The Circle of Life at Socorro

Rodney Bursiel
Incredible Photos of a Humpback Mother and Calf followed by an Orca Attack

 

The Circle of Life at Socorro


Incredible Photos of a Humpback Mother and Calf followed by an Orca Attack

Text and Photos By Rodney Bursiel

 

 

 
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Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” After visiting the Socorro Islands with Great White Adventures aboard the Solmar V, my mind was stretched more than I could ever imagine.

I started diving as a child because my dad was a SCUBA instructor. We did most of our diving in the Caribbean, but I always wanted to swim with the gentle giants of the Pacific Ocean. When my dad sold his business twenty years ago, we stopped diving and I put my dream on hold as "life" got in the way, but I recently decided it was time to get back in. 

I chose a trip in the Socorro Islands that promised a dive with giant mantas, dolphins and several species of sharks, including hammerheads. What I was really hoping for, though, was a chance to dive with humpback whales. In this area, it's not uncommon to see or hear whales from a distance, but a close encounter or swim with them is not guaranteed. My gut was telling me a different story though. I just knew they would be there…

Our first dive was at Cabo Pearce where we saw mantas, hammerheads and dolphins, just as promised. We even heard a whale singing so loudly that I could feel the vibration in my chest. Her song was so loud, it seemed she would come around that coral reef at any second, but we didn’t see her until we got back in the boat. She was a few hundred yards off in another direction. That night we left Cabo Pearce for the small island of Roca Partida.

 

All photos shot with Nikon D800, Nikkor 10.5mm fisheye lens, Ikelite D800 housing & Ikelite strobes

 

Here, my intuition that we would be swimming with whales on this trip was realized. The mother and her calf began circling the boat with her escort. Eric, one of our dive masters, quickly recognized her as a whale who had been there before, and he was as excited to see her again as I was to encounter her for the first time. We couldn’t get in the water fast enough. She was the true definition of gentle giant. I couldn’t believe how large these animals really are. To see a 40-ton animal up close like that was truly mesmerizing. I had to just float there and take it all in before I even remembered I had a camera with me. We spent the whole day there with momma and her baby, using snorkels to keep swimming when our tanks went dry. The calf would surface about every three minutes to take a breath, then dive back down to momma so she could hold him down while he was learning buoyancy. At one time, he swam right up to me and stopped, just staring at me before heading back down. I’ve never bonded with an animal the way I did with these whales.

 

 

 

 

The next morning our friends were still there, so as soon as the sun was up we were back in the water. I could have spent the entire trip swimming with them, but Mother Nature had different plans. After our dive, as the rafts were picking up the last divers and heading back to the boat, our day was turned upside down. We heard a commotion and saw the thrashing of the whale fins in the water, but we weren’t sure what was going on at first. Then we saw the orca fins. My stomach sank.

 

 

 

I was worried about the calf but didn’t think there was any way that these orcas could fight the giant (and obviously protective) whales. We rushed the rafts over towards them and our worst fear was realized. The two orcas had severely injured the calf and were taking him away to feed on him. We followed the orcas for about an hour, witnessing the circle of life firsthand, reminding ourselves that the orcas weren’t being cruel; this was just the natural order of things.

 

 

We headed back for another dive to be with the mother whale, but as soon as we got in it just didn’t feel right. She was circling the island at a frantic pace, over and over. On one of her passes she came close enough for me to see her eyes. Her once wide, peaceful eyes were now squinted in what seemed like sadness and anger. I wanted to console her, but how do you do that for a 40-ton whale? It felt like it was time to move on. That night we headed to San Benadicto for some “bubble therapy” with the giant mantas. These soothing creatures love the bubbles we create, and our time with them felt healing for all of us.

Momma whale is on my mind every day. I will always wonder where she is and how she is doing. It warmed my heart when I read the dive report for the Solmar V on the trip that went out after ours. She was still there and had started mating with her escort. I’ve already booked my return trip for next year and hope I get to cross paths with her again.

 

 

 

Join an Underwater Photo Workshop at Socorro

Bluewater Photo has two upcoming underwater photo workshops at Socorro, timed for the best big animal encounters - humpback whales, mantas, dolphins and more!

 

Book Your Socorro Trip

 

Contact Bluewater Travel for a special offer on any Socorro trip!

 

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Rodney Bursiel is a music, surf and underwater photography. When he is not at home in Austin photographing the music scene, he is traveling the world chasing waves and capturing the underwater world. You can see more of his work at www.rodneybursiel.com

 

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The Allure of Papua New Guinea

Brent Durand
4 Reasons why Papua New Guinea Needs to be at the Top of Your Dive Trip List

 

The Allure of Papua New Guinea


4 Reasons why Papua New Guinea Needs to be at the Top of Your Dive Trip List

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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Imagine a place where adventure is common. Where new species above and below the water line are discovered regularly. A place where rumors abound of villages lost to the modern world and where many cultures fuse into beautiful displays, festivals and dances with kind hospitality towards visiting foreigners.

This is Papua New Guinea. Authentic. A land of a million different journeys.

As you can imagine, the scuba diving and underwater photo opportunities in Papua New Guinea are magnificent and almost appear unending. The reefs and marine life feel wild, and have a totally different vibe than the reefs I’ve dived in Indonesia or the Philippines. So why should you visit PNG as an underwater photographer or videographer?  We break it down into four categories.

 

Looking for macro amongst the wide-angle in Kimbe Bay.

 

All Photos:  Canon 5D Mark III, Tokina 10-17mm, Aquatica A5D MKIII Housing

 

 

A Sense of Adventure

Scuba Diving in Papua New Guinea is for travelers - not casual tourists. Land Cruisers and trucks roam the streets telling tales of cowboy road adventures (dirt roads). For someone like me, this is an exciting sign right upon leaving the airport.

I stayed at Walindi Plantation Resort in Kimbe Bay and Lissenung Island Resort in Kavieng - both of which are run by pioneers of diving in Papua New Guinea. Both resorts are in beautiful settings, offering divers relaxing visits, great food, land activities and of course, incredible diving. There are stories about the name of each reef and you might even have the opportunity to dive a recently discovered reef.

Underwater, you never know what you’ll see. A seamount or a wall might bring passing sharks (including hammerheads), big schools of jacks or barracuda or any of many other surprises.

 

An average reef in Papua New Guinea - simply spectacular!

 

 

Incredible Wide-Angle and Macro Diving

Comprising a major section of the coral triangle, the marine life diversity found across Papua New Guinea is incredible. Wide-angle photographers will be drawn to vividly colored whipcoral reefscapes, enormous fans, sponges and ornate hard and soft coral colonies. Reef sharks swim laps off the walls and massive schools of fish gather during the right tides.

Macro photographers should pack extra memory cards because you’ll find everything from frogfish to nudibranchs to octos to the tiniest shrimp and crabs. I was so consumed by the wide-angle opportunities that I didn’t shoot macro, but cannot wait for the next opportunity to get back in the waters of PNG with a macro lens.

 

A gorgonian grows off of a wall in Papua New Guinea.

 

Schooling barracuda await divers visiting Papua New Guinea.

 

 

World War II History

(Papua) New Guinea saw some serious military action as part of the Pacific Theater during World War II. Many books and resources exist for WWII enthusiats to study, but suffice it to say that there are plane wrecks all over Papua New Guinea, both on land and in the ocean at recreational dive depths.

One interesting fact is that many planes were landed/ditched in shallow water after running out of fuel, meaning the pilots were able to safely escape while the plane remained intact in shallow water. There are many, many planes awaiting scuba divers, and many still waiting to be found.

As an underwater photographer, you will have to make the decision to shoot wide-angle photos of the wreck or to set up for macro to enjoy the wealth of marine life living near these artificial reefs. Compact camera shooters have the clear advantage here!

 

A sunken Zero fighter aircraft in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea.

 

The "Deep Pete" plane wreck in Kavieng, Papua New Guinea.

 

 

Unique Cultural Experiences and Authentic Art

One of the main reasons to visit Papua New Guinea is the unique fusion of cultures, languages and traditions. Papua New Guinea is the most linguistically diverse place on Earth, with over 850 local languages. Locals communicate with a pidgin dialect, Tok Pisin, but English is widely spoken at the dive resorts. Like with all travel, try to learn a few words and you will be having conversations with your dive guides about anything you’d like, from the school systems to culture to personal histories.

Want to see incredible celebrations and festivals? Make sure to plan your trip around a Sing-Sing.

