Iceland: Diving in the Land of Fire and Ice

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


Iceland: Diving in the Land of Fire and Ice

Take a Photo Journey into Iceland's Underwater Wonders

Text and Photos By Michael Salvarezza and Christopher P. Weaver


Scuba Diving Iceland

Divers explore the famous Silfra fissure.



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

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


Scuba Diving Iceland

The snow-covered road to Nesla.


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

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


Scuba Diving Iceland

Cold water nudibranchs can be found at Strytan.


Scuba Diving Iceland

The ferocious-looking but harmless Wolf fish.


Scuba Diving Iceland

The Strytan dive site viewed from our zodiac.


Scuba Diving Iceland

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

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

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


Scuba Diving Iceland

Preparing to dive a geothermal hot spring.


Scuba Diving Iceland

A diver warming his hands at Strytan.


Scuba Diving Iceland

Exploring the Blue Lagoon at Silfra.


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

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

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


Scuba Diving Iceland

A narrow passage at Nesla.


Scuba Diving Iceland

The crystal clear water at Nesla.


Exploring Iceland on the Topside

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

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


Getting There

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



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



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



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



Voltage: 220-240V/50Hz

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


Scuba Diving

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

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

Reykjavik has a recompression chamber.


Book Your Dive Trip

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


Scuba Diving Iceland

The weird-looking but colorful lumpsucker fish.


Scuba Diving Iceland

Strytan’s chimneys are covered with colorful anemones.



Further Reading


About the Authors

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

You can see more of their work at


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Diving Reunion Island

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


Diving Réunion Island

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

Text and Photos By Gaby Barathieu


Reunion Island



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

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

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


Reunion Island

A stunning Indian Ocean sunset from Réunion.


When to Visit Réunion

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

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


Reunion Island

A sea turtle flies by.


Reunion Island

A pod of dolphins plays just outside the barrier reef.



Why Should You Dive Here?

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

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


Reunion Island

Moving in close to a ray.



The Diving in Réunion

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

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

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

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

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


Reunion Island

The wreck diving in Réunion is world-class.


Reunion Island

A beautiful photo of a deadly scene.



Réunion's Most Popular Dive Sites

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

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

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

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


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


Interested in travel to Reunion Island?

Bluewater Travel can help you book the perfect dive experience.


Reunion Island

Squid will always entertain underwater photographers at night.



Reunion Island

A whale dives after taking a breath.



About the Author

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


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



Putting Kosrae on the Map

Jeff Milisen
World-Class Diving Away from the Crowds


Putting Kosrae on the Map

World-Class Diving Away from the Crowds

Text and Photos By Jeff Milisen


Kosrae Underwater Photography



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

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


Kosrae Split-Shot



Kosrae Underwater Marine Life

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

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


Kosrae Pipehorse


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


Korse Lionfish


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


Kosrae Barracuda


Kosrae Underwater History

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

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

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


Kosrae PBM Plane Wreck


Know Before You Go

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


Kosrae fish



Book your Trip with Bluewater Travel

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


About the Author

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



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!



The Two Faces of Dumaguete

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


The Two Faces of Dumaguete

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

Text and Photos By Jeff Milisen




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

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


Go Big!

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




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


Humphead Parrotfish


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


















Or Go Small

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



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



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





In Conclusion

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



Book your Trip with Bluewater Travel

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


About the Author

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


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!



Jupiter by Surprise

Mike Bartick
Groupers and Critters and Sharks, Oh My!


Jupiter by Surprise

Groupers and Critters and Sharks, Oh My!

Text and Photos By Mike Bartick


Florida Goliath Grouper



The plan to visit Jupiter, Florida began to form just after the DEMA show in 2013. I had planned on heading down to dive the Blue Heron Bridge and shoot macro for a week, relax and attend a meeting at a local dive club. That changed quickly when my buddy informed me that September kicked off the beginning of the Goliath Grouper season and to be sure and bring my wide-angle lens.

As soon as I arrived in West Palm, my buddy informed me that the swell had reached the 6 to 8 range - that’s 6 to 8 inches - and as we laughed, my phone came to life with text messages regarding meet up spots and dive times for that evening. As we put our gear together, we formulated the best plan for the week: Dive, Dive, Dive.

The Blue Heron Bridge (aka the BHB) is now well known in the macro photography community as a premier mini-muck dive, and while It may seem a bit novel, it’s well worth the trip to Jupiter for this alone.

Flying Gurnards, sea horses, batfish, sea robins, stargazers, nudibranchs, frogfish and even hairy frogfish are all easily accessible just a few feet offshore and will keep you entertained throughout the entire dive. Be sure to check the tide tables for the best dive times, as diving is regulated here by swift current and visibility.

Jupiter is also known for its wreck dives, accessible from one of the many dive boats that operate 7 days a week during the summer. But August isn’t just summer, its also Grouper Season here in Jupiter. The Atlantic Goliath Groupers (Epinephelus itajara) gather to spawn and use the various wrecks in the area to shelter themselves.


Blue Heron Bridge Batfish

I suggest using a 60mm lens when diving the Blue Heron Bridge at least 3 of 5 dives. The critters that you will encounter are palm sized and larger. Batfish can be a bit skittish and like a seahorse they will continuously turn away. I used a snoot without a modeling light and tried to remain as quiet as possible with minimal movement.


Blue Heron Bridge Batfish

This batfish actually swam at my lens several times so I took advantage of it. My strobes are angled inward to help darken the background even more and to help make the colors pop.


