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Lizard Island Log

Saturday, October 10, 1998

Jen and I ran this morning, and it was super humid. It was nice to dunk ourselves into the hotel pool afterwards. The sweat didn't burn off me because of the humidity. I was just beading up, and it was only 7:30 in the morning. In the afternoon, we flew off to Lizard Island. We were in a really small prop plane that didn't even have retractable landing gear and seated only 20 people. It took us only two minutes to drive from the landing strip to the Lizard Island Lodge.

After a drink and some hors d'oeuvres, we checked in. We then went to the watersports department and made reservations for the Outer Reef Trip the next day. We rented some wetsuits and hiked up Chinaman's Ridge and then down to Watson's Bay to snorkel among the clam gardens. We had to swim over about 100 yards of sandy beach before we hit the clam gardens, but it was well worth the swim. The reef at the bay had a myriad of soft corals (I think they were finger leathers) and clams of multiple sizes.

What really amazed me was how much the clams bored into the rock or substrate. The only thing showing on the clams that had bored in were the top of the mantles. In addition to the smaller clams which had bored into the rock (these clams apparently have an acid which bores into rock), we also saw very large clams over five feet across which stood bare on the rocks or in the substrate. It's amazing how large the giant clams can become.

Another interesting feature is the multiple colors of the eyes in the mantle and the mantle themselves. I wasn't getting a good fit with my mask so Jen and I came back after a little while and changed for dinner. Before we headed off for dinner, we saw a 945 lb black marlin strung up at the waterfront. Apparently, we were there the same time as the annual Black Marlin Fishing Tournament. The black marlin was monstrous in size and I took some good video and pictures of the beast.

After viewing the marlin, we went to cocktail hour which they have for everyone (staff and guests) at 7 PM on Saturdays before dinner. I had a Guinness and this weird fuschia mixed drink. Needless to say, I couldn't stay awake during dinner. I kept dozing off and hoping for the next portion of the meal to come. I can't remember exactly what we had for dinner and desert, but it was really good. I totally crashed when we hit the room and Jen took some video in my quiet state.

Sunday, October 11, 1998

On this morning, we headed off for our outer reef cruise. We had about ten other guests and five staff members on the boat with us. The first thing we did was start off the Black Marlin Tournament for the day. All the fishing boats lined up behind us and then our boat started off to initiate the start for the others. I wasn't expecting such quick acceleration from our boat and I fell against the back of the boat. Luckily, I didn't go off the back of the boat! That would have been really embarrassing with all the other boats observing us, and all the passengers seeing me go overboard. Before the beginning of the Tournament start, we actually saw a boat pulling the dead black marlin out to sea. I guess they take it out and chop it up so that it will sink to the bottom. I wouldn't want to be in the water when they do it since it sounds like perfect fish bait for sharks and other large pelagic carnivores.

The first reef we went to was Noname reef. It was a wonderful fringing reef, but I had initial problems with getting my mask to fit right. One of the crew, Gavin, who was accompanying us snorkelers, told me to pull the bottom of the mask closer to my lips and that worked wonders in terms of fit. The coral I was really impressed with was the purple Acropora. It's a deep purple, and I hope I can obtain something similar to it for the 50 gallon reeftank. I found out from Gavin the way to equalize the pressure in your ears when you dive deep is to squeeze your nose shut and blow through your nose until your ears pop. I was able to spot a bubble tip anemone with a school of clownfish.

After about an hour at No Name Reef, we headed to the Potato Cod Hole. The Potato Cod Hole was disappointing in the fact that we didn't seen any really huge Potato Cods, but we did get to see some big fish on the reef top. We saw a Maori Wrasse with another fish about 1/5 its size following behind it. We saw the largest Parrot Fish I've ever seen in my life at this reef. We also saw a large parrot fish with a big hump or horn on its head. It wasn't a very colorful fish, but it was a big boy. Other fish we saw were Moorish Idols, a variety of tangs and parrot fish and other small wrasses and reef fish. I've concentrated so much on the small reef fish and invertebrates that fit in a sub 100 gallon tank that I don't know much about the large fish on the reef. I should study them before the next time I go snorkelling or diving, especially to find out which ones are dangerous.

I think the two reasons we didn't see the Potato Cod is that another boat was there when we arrived and I think the divers on that boat may have already fed the Cod. The other reason is that although one of the crew saw five Cod when we set anchor, they were gone when the rest of the dive crew went down. The numbers of people down there may have scared the cod off. Since we had wetsuits, Jen and I didn't apply the sunscreen we should have and we both had toasted skin on our ears, arms, necks and legs. Luckily, the sunburns we had were minor and there was no oozing or blistering.