Want to do an epic hike after the dive portion of your trip? Bluewater Travel can set you up with a hiking tour at the iconic Mount Hagen.

Want to bring back some authentic art? The dive resorts have connections to source art from most regions in PNG, and often have a large selection of artwork on display for guests. 

 

 

 

Papua New Guinea, Kimbe Bay in particular, is known for incredible whip coral gardens.

 

 

Video Screengrabs from Kavieng

Shot during Bluewater Travel's Best of Southeast Asia tour.

 

 

 

Ask the Experts & Book Your Trip

Let the experts at Bluewater Travel plan and book your dream dive trip to Papua New Guinea. Find more information on their Papua New Guinea dive travel page.

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and image-maker from California. Brent is editor of UWPG. Follow UWPG on Facebook for daily photos, tips & everything underwater photography. View more of Brent's work or follow him through www.BrentDimagery.com.

 

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Macro Surprises at the Blue Heron Bridge

Suzan Meldonian
Incredible Macro Photo Opportunities Await Divers at this Florida Hotspot

 

Macro Surprises at the Blue Heron Bridge


Incredible Macro Photo Opportunities Await Divers at this Florida Hotspot

Text and Photos By Suzan Meldonian

 

 

 
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Sinking into the water, the treasure hunt begins. For so many, the Blue Heron Bridge dive has become our “Secret Bay” of the USA.  The BHB is well established now as a world class muck dive, and home of the questionable “Muck Monster,” whom anyone has yet to see. It is a place where you can see anything and everything. For the uw macro photographer, it is a treasure trove boasting a host of the odd and the unusual.  

At first glance, to the untrained eye, the underwater terrain at the Blue Heron Bridge does not breathe as a beautiful reef with flowing purple sea fans that Florida is so well known for.  Instead it looks like . . . sand and rubble or fields of hairy brown algae.  A friend once said, “wow, it looks like a nuclear wasteland.”  But it is far, far from that. We have things here you could wait your entire life to see.

Quickly you realize that you must train your eyes to hunt for specific movement. When I say hunt, I mean look. “Think small, look but don’t touch, and above all DO NOT TAKE.” Many of us have spent years trying to raise awareness and make this a No Take Zone, because after all is said and done, it is an underwater nursery. Words like “Cute” and “exotic” just barely scratch the surface of what you may see all in one dive.

Funky Frogfish and Batfish that look like something out of an alien comic book, Bobbit worms and Blue Throat Pike Blennies are just a few of the unusual critters you can find here.  It is not uncommon to see Jawfish with eggs, we’ve even encountered a Golden Mantis of all the crazy things you could possibly find in Florida. Over the last several years, we’ve discovered two types of Stargazers, 8 types of sea robins, over 100 different nudibranchs, and a plethora of migrations occurring at monthly intervals and of course our rare and treasured seahorses. It is indeed a nursery. Per Rob Myers, author of Micronesian Reef Fish, “often you will never see the adults.”

 

One of my first encounters with weird looking animals at the bridge was with the Polka dot Batfish. From above they are almost undetectable blending in with their surroundings. In addition to the Polka dot batfish, we’ve come across the Roughback and the Shortnose Batfish as well. These creatures with the face that only a mother can love are also equipped with a lure that protrudes from their forehead. This probiscus stays in recession except when they are fishing. It is not very long with two flaps and resembles Fred Flintone’s fingers. You must remain perfectly still and pose absolutely no threat for them to display the lure. They are quite adept at turning their face away from you, and while they use their “feet” to lift off, they can take off and swim quickly away.

 

The Bobbitt worms at the BHB will accept algae and or Calerpa being hand fed to them. They are different than other types of Bobbit worms that we see online as the mandibles are not visible, and in this image, they are actually kind of cute. Usually only seen out at night, if photographed with a red light, a small tiny head like this will continue to come out of its burrow until it is nearly two feet long! Also very skittish. You cannot move a muscle when trying to photograph them.

 

The Blue Throat Pike Blenny is another silent singer. Easily missed unless you are really looking for them, can appear as thin as a pencil and really blend in well with their surroundings . . . until they decide to sing. Then they expand that gullet larger than three times their girth. I often imagine that there is a whole sound thing happening there that our ears are simply not able to hone in on. With all the traffic on the reef, I often wonder if it sounds like downtown New York to them.

 

 

Marine Life at the Blue Heron Bridge

The key to this place is to take it slow. Take advantage of the shallow depth by studying your subject face to face.  Don’t forget to bring your 10x or 5x diopter, because that just peels back a whole new layer of subjects. If you want to get really good shots, you need to hunker down with your subjects, take the time to feel the connection and wait for the right moment. That’s the beauty here.

Recently, several Pipehorses were spotted. Honestly, one would have been exciting. The only place I’ve ever seen a pipehorse was in the Philippines. But right here in our own back yard - big wow! They were just passing through for a little migration therapy. Even more spectacular than that was when over 50 golden cow nosed rays came in like a herd of elephants and circumnavigated divers in just five feet of water.  It’s a giggly moment for anyone. We’ve even had events of spiraling Jacks with the Spotted Eagle Rays playing dodgeball through the center trying to confuse the Jacks. That’s amazing to watch, and you just have to be in the center of that spiro-gyro moment to fully appreciate the encounter.

 

Pipehorse, a cross between a Pipefish and a Seahorse, are a very rare find at the Blue Heron Bridge. They are very small, but not so thin as the ones in the Philippine Sea.

 

Every October right around Halloween, the Spotted Eagle Rays come in for a meet ‘n greet by the pilings. Usually the females arrive first, then one tremendous male with a wingspan of perhaps ten feet comes in to join the harem.  They are quite skittish to human approach. It is possible to photograph them with a 60mm, but not easy.  Imagine yourself being in ten to twenty feet of water, all set up for macro, and here comes a school of Spotted Eagle Rays, flanked by juvenile Mobula Rays, or better yet, how about a big oafy Manatee! But then the cute happens, as one baby Mobula breaks formation and comes right up to you, face to face - practically gives you raspberries - does a 180, then darts off into the blue so close you hear the snap of its wing.  It’s a Disney moment for sure.  By the time you grasp what just happened, you realize, you forgot to push the shutter button. You find yourself smiling anyway because it was just way too cool and it happened at the Blue Heron Bridge!

 

The Spotted Eagle Rays show up in numbers around Halloween and stay until perhaps February. Some remain on as residents, but the rest of the crew take off until next year. The troupe seems to consist of a harem style of social grouping with one really large male, and several “ladies-in-waiting” who follow him around all day. This year the flock picked up some hitchhiker juvenile Mobulas, which got everyone excited. As one of my friends always says, “bestill my heart, I saw a Spotted Eagle Ray today.” I think all the divers at Blue Heron resonate this sentiment. It almost feels like an omen of good luck to see these graceful animals glide by and even more exciting if they don’t bank left upon the sight of human. But every great once in a while, one gets a l i t t l e curious. They are truly rebreather material.

 

 

Diving the BHB

Located inside the Intra-Coastal Waterway, the access to the ocean is through the Lake Worth Inlet, which unites with the Gulf Stream Current.  This current is like the super highway for marine life on the east coast. The tidal flow between the Blue Heron Bridge and the GSC is the magic transport bringing in some of the most amazing animals on the planet. However, the currents can be too intense before and after slack tide. Divers must be clear to avoid the tidal pull once slack tide is over. Therefore dive time in is 1 hour before slack tide, no fooling around. New visitors to the bridge should consider hiring a dive guide from one of the local dive shops - or dive with someone who frequents the Bridge.

The diving area borders a small beach at the Phil Foster Recreational Park. With a depth under twenty five feet, you can get up to a two hour dive, if the visibility and tidal current change permit it. With a diving area the size of two football fields, you need at least 4 days to see everything. Each area has its special resident critters. Examples include Nudi World, where nudibranchs like Elysia ornata and Lucayan plocamorpherus can be found, and Blenny Flats where dueling Sailfin blennies and singing Pike Blennies reside.  There are over 5 wrecks and out in front of the lifeguard station is the artificial reef that spans the beach, teaming with new life. The best part is that it is open year round and the water temperature rarely goes below 70°.

See you . . . Under the Bridge!

