Photographing the Wrecks of the St. Lawrence River (pg 2)

Photographing the Wrecks of the St. Lawrence River & Eastern Lake Ontario

By Jo-Ann Wilkins


Page 2


Many wrecks, mostly wooden boats or schooners, date back to the 1800s.  One of the most popular is the wreck of the Lillie Parsons in Brockville.  Turned upside-down on the side of a cliff with her belly still filled with coal and her enormous masts pointing downward, she is a pretty wreck to visit.  Other wooden wrecks worth diving are the schooner A. E. Vickery, the wooden barque Robert Gaskin and the schooner-barge Kingshorn. There are also steel ships such as the very popular wreck of the Keystorm, which sank in 1912, and the Henry C. Daryaw, lying upside-down on the riverbed.  Other steel ships worth diving are the Oconto (although this is a technical wreck), the drill barge America, the highly damaged barge John B. King and the Muscallonge (a very damaged wreck but worth diving mostly for the impressive amount of fish on her).  Noteworthy wrecks in the Eastern Lake Ontario area are the Wolf Islander II, the beautiful Comet with its sidewheels still relatively intact, the dredge barge Munson and the three mast schooner George A. Marsh.


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The schooner A. E. Vickery. This wreck has strong surface current but once on the wreck, divers are shielded from the current. St-Lawrence River. F 9, 1/50, ISO 800. Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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Experienced divers can explore the hold of the  A.E. Vickery. St-Lawrence River. F 4.5, 1/60, ISO 800. Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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The schooner-barge Kingshorn with its unique ship’s wheel. F 6.3, 1/100, ISO 400. Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


There are also more recent wrecks that lie in these waters.  The most popular is without any question the Roy A. Jodrey, which sank just off the coast guard station on the south shoreline of Wellesley Island in 1974.  This large freighter (640’ x 72’ x 40’) now lies in 140 to 242 feet of water and is open to only technical divers.  Another recent wreck is the Eastcliffe Hall, a 343-feet bulk freight motor vessel that sank in the Morrisburg area in 1970.


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The upside down steel freighter Henry C. Daryaw. There are plenty of photographic opportunities on this wreck. St-Lawrence River. F 7.1, 1/100, ISO 400, Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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The damaged bow section of the work barge Robert Gaskin.  This ship was relatively intact until a few years ago.  High diver traffic on this shallow wreck has damaged the fragile 1863 hull.  St-Lawrence River. F 5.6, 1/30, ISO 500, Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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Exploring one of the many submerged locks of the old canal. Most locks are accessible from shore and are popular local diving destinations. St-Lawrence River. F 9, 1/80, ISO 640, Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


Closer to the Massena area (Cornwall Ontario), divers can explore many structures that were submerged by the construction of our modern seaway in the 1950s.  Whole villages were lost when dams and locks were erected in the area and caused massive flooding.  Most homes, churches and other constructions were either displaced or demolished prior to the flood but many structures still remain.  For instance, we can still dive on the former lock system of the old canal.  Locks 21, 23 and 28 are easily accessible and are very popular dive sites.  Another noteworthy site is the ancient Mille Roches Power House.  Her roof and walls were removed in preparation for the St-Lawrence Seaway flooding, but her water turbines, wheel chamber and exciter reservoirs are still intact.  Submerged structures such as swing bridges, paved roads, water pipes and building foundations are common in this area rich in history.


Underwater Photography in the River

Most of the wrecks in the St-Lawrence river have one thing in common: current.  The river is relatively narrow and current is present on every dive site, although it can range from unimportant in some areas and quite strong in others.  Generally, divers can expect a current anywhere from 0.5 knots to 3 or 4 knots.  But don’t let that scare you away!  The current is mostly felt at the surface and on ascents and descents.  On the bottom, it is often negligible and is easily managed.  It is important to attach your camera gear securely on you with one and preferably two clips so you can let go of the gear if the current gets too strong on descents and ascents.  I personally always carry my neoprene dome port cover underwater just in case I need to protect my dome if both hands are needed for descent or ascents. Photographers want to try to shield themselves as much as they can from the current and staying close to the bottom helps.  There is very little to no current in the Eastern Lake Ontario area.


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Photo left: Boiler inside the old abandoned steel ferry Wee Hawk. This wreck sits in very shallow water and is interesting to photograph.  Visibility can be stirred up pretty rapidly inside the wreck.  Divers have reported seeing beavers inside the wreck! F 8, 1/250, ISO 400, Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.

Photo right:  One of the most popular wrecks amongst local divers, the Conestoga.  It lies in shallow water close to shore.  It offers many photographic opportunities, with its enormous upright engine sticking out of the water.  F 11, 1/50, ISO 400, Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


The sediments on the riverbed are easily disturbed and a careless diver can whip up a ‘silt storm’ pretty rapidly, so photographers must be very careful in these conditions.  That said, the advantage of the strong current is that it moves the silt and restores visibility fairly quickly.  However, if a silt-out occurs inside a wreck where there is little current, the silt can remain in suspension for hours.  When we get to a dive site, I’m always the first one in the water, ready to go as soon as the boat anchors.  This allows me to photograph the main attractions of the wreck before fellow divers, even if they are really careful, mess up the visibility.  General visibility varies a lot in the river.  Late summer, fall and winter offer the best visibility, while early spring offers poor visibility and is not really good for photography.

Mastering strobe positioning to light your subject is of utmost importance.  Since there is a lot of sediment in suspension, you really need to spread your strobe arms as far out as possible and to point them outwards a little.  You definitely want as little light as possible to hit the particles between your lens and your subject.  If you have extra strobe arm extensions, this is the place to use them.  From many years of doing photography in the river, I find that using your strobes at half power rather than at full power gives better results (less backscatter and less of a bluish-white spotlight effect on the sides of your image, especially on deeper darker dives).  You need to get as close as possible to your subject to get good results.  Of course, this is general underwater knowledge but I would say that in the river, it is even more relevant.

Using a diver in your pictures helps to provide perspective on the size of the wrecks.  However, be sure that you coach your model before the dive.  Ask him to remain away from the easily disturbed bottom.

