Diving into History: The Flooded Farms

Christian Skauge
Exploring a Flooded Valley, Farmhouse Ruins and an Underwater Forest in Norway

 

Diving into History: The Flooded Farms


Exploring a Flooded Valley, Farmhouse Ruins and an Underwater Forest in Norway

Text and Photos By Christian Skauge

 

 

 
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Once upon a time there was no lake, only a peaceful valley with a small river running through it. Then the mountain above it started to rumble and a big rockslide came crashing down. Lake Lygnstøylsvatnet was born.

In the narrowest valley on the Norwegian west coast, Norangsdalen, rockslides and avalanches are very common. But not all of them create beautiful dive sites where an underwater photographer can frolic among remains of old dairy huts and the trees of a flooded forest.

In 1908, a huge rockslide closed off the small river Lygna, in Norangsdalen, and the water soon started to rise. After a few hours it became clear that it wouldn’t stop anytime soon and the farmers gathered the animals and their belongings and headed for safety further down the valley.

 

Remains of the old farmhouses in Lygnstøylsvatnet at 3 meters depth.
Nikon D300s, 10-20mm rectilinear, f/3.5, 1/160s, ISO 200

 

The long name of the lake is composed of three words - the river Lygna (meaning slow or quiet), støyl (a mountain summer pasture) and vatnet, which simply means lake. Luckily, you don’t have to pronounce the name to shoot some great images here.

 

Spectacular Scenery

Apart from being a great place to rinse your gear after diving in the ocean, lake Lygnstøylsvatnet offers spectacular scenery and often-great visibility – sometimes 40+ meters.

The lake bottom holds the remains of ten old farmhouses. The shallowest are found at just 3 meters depth and can be seen from the surface even before you enter the water.

 

Divers exploring the dairy hut remains in the lake.
Nikon D200, 10-20mm rectilinear, f/5, 1/90s, ISO 100

 

Between the pastures there are rock fences, and at the very bottom the road runs next to the old riverbed, complete with the milestones still standing.

The best visibility is usually found in April or May, as soon as the winding mountain road opens after the winter. The lake is even prettier in late summer or fall when the bottom is covered in a lush green blanket of algae, but the trade-off is visibility.

 

The bottom is beautifully covered in green algae in late summer and fall.
Nikon D300s, 10.5mm fisheye, f/4.5, 1/200s, ISO 400

 

Straightforward Wide-Angle

There is not too much to be written about how to shoot images in a shallow lake like this. To a certain extent the quality of your images is determined by the visibility – but even in less than optimal conditions there is plenty to play with in terms of light and shadow and the eerie scenery.

 

The remains of an old gate in one of the rock fences.
Nikon D200, 10.5mm fisheye, f/4, 1/250s, ISO 125

 

Basically we’re talking relatively straightforward wide-angle shooting here, very often without strobes – at least it you want to capture those big underwater landscapes.

There is not much other than greens and browns in terms of color, and I often find strobes redundant. In clear water, adding a little extra ISO may help you achieve a stronger blue in your backgrounds.

 

The last remains to be discovered in the lake showed up in the summer of 2012.
Nikon D300s, 10.5mm fisheye, f/5, 1/160s, ISO 400

 

One thing that may cause a problem is the depth, or more accurately the lack thereof. All the cool stuff in the water is at 12 meters or shallower and you may quickly run into problems with the dynamic range of your camera sensor.

The images very often burn out at the top, especially if you shoot portrait (tall) images on a sunny day. Watching your angle and (of course) the histogram is very important as the amount of light hitting the sensor changes dramatically even with the slightest change in tilt.

 

Dramatic landscape with trees and boulders from an ancient rockslide.
Nikon D300s, 10-20mm recilinear, f/5, 1/60s, ISO 640

 

The trick is usually just to remember to shoot with the sun behind you – but even so, the big difference between light at the top and at the bottom of the frame may present challenges. Some of the scenes can be shot from above, which very effectively solves this problem, but you might instead end up with your own shadow in the image.

 

Sunballs and Light Rays

The moderate depth on the other hand allows for several different lighting opportunities. You can crank up the F-stop and play with sunballs or turn the shutter speed up and try to capture those beautiful shafts of light that occur when sunlight hits water.

 

Catching light shafts is easy - but watch out or the image will burn out at the top.
Nikon D200, 10.5mm fisheye, f/4.5, 1/80s, ISO 125

 

No matter what you choose, you be mesmerized by the magic scenery and all the photo opportunities that present themselves. The scenery is breath-taking and eerily quiet, and at no other time is diving more like flying than this; soaring weightless above the bottom like a giant bird.

 

The Flooded Forest

In the southern end of the lake you enter the magical realm of the flooded forest. Before you know it, you are surrounded by old trees with naked branches stretching towards the surface. 

 

Old trees stretching for the surface make interesting subject matter.
Nikon D200, 10.5mm fisheye, f/4, 1/250s, ISO 125

 

They sometimes look twisted and tormented and sometimes slender and peaceful. Often, algae hangs from the branches like dark veils, hiding what lies beyond. The feeling is eerie and even a little scary. Thoughts of trolls and underwater creatures not of this world easily come to mind.

Diving in Lygnstøylsvatnet is an unforgettable experience, and the resulting images are often unlike what most underwater photographers have in their portfolio.

 

Lens Choices

I usually choose to go with either a 10.5 mm fisheye or a 10-17 mm fisheye zoom lens, but I’ve also had good results using a Sigma 10-20 mm rectilinear wide-angle zoom lens, which doesn’t curve the edges of the image.

The shallow depth dives you plenty of time to explore and discover and you can even surface to change lenses or to get your bearings straight if you’re looking to return from where you came.

As an added bonus, you don’t have to worry about rinsing your camera rig when you’re done – that’s pretty much taken care of!

 

 

FACTS ABOUT LYGNSTØYLSVATNET:

Lygnstøylsvatnet is located on the Norwegian west coast, not far from the small town of Ørsta. The lake came into being after a rockslide in 1908, and today it offers one of the most spectacular photo dives in Norway.

 

An old image showing the dairy farm as it was before the rockslide in 1908. Photo by A.B. Wilse shot prior to the rockslide, reproduced from an info sign at the lake.

 

Link to Google maps:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=lygnst%C3%B8lsvatnet&sll=62.420903,7.426758&sspn=7.521742,19.753418&ie=UTF8&ll=62.17584,6.728439&spn=0.014783,0.038581&z=15

 

 

 

About the Author

Christian Skauge is a former Nordic Champion of underwater photography and has won several international photo contests. He writes articles about diving and underwater photography and is published regularly in magazines around the world. He also runs underwater photo and marine biology workshops. Check out his website for more info: www.scubapixel.com

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
 
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Diving Cozumel: A Photo Essay

Brent Durand
Exploring Fabled Reefs & Visiting Resorts on Assignment for Bluewater Travel

 

Diving Cozumel: A Photo Essay

Exploring Fabled Reefs & Visiting Resorts on Assignment for Bluewater Travel

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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Cozumel has a reputation as a world-class dive destination and ranks high on many U.S. divers’ wish lists. I love adventure and wide-angle photography, so when the opportunity came to visit a few resorts and shoot underwater photos on behalf of Bluewater Travel, I jumped at the opportunity. The plan was to visit 4 resorts in 7 days and dive as much as possible around a busy work schedule.

