Posts Tagged ‘Scuba Diving’

A Universe unto Itself

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Living our daily lives we hardly notice the goings on in the natural world. I suppose in all fairness they probably do the same. A close observation of a flower will reveal to you that it is not only a place for an insect or hummingbird to find nectar, but it is also a home for a wide variety of insects looking like representatives from an alien world. The range in color in body shapes is as varied as their roles. There is everything from miniature predators like spiders waiting to ambush other species looking for nectar to herbivores taking advantage of the plant itself. In some cases there is even species looking to simply catch a ride on other species like some sort of a biological bus station.

Each zone in the natural world is like its own world with its own set of rules just like each continent on Earth has its own unique accent of plant life and fauna. These same rules apply both above and below the waterline where each habitat range provides a bounty of sustainability to its own fauna and plant life. During a recent dive into Lake Champlain I found that depth and lighting created a universe unto itself allowing specific species and survival techniques to flourish.  Just imagine that this particular lake is 120 miles long. However it varies in depth from very shallow to an amazing 400 ft depth.

The amount of sunlight varies greatly as well so the deeper you go the less sunlight makes it to the bottom. This means the greatest amounts of algae are in the areas that allow near constant bathing in sunlight.

Life in the Shallows” seems to be driven by the very sunlight it self. The abundance of light allows for blooms of algae that in turn is food for species including filter feeders like invasive Zebra Mussels whose razor sharp shells seem to cover the bottom until you go deep enough that they are starved for algae due to the eventual decrease in sunlight. Amazingly some species of birds and fish do actually feed on Zebra Mussels so although they are invasive, they are now another food source and also abundant.

In the coming years biologists will need to perform long term studies to understand the impact on the overall health of species like Yellow Perch that now include the Zebra Mussels on their dinner menu. The shallow zones of Lake Champlain are now synonymous with these prolific mussels but the well lit areas also have many other species carving out a niche in this shallow aquatic universe. It is hear that large predatory fish are taking advantage of those beams of light that makes their prey stand out in the brightly lit water. While exploring by scuba on water approx 8 to 15 ft I found they seemed to be patrolling parallel to the beach along the longer part of the lake and looked like some sort of aquatic bird of prey soaring like a Hawk waiting to flush out its prey as its eyes gazed with  deep intent at the world below.

With colors reminiscent of camouflaged soldiers trying to remain hidden the Log perch Darter fish blends perfectly against the grasses along the bottom. Their colors look like a beautiful design blending of jaguar and tiger patterns with a yellowish hue background against the black stripes. Like their namesake they seemed to “Dart” about within the small rounded rocks on the bottom quickly looking for food before once again finding a hiding place as the ominous shadows of the predator fish species like Smallmouth bass move with and eerie glide nearby.

With the lake having over 80 types of fish they come in may sizes. Some species in large freshwater lakes such as Lake Champlain can be enormous like Channel Catfish weighing well over 30 pounds to Sturgeon that can be 7 feet long and over 300 pounds! I did not see any during the recent series of diving expeditions however; I did come across a very large and exciting species to swim with which included the somewhat skittish Fresh Water Drum. I saw several of these very large fish in the shallows in water that was about 12 ft deep. They were very large and at least at a glance appeared to be well over 10 pounds. They added to the excitement of the exploration and gave an amazing sense of wonder to the shallows.

Like all things in nature, the most amazing things come when we actually pay attention to the fine details.

Seeing species taking advantage of “Life in the Shallows” introduced me to a beautiful world of amazement just beyond the beach and the glitter of the sun dancing on the waters surface. Understanding that each unique zone within such a massive watershed forms a universe unto itself means we can have a greater understanding their secret world.

Admiring the myriad of life in the shallow water zone is undoubtedly key to our own species appreciation of the health of the watershed and also the raw beauty that resides just beyond our site. I suppose that is what it’s really all about, taking the time to understanding our wild neighbors then gaining a better appreciation of them.

Mark Fraser

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Real Magic, it’s all natural

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Yes, I said “real magic”, I am not referring to a parlor trick like pulling a domestic rabbit from a top hat or making flowers appear from a cane.

I actually mean everything from levitation to the ability to make one’s self invisible. In the natural world, we see wonders that make the best high end Las Vegas magic show seem at best, cute. No offense to those who make their living that way but

let’s face it, that’s smoke and mirrors.When we look at “Mother Nature”,  it is not only reality it’s biological.

I have been Scuba Diving of the Massachusetts coast for over 20 years. Now some would argue that the colder murky green waters in the north east offer far less to admire but I am here to tell you that is far from the case.

I have seen the most amazing things diving in less than 65 feet of water that sometimes defy logic yet there they were. Let’s take “invisibility” for example, well that’s no problem for species of fish I commonly see like the incredible “Flounders”. This oval shaped fish has several types like the “Winter flounders” and is commonly found off the New England coast as is the similar albeit rounder “Window Pane”. They can change both their color and patterns on their skin to match the surrounding sea floor so perfectly they become literally “invisible”. Sure they are not as famous as the cuddle fish for such abilities but they deserve a sea full of respect for their amazing art of camouflage or as they like to say in the magic business “invisibility”.

