5 Reasons to Dive Malapascua

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


5 Reasons to Dive Malapascua

A Dive Destination that Blends the Exotic with the Smallest

Text and Photos By Jeff Milisen




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

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

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

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


Bangkas lit by a full moon on Malapascua Island.



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


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



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


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


House Reef

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


This crinoid shrimp as turned yellow to match its host.


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



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


Two mandarinfish at the peak of their nightly ritual.



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


A thresher shark swims by - the icon of Malapascua.


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


Want to Dive Malapascua?

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




Also by Jeff Milisen


About the Author

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



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A Weekend Dive Getaway in Cabo

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


A Quick Dive Getaway in Cabo

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

By Brent Durand




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

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

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

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

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


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


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



Cabo San Lucas Marine Park

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

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


Pacific Seahorses are frequently found near Pelican Rock.


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


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


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


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



The Corridor

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


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


Whitetip reef sharks inside a cave at the Corridor.


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


Reef scene at the Corridor.



Gordo Banks

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


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



Cabo Pulmo

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


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



La Paz

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


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



About Cabo San Lucas

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

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

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



Special Dive Travel Package

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

View the:  Cabo Weekend Getaway Package



Quick Cabo Getaway Dive Video

Filmed & Edited by Brent Durand.  

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



Further Reading


About the Author

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



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


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


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




Wide-Angle in the Sea of Cortez & Midriff Islands

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


Wide-Angle in the Sea of Cortez

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

Text and Photos By Ron Watkins




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

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


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

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

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


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


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



Sea Lions

Ambassadors of the Sea of Cortez

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


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

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


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


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


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



Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus)

Largest Fish in the Sea

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

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

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


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


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


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



Humboldt Squid (Dosidicus gigas)

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

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


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


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


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



A Diversity of Marine Life in the Sea of Cortez

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


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


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


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


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


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



Why the Sea of Cortez Should be on Your Short List

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


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

Sea of Cortez Workshop

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




Further Reading


About the Author

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



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The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


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


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


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




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

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

Reykjavik has a recompression chamber.


Book Your Dive Trip

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


Scuba Diving Iceland

The weird-looking but colorful lumpsucker fish.


Scuba Diving Iceland

Strytan’s chimneys are covered with colorful anemones.



Further Reading


About the Authors

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

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


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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 www.RUP.re or on their Facebook Page.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



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. Milisenphotography.yolasite.com



Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



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. Milisenphotography.yolasite.com


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



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 www.saltwaterphoto.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!



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 www.saltwaterphoto.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!



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. Milisenphotography.yolasite.com


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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


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