Shooting upwards to capture surface light is a must.  Ambient light vanishes rapidly as you descend and pointing your camera upwards will bring natural light into your picture.  The water has a glowing green color to it and it is interesting to incorporate it into your image.  You will find that you will have to work at higher ISOs and slower shutter speeds to capture the ambient light in these conditions.

Photographers will find that wide-angle photography is usually the best choice because of all the beautiful large wrecks.  Points of interest on most of the wrecks in the river are the props, the anchors, wheel, windlass, bow and stern.  On the wrecks of eastern Lake Ontario, you can still find beautifully preserved wooden deadeyes, tools and artifacts.  Some wrecks even have intact canned goods on deck.  Besides the wrecks, there are plenty of other interesting things to photograph, such as a large variety of fish, lily pads, tree roots, etc.  Sure, the fish are not as colorful and plentiful as you would find in tropical destinations, but they still make interesting subjects.  Furthermore, photographers shouldn’t leave their macro ports at home!  There are plenty of zebra mussels, freshwater sponges and other smaller organisms to photograph too.

Even though most underwater photographers will naturally travel to tropical destinations, Eastern Lake Ontario and the St-Lawrence River, with their rich maritime history, warm water in the summer and an abundance of photographic subjects, are definitely destinations worth discovering.

Divers who would like to learn more on the wrecks of the St-Lawrence River and the Great Lakes should read The Great Lakes Diving Guide Enlarged Second Edition by Cris Kohl (2008).  This well documented reference guide is a must read for anyone interested in discovering the area.


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Mooring line on one of the many wrecks. F 9, 1/250, ISO 200, Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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Shallow dive from shore. St-Lawrence River. Rockport area. F 10, 1/250, ISO 400, Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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Lily pads are common in the St-Lawrence River. F 11, 1/250, ISO 400, Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


Back to Page 1



About the Author


Jo-Ann Wilkins is a Canadian underwater photographer based in Montreal.   Passionate about cold water diving, she photographs the historical shipwrecks of the Canadian Great Lakes and the St-Lawrence River and documents the diverse marine life found in these waters.  Jo-Ann also specializes in underwater portraits.  Jo-Ann’s work has been featured in Canadian and American publications and has been recognized in international photography competitions.  Jo-Ann is also a contributing photographer for the photo agency In Transit Images and her work is featured in the innovative and unique underwater exposition Aquart.  She is an underwater scuba diving and photography instructor and runs a commercial dive charter operation on the St-Lawrence River with her husband.


Further Reading


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Photographing the Wrecks of the St. Lawrence River

Jo-Ann Wilkins
A Photo Essay on Diving & Shooting Amazing Freshwater Wrecks in Cold Canadian Waters

Photographing the Wrecks of the St. Lawrence River & Eastern Lake Ontario

A Photo Essay on Diving & Shooting Freshwater Wrecks

By Jo-Ann Wilkins


St Lawrence River Scuba Diving



The St-Lawrence River and Eastern Lake Ontario, both lying between the United States and Canada, are popular dive destinations.  Their riverbeds are littered with hundreds of beautifully preserved historical and recent shipwrecks – a combination of their strategic location within the continent for the shipment of merchandise and bulk freight along with their many navigational hazards.  The area is known to many as being the World’s Best Fresh Water Wreck Diving destination.


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Diver photographing the sidewheels of the Comet. Eastern Lake Ontario. F 7.1, 1/60, ISO 500. Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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Divers on a relatively intact portion of the deck of the Comet. Eastern Lake Ontario. F 7.1, 1/50s, ISO 500. Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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Divers can explore the machinery, an old crane and the ship’s original1890s tools laid out on deck. Wreck of the Munson. Eastern Lake Ontario. F 7.1, 1/30, ISO 640. Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


About the Wrecks

The wrecks are incredibly well preserved.  The fresh water in which they rest lacks the saltwater organisms that would normally destroy their structure, while the cold temperature (with its low oxygen levels) preserves them.  Deeper wrecks are better preserved as a result of less exposure to light.

The wrecks of the St-Lawrence River, more precisely between Watertown and Massena on the American side and Kingston and Cornwall on the Canadian side, are preserved in cold water for most of the year.  However, during the summer months, the water temperature rises to the mid seventies with no thermocline and is thus very comfortable. This is one of the reasons this dive destination so popular for divers on both sides of the river.


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A diver exploring the 12-foot high rudder and 4-blade propeller on the Glendora. Eastern Lake Ontario. F 7.1, 1/40, ISo 640. Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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The former dive vessel Effie Mae. She was scuttled next to the Aloha after she was retired. Eastern Lake Ontario. F 8, 1/60, ISO 500. Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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Inside the machine room of the very popular ferry Wolf Islander II. F 6.3, 1/15, ISO 500. Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


The border between the Canadian and American side is in the middle of the river in most places, and as a result, some wrecks lay on the Canadian side and others on the American side.  Crossing the border to go dive on a wreck is no simple task.  Many of the dive trips depart from Rockport, Canada.  American divers cross the border into Canada by car, board a Canadian vessel and must then go through customs again on an American island (Heart Island in the Alexandria Bay area) to be able to go dive on an American wreck. After the dive, they must pass through Canadian customs and then head back home by car and go through customs yet again. 

Does this sound complicated?  Well, it sure is… and it’s also a funny sight to see.  When the customs open on the island in the morning, you have dive vessels lined up eagerly waiting to go through to be able to be the first ones on dive sites.  There are some American vessels that can take American divers on American wrecks without this border crossing commotion but if they want to go dive the Canadian wrecks, they must also go through customs.


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Exploring one of the masts on the Keystorm. F 6.3, 1/30, ISO 800, Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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The wheelhouse on the Keystorm.  This ship rests in US waters. F 9, 1/125, ISO 800. Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


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The stern of the Keystorm resting on a clay bottom. F 5.6, 1/30, ISO 400. Nikon D300 Tokina 10-17mm.


Continue to Page 2 for more Photos, Wreck Info and Photography Tips!