Blue Heron Bridge Bumblebee Shrimp

Listening carefully to friends, locals and even doing a little research will reveal some of the secrets at a dive site. These little kernels of insight will help you when your looking to shoot something that just a little different than everyone else.


Florida Goliath Grouper

Buddy Walt Stearns peers into the wheelhouse of the Esso Bonaire, exchanging glances with a pair of curious Goliaths. The Esso Bonaire is one of the three wrecks laying in close enough proximity to enjoy in one easy dive. The wreck trek is comprised of The Jenny, the Zion Train and of course The Esso Bonaire.


Florida Goliath Grouper

Framed by encrusting growth in the wheelhouse of the Esso Bonaire, a Goliath poses for me. Lighting in the background is essential and it is very important to keep the blues in the background bright and blue. Shallow F-stops and boosted ISO settings work well and will allow you to lower your strobe power.


Lemon Shark in Florida

Florida is well known for its sharks and the possibility of encountering them while diving. We used a reliable and experienced boat called Emerald Charters for our shark trips and although it is controversial, the encounters will play out in your mind for many days to come.


Lemon Shark in Florida

Sharks are truly beautiful, graceful, powerful and fast. When the action happens quickly anticipation is everything. Increase your ISO settings for faster shutter speeds and lower your F-stop to let in more light. Strobe power must be low enough for fast recycle times.


Lemon Shark in Florida

Pole Position, shooting fast action means streamlining your decisions underwater. I set my Tokina 10-17 lens to the top of the zoom range and work the lens between 14 and 17. I rarely drop the lens to the 10.5 position unless the shark is literally right on top of me. The best lenses for sharks are in the higher focal plane, 12-24, 17-35 and 22mm as this focal range will allow you to fill the frame with a decent working distance.


Lemon Shark in Florida



Jupiter took me by complete surprise by dishing up some of the best warm water diving the U.S. has to offer. The BHB, The Wreck Treck, Sharks, Groupers and more are just the tip of the iceberg. My plan to return is already set for next year and the clock is ticking!



Lemon Shark in Florida



Special Thanks to:

Walt Stearns, Jupiter Dive Center, Emerald Dive Charter and Randy Jordan   


About the Author

Mike BartikMike Bartick is an avid and experienced scuba diver and Marine Wildlife Photographer. He has an insatiable love for nudibranchs, frogfish and other underwater critters, and is the official critter expert for the Underwater Photography Guide. Mike is also one of the UWPG trip leaders. See more of his work at



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!



Secret Macro Subjects of the Sea of Cortez

Mike Bartick
Known for Big Animal Action, the Sea of Cortez is home to a Wealth of Macro Photography Subjects


Secret Macro Subjects of the Sea of Cortez

Known for Big Animal Action, the Sea of Cortez is home to a Wealth of Macro Photography Subjects

Text and Photos By Mike Bartick




The Midriff Islands are nestled in the Gulf of California between the Baja California peninsula and mainland Mexico. The Rocio Del Mar operates the only liveaboard in this part of the Sea of Cortez, originating out of Puerto Peñasco. This little town is a short car ride from Phoenix, Arizona - that’s right - Arizona!

I’ve dived many times in the Sea of Cortez out of the La Paz area and have even driven down the peninsula from the San Diego border. Having the opportunity to visit and dive in a unique place like Baja is a real treat, and even though it is close to LA, it is often overlooked and/or unrealized by many US residents. The Midriff Islands are in the upper portion in the Gulf of California, which is basically a submerged Sonoran desert.  


About the Sea of Cortez

The gulf is a relatively young ocean that was formed quickly by way of massive slip fault activity along the San Andreas Fault line. The peninsula, which is still drifting outward, pulled apart at the weaker portions of the earth’s crust in a vertical fashion then slipped away from the mainland of Mexico, rapidly filling with water. The result is a very unusual contrast of environments that seem to complement each other in many ways.

The gulf is dotted with islands both big and small. Angel de La Guarda, San Pedro Martir and Las Animas are a few of the islands that the Rocio visited on this trip. The deep waters in the area that surround the islands attract Humboldt Squids, which in turn attract Sperm Whales and other large mammals. Sea Lion “haul-outs” are also located at nearly every island and make for some really shallow and fun dives, but being a critterhead, my interests were more focused on finding the unique macro life that also resides here. This element of the Sea of Cortez should not be overlooked, since much of the macro fauna found here is endemic and is abundant enough to keep me coming back again and again.


Orangethroated Pikeblenny. I prefer to shoot a 105mm for most animal behavior shots. The images may require a little more cropping but the trade-off is significant for the long range (2 or more feet) for natural behavioral images and subjects like Pikeblennies.


The Macro Diving

The temperate waters support a nice variety of Nudibranchs, including Tambja’s - so abundant that they become somewhat commonplace. It’s also easy to find Panamic Arrow Crabs, large Pacific Sea Horses, three types of Jawfish, Octopus big and small and even smaller Frogfish. But the real action for me is the Blennies, coming in numerous varieties. Pike blennies, Barnacle Blennies and the irresistible Signal Blennies are all packed with the right ingredients and attitude to make them irresistible photo targets.

For the Nudis I like to use a 60mm lens and devote some time to really hunt them down, searching sponges, the sides of rocks for hydroid colonies and gorgonian corals. Since, nudis love to munch on hydroids or search them for other types of food living naturally on them, my nudi hunt begins there.