Monday, October 12, 1998

On this day, Jen and I ate breakfast and then picked up our packed lunch in a cooler and our own dinghy. The dinghy was actually a small boat with a small Yamaha engine. I quickly learned how to pilot the motor although I was a little bit scared I was going to hit a buoy. The first stop of our day was Mermaid's Cove at the north end of the island.

We were told to go there until 10:30 because of the low tide danger at other mooring sites around the island. We initially overshot Mermaid's Cove and headed toward larger waves and the very rocky and bare north shore of the island, but we quickly turned back once we realized that the waves were a bit too large and there were no nice sandy beaches to dock at. We had a nice little protected cove to ourselves at Mermaid's Cove. The waves were much smaller and coral had a chance to grow there. The two big differences between this cove habitat and the other reef were the amount of silt coating the bottom inhabitants and the amount of gunk floating and dispersed among the water. The grossest stuff were the pieces of gunk covered with algae floating around the water. I kept thinking they were pieces of excrement, but probably were just pieces of plant matter from the mainland that was being decomposed in the ocean.

I picked up a blue starfish and a clam about 8 inches across while I was in the cove. I was pretty surprised at how easy it was to pick up the blue starfish. I might get one for a larger reeftank in the future, but I'm scared they'll try to nail one of my clams. I think I'll definitely get a smaller orange-red starfish. Jen spotted an anemone. Toward the outer edge of the cove, I saw more Acropora. I was shocked to see how much dead Acropora there was in the cove. I think it was probably due to the silt in the water. I think the cove's location contributed to the silt buildup of the cove.

I was particularly interested in all the types of sea cucumbers in the area. There were some beautifully tan and brown mottled ones, big black ones and a large brown one which looked like it had spines (I learned later at a tidal zone exhibit at the Undersea World Aquarium in Cannes, that the "spines" were merely soft projections of the outside of the cucumber. I think the reason they're there is that these soft projection "spines" don't look very tasty and inviting to a predator.). Addenda 6/19/20 - The common name for the spiked brown cucumber is Tiger Tail cucumbers.

We departed Mermaid's Cove at 11:00 AM and headed for a beach for lunch. We ended up at the small beach on the north side of Palmfrey Island. We anchored the boat where the depth of the water was below our knees. We jumped ship and brought the packed lunch and beach umbrella to the beach. My initial attempt at planting the beach umbrella was thwarted since there was a strong breeze which blew the umbrella from its hole in the sand. I solved the problem by pushing the umbrella deeper in the sand, putting rocks around the pole's base and bracing it against the cooler in which we brought the box lunch.

The weather was very warm and humid, so I'm glad there was a breeze. My glasses had accumulated a lot of salt spray and the combination of looking through hazy glasses and the hot weather made me even warmer. Five seagulls quickly became our companions, looking for handouts. The seagulls had an interesting behavior. Four of them would hang back about 100 feet away while one would be much closer, only about 30 feet away. I think it's a nice survival tactic so that if I nail the one closest to me, I also won't get a shot at the one's farther away. Sometimes, the seagull that was close by would trade positions with a seagull that was far away. The funniest thing was when I threw a piece of shell to trick them the seagulls into thinking I was giving them food, and the whole group of seagulls would fly toward the fake food.

Jen and I took a lot of pictures and video of the beach. I think the video and pictures may be compromised in their quality because of salt spray on the lenses. After lunch, we headed for the mooring site close to Horseshoe Reef. Since this was a more protected reef at the south end of the island, we saw a lot of massive soft corals. The specimens I was most impressed by were the yellow leathers 15 to 20 feet in diameter. I was amazed at how large they were as I floated over them. The yellow leathers were circular in their growth with ridges and undulations throughout the whole surface of the leather. I could see the waxy buildup they slough off collecting in the ridges of the leather. There were also a lot of fire corals and soft finger leathers. There were some clams with beautiful turquoise blue striations in their mantle. I wouldn't mind having one of those in my tank.

We finally saw a nudibranch and I was particularly happy to see some white Xenia on some dead Acropora. The Acropora growths were most prominent at the edge of the reef outgrowth where the water current was strongest. The reef organism morphology changes were easy to see with the soft corals in the middle of the reef flat and the Acropora at the edges with a few plate corals. Among the Acropora, we also saw a large bubble-tip anemone which shows how much water current they can adapt to.

I took off my wetsuit on our second dive of the day and it was much easier to dive underwater. I was able to take a close look at things a few feet below the surface without working too hard. I was also able to dive down and pick up a 8 inch black cucumber without any problem. I left the 4 foot cucumbers down at the bottom since I was scared to pick them up. Ugh, it's kind of nauseating to think that Chinese think of sea cucumber as a delicacy. We had another great dinner that night and made plans to run up to Cook's Look the next day. I talked to Mark, the resident naturalist, and he told me that the record to the top was 29 minutes. I smiled and told him we would just be happy to make it to the top. He smiled back and said at least we had something to shoot for...


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