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Lemon yellow frogfish

by Georgette Douwma

Reproduced from in focus 17 (Aug. 1986)

Israel

It had been two years since Peter [Scoones] and I had been on holiday, although we had been away for film jobs to quite a few nice places. Peter had, for example, done the underwater filming for three commercials, two in the Red Sea and one in Xalta, a documentary in the Blue Holes in the Bahamas and a few other Jobs in the past two years. But on these there was hardly ever the opportunity to take stills. Occasionally there was Just time to jump in the water with the camera to take a few snaps, but the main object was to get the filming done.

So the last two weeks In December and the first week in January we went to Eilat to do some serious underwater photography, strictly for ourselves. We had left the decision of where to go rather late. It was difficult to make up our winds. So many wonderful places to choose from: Maldives, Bahamas, Belize or perhaps the Antilles. In the end we decided on Eilat. It is not too far away; not too expensive; and most important, Peter knows it well. Eilat is full up at that time of year, but through Twickenham Travel we managed to get a hotel room. There is no need to organise any diving from London. Peter had been in Eilat for one of the commercials only a month ago and so had got to know Lucky Divers who supplied all the dive gear, boats and divers for that commercial.

The first thing we did after arriving in Eilat (where it rained) was to hire a car. Next morning we drove up to Lucky Divers to rent tanks and weights. Now we were in business and raring to go. We both had new equipment to try out. Peter had just finished his housing for the Pentax LX and I had an off-the-shelf Hugyphot housing (with improvements designed by Peter), also for the Pentax LX.

We had had them in the water before, but It was all still very new and exciting. I also had a new flash, a Subatec, which was going to change my life because of the modelling light in it. For the first time in my underwater photography career Iwould not have to guess the focussing, composition or the position of the flash.

FIRST DIVE

We drove out of Eilat along the beach. Peter had a recollection of nice coral heads with several small caves. Ve saw the dark shapes in the water that indicate coral beads and decided to Set In. These were not the coral heads we were looking for, but we stayed for the day. The water was full of salps and beautiful comb-jellies. They drifted past in thick clouds. They are very difficult to photograph though. I got several rolls of nothing, but Peter got a lot of nice shots.

The next day we found the coral heads with the caves. The site is called the Light House and we spent the next twelve days there. It is very popular with the local dive centres and is Ideal for photography with four or five good sized coral heads on a sandy bottom in three metres of water. There are all kinds of life on and around then, no big fish or sharks of course. But then, Ido not want to see any sharks. I do not want any big thrills underwater, I prefer the little ones.

Our routine was now established. Every morning we collected the battles and drove to the beach where we stayed for the day. It is not very warm in Ellat at that time of the year, because of a relentless cold Northerly wind. It is sunny most of the time though, and as soon as the wind drops, it is warn enough to sunbathe. Then the flies come out and you almost wish for the wind to return. However the wind rarely dropped.

We spent on average three and a half hours In the water every day, which isvery good going, but of course very little time when compared with the time the wildlife photographer on land can spend an studying his subjects, waiting and picture taking.

LIONFISH

Several times a day groups of novice divers would arrive and swim round and round the coral heads. Although this was a bit of a nuisance, because the visibility would drop. most of the creatures were used to divers. I have never seen such bold, inquisitive lionfish. Not that I as an expert on lionfish. but if you get one of them sitting next to your knee, and another hovering at your elbow while you are trying to take a picture of something else,' and you have to start watching them so you don't squash them, I think you could say they were not shy. When they behave like curious pussy cats you forget that they can be lethal. The fan worms too were bold. They seem to have learned that to get kicked does not necessarily mean to get eaten.

We became very much at home at the Light House. We knew every every bit of Dendronephthya, many fan worms of different species, various coloured crinoids, the position of the cleaning stations and of the sun at any particular time. No fabulous drop-offs this time, no raptures of the deep, instead the homely familiarity of the aquarium.

CRINOIDS

One exceptionally beautifully coloured crinoid had its haze at the top of one of the coral heads. It was great fun to go there at dusk, settle down with camera and flash at the ready, and wait for it to creep out of its hiding place, ever so slowly and then suddenly very fast, and watch it spread out in all its glory on a bit of coral in front of me. I got rather carried away and exposed several rolls of film on this 'strawberry' featherstar. In hindsight, taking the pictures was much more fascinating than the pictures themselves. Even when it looks wonderful through the viewfinder, there is no guarantee that you are taking wonderful pictures.

TABA

When we felt that we had photographed every worm, lionfish, clownfish, featherstar, hard and soft corals etc, we decided to move. We went as far along the coast as it is possible without actually ending up in Egypt, to Taba Beach. This area is still disputed by the Egyptians.

Taba Beach was bliss. We could park the car behind a brick wall and shelter from the wind. We had to suffer the flies and stench instead: we seemed to be parking in one of the beach's urinals. But for a while it was worth it.

There is a fair sized population of travellers and drifters of all ages living on the beach. Some in tents, others in cavarans. Every day they had to suffer hordes of tourists and divers an the beach and five to six boats with day trippers an the water. On week-ends it was overcrowded. As soon as the sun went down they had the place to themselves again. No raptures of the deep for us at Taba either. Although it was possible to Set to thirty metres and deeper.

