The Hammerheads of Bimini

Shane Gross
What Photographers Need to Know about Diving Bimini's Hammerhead Headquarters

 

The Hammerheads of Bimini


What Photographers Need to Know about Diving Bimini's Hammerhead Headquarters

Text and Photos By Shane Gross

 

Bimini Hammerhead Shark

 

 
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In January of 2013 I saw Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center posting beautiful pictures of great hammerhead sharks. Like any shark lover and underwater photographer would in that circumstance, I immediately messaged them and asked how I could join the action. Three days later I was underwater with my absolute favorite shark. At the time it was a revelation; a new spot that promised what no other could. Fast forward only two years and the spot is famous in the dive community and countless divers have had the extreme pleasure of diving with these most amazing of animals. I have since been back and it is better than ever!

 

Bimini Hammerhead Shark and scuba diver

 

 

Great Hammerheads

There are at least ten different species of hammerhead sharks. The great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) is the largest, with some estimating they can grow to twenty feet in length. The ones we were diving with in Bimini were adults, mostly female, around 9-12 feet long – they are big sharks.

The hammer season runs from December through April with peak time in January and February. There are many operators offering to go there. I have been out with both Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center and Epic Diving. Both operators were fantastic in how they interacted with the sharks, helped me get the shot, used nice boats and provided great food. Both operators are land-based. The hammer site is only a 5 minute boat ride from any of the resorts or hotels and the site is on the lee side of the island (usually protected), however, the winter weather can still kick up, causing divers to miss a day or two of diving.

In 2013 the hammerheads took about an hour to show up, while in 2015 they only took about 15 minutes. They are generally only around in the afternoon, with boats leaving the dock around noon or 1pm, which frees up the mornings to see some of the other sites Bimini has to offer (see next section).

 

Bimini Hammerhead Shark

 

Bimini Hammerhead Shark

 

Bimini Hammerhead Shark

 

The dives are usually only in about 15-20 feet of water, so they can last well over two hours. The feeder (expert shark handlers only please!) will bring down a bait box with some fish chunks to bring the sharks in close and keep them interested. The guests will form a “V” shape letting the scent from the box go down the middle. The sharks follow the scent to the bait box and all the guests get a great view. Full, dark wetsuits and gloves are needed and if you get cold quickly, like I do, a hood would make sense.

The sharks are pretty well behaved; it’s clear they are only interested in snacking on the fish scraps and not on people. The first time I did the dive I was told that there is no record of any human ever being killed by a hammerhead shark and while I cannot confirm, I would not be surprised if it were true. However, they are large predators deserving of our respect, so follow the rules! If you do, it should be an extremely safe dive and I can attest that it is super fun. If you don’t come up with a smile on your face, well, you may be the first.

 

Bimini Hammerhead Shark

 

 

About Bimini

The two tiny islands of Bimini (North and South) in the Bahamas are located not too far from the Florida east coast. The Gulf Stream runs right alongside Bimini, which, among other reasons, means the diversity of life is huge. Get ready to wrap your head around this list:

  • Great Hammerhead Sharks in the winter. This is already enough to make it a dream destination.
  • Bull sharks in the marina. The Bimini Big Game Club has a cage off the end of their dock and you can have them fed in front of your face.
  • Baby lemon and nurse sharks in the mangroves. Not only in the wild, but you can visit the Bimini Biological Field Station (Sharklab) to have a tour and learn about these cute sharks and even pet them.
  • Seahorses in the mangroves. If you go deep in the mangroves at low tide you may be privileged to find bright orange or yellow seahorses!
  • Southern stingrays. Just south of Bimini is Gun Cay where, with a little bait, you can have stingrays literally sucking on your dome port.
  • Spotted Dolphins. I was absolutely blown away by how playful these dolphins are. They came up within touching distance, and stayed there, several times.

It’s a crazy cool list and I could keep going! Not only is the list impressive, but if you are lucky with weather you could see it all in a single week-long visit! If you go in winter.

 

atlantic spotted dolphin

 

stingray and underwater photographer

 

bahamas sea horse

 

 

Hammerhead Shark Photography

I went with a fairly basic setup. The Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens behind a big dome port proved the ticket because these large sharks come in really close. Another photographer was using an 8mm circular fisheye and filled the frame with teeth. That’s close!

It’s so shallow and bright on the sandy bottom that natural light shots can work really well. I brought my strobes, but turned them way down to try to just give a kiss of light to the underside of the shark. To avoid overexposing the sand I pointed my strobes up 45 degrees, which might look weird on other sharks, but we are talking about hammerheads here - weird is their middle name.

I tried to focus on shots that show off their hammer – from below or from above. In 2013 I took a lot of standard side-portrait shots and in many of them a lay person wouldn’t even be able to tell they were hammerheads.

I went with a fast shutter speed (1/250) to freeze the action and get the sharpest results. My Nikon D90 isn’t the best at high ISO so I keep it at 100 and then vary my aperture depending on the conditions.

I enjoyed shooting when the sun was getting low. The sun rays or sunset added an extra element of beauty. No matter what setup you bring, I would advise you to shoot lots and make time to review your images each day so that you can learn from them. The opportunities are so many that simply experimenting can lead to great results. Play around and have fun - just keep your head up and pay attention to the sharks too. Oh! And be sure to take a few minutes to yourself without worrying about the camera. These are such amazing animals. You are so freaking lucky to be there in the water with them!

 

Bimini hammerhead shark

 

Bimini hammerhead shark

 

Bimini hammerhead shark

 

 

Conclusion

Bimini is a world-class diving destination with much to see and photograph. If you choose to go, you will get hours and hours with the hammerheads and shoot all the angles you can think of. My advice is to make sure to seek out all the other amazing things Bimini has to offer. As they say “Go for the hammerheads, stay for the bulls, lemons, stingrays, seahorses and dolphins.” Well, they should say that, anyway.

As for the hammerheads we all owe a big thank you to those who found and developed the site. So thank you to the people of the Sharklab and Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center. We all owe you one! Now it is up to all of us to respect the site, the sharks and not ruin a great thing.

 

Bimini hammerhead shark

 

 


Book Your Trip to Bimini

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Bimini and Bahamas dive trip. Visit BluewaterTravel.com for more info.
 