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Sogod Bay: Dive Paradise off the Beaten Track (pg 3)

Sogod Bay: Dive Paradise off the Beaten Track

Page 3


Sunok Point & Limasawa Island

Adrian's Cove and Zack's Cove, the two main dive sites on Limasawa Island, along with Sunok Point on Panaon Island at the opposite side of the bay, are the areas with the highest possibility of spotting whale sharks mid-dive.  The question for photographers is whether to set up wide-angle to await possible whale sharks arrival or concentrate on macro subjects and beat yourself up when whale sharks do make an appearance.  I recommend wide-angle because these sites are perfect places for reefscapes, with huge soft and hard coral formations dotting the walls and reefs teeming with marine life.  Even if whale sharks prove elusive, the underwater photographer will be more than busy framing perfect reefscape photos.


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Photo Left:  Crowded Coral Head. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/500s. Dyron 8mm Fisheye.
Photo Right:  Gigantic Soft Coral. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/1600s. Dyron 8mm Fisheye.


Padre Burgos Pier

A 10 minute drive from most dive resorts brings you to the small town of Padre Burgos, and right in the center of its shoreline sits the pier - a 150 meter protrusion out into the ocean.  This is still a functioning pier with significant boat traffic during the day and fishing at night.  The reason this pier deserves a section of its own is that after dusk the Padre Burgos Pier is arguably one of the best night dive sites around the Philippines... if not Southeast Asia.  Fishing lines and divers do not mix well, so an agreement has been ironed out for divers to exclusively use the pier on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  Anglers use the pier on the other days.  The waters around the pier have a maximum depth of around 5 meters, so one can hang around for a very long time – essential because the amount a marine life seen here is absolutely staggering.

Padre Burgos Pier is a muck diving site and there is rubbish strewn around, which provides more hiding places for macro subjects.  The entry for the pier is via a staircase down to the water on the left, which is quite rocky and slippery so great care must be taken.

Divers can safely descend once 1/3 of the way to the end of the pier.  Upon descending, marine creatures immediately start to show themselves, from small octopi to strange flatworms to rare nudibranchs, with so much to discover and photograph that one feels impeded in exploring the rest of the dive site.  As you slowly reach the end of the pier, large banded cleaner shrimp can be spotted on the bottom of the outermost pylons, and seahorses further up among the sea fans.  About ten meters out from the outermost pylons is what I would term “Stargazer Town,” where up to three stargazers have been spotted on one dive.  Other areas of the pier are full of pleasant surprises, and soon you are investigating anything that looks organic and out of place with hopes that it might be a new personal discovery.

There are certain things to take note of when diving this man-made wonderland.  Remember that the locals do fish from the pier and fishing lines are all but invisible to the naked eye during night dives.  Another important note is that the site is swarming with sizable lionfish who have grown accustomed to using dive lights to hunt their prey, so it’s likely that divers will be bumped a few times during the dive - a chilling experience for some.  The lionfish are attracted to the area illuminated by your dive light and any collisions are purely accidental.  That said, this is still one of my favorite night dive sites.


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Pygmy Pretender. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.


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Snake Eel. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/320s. Dyron +7 Diopter.


Conservation Efforts In Sogod Bay

The degeneration of marine habitats around the world has been an issue for enviromentalists for decades. With a vast archipelago like the Philippines, the enforcement of marine laws (with the exception of internationally administered places like Tubbataha) has predominantly relied on local enlightenment and and self-restraint.  Places like Sogod Bay are far away from central government oversight and the choice between preserving the bay’s marine richness or putting food on the table comes up often.  The Anilao reefs benefit from increased protection because of the many vested interests who earn their livings from visiting scuba divers.  Unfortunately, Sogod Bay doesn’t have this same benefit with just 4 active dive resorts.

The Marine Protected Area concept was introduced in 2002 when Coral Cay Conservation, a UK based conversation specialist, set up shop in front of Napantao Wall with the goal of creating an MPA to balance sustainable local fishing with protection of the reefs and fish.  Destructive practices like coral harvesting and cyanide fishing are prohibited, but in return the village collects a fee from every diver that wishes to dive there.  The success at Napantao persuaded other areas to set up MPAs of their own, and with the help of dive resorts in the area there are 11 MPAs in Sogod Bay.  The most recent MPA is at Limasawa Island.


A Thorny Issue

Sogod Bay is not only faced with man-made threats to its underwater world, but also has to deal with a more stealthy menace from the sea itself: the crown-of-thorns starfish.  Overfishing in the area has caused an explosion in the crown-of-thorns starfish population, who have less preditors to keep their coral-devouring numbers at bay.  Killing them in the water only compounds the problem as their surival instinct allows them to spawn before death, meaning they have to be brought to the surface and killed on land. Efforts at controlling the crown of thorns starfish population are ongoing and vigourous, with more than ten thousand of them being “harvested” in 2012 alone.  There is a new method of injecting the starfish that kills them before they can spawn, and this is starting to be used throughout the bay.  The government is in support of the new erradication method and locals hope to receive more support in removing the crown-of-thorns starfish.


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Eradicating The Thorny Menace


Sogod Bay - A Place I'd Rather Be

Sogod Bay divers have mixed feelings on whether the long journey is with the extra effort (compared to Anilao or Cebu).  The beauty of Sogod Bay is that it offers the diver something very special - total serenity and pristine marine environments.  Being off the main tourist track means minimal dive pressure, and chances are high that you will not see another dive boat during your time there.  Of course, the only entertainment available is your ability to amuse yourself, but as a serious underwater photographer there are few places I'd rather be.





About the Author

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


Further Reading


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Sogod Bay: Dive Paradise off the Beaten Track (pg2)

Sogod Bay: Dive Paradise off the Beaten Track

Page 2


Pygmy Seahorse. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron +7 and Subsee +10 Diopters.


Tankaan MPA

Further south from Santa Sofia lies Takaan, another Marine Protected Area close to the mouth of Sogod Bay, and whale shark sightings are a definite possibility here. It features another gentle slope going down to 27 meters, but unlike Santa Sofia, the slope is populated mainly with soft corals punctuated with barrel sponges and huge gorgonian fans. Takaan is a good place to spot frogfishes and other critters like orang-utan crabs, and if diving in the late afternoon there is a good chance of seeing solar-powered nudibranchs.  Turtles like to loiter here too because of the abundance of soft coral, with pelgaics like barracudas and trevally darting in and out of the blue.