Don’t be surprised if you find a frogfish while searching the sides of the rocks either. The Roughjaw’s tend to cling to the sides of smaller stones in and around larger reef structures at about the 45-foot level.


Macro Subjects in the Sea of Cortez


Hermosita sangria - Disturbed by my presence, this very beautiful Aeolid flared up and remained like this for quite some time. A quick turn of my camera from landscape to portrait helped to capture the long lines of both subjects and created a better composition.


Histiomena convolvula - A shallower f-stop made for a buttery background on this uncommon nudi. Resembling an Armena, this guy can be found all through the SOC.


This Tambja abdere has a hitchhiker on its back and neither of them seemed to mind that I was there flashing away. These Tambja’s are pretty common but are very beautiful nevertheless.


Pacific seahorses are a great find and always a thrill to see. Most visitors in this area don’t expect to see a sea horse and are caught completely off guard when they do see one. The 60mm lens really helps to shoot larger macro subjects such as this sea horse, as a wider angle of view is often required.


The interesting spider-like Panamic Arrow Crabs are abundant in the Midriff islands and can be found on almost any dive. Snooting my strobe, I tried to create a bit or symmetry in this image. Snoots are easy to carry and use almost anytime and can easily add a different dimension to your trip collection.


An Orangethroat Pikeblenny peaks out from a parchment tube being using for shelter while anticipating its next move. The sand flats can be a deadly place for moving around in the open and often time the hunter becomes the hunted.


With a burst of speed and energy an Orangethroat Pikeblenny quickly seizes a small Triplefin.


Signal Blennies remained tough to find during the trip, but after several days I finally managed to spy one flashing. This led me to find a small colony of them. Several types are found in the area and colors can vary from blue-black, black and red to green.


Signal Blenny.


Brown spot and other barnacle blennies are easily found on the reef systems: pits in the encrusting hard corals and sponge make desirable hideouts for them. I find them quite photogenic as they peek out with their giant eyes moving about, reminding me of Skeletor. A 100 or 105mm lens with a diopter can really bring about some great macro images.


Panamic Fanged Blenny.


Blenny portrait.


Frogfish can pop up almost anywhere so keep your eyes open. If you do, you might find one these special Roughjaws. Be sure to let your guide know what you’re looking for right away so that they can keep an eye out for them.



In Conclusion

Many of the trips run in the Sea of Cortez focus on larger animals and mammal encounters, which we had at almost every stop along the way. This Bluewater Photo workshop trip on the Rocio Del Mar eventually concluded with a day of snorkeling with whale sharks in the Bay of Los Angeles. And while our trip explored the upper Midriff Islands, all of these critters can be found throughout the Sea of Cortez. Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez the aquarium of the world and for good reason. I encourage everyone to come out to explore the Sea of Cortez and discover it for themself.

Now get out there and have an adventure!


Visit our sister company, Bluewater Travel, for everything you need to know about diving the Sea of Cortez and booking your trip.

Scuba Diving Guide to the Sea of Cortez




About the Author

Mike BartikMike Bartick is an avid and experienced scuba diver and Marine Wildlife Photographer. He has an insatiable love for nudibranchs, frogfish and other underwater critters, and is the official critter expert for the Underwater Photography Guide. Mike is also a Bluewater Photo trip leader. See more of his work at


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!



Inside Look at Hawaii's Best Dives

Jeff Milisen
5 Dive Sites you Must Visit in Hawaii


Inside Look at Hawaii's Best Dives

5 Dive Sites you Must Visit in Hawaii

Text and Photos By Jeff Milisen




Tourism is Hawaii’s main commodity, and while you can show up for a week and become a new shade of orange on a beach, Hawaii can be so much more. Each island is filled shore to shore with its own personality and rich assortment of tropical forests to be explored. Oahu has the largest population of the islands and comes with a rich nightlife. Kauai is the complete opposite; there are few people - most of whom appear to live off sedatives. And then there is the Big Island full of rugged people whose personalities are carved from the lava terra firma on which they live. And on any of the islands you run the chance of bumping into a pro surfer who can be identified when referring to everyone as “dude.”

Each island has its own underwater personality as well. Kauai, with its heavy rainfall, tends to have less visibility but a higher proportion of endemic fishes. Most of the diving on Oahu is focused around the plethora of wrecks there, while the Big Island is, well, as deep as you want to go. The Kona coast drops off at an astounding rate. Most islands have an assortment of shore and boat dives to suit your preferences. Because there aren’t any dive-specific resorts, divers tend to organize their own underwater activities through independent dive shops. The variety of divers that come to Hawaii is met with an equal variety of dive operations.

Hawaii’s reefs are unique in two important ways. They are first characterized through the lack of some key animals found on other Indo-Pacific reefs, including cuttlefish, giant clams and Acropora coral. There is a trade-off though. The archipelago’s isolation has forced the animals that did make it to these islands to adapt very quickly, resulting in many animals found nowhere else. One third of the fish species, for example, are endemic, as are one fifth of Hawaii’s mollusks. There is even a species of Hawaiian seal. Visitors are well advised to acquaint themselves with the endemic marine life for an added appreciation. Sprinkled over Hawaii’s unique species is a heavy helping of green sea turtles and spinner dolphins that give the Hawaiian underwater environment an especially lively feel.


Hawaii’s Best Dives

When I relocated to Hawaii 8 years ago, I moved here for two reasons: an education and diving. With my schooling now complete, I am kept here because the underwater habitats of the world’s most remote archipelago are forever unveiling new surprises. The 5 quintessentially Hawaiian dives listed below serve only as an introduction to begin to dip your toes into the diverse ocean encounters one can find here. 