 

Also by Shane Gross

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Born in Canada, Shane Gross has been living in the Bahamas for the past three years working as a SCUBA dive instructor and freelance underwater photographer/writer. His work has been widely published in books, magazines, ad campaigns, etc. He is an outspoken conservationist and ocean advocate who wishes to inspire those around him to do their part.

www.grossphotographic.com
facebook.com/shanegrossphotography

 

Author's Gear Profile

Nikon D90, Aquatica housingTokina 10-17mm Fisheye Lens, dual SEA&SEA YS-110a strobes

 

 

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Coiba: Fish Photography at Surprise Island

Mikhail Kisin
Why this Big Fish Hotspot Needs to be on Your Trip List

 

Coiba: Fish Photography at Surprise Island


Why this Big Fish Hotspot Needs to be on Your Trip List

Text and Photos By Mikhail Kisin

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

 

 
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The Eastern Pacific is well known as the top place for big-fish photography. What is less known – you don’t need to travel as far as Cocos, Malpelo, Socorro or Galapagos for a great shot. Save yourself two days of notorious ocean crossings and turn your attention to the lush Panamanian island of Coiba.

 

The Island

Coiba brings a lot of surprises. For me, the first one was the very existence of such an island – so close to my own California and so unbeknown here. On my first trip with liveaboard Yemaya, Coiba was a stopover on the way to Malpelo, but even a single day of diving there was so surprising that Coiba became my next exclusive destination that same day. Further research brought about the third surprise: it turns out that Coiba is the largest tropical island in the Americas and the biggest uninhabited tropical island in the world. In fact, Coiba is an archipelago. The main island with its huge territory of about 200 square miles is surrounded by three dozen smaller islets; together they comprise the Panamanian Coiba National Park. Coiba volcanic origin makes the island a natural part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, on par with Cocos and Galapagos, who both connect with Coiba through a chain of underwater mountains. Coiba is located exactly where that underwater ridge comes ashore in the Panamanian Gulf of Chiriqui. So, it is not a coincidence that on the other side of the Gulf of Chiriqui the American Continental Divide shoots up volcano Baru, the biggest mountain peak in Panama.

Coiba’s huge territory and extended shoreline guarantees diverse and plentiful diving, for which the island is aptly placed. Comparing to the more southerly located equatorial Galapagos Islands, which are cooled by the Humboldt Current from the Southern Hemisphere, Coiba receives much warmer tropical counter-current from Indo-Pacific. This current not only stabilizes the water temperature regime and mitigates the El-Niňo effects but it also brings an astonishing diversity to Coiba’s abundant marine life. Not accidentally, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute maintains its facility on Coiba’s Isla Rancheria. In 2005 Unesco declared Coiba a World Heritage Site. One of the reasons was extreme biodiversity of marine ecosystem counting more than 700 species of fishes, 30 species of sharks, and 20 species of cetaceans. In all Tropical Eastern Pacific only three places have been honored with that rank – Galapagos, Cocos, and Malpelo. Even Socorro, with all its fascinating mantas, has not been rated that high. Surprised? That’s what I promised from the beginning. Keep counting.

 

The Diving

I’ve never had so much fun as I did when diving Coiba's waters. Diving there can be utterly unpredictable; just see for yourself if it fits your concept of fun. During the same dive the clear blue water can turn green, or you can hit a California-style thermocline in a spot where on the previous dive you enjoyed the balm tropical bath. Strong currents bring into the mix even more surprises - not as much on Coiba’s shore reefs as on numerous underwater pinnacles located either offshore or in the straits between the islets. The pinnacles grant the best of Coiba diving, and tidal currents provide for real wonders in fish aggregation. Something similar I encountered only at “The Race” – a huge underwater ridge which spans the Eastern side of New York's Long Island Sound and blocks the water flow in and out of the Sound. Tidal currents at the top of The Race are enormous and slack window is practically nonexistent, so that the towering standing waves are raging the place in any weather. The Race is famous as an extreme spearfishing site due to abundance of a single (but remarkable) fish species - Atlantic Striped Bass. The variety of fish in Coiba is truly astonishing and strong tidal currents around Coiba's pinnacles bring about fish hot spots very similar to The Race – true whirlwinds of fish, though here you will find not one but numerous species. Even more spectacular is diving at the Hannibal Bank which is located farther offshore, due West, outside the Coiba National Park boundaries. The Bank is always included in the Coiba trip itinerary of the Panamanian-based liveaboard Yemaya whish is the best (if not the only) way to visit that region. Diving Hannibal Bank can be as tricky as any open-ocean diving, but most likely it will be the culmination of your trip. On my first descent there I was truly surprised to see a rug of kelp slowly swinging underneath, well below thirty (beware - in Panama we’re talking meters!), - which of course could not be true - before I realized it was an endless school of red snappers covering the whole reef. There is no point to go on with fish stories. The point is – Coiba is The Place for fish photography. 

 

The Fish

When I say “fish” I truly mean fish, not the big animals like schooling hammerheads or whale sharks; for those you’d better go to remote islands of Malpelo or Cocos. Of course, Coiba’s underwater world is as diverse as any Eastern Pacific destination, and you can get your big encounters here too, especially in Hannibal Bank, but still, in Coiba you want to concentrate on species, say, the size of a frying pan (pardon my hard-dying spearo attitude) – because there are so many! I would also skip the macro and of course all the invertebrates, though in some Coiba dive sites you can swim in nice dense groves of black corals and, indeed, in Coiba I saw my biggest ever frogfish, hardly the object for macro.

In my experience, “shooting” fish is very akin to spearfishing where the key for a good shot is not the rig at all but your fast reaction and thorough knowledge of fish behavior. Actually, the gear should be as simple as possible. This statement can be severely argued or even ridiculed. My only excuse is that all pictures in this article have been made with simplest point-and-shoot Panasonic camera, fixed shutter speed of 1/125s at ISO 200, single strongly dimmed external slave flash, and a little bit of luck... well, sometimes, with a big chunk of the latter. This style of shooting however requires a lot of torturous editing, mostly done by pressing the “delete” button. The beauty of Coiba is – you can easily afford such editing style here.

 

Fish'nd Tips

With some exceptions, the general advice for middle-size-fish photography translates into the simple “get closer” rule, and the basic advises can be copy-pasted from any spearfishing site: don't seek out fish – look for the fish spot; once there, wait; you don't find fish – fish finds you; don't move to the fish; don't look into the fish eyes... etc. . As for the last advice, I, of course, don't believe in that  nonsense and superstition. I just let them work for me.