 

Perhaps one of the most treasured finds at the Blue Heron Bridge are the seahorses. Such a fragile and delicate creature, they are highly reactive to over photographing. So the word is, if you find one, sit tight and wait for that “moment,” rather than snapping one shot after another.  They normally are quite shy, and will turn away from your lens and from your flashing. It just takes a bit of patience. If they lay down, they are stressing or you’ve gotten too close. Be kind and take a breath to observe their intricate beauty. More importantly is to keep an eye out for divers with shloosh guns (a device used to suck up the seahorses). Wait for them to move along. Wild seahorses don’t live long in captivity.

 

Ahh Blennies. They are always a source of entertainment and smiles. They really display so many different expressions, probably more so than any other fish in the area. On bad viz days I find myself hunting for them just to have a laugh. Very curious this baby Seaweed Blenny, who was no bigger than my pinkie finger, has made the face for me.

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Suzan Meldonian is the author of Under the Bridge and the BHB Companion - both photo ID books on the unusual marine life found at the Blue Heron Bridge, Florida. She will be a guest speaker at ADEX in April 2015. You can view her work at www.niteflightphoto.com  

 

 

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5 Reasons to Dive Malapascua

Jeffrey Milisen
A Philippines dive destination that blends the exotic with the smallest

 

5 Reasons to Dive Malapascua


A Dive Destination that Blends the Exotic with the Smallest

Text and Photos By Jeff Milisen

 

 

 
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Malapascua Island lies in the middle of the Philippines - nowhere near anyplace I had ever heard of.  After landing on the island of Cebu, blips of groggy traveling memories include a spirited 3-hour taxi ride spent at 80 km/hr mostly playing chicken with oncoming buses.  After stopping to ask for directions 3 times, the driver eventually dumped us off at a dockyard where we boarded a ferry to Malapascua.  The ferry is a traditional Filipino boat called a “bangka.” 

After 12 hours winding our way through the country, this hilariously kludged canoe is where the Philippines started to make sense.  The ingenious construction that goes into these unique boats is pure genius.  Fibrous lashings hold the outriggers and much of the framework in place.  The pull-started diesel engine (yes, you read that right) is generally lifted from the most recent truck that has broken down, which means the drive shaft coming out of the engine is unique to that specific boat.  So to seal the driveshaft in the hull, the Filipinos use a common and easy-to-replace material - bamboo. When hollowed out, soaked with water and jammed into place, it makes a nearly perfect, watertight seal. 

There aren’t any cars on Malapascua, so the bangka drops you off on the beach directly in front of your hotel.  Our hotel was the unpretentious gem of Malapascua Island - the Hippocampus Resort.  An army of helpers greeted us and helped porter our bags up the sand and straight to our room.  The well-kept beachfront grounds, friendly wait staff and fresh mango smoothies confirmed that we were in the right place. The resort is designed to serve two specific kinds of guest.  Some visitors come here to enjoy the idyllic island atmosphere.  For them, the resort sports beautiful beach access and a top-notch restaurant (Magellan’s) that serves a delicious fusion of European and Filipino tastes. Divers, on the other hand, flock here from all over the world to see Malapascua’s most famous visitor, the thresher shark. 

What most diving visitors don’t realize is that Malapascua is situated in the heart of the Coral Triangle.  The funny-looking sharks with long tails may be the stars of the show, but stick around because the encore should not be missed.

 

Bangkas lit by a full moon on Malapascua Island.

 

Nudibranchs

It might seem strange to come to the only place in the world where you can reliably see thresher sharks to go nudibranch hunting, but sea slugs are literally everywhere you look!  A keen eye will quickly find gloomy Thuridilla lineolata, Dorids and a small army of other species. For the thickest nudi action around, check out the crevices on Deep Rock. 

 

You could spend all your time photographing the nudibranchs at Malapascua.

 

Seahorses

The animal for which our resort took its namesake (Hippocampus) is certainly one of the island’s most memorable residents. Aside from having a completely backwards reproductive strategy, where the male hatches the eggs, seahorses look gangly and certainly aren’t the quickest fish in the sea.  Watching them stumble around in aquariums, it is a wonder that seahorses haven’t been devoured out of existence by every hungry reef predator alive.  Then I tried finding one in Malapascua.  It really doesn’t matter what species you are looking for; a seahorse’s camouflage is nearly perfect.  We had them on muck dives, on reef dives, and they even popped out on the mandarinfish night dive.  Of course, the star seahorse, the pygmy, is best known for its ability to blend in with gorgonians. At Deep Rock, our guide, who had eyes like a hawk, spotted a pygmy seahorse on a sea fan.  While lining up the next shot, I lost sight of the tiny, mostly immobile animal and spent the next 3 minutes searching the tiny area before finding it again! 

 

Pygmy seahorses are well-camouflaged on their host sea fans.

 

House Reef

This is the catchall for the rest of the macro life you might encounter in Malapascua.  Sandy environments aren’t generally synonymous with biodiversity, unless you are in the Coral Triangle.  Creatures just crawl out of nowhere, and in varieties I was not prepared for.  SeaQuest’s House Reef, for example, is simply a sandy flat where somebody sank a bangka a few years ago.  But the life that you can find in such a simple environment like sand is astonishing!  The Indian Walkman, for example, looks like a scorpionfish that wanted to dress like a leaf with thorns.  And it is always covered in sand.  It just looks like an amalgamation of strange.  The challenge in photographing something that wild is choosing a body part to focus on.  Also watch for blue-ringed octopus, frogfish, sea moths, sea snakes, and just about anything else that lives underwater. 

 

This crinoid shrimp as turned yellow to match its host.

 

A blue-ringed octopus greets us at the house reef.

 

Mandarinfish

Every evening, an adorably amorous species of dragonet goes off in search of a mate.  Like clockwork, the colorful fish find a special friend, and just as the sun is setting, take part in a spectacular little dance.  At first they greet and start swimming around each other, slowly rising up from the reef.  Once at their apex, they cuddle and spawn gametes into the water.  The mandarinfish at Lighthouse Reef in Malapascua are especially large and abundant.  Attentive photographers can nail the split second of spawn by following directions closely.  First, find a pair and stick with them.  Second, don’t use any light unless it is red.  This makes focusing a challenge, but the little fish can get distracted out of their nightly ritual.  Finally, wait for the fish to start swimming circles and rise up from the reef.  Four seconds later, they spawn and dart back to their hiding spot in the coral. 

 

Two mandarinfish at the peak of their nightly ritual.

 

Threshers

No article on Malapascua would be complete without the mention of its most famous inhabitant - the threshers of Monad Shoal.  The animals come from pelagic water in the early morning hours to visit the cleaning stations on one side of the shoal.  They have been around enough divers that they are no longer afraid of the observers and come in quite close.  Plan to spend a couple of mornings at Monad.  Our first attempt was canceled due to weather, and our second was the first no-show they had seen in months.  On day three, however, we had two threshers show up and put on one heck of a show. 

 

A thresher shark swims by - the icon of Malapascua.

 

For the average westerner, the road to Malapascua is long and arduous, fraught with cultural challenges you may never see again.  But this lonely island just off Cebu’s coast is inhabited by friendly people, fringed by an idyllic beach and surrounded by some of the best diving on the planet.  It used to be on my bucket list, and now that I have been there/done that, I am already planning to return.

 

Want to Dive Malapascua?

Visit Bluewater Travel's Malapascua Dive Trip page to learn more.

 

 

 

Also by Jeff Milisen

 

About the Author

Jeff Milisen is a relatively new content writer for the Underwater Photography Guide who specializes in black water and big animals.  When not behind a camera, Jeff is a marine biologist working to reduce overfishing by improving methods for farming fish.  Milisenphotography.yolasite.com

 

 

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A Weekend Dive Getaway in Cabo

Brent Durand
Photo Essay and Guide to Underwater Photography in Cabo San Lucas

 

A Quick Dive Getaway in Cabo


Photo Essay on Wide-Angle & Macro Scuba Diving in Cabo San Lucas

By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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As the bubbles race towards the surface it becomes quiet enough to hear the songs of the whales underwater, enchanting in the deep blue, and making it almost a pity to exhale my next breathe. But you have to remember to breathe while diving, especially when mesmerized by the large schools of fish in Cabo San Lucas in Baja Sur, Mexico.

Cabo sits at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula, where the mighty eastern Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez. And as you might imagine, this is the perfect recipe for some very nice diving with high odds of surprise pelagic action.

I had the opportunity to plan a last-minute weekend getaway for three dive days with MANTA Scuba – a perfect excuse to break up the monotony of winter (I live in LA, but hey, it’s technically still winter here and I’ll use any excuse to dive Cabo and shoot some photo and video).