Cozumel is a small island located off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It sits across the channel from Playa Del Carmen, about an hour south of Cancun, and divers have the opportunity to explore many dive sites that comprise a section of the Mesoamerican Reef (second largest barrier reef in the world). To learn more about Cozumel diving, check out Bluewater Travel’s Cozumel Dive Travel page.

Drift diving is the name of the game in Cozumel and can present some minor challenges for underwater photography, but hey, that’s what makes it fun. Check out my article Diving on the Drift for tips on shooting while drift diving. And macro shooters need not fear, as there are some fun subjects to track down while beach diving off the resorts.

Below is a small sampling of photos from diving Cozumel followed by info on the resorts visited. Breathe deep and enjoy.

 

Schoolmaster snapper hover above the reef at Yucab.

 

A small dome port adds a nice effect to a small school of white margates at Tormentos.

 

A simple composition showcasing yellow tube sponges at the San Francisco Shallows.

 

The usual suspects: Hawksbill turtle, french angelfish and yellowhead wrasse.

 

Massive swim throughs that I can only describe as "hobbit-like". This scene is from Palancar Deep.

 

A diver exits a swim through at Palancar Deep.

 

Keep an eye out for nurse sharks and giant moray eels.

 

Many fish like to hide out behind coral heads, presenting colorful photo opportunities.

 

Macro photographers will find some great subjects off the beach, including this juvenile drum fish.

 

Orange sponges create vivid contrast with the clear, blue water.

 

Trusted dive operations use very experienced dive guides and expert boat drivers.
 

 

 

 

Cozumel Resort Highlights

 

 

Scuba Club Cozumel

Overview:  A resort built by divers for divers with a longstanding reputation, full-service dive operation on-site, unlimited beach diving and a hassel-free Cozumel experience.

Dive Operation:  Fantastic dive operation in-house.

Who Should Go:  Serious divers looking for a hassel-free trip while becomming friends with other divers and staff.

More info on Scuba Club Cozumel

 

 

 

Presidente InterContinental

Overview:  With breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea and an in-house dive operation, Presidente InterContinental Resort & Spa is an intimate, elegant and relaxing destination on the island of Cozumel.

Dive Operation:  Scuba Du, located on-site, provides an exceptional dive experience.

Who Should Go:  Divers who value exlegant dining and a quiet beach to relax when not diving.

More info on Presidente InterContinental

 

 

 

Cozumel Palace

Overview:  A premier choice of all-inclusive resorts for divers and families in Cozumel, offering an unforgettable dive trip experience with luxury accomodations.

Dive Operation:  Aqua Safari location on-site.

Who Should Go:  Anyone looking for an all-inclusive trip where you can dive in the morning and then enjoy drinks and poolside entertainment.

More info on Cozumel Palace

 

 

 

Living Underwater

Overview:  High-caliber dive operator offering personalized small group dive experiences from any Cozumel resort, with a fast boat, large steel tanks and extra care for photographers.

Who Should Go:  Small groups and those interested in a personalized dive experience.

More Info on Living Underwater

 

 

 

Hotel Cozumel & Resort

Overview:  A comfortable dive resort located right next to town, Hotel Cozumel is a great destination for divers interested in combining diving with dinners in town and a personal choice of dive operators.

Dive Operation:  Dive Paradise location on-site.

Who Should Go:  Divers interested in exploring town or booking independent dive operators.

More info on Hotel Cozumel & Resort

 

 

Have you Visited Bluewater Travel yet?

Bluewater Travel is a new scuba travel agency from UWPG's publisher, Scott Gietler, dedicated to providing outstanding personalized service combined with a great online resource to book the best trips possible.

Bluewater Travel would like to book your next trip!  

Email info@bluewaterdivetravel.com for more info or visit:

 

www.bluewaterdivetravel.com

 

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer dedicated to capturing unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor-in-chief of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook for updates on everything underwater-photography.

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
 
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Diving into Egyptian History: Cleopatra's Palace

Wessam Atif
The Rediscovery of Cleopatra’s Sunken Palace & Diving it Today

Diving into Egyptian History


The Rediscovery of Cleopatra’s Sunken Palace & Diving it Today

Text and Photos By Wessam Atif

 

Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

Diver approaching the head of a sunken Sphinx, a remnant decoration of the sunken palace of Cleopatra. Continue reading to see a photo of the body of the Sphinx.

 
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1400 years ago in Egypt there was a terrible earthquake and a huge tsunami that hit the coast of the great city of Alexandria. It sank the island of Antirhodos, taking down queen Cleopatra’s palace and Alexandria’s old lighthouse, once a wonder of the ancient world.

Today we dive where Antirohodos Island once was, taking you on a journey to see and enjoy what’s left of Cleopatra’s sunken palace under the sea of Alexandria.

 

Site History

The city of Alexandria was founded in 332 BC by Alexander the Great, conquering Egypt in a conquest to expand his vast empire. After Alexander’s death, Greek occupation of Alexandria lasted 300 years until the start of Cleopatra’s reign. Queen Cleopatra was a full-blooded Greek and a mighty Egyptian Pharaoh. Her palace was spectacular - a landmark and symbol or her power. She ruled Egypt and spent much time creating alliances with Roman leaders to keep them from occupying Egypt. Tragically, she took her own life when she felt her efforts were about to fail, thinking Roman invasion was imminent.

The earthquake and tsunami that sank the island of Antirhodos occurred a few centuries after Cleopatra’s death, destroying and scattering the palace under about 10 meters of murky water in a small bay. Little was known of Cleopatra’s palace until the 1990s, when French archeologist Franck Goddio stumbled across the ancient writings of a Greek historian named Strabo. Strabo described the great city of Alexandria and the island of Antirhodos, which seemed to be located in a bay near by the city’s shore. In these writings Strabo also described Queen Cleopatra’s palace, built on that same island.

 

Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

Diver checking an old bowl, most likely used to store food or water in ancient Egyptian times. Canon PowerShot S110, Nauticam housing, Inon wide angle wet lens and dome, ambient light. F3.2, 1/60, ISO 200.

 

Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

Diver hovering over the remains of the sunken palace of Cleopatra. We can see what seems to be remains of red granite pillars and columns from the ancient times.
F3.2, 1/80, ISO 200.

 

Rediscovery of the Site

Franck Goddio, who is also the President of the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology, spent 10 years planning an expedition to uncover the secrets of Cleopatra’s sunken palace, determined to find and bring it back to light.

 While exploring the sunken island of Antirhodos during the expedition, guided only by Strabo’s ancient descriptions, Goddio's team started to find clues: a wreck of an ancient cargo ship more than 30 meters long, jewelry, hairpins, rings and glass cups.

In the late 1990s, divers discovered the remains of ancient docks at the eastern side of the island as well as a series of giant columns/pillars made of red Egyptian granite with shattered pottery beneath them. There were more than 60 pieces, each 4 feet in diameter and 7 meters in length.

Ancient paintings indicate the columns/pillars acted as a ceremonial gateway to the island. Each column had a decorated crown on top and together they created a magnificent entrance - one fit for a queen.

Inspired and dedicated, Goddio’s team finally found the wooden foundation of Cleopatra’s palace, carbon dating it to approximately 200 years before her birth. Because of this, Goddio believes Cleopatra inherited the palace. The team also discovered statues believed to be part of Cleopatra’s shrine/temple, a statue of her high priest and 2 perfectly preserved sphinxes (spiritual guardians of temples).

 

Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

The remains of a red granite pillar or perhaps a tower. F3.2, 1/60, ISO 200.

 

Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

Part of a broken vase/container with side handle, found among the relics of the sunken palace of Cleopatra. F2.8, 1/25, ISO 200.