Leaving aside the spearfishing rituals, once you get close – shoot away. If you neglect a bad shot you are at risk of not getting any. Even the most curious fish needs only a glimpse.

Fish do not need to be silvery to turn into sparkling mirrors under your flash. Dim the damn thing down... and then down again. In many cases, I turn my flash away and use the scattered or reflected light. Before I started using this trick, in many cases I just wasted the shot.  

Avoid frontal shots, they are rarely impressive. Fish should move either toward you or slightly away; this also helps cutting off the reflections. By the way, it is not the direction of movement which makes the composition – it is the direction of the fish’s eye. Good looks fix even the frontal shot.

And finally, always remember – all this is supposed to be fun. Do it this way and you will get your main and ultimate surprise. 

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

This is not what you come to Coiba for. Though they’re plentiful here (Whitetip reef shark).

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

This is also not what you come to Coiba for. You can see them anywhere (Balloonfish).

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

Even this is not what you come to Coiba for. And I would miss it anyway (Frogfish).

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

That's it. The fish (Black Croaker).

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

You can get any Eastern Pacific species of any age for your collection. Juvenile (Mexican Hogfish) ...

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

… and adult (Mexican Hogfish, male) ... 

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

… at cleaning station  (Redtail Triggerfish) ...

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

 …. and on a leisurely swim (Azure Parrotfish) …

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

 … alone (Leopard Grouper) …

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

 … or in jolly company (Purple Surgeonfish) …

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

… in murky water (Pacific Porgy) …

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

… or in the deep blue (Almaco Jack) …

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

… which turns into deep green on the next dive (Greater Amberjack).

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

Dimed strobe gives you color perspective (Jordan’s Snapper) …

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

… and allows shooting against the sunshine (Bluestriped Chub) …

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

 … or look under the shady ledges while keeping the natural colors (Amarillo Snapper).

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

The best way to get Scorpionfish without glaring reds is to turn flash away …

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

… but for Creolefish and Cardinalfish more red does not hurt.

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

You don't need flash at all for pelagics in Hannibal Bank (Wahoo) …

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

… but deeper down a flash is the only source of light (Bluefin Trevally) …

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

… which sometimes gives you the textbook identification shot (Pacific Red Snapper) …

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

… unless you hit the bottom and get some reflected light (schooling Red Snappers).

 

Coiba Island Scuba Diving

The ultimate Coiba prize – big but elusive Dogtooth Pargo. 

 

 

 


Book Your Trip to Coiba Island

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Coiba Island dive trip. Visit BluewaterTravel.com for more info.
 

 

 

Also by Mikhail Kisin

 

Further Reading

 

 

About the Author

Mikhail Kisin is a Russian physicist struggling to match his tightfisted vacation time to the generous travel opportunities of the New World. He writes for two Russian dive magazines. If your liveaboard is booked by Russians, blame him.

 

 

Author's Gear Profile

Panasonic DMC-ZS6 Camera in Panasonic housing. Single Bonica Neon XP strobe.

 

 

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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The Cage Diving Experience and Photo Tips

George Probst
Capturing the Great White Shark at Isla de Guadalupe

 

The Cage Diving Experience and Photo Tips


Capturing the Great White Shark at Isla de Guadalupe

Text and Photos By George Probst

 

 

 
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Mexico’s Isla de Guadalupe is located off Baja about 400km (250 miles) southwest of Ensenada. During the autumn months, the island is home to a variety of natural prey for white sharks, including yellowfin tuna, Guadalupe fur seals, California sea lions, and northern elephant seals.

The abundance of these food sources draws large numbers of white sharks to Guadalupe from August through December. The earlier months of August and September tend to see the arrival of smaller male sharks, while the females and some of the bigger males are more prevalent in October and November. Deciding on when to go depends on what you’re hoping to see. One of the disadvantages of waiting for the bigger sharks is that their presence often results in the absence of smaller sharks. The exceptional visibility at the island, which can be upwards of 30m (100’), coupled with the large white shark population, make Guadalupe one of the best places in the world to photograph the species.

Trips to Guadalupe are on a live-aboard basis, as the boat trek from Ensenada to Guadalupe can take 20 hours or more. So, when you’re not diving, be prepared to be stuck on the boat. The volcanic island is a biosphere reserve, and while you might be anchored close to shore, don’t expect to set foot on the island.

 

A white shark opens his jaws at the surface. While sharks are often depicted with their jaws open, these moments are generally the exception and not the norm.

 

An ambush predator, the great white shark relies on stealth and attacks unsuspecting prey by charging vertically from below.

 

 

A Little Bit About Cage Diving

Cage diving is significantly different than open water scuba or free diving, in the sense that you are somewhat in a fixed position. And rather than being neutrally buoyant, the goal is to be significantly negatively buoyant when in the cage, so that your feet are firmly on the cage floor. I typically have a 50lbs. vest and 5lbs. ankle weights on each leg when I get in a cage. Continuous air is supplied via hookah attached to an air compressor on-board the boat.

Depending on the dive operator, you might have two different cage options. Surface cages are the standard type of cage that most operators employ. These are typically attached to the back of the boat and the tops of the cages float on the surface. Some dive operators also offer submersible cages, which are boarded at the surface and then lowered via winch to deeper water.

Activity at the surface is often almost circus-like when bait is employed to attract the sharks, whereas the behavior of the sharks down deeper can often be much more “laid-back.” Dive duration in the submersible cage is dependent on your depth, just as would be the case with an open water dive. Dive time in the surface cage (max depth of about 3m at the bottom of the cage) is limited only by available space, and demand based on the number of divers aboard. If cage space is available, you can practically spend all day in the water at the surface.

 

“Tzitzimitl,” a large female great white who is missing the upper portion of her caudal fin (tail), is another well-known shark who has visited the island for many years. This shot was taken from about 10m down and gives you a good look at the two surface cages above. 

 

When the sharks are just below the surface, you can sometimes get an interesting reflection above the shark, depending on the light and surface conditions. 

 

 

Getting the Shot

Being stuck in a cage presents a set of limitations that you don’t typically have when open water diving. It’s basically like the underwater equivalent of shooting from a blind (used in topside wildlife photography) - you’re stuck in a stationary spot. That being said, there is a little bit of wiggle room in the cages to move around, and there are openings in the cages to allow even larger rigs through, so you’re not limited to shooting in single direction.

