Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A week in Eilat - Ocean Ecosystem

After years of toying with the idea, I finally managed to attend a class at the Inter-University Institute for Marine Sciences (IUI) in Eilat. More precisely, Alon and Ayelet managed to drag me with them to the class. Since neither Ayelet nor me are students, we were given auditor status, which meant that we sat at the end of the class and tried not to interfere too much.

The IUI is located on the beach front, just south of the Coral Reef Reserve and the Underwater Observatory.

Image of IUI facilities (from the IUI website)

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Satellite image of south Eilat region(from Google Maps)

The IUI consists of labs, class rooms, dormitories, and a dive center (next to the pier). The dive center
has full diving club facilities, including lockers and showers (with really hot water). Since we were visitors, were told we can dive but have to bring our own tanks. So we had to rent tanks at a regular dive club and schlep them back and forth. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

The 10-day long class was "Introduction to the Ecosystem of the Red Sea". It involved frontal classes about the geology, oceanography,  and chemistry of the global and local ocean system. In addition we learned about the life (algea, small animals, coral reefs, etc.) and their interactions with ocean system. The practical part of the class included few labs, tours of the underwater environment, and research projects (the last four days). Ayelet and I stayed just for the first five days (classes and labs) and Alon who was actually registered to the class stayed for the full duration and did a project on cleaning stations in the reef.

Since the course is condensed into 10 days it was very busy. Nonetheless, we tried to go diving whenever there was free time. Either during dinner breaks, or during periods where there was lab activity we could not participate in as auditors.

Diving from the IUI was a different experience. On the one hand the local beach is rather isolated, and rarely visited. On the other, this was an area with a less impressive reef (this is why it was given to experimentalists). Still, it was full of life. Moreover, some of the experiments were different artificial habitats. These were full of soft corals and marine life.

In total I managed 5 night dives and 3 day dives (Alon and Ayelet managed more). The local facilities were great for night dive, you enter immediately into the sea, and exit few meters from a hot shower. The sea was not very cold (~23C) but the air was cooler, and there was fierce wind most of the time.

This was also the first time I got a chance to dive with my new camera setup. This included an Olympus E-PL3, two lenses (14-42, 9-18), and a new underwater housing (Nauticam) that included an additional strobe and a close-up lens for macro shots.

New camera system

This was a major upgrade from my old setup, but required non-trivial learning. The results were good, but there is room for improvement. The main difference was a "real" housing from machined aluminum rather than the cheaper plastic ones I had until now. The difference in ergonomics and responsiveness of the keys was amazing.

And now for some images.

Jellyfish with some passengers

Christmas Tree Worm

Spider crab on red soft coral


Add caption

Wide angle

Wide angle

Clown fish

Wide angle

Wide angle

Wide angle

Wide angle with trumpetfish

A thornback trunkfish that posed for me

The same fish

Closeup on some coral polyps

Closer closeup

Sea star (detail)

Sea lilly (detail)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Short visit to Lyon

I attended a two day meeting in Lyon, the culinary capital of France. The hotel that was recommended to us was in the heart of the city, on the tip of the peninsula formed the two rivers who meet here: the Saone and the Rhone.

View of the Saone

I had time to stroll about a bit both on the way to the meeting venue in the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon and on the afternoon after the meeting.

Pl. Bellecoer

As usual when visiting france, the amazing bread and cheeses leave me wishing for more. The breakfasts are a divine experience, and then you must have croissant to finish it off.

We had a nice dinner as part of the meeting in an Art Deco restaurant.

Stop and Go, morning traffic


Art Deco Restaurant where we had dinner
The following day, after the meeting ended at lunch time, several of us went exploring the old town.

Old Town

Old Town
We climbed a steep flight of stairs to the top of the hill overlooking the old town.

Stairways up the hill

Basilica on top of the hill
From the top of the hill we proceeded toward the remains of two large Roman amphitheaters that overlook the city.

Roman ruins

Roman ruins

Street performers, Old town

Late afternoon view over the Saone

We stopped for a bite at a local boulangerie.

Looking at selection in a Boulangerie

In the evening I went for dinner at a local restaurant at the old town. It was very good and casual.

Early the next day I left on my way home through Frankfurt.

Sunrise, Frankfurt airport

Friday, October 28, 2011

Santa Monica Pier

After two more days of conference, I decided I needed a break. A local suggesting renting a bike and riding along the shore. I thought this was a good plan.

I headed toward the beach, and found myself next to the Santa Monica Pier. This is a stereotypical fair/tourist trap location, with colorful characters, memorabilia shops, restaurants, and of course an amusement park.

It was a sunny afternoon, so I soaked a bit of the atmosphere on the pier itself.

When I got to the bike rental place, it turned out they close early, and so I had to change my plans. Instead I took my shoes off and went to explore the beach.

Below the Pier there was a forest-like maze of wooden posts that held the structure together. The receding tide exposed mussels and barnacles growing on the base of the columns. The local seagull population used the opportunity to explore various food options.

Walking along the beach, there were large number of seagulls roaming the water line.

Returning to the columns, I discovered several large sea stars hiding among the mussels.

Few local kids collected stars into a large pile. I am not sure if this ecologically correct (although I assume that the fact that these stars survive here means that they are resistant to such exposure). However, it gave me a nice photo oppertunity.

The forest like feeling of the pier structure led to games of light and shadows.