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Pemba has lots of fish and shellfish and crustaceans. Despite heavy subsistance fishing with nets and traps, there is none of the dynamite and poison that has destroyed the reef life in Kenya. The idea of this section is to display sealife ID digiphotos of species sighted between Mikindani Bay in Tanzania in the North and Mozambique Island in the South (this would include Lazarus Bank).

Anyone who has something special to contribute can contact me using the "contact us" page of this website. Please supply your name so that proper credit can be given, and a brief description of the time and place of taking the picture (and also the latin name of the creature, if you know it). Sport fisherman catch many gamefish species that are seldom seen by divers, let alone approached close enough to get a picture, so photos of unusual catches are welcome. Eco2 Divers from Mikindani publish photos from their divesites on "Eco2 on Facebook". Find it with a google search.

The name of this exercise is to identify species, not to win a photo competition. Nonetheless a good quality photo will always be given preference over a smudgy one, and extra space will be allocated to unusual and imaginative angles, and shots illustrating fish behaviour.

The best beginner's books for identifying sealife in the Pemba region are: "Fishes of the Maldives" by Rudie Kuiter and "Indian Ocean Reef Guide" by Helmut Debelius 4th edition 2006 (hereinafter a reference such as D74 is to Debelius page 74 or K132 to Kuiter page 132). There are many species that are found all the way from Thailand to East Africa, so Thailand, Maldive, and Seychelles fish books are most helpful for filling in the many species that Debelius and Kuiter had to omit. For the more elusive species, however, you will need to consult:

  • "Smith's Sea Fishes" by Smith & Heemstra 2003 (a hefty but comprehensive work);
  • "Coastal Fishes of Southern Africa" by the Heemstra husband and wife team (focused on fish from Kosi bay South).

Juvenile forms are particularly entertaining because so many juveniles look stunningly different from the adults (eg Oriental Sweetlips at D97; Bicolour Parrotfish at D190). There is undoubtedly space on this website for pictures of both adults and juveniles (and males and females and courting and non-courting and aggression variations etc). The website www.fishwise.co.za includes comprehensive photos of a huge variety of fish. It includes a powerful indexing engine which hugely facilitates fish identification. But be warned, scientists require a flesh and blood specimen in formalin before a new species will be confirmed.

Shellfish tend to be neglected by underwater photographers. Not the least because the glistening shells we see in the curio shops are anything but glistening in their unpolished live state when covered with barnacles and seaweed. Please do submit photos of shellfish in their wild state. Shellfish include their shell-less relatives the nudibranchs and flatworms and octopuses. And please also submit all other underwater life forms including starfish and sea cucumbers and corals and fans. Getting identification right may take a bit of time, unless you send the latin name and with your photo. Unidentified specimens will be posted with an appropriate "unknown" label. Anyone knowing the identity please let me know.

A general rule of underwater photography is that the more money you spend the better the pictures. The emphasis of this website, however, is on what can be achieved with budget digital cameras. For underwater a 3x optical zoom is fine. Suitable cameras with cheap good underwater housings are made by Olympus, Canon, Panasonic, Fuji, and SONY. Avoid cameras that do not come with a standard underwater housing. Avoid Nikon because of the slow autofocus. Avoid Panasonic TZ series because the macro function does not work well.

The more pixels the better. This permits later trimming of otherwise not-so-good shots. Do make sure you know how to shrink your shots to about 250Kb before uploading them onto the internet: 720x400 pixels is quite good enough for this website. Keep your megapixel pictures on your own storage for when you want to print them out. Myself, I shrink all shots once they have been edited.

For those who are happy lugging a bulky 4 kilograms plus around in the water the Olympus E-520 SLR has arrived with a real-time LCD and a modestly priced underwater housing. This is the budget route to pro-class equipment. Best results are to be had from one of the fast-focus f2,0 lenses that Olympus markets under the Zuiko brand name.

Mega wide angle lenses are great for very clear water or large subjects such as manta rays, whale sharks, and humans. However, for the myriad of smaller denizens who flick away if a camera approaches less than 1 meter, a longer focal length of about 100mm (35mm camera standard) will produce many more usable photos.