For those in the American Southwest, Cabo San Lucas is the perfect destination for a weekend dive getaway at a very reasonable price. The direct flights are short (i.e. 2.5hrs from LAX).  For those that live further away, Cabo is still a fun dive destination that draws some dive groups back year after year.

So what do all these divers know that we don’t?  In short, the Cabo area offers some incredible dive opportunities.

 

A school of jacks blasts by us near Chileno Bay, during a Corridor dive.

 

Blennies, like this sabertooth blenny, always make fun photo subjects.

 

 

Cabo San Lucas Marine Park

Diving doesn’t get any closer than this.  Dive sites like Pelican Rock, Neptune’s Finger and Land’s End surround Cabo San Lucas’ icon Arch (El Arco), offering large schools of fish, bait balls, a resident sea lion colony, macro critters like sea horses and blennies, rays and even a wreck. Conditions vary throughout the year, with visibility reaching 100 feet in the fall. During other seasons vis will be less, but that brings in the large schools of fish.

Manta offers morning and afternoon 2-tank dives to the marine park daily, which is perfect for nice morning dives, an afternoon after morning dives in the Corridor, or even if you’d just like to relax in the morning then spend the afternoon in the water.

 

Pacific Seahorses are frequently found near Pelican Rock.

 

Schools of fish like this one are a common site at Land's End.

 

This wreck at Land's End was uncovered during Hurrican Odile, and is a fun attraction for divers.

 

This cave near Land's End is great for creating diver silhouette photos.

 

No dive in Cabo San Lucas is complete without some surgeonfish, moorish idols or snapper.

 

 

The Corridor

The Corridor is a section of coastline between Cabo San Lucas and Cabo Pulmo. It’s here that massive rock structure with swim thrus and channels meets deeper pinnacles blanketed in small gorgonians. Schools of fish pass by and you need to keep your eyes in the blue for a chance at seeing mobulas, whales, whitetips or any number of other fish/mammals.

 

Cortez rainbow wrasse are everywhere near Cabo San Lucas and the Corridor.

 

Whitetip reef sharks inside a cave at the Corridor.

 

Our dive guide pauses next to fans, gorgonians and a tan star at the Corridor.

 

Reef scene at the Corridor.

 

 

Gordo Banks

A deep sea pinnacle, Gordo Banks is a magnet for pelagic action. The boat ride out to the pinnacle can take between 70 and 90 minutes, but the rewards are well worth it. Scalopped hammerhead sharks, rays, marlin and even whales are likely to pass by while you’re diving Gordo Banks. The top of the pinnacle starts at 120 feet and current may be present, so this dive is for advanced divers only. During our surface interval in early/mid January, we had 10+ humpack whales all around us. Not bad entertainment while waiting for your next dive!

 

A scalopped hammerhead passes by a mobula ray at Gordo Banks.

 

 

Cabo Pulmo

Cabo Pulmo has been protected since 1995 and is home to the only living coral reef in the Gulf of California. The fish biomass and diversity produces some fantastic diving, generally organized by Manta as a day trip from Cabo San Lucas.

 

Cabo Pulmo is home to fish large and small. (Photo from a trip in 2013)

 

 

La Paz

Want to swim with whale sharks during your Cabo trip?  No problem if you’re visiting during the fall, when whale sharks congregate in the bay of La Paz to feed in the plankton-rich water. No scuba diving is allowed, but the whales are generally on the surface feeding, creating some amazing snorkel and photo opportunities. This trip is also organized by Manta as a day trip from Cabo San Lucas.

 

Whale shark snorkeling is a must in La Paz. (Photo from a trip in 2013)

 

 

About Cabo San Lucas

There are many sides to Cabo San Lucas, and many reasons to visit this Mexican resort town. Perhaps the most well known is Cabo’s rich nightlife, with bustling restaurants and loud bars with dancing going strong until the early hours of the morning. There are beaches to explore, parasailing for new views and jet skies to rent. 

But the other side of Cabo is ideal for a relaxing and adventure-packed vacation, whether a couple days or a week. Tasty restaurants with excellent pricing can be sought out with the right recommendations (ask us!). You can plan your evenings around sampling local Mexican plates, multi-course fresh seafood meals, hearty Italian dishes, spicy street tacos, and of course, some excellent margaritas! The restaurants boast color and character in Cabo.

Manta Scuba even organizes afternoon whale watching tours during the winter/spring months - a perfect complement to a morning dive schedule.

 

 

Special Dive Travel Package

Bluewater Travel put together a several dive and stay packages with Manta Scuba, with different pricing depending on the season. Seasonal trips like La Paz for whale sharks and Gordo Banks for hammerheads and other pelagics are also available.

View the:  Cabo Weekend Getaway Package

 

 

Quick Cabo Getaway Dive Video

Filmed & Edited by Brent Durand.  

Gear: Canon 5D Mark III in Aquatica A5D MkIII Housing and I-Torch Venom 38 Video Lights.

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and image maker from California. Brent is editor of UWPG. Follow UWPG on Facebook for daily photos, tips & everything underwater photography. Follow Brent on social media through his website, www.brentdimagery.com.

 

 

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Wide-Angle in the Sea of Cortez & Midriff Islands

Ron Watkins
Photographing Sea Lions, Whale Sharks, Humboldt Squid and Even Some Macro Critters

 

Wide-Angle in the Sea of Cortez


Photographing Sea Lions, Whale Sharks, Humboldt Squid and Even Some Macro Critters

Text and Photos By Ron Watkins

 

 

 
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As a University of Arizona alumnus, I was very familiar with the Sonora, Mexico seaside town of Puerto Peñasco (aka Rocky Point) and the Sea of Cortez.  Only a short drive from Tucson, spring breaks were spent camping on the beach, drinking cheap beer, partying at JJ’s Cantina and eating great seafood.  Later when I got PADI certified, I ventured further down the Sea of Cortez to San Carlos for my open water dives.  But after traveling all over the world in search of pristine diving and big animal action, it would be over 20 years from my initial visits to the Sea of Cortez before I would learn why Jacque Cousteau described these waters as the "world's aquarium" and the "Galapagos of North America.” 

The Sea of Cortez, also known as the 'Gulf of California,’ is the body of water that separates the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland.  As one of the most diverse seas on the planet, the Sea of Cortez is home to a diverse and rich ecosystem, which hosts more than 5,000 different species.  Some of the highlights include large colonies of sea lions, whale sharks, mysterious Humboldt squid, curious turtles, playful dolphins, giant hawkfish, jumping mobula rays, several migratory species of whales and a resident population of majestic sperm and fin whales.  The Rocio del Mar liveaboard sails the Sea of Cortez and the Midriff Islands from July through September for the best diving conditions and to maximize big animal interactions.  Because of the abundance of large marine life, relatively good visibility and usually mild current, the Sea of Cortez is an excellent place to learn or improve your wide-angle technique.  Although the draw of many divers and underwater photographers is the large animal action, most sites also present unique and interesting macro opportunities.

 


Join Ron and Bluewater Photo on our upcoming Sea of Cortez underwater photo workshops!

Back to back Sea of Cortez workshops on the Rocio Del Mar
July 18 - 25, 2015 or July 25 - Aug 1, 2015

Explore Baja workshop on the Rocio Del Mar
October 8 - 20, 2016


 

Resident sperm whales are always a thrill to see in the Sea of Cortez.  On our last trip we counted about 30 sperm whales from the ship and we were able to slip into the water with a number of them.

 

Large pods of dolphins were a regular site as we cruised through the Sea of Cortez.

 

 

Sea Lions

Ambassadors of the Sea of Cortez

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of diving in the Sea of Cortez is the large colonies of friendly sea lions.  The area around the Midriff Islands is special because there are several rookeries, like the one at San Pedro Martir, that have large California sea lion colonies with numerous protective bulls, lots of playful females and curious pups.  The bulls can be easily identified by their large size, thick neck, and a bump (sagittal crest) on their forehead.  They are constantly patrolling their territory to keep other bulls away from their harem and will get quite aggressive with each other and divers.  Be very careful and give them space when the bulls make fast passes directly at you and bark loudly.  One tip to get interesting sea lions pictures is to spend time in the shallows with them for lots of ambient light, reflections, split over/under shots and close-ups.

 

A sea lion pup plays in the shallows.  F/8, 1/320 sec, ambient light.

All underwater wide-angle images were photographed with a Nikon D800 with a Nikon 16-35mm lens in a Sea&Sea housing with dual Sea&Sea YS250 strobes (if used)

 

This female lion uses the side of the rock to scratch its chest. F/9, 1/200.

