not have been able to start racking off the non round bits. And as I discuss above, the material it’s made of must also be relatively light, yet also durable, or it could never have lent itself to the process that continues to erode the rock ball into an ever smaller and smaller version of itself.

Continuing to guess geologically, because I really don't know what I'm talking about here, the second existent condition is the actual “engine” of “the marble shaping process.” This engine is the long chimney-like channel that faces directly into one side of “the marble's nest.” It's actually a deep narrow fissure that reaches all the way up the side of the sea wall. From where it erupts at the surface all the way down to the sea floor may well measure more than 30 feet. And it’s not just the height that gives it so much power; it also has length, where it spans narrowly at least 25 feet from the far wall all the way to the point where it empties into “the nest.” This narrowness at the "exit," smaller than a man, acts like the restriction on a fire hose that allows it to spray water at enormous pressures.

Watch the video for an example of how this engine works and of its power. You can see how both of us are being mightily pulled and pushed while in the inner confines of the chimney’s horizontal length. And keep in mind that the wave action driving that powerful surge at that moment is minimal as can also be seen in the video when I surface up at the top of “the chimney.”

Keep in mind that strong storms continually rack the northern coast of the Philippines, and even stronger typhoons strike two and more times a year. These storms, big and small, drive water with super intensity down and out that channel directly into and under our large white marble; and when it does, the release of that tremendous hydraulic power rolls it around and up the sides of its expansive rock nest, all the while chipping and flaking off pieces as it smashes and mashes into the surrounding stone.

I looked everywhere in the vicinity of the marble trying to find any of its chipped off pieces, but could find nothing, probably because the flecks come off so small that they are unrecognizable as having once been part of the stone, or perhaps the power of the rushing water sweeps it all away.

Trying to put it into some kind of perspective, how many years, or decades, or even millenia has it taken to form that intriguing white globe of rock? Perhaps I'm being more sensational than erudite, but I'm thinking that the whole area was above sea level 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. If so, the base of the escarpment back then, where the big marble nests today would have been high and dry. So my bet is that the marble has been in the making for at least 10,000 years which is when the sea level got high enough again to reclaim it. Having said that, I would LOVE to be corrected by an honest to God geologist.
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Okay, hold the phone! I wrote all the above last night during what I THOUGHT was an ingenious flash of brilliance. I think now that at least SOME of my suppositions might turn out to be more of a flash in the pan than brilliant. I know, NO surprise there.

At the fitness center this afternoon a fleeting moment of clarity hit me while pondering the giant underwater marble. I reminded myself to check the stones in my rock garden. Sure enough, when I got back here I walked right up to one round one out there that looks susupiciously similar to The Big White Marble. Check out the photos below.

I'm not rethinking ALL my theories, but I AM beginning to believe that The Marble perhaps did NOT begin its individual existence as the broken off end of a fallen "mother rock." I changed my mind a few hours ago after examining the stone in my rock garden.

We found the pock marked ball shaped rock in the Abacan River bed. It may have become rounded during its life as a river stone, but I'm thinking that it has looked the way it does now since it spewed out of Pinatubo's caldera thousands of years ago. When I found it today and carefully examined it I was struck at how similar it is to its big underwater brother.

I believe now that both the small one AND the big one both attained their present appearance exactly the same way, volcanically; if so, then all that underwater tumbling and grinding away action has little to do with how it got to be round. I'm really thinking now that it started out that way.

I do believe that its uniquely brilliant whiteness stems completely from the polishing action of constantly being thrown around the inside its walls of hard stone. The thrashing bashing crashing rock ball is like a pestle and mortar, constantly smoothing its surface and keeping the normal sea growths from discoloring it.

None of that takes away from its singular magnificence. It gleams, brilliantly white, eerily irridescent, sitting majestically alone, penned in by visually lesser rocks colored contrastingly pink and gray.

It really amounts to a miracle. I mean how unlikely is it that all these conditions AND this huge round rock could come together in this one place? I think its just about impossible; yet, there it is.

I've run the videos of it many times now and I still find this thing stunning, especially when considering how high the hit marks are on many of the encircling stone faces. Even if this thing is some form of porous volcanic rock, like pumice, I know it must be fairly heavy. I would LOVE to be able to be there when the hydraulics become powerful enough to spin and toss it high around in its enclosure. Can you imagine that! Of course, being there physically would be a death sentence, so you can't have everything. Then again, maybe The National Geographic could put in place a robust underwater camera to record the incrdible event? Anybody know somebody?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Big White Marble

The impressive features of the canyons held our interest for a full three dives. And I think we could easily have spent another three dives exploring that site, but with so many more areas to investigate we couldn’t afford to spend any more time there.

In all, the canyons, or the area to the right upon exiting the lagoon, cover at least an acre or more. It’s a massive expanse of gigantic volcanic rocks and ancient fissures, some wide enough for a small car to pass through, others barely large enough for one man.

I’ve dove the area also referred to as “the canyons” at Puerto Gallera, but I think Claveria’s canyons puts them to shame, at least they do so visually. The canyons of Claveria are more extensive, convoluted, complicated and maze-like, and many of the walls are much higher. Of course PG’s versions have multitudes more of fish life, something that Claveria COULD correct if they ever put into place any meaningful protective measures. I’m just not very hopeful in that regard.

If not for my camera all the wonderful things I see while diving would evaporate from memory almost as soon as my head breaks the surface. I’ve said that before, and I’ll probably say it many times more because it’s so true. I’m at the point now that I do not want to dive WITHOUT my camera. It’s like, what’s the point? In fact, on our third day of diving, when I realized that we had left my Canon back in the room, Don offered immediately, “No problem. Let’s go back and get it. We’ll be back in no time.” God bless him, HE knows!

The BIG WHITE Marble:

I’ll never forget the first time we saw it. We were exploring a portion of the canyon labyrinth when we came out of a channel into an open area. Something very white, very large and very round caught my eye on the other side of a fallen pillar-like slab of pinkish rock.

‘What the heck IS that?’ I screamed in my head. I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

My first sighting of it was from a distance, so I didn’t realize exactly how large it really was. I sensed that it was probably big, but its size isn’t what caught my eye, since it was still too far to get a real feel for its true bulk.

No, it is the bright whiteness that catches the eye, especially since most of the surrounding rock is much darker, or should I say has more color other than white. Its appearance dazzled me, drawing me close, but my fascination exploded as I saw it was also round, like a smooth river stone, only more spherical.

Finally, right on top of the thing, as I saw how large it was, I began to realize that I was looking at something really special.

‘Okay, WHY is there a huge, white round rock down here? Where did it come from? HOW did it get like this?’

I LOVE a mystery! I began to try to figure it out.

Next: The possible origins of the big white marble.