 

Diving Cleopatra's Palace Today

Unfortunately for divers, all the well-preserved pieces Goddio dug out have been taken out of the water to tour the world museums. These are the images you’ll see when searching for Cleopatra’s palace on the Internet. The team took detailed photos of everything before lifting it, but that’s not quite the same as diving among the historic relics. That said, there are still some artifacts for divers to see today and you can feel the presence of history all around you underwater.

Diving the Mediterranean might take some getting used to if you only dive tropical water. Waves can be big and strong, while visibility is a serious issue that you should never underestimate, especially if you’re planning to take photos. Vis is less than 1 meter in some locations and a maximum of 4 to 5 meters on a good day. Sometimes you may even have to hold the hand of your dive guide during descent. It's well worth it though.

The site is really shallow, just 5 to 8 meters, which gives you plenty of bottom time. You can see many of the columns of the palace, huge stones everywhere, big bowls used in ancient times to keep water or food and two Sphinxes. The Sphinx that appears in the photos of this article had its head separated from its body. You may also see stones with ancient Egyptian writings on it if the visibility is good enough (by good enough I mean more than 2 meters).

In conclusion, diving Cleopatra’s palace is an amazing experience as long as you know what to expect. You will not see the detailed artifacts shown in museum photos, but you will find interesting diving in one of the oldest historical sites underwater. It’s an unforgettable dive experience.

 

Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

Diver checking a crown or a base of a red granite pillar/column. F3.2, 1/60, ISO 200.

 

Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

An old vase or amphora laid against other remains of Cleopatra's palace. F2.8, 1/30, ISO 200.

 

Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

The body of a Sphinx (head was separated) found near Cleopatra’s shrine. You can see the body of the lion, including the crease and curve of the thigh on the right side. The head appears in the first photo of this article. F3.2, 1/60, ISO 200.

 

About the Author

Wessam Atif is an Environmental Health Doctor, originally from Egypt but living in the Philippines. His passion is underwater photography and diving, and he is fascinated by the history of Alexandria - once the greatest city in the world. His photography experience is 3 yrs and almost one year shooting underwater. Wessam's work has been published in Practical Photography Magazine, BBC wildlife Magazine and Gulf news.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
 
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The Bali Muck Diving Experience

Patricia Gunderson
Macro Heaven with Unqiue Critters that should be on Every Underwater Photographer's List

The Bali Muck Diving Experience


Macro Heaven for Underwater Photographers

Text and Photos by Patricia Gunderson

 

boxer crab

Boxer crab (Lybia tessellata) with eggs.

 
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Bali was a dive destination I had never considered prior to my first trip - a prize for winning 1st place supermacro in the 2011 Ocean Art Contest. Looking back, it makes sense that the prize would be to a destination that was known for nudibranchs and supermacro photo opportunities.

 

My prize was a week in a private bungalow at Villa Markisa in Tulamben, Bali. I had heard about muck diving in Indonesia, but having done most of my diving in the Pacific Northwest I really did not know what to expect. I took the trip and finally experienced the wonders of muck diving in January 2013, intending to visit different places and dive other areas of Bali. Plans changed after experiencing the great diving and the wonderful relaxing atmosphere at Villa Markisa, and we stayed at the resort until we had to leave for the airport. The bungalow was beautiful and comfortable, with lots of room to relax between diving, the food was great and the Balinese outdoor bathroom was a real treat. Lush foliage next to the shower made rinsing off from so many dives a pleasure.

villa markisa pool

A view of the water from the pool at Villa Markisa.

 

            January is the low season in Bali and it rains in the afternoons, but I was very glad to have visited then and plan to go again at the same time of year when I get another chance. The conditions were wonderful for photographers. Since there were only a few people at the resort, the excellent service was made even better by the fact that often there were only two people diving. There was always something new to see and with the dive guides spotting critters there was no lack of photographic opportunities.

Much of the diving is muck diving because of the very fine consistency of the sand. Patches of life are everywhere on the muck slopes with chances to sight rare critters, which is incentive to keep your eyes open on every dive. There were many of the creatures I have only seen in photos and that are much sought after in muck diving. Here are a few:

 

A Skeleton Shrimp with an Interesting color.

 

The much sought-after Donut Doto.

 

golden mantis

A Golden Mantis Shrimp. This species of Mantis comes flying out of it's burrow and spears it's prey - a sight I would love to see.

 

tiger shrimp

A juvenile Tiger Shrimp with it's prey.

           

On every dive, the guides would point out far more critters and nudibranchs than I would ever be able to photograph on one trip. There were so many Opisthobranchs that it was difficult for me to choose a few to present in this article.

 

nudibranch

One of my favorites,Thecacera Sp. I have seen this species called Pikachu because of its appearance.

 

nudibranch

Cyerce kikutarobabai, not a Nudibranch but a Sacoglossa, which I am told is a rare sighting.

 

nudibranch

Chromodoris collingswoodi, with eggs.

 

nudibranch

Favorinus tsuruganus, with its spectacular rhinophores.

 

My favorite diving on this trip was night diving on the house reef at Villa Markisa. The macro and supermacro life at night is constantly on the move and there was never any lack of interesting subjects. On one night dive I had to leave my camera behind and watched a Jawfish dance in and out of its den. I also saw many other critters I would not have seen if I were focused on the viewfinder of my camera. I am glad that I had this opportunity and recommend diving without a camera (once in a while) to all photographers.

 

nudibranch

A Doto sp 7 surrounded by more Skeleton Shrimp than you can count.

 

nudibranch

A striking Cowry that contrasts with the dark sand.

 

cocunut octopus

Octopus were out and about hunting at night. This tiny Coconut octupus made a great subject.

 

shrimp

This tiny juvenile Marble Shrimp is my favorite critter from the trip. Our divemaster, Dharma, found it for me on my last dive, a night dive of course.

           

            I have to say that the wide-angle opportunities were also excellent in Bali, but I have chosen to showcase the tiny muck-diving critters and night diving. If you choose to visit Villa Markisa you will have many photographic opportunities, great service and meals, and the opportunity to walk down to the beach beyond the dive center to some great muck diving and some of best night diving I have ever done.

            My thanks to Christiane and Pedro who were great hosts at Villa Markisa, and especially to Christiane for making sure I had the opportunity to dive a variety of sights with fantastic macro photography opportunities. My only regret was that I did not have more time there to better learn the behavior of the creatures I saw.

 

 

About the Author

I have always loved the water and been fascinated with what lives in it. I've been diving since 1995 and began shooting photos shortly afterwards, but it was not until the world went digital and I bought a D70 and Subal housing that any of my photos were worth anything (aside from a sad memory of my diving). I thank the digital era for giving me a passion for underwater photography and underwater creatures of all kinds. www.sea-visions.net

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
 
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Socorro Workshop Photos & Report

Todd Winner
Incredible Photos: Sharks, Dolphins, Whales and Mantas!

Socorro Workshop Photos & Report


Sharks, Dolphins, Whales and Mantas!

Text by Todd Winner. Photos by Todd Winner and Workshop Guests

 

 

 
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Socorro is one of those magical underwater places like Galapagos, Malpelo, and Cocos Island. It is a premier big animal destination and one of the few places on earth where divers can easily interact with dozens of sharks on every dive - without the use of bait. There are three islands that are typically visited on a Socorro trip: San Benedicto, Socorro and Roca Partida.  