 

A curious sea lions dives down to greet me.  F/8, 1/250 sec.

 

A large bull patrols his territory to protect it from intruding bulls and overzealous underwater photographers.  Note the white teeth marks on the fin most likely from an encounter with another bull.  F/13, 1/200.

 

 

Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus)

Largest Fish in the Sea

The Rocio del Mar typically does their whale shark snorkel (no scuba diving allowed) one day in Bahia de Los Angeles during early morning hours, when the water surface is glassy and they are easier to spot.  Local fishermen take two groups out to the bay in separate boats to search for whale sharks. Although no wild animal is ever guaranteed, there is a very good chance of seeing several whale sharks during the warm summer months.  We have typically seen 10-15 different whale sharks with multiple in-water encounters.  Although whale sharks can get to be over 30 feet long, most in the bay area are 10-25’.  The smaller ones swim slower since they’re typically feeding, and allow you to keep up with them for more time and get close to them for a great shot.

Some of our Bluewater Photo group was so excited to dive with them again after the morning session, we asked the captain to visit the bay in the afternoon and were told that they have never seen whale sharks in the afternoon.  When questioned further about why they don’t see them in the afternoon, the captain responded, “We have never gone out looking for them in the afternoon because the local fishermen are taking siestas.”  Subsequent Bluewater Photo trips typically feature a special itinerary with 1 ½ days swimming with the whale sharks to maximize photo opportunities.  For those divers that don’t want to spend that much time with the whale sharks, an alternative reef dive is offered.

Photographing whale sharks is a lot of fun and quite easy no matter what kind of camera you have because no strobes are used (or allowed).  A good wide-angle lens is needed for best results and with ambient light, try to keep the sun to your back if possible, unless you want a nice silhouette.  Because you will be dropped off on both sides of the whale shark, you need to be aware of where the sun is when shooting so that you can make the necessary camera adjustments.  Shooting in manual mode is a common method, but can pose difficulty when you and the shark are turning and the sun position is changing quickly.  Because of this, many photographers will shoot in aperture or shutter priority and let the camera make the adjustments.  I prefer shooting in shutter priority after I have dialed in the blue water I am looking for without over-exposing it.  Usually that is around 1/125 – 1/250 of a second on a sunny day.  I will start off with an exposure compensation setting of -.7 and adjust as needed.  Make sure you review your images and their histograms frequently between in water sessions with the sharks and make the appropriate adjustments to maximize your keepers.

 

A snorkeler swims along side a large whale shark at Bahia de Los Angeles for an amazing encounter and great photo opportunity.  F/8, 1/160 sec in shutter priority.

 

Sunbeams illuminate the largest fish in the ocean.  F/8, 1/200 sec, shutter priority.

 

The Bahia de Los Angeles is a feeding ground for the whale sharks evident by this close-up of a wide-open mouth. F/8, 1/250 sec on shutter priority.

 

 

Humboldt Squid (Dosidicus gigas)

One of the most intriguing and mysterious wide-angle photo subjects in the Sea of Cortez is the Humboldt Squid.  Nicknamed by local fisherman as Diablo Rojo (Red Devil) because of the flash of red and white colors, these squid can have bodies (not including tenacles) of 4-5 feet long.  During the day, these squid remain at depths up to 2000 feet, and are rarely seen unless feeding on the surface at night.  Humboldt squid have suckers on their tentacles, which are lined with sharp teeth that are used to secure their prey.   Once caught, the squid uses its tentacles and large sharp beak to rip its victim apart.  Humboldt squid can pose danger to people and one diver on our boat actually had been attacked by one and had souvenir scares to prove it.  Because of this, you are not allowed in the water when photographing them and need to use a pole cam or hang over the back of the boat with your camera in the water.

The Rocio del Mar has several spots identified where Humboldt squid are known to live, but it is still very difficult to find them. The bright stern lights are turned on to attract fish and hopefully hungry squid to the surface.  The crew may also use deep-water jigs to lure them up to the surface.  Even if none show up, there is usually fast moving needlefish, flying fish and other fish feeding on surface to photograph.  But when they do show up, it is one of the most exciting marine animals I have photographed.  One night on our last trip we were fortunate to have 8-10 Humboldt Squid on the surface and witness their aggressive feeding habits and even cannibalism as they turned on each other and the hunter became the hunted.

 

A 3-4 foot long Humboldt Squid hunts fish on the surface with speed and precision.  F/11, 1/200 sec.

 

When the hunter becomes the hunted by fellow cannibalistic Humboldt squid, ink is released as a defense mechanism. F/11, 1/200 sec.

 

A full discharge of ink allows this large Humboldt squid to escape an attack from three other larger squid. F/11, 1/200 sec.

 

 

A Diversity of Marine Life in the Sea of Cortez

The “world’s aquarium,” as described by Jacque Cousteau, has an abundance and diverse variety of marine life both big and small.  Whether you are looking for big or small subjects, the Sea of Cortez has it all.  I typically spend two thirds of my time shooting wide-angle, but there is also an abundance of macro opportunities.  In fact, on my last trip about half the people on the boat spent most of their time shooting macro.  One well-known macro and nudibranch photographer shot macro on every dive except for the whale sharks and captured some amazing images of behavior, nudibranchs, blennies, and other unique subjects.

 

A playful resident giant hawkfish is always a great photo subject and because they are up to two feet long, are an excellent wide angle subject.  F/9, 1/125 sec.

 

This odd couple seemed to pose for the image.  F/8, 1/160 sec.

 

Spanish Shawls common in Southern California waters are also abundant in the Sea of Cortez. F/32, 1/250.  And Subsea diopter.  All underwater macro images were photographed with a Nikon D300 with a Nikon 105mm lens in a Sea&Sea housing with dual Sea&Sea YS250 strobes.

 

Fighting pike blennies display their large mouths in a territorial dispute.  F/32, 1/250 sec.

 

A pike blenny displays its dorsal fin and colors. F/20, 1/200 sec.

 

 

Why the Sea of Cortez Should be on Your Short List

The diversity of marine life, great visibility and mild currents make the Sea or Cortez an excellent place to dive.  But add sea lion action, whale sharks in the calm waters of the Bahia de Los Angeles, giant cannibal Humboldt squid, sperm whales, flying mobula rays and an abundance of macro life and this place is an underwater photographers paradise.  Best yet, the large custom-built Rocio del Mar live-aboard with its expert crew and food is the perfect base camp for exploring the Sea or Cortez. It’s a prefect trip for those on a budget - no need for expensive international airfare as your port of departure is Puerto Penasco, just a few hour van ride south of Phoenix.  If you are interested in a trip to the Sea of Cortez, contact Bluewater Travel and join one of our guided photo workshop trips or get on an open boat.  But don’t wait too long as this itinerary books up fast about a year in advance.

 

Join Bluewater Photo on either of their Back-to-Back Sea of Cortez Underwater Photo Workshops on the Rocio del Mar this summer.

Sea of Cortez Workshop

July 18 - 25, 2015
OR
July 25 - August 1, 2015

 

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Ron Watkins is an international award winning photographer, frequent contributor to underwater photography guide and Bluewater Trip Leader. He has been passionate about underwater photography and marine conservation since the 90’s and his photography has appeared in magazines, websites, juried art displays, national aquariums, libraries and private collections. More of Ron’s photography may be viewed at www.scubarews.com.

 

 

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Iceland: Diving in the Land of Fire and Ice

Michael Salvarezza & Christopher P. Weaver
Take a Photo Journey into Iceland's Underwater Wonders

 

Iceland: Diving in the Land of Fire and Ice


Take a Photo Journey into Iceland's Underwater Wonders

Text and Photos By Michael Salvarezza and Christopher P. Weaver

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

Divers explore the famous Silfra fissure.

 
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Whiteout!

Well, it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise. We were, after all, driving along the northern coast of Iceland at the end of winter. 50 MPH winds, blinding snow and frigid temperatures? What did we expect?

The destination was Nesgjá, a recently discovered “crack” in the Earth’s surface, flooded with crystal clear water and home to some of the most awe-inspiring geological formations a diver will ever encounter. We left the small fishing village of Hjalteyri, located 22 km north of Akureyri, earlier in the day and upon approaching the dive site immediately realized that this was frontier-style diving. After suiting up atop a small snow covered hill we made our way on foot through the snow towards the foreboding water, carefully selected a point of entry and proceeded to jump into the 34-degree (f) water. Instantly, we were transported to a new world…

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

The snow-covered road to Nesla.

