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Slugs, seadragons, and a look at life under the water

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Sea goddesses, weedy seadragons and pygmy seahorses. They all sound like names of mythical creatures, but they are real and Cherie Dam has the photographs to prove it.

A sea goddess is a type of nudibranch, a weird, brightly coloured sea slug. A weedy seadragon and a pygmy seahorse are also creatures in the ocean.

Ms Dam has photographed many different types of unusual marine life while following a passion for underwater photography. Her amazing photographs will be featured in a panel discussion at the first ever Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute Citizen Scientist Lecture Series today.

The lecture is about how ordinary citizens can contribute to scientific knowledge and understanding.

Originally from Capetown, South Africa, Ms Dam came to Bermuda five years ago to work for an audit firm. Her interest in diving and underwater photography started rather inauspiciously while she and her husband, Duncan Henderson, were on vacation in Egypt a few years ago.

“There was no training,” said Ms Dam. “They just showed you how to equalise and how to breathe through the mouthpiece, and you jumped into the water. I jumped in and panicked. I couldn’t figure out how to breathe through the mouthpiece. I came back to the surface, got on the boat and then did some snorkelling. When the instructor came back up he asked if I wanted to try again.”

She agreed to go back in, insisting she didn’t want to go very deep until she saw a stingray at the bottom that demanded a closer look.

In 2008, she and her husband qualified as advanced open water divers and she started shooting underwater.

“Underwater cameras are quite expensive,” she said. “You can either start out with a point and shoot and get housing for that that would be a couple of hundred dollars then you would have a very basic picture. Then if you are going into a digital single lens reflex camera and the proper housing and the strobes, then you could be running into the tens of thousands of dollars.”

Ms Dam said it was probably easier to learn how to scuba dive than it was to work a high-tech underwater camera. The latter requires steadiness and patience.

“You are either taking macro-shots or wide-angle shots,” she said. “If you are taking a macro-shot it is a very different setting than a wide-angled shot. And the lighting is different underwater. The rule with underwater photography is if you think you are close enough you still need to get a little closer. You have the distance of the water between you and the subject; it is not like taking a picture of an open space above, the light will diminish through the water.”

Along the way she has learned a few interesting things, such as the fact that seahorses do not have eyelids. Because of this, they cannot blink and can be blinded by a long series of camera flashes.

“I try to just take two shots,” she said. “You have to be responsible.”

At home, she keeps a collage of about 55 of her favourite pictures on the wall. One of her favourites is a photo of a frogfish. When threatened, they open their mouths really wide as though yawning, and you can see right down their throat.

“They don’t have them in Bermuda,” she said. “They say there is a Sargassum frogfish, but I have yet to see one. I have a favourite wreck to dive at. It is called

Dredger and it is up by North Shore. It is the only place in Bermuda that has nudibranches. They are blue with yellow dots. They are also called the sea goddess. On the

Dredger you can also find some seahorses. It is a cool macro-dive because it is so full of life. A lot of the wrecks here are pretty empty.”

Tonight’s panel will be the first public showing of her photography. She posts her photographs on her Facebook page; some have made it onto scuba diving magazine websites.

The panel starts at 7pm. Moderated by BUEI chairman Jack Ward, it will look at how lay people with an interest became involved in science, and their motivations and the projects they are working on. Panellists include Ms Dam, Teddy Tucker, Philippe Rouja, Andrew Stevenson and Judie Clee.

Tickets, $25 for non-members and $20 for members, are available from the BUEI gift shop or by calling 294-0204.

A weedy seadragon. Photo by Cherie Dam.
Duncan Henderson and Cherie Dam scuba diving.
A nudibranch photographed by Cherie Dam.
Bargibanti pygmy seahorse. Photo by Cherie Dam.
Cherie Dam on her way to a dive.

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Published April 23, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 22, 2013 at 2:59 pm)

Slugs, seadragons, and a look at life under the water

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