The YO-257


From pre-contact Polynesians to the explorer era to becoming the 50th American state, Hawaii is full of history. Non-divers on Oahu are invited to visit the U.S.S. Arizona in Pearl Harbor. Divers looking for a hands-on look at history have many more choices. Years of cohabitating with various military installations have left the sea floor around Oahu littered with hints of a time gone by. And while it is easy to assume that it has all been found, it hasn’t. In just one year, Bellows Air Force Base alone lost 17 aircraft into the surrounding ocean that were left in place, and there are 5 other airfields on island that lost their own. It is the same story with previously floating vessels.

It is a sad fact that the eventual fate of almost every ship lies at the bottom of the ocean.  Sprinkled around Oahu are countless barges, landing crafts, small boats, fishing vessels, sailboats, anchors, and even a tugboat. The more accessible wrecks like the Sea Tiger, Corsair and MV Mahi are some of the most impressive. And at the top of this list sits the gem of Oahu wreck diving: the YO-257. The former yard oiler served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam before being decommissioned and sold to Atlantis Submarine Tours and purposely sunk in 1989. It now rests in 90 feet of water off Waikiki. Twenty-five years as an artificial reef means the YO-257 has accumulated a rich community of organisms. Whitetip sharks are commonly found in its structure while turtles are usually resting somewhere on the fantail.

The best part about this dive? If nothing special is happening at the YO-257, you can find a second wreck known as the San Pedro just a few fin kicks off its port. You can cross two wrecks off your to-do list in under an hour underwater.

Get there: The YO-257 is accessible only by boat. Contact Kaimana Divers to schedule a ride.


YO 257 Shipwreck

Conning tower of the YO 257. The former yard oiler sits in roughly 90 feet of water off Waikiki.



Waikiki’s most dived wreck makes a perfect home for Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. They encounter divers frequently which may be why they are especially friendly here. Look for them resting on the stern of the wreck.


Night Manta Dive


If history isn’t your thing, try Kona’s version of a Broadway show. Every evening, between 10 and 20 boats converge on a spot offshore from Kona Airport. The visitors watch the sun go down, jump in the water, grab a seat on a rock on the bottom, point their lights toward the surface and watch as manta rays, sometimes as many as 30 at a time, dance gracefully overhead. The ambiance created by hundreds of dive lights pointing up from the bottom and lit surfboards at the surface gives the experience a more contrived, Vegas show feel than you’d expect from a night on a reef. Don’t let the man-made experience turn you off, however. Where else can you watch thousand-pound animals fly effortlessly inches over your head? And because it is well lit, shallow and relatively lazy, divers of all experience levels surface screaming with excitement.

Get there: Kona Honu Divers will take excellent care of you. The boat leaves from Honokohau Harbor, Kona at around 5 pm depending on the season.


manta night dive

The acrobatics that the mantas can pull on the manta night dive would make a ballerina jealous.



Kona and Oahu

This is where your sunny, fun-filled Hawaiian vacation can take a turn to the creepy. Blackwater diving takes willing participants 3 miles offshore at night, ties them to a boat and throws them in. In Hawaii, that means the bottom will be more than 3000 feet beneath you. Drifting through a black abyss is entrancing, but the draw of this unique experience is to see something you have never seen before. This dive is meant to offer a glimpse into the weird world of the open ocean, where the animals are either perfectly clear, incredibly shiny, bioluminescent, or just plain weird.

You won’t see tangs, corals, urchins or other familiar smiling faces on this dive. Most of the organisms you will see are known only by Latin names. Pyrosomes, siphonophores, megalops, radiolarians, ctenophores and larvaceans; these are just some of the deep dwelling sea freaks you might encounter. If you are still on the fence because those words mean nothing, note that the pelagic Phronima shrimp, only seen in blackwater, inspired the xenomorphs in the movie Aliens. While nothing specific can be guaranteed, the sheer number of incredible life forms that do show up means you will see something new every time.

Get there: Expect to be up late. The blackwater boat leaves after the manta dive from Honokohau on Fridays. Kona Honu Divers offers a manta/blackwater package that will allow you to tick two epic dives off your list.


fish in pyrosome blackwater dive

Most of the organisms on blackwater dives are things you won’t see anywhere else.  Finding one critter is often the key to uncovering a miniature microcosm. Here a Carangid makes a home out of a pyrosome.




Somewhere between Maui, Lanai and Kaho’olawe exists a heavenly crescent of lava crusted with mounds of coral that support one of the richest fish communities in Hawaii. The topside scenery of a sunken, extinct volcano blows Molokini visitors away. But it is the underwater diversity in habitat and species assemblage that draws people here. On the inside, snorkelers can spend all day playing with overly friendly reef fish. No more than 50 yards away at Reef’s End and Enenui, the reef plateaus at a range of depths perfect for SCUBA before dropping off into the blue. And just around the corner, experienced divers can enjoy a drift along the famed back wall where literally anything might drift by in the wild ocean currents. The list of animals that you might encounter here is endless and includes garden eels, barracuda, giant trevally, whitetip reef sharks and even grey reef sharks. In the winter it isn’t uncommon to encounter humpback whales. Even whale sharks have been known to stop by.

Get there Mike Severn’s Diving is known for catering to photographers.  They leave out of Kihei boat ramp early in the morning.


whitetip shark at molokini

Molokini’s cracks and crevices serve as a nursery for whitetip reef sharks inhabiting the north shore of Maui.