It’s not just fish that have this ability, Take the American Bittern. A medium sized heron species with golden stripes on its belly. Standing in its grassy habitat it also will rely on its own form of magic. If it wants to disappear, it will look up to the sky and start to sway it’s body from left to right mimicking the grass swaying in the breeze so the patterns on its belly look undetectable against the surrounding grass. I had no idea how incredible this ability was until I had the honor of seeing a Bittern in the wild standing still in an open field. I watched as it lifted its head looking up to the sky and began to sway “perfectly” matching the grass swaying in a gentle breeze, then within in a second, it disappeared and I could no longer see it until it started to walk away. Ok Los Vegas, give that one a
try! Evan some species of lizards have the ability to blend in to their surroundings so well that you would hardly notice they were there at all.

So let’s talk about levitation. For this, I will leave the sea out of it because that is not only common but as a diver I can do that one myself with the right balance of air in my vest called a “BCD” and weights. What about out of the water, and in the open air and to make it more interesting, not including birds like the Hummingbird since we all know they have that down to a science.   How about spiders? Yes that’s right they can levitate themselves. It’s called “ballooning” and many species can travel this way and even amazing distances. They use a silk called “gossamer” or “Balloon Silk” to weave their magic to life. There is evidence they can travel up to 16,000 feet in the air and over 1000 miles far beyond the distance of any great magician’s theater at the finest venue. They walk to tallest point in the immediate area, then create their “balloon silk” waving it in the air where the tiniest of breezes can carry them away. Even the young “spiderlings” of many species get in on the act as a way to leave home and start off on their own life’s journey. There are even caterpillars and mites that also have this amazing ability. Of course this is an old hat trick when talking about plants like Milkweed or the Dandelion that like many species use levitation to transport their own seeds.
In nature “Levitation” is not only real its fairly common among many species.

So in review, we have covered both invisibility and levitation in the natural world.

Ok no big magician act is ever complete with out a bonus “encore” presentation for the audience. Have you seen a magician saw someone into pieces? Of course we know that’s done with the help of a couple assistants squished into boxes one with the feet hanging out and the other showing the top half to appear as if they were actually cut into pieces. Thankfully that’s fake, just a trick.  Now let’s look at another animal magician, the Sea Sponge. Although they look more like plants they are actually animals and they have a trick that would put any would-be magician out of business. If they are actually passed through a tiny screen mesh, they come out on the other side and start to regroup back into a sponge. Not that I would ever want to do that mind you but it’s not trickery, it’s the real deal.

Is their “real magic?” there answer is; yes very much so and it’s all natural. All we need to do is look it’s actually all around us.

Mark Fraser

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Diving for Gold!

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

On a recent trip to begin production of a future film “Exploring the Depths of Lake Champlain” I decided to break up the dives based on several trips. These would be consistent with the different segments of the film including wildlife, native and non native “invasive” species, watershed habitats feeding the Lake, fossils, Shipwrecks and Geology.  For some of the geological dives I began to research, looking for anything that seemed to be interesting to capture on film. Calling a local dive shop I was in luck. I was told that there was something magical about 70ft deep beneath the glimmer at the water’s surface.

It was Pyrite also sometimes called “fools gold”. I was absolutely thrilled!  I never expected to find such an amazingly interesting geologic feature in the depths of the lake. The Dive team assembled and we chartered a boat in Willsboro Bay area of Lake Champlain.  We set up anchor against huge rock palisade that looked to be about 600ft high rising above the water. After our safety briefing with the boat’s captain and assembling our camera gear, it was time to make a splash. The water was amazingly shallow. I mean we could literally, stand up!  We were informed to swim north towards a small peninsula of rock sticking out into the water and from that point on the water was very deep just past that (about 150ft).  

So after a brief swim the team began the descent into the murky depths. Right away I notice that the water is amazingly “green” in fact this looked allot like diving off the coast of Gloucester Massachusetts something I have done countless times.  The green hue was due to a blue-green alga bloom brought on by the recent heat wave in the area.  I could see fresh water clam species and within a few ft began to notice tens of thousands of invasive Zebra mussels that cover every inch of the waters rocky edge. Traveling down deeper, noticing occasional crags within the rock wall where some smaller species of fish quickly hid before I could identify them. Drifting further, lights a blaze on this under water cliff that I was slowly sinking beside was a strange feeling. Like falling but in slow motion. In time, at about 65ft the green algae suddenly and abruptly stopped giving way to a blackness that covered everything so completely only the light from my dive light and the more powerful lights of the camera team allowed for any visibility.

Another 10 ft down, we began to search in earnest. It took a long time to find what we were looking for, and our air was running seriously low, when suddenly the black rock of the underwater cliffs edge gave way to this massive chevron shaped white quartz! It was breathtaking. The quartz wall appeared to be About 10 ft high and about 15 ft wide and looked completely out of place against the otherwise dull colors of the rest of the cliff. I get close realizing that I must hurry with low air but I need a closer look as I notice a small shiny beam of light. I swim to it, and am amazed to find- its gold – gold Pyrite! There are tiny flakes mixed into the white quarts wall creating beautiful sparkles of light.  As I wave my dive lights, the light sparkles like the floor of a dance hall. For a moment I pause frozen at the beautiful world that I am now visiting but I must hurry. At this depth staying to long could be more then dangerous, it could be fatal.

Though I am amazed by the beauty before my eyes, I know must go, as I am only a visitor to this magical underwater world. As I begin to climb to the surface staring back to the depths, and the light slowly returns I can’t help but think that one day I will again return to my dance hall under the depths of Lake Champlain.

Mark Fraser

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