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Photo Left:  Frogfish . Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.
Photo Right:  Halgerda Batangas. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/320s.Subsee +10 Diopter.

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Orang-Utan Crab. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 Diopter.


Little Lembeh

Located around thirty minutes north of Padre Burgos by boat, the site is landmarked by an array of stilt huts rising out of the water.  As its name suggests, the site contains excellent muck diving (Lembeh is well know for its muck diving).  Many types of pipefish make their home here, with scores of seahorses roaming above the black sand. Pegasus fish hide amongst the stilts while nudibranchs are also abundant here.


Long-nose Pipefish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 Diopter.

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Mantis Shrimp. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/320s. Dyron +7 Diopter.


Sogod Bay Scuba Resort House Reef

Directly in front of Sogod Bay Scuba Resort, the house reef (or more commonly called Max Climax) is accessed from a dive boat parked on the shore.  The beach is coral rather than sand, and a pretty risky entry/exit with full scuba gear and camera.  This is a wall dive that starts at about 8 meters down to 45 meters, and features a wonderful array of hard and soft coral.  Currents can get strong here, and it brings about pelagic fish as well as schools of sweetlips and snappers. The wall is also chock full of macro subjects with crabs and shrimps taking center-stage, and pygmy seahorses if you are willing to go deep enough.  A night dive here is also highly recommended, as there is a huge variety of critters on parade across the reef.  Decorator crabs are seen often.  There is actually so much to see and shoot here that it is wise to check your SPG and dive computer frequently, as you could easily become distracted by all the photo subjects.


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Neighbours. Taken with 1 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron +7 and Subsee +10 Diopters.


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Sea Pen Crab. Taken with 1 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron +7 and Subsee +10 Diopters.


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Decorator Crab. Taken with 1 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.


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Bubble Coral Shrimp. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron +7 and Subsee +10 Diopters.


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Mating Nudibranchs. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/200s.






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Sogod Bay: Dive Paradise off the Beaten Track

Victor Tang
An Underwater Photo Adventure in Southern Leyte, Philippines,with some surprisingly good photo ops

Sogod Bay: Dive Paradise off the Beaten Track

An Underwater Photo Adventure in Southern Leyte, Philippines

By Victor Tang


Sogod Bay



Sogod Bay, Philippines is a relatively unknown dive destination, and many of us would even have trouble locating it on the map.  Those who do venture to Sogod Bay soon learn that the diving is incredible.

History buffs and those with long memories would nod knowingly if you mention that Sogod Bay is in the south of Leyte Island (home of Palo Beach) and the place where General Douglas MacArthur strode up the beach in the reconquest of the Philippines from the Japanese in World War II.  For an island with such historical significance and tourism potential, Leyte still remains something of an afterthought for travelers to the Philippines.


Sogod Bay


Getting There: A Journey In Itself

A plausible reason for Sogod Bay's anonymity is that Padre Burgos, the main diving town and home of the dive resorts, is surprisingly hard to reach.  There are at least 4 “direct” routes to Padre Burgos, each a travel combination of plane, boat and wheels.  Ferries in the Philippines generally are much less reliable and prone to delays than flights, so flying presents the most reliable way to get there.  There are currently three daily flights from Manila to the main airport on Leyte, Tacloban, with another two daily flights from Cebu.

From the airport it is a three hour(!) car ride to Padre Burgos and I highly recommend undertaking this journey during the day, as it allows you to see the natural beauty of Leyte Island.  The last hour or so is a nice coastal drive, allowing you to take a sneak peak at the waters that you will explore in due time.  Another big joy noticed during the ride is that traffic is virtually non-existent, unlike during transfers to more accessible diving destinations near Manila or Cebu City.  You soon notice a refreshing sobriety to the urban planning here as you get into the mindset for your dive vacation.


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Sunlit Fishbowl. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f7.1 and 1/160s.
Dyron 8mm Fisheye.


Whale Sharks

Scuba divers and photographers will find that Sogod Bay is a great destination for massive, plankton-feeding Whale Sharks, who swim in the waters near the bay’s entrance between November and April.  As in Donsol, east of Manila, snorkeling trips are organized allow opportunities to swim with the whale sharks as they glide along their migratory route.  Whale shark viewing trips do not come cheap, however, and sightings are not guaranteed.  Also, those who have snorkeled with whale sharks know that trying to swim alongside them requires some real swimming fitness.  Because the reefs around Sogod Bay also have a high likelihood of spotting a whale shark during a “regular” dive, I found that the best diving option was to book 3-tank boat dives instead of the snorkeling trips looking for whale sharks.  Sogod Bay arguably has some of the most pristine reefs and superb macro sites in the Philippines – a photographer’s paradise.


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Napantao: Star of the show. Taken with 3 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/1600s. Dyron 8mm Fisheye.


7 Amazing Dive Sites in Sogod Bay

There are 22 official dive sites in Sogod Bay, so there’s more diving than you could hope to explore on one trip.  Average dive trips in Sogod Bay are 10 days, and the following is a selection of dive sites you should not miss.


Napantao Wall

Located across the bay from Padre Burgos, Napantao Wall is a wall large enough to be split into northern and southern sections, requiring 2 dives to fully traverse. Napantao is the first designated Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the area, and once you descend it is easy to see why.  Dense schools of reef fish congregate around the wall down to the fifty-meter bottom, with armadas of purple and yellow anthias flitting in and out of huge gorgonian fans, and green branch corals jutting from the wall with pride.  This is one place where watching the skittish anthias vanish into their coral hiding places is truly a sight to behold.


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Anthia wonderland. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f7.1 and 1/60s.
Dyron 8mm Fisheye.