FROGFISH

Most evenings we went to the pub. David, one of Lucky Divers dive guides would be there every evening in his regular spot at the bar, drinking pints of fruit juice 'to get his vitamins', have a meal and on to a bit more serious drinking. We were there for the same thing except the vitamins. One evening David said: 'Do you want to take a picture of a lemon yellow frogfish?'. I did not know what a lemon yellow frogfish looked like, but yes please, I would, very much! David drew a map for us of the coral head with a cross for the exact spot where he had last seen the fish at four metres.

Next morning we were at Taba Beach at nine 'o clock. After kitting up we went straight to the spot of the lemon yellow frogfish. No amount of crosses on the map made it possible for me to find it. Maybe if he had put a cross on the coral head Itself, but even then I think I would have missed it. When Peter found it in the end, three metres deeper than when David saw It last, it looked exactly like a bit of yellow sponge attached to soft coral. Except that after a while this piece of sponge had two eyes, a large mouth and a very serious expression an its face. Peter and I both got into a photographic frenzy. taking turns, and ending up with almost identical pictures. Next day Iwent back with different film In the camera, Just to make absolutely sure that I got this amazing creature on film. It took m a long time to find him. He had moved three metres up. Then I finally spotted him he stood out like a light on a zebra-crossing. He was now sitting on grey, dead coral. I was disappointed that he had not picked a slightly more photogenic spot, like for example a red sponge. Since I was there, and so was he, I took his picture anyway. Just for fun I took one shot with available light only, because he was so beautifully back lit by the sun. Often things underwater look wonderful with natural light, but turn out disappointing on film. It happened to be the most interesting picture I got of the lemon yellow frogfish.

MOTHS and PYGMIES

Taba had a few more treasures: fish I had never seen before like the pygmy llonfish and the sea moths. A pygmy lionfish looks like a cross between a scorpion fish and a lionfish; sea moths are amazing little things with long snouts and butterfly wings that live on the sand. They are so well camouflaged that you can only see them when they spread their wings. They don't seem to swim at all, but are able to crawl very quickly.

We investigated one more site, recommended by DavId, the Table corals. A sandy bottom sloping steeply down to twenty four metres, with lots of pretty table corals and nice small coral beads. David had found some large slugs there and drew another map. I do not think that I found the exact spot, but I found three beautiful slugs sliding about at twelve metres. Like the frogfish, slugs are good models. They do not move about much, do not try to hide or run away. They are fearless and beautiful. They seem to be looking at you with an amused expression on their faces, peering out through their telescopes like creatures from outer space. After having spent nearly all the previous time diving In three metres of water, twelve metres was a massive Increase. Air really goes much faster. After what seemed only a short time with the slugs, Ihad to return because I was running low an air.

Finning back up the slope I noticed a small movement on my right; something was hiding Itself under a large bush of yellow Dendronephthya an the sand. I had to go and have a look, Iwas now in four metres of water. Half hidden under the soft coral was a fair sized stonefish, covered with red patches, like a lichen. It looked like stone and I was convinced it was a stonefish. I had only seen one or two before, and then only after someone else pointed It out to me. Most of the time stonefish are Invisible, and when you think you have seen one. you can be pretty sure that It was not a stonefish. Well this was exciting! Peter would never believe me If I just told him. I had to get a picture. There was no time to do something imaginitive, all I wanted was to collect proof. It was just as well I did. Peter went to the yellow Dendronephthya the next day to lock at this wondrous stonefish and, would you believe it, a large grey scorpion fish had swapped places with it! I was utterly disgusted, but I got my own back later in London. After all, I had pictures to prove it.

TOAD AND PIPEFISH

David spotted several other fish for us: in the shallows at table corals we found the ghost pipe fish. Incredible, wispy creatures, invisible to my near-sighted eyes except through the camera. At least three stonefish that remained invisible, a maroon frogfish at the Light House, and one fish that got David himself excited. 'I have seen a monster he said, 'a monster what' I wanted to know. But this fish was just known as 'The Monster'. It could be found if you stuck your head deep into a small cave on the pinnacle at the Table corals. Yell that seemed dangerous to me, so I Save it a miss, but Peter had a go. He saw it and managed to squeeze his camera in at ate end of its hole and the flash at the other end and to take a picture of this muster. A peculiar looking fish that could not make up its mind whether to be a scorpion fish or a puffer fish. Later we saw a picture in a book, where it was called a toad fish.

The pinnacle was small but with a lot of life on it. It stood about six metres high In fourteen metres of water. I had been there many times and kept returning to take a picture of a small, but perfect branch of pink Dendronephthya. Everything was just right; a little current to clean away any sand kicked up by me, a lovely blue background and a small brittle star clinging to the Dendronephthya. Only problem - Dendronephthya was not co-operating at all. It was very frustrating. Every time I arrived, full of enthusiasm, it was limp and lifeless and useless for photography. Of course I won in the end, when I found it feeding and full of life, with even a small brittle star feeding, waving its bristly golden arms about. That turned out to be one of the nicest pictures Itook the whole trip. But then I had had enough time to think about it.

The biggest thrill, after the three weeks were up, was to get home, have all the films developed as quickly as possible and to finally see the results of all the planning and dreaming. And when can we do this again, same place, same time.


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