Iceland

Iceland is a land of contradiction. Geologically and volcanically active, the land is scarred from recent lava flows and contorted and twisted by the spreading of the earth. Indeed, the mid-Atlantic ridge goes right through the center of Iceland, where volcanoes rise and the North American and Eurasian continental plates are ripping apart. In some areas, cracks in the Earth’s crust have flooded with lava filtered glacial melt water, making for unparalleled diving opportunities in crystal clear water with almost unlimited visibility. Along the coasts, myriad diving opportunities exist in and around the many fjords and divers can delight in healthy populations of marine life.  Perhaps most notable is the unique and precious dive site known as Strytan, the only known collection of hydrothermal vents reachable in diveable depths.

Iceland, the land of fire and ice, has much to offer.

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

Cold water nudibranchs can be found at Strytan.

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

The ferocious-looking but harmless Wolf fish.

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

The Strytan dive site viewed from our zodiac.

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

Our dives at Nesgjá took us through a winding corridor of boulders, created through a slow but jarring ripping apart of the Earth’s crust. The water here is pure and clear. Although there is no marine life to speak of, the dramatic rock formations and crystalline water make for a truly memorable experience. We wound our way through the length of the crack, and then emerged into a lagoon of equally clear water. With depths never exceeding more than 30 feet, dive times here are limited by your air supply and your tolerance for the cold.

After a dive at Nesgjá, an interesting option is to visit the nearby site known as Litla Á. Here, we dove in 63-degree (f) water, which emerges from various spots along the bottom like so many miniature geysers.  With the air temperature hovering close to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, this dive was quite comfortable! Although the water is quite shallow, never reaching more than 5 or 6 feet in depth, the warm, clear water, the unique phenomenon of hot water emerging from the bottom and the occasional encounter with the large trout that make their home here make this a worthwhile visit.

In 1997, Erlendur Bogason discovered a hydrothermal vent in the dark water of the Eyla Fjord, located near to the town of Akureyri. Strytan, as this location has been named, rises from over 200 feet to nearly 50 feet below the surface. Hydrothermal vents are otherwise located many thousands of feet deep and Strytan is the shallowest known one in the world. A “White Smoker”, Strytan is a set of chimneys that emit very hot water (176 degrees Fahrenheit) and are formed by smectite, a white clay material that mixes with other crustal elements and minerals. Divers can explore the towering formations and will marvel at the marine life that abounds in these waters. Macro enthusiasts will spot colorful nudibranchs, crustaceans, sponges, starfish and anemones. Swirling around the chimneys are schools of cod and Pollack, and sharp-eyed divers will also encounter the curious Lumpsucker fish and the ferocious looking Wolf Fish. Despite the fascinating array of marine life, however, our attention was repeatedly transfixed by the flowing hot water, which creates its own thermocline in the cold ocean water. For a unique photo opportunity, divers can carefully remove their gloves and warm their hands in the hot water spewing from the vents…just be advised to not get too close!

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

Preparing to dive a geothermal hot spring.

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

A diver warming his hands at Strytan.

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

Exploring the Blue Lagoon at Silfra.

 

Two hours outside of Reykjavik is Thingvallavatn Lake, home to a ruptured landscape torn apart by geological forces. In and around the lake are many fissures and tectonic cracks, many of them filled with glacial melt water from Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjokull. This water, filtered for 50 years through miles and miles of lava rock, emerges here as clear and clean as possible. It is here that divers can visit Silfra, one of these geological cracks and one of the most iconic dive sites in all of Iceland.

At Silfra, divers descend a set of stairs installed for safety and access, and then enter a labyrinth of rock walls, boulder piles, cavities and crevices all filled with some of the world’s purest water. In fact, divers are encouraged to taste the water along the way! Unique to Silfra, divers can actually reach out and simultaneously touch both the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Diving here is akin to being transported to another world…with visibility exceeding 300 feet, temperatures hovering around 34 degrees Fahrenheit and a gentle flowing current, the dives are magical and transformative.

Iceland’s diving opportunities extend to shipwrecks, cod spawning activities and the chance to dive with seabirds off the northern coast.

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

A narrow passage at Nesla.

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

The crystal clear water at Nesla.

 

Exploring Iceland on the Topside

Topside, Iceland is an amazing contrast between civilization, history and wilderness. With only 320,000 people residing in the entire country, many of them in the main city of Reykjavik, much of the country’s landscape is natural and undisturbed. Visitors can experience black, barren fields of pumice and lava stone, breathtaking waterfalls, lovely seaside communities and dramatic mountains. Home to more than 30,000 live volcanoes, the land is relatively young and is still being formed. It is also a country steeped in history, including strong cultural ties to the Vikings, and is home to the site of the very first Parliament meeting in the year 930 AD.

We emerged from our final dives in Iceland to the crisp, cold winter air and scrambled over the jagged rocks of Silfra, feeling exhilarated and alive. This is what Iceland does to you…it gets under your skin and injects a sense of wonder about the natural world. It creates a feeling of being part of the re birth of the Earth itself. Swimming into the cradle of geological creation is humbling, exciting and perspective shifting. Far from the maddening crowds, Iceland still retains a sense of distance and isolation. All this, and its just 5 hours from New York by air!

 

Getting There

International visitors arrive in Iceland into Keflavik Airport. Most passengers do not require a Visa to enter Iceland as long as their stay does not exceed 3 months. Transport to other regions in Iceland can be accomplished either by driving or through domestic air travel. There are domestic airports in Reykjavik, Akureyri, and several other towns. Drive time from Reykjavik to Akureyri is 4-5 hours, while air travel is 45 minutes.

 

Baggage

Baggage allowances vary for each international carrier, so check before you leave! Note: Some international carriers are now enforcing weight and size limits for carry-on bags as well what is considered a personal carry-on type of bag.

 

Weather

Iceland lies on the edge of the Arctic and, at its northernmost point, is only 30 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Accordingly, the winters are long, generally from September to April. In the depths of the winter, daylight is almost nonexistent and in the summer the days are almost 24 hours long. However, due to the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream, winter weather in the south can be milder than in New York or Zurich. Winter is harsher in the north, with fierce storms, wind driven snow and low temperatures.  Temperatures are the lowest in the Highlands.

 

Currency

The local currency is the Icelandic Krona, but US Dollars and Euro are often accepted. 

 

Electricity

Voltage: 220-240V/50Hz

Primary Socket Type: Europlug, Schuko
Travel Adapter: Round Pin Universal Plug

 

Scuba Diving

DIVE.IS (www.dive.is) is a Five Star PADI Dive Center, located in Reykjavik. DIVE.IS offers a variety of multi-day tours and single day dive opportunities, along with training and equipment rental.

Strytan Divecenter (www.strytan.is) is located in Hjalteyri, nearby to Akureyri, and is owned and operated by Erlandur Bogason. The Skjaldarvik Guesthouse (www.skjaldarvik.is) is a good place to stay when diving Strytan. Good homemade food, with comfortable rooms.

Reykjavik has a recompression chamber.

 

Book Your Dive Trip

The team at Bluewater Travel can set up the perfect Iceland Dive & Underwater Photography Trip. Visit the Bluewater Travel Website.

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

The weird-looking but colorful lumpsucker fish.

 

Scuba Diving Iceland

Strytan’s chimneys are covered with colorful anemones.

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Authors

Michael Salvarezza and Christopher Weaver have been diving the waters of the world since 1978. In that time, they have spent thousands of hours underwater and have accumulated a large and varied library of photographic images. They have presented their work in many multi-media slide presentations, and have appeared previously at some of the largest industry conferences including Beneath the Sea, the Boston Sea Rovers Underwater Clinic and Our World Underwater. In addition, they are the producers of the annual Long Island Divers Association Film Festival. Mike and Chris have been published in numerous magazines, including National Geographic Adventure, and have authored numerous articles for the majority of the dive publications the world over. Their work has also been used to support a number of research and educational programs, including the Jason Project for Education, the Atlantis Marine World Aquarium in New York and the Cambridge University and the University of Groningen Arctic Centre work on monitoring the transformation of historic features in Antarctica and Svalbard.

You can see more of their work at www.ecophotoexplorers.com

 

Support the Underwater Photography Guide:


The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


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Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


 

 
 
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Diving Reunion Island

Gaby Barathieu
You've been Missing out on Humpbacks, Dolphins, Wrecks and Incredible Macro!