The only way to get to the islands is by boat. We held our Socorro workshop on the Rocio Del Mar liveaboard. The Rocio is a comfortable 110-foot vessel that can accommodate up to 20 guests, typically diving the islands from November through the end of May.

 


Getting There

The Socorro Islands lie 250 miles off Baja Mexico's southern shore. Guests arrive and depart in San Jose del Cabo, which conveniently has flights from many international destinations. After boarding the Rocio, it takes approximately 24 hours to arrive at the islands.

 

The Diving

We had anticipated Mantas to be the main attraction for this trip. Unfortunately, the water was unusually cold and the Mantas were not at their cleaning stations. Situations like this are one of the unpredictable things with underwater photography and big animals. There's always going to be some level of unpredictability. The cold water did have one advantage - the humpback whales were still around even though they are typically only sited in the winter months. We had a nice underwater encounter with them on one dive and got to see numerous breaches. Over the past few years, bottle nose dolphins have been interacting with divers in Socorro and everyone on our trip got a few great encounters. Sharks can be seen on almost every dive. White tip sharks are found sleeping in every crack and crevasse, and Galapagos and silky sharks swim along with divers in the current. Hammerhead sharks are more elusive but were still sighted on many of the dives.  

Water temps typically range 78-82F, but it did occasionally get colder on our trip. I used a 5mm along with a hooded vest. Currents can also be very strong around the islands. In fact, on the second day at Roca Partida, we encountered a vortex that was strong enough to hold onto one of our divers for six minutes.  This was a very rare phenomenon and probably not likely to repeat itself, but it is important to be a competent and fairly fit diver before going to destinations like Socorro.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Workshops

Every afternoon we had a short discussion on a particular topic, such as balanced lighting, Lightroom adjustments or any other subject the majority of guests were interested in covering. Throughout the week, there was plenty of time to get in some one on one time and review images. It is always a pleasure to be around other photographers that share your interests and to be able to swap knowledge.

 

 

Conclusion & Guest Photos

We got some great images and were lucky to have some fantastic snorkel encounters with mantas near the end of the trip. It just wasn't the cleaning station mantas we had expected. The humpbacks were incredible to witness and the sharks are always exciting to dive with.

Please check out the Underwater Photography Guide trips page for more of our upcoming workshops!

 

Photo: Drew Collins

Photo: Jeffrey Sheppard

Photo: Joe Morris

Photo: Jon Churchill

Photo: Michael Hardman

Photo: Michael Strole

Photo: Phil Symonds

Photo: Michael Hardman

 

About the Author

Todd Winner is a professional underwater photographer and cinematographer, PADI scuba instructor and owner of Winner Productions, a boutique post production facility catering to Hollywood's most elite cinematographers. Since taking up underwater photography in 1990, Todd Winner has won over 60 international underwater photo competitions. His images have been published in numerous magazines and online publications. His work has been featured in commercial advertising, museums and private galleries.  To see more of Todd's work or join him on an underwater workshop, please visit www.toddwinner.com.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
 
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Alor: Indonesia's Secret Gem

Victor Tang
Epic Diving for Adventure Seekers

Alor: Indonesia's Secret Gem


Epic Diving for Adventure Seekers

Text and Photos by Victor Tang

 

 

 
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Indonesia is an undisputed scuba diving haven, with a vast archipelago comprised of dive destinations catering to every taste and budget. If you poll divers on the best Indonesia dive destinations, names like Raja Ampat, Lembeh, Bali and Ahe are bound to be at the top of the list. But many feel that Alor has a resident Mola Mola population sighted more frequency than in Bali, macro subjects every bit as interesting as those in Lembeh, reef conditions that are arguably on par with Raja Ampat and possible whale sightings at any moment. How is it that such a highly rated dive location be relegated to an afterthought among scuba divers?

One plausible reason could be that information about Alor remains hard to find on the Internet. Most info comes directly from local dive operators, which some might view skeptically until they have actually dived there. Dive operators paint an interesting picture on rustic accommodations offering intermittent access to electricity - an essential lifeline for underwater photographers. This perception of Alor sounded exactly like the place that I thrive on, so I decided to head south and check it out myself. (Disclosure: I “cheated” and dived with the only dive operation out of Kalabahi, the only urban oasis on Alor, so I had 24 hour electricity for all my camera needs)

 

Origins

Alor has been on the scuba diving radar for longer than one expects, and a significant moment on my Alor adventure was to be able to meet the man who discovered Alor’s riches more than 18 years ago: Donovan Whitford. While running a dive operation in Kupang, West Timor, Donovan ran exploration trips around the Nusa Tenggara Timor Islands (which incidentally encompass Komdo). On one of these trips to the area around Alor Island they reached the southern part of the Pantar Straits and ended up staying for the rest of their expedition. Donovan has been organizing trips to Alor since then. The Pantar Strait, which is in between 2 islands collectively termed the Alor Archipelago, has yet to be fully explored. On every return trip there are new sites to dive, recently discovered by the locals.

 

If you thought traveling to Raja Ampat was tough…

I’m lucky to be based in Singapore, the undisputed hub for traveling within Southeast Asia, and there are flights aplenty to the Indonesian capital Jakarta, which has the best connections to Kupang - the only gateway to Alor. Even then, reaching Alor will take 2 days of travel, as one reaches Kupang in the evening and flights to Alor only depart in the earlier half of the day. But at least that flight is only 45 minutes!

 

Alor Underwater

The diving map of Alor can be broadly classified into 2 main areas: Kalabahi Bay for macro photography and the Pantar Strait for wide-angle.

Alor

Kalabahi Bay

KALABAHI BAY

Kalabahi Bay is a long and narrow bay, flanked on both sides by mountains. The boat takes about an hour to get across the bay, which would be a good chance to catch a quick nap before the first dive, however the resident pod of dolphins and juvenile yellow fin tuna keep you awake with their daily duels. Alor is essentially an extinct volcano jutting out from the ocean, and all the dive sites in Kalabahi Bay are muck dives in black sand. The bay plunges to more than two hundred meters, which tricks whales into entering several times a year.

 

Kendi Bay

The abundance of soft coral strikes the diver when entering Kendi Bay and gives the site its name. Pause before getting in close to scout for macro subjects, because you might come eyeball to eyeball with one of the enormous Longspine Lionfish that use Kendi Bay as a resting spot between nocturnal hunts. Some of these lionfish are estimated to be as long as thirty centimeters! And while this is a great muck macro spot, the lionfish offer great Close Focus Wide Angle photo opportunities for those armed with mini dome ports.

 

Alor

Fire Dartfish. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F14 and 1/250s. Tamron 60mm.
Note:  All Photos shot with Nikon D600.

 

Alor

Synchronized Feeding by Porcelain Crabs. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105VR.

 

Alor

Harlequin Sandperch. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F3.5 and 1/320s. Nikon 105 VR.

 

Pink Forest

Muck diving sites are generally stereotyped as “deserts” relatively devoid of coral compared to their white sand counterparts, but this muck dive promises to debunk that stereotype. A gentle slope that evens out at twenty meters, the site filled with pink soft coral for most the dive. On one dive Murphy’s Law caught up with me when I learned my macro lens was set on manual with no focus gear, so I decided to enjoy looking for new critters on the dive, seeing species new-to-me like the Harlequin Swimming Crab and the Yellow Sea Cucumber. Rare nudibranchs are often found as they come out to bask in the sun, with crustaceans lurking in almost any crevice you care to look into.

 

Alor

Yellow Spotted Anemone Shrimp.. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F32 and 1/250s. Nikon 105 VR. Subsee +10 Diopter.