Once through the thick layer of reef fish, divers are presented with a rich hunting ground for macro subjects.  Napantao is fertile ground for spotting frogfishes and all types of nudibranchs, from the rare to the mundane. Pelagic fish and whale sharks do visit the wall so you do have to divide your attention between the wall and the open water – not a bad problem to have!  Napantao presents a true dilemma for the underwater photographer as there are many wide angle and macro subjects, and multiple visits to the wall should be arranged if possible.  It can be confidently asserted that Napantao is a representative microcosm of the marine landscape that is fast disappearing from Philippine waters.


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Fish Everywhere!. Taken with 3 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/000s.
Dyron 8mm Fisheye.


Santa Sofia MPA

Situated just south of Padre Burgos, Santa Sofia is a gentle slope full of hard coral that descends down to a 25 meter sandy bottom. Again, this is a great place for macro with a large variety of nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses and ambush predators like the scorpion and crocodile fishes.  Hawksbill turtles are known to patrol these waters and take a “breather” among the hard coral, so keep your eyes peeled for them.  It is definitely possible to have a close-up encounter and photo session with these gentle creatures.


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Left Photo:  Doriprismatica Atromarginata . Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron +7 dopter.
Right Photo:  Taringer Halgerda . Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/500s. Dyron +7 diopter.

sogod bay

Skeleton Shrimps. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/500s. Dyron +7 and Subsee +10 Diopters.






Where to Buy

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The Best Kept Shark Diving Secret: Cuba

Goran Butajla
Incredible Shark Diving in Cuba's Jardines de la Reina - find out why divers are flocking there

The Best Kept Shark Diving Secret: Cuba

Incredible Shark Diving & More in Cuba's Jardines de la Reina

Article & Photos by Goran Butajla


Jardines de la Reina Sharks



The Carribean is one of the most popular scuba diving areas for American travelers, with easy access to attractive locations in the Cayman Islands, Belize, the Mexican coast and Honduras, among many others.  There is a large concentration of famous dive sites with a variety of diving styles and marine life, including encounters with large marine creatures, world-known wrecks, and cave and cavern diving.  Naturally, there are many interesting dives for underwater photographers.

But there is one area which is still virgin, and that is Cuba. There are two main reasons for this.  First, it is sort of a “black area” for American divers for political reasons, and second, it is still not easy to reach for European or Asian divers.  As a European diver, I had been exploring the possibility of diving in Cuba for a few years, and after checking some YouTube clips from Jardines de la Reina, I decided to see it for myself.  The diving in the videos was too tempting to pass up.


Jardines de la Reina Shark

A Caribbean reef shark passes by in the rich waters of Jardines de la Reina.

Jardines de la Reina Shark

Jardines offers many close encounters for those willing to seek out the diving.


About Jardines de la Reina

Jardines de la Reina is a remote and uninhabited part of southern Cuba, some 50 miles offshore (do not confuse it with “Jardines del Rey”, which is further north).  This area is heavily protected by the Cuban goverment, so only scuba diving and some “light” big game fishing are allowed here (thanks to Castro, who was a diver himself and wanted to preserve the area). Cuba is slowly starting to open the gates to tourism, and now we are blessed with the opportunity to dive in this fantastic area.

There is one single, goverment controlled but “joint venture," Cuban-Italian operator conducting scuba activities, Avalon Diving. The area is reachable only by liveaboard, but Avalon Diving made an interesting “floating hotel."  It's essentially a big boat converted into a convenient mid-category dive facility anchored in the middle of Jardines, and can accomodate up to 20-25 people living there at a time.  Each day divers are transferred to the dive locations with light, speedy boats that we are used to seeing in the rest of Caribbean. The other option is to book a “classic” liveaboard – a 7 day cruise around Jardines.  I found the floating hotel to be most effective.


Jardines Silky Shark

Some of the silky sharks are more than 3 meters long!


A 7 day diving package consists of 5 diving days with three dives a day, since you loose the first and last day on transfers to/from Jardines.  It's the only con for this trip. Also, you have to arrive in Havana (where the transfer is organised) one day before the booked trip, and stay in Havana one day afterwards.  This presents a great opportunity to explore the city for a few days after your dive trip.


The Diving - Sharks!

The diving itself is something trully different.  The water is very clear, and during every dive you are treated to close encounters with dozens of sharks... for the entire dive.  I've had the oportunity to dive throughout the world and have seen many sharks before, but never in this fashion.  They even started to get a little boring!  If I was the operator there, I might even dare to say, “Sharks guaranteed or money back!”  This is definitelly the place to go if you are a shark lover.  Divers will most frequently encounter groups of silky and carribean reef sharks cruising around in close proximity, giving you many amazing photo options.  Most of the sharks, if not every shark, are bigger then 2 metres, few bigger than 3m.  The dive guides, who are very competent, know exactly where and when to take you, but it also seems that sharks congregate around the mooring buoys as soon as they hear the boat engines, expecting few pieces of fish after the dive (which they receive).  The sharks are not agressive, but courious about the divers so there was never any sense of danger or threatening behavior.  Of course, wide angle photography and close-focus wide-angle are common techiques here, so i never even bothered to try macro shooting.


Jardines Reef Shark

The caribbean reef sharks are often found patrolling near the bottom of the reef.


Jardines de la Reina Lionfish

At some of the dive sites in Jardines de la Reina you'll find dozens of Lionfish.


Crocodiles, Groupers & more from Jardines de la Reina on page 2.



Where to Buy

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The Best Kept Shark Diving Secret: Cuba (pg 2)

The Best Kept Shark Diving Secret: Cuba





Jardines de la Reina Crocodile

This croc didn't seem to mind sharing its waters with scuba divers


Groupers, Crocodiles & Other Marine Life

Besides sharks, at some locations you will encounter giant, goliath and nassau groupers. Many of them grow very large, and several that we encountered were 100 -150 lbs.  They are also curious about the divers and some will even “kiss” your dome port. One of them even tried to chew my friend's compact camera hanging from his wrist.  Eventually you'll start looking for something besides by sharks and groupers, and head to the “classic” carribean reef scenery, which consists of many gorgonian fans, sponges and seagrass.  There we found green morays, tarpoons, lobsters, schools of jacks, some barracudas and few speces of rays.  There are also lionfish who don't belong in this eco-system, but they're still not overly abundant.


jardines de la reina grouper

At the dive site Cabezo Della Cava we found many large groupers.