In water with suspended matter preset focus generally works better than autofocus. Juvenile fishes inhabit mangrove swamps and shallow inshore reefs where there is usually a lot more suspended matter than on the deeper reefs. Pemba has a 4,5 meter tidal rise and fall and powerful currents. This means a lot more suspended matter in the water compared to quiet seas like the Caribbean with a half meter tidal rise and fall.

The "underwater" auto-modes that come with the cameras listed above do not always give the best results. Make yourself familiar with tweaking white balance and ASA high speeds (a slightly grainy shot is much better than a badly blurred shot at a lower shutter speed).

An additional flash can be an advantage. INON produces a "TTL" digiflash for use with budget cameras. It determines flash output by reading the output from the camera built-in flash. It also has an auto mode which measures light output reflected back to the flash unit. I have seen some brilliant shots taken with an INON flash. Cameras with shutter speed priority can use the flash to stop motion by pushing up the shutter speed to cut out ambient light. Beware of cameras powered by only two AA batteries (such as the Canon A710 and Olympus D40). They do not have enough guts for frequent flash shots.

Budget cameras come with a video capability. Although the quality is not quite as good as that of a good digital video camera it is quite good enough for personal documentary material. It is the best way to record fish behaviour when courting or fighting. A high speed 4 gigabyte memory card will give about 40 minutes recording time. Be sure to choose a camera that accepts the faster larger memory cards. Not all of them do so.

Fogging is an ongoing problem. The general wisdom is to place silica gel sachets inside the camera housing. This, however, has only marginal advantage. The main cause of fogging is water that crosses the main O-ring when the camera housing is opened after a dive. The best cure is to fully dry out the inside of the housing after each dive and to remove the O-ring and wipe it down. I travel with a small hairdryer.

For most fish species activity and colouration is best in the late afternoon. This is when many fish turn from feeding to mating activity and mating colours and aggressive chasing away of competitors. The lowering light brings night creatures from their holes, and roaming day feeders return to the coral jungle to find safe holes for the night. The book "Reef Fish Behaviour" by Deloach & Humann provides detailed accounts of the behaviour of many Caribbean species. Most of these species have Indian Ocean equivalents who may be expected to behave in a similar manner. Anyone who has seen mating aggregations or rises in the Pemba area is invited to send a brief report for noting on this website (please use the contact us page). The location of ancestral fish gathering sites must, unfortunately, be kept strictly confidential. The commercial fisherman are not to be trusted (see Deloach & Humann's report on the fate of the Nassau grouper). However, reports of the existence of such sites in the Pemba fishwatch area would be most welcome. One important consideration distinguishes the Caribbean from the Pemba area: the Caribbean tidal rise and fall is at most 0,5 meters, for the Pemba area it is up 4,5 meters. Most reef fish spawn into the water column above the reef. The fertilised eggs are then carried by the tidal currents 100 kilometers or more. This is called "pelagic spawning". In the Caribbean the time of spawning does not have to concern itself too much with the state of tides (although increased activity at full moon is well documented). In the Pemba area we may find a much stronger correlation between between lunar phases, and the tides, and the timing of pelagic spawning activity. I am unaware of any research on this subject.

Be patient and keep trying. The same fish that is skittish and wild on one day will swim right up to the camera lens on another day. Chasing fish does work: A fish cannot see behind itself, so at some stage during the chase it will, once and once only, stop to turn sideways for a good look at its pursuer. That is your last chance for a photo.

Most of the new budget cameras come with "burst mode" at the rate of about one photo per second (faster if autofocus is disabled). This is extremely useful for skittish fish. Start "bursting" at a safe distance and then move stealthily closer.

I cannot say enough good things about editing software such as Photoshop. There is a school of photo thought that would ban touched up pictures. Not so on this website. When it comes to identifying a fish from a poor photo there is nothing like a good touch up to bring out features that would otherwise be invisible.

 

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