 

Alor

Needle Cuttlefish. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F22 and 1/160s. Tamron 60mm.

 

Ferry Harbor and Bus Station

Ferry Harbor operates as the only nautical gateway out of Alor, and the Bus Station is named for the sunken bus that was there for years until it was recently salvaged for scrap. Any dive at these places features the weird and the wonderful. Spanish Dancers are sighted very frequently at both sites, with the Ferry Harbor singled out as a great nursery, its large pylons and ample rubbish offering the perfect refuge. Sea urchins are huge; their long spines used for protection by juvenile devil fish and pufferfish. The silt at the bottom is as fine as it gets, so an errant whisk of a fin could mean losing sight of your dive buddy’s light even though he or she is just beside you.

 

Alor

Commensal Shrimp. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F4.5 and 1/320s. Nikon 105VR.

 

Threesome

This site is very special, for its name is attributed to the first divers to enter its waters that day: my guide, dive buddy and I. Threesome is a classic muck diving site, its creatures well camouflaged among the black and well hidden under the nooks and crannies. Patience is the key here, for if you stay still long enough little movements seize your attention, and dragonets start to come out to feed. There are lots of shrimp and lobster to be found here, tending to stand their ground against the invader (you), allowing you time to plan and frame that perfect shot.

 

Alor

Bicolor Parrotfish. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F22 and 1/250s. Nikon 105 VR.

 

Alor

Coleman’s Phyllodesmium. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO400. Manual mode at F22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105 VR.

 

PANTAR STRAIT

Sailing out of Kalabahi Bay and into the Pantar Strait, the underwater landscape changes dramatically. Diving the sites around the Pantar Strait revolves around a central theme: coral cover, fish life and more coral cover. Fed by incoming currents from the Indonesia Sea and the Pacific Ocean, visibility did not fall below twenty-five meters on any of the dives in the strait during my trip, at times reaching forty meters or more. All this, along with cloudless skies and a relenting sun, makes for some glorious diving. Below are some of the sites not to be missed.

 

The Edge

My first taste of diving in the Pantar Strait was at a site called The Edge. Situated on the northeast of Ternate Island, diving at The Edge starts with a gentle slope packed full of soft coral down to ten meters and an abrupt drop off that plunges beyond one hundred meters. Strong and unpredictable currents here mean average individual coral sizes stay relatively small, but in unbelievable densities and varieties. There seems to be no end to this steep wall, and as the dive computer reminds you it’s time to leave, you ascend knowing this site has much more to offer. I thought I had seen complete coral cover blanketing a seascape, but that was before visiting Alor. This is one of those times where one has to have been there to really understand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo left: Reefscape Photo-ops Galore. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F16 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.
Photo right: Fleeing the Scene. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F18 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.

 

Babylon

On the south side of Ternate Island lies Babylon, named after the overhangs on the wall, which feature combinations of hard and soft coral that inspired the name. Most of the action is between fifteen to twenty-five meters, and with thirty-meter visibility and a strong sun it is possible to be bathed in sun rays for the entire dive. This is a site where both wide angle and macro opportunities are abundant, as many nudibranchs can be spotted basking in the daylight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo left: Coral Tower. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F16 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.
Photo right: Alor is sunburst heaven. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F18 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.

 

Kel’s Dream

This is the marquee site of Alor, for it promises a lot of big pelagics and large schools of fish. A submerged pinnacle starting at five meters and buffeted by currents most of the day, this is one site where local knowledge is absolutely crucial. Most liveaboards that make stops here do not have the best timing and the dive conditions aren't ideal. When the currents are ripping the waters surround the pinnacle resemble a druid’s cauldron, and even calm conditions on the surface bear no indication of the conditions below. Even when conditions are right to visit Kel’s Dream the anticipated pelagics may not be there. The risk is worth the reward because when you hit the jackpot it could be the best dive of your life. Here is what I saw on one of the dives:

  • THREE 2-meter long napoleon wrasses
  • A school of about 200 surgeon fish
  • A seemingly endless train of 1-meter long rainbow runners (1 meter you say? One of the boatman caught one while we were diving below)
  • Giant trevallies
  • One fearless dogtooth tuna

Diving can get very good at Kel’s dream, but if the party doesn’t show up the pinnacle itself is a very great consolation, the coral cover and variety no less impressive than other sites. Macro is also pretty good with nudibranchs precariously hanging on and blennies popping out to have a look at the commotion.

 

Alor

Crystal clear waters. Taken at ISO200 in ambient light. Manual mode at F3.5 and 1/1600s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.

 

Alor

More than just fish life at Kel’s Dream. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F14 and 1/125s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.

 

The Bullet

A channel that lies between the pinnacle at Kel’s Dream and Alor Island itself, it is called The Bullet because the water that gets compressed through pinnacle and landmass can get very swift, bringing along some big photo subjects. The site is a good backup if Kel’s Dream is not dive-able. It is the one place where hammerhead sharks can be reliably seen, which draws divers who will brave the currents. No hammerheads on my dive but a there were a couple of large black tips and turtles drifting with us. Do not just focus on the blue water on this dive, for behind you is arguably one of the prettiest reefs anywhere on earth. It has just the right balance of hard and soft coral with fish life so picturesque it might literally take your breath away.

 

Alor

Alor In A Nutshell. Taken at ISO200 in ambient light. Manual mode at F3.5 and 1/640s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.

 

Alor

Xenia Soft Coral. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F22 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.

 

The Cathedral

One of the most southerly dive sites in the Pantar Strait, there is a swim-through at thirty-five meters that exits at twenty meters. Entering it at the right time means the sun dominates the view at the exit, lighting up the reef in a sea of sunrays and creating a somewhat ecclesiastical experience. The reefscape is unique from other sites in Alor, with reefs covered in kelp resembling a savannah, combined with dense coral cover and fish life so rich that at times the anthias block the view. This site is special personally, for while preparing for the dive a huge fin emerged from the water and seemed to wave at us. It was my first time seeing a mola mola sunning itself! It stayed on the surface for a good ten minutes before disappearing. Upon further investigation this appears to be common at the Cathedral, and there is an estimated population of slightly more than a hundred mola mola that inhabit its deep waters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo left: Nowhere To Rest. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F14 and 1/250s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.
Photo right: Gorgonian Creativity. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F13 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.

 

Diving Alor – Not for Beginners

I have included this little section as a moral duty to divers that do want to go Alor. Diving in Alor is not easy. The currents can be strong and direction unpredictable, and there is never a dive in the Pantar Strait where the water is still. One can safely assume that any dive in the Pantar will be akin to Crystal Bay in Bali. Even in Kalabahi Bay while muck diving there will be a slight drift depending on the tides. Water temperatures can plummet at any time due to the expansive thermoclines that rise from the deep. To fully enjoy the beauty of Alor, divers must have a high degree of water confidence and safety equipment like a Surface Marker Buoy. A Russian instructor looking for somewhere exotic to bring his students scrapped the idea after one dive, so Alor is recommended for highly experienced divers.

 

Conservation Efforts in the Alor Archipelago

Commercial fishing, which has been so destructive to many other dive destinations in Indonesia, is not existent here. The main methods of fishing employed by the sparse population are hand lines and traditional underwater fish traps. This means that the fisheries are entirely sustainable. Overall conditions in Alor create an amazing rate of coral growth. Mr. Whitford relates to me a story about how an errant anchor from a tugboat created a one hundred meter-long scar on one of the reefs, and upon returning two weeks later the scar was almost unnoticeable. A tremendous recovery rate.