Moku Ho’oniki (Elephant) Rock


If it is adventure on the high seas you seek, head to Lahaina and jump on a boat. The route to the dive site is a part of the experience, as channel crossings in Hawaii are known to turn seasoned sailors into whimpering landlubbers. I was convinced on my first time to Moku’ho’oniki Rock that the crew was crazy. While the boat was tossed violently to and fro, the divemasters kept singing, they said, to keep the seasickness at bay. We pulled up to a rock where we would be diving on the edge of the channel, and the divemaster said, “I have some good news and I have some bad news. The good news is there is a lee to all this (weather). The bad news is we are in it right now!”

The entrance is a live-drop, meaning that when you jump in the boat is in gear and motoring forward, which is necessary to keep from backing down and smashing into your head while at the surface. Once underwater, you descend to about 70 feet and scan the blue. The site is called “Fish Rain” because unicornfish seem to rain down everywhere. And while dolphins are known to form pods many hundreds strong and pelagic fish like tuna frequent this area, it is the hammerheads that people really want to see. They drift by in schools of 5-10, sometimes coming in close for an investigatory sniff. The energy and megafauna easily make this dive one of Hawaii’s best, but the conditions and dive profile mean it is meant for experienced divers only.

Get there: Lahaina Divers has a set of big Newton dive boats that are up for the challenge. They go to Molokai on Tuesdays and Fridays. Go in the late summer for the best hammerhead action.


spinner dolphins at molokai

The rough coast of Molokai is home to all sorts of large life. Huge schools of opelu, tuna, humpback whales and massive pods of spinner dolphins flock here.


hammerhead shark at moku ho'oniki rock

Hammerheads are the target when challenging the high seas of Moku Ho’oniki Rock.


In conclusion, a few steps out of your hotel room in Hawaii can reveal anything from a live volcano to the world’s tallest mountain to an idyllic waterfall. And although the topside activities are fun, the ocean here is even livelier. You can sit on a beach anywhere, but the people who take something away from this wonderful archipelago are those who get outside and make something happen. Pick your own brand of fun; you won’t be disappointed.



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.


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!



The Spider Crabs of Rye Pier

Matt Krumins
Mysterious Aggregation of Huge Crabs and Unique Photo Opportunities


The Spider Crabs of Rye Pier

Mysterious Aggregation of Huge Crabs and Unique Photo Opportunities

Text and Photos By Matt Krumins


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia



Summer has passed and thousands of holidaymakers have packed up their chairs and deserted the beach. The weather has turned and only the most dedicated fishermen are left sitting lonely on the end of the pier without so much as a bite on their motionless fishing lines. The beach appears to be empty and there are few signs of life above the water. Every year as the cold sets in between April and June, anticipation builds amongst the divers of Victoria, Australia as weeks go by while anxiously awaiting the first sighting of a spider crab. And then one day you see it…. A Facebook post from Academy of Scuba, located just across the street from Rye Pier:




Every diver in Victoria waits anxiously to hear those four words. The car is loaded, the camera is charged, the tanks are filled and we hit the highway. You see, this is an exciting event - not only because it is such a spectacular and unique occurrence, but because in recent times the once clockwork punctuality of this migration has now become a rather loose commitment which the spider crabs no longer feel obligated to maintain.


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


We see the shallow sandy bottom dotted with little black spots as we walk down the pier - moving spots that turn into a moving cluster, which then merges into a single black blanket of activity that swallows the entire seafloor. This is what we have been waiting for.

Striding off the lower landing and curling our legs so as not to disturb the thick layers of spider crabs that have encrusted the area, we start our very short decent. Only pictures can truly describe the scene underwater where spider crabs pile 6 or 7 deep - the pylons of the pier completely encrusted with the spiny shells of the crabs. There is no place to settle down and no sand to be seen - just crabs.


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


From a photographic perspective the crabs are both a blessing and a curse. The endless sea of shells creates a spectacular sight for the eyes, but with such a complicated and repetitive pattern is very difficult to photograph well. Finding a subject or focal point to really tell the story becomes a major challenge. To make things worse, the long clumsy legs of hundreds of thousands of crabs feeding simultaneously stirs up silt and sand. As a result, the water clarity drops and strobe lighting becomes rather tricky.


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


Through years of interacting with the crabs I have found (as with all marine creatures) that patience is the key to getting the shot. Waiting until a crab climbs the pylons to the water surface and then jumps back into the swarm of spidey friends lends itself to amazing shots from below. Dramatic images with clear stories can be found by those who have a sharp eye, like an adventurous crab who climbs and conquers a shorter cut-off pylon to then stand like a king above an army. Like all underwater photography, simply including your buddy in an image can add scale.


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


What is most spectacular about this migration is that it only occurs at one single pier within the bay. If you traverse 100m up the beach you would never know what was going on just a stone’s throw away. Not surprisingly, the migration is well documented by photographers and divers, although not much information can be found from a scientific standpoint. Current belief is that it is some kind of mating ritual where the spider crabs molt their shells - which is apparent by the debris left on the sand after each event.


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


Then they are gone. Within a week’s time the spider cabs arrive and form a massive group, molt and then leave. All that remains under the pier are the thousands of shells left behind. The crabs have stripped it bare. The water under the pier, once bustling with life, is left to rejuvenate, re-populate and prepare its self for next year’s sacrifice to the crabs.

As a photographer you will succeed no matter how you shoot this migration event. The beach is empty, the water temperature has plummeted and the unsuspecting public has gone home. Only underwater photographers have the ability to share this unique experience with all those people. That is why we do what we do. 