Some of the groupers get really large, especially the ones we saw at the dive site Caballones.


jardines de la reina gorgonian fan

Large gorgonians are a trademark at Jardines de la Reina.


jardines de la reina tarpoon

A tarpoon we saw at the dive site Los Mogojes.


One of the most exciting encounters on the trip was the crocodiles.  A few are known to live in the lagoons, so during the break between dives we asked the guides to try to find them. The lagoons are a snorkel tour in water with much lower visibility, but during midday the crocs float on surface and are very calm, so you can approach them if you dare.  I dont really know what to say about the saftey of that encounter besides entering the water at your own risk.  Three photographers in our group entered the water and the guides stayed very close, holding wooden sticks (similar to baseball bats) ready to react.  That said, we stayed with one croc for more than half hour and he didnt even blink, then finally decided to swim away.


jardines croc

Our crocodile photo session lasted a long time, however it's over as soon as the croc decides to swim away.


jardines de la reina croc

The author, Goran Butajla, gets close to a croc deep in the lagoon.


jardines sea turtle

Sea turtles are a bit rare in Jardines de la Reina, but can be found at the dive site Caballones.



Overall, Jardines de la Reina a is really pristine, large and untouched system of coral reefs, and represents Carribean “as it was before.”  If the strict regulations remain in place it is unlikely to become overcrowded, and is with no doubt one of last underwater paradises on Earth.  The only visitors here are a very small number of divers throughout the year, with a government-mandated limit of 500-1000 divers.  But that doesnt mean you will have problems booking your trip, since they haven't reached that number of annual visitors since opening the area to scuba diving.  Cuba is also more open to tourism than before, and these days it is even common for Americans to travel travel there.  The Americans we saw came from Cancun and had gotten their visa hassel-free in Mexico, but rumor has it that American citizens can expect direct flights to Cuba soon.


Return to Page 1


About the Author

Goran Butajla is a well-known croatian diver and photographer. He has traveled world-wide for the past 25 years, constantly in search of beautifull diving locations. Goran runs his own diving business in Zagreb, Croatia as the SSI and PSS Instructor Trainer. Also, he is general editor of Scubalife, the most relevant and most luxurious scuba-related printed magazine in the south-east Europe.  You can contact Goran 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!



An 8-Arm Camera Thief

Brent Durand
Giant Pacific Octopus Steals Diver's dSLR rig - an UWPG exclusive!

An 8 Arm Camera Thief

A Giant Pacific Octopus Steals Scuba Diver's Camera

By Brent Durand, underwater photos by Drew Collins, video by Randy Williams


Diver checks out a giant pacific octopus. This is most likely not the octopus that took Drew's camera.



Drew Collin’s underwater photo dive in the Pacific Northwest started like any other in Des Moines, Washington this past January.  Drysuit, camera and jokes with his dive buddy, Randy Williams.  Both Drew and Randy are very experienced divers and are both volunteers at marine science centers in the Seattle area.  Read more about diving the Pacific Northwest.  Little did they know that it would turn into an exciting dive day, complete with video and photo documentation.


Drew's first shot, showing one of the Giant Pacific Octopus arms reaching out of its den.  Photo: Drew Collins


Drew Meets the Octopus

During the early part of the dive, Drew found an octopus inside its den - a perfect photo subject.  Drew shot two images, reviewed them and adjusted strobe position for another shot.  Then the octopus slowly moved two arms out of its den.  Great - more of the octo’s body filling the frame!  What can be better than spending an entire dive photographing a giant pacific octopus?


The Octopus Strikes!

As Drew looked down to review the third image the octopus struck, grabbing his mask with one arm and camera handle with another.  More arms starting coming out. Drew’s instinct led him to grab his mask with one hand and position it back over his face while clearing it… his other hand firmly on the camera handle feeling the ~40lbs. octopus tug on the rig.

Little does Drew know, but the Octopus is preparing to strike with lightning speed.  Photo: Drew Collins


The Battle Continues

Then came more arms, quickly outnumbering Drew’s two hands and a dynamic tug of war began.  For each arm that Drew yanked off his rig, two more gained a firmer grip.  His breathing sped up with the effort.  The octopus kept a strong hold on the camera rig and was pulling at Drew’s dry gloves until the seams came undone, flushing his wrists with the 42 degree water.  He knew his air was going quickly and tried putting one arm against the rock for leverage, pulling with the other arm.  No use.  More water flooded into his drysuit and Drew yanked and tugged from every angle.

Drew took a moment, started to control his breathing, and checked his air. He still had air - that was good. 

At this point Drew decided that safety was more important than his camera rig and conceded the battle, sometimes the necessary move when fighting a war.  He unattached the housing from his lanyard (it was connected to his BCD). After a long (and cold) surface swim back to shore, remembering his location on the surface near a buoy, Drew estimates that he took on about a gallon of frigid Pacific Northwest seawater, soaked head to toe.


Back to Shore to Prepare for Dive #2

Once on shore, Randy pulled out his cell phone to record a video as proof that the battle had actually occurred.  Most of us (including Drew) would be pretty upset to have our camera rig stolen, but you'll see in the video below that the guys were able to make light of the situation and plan a second dive to retrieve the camera. Drew would have been upset if he lost the new camera rig underwater, but he was even more afraid to come home to his wife sans a very expensive setup.


Video taken while the Octopus was chewing on Drew's Rig

Drew talks through the first part of his adventure.  Video: Randy Williams


Retrieving the Camera

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.  Drew and Randy made a second dive, descending near the buoy where Drew surfaced.  As they swam a search pattern and the minutes ticked by, Drew started to worry that the Octopus (and camera) had moved to a hiding spot on the reef.  But as they hit the 20 minute mark the octopus and camera rig came into view.  The octopus had been unable to pull the camera rig inside her den and was now trying to chew through the acrylic dome port.  The dome shade was long gone. 