The area has been declared the “Alor Marine Park” by authorities, making it arguably one of the least visited marine parks in Indonesia, and we hope it stays that way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo left: The Fishing Industry In Alor
Photo right: Future Workers of the Tourist Trade

 

Alor

A Fish Trap

 

Alor: You Could Have a Change Of Heart, If Only You Change Your Mind

I knew from the outset that exploring Alor would be an epic adventure, and it did not disappoint. The journey there was filled with potentially crippling sagas, but thankfully the diving was epic. Alor has undoubtedly one of the most pristine marine environments with organized scuba diving in Indonesia. The absence of commercialism makes it relatively inaccessible, but I have a feeling it is precisely this halcyon environment that makes Alor such a wonderful diving paradise. On my final boat ride back to Kalabahi my mind advises that I should try my best to ratchet up the negatives and keep Alor to myself, but my instinct compels me to shout out, “Come! Come before the crowds eventually do!”

Alor

I Will Come Back

 

About the Author

Victor Tang is the founder of Wodepigu Water Pixel, an adventure dive company and photography consultancy with a nose for off the beaten track dive destinations.  When not stranded on shore with other pursuits as a musician and TV producer, Victor is on the prowl around Southeast Asia searching for new pristine waters to explore. His sister will always tease him for taking an oath never to take a camera underwater again after his first try in Malapascua, but lately he carries a camera anywhere he goes.

 

Further Reading

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Inspiring Photos from the Sea of Cortez

Todd Winner
Sea Lions, Whale Sharks, Seahorses & more from UWPG's Sea of Cortez Workshop!

Inspiring Photos from the Sea of Cortez


Sea Lions, Whale Sharks, Seahorses & more from UWPG's Sea of Cortez Workshop!

Text and Photos by Todd Winner

 

Sea Lion

 

 
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This was Bluewater Photo’s second year running the Sea of Cortez workshop on the Rocio Del Mar, and once again it proved to have some unique photo opportunities. We had excellent encounters with sea lions, whale sharks, jaw fish and amazing blennies this year. One of the highlights for me was the opportunity to shoot humboldt squid - something I'm looking forward to doing again as soon as possible!

 

Getting There

The Rocio Del Mar runs Sea of Cortez trips out of Puerto Penasco, Mexico. The most convenient airport is the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport in Arizona. From the airport it is about a four-hour drive to the marina. “Head out to Rocky Point” has handled all our transportation needs for the past two years, efficiently driving us to and from the boat.  Once on board, the Rocio sails to the Northern Midriff Islands for six days of diving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diving

One of the main attractions of the Sea of Cortez is the chance to dive with big animals.  Sea lions can be found on almost every dive and this is the time of year when the big male bulls are out patrolling their territory. Snorkeling with the whale sharks in the bay of Los Angeles was the highlight for everyone on the trip. We made arrangements for the workshop to spend extra time with them and this year we swam for close to six hours.  Accompanying the whale sharks, we had a number of mobula rays and some small schools of fish, presenting excellent photo subjects. We spent part of one day looking for sperm whales and pilot whales but didn't have any luck. We did jump into the water a few times with hundreds of spinner dolphins but they just were not interested in playing with us.

At night we often had feeding pelicans, flying fish and other visitors attracted by the lights from the boat, and on two occasions humboldt squid showed up and we had a great time shooting them. Other wide-angle opportunities include huge black coral gardens and sea fans that make nice foreground subjects. Macro this year was off the charts with nudibranchs, blennies, jaw fish, octopus and more! Over the trip, we sighted six different sea horses and I lost count on how many giant jaw fish I saw, including one with eggs.

 

whale shark

 

The water temperature can vary greatly in this area, between 60-85 degrees Fahrenheit, with lots of thermoclines. For myself, I am comfortable in a 5mm most of the time. One of the reasons the whale sharks and other large animals are there is to feed on the plankton. The nutrient rich water is great for attracting animals but it can also lower visibility. Average visibility is around 30-60 feet and occasionally better. It still is very workable for photography - just don't go expecting 100' plus and you won't be disappointed.

 

Photo Workshops

We had a wide range of shooters, beginners to advanced, and huge variety of cameras.  Inevitably, some camera parts are always left at home and it's always fun to try and MacGyver something together. My drinking straw fiber optic strobe cables failed miserably, but we were able to put something else together that worked. Every morning we reviewed guest images and tried to suggest improvements. In the afternoon we would have a short discussion on a particular topic, like balanced lighting, Lightroom adjustments or any other subject the majority of the guests wanted to learn about. Throughout the week, there was plenty of time to get in some one-on-one sessions. There is always a wealth of knowledge that can be gained just from being around other photographers that share your interests.

 

whale shark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rocio Del Mar

This has been my third trip on the Rocio Del Mar in just over a year, and each time they have made improvements. They just redid all the cabins, extending the length of the beds and adding new memory foam mattresses. The captain and crew have always worked hard to make sure we have a great experience, and the chef does an excellent job at keeping everyone happy with a variety of meals. Everyone enjoys fiesta night up on the sun deck.

 

Conclusion

The Sea of Cortez offers some incredible dives and I experience something new every time I dive there. For many divers, it is very unique, with sea lions and other large animals being the main attraction. From the USA, especially the west coast, it is incredibly easy to get to. No matter where you’re from, it’s a fun dive trip with countless photo opportunities.

 

humboldt squid

 

About the Author

Todd Winner is a professional underwater photographer and cinematographer, PADI scuba instructor and owner of Winner Productions, a boutique post production facility catering to Hollywood's most elite cinematographers. Since taking up underwater photography in 1990, Todd Winner has won over 60 international underwater photo competitions. His images have been published in numerous magazines and online publications. His work has been featured in commercial advertising, museums and private galleries.  To see more of Todd's work or join him on an underwater workshop, please visit www.toddwinner.com.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
 
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Palau Workshop Report - Epic Diving!

Todd Winner
UWPG's Recent Philippines & Palau Double Workshop was a Great Success - Read Why this Location Rocks

Palau Workshop Report - Epic Diving!


UWPG's Recent Philippines & Palau Double Workshop was a Great Success - Read Why this Location Rocks

By Todd Winner

 

Palau

 

 
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Palau has to be one of the most picturesque places on earth. With hundreds of mushroom shaped rock islands covered with lush green foliage surrounded by turquoise water, it's a “postcard” location. Underwater, Palau offers exceptional dives with shark-filled adventures at Blue Corner, unique dives at Chandelier Cave and Jellyfish Lake and some good WWII wrecks. The Bluewater Photo workshop was held on the Palau Siren. This was a combo trip, so the guests had already spent a week aboard the Philippines Siren with workshop host Mike Bartick.

 

Palau

 

Sam's Tours

I arrived a few days early so I could get a chance to dive with Sam's Tours, one of Palau's premiere dive operations in Koror. Sam's Tours is located in Malakal Harbor and the Palau Siren anchors right out in front. Sam's is very comfortable to dive with. They provide transfers to and from whatever hotel you are staying at and they have a well-stocked rental department and pro shop. They offer shower facilities that are clean and have large separate rinse tanks for gear and cameras. Most importantly, all of the staff is friendly and many of the dive masters have been with them for years. After a day of diving you can relax at the Bottom Time Bar & Grill, located inside the Sam's Tours facility. With a great atmosphere, it's an excellent place to get some good food, drinks and to swap some fish stories. Another plus: the break-wall right in front of the restaurant is one of the best places to see and photograph mandarin fish.