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 or for information on Matt's courses and 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!



Malpelo in Photos - Sharks & Big Fish Galore

Carolyn Wang
One of the Coolest Dive Destinations You Never Hear About


Malpelo in Photos - Sharks & Big Fish Galore

One of the Coolest Dive Destinations You Never Hear About

Text and Photos By Carolyn Wang




Most divers know of the great diving at Galapagos and Cocos Islands, but over 300 miles off the coast of Columbia lies Malpelo - a small island that a few have heard about. But while small in size, Malpelo offers some of the most exciting diving and big animal interactions in the world.

If you’ve ever seen photos of schools of hammerhead sharks, chances are the images were taken in the Eastern Pacific region. Schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks are known to migrate along routes that have been dubbed “shark super highways,” ranging between Galapagos, Cocos, and Malpelo. So it was here that I hoped I would finally get to see and photograph hammerheads. 


At first glance, Malpelo is probably not what comes to mind when you think about visiting an island. In truth, Malpelo is only about 1 mile in length, all unforgiving rock, with very sheer drop offs into the ocean. The island is uninhabited with the exception of birds and a handful of residents assigned to a very small Columbian military outpost that keeps watch for poachers.


This wild and remote place has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site and there are strict limits on the number of divers allowed at any time. For divers and photographers, this is a huge benefit because it hasn’t been ‘over-dived’ and you have amazing opportunities to see a huge variety of life, all without running into tons of other divers.

Malpelo is a destination that all wide-angle and big animal photographers should have on their wish list, particularly if you are seeking sharks. Malpelo is known to be frequented by schools of hammerhead sharks and Galapagos sharks, and depending on the season, you may also see schools of silky sharks, whale sharks, white tip reef sharks, mantas, and if you plan for it, a possibility of seeing the very rare smalltooth sand tiger shark. 

With all this in mind, I was very excited to join the Coiba Dive Expeditions trip on the Yemaya II live aboard last February to Malpelo. We had great travel and dive conditions and were fortunate to see scalloped hammerhead sharks on nearly every dive! For me, the trip highlights were schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, juvenile white tip reef sharks, free-swimming moray eels, eagle rays, massive scorpionfish, octopus, bustling cleaning stations, schools of jacks, pacific barracuda, leather bass and way too many other fishes to name. There were also many small fishes and critters resting on the reefs, but frankly, I was mostly focused on looking out into the blue for sharks. 

Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip… I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the diving!

- Carolyn 




2014 Malpelo Photo Essay


Scalloped Hammerhead Shark. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, ambient light, 1/100 sec, f4.5, ISO400. The hammerheads would approach low and near the reef, weaving side to side amongst the many fish at the cleaning station.


Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, UWL-04 lens, ambient light, 1/100 sec, f3.5 ISO400. Schools of hammerheads would circle around the cleaning station for many passes in the blue while a few would venture closer.


Galapagos Sharks & Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, ambient light, 1/125 sec, f3.2, ISO400. The Galapagos sharks traveled in a smaller group of around 8-10 and circled a spot on the northern corner of the cleaning station. Often you would see hammerheads also coming near them to be cleaned.


Scalloped Hammerhead shark and cleaner fish. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes – low power, 1/125 sec, f5.0, ISO400.


Pacific Barracuda. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, ambient light, 1/500 sec, f5.6, ISO200.  We encountered this large school of pacific barracuda every time we dove this site. Here one of the other divers photographs them from inside the school, pushing them towards me for this shot.


Eagle Rays. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, UWL-04 lens, ambient light, 1/100 sec, f3.5, ISO400. Most of us are happy to see just one eagle ray on a dive. At Malpelo, these eagle rays traveled in a group of 5-8 over the course of our week of diving, and we saw them on every visit to the dive site.


Moray Eels. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/800 sec, f5.6, ISO100. Eels were everywhere in Malpelo, even free-swimming during the day, and these three eels decided to share quarters in this crevice. You had to constantly pay attention to avoid accidentally getting too close to them while looking for sharks.


Pacific Scorpionfish. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/800 sec, f5.6, ISO100. The scorpionfish at Malpelo were just massive. This one was at least 18 inches.


Bigeye Trevally. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/80 sec, f6.3, ISO400. This school of jacks swirled around us for a several minutes and during our safety stop before moving on. Mating pairs often travel closely together and the males darken to almost black as seen here.


Pacific Creolefish and Moray Eel. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/125 sec, f6.3, ISO200. Schools of creolefish swarmed over this colorful reef as a moray eel looks on.


Blue and Gold Snappers. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/125 sec, f6.3, ISO200. Huge schools of these snappers wove around hard corals on the reef.


Leather Bass. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/100 sec, f7.1, ISO400. These large leather bass swam constantly against the strong current.


Pacific Scorpionfish. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/800 sec, f5.6, ISO100. The scorpionfish on the left was resting until the fish on the right decided to cozy up next to it. It was quite common to see more than one animal at a time at Malpelo.


White Tip Reef Sharks. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/125 sec, f4.0, ISO400. Originally there was just one juvenile reef shark resting under this table coral formation and I held my camera rig down in the crevice, hoping for any shot as I couldn’t get in there to see and frame it. After a few shots, the second shark on the right squished itself in there, and you can see the disgruntled expression on the shark on the left’s face as it got shoved out of the way.


Coral Hawkfish. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/500 sec, f5.6, ISO100. A quiet, peaceful moment.