While Drew and Randy plan a dive to retrieve the camera, the octopus takes a few self portraits.  Photo:  Octopus & Drew Collins


With two bodies and four arms, the team spent a few labored minutes wrestling the camera rig away from the octopus and now have an epic story of battle with an octopus to tell!

This is what an acryllic dome port looks like after an octopus tries to eat it.  Photo: Drew Collins


Drew Collins is a professional underwater and land photographer and environmentalist living and diving primarily in the cold beautiful Emerald green waters of Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington.  See more of his photography at Puget Sound Photography Underwater.


Have a crazy dive story of your own?  Let us know! Email


About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, underwater photographer and editor with the Underwater Photography Guide. You can follow UWPG on Facebook, and also read Brent's article on Top 10 tips for fun beach diving.



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!



Dive Adventure: Grand Cayman

Michael Zeigler
I recently made my second visit to Grand Cayman, this time with camera in tow. Sponges, wrecks, & sting rays were the highlights.

Dive Adventure: Grand Cayman

Amazing underwater photography opportunities abound in Grand Cayman

By Michael Zeigler



When I heard that my employer's annual "Apex Award" trip in January was to Grand Cayman (sweet!), I immediately started mentally preparing for all of the great underwater photo opportunities that were sure to present themselves. While I primarily enjoy diving in the rich waters of southern California, I was eager to don a much thinner wetsuit and plunge into some warm blue water. Lots of research ensued, and it all paid off. 

A friend of mine that I met at our 2011 underwater photography workshop in La Paz highly recommended Sunset House, and it turned out to be a fantastic choice. Although most of the trip contained pre-planned activities with my company at another hotel, my wife and I stayed a few extra days at Sunset House to get in some much needed warm water diving. I was able to squeeze in eight dives during the trip, and I loved every minute.



All photos were taken with a Nikon D7000 in a Sea & Sea housing, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens behind a 10" Sea & Sea dome port, and dual Ikelite strobes unless otherwise noted.

Colorful bouquets of sponges can be found at most of the dive sites along Grand Cayman's famous Seven Mile Beach. 



Located ~275 miles south of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea and a short 90 minute flight from Miami, Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman Islands. The other two Cayman Islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, are ~85 miles northeast of Grand Cayman.

Map courtesy of worldatlas.


Dive Sites along Seven Mile Beach

Big Tunnels

Massive sponge-covered walls, deep crevices, and swim-throughs greeted us in just the first few minutes of my first dive of the trip. I was sure to keep my eyes peeled into the blue for the occasional "big" critter. They recently had sightings of eagle rays, and the very rare manta ray. My dive guide, Pete, took me on a fantastic tour of the reef, and pointed out some amazing black coral which was surrounded by schools of fish.

My dive buddy enjoys the view along the colorful wall at Big Tunnels.


Massive fans of healthy black coral are surrounded by schools of blue chromis, brown chromis, and the occasional schoolmaster.


Paradise Reef

This shallow reef (60 fsw) is also the home of the Oro Verde wreck. As I descended toward the wreck, I kept my eyes on the sand flats, hoping to spot an eagle ray hunting for garden eels. The wreck is scattered over a relatively large area, which allows for plenty of exploration. 

Next to the wreck, the reef teemed with life, and I quickly turned my attention to it in search of subjects for my trigger finger. After a few minutes of slowly cruising over the reef ... bingo. I almost swam right over it. A small (<2') green turtle was tucked in to the reef in search of a snack. 

A school of yellow goatfish take shelter in the scattered wreckage of the Oro Verde. The Sunset Diver's boat awaits our return, 60' above the sea floor.


A young green turtle munching on some colorful sponges. It was so well camouflaged that I also swam right over it (I noticed a few divers in front of me that did just that).


After waiting patiently for a few minutes while this young turtle finished its snack, I was rewarded with this postcard pose.


This is the same turtle, cruising overhead before swimming off into the distance. As soon as I noticed it was "taking flight," I quickly turned off my strobes to capture this silhouette. F16, 1/320, ISO 200.


Little Tunnels

An expansive reef surrounded by sand provided plenty of great photo opportunities. This was another great place to find eagle rays hunting garden eels in the sand. 


Having sand surrounding much of the reef structure made getting low and shooting up a breeze.


This was one of the most colorful coral heads I saw on the trip. Encrusting sponges, corals, and a sea fan were the home to a plethora of tiny crustaceans and fishes. Keep your eyes peeled!


Pillar Coral Reef

By far the main attraction at this site were the huge formations of Pillar or "V" coral. There were several of these along the edge of this relatively shallow reef (50 fsw). I was later informed by my wife (aka cooperative dive model) that a nurse shark passed right behind me as I was framing the photo below. 

This formation of pillar coral was the biggest of the bunch, rising over six feet off the ocean floor.



The diving the ex-USS Kittiwake was amazing. In her prime she was a submarine rescue vessel, and was sunk in her final resting place off the coast of Grand Cayman on January 5, 2011. Sitting in just 60 fsw and with her tower only 15 fsw from the surface, this great wreck dive is accessible to scuba divers and snorkelers alike. After descending near a swirling school of horse-eye jacks, we made our way into the bridge, and then back into the head. 

Note: As we descended past the school of horse-eye jacks and into the wreck, I knew that they would present a fantastic photo opportunity. I figured they would still be there toward the end of our dive, but I figured wrong. If you see them, go for it!

My wife entering the bridge of the Kittiwake.


Be sure to visit the head, which contains the cut-outs from where the sinks once rested, and a few of the mirrors still remain free of growth which makes for a unique self-portrait.


After exploring the head, we relaxed and allowed the gentle current to take us to the stern of the wreck, where garden eels in the sand surrounded the massive prop. 


We explored various rooms on the way back to the bow, partly in an effort to avoid the current. Large cut-outs throughout the ship made exploring easy, and we were often greeted in each room by schools of tiny fish.


After a few photos at the bow we ascended through the warm blue water to the Sunset Diver’s Eagle Ray


Stingray City

Stingray City is amongst the top of the “must do” dives, if Grand Cayman is your destination. The interaction with the southern stingrays is amazing, and it presents some wonderful photo opportunities. There are two main areas to see the stingrays, and those include the dive site (20 fsw) and sandbar (waist deep). I’ve seen some amazing photos at dawn at the sandbar location, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it there this trip. I guess that means I have to go back!