I shoot entirely with natural light at Guadalupe, though I have seen others shoot with strobes from both the surface and submersible cages. Strobes tend to get in the way if you have a cage-full of photographers, so that is something to bear in mind. There is generally more room in the submersible cages at the lower depth, so strobes are a good idea since they’re more practical here, but at the surface I feel like they’re more of a hassle than they’re worth.

My best shots are generally achieved when the sharks are in close, so I recommend shooting with a wide or ultra-wide angle lens. I tend to shoot between 17-24mm for almost all of my shots. I prefer shooting rectilinear, though I know plenty of underwater shooters who are partial to fisheye lenses. So, go with your instinct and preference.

 

The curious and camera-friendly “Cal Ripfin” was the most well-known shark documented at the island from 2001-2011. When he was around, you could pretty much guarantee that your camera would get a workout.   

 

“Lucy” is well-known female great white shark who has been visiting Isla de Guadalupe for years. He uniquely damaged caudal fin (tail), along with her generally curious nature, make her an easy individual to identify.

 

Some shark are more curious than others. Having a wide-angle lens is a must when shooting the sharks who like to get up-close and personal (shot at 17mm). 

 

I tend to use spot metering and try to meter on the upper-grey part of the shark. I always shoot RAW, which makes dealing with white balance (among other things) a lot easier in post. At the surface, the light is generally quite good, allowing for low ISO settings. I’m not hard-core about having to shoot completely in manual mode when underwater, so I opt for aperture-priority mode. Depending on what direction a shark is coming from and its depth, exposure might vary tremendously. I dial in my aperture and leave the exposure up to the camera – this way I’m ready for sharks coming in from any direction.

Once you’ve got the technical aspects down, I really feel like the most important aspects to capturing images of wildlife are persistence and patience, and that holds true when shooting white sharks. Every once in a while you might get that lucky shot, but most of the great shots are the ones that you work for. The more time that you spend in the water with the sharks, the more likely you are to get the shots that really stand out. Each individual white shark has its own unique traits and behaviors. Spend some time paying attention to how the sharks move and behave. Certain aspects of the individual sharks’ behavior can become predictable. For example, some sharks tend to come in from the port side of the boat more often than the starboard side, and vice versa. Some sharks are shy, while others are very curious about camera equipment. If you have multiple sharks around and you know one of them is more curious, you can get set up for a good close-up and just wait for the curious shark to come in. While there is always a level of unpredictably when dealing with wild animals, there are some behaviors that can be reasonably anticipated. You won’t pick up on these immediately, but if you spend a little time studying the individual sharks you might get a sense of when the ideal photo opportunity is going to present itself. It’s not a coincidence that some of the same individual sharks appear in so many of my photos.

Also, be prepared to spend some time staring at empty blue water. As photographers, we’re on the schedule of the wildlife we’re photographing, not vice versa. The shark action can go from non-existent to crazy in a moment’s notice. A lot of people tend to give up on the day when there is long lull in the action. This is where patience and persistence can really pay off. I’ve had plenty of dives in which I was the only one left in the water on slow days when sharks decided to show up and give me my own personal photo shoot with them.

Last but not least, remember that you’re sharing the water with a wild predatory species. These sharks aren’t out to get you like the shark from Jaws, but they do have the capacity inflict serious harm. Treat them with the caution and respect that they deserve. No shot is worth risking the well being of yourself or your subject matter. 

 

Getting to know the individual sharks can help with anticipating the shot. This particular individual (nicknamed “Cal Ripfin” due to his damaged dorsal fin) was one of the most curious and camera-friendly sharks to ever visit Isla de Guadalupe.

 

The position of the sun and the calmness of the surface can created a varied array of light patterns on the sharks. This male white shark is illuminated by an ever-changing pattern of light as he passes by just below the surface.

 

A male white shark swims gracefully through the blue depths below. The bottom drops to depths of 60-90m (200-300’) not far from shore at Guadalupe, creating a visibly bottomless view from above.

 

 

Book Your Trip to Guadalupe

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Guadalupe Cage Diving trip. Visit BluewaterTravel.com for more info.
 
 
Join our Guadalupe Cage Diving Workshops!
 
 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

George Probst has been fascinated with sharks ever since he can remember. He has been diving with and photographing sharks since 2006, and hopes that his photography will help to promote responsible wildlife conservation through education and awareness. A hobbyist photographer and diver, George spends his working days as a digital media specialist and user experience (UX) advocate.

http://sharkpix.com    -    http://thedorsalfin.com

 

Author's Gear Profile

 

 

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!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

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Jurassic Park Meets The Beach

Matt Krumins
A Tale of Dive and Tropic Adventure at Taveuni Island, Fiji

 

Jurassic Park Meets The Beach


A Tale of Dive and Tropic Adventure at Taveuni Island, Fiji

Text and Photos By Matt Krumins

 

 

 
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It’s midnight and we are boarding the plane in Melbourne Australia. We are exhausted after having only been married the night before, and already I’m becoming nervous that we have made a grave decision for our ’tranquil’ diving honeymoon. The seats in front of us, behind us and next to us are filled with a type of Australian normally reserved for fake watches and braided hair on Kuta beach in Bali. You see, depending on where you finally set up camp on your holiday, Fiji can be a completely different place. For us Australians, it can be a quick, cheap holiday catered for by ‘all-you-can-eat/drink/do’ resorts filled with kids clubs and wacky-tacky cocktails or as we were soon to discover, if you are happy to brave the extra leg of the flight in what is essentially a 19 seater flying tin-can, Fiji is a true example of paradise. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being the other type of Australian, our second flight was destined for Taveuni, the third largest of 300 islands. The twin otter plane sat 19 people with an open cockpit but on our flight we were blessed with only 4 other traveling companions. Ironically it was on this tiny plane that they barely took notice of my over-sized camera bag and excessive dive luggage, whereas just 12 hours earlier in Melbourne I had been practically assaulted by the lovely check in lady at counter 23 for having 2kg too much in my hand-luggage. (You try and fit an underwater camera rig into those ridiculously small ‘carry on luggage check’ boxes!).