Scalloped Hammerhead Shark. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes – low power, 1/125 sec, f3.2, ISO400.



Photo Tips:

The equipment I used on this trip was the Sony RX-100 in a Recsea housing, UWL-04 wet lens on a quick adapter for fast removal/donning and dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes.

For compact shooters, having an ultra wide-angle fisheye lens will be great in situations where you are able to get closer to subjects, however for the shark portraits you’re often better off just using the native zoom lens on the camera.

If you are shooting with a mirrorless or dSLR camera, I’d highly recommend you mainly use a wide-angle zoom lens for any shark shooting at Malpelo. The dSLR shooters on the trip found the full 180 degrees on a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye to be too wide for most of the interactions. 

Try using your strobes on low power if the sharks are coming close enough for them to make a difference so you add a little light and color without blowing out their white underbellies. I found that because of the distance, often it was better to just shoot with ambient light.

Irrespective of camera type, keep an eye on the thermocline and how it will affect your photos. It was constantly moving shallower and deeper during the same dive at Malpelo and ranged anywhere from 40 to 80 ft. It was the cause of much frustration for all of us photographers because if the sharks happened to be above the thermocline and you below it, all of your shots taken through it would be blurred.  



In terms of approach, the dive guides advised that it’s best to tuck down and essentially try to camouflage yourself as part of the rocky reef. If you swim towards the sharks or are up floating above the reef they tend to avoid you. So do yourself a favor and follow that advice to maximize your own photos opportunities and avoid being “that total idiot who chased away all the sharks” when you visit Malpelo!



Check Out Carolyn’s Gear

Sony RX-100 Camera

Recsea RX100 Housing

UWL-04 Wide-Angle Wet Lens

Sea & Sea YS-D1 Strobes


More on Diving Malpelo

Learn about diving Malpelo Island on Bluewater Travel

Read Carolyn’s detailed Malpelo trip report and travel trips on Bluewater Travel



About the Author

Carolyn Wang is video game marketing executive, PADI dive mistress, avid underwater photographer, and explorer for Bluewater Travel. She has a passion for diving with sharks and exploring unusual sites, and can often be found in California waters while plotting her next dive adventure abroad.



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!



10 Epic Shark Dive Destinations

Brent Durand
Get Your Blood Pumping with these Incredible Shark Dives


10 Epic Shark Dive Destinations

Get Your Blood Pumping with these Incredible Shark Dives

Text by Brent Durand
Photos by Various


A lemon shark shows off its teeth in low afternoon light. Bahamas. Photo: Ron Wakins



This past February I was snorkeling in the Galapagos, down around 20 feet drifting along the side of a narrow channel between islands. The abundant marine life moved in all directions and I was enchanted by a couple large triggerfish. Suddenly the perfect quiet was broken by the clap of tails on scales as a school of surgeonfish darted in front of me towards the shallower water. I instinctively looked left to where the fish came from, where a massive black triangle faded into the deep water of the channel.

This wild experience sent chills down my spine and a barrage of thoughts as I came back to the surface. It’s the same thrill many shark divers seek out on a regular basis - a balance of adrenaline and beauty. Some divers love the high-energy action of chumming and shark feeding; some get into cages with huge Great Whites; some travel to sharky waters for wild encounters and some swim alongside gentle whale sharks.

Whatever your flavor, these are destinations/dives that should be high on all shark-minded divers’ trip lists. We’ve excluded whale sharks in order to focus on the fast action of predatory sharks for this list. And more importantly, we’re starting a conversation. You want to dive with sharks and Bluewater Travel wants to help book the perfect trip at the lowest possible price. Let’s work together to get in the water for these dives!




Where: Several locations

Type:  Baited, feeding & wild encounters

The Bahamas are home to several renowned shark dives. Crystal clear water, white sand and sunshine create fun diving conditions for some adrenaline-filled dives. Visit Tiger Beach for (you guessed it) tiger sharks. Watch Caribbean reef sharks being fed at “The Arena”. Visit the waters near Bimini to swim with great hammerheads in shallow water. Swim with oceanic white tips at Cat Island. If that’s not enough, throw in lemon sharks, other reef sharks, Atlantic Spotted Dolphins and some other great Caribbean diving.

Bahamas dive info on Bluewater Travel


Diving with tiger sharks is always exhilarating. Photo: Ron Watkins


A lemon shark reflects on the surface. Photo: Ron Watkins


Beqa Lagoon

Where:  Fiji

Type:  Shark feeding

Fiji is a diver’s paradise, so it makes sense that it is home to one of the best shark dives in the world. The shark dive at Beqa lagoon is renowned worldwide as one of the few places divers can reliably get close to large bull sharks. Shark feeding is the name of the game, attracting many bull sharks and the occasional tiger shark. These big fish are the stars of the show, but expect to see grey sharks, black tips and other reef sharks.

Fiji dive info on Bluewater Travel


Bull sharks patrol the waters of Beqa Lagoon. Photo: Carolyn Wang


An experienced guide hand feeds a bull shark. Photo: Carolyn Wang



Galapagos Islands

Where:  Ecuador

Type:  Wild encounters

Declared a national marine park in 1959, the remote Galapagos Islands are home to many pelagic and reef shark species. Swim with whale sharks in the fall or watch for schooling scalloped hammerheads near Wolf and Darwin Islands. Hammerheads can be seen at any dive site and it’s common to have a Galapagos shark circle your boat at some anchorages. The islands form an oasis in the open ocean and a great hunting ground for pelagic sharks, so keep your eyes open on every dive.