 

Palau

 

S/Y Palau Siren

The S/Y Palau Siren is one of the newest ships in the World Wide Dive and Sail fleet.  Launched in July 2012, she was built in Indonesia as a traditional “gaff rigged Phinisi”. She is 131 feet in length, can accommodate up to 16 guests and is built from ironwood and teak. It is a very luxurious vessel! The crew was attentive to all our needs and prepared some very delicious meals. All of the diving was done from one large covered skiff. These are the typical boats used in Palau and they are well suited to Palau's shallow reefs and can easily pick up divers if they get separated due to currents.

 

Palau

 

Diving

Even though this was the off-season we had very nice weather. We had a few rain showers but the wind did not present a problem until the last day. For the most part we had more sun than we knew what to do with. Many of Palau's sites feature steep walls on which soft corals, sea whips and fans can be found. Almost all of the sites have large formations of hard corals. We dove the majority of the well known sites including German Channel, Ulong Channel, Shark City and of course, Blue Corner. Blue Corner is a world-famous site known for sharks. And while a good place for sharks and large schools of fish, the real highlight for me are the friendly napoleon wrasse. These guys will come close enough to let you pet them. We got a chance to dive a few WWII wrecks including the Iro Maru and the Jakes Sea Plane. Then it was time to dive what I consider to be some of the best underwater photo opportunities in Palau, Chandelier Cave and Jellyfish Lake. Chandelier Cave features four large air filled chambers with stalactites hanging down into the water, and is a great place to capture reflections. Jellyfish Lake is filled with harmless jellyfish that have lost their stinging ability. You can only snorkel but it is a really unique experience and offers many photo opportunities.

 

Palau

 

Palau

 

Workshop

Because this was a combo trip and all of the guests had already spent a week with Mike Bartick in the Philippines, I did not spend much time covering a lot of the basics. Most of the workshops were dedicated to post processing and Lightroom workflows as well as strobe positioning and wide-angle techniques. We had a lot of individual and small group discussions about how to take particular types of shots and on maintaining underwater camera equipment.  All in all I think we came away with a number of quality images and hopefully everyone learned a few new tips. To join us on one of our upcoming Blue Water Photo workshops please check out the trips page.

 

Palau

 

Palau

 

 

About the Author

Todd Winner is a professional underwater photographer and cinematographer, PADI scuba instructor and owner of Winner Productions, a boutique post production facility catering to Hollywood's most elite cinematographers. Since taking up underwater photography in 1990, Todd Winner has won over 60 international underwater photo competitions. His images have been published in numerous magazines and online publications. His work has been featured in commercial advertising, museums and private galleries.  To see more of Todd's work or join him on an underwater workshop, please visit www.toddwinner.com.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
 
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Philippines Diving Hot Spot: Moalboal (pg 2)

Philippines Diving Hotspot: Moalboal

By Victor Tang

Page 2

 

Moalboal - Off the Wall

Moalboal Bay

Marking the end of the mega-wall, Moalboal Bay marks a sharp departure from a typical dive site in Moalboal, for instead of steep walls it features a shallow sandy area. The marine life contained within Moalboal Bay is also markedly different from those on the wall. This is where you can find marine creatures like Pegasus fish, leaf pipefish, stargazers, dragonets and most uniquely, a resident dog-faced water snake that loves to take a nap in the area.

Moaboal Bay livens up at night if one has the opportunity to arrange a night dive there. Juvenile bobtail squid love to hang out among the dead coconut leaves, and the once lethargic dog-faced water snake starts to hunt. A great site for long dives with a maximum depth of seven meters, one has time to observe cowry shells as they slowly dig their way into the sand - a pretty interesting sight to see.

 

moalboal

Urchin Clingfish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Tamron 60mm.

moalboalmoalboal

Photo left: Dog Faced Sea Snake. Taken with 1 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.

Photo right: Blenny. Taken with 1 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron +7 Diopter.

moalboal

Network Pipefish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Tamron 60mm.

 

Pescador Island

Three kilometers west of Panagsama Beach lies Pescador Island, the jewel of Moalboal diving and considered one of the best dive sites in the Philippines. With a landmass big enough to warrant a lighthouse, Pescador Island resembles a vertical rod and plunges down to depths of seventy meters.

It gained further prominence a few years ago when a large school of sardines decided to make Pescador their home. With estimates as high as nine hundred thousand sardines, this sardine ball started attracting pelagic fish to hunt them around the clock. It even caught the attention of thresher sharks who would dart in and out of the bait ball energetically hunting - a contrast to their relative calm when seen gliding around Monad Shoal further north in Malapascua. This mini “sardine run” proved very popular in Moalboal and earned Pescador a name in the dive community.

The hype of the mini “sardine run” proved to be a distraction from the great diving at Pescador Island. After all, there was a good reason the sardines showed up in the first place. Situated perfectly to catch the currents of the Tanon Strait, Pescador was always going to welcome wary marine travelers making a pit stop, as evidenced by frequent sightings of whale sharks and manta rays. The currents also bring with it the nutrients needed to support life, from plankton to the large pelagics.

 

moalboal

Porcelain Crab. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO80. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.

moalboalmoalboal

Photo left: Starfish Couple. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO80. Manual mode at f10 and 1/320s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye.

Photo right: Mega Sea Fan. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO80. Manual mode at f11 and 1/160s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye.

Every dive on Pescador aims to explore its sheer vertical dropoffs, and the life found on its walls does not disappoint. Hundreds of Anthias accompany you every step of the way, while schools of fusiliers and snappers can be seen on any part of the dive. Pescador supports a very healthy population of lionfish; with Sergeant fish lurking around whip corals as they stand guard by their nests. Survivors of the last El Nino stand proud from the walls, with huge gorgonian fans still prominent features of the landscape.

Pescador is mainly a playground for wide-angle enthusiasts, but plenty of macro life can also be found. Frogfish are seen often, and there are 2 large pale purple ones that have made Pescador their permanent home – always perching themselves on the same sponge corals. Nudibranchs emerge from the crevices from time to time, and skeleton shrimp have recently been found. The more adventurous can opt to go deeper to seek out the schools of Jacks and white tip reef sharks that lurk there. Huge pairs of trevally have been seen divers logging enough time in the water are likely to spot the resident two-meter long giant barracuda.

 

moalboal

Elvis is In the Building. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO80. Manual mode at f13 and 1/100s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye.

moalboal

Whip Goby. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO80. Manual mode at f4.5 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR

 

Conservation Efforts In Moalboal

Being a pioneer dive destination in the Philippines also means being the first to discover and face environmental issues that are pertinent to the survival of the local scuba industry. The resulting underwater environment degradation (either scuba-related or by inadequate fishing practices) led to an alliance between dive centers and the local government to better manage marine resources. The Moalboal Dive Center Association (MDCA) was set up with the auspices of the Municipality of Moalboal to manage the marine sanctuaries set up at Savedra, Basidot, Tuble and Pescador, which essentially covers all the dive sites in Moalboal, and charges divers a fee to dive its waters. Proceeds from the entrance fees are used to finance a range of initiatives, including setting up patrols to enforce the ban on destructive fishing practices and marine conservation education programs for the locals.