The flight over to Taveuni was truly spectacular, coral reefs popping green and blue like tie-dye patterns in the turquoise water, with what look liked perfectly manicured golf green islands poking their head above the 30 degree water to catch a glimpse of the morning sun. Our pilots lay back in their seats and read the morning paper as we coasted above the scattered clouds; already this seemed like worlds away from the bustling Nadi we had left just minutes earlier. After an hour in the sky there it was. To the left of the plane and a mere 14,000 feet below lay Rainbow Reef, sprawling the length of the peninsula of Vanualevu and glowing the most spectacular colours just meters below the calm ocean surface. The plane slowly banked right and through the salty windows of our tin-can flying machine stood a huge island, soaring tall out of the water, clouds masking the peaks of its jungle entangled mountains. Taveuni.

 

Taveuni

Matei airport in Taveuni is no more than a 3 room building with a scattering of locals es- caping the morning heat in the shade of the terminal area. It is located to the north of the island, which is serviced by a single road hugging the waterline and running just three- quarters of the perimeter. There are a handful of resorts and accommodation options, mostly advertising tranquil bungalow living and varying in cost from 'quite reasonable' all the way to ‘if you have to ask you can’t afford it’. Naturally, having spent most of our money on our wedding and upgrading some much-wanted underwater photography toys we opted for something in the more reasonable bracket, expecting to get ‘clean and comfortable’ with easy-access dive facilitates. Our driver was full of information on the hour-long trip from the airport to our accommodation; we learned about the history of how Taveuni villages came to be and the politics between the two chiefs on the island as well as some very useful information about the local culture. One thing in particular that caught our eye was a village proclaiming on a number of billboards that it is ‘Entirely Smoke Free’ a concept that I wish were more common. As we left the coast to navigate around a coconut plantation our driver pointed up towards the towering mountains. Mist crept amongst the tropical canopy where a battle for sunlight was won and lost daily between the thousands of different plants all vying for some vitamin D. This is where Taveuni island was summed up beautifully by our driver: “We like to call this Jurassic Park”. That was it.

 

 

We pulled into the aptly named Paradise Taveuni Resort and the volcanic rock driveway set the scene for a resort that was hand built to blend in to its natural environment and not simply provide luxury accommodation to its detriment. Our bags were unloaded and we were led down a winding path between beautiful traditionally built bungalows with woven roofs, each with an isolation and privacy that was fit for a honeymoon. “BULA!” a line-up of the resort staff and owners greeted us, with flower leis, cold towels and six genuine smiles that that took me straight back to the feeling of our wedding only 48 hours earlier. We were shown around, greeted by name from all of the staff and indulged in a glass (read bottle) of champagne over a foot massage in front of ‘Papaya’; our bungalow home for the next two weeks. 

 

 

 

The Diving

Being located towards the south of Taveuni island would be seen by many divers as a dis- advantage as Rainbow Reef is around a one hour boat ride north, however throughout the two weeks of our stay it became very apparent that we were in the prime position. The boat ride up to the reef was quite a pleasant trip across the channel, with sightings of pilot whales and manta rays feeding at the surface and the odd turtle dodging the thousands of flying fish darting like rocket ships across the waters surface. The boats are modern and well maintained by a highly dedicated team of dive staff who provided thorough briefs on the sites and who also had eagle eyes underwater to point out all the things you would be likely to miss. 

 

 

 

Unlike many dive destinations we have visited, Rainbow Reef offered a long list of different dive sites but with a unique difference: the majority of the sites were actually different! Mini-cabbage patch was filled with huge cabbage-shaped plate corals extending from 18m almost to the surface. The famous White Wall provided a spectacular high-speed drift dive filled with endless white soft corals forming an ice-covered reef with a blizzard-like snow storm of particulate matter whipping through the water. ‘The Zoo’ was filled with fantastic zebra patterned sergeant-major fish along with hundreds of other species speckled with different colours and textures. This reef system is really a wide-angle photography haven with lots of coral formations, fish covered bommies and endless reef. Whilst there are macro opportunities, the current on the reef generally means you are drifting, making it hard to hang around too long with a single critter. 

 

 

Rainbow Reef is the well regarded highlight of the diving here and as beautiful as it was, I think the reason it is advertised as the pinnacle of diving is because none of the other resorts have access to what lies at the font door of Paradise Resort. Paradise we are told, is the only resort on the island to have a house reef and easy access to Vuna which is on the south west side of Taveuni.

 

 

Towards the second week we had a few days of high winds as Cyclone Pam skirted to the west of Fiji, meandering down the Pacific landing in Vanuatu like a child throwing a tantrum in a sandpit (having had friends bare witness to this catastrophic event, I urge everyone to spare some change and donate to the reconstruction efforts in Villa and surrounding islands).

As the wind kicked up on our island, trips across the channel became an impossibility and as you could hear the moans of disappointment echo down the coast from the other dive resorts trapped land-side, we at Paradise Taveuni played on. With a brilliant house-reef filled with large schools of fish, endless options for macro photography and scattered with beautiful coral encrusted bommies we soon forgot about Rainbow Reef entirely and concentrated our efforts on this stretch of coast immediately adjacent to the resort's rolling lawns. This also made for a spectacular and incredibly convenient night dive where the entire reefscape transformed into a bustling city of life with millions of tiny red shrimp eyes gawking out of their hidey-holes as we admired moray and blue ribbon eels, porcelain crabs, all kinds of fish and giant crabs out hunting in the dark. 

 

 

 

Just around the corner from the resort is Dolphin Bay, accessible from the resort by car on bad-weather days and home to a black-sand muck dive. To be honest, bad weather or not, this is a must for the underwater photographer. The photo opportunities here are amazing and I would highly recommend bringing your macro lens and a diopter for this one, with many of the critters squaring up at around 1-5cm long. Amongst the small rocky outcrops hide mantis shrimp, nudibranchs and all the weird and wonderful macro critters you expect from an underwater landscape as diverse as the South Pacific’s. We also had a turtle visitor on this dive as well as the resident leafy scorpion fish.

Lastly the resort is only a 10 minute ride to Vuna reef, which juts out around two and a half kilometres or so from the coastline to the south of Paradise Resort. This reef system is dived almost daily at the resort, balancing the longer morning trips to Rainbow with shorter boat rides for the afternoon diving. This site provides protected dive sites no matter where the wind is blowing, and has a very similar landscape to that of Rainbow. In fact, on one day we had the privilege of diving the reef from the local Vuna Village. As a group of 4, we were the first people in history to dive this reef on scuba and aside from the amazing reef system, the fanfare from the locals was an experience we won’t soon forget. Vuna reef put on her best for us with a number of spotted eagle ray sitings as well as crystal clear water with thirty meter plus visibility. 