Galapagos Islands dive info on Bluewater Travel


Wolf and Darwin Islands are home to large hammerhead schools. Photo: Kadu Pinheiro


Sharks are found in abundance in the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Kadu Pinheiro




Where:  Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia

Type:  Wild encounters

Talk of Rangiroa has been increasing in diving circles with the recent discovery of grouper spawning aggregations. With these large aggregations of fish come their predators – sharks. Rangiroa is said to have countless sharks in the water during the spawning, and Bluewater Photo will be there in July 2014 for a workshop around the event. It’s necessary to plan your trip around the spawning event, so make sure to have Bluewater Travel help set this up for you.

French Polynesia dive info on Bluewater Travel


Rangiroa is an incredible shark diving destination. Photo: Rene Capozzola



Jardines de la Reina

Where:  Cuba

Type:  Wild & baited encounters

This popular dive area has recently risen to the attention of North American divers after enjoying popularity with European divers for a number of years. Protected Caribbean reefs are home to many large sharks, with frequent sightings of Caribbean and silky sharks. It’s safe to say you will have sharky dives… every dive. Learn more in our article on diving Jardines de la Reina.


Exciting shark encounters await divers who venture to Jardines de la Reina. Photo: Goran Butajla


A Caribbean reef shark cruises along the reef. Photo: Goran Butajla



Malpelo Island

Where:  Columbia (boats often leave from Panama)

Type:  Wild encounters

Malpelo is another remote Eastern Pacific island known for wild shark encounters. Most famous are its hammerhead cleaning stations, where divers can get close and personal with the large sharks in shallow water. Other pelagics are common, including seasonal schools of silky sharks, plus Galapagos sharks, mantas, eagle rays, dolphins and more.

Malpelo Island dive info on Bluewater Travel


Schooling hammerheads make a close pass. Photo: Carolyn Wang


A scalloped hammerhead cruises by for a closer inspection. Photo: Carolyn Wang



Isla Guadalupe

Where:  Mexico

Type:  Cage diving with great whites

Isla Guadalupe is a well-known destination for ultimate cage diving experiences. Clear water and reliable sightings make it arguably the best place to photograph and (cage) dive with great white sharks.

Isla Guadalupe dive info on Bluewater Travel


A great white shark goes for the bait. Photo: Ron Watkins


A great white shark shows off its impressive girth. Photo: Ron Watkins



Aliwal Shoal & Protea Banks

Where:  South Africa

Type:  Wild & baited encounters

Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks are both near Durban and offer incredible shark diving. Aliwal Shoal is known for the aggregation of ragged tooth (sand tiger) sharks that appears every fall, offering some very sharky dives. Large populations or other sharks are seen year-round. Protea Banks is a rich reef, and it’s no wonder that bull sharks are frequently seen, as well as tiger sharks and many other pelagic and reef sharks.


Blacktip sharks are year-round residents at Aliwal Shoal and make for interesting and exciting subjects on baited shark dives. Photo: Cormac McCreesh


Ragged tooth (sand tiger) shark, taken at Raggie Cave. Photo: Cormac McCreesh




Where:  Philippines

Type:  Reliable wild encounters at cleaning stations

Malapascua Island, located north of Cebu in the Visayas is known for daily pelagic thresher shark dives. Known locally as Lawihan, the sharks visit shallow cleaning stations on Monad Shoal each morning, treating divers to close-up experiences. Fortunately, Typhoon Yolanda (fall 2013) did not claim any casualties on Monad Shoal, however it did destroy housing, boats and buildings. Fear not, however, because dive trips and incredible thresher shark diving is as exciting as ever (with thanks due to the national and international dive community for their support).


Thresher sharks are infamous for their extemely long tail. Photo: Rafn Ingi Finnsson


A thresher shark swims towards the photographer. Photo: Rafn Ingi Finnsson



Cocos Island

Where:  Costa Rica

Type:  Wild encounters

Diving remote Cocos Island is a must for big animal lovers. It is one of the very few places you can still see schooling hammerhead sharks, as well as many other pelagic species. In addition, divers are treated to mantas, whale sharks, marble rays, large schools of fish and other pelagic surprises.

Cocos Island dive info on Bluewater Travel





Southern California

Where:  USA

Type:  Baited open water dives

Our 11th shark dive destination is off the radar for many but host to some surprisingly good dives.  Bluewater Photo runs annual blue and mako shark dives every spring. Some days may have one shark while others may have 10+, with close open water encounters. You never know what will show up, and on one day in 2013 a salmon shark cruised up to the boat, which is very rare. Check out some photos on the Bluewater Photo Facebook page.


Mako shark off Southern California. Photo: Scott Gietler


Blue shark off Southern California. Photo: Scott Gietler



Let Bluewater Book Your Shark Trip

Plan your next shark diving trip with the help of Bluewater Travel’s expert travel advisors. Our team will help you book a trip to the right resort or perfect liveaboard at the lowest possible price.

Visit Bluewater Travel or email for more info.



Protect the Sharks

Shark conservation efforts have been increasing in recent years but still need all the support they can get. Whether you have some extra time, a useful skill or even a small financial contribution to make, both shark non-profits below (and any others) would love to hear from you.









Carolyn Wang  |  Cormac McCreesh  |  Kadu Pinheiro  |  Goran Butajla  |  Rafn Ingi Finnsson  |  Ron Watkins  |  Scott Gietler



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 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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