Whale sharks have also become a common site at Oslob, just a ninety-minute drive from Moalboal (compared the three hours from Cebu City). Hundreds of people flock to the beaches of Oslob to see these gentle giants and many tour operators have sprung up. However, there is a distinct difference between other places in the Philippines like Donsol or Sogod Bay who also feature whale shark tours: In Oslob the locals keep the whale sharks close to shore by feeding them everyday. Nobody moves from a guaranteed food source, so these juvenile whale sharks happily stayed. As a result, marine conservationists are protesting against such an unnatural practice and I had a chance to see its effects for myself. Klemens Gann, who was the lead videographer engaged by Philippine national television to film a segment when this issue was still in its infancy sums it best: “When we first came to film them they were swimming around in a natural horizontal attitude. Now these whale sharks mainly adopt a vertical position to get food - they are like dogs.” I agree with him.

 

Wall Diving Paradise

Moalboal has been on the Philippine diving map as long as most of us can remember, and continues to provide an underwater world teeming with life. The easygoing vibe and lifestyle, combined with all the conveniences of modern life convinces divers to return year after year, and I have met divers who have been going back for fifteen years or more. The effects of shark fishing are keenly felt here, but pelagic fish still ply these waters and its walls are still full of dramatic reefscapes and amazing macro subjects. The Tanon Strait is deep and currents are strong, so you never know what the next tide brings.

 

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About the Author

Victor Tang is the founder of Wodepigu Water Pixel, an adventure dive company and photography consultancy with a nose for off the beaten track dive destinations.  When not stranded on shore with other pursuits as a musician and TV producer, Victor is on the prowl around Southeast Asia searching for new pristine waters to explore. His sister will always tease him for taking an oath never to take a camera underwater again after his first try in Malapascua, but lately he carries a camera anywhere he goes.

 

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Philippines Diving Hot Spot: Moalboal

Victor Tang
Exciting Photos & Best Dive Sites in one of the Philippines' first Hot Spots

Philippines Diving Hot Spot: Moalboal


Exciting Photos & Best Dive Sites in one of the Philippines' first Hot Spots

By Victor Tang

 

moalboal philippines

 

 
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The Visayas region of the Philippines has long been a mecca for scuba divers, with enthusiasts arriving from all over to savor the teeming underwater realm beneath its waters. The focal point of all this diving activity is squarely on the island of Cebu, since Mactan (just next door) has the only international airport and hub for all sea-lanes serving all the Visayas. Cebu Island attracted tourists because of this proximity. Moalboal was a sleepy fishing town with bountiful harvests until dive explorers from the western hemisphere discovered it in the 1970s – one of the first places on the island to be developed primarily for scuba diving.

 

moalboal philippines

 

Moalboal - On the Mega Wall

Moalboal faces the Tanon Strait, a deep channel that separates the Islands of Cebu and Negros. Its coastlines are characterized by sharply sloping drop offs, so the vast majority of dive sites in the Moalboal area are wall dives along the coastlines. With the exception of Pescador Island, the dive sites combine together to form one huge gigantic wall: the diver enters at different points to explore different sections of wall. Each section of the wall has its own distinct flavor, each with its own unique sightings. All the dive sites lie along a known whale sharks migratory route, so sightings of these gentle giants, though infrequent, have been recorded all year by various lucky divers.

 

Saavedra Fish Sanctuary

Situated right at the northern limits of this mega-wall, Saavedra Fish Sanctuary seems unremarkable at shallow depths – nothing more than a gentle sandy slope with sporadic outcrops of soft coral. After descending past the vertical drop-off at 22 meters, however, the diver is greeted with a vertical canopy of giant gorgonian fans that are the wide-angle photographer’s dream and nightmare at the same time, for these gorgonians will truly test the limits of your wide- angle lenses and strobe power.

As if that wasn’t a large-enough “problem,” these gorgonians host colonies of one of the holy grails of macro photographers: the skeleton shrimp. With the really huge and extremely small living together, this is a site that is definitely worth more than one dive to take advantage of the opportunities presented.

 

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Gigantic Sea Fans. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/1000s. Dyron 8mm fisheye.

 

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Pregnant Banded Pipefish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f18 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.

 

moalboal philippines

Lionfish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f11 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.

 

White Beach

Picturesque White Beach, the lone sandy beach in Moalboal, is so exclusive that you need to pay an entry fee.  But beyond the sand a wall of macro opportunities awaits.  This site is one of the more fruitful areas for nudibranchs and crustaceans, with some truly strange macro subjects popping up when u least expect.

White Beach is home to a resident school of Razorfish that plies the shallow waters among the hard coral gardens, creating enjoyable safety stops as they sway among the coral in strange but wonderful formations. I had the suprise of spotting a lone Mandarin Fish popping up in broad daylight from among the hard coral at the start of dive, but alas it retreated before I could even react.

 

moalboal philippines

Orang-Utan Crab. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Tamron 60mm.

 

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Photo left: Hypselodoris Tyroni. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.
Photo right: Lone Razorfish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f9 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.

 

Tuble Point

Always keep an eye on the open blue water when diving here, for Tuble Point comes just after Pescador in the number of recorded whale shark sightings.  Some unique coral formations dot the seascape here, with schools of yellowtail barracuda darting in and out of your field of vision. Turtles are regularly seen here resting on the wall or just gliding by.

This dive site also has many mature whip corals, with some supporting up to three whip gobies. The Xenon Crab can be spotted regularly here if one looks hard enough.

 

moalboal philippines

Pipefish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.

 

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Photo left: : Soft Coral Habitat. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f13 and 1/250s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye.
Photo right: Patient Jaws. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f4 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.

 

moalboal philippines

Sergeant Fish Eggs . Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/500s. Dyron +7 and Subsee +10 Diopters.

 

Panagsama Beach

This is the site I have dived the most in Moalboal, for this is the house reef of my partners Blue Abyss Dive Shop. This is the dive site where I first learned the dynamic nature of a reef and the surprises that the deep waters of the Tanon Strait can bring. Many different types of frogfish have visited the dive site over the course of my visits there, with occasional sightings of blue-ringed octopuses and the occasional pygmy seahorse hiding out in the tiniest of sea fans. In short, this is a truly good site for spotting macro subjects.

Night dives are a must in Moalboal, especially for divers who love to spot critters. If you dare turn off your dive torch for a moment you’ll see the reef dropoff glittering from the reflection of the critters’ eyes. There is a resident pair of mandarin fish just before the dropoff, though they tend to be very shy. It was on one of these mandarin fish hunts that I spotted the scene that I would never forget: a fairly large bobtail squid relaxing on the reef bed, preying on a prawn.

 

moalboal philippines

Feeding Bobtail Squid. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO080. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.

 

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Good Morning Moalboal!. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.

 

moalboal philippines

Healthy House Reef. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f8 and 1/160s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye.

 

moalboal philippines

Mandarin Fish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f18 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.

 

Tongo Point

This dive site could arguably be one the best places to capture images of the flame fire shell, for three of them seem permanently anchored to the walls of a small cave just eight meters deep. Macro opportunities abound, with walls covered with large sea fans.

Some huge Scorpion Fish live at Tongo Point, and it is one of the more reliable places to spot pygmy seahorses. The shallows here are great for spotting critters especially if the dive is later in the day.

 

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Photo left: Flame Fire Shell. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.
Photo right: Laomenes Amboinensis. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.

 

moalboal philippines

Emperor Shrimp on Spanish Dancer. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.

 

moalboal philippines

moalboal philippines

Photo left: Pair of Whip Gobies. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.
Photo right: Predators of the Reef. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f11 and 1/320s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye.

 

 

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Where to Buy

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


 

 
 
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