 

 

 

 

 

Sight-Seeing

After diving for the first three or four days we reminded ourselves that we were not on a dive trip but our honeymoon so we should get out and explore a little. We thumbed through the welcome book in our room, frequently stopping at spa treatments we would book later during our stay and found two daytrips that sounded right up our alley: the Cannibal Cave Tour and the Lavena Coastal Walk. The Cannibal Cave Tour saw us set off in a torrential downpour accompanied by our guide Suli. We traversed towards the mountains along a winding dirt road dotted with local houses and small villages. Upon arriving at a fairly innocuous patch of neck-height grass, Suli looks to us and declared "I think this is it." Turning into the grass, we started to create the trail to the caves, brushing aside all of the plants Suli had described to us along the path. 

 

 

Normally when I book a tour with a resort I sadly expect there to be handrails, lights and a range of OH&S posters telling me to watch my step even though the site is lit up like christmas. This tour was a refreshing surprise, as Suli reached into his pack and handed us each a head torch and a set of industrial knee pads and said, “you will need these." The cave entrance was down a slippery overgrown drop-off and completely pitch black. “What a real experi- ence,” we both said to each other. Inside the caves we were on our bellies, on all fours and contorting in all sorts of shapes to squeeze through the tiny openings into the cavernous old lava tubes. Suli talked us through the history as we quickly realised that there was in fact no connection to Cannibals. These caves were spectacular and a real adventure I would recommend for those who are comfortable with small spaces and seemingly untouched history.

Throughout the stay we had heard from a lot of people that the Lavena Coastal Walk was a must-do. This is a 3 hour walk on the opposite side of the island that (as the name suggests) follows the coast down to an incredible waterfall. Whilst it is probably a little bit more expensive to get there than we planned (due to the long car ride), it was definitely worth it. The walk took us through tropical rainforest canopies, along beautiful palm tree lined beaches where we came across the Mushroom Rock structures standing solid over the shallow reef. Towards the end of the one and a half hour journey we turned up-stream and inland from the coast. The river here is truly spectacular, filled with smooth pebbles and beautiful fresh water from the isolated waterfall just a few kilometres upstream. The waterfall here is apparently famous from a few reality TV shows that have been filmed, but being the only two people enjoying this amazing water-filled gorge you wouldn’t have guessed it. The photos unfortunately don’t speak the true beauty of the area as the sun was setting behind the falls by the time we had arrived, but this walk is a must for anyone lucky enough to be visiting Taveuni. We were also told that you can take a boat down to the river walk the last bit, however the prices charged were reserved for the rich and famous, and besides, life is about the journey! 

 

 

 

 

The Resort

At the end of each day, whether you have been enjoying the land sites or dive sites, you are greeted with the enthusiastic sound of the Lali drum-roll (Fijian drum), building pace and climaxing with voices all over the resort echoing in chorus "Happy Hour!”. Whilst the happy hour offerings aren’t really all that different to the regular offerings, it is a great time where the staff bring out the guitars, the guests sit around and everyone enjoys a nice
refreshing beverage while listening to Fijian acoustic renditions of old american rock bands. This community spirit in the resort can sound off-putting to some but from the moment you arrive you are made to feel like a part of the family while also not having your space or holiday time 
encroaching upon. If you choose not to participate it is not at all frowned upon. After happy hour we often arranged to have communal meals with a big long table but we also opted out some nights to have quiet honeymoon’esque dinners by the water's edge, accompanied only by the most amazing star filled skies. This is just one of the beauties of Paradise Taveuni; if you want to eat alone with your partner by the waters edge, a table will be set for you there, and if you want to join in a communal dinner you will be most welcome, Whatever your preference, the staff will endeavour to give you the best dining (and overall) experience possible.

 

 

The food at Paradise Taveuni was a brilliant mix of local and international cuisine, often with a hint of the Chef’s own indian heritage showing through. The menu works on a rotating system giving you plenty of variety and choice for meals each day. Couple this with a nicely stocked bar and the restaurant at Taveuni really catered to everyone, with plenty of local seafood options for those truly getting into the island spirit.

Each night, we were greeted in our rooms with flower petals scatted from the door to the incredibly large and comfortable four-poster bed where the abstract petal art transformed into a patterns of words, shapes or simply ornate geometrical arrangements. The service of our rooms was truly worth a mention as each morning we would wake up to our personalised chalk board on the front of our bungalow wishing us a happy day in whatever activity we had planned. A particularly attractive aspect of the resorts design is that the resort only caters to a maximum of around 35 people, with the family rooms located away from the private bungalows in an equally beautiful setting, separating any potential noise. This made it particularly friendly for couples or families alike whilst not compromising on the beauty of the island setting. 

 

 

Fiji has many faces and each island tells a different story. Taveuni for us was a beautiful balance between diving, site-seeing, relaxing and tranquility. We avoided phones, computers and internet, soaking up the island life and settling into island time. The diving, whilst not knocking Sipidan off the number one spot, was diverse and beautiful, and the people of Taveuni really made the trip a warm experience that is perhaps lacking in many resorts across the world. Alan and Teri have built this resort in the feel of the island taking into account personal space, open communal areas and traditional building techniques to create a genuine feeling of isolation from the outside world. Here, you will not find a party, nor will you be able to get Fiji shaved into the side of your head or have your hair braided with 'traditional' fluoro beads. Here you will find quiet and it is truly one of the only places I’ve ever been where every aspect of the resort not only lived up to but out-shone the website photos.

 

 

Book Your Trip to Paradise Island, Fiji

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Paradise Island, Fiji dive trip. Visit BluewaterTravel.com for more info.
 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Matt Krumins is the owner and operator of Deeper Than Diving UW Photography and ambassador to the Olympus underwater housing range. His experience in UW photography is concentrated around the Asia Pacific region and it has led him to launch his own unique, fun and contemporary brand of UW photography courses based in Australia. Visit www.deeperthandiving.com orwww.facebook.com/deeperthandiving for information on Matt's courses and photography.