 

Diving Réunion Island


You've been Missing out on Humpbacks, Dolphins, Wrecks and Incredible Macro!

Text and Photos By Gaby Barathieu

 

Reunion Island

 

 
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Réunion is a French island in the Indian Ocean, about 530 miles east of Madagascar. It is volcanic in origin and one of the volcanoes is actually still active, and known as the “Piton de la Fournaise". The volcano is a major tourist attraction and is located within the Réunion National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Réunion Island is young, meaning the lagoons are small and not very deep. But what the lagoons lack is made up for in the open ocean. Since the island rises out of deep water, it’s a magnet for whales and boasts healthy reefs teeming with colorful fish. The water temperature varies from 23 C (73 F) in winter to 30 C (86 F) in summer.

Above the surface, Réunon is covered in steep mountains, and as a result, is known worldwide for its hiking trails. The locals are laid-back and welcoming. Getting to Réunion is easy – there are daily flights from Paris, which take about 11 hours.

 

Reunion Island

A stunning Indian Ocean sunset from Réunion.

 

When to Visit Réunion

Réunion is a great dive destination year-round! But if you want to see humpback whales, winter is the best season (June to October). Every year, the humpbacks come to breed and give birth near our shores, with the most action happening from mid-August to mid-September.

Dive conditions are generally better during the summer, with the highest visibility and warmest water... but it's the rainy season so there are some rough days. That said, visibility is very good 80% of the year and dolphins can be found around the island all year.

 

Reunion Island

A sea turtle flies by.

 

Reunion Island

A pod of dolphins plays just outside the barrier reef.

 

 

Why Should You Dive Here?

1)  Because Réunion is relatively unknown in the diving community, even though it's home to so much marine life and relatively easy to reach (especially for Europeans).

2)  Because in the morning you can swim with whales or dolphins and in the afternoon you can shoot nudibranchs and other macro subjects and then enjoy a cocktail on the beach during sunset.

 

Reunion Island

Moving in close to a ray.

 

 

The Diving in Réunion

Réunion offers a wide variety of dive sites. Just beyond the reef there are large flats, beautiful steep walls and shipwrecks. Photographers will tend to shoot wide-angle in the morning because conditions are calmer. In the afternoon, macro and the shallower dive sites will delight you with their wealth of corals, sponges, reef fish and critters. This is a great opportunity to work on ambient light underwater photography.

The greatest coral and marine life biodiversity is found on the west coast. There are also lava flows on the south side of the island, which are visited by some dive centers. These sites are exposed to current, however, and for experienced divers only.

We also have some wreck diving at Réunion. The most famous is the Hai Siang at 55m deep (181ft). When the ship sunk it landed on its side, but then was righted by a cyclone. It's a very fun dive with a descent straight through the blue water column. Photographers can set up wide-angle or possibly ultra wide-angle (14mm). 

Other popular deep wrecks include The Navarra at 50m (164ft), The Sea Venture at 45m (148ft) and Antonio Lorenzo at 38m (125ft). These are deep dives that require special training, however the photo potential is incredible. There are also some great wrecks in shallower water covered with abundant marine growth, fish and other exciting critters.

The macro diving is world-class at Réunion Island, with a wide range of biodiversity. The dive sites are usually found on the outer slopes of the barrier coral reefs, but you can also find some extraordinary encounters in the lagoons. Harlequin shrimp are observed in lagoon by free divers, so it’s certain that scuba divers can find them. There are also many colorful nudibranchs waiting to be found and photographed.

 

Reunion Island

The wreck diving in Réunion is world-class.

 

Reunion Island

A beautiful photo of a deadly scene.

 

 

Réunion's Most Popular Dive Sites

The Caves of Maharani: An original site in about 15m (49ft), which includes a series of cracks and caves adorned with skylights. On this dive, wide-angle is preferable in the morning when the position of the sun is best. Divers regularly see kingfish over one meter in length, making close passes while hunting. Lionfish are under the overhangs waiting for unsuspecting prey.

Passe de l’Ermitage: A cleaning station and meeting point for turtles and eagle rays. The turtles visit the cleaning station daily while also using the lagoon for shelter at night. The extensive seagrass beds provide an abundant food source.

Grand Tombant de la Point au Sel: This is one of the best dives at the island, but reserved for experienced divers since the current can be violent and unpredictable. There are great wide-angle opportunities with regular sightings of huge schools of jacks and pelagic fish (swordfish, marlin, tuna). Less frequently, divers will encounter a whale shark, hammerhead sharks or manta rays.

Cap la Houssaye: THE site for macro photography. On a regular dive you will see nudibranchs, mantis shrimp and ghost pipefish as well as turtles, barracuda and more. There is a huge meadow with sea slugs of all kinds, but beware of scorpion fish camouflaged on the bottom as they await passing prey. Visibility is average but this is not a problem for macro.

 

Réunion offers a wide variety of diving mixed with stunning topside landscapes. This small French island should be on every underwater photographer's destination list!

 

Interested in travel to Reunion Island?

Bluewater Travel can help you book the perfect dive experience.

 

Reunion Island

Squid will always entertain underwater photographers at night.

 

 

Reunion Island

A whale dives after taking a breath.

 

 

About the Author

Gaby Barathieu is a passionate underwater photographer based on Reunion Island. He and photographer Yann Oulia run the Reunion Underwater Photography website and Facebook page, sharing the incredible diving and wildlife encounters in the waters near their home. View their photography at www.RUP.re or on their Facebook Page.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Putting Kosrae on the Map

Jeff Milisen
World-Class Diving Away from the Crowds

 

Putting Kosrae on the Map


World-Class Diving Away from the Crowds

Text and Photos By Jeff Milisen

 

Kosrae Underwater Photography

 

 
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By definition, “popular” places like Palau, Kona and Lembeh see thousands of visitors every year. The Blue Hole may have as many as 30 boats per day! To find the hidden gems of diving, you have to be willing to travel off the map. That’s why when I placed in the Ocean Art Photo Contest in 2013, I ranked the dive vacations according to unpopularity. If I had never heard of the spot, it went straight to the top of the list. That’s how I found Kosrae. In an ocean full of rarely visited islands, Kosrae is the poster child for remote, off-the-beaten-path places.

Kosrae is a beautiful island just a smidge north of the equator and on the exotic side of the International Date Line. Its culture teeters just on the edge of current civilization with a population dominated by subsistence farming and internet speeds harkening back to the age of dial-up. This disconnect from the modern world keeps Kosrae off the radar and makes for a much quieter, more laid back atmosphere. That makes Kosrae the perfect place to unplug for a week. And while you are sitting back unwinding, you may as well get underwater and enjoy the ocean scenery, because it is staggering.

 

Kosrae Split-Shot

 

 

Kosrae Underwater Marine Life

When researching my trip, I found very little about the underwater environment of Kosrae. The most popular dive resort on the island, the Kosrae Nautilus, is a laid back, 18-room slice of heaven where the owner, Doug, prides himself on personally attending to the guests. His staff has been around for years, meaning that his many repeat visitors get to see familiar, friendly faces every time they come back. However, small island resorts don’t have the budget to market in big-name magazines, which has left Kosrae off of most dive travel maps. A quick look at its nearest neighbors of Palau, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kwajalein infers that Kosrae should have some of the best diving on the planet. And in fact, its location has allowed a diverse array of species to settle on its shores while heavy ocean currents keep the water blue and clear.   

Nearly every inch of the sloping benthic environment is draped in an abundant and diverse layer of coral growth. Brain corals the size of Volkswagens are separated by staghorn entanglements, rice coral fingers, plate coral fields and some species I couldn’t even put a name on. A healthy sprinkling of coral’s close cousin, anemones, provides Kosrae’s most reliable attraction.

 

Kosrae Pipehorse

 

Clownfish and their host anemones can be seen on every dive. The three species most commonly found here include the tomato clownfish (Amphiprion melanopus), Clark’s clownfish (Amphiprion clarkii) and pink clownfish (Amphiprion peridaraion). Small reef fish are usually best shot with a macro lens, but the clownfish here are so friendly they make for stunning wide-angle reefscape subjects as well. And if you manage to tire of the clownfish, wander a bit to find a lionfish (Pterois volitans), giant Pacific grouper (Epinephalus lanceolatus) or venture a bit deeper to play with the current-swept crinoids. The reefs here will keep delivering well beyond your no decompression limits. 