 

Author's Gear Profile

Camera:  Olympus OM-D E-M1

Housing:  Olympus PT-EP11 Housing for OM-D E-M1

Lenses Used:  Panasonic 7-14mm and Olympus 60mm Macro lens

Strobes:  Dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes

 

 

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Underwater Photographer's Guide to Raja Ampat

Brent Durand
5 Things You Need to Know Before Diving Raja Ampat, Indonesia

 

Underwater Photographer's Guide to Raja Ampat


5 Things You Need to Know Before Diving Raja Ampat

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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The 4 Kings. Even the name Raja Ampat conjures up images of incredible underwater scenes worthy of even the most well-traveled divers. Raja Ampat ranks high on many divers' travel lists and for good reason - it is home to some of the most biodiverse reefs in the world and some very fishy diving.

I had the opportunity to make about 20 dives in Raja Ampat this September while staying at Papua Paradise and at Sorido Bay Resorts as part of Bluewater Travel's Best of Southeast Asia tour. The article below takes my limited experience into account, but mostly relies on advice from divers who have spent much time in this far corner of Indonesia.

 

Where is Raja Ampat and How do we Get There?

Raja Ampat is a group of islands situated in Indonesia's West Papua Province, just off the Bird's Head Peninsula of New Guinea. The region is known as Papua among locals, who are more closely related to people from Maluku than those from Java or other areas of western Indonesia.

In addition to the diving, Raja Ampat offers spectacular scenery and incredible kayaking and birdwatching. Papua is rich with endemic bird species, incuding the beautiful Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise.

Flights to Raja Ampat arrive in Sorong, the capital of the province, often via a layover in Makassar.

 

map: Wikipedia.org

 

The Raja Ampat Essentials

 

1 - Dive by Resort or Liveaboard

Raja Ampat is a destination dived by both resorts and liveaboards and each has its pros and cons.

 

On Liveaboards

For most people, travel to Raja Ampat is limited to a week or two. The obvious benefit to a liveaboard is that you can experience the diving in both of Raja's main dive hotspots - the Batanta/Gam/Waigeo (northern) area and the Misool (southern) area. 

 

On Resorts

Several of the established resorts have been diving Raja since before the first liveaboard. They have many years of experience and most dive guides have grown up on the water near their resort, resulting in expert knowledge of conditions necessary to provide the best diving. For example, a resort guide can suggest diving a site as a second dive instead of a first in order to wait for the best current (which brings schools of fish). On a liveaboard you may be on a tight schedule and have to dive the site immediately instead of waiting for the best conditions.

 

A wobblegong swims onto a table coral, surprising fish & photographer, noticing the photographer and then darting away.

All photos: Canon 5D Mark III, Tokina 10-17mm lens and Aquatica A5D MK III housing.

 

 

2 - The Center of Biodiversity

Raja Ampat has been the center of many fish studies and has a very good reputation for marine life biodiversity, both in the reefs and in the marine life swimming above. If scientific studies aren't proof enough, the abundant and diverse fish life will easily prove itself worthy of the title.

This rich area of the ocean has also been protected since divers first began visiting Raja Ampat. Raja dive pioneer Max Ammer has seen to that and continues the hard work to this day, along with some of the other resorts and liveaboards.

These healthy reefs create the perfect environment for both wide-angle and macro underwater photo and video.

 

The biodiversity in Raja Ampat is second to none.

 

 

3 - Manta Primetime

If you're visiting Raja Ampat to see Manta Rays, then you'll be scheduling a trip (be sure to call Bluewater Travel) with dives at Manta Sandy for the late fall and winter months. With that said, there are mantas found year-round in Raja Ampat, so while the colorful reefs and multitudes of fish are mesmerizing, it pays to keep an eye on the open water. You might also see sharks (including whale sharks) or a number of other peligic fish.

 

The reefs are mesmerizing, but keep an eye out for the big fish swimming by.

 

 

4 - Be Prepared to Dive A Remote Destination

While diving Raja Ampat is a relatively simple matter (the resorts take care of you the second you pass through airport security), it is still a very remote destination. There is no (working) hyperbaric chamber in Sorong, so dive insurance is a must.

Diving can be catered to divers of all skill levels, but you'll have the most enjoyable trip if you brush up on your skills and fitness in the weeks before the trip. Which button inflates vs. deflates your BCD? Can you kick a couple lengths of the pool?

The same idea applies to your underwater camera gear. Have you checked to make sure everything holds a charge?  Is watertight?  It will be very hard (most likely impossible) to replace u/w camera gear after landing in Sorong, so make sure to work out any kinks and bring backups of critical items.

 

My dive buddy takes a closer look at a broadclub cuttlefish.

 

 

5 - Take Time to Learn About the Culture

A dive trip anywhere in the world is an opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture. Raja Ampat presents some unique opportunities to learn about local culture, even if just chatting with your dive guides during surface intervals. Try some new food and pick up a few words. Apa kabar. Terima kasih. Satu, dua, tiga. Who knows... if you say some of these words you may pick up a few smiles as well.

 

Glass sweepers and blue water.

 

Soft corals grow off a wall in Raja Ampat.

 

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and professional 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.

 

 

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!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

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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What You Need to Know about Diving Tiger Beach

Shane Gross
The Sharks, the People, and Getting the Perfect Shot

 

What You Need to Know about Diving Tiger Beach


The Sharks, the People, and Getting the Perfect Shot

Text and Photos By Shane Gross

 

 

 
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If you want to dive with and/or photograph tiger sharks you go to Tiger Beach. The small, shallow sand flat, an hour by boat from the West End of Grand Bahama Island, is the most reliable, consistent and, arguably, photographically pleasing spot to photograph these striped beauties on Earth. As such, many photographers have been there and shot it in many different ways. I had avoided going there for this very reason. I thought to myself “what could I possibly do different? It’s been shot to death!”

I didn’t realize that I was totally missing the point. Yes, it has been shot from, seemingly, every angle; however it was still a very rewarding dive trip both personally and photographically. Simply put, Tiger Beach is a special place and I can’t wait to go back again. I finally realized why many underwater photographers go back every year (I am very much a Tiger Beach rookie). So what makes it so special? First, the sharks (duh!) then the people and finally, the shots.

 

If the tigers were around they got all the attention, but lemon sharks are very worthy of their picture being taken too! 