 

Korse Lionfish

 

Much of Micronesia is known for bigger animals, and in this aspect, Kosrae is similar. The shallows are patrolled by a vigilant regiment of blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) that keep just to the edge of visibility. Sites such as Hiroshi have a high probability of encounters with circling gray reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) playing in the current. Three species of stingrays and regular turtle sightings round out the larger reef animals. Keep your eyes to the blue, as encounters with larger pelagics like dogtooth tuna (Gymnosarda unicolor) can steal the show. 

 

Kosrae Barracuda

 

Kosrae Underwater History

Today’s Disney world portrayal of whimsical pirates couldn’t be further from reality. Considered to be the Pacific’s last privateer, Bully Hayes was known for being a terrible person. His legacy across the Pacific was one of slave trading, pillaging, stealing and scamming people out of ships. He met his end in 1877 at the hands of his cook, whom he had bullied one too many times. His ship, the Leonora, now rests in 60 feet of water in the Utwe harbor at Kosrae. While the remains of the ship consist mostly of bits of metal sticking up from the silt, the rest of the site is a lovely muck dive. 

More recent history has contributed more substantial wrecks to the area.  While the rest of the Pacific was on fire in the middle of the Second World War, Kosrae was mostly ignored and under Japanese control. The wreck of the Sansun Maru is the exception, having been the only Kosraen wreck resulting from American attacks during the world war. It is roughly 100 feet long, sits in 60 feet of water and is covered in an assortment of marine life. The final relic is a PBM airplane that was beyond repair when it landed in the lagoon. The soldiers removed the valuable electronics, pushed it into the channel and sank it in place. I am told it is the only PBM aircraft in the world within diving depths.

Let the masses go to Chuuk and flood the Maldives. Kosrae has a speed all its own, and while it deserves a spot on your dive bucket list, its character is defined by a lack of tourist traffic. Come here for the peace and quiet, but prepare to be wowed.

 

Kosrae PBM Plane Wreck

 

Know Before You Go

  • Sundays are for worship. As a visitor, you won’t be expected to go to church, but diving and alcohol consumption are forbidden.
  • Bring your surface marker buoy because most of the dives are drift dives.  

 

Kosrae fish

 

 

Book your Trip with Bluewater Travel

Want to plan a trip to dive Kosrae? Bluewater Travel offers the best pricing, service and advice for dive travel. Visit Bluewater Travel's Kosrae Dive Travel page.

 

About the Author

Jeff Milisen is a relatively new content writer for the Underwater Photography Guide who specializes in black water and big animals.  When not behind a camera, Jeff is a marine biologist working to reduce overfishing by improving methods for farming fish. Milisenphotography.yolasite.com

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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The Two Faces of Dumaguete

Jeff Milisen
Wide-Angle & Macro in the Center of the Coral Triangle

 

The Two Faces of Dumaguete


Wide-Angle & Macro in the Center of the Coral Triangle

Text and Photos By Jeff Milisen

 

 

 
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Not all tropical dive locations are created equal. Some, like Fiji and Palau, are known for an abundance of sharks. Yap has manta rays. In Hawaii, it is all about the sea turtles. The truly incredible islands of the coral triangle in the Indo-Pacific region, however, are known for all of it. This area is considered the center of marine biodiversity hosting more species of coral, fish and marine invertebrates than anywhere else on the planet. Most species of marine-life found worldwide have evolutionary roots here. And at the center of this triangle of life sits Dumaguete, Philippines.

Dumaguete is a coastal college town in the province of Negros Oriental known for its gentle people, fantastic resorts and incredible diving. One of the most popular resorts for divers is Atlantis Dumaguete where an abundance of helpful people in a prime diving location helps make it the perfect launching point. Their five boats with a maximum of 6 divers per guide have prime access to a coastline full of great diving, and the crew takes care of the busywork to make sure that you have the opportunity to make 5 dives a day every day. The only decision you really have to make is which side of Dumaguete do you want to experience: the large or the small?

 

Go Big!

If you are looking to be wowed by an experience, look no further than the big life at Dumaguete. The area offers two equally mind-blowing opportunities to attach your wide-angle lens. The kicker? Both experiences showcase how sustainable eco-tourism offers a win-win scenario for tourists, locals and wildlife. 

 

Turtle

 

On the top of nearly every diver’s bucket list sits perhaps the most iconic and charismatic animal in the ocean: the whale shark (Rhincodon typus). This gentle giant is the world’s largest shark, yet because it lacks teeth and spines, it is also the most harmless. Its diet of plankton leaves us divers off the menu. The local shrimp fishermen of Oslob in neighboring Cebu have learned a neat trick. Instead of catching the whale sharks for food, they have started feeding them with local shrimp. This means the whale sharks get a free meal, the fishermen get paid royalties for their services and eco-tourists get a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the largest fish in the ocean. And if the Oslob whale shark experience is an icon of creative sustainable practices, Apo Island is a monument.

 

Humphead Parrotfish

 

Apo sits a short 45-minute bangka ride offshore from Atlantis Dumaguete.  From the surface, the island doesn’t look like much more than a green, oceanic hill with a few houses sprinkled on it. One peek underwater, however, and your standard for pristine reef diving will be changed forever. The underwater walls at Apo are literally draped in hundreds of species of hard and soft corals. Coral colonies, in turn, create habitat for an abundance of fish, invertebrate and reptilian species. And because the area is a reserve, the wildlife is in your face. Clouds of anthias (Pseudanthias sp.) obscure your view to the surface. Armies of hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) munch at sponges in the shallows while big-eyed jacks (Caranx sexfasciatis) patrol the deep. Humphead parrotfish (Bubometopon muricatum), meanwhile, graze unfazed by the presence of divers. And this is all against a flowing landscape of corals that cannot be appropriately imagined or described. I tried desperately to capture as much as I could in the first two dives. By dive 3, I had put the camera away and opted to just enjoy my limited time in such a special place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or Go Small

In addition to its wide-angle opportunities, Dumaguete is known as a center for world-class muck diving. After visiting a show-stopper such as Apo Island, you would be forgiven for looking at a substrate of volcanic silt and being a bit disenchanted at first. The seemingly endless desert landscape starts at the beach and continues down the slope as far as you care to follow it. Miles of sand might be considered comparatively boring if not for the armies of cryptic life forms endlessly parading by your dive mask. The diversity of the coral triangle doesn’t only apply to corals. 

 

 

Our well-trained dive masters were able to find us every rarity we requested. It started to get a bit uncanny. I mentioned before a dive that ornate ghost pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) had always intrigued me. At the bottom of the mooring line on our way down we found a crinoid and sure enough, a tiny ghost pipefish poked its head out for the camera. We also found robust and halimeda ghost pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus and S. halimeda) on the same dive. Quickly we figured out that many of our bucket list items were pretty common here, so we started doing our homework and asking about animals that hadn’t been seen in a while. For example, the divemasters confided that they hadn’t seen a flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) in months. Sure enough, by the next dive, my buddy and I each had found our own cuttlefish to play with. Finally, on my last dive I recalled a strange fish called a stargazer (Uranoscopus sp.) that looks something like an Aztec face staring up from the sand. That night, well, I think you see where this story is going.

 

 

Atlantis Dumaguete has found a few innovative ways to showcase its unique community with special dives designed to highlight certain aspects of the life there. For example, the fluoro dive uses special lights to observe Technicolor fluorescence that would otherwise go unnoticed. Spectacular green and pink animals flit through special lights as if an army of highlighters had attacked them. Also, don’t miss out on the mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus) mating dive. Mandarinfish typically remain hidden during the day but come out from hiding to mate every night at sunset. The displays are beautifully choreographed dances that crescendo up from the reef to a final release of gametes. The whole process is intrinsically fun to watch and tricky to photograph.

 

 

 

 

In Conclusion

Dumaguete, unlike other dive destinations, is not known for any one particular animal encounter. It is known for the experience as a whole. My dive buddy and I spent three days there and were constantly wowed by the menagerie that marched by no matter how big or how small.

 

 

Book your Trip with Bluewater Travel

Want to plan a trip to dive Dumaguete? Bluewater Travel offers the best pricing, service and advice for dive travel. Visit Bluewater Travel's Dumaguete Dive Travel page.

 

About the Author

Jeff Milisen is a relatively new content writer for the Underwater Photography Guide who specializes in black water and big animals.  When not behind a camera, Jeff is a marine biologist working to reduce overfishing by improving methods for farming fish. Milisenphotography.yolasite.com

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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