 

 

The Sharks

Many of the tiger sharks at Tiger Beach have achieved a certain level of fame among divers. There is Hook with her tragic, yet photogenic, bent lower jaw, Emma with her old, wrinkly skin and sheer size, Princess with her generally gentle demeanor and many others. Most of the tigers are female and, as you can tell, given girly names. Maybe this helps calm nervous divers down?

There is really no reason to be “nervous” when diving at tiger beach. The sharks are not there to eat people, but we should have a healthy dose of respect for them – after all they are big predators - much bigger than us. So what does that mean, “respect them”? Well, there are a few rules to follow while on these dives. This is not a comprehensive list, but to start off: don’t touch, ride or hug them (duh!), don’t turn your back to an approaching shark and if a shark is coming up behind a fellow diver let them know, stay still and try not to stir up the sand, heavily overweight yourself and be steady on the sandy bottom (currents have been known to rage). The sharks are being fed pieces of fish that are usually white or silver in color so wear a dark wetsuit and gloves and keep your hands to yourself. Unless you really know what you are doing it’s a good idea to have something solid in your hand like a camera or PVC pipe to gently redirect a close, curious shark. Finally, stay out of the chum slick.

 

A photographer gets some close-up tiger shark action. Many of the sharks at Tiger Beach have overcome their shyness towards divers making close-up shots the norm.

 

I imagine there are a few ways to set up the dive at tiger beach, but here’s how we did it. The feeder (an expert – don’t try this at home, kids) would bring a single milk crate with fish chunks to the sandy bottom twenty feet below facing down current. The guests (like me) would line up either behind or to the side of the feeder. We would form a “V” with the feeder in the middle and the chum going down the center. The sharks would swim down the center, following the chum slick, giving all the guests a great view. In our case the feeders would pull out a piece of fish and hand feed the shark once in a while when conditions were right.

At any one time we had between two and seven tigers. I have heard a lot more can show up -think 17 tiger sharks at once – which would mean you are watching your back more than your camera, so more is not necessarily better. The tigers are there year-round, but there seems to be less in the summer (July/August). However the weather is usually calmer in the summer and can be paired with spotted dolphin encounters… Doesn’t sound too bad.

While tiger sharks are the main attraction they aren’t the only sharks in town. We also saw scores of lemon and Caribbean reef sharks. We had a couple of nurse sharks come in and I’ve seen many images of great hammerheads coming from this area. Even if the tiger sharks don’t show up (which is rare) I imagine it would still be a lot of fun diving Tiger Beach. One highlight for me was seeing the lemon sharks stop, lay on the bottom and open their mouths while small wrasse clean the sharks’ mouth and gills.

 

A special moment for me was when this lemon shark pulled up literally right beside me and opened her mouth to be cleaned. What a gift!

 

I really liked when we parked the boat near the seaweed beds. The images that came out were a little different than your typical Tiger Beach shots.

 

The typical background at tiger beach is a clean blue water and sand which can make for great black and white images. You can also choose to work with only natural light due to the shallow, clear water.

 

The People

You have a few choices in operators when you are planning a trip to Tiger Beach. It was traditionally done via liveaboard, but land-based operations are now common as well and are based out of West End. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages of both (and a healthy debate is going on that is worthy of another article or two), but I have only tried one land-based operation and I was impressed.

I went with Vinnie and Debra Canabal who own and operate Epic Diving in the Bahamas. Our group of 8 dove for the next five days setting off around 8am and returning after dark (it was October). We made one dive in the morning and one in the afternoon each lasting at least 2 hours and I took an average of 1000 images per day (more on that later).

Vinnie and Debbie were great hosts and really love these sharks. They taught me and everyone on board so much about the sharks and how best to interact with them. We had a few people onboard who were nervous about being so close, but once in the water they said all fear melted away – a common theme in shark diving.

 

Diving with the tiger sharks inspired much awe and admiration among all the divers. I heard many times “I was never scared, just fascinated”.

 

The shark may look scary in this image, but she was actually very polite. She came in slow and vacuumed in (NOT ferociously bit) the fish presented to her. 

 

The Shots

Tiger beach really gives you the time and opportunity to experiment. It is so shallow the that dives can be long, and the sharks will come right up to your dome port so I chose a fisheye lens (the ever popular Tokina 10-17mm to be exact). I started off going for natural history portraits which turned out to take longer than I thought mainly because there were so many bubbles by the bait crate – where the sharks tend to go.

Then there was time for long exposures, silhouettes, over sea grass (as opposed to sand), and everything else I could think of. I didn’t nail every shot, but got more than I thought I would. One of the easier shots to achieve was the dramatic mouth-open feeding shots. I didn’t spend a lot of time on them because that is not really the message I like to send about sharks, but I couldn’t resist sitting right behind the bait box for about 20 minutes.

The images that came out the best, in my opinion, were portraits with a slightly underexposed background to have the sharks really pop. Others will likely disagree, but that is a style I have come to like and try to emulate. I would use a fast shutter speed like 1/250 aperture around f/13 for sharp corners and then I would wait for sharks to get close! It sounds easy and at some points it felt that way too.

 

While waiting for the tiger sharks to show up (which typically only took 15 minutes) I would lay on the duck board at the stern of the boat and shoot the Caribbean reef sharks. This was actually the very first picture of the trip! 

 

A Caribbean reef shark gliding by over the sea grass. When Tiger Beach was first established there were no Caribbean reefies. The site seems to get better with age!

 

Conclusion

At the end of the day anyone who goes to tiger beach is extremely lucky. It is an amazing place developed over many years and what is going on there today was impossible 20 years ago. The sharks are amazing, the water clear and the photo opportunities are limited only by your imagination. I will be working very hard to shed my Tiger Beach rookie status over the next, well, decades.

 

 

Book Your Trip to Tiger Beach

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Tiger Beach and/or Bahamas dive trip. Visit BluewaterTravel.com for more info.

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Born in Canada, Shane Gross has been living in the Bahamas for the past three years working as a SCUBA dive instructor and freelance underwater photographer/writer. His work has been widely published in books, magazines, ad campaigns, etc. He is an outspoken conservationist and ocean advocate who wishes to inspire those around him to do their part.

www.grossphotographic.com
facebook.com/shanegrossphotography

 

Shane's Gear Profile

Nikon D90 in Aquatica housing, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-110a strobes.

 

 

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!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

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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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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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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