The divemaster requested that the divers arrange themselves in a circle on the sand, then he proceeded to pass out a bit of squid to any accepting diver. 


Once they smelled the food, the stingrays suddenly appeared out from the blue. 


Since my wife wasn't holding any squid in her hand, the rays passed right by her toward the nearest source of food ... me.


Stingrays weren't the only attraction at the site. This rogue green moray eel, affectionately known at "psycho," made his way toward the group in an effort to pick up a snack.


Once the food was gone, the stingrays made their way toward the next boat that was loaded with divers ... and squid. 


Sunset House

Sunset House is located at the south end of Seven Mile Beach along Grand Cayman's west side. It's a short cab ride to and from the airport, and transfers are included when you stay at the resort. 

Sunset Divers offers daily boat trips to the multitude of dive sites along the western shore of the island. In addition, they make cylinders available for shore diving at their house reef 24/7.  Assigned dive lockers make it convenient to hang and store your gear at the end of the day. But with tanks available 24/7, does it ever really end?

In additon, if you're in need of any underwater photography equipment, Cathy Church's Photo Centre is located right on the property! They offer a wide range of gear ranging from point-and-shoot cameras to dSLRs and underwater housings, not to mention Cathy Church herself. She's a wealth of knowledge and inspiration, and I would encourage you to stop by and say hello!


Lockers and tanks are located just steps from the entrance to the house reef. When you're done with your dive, there is a convenient gear rinse area at the bottom of the ramp. After stowing your gear, be sure to come back to My Bar, which offers great drinks, food, and WiFi.


The view from our room at Sunset House. On the left you can see one of the entry/ exit ladders to the house reef.  It was a great place to relax and enjoy the sunsets.


Sunset House Reef

Sunset Divers offered excellent service and unlimited diving at the house reef. The reef offers amazing underwater photography opportunities from wide-angle to supermacro. While looking closely at tiny, darting, sharknose gobies, I looked up in time to see a pair of great barracuda pass within 20 feet. Five minutes later we saw a nurse shark slowly cruising along the sand. This was all within 50 yards of the ladder. 

Besides the gorgeous reef, there are two other main attractions worth visiting. The first is the famous Amphitrite statue, and the second is the wreck of the Nicholson, just a few kicks out from the mermaid. 

My dive buddy, Steve, posing with the iconic mermaid at the Sunset House reef.


This mutton snapper was just begging to have its picture taken.


Several conch snails were seen cruising along the sand between the mermaid and the wreck of the Nicholson. 105mm macro, F9, 1/250, ISO 100.


A graysby poses for a portrait below an almost perfectly symmetrical formation of yellow sponges on the wreck of the Nicholson.


Yellowhead jawfish can be seen near gravel patches in the sand. If you're lucky, you can spot one carrying eggs in its mouth. 105mm macro lens, F16, 1/250, ISO 100.


My dive buddy gets ready to exit the warm Caribbean water. My Bar is perched above, serving up awesome mud slides as a great post-dive drink.


Shore Diving Along Seven Mile Beach

Earlier in the week I attempted to rent a cylinder at a nearby dive site called Macabuca, and was surprised to discover the strict “no solo diving” policy at the dive shop. I found out soon thereafter that this was to be the case at every dive shop I visited. This obviously put a damper on some of my attempts to capture specific images, and it’s worth noting if you’re heading to Grand Cayman. Either bring a buddy, or hope that another single or group of divers is heading out.

There were two dive sites that I had planned to visit with specific images in mind. The first was Macabuca, where there is a known school of tarpon at ~60 fsw. The second site was Devil's Grotto, which features shallow caves with amazing structure and are sometimes filled with dense schools of silversides.


Parting Thoughts

Getting there from the east coast is a breeze, but it was a bit of a haul from Los Angeles. We first had to take a red-eye from Los Angeles, then endure a 4-hour layover in Miami before traveling to Georgetown for our arrival at 1pm local (EST). There were no weight restrictions from Miami to Georgetown, other than the normal >50lbs. This was not an issue for me, since I carried on most of my camera gear in a backpack and small roller case.

Overall the trip was amazing, and there was no shortage of photographic opportunities, ranging from supermacro to wide-angle. I certainly wish that I had more time to dive to take advantage of the great access to the house reef, especially for a night dive. 

This represents basically every piece of underwater photo gear I own. The Pelican box on the left contained my large dome along with my snoots and "extras," and I checked that bag. The other two pieces were my carry-ons, and everything arrived unscathed. I highly recommend that you insure your gear, which, if you use DAN insurance, protects you from theft and an accidental flood.


Special Thanks

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the folks at Sunset House that made our diving experience special. Many thanks to Keith, Pete, Cathy, Simon, Jackie, Rhys, Lowrie, and the rest of the Sunset House staff and crew.


Questions/ Comments?

If you have questions or comments, please let me know. I'd be more than happy to assist you!


About the Author

Michael Zeigler is a contributor, instructor, and trip leader for the Underwater Photography Guide and Bluewater Photo, as well as an AAUS Scientific Diver. Michael's underwater photography and blog can be seen at



Further Reading



Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


California Sea Lions Nursing at Eureka Rigs

Ron Watkins
Right place, right time leads to a great image capture at the SoCal Oil Rigs

California Sea Lions Nursing at Eureka Rigs

By Ron Watkins


Sea Lion Pup Nursing



The morning of Saturday January 12th started off as it does for many Los Angeles, CA area divers with the boat pulling out of the marina at 8AM bound for a day of diving at a local oil rig, but this day would end up being quite unique. I was in town, visiting from Arizona, and had a free day in Long Beach in between business meetings. Scott Gietler of Bluewater Photo had organized a six-pack of divers for a trip on the Sundiver II.

It was a record breaking cold day in CA. As we left the dock the air temperature was around 40 degrees and water temperatures hovered around 52. What made this trip so special for me was that it was my first trip to an oil rig and would end up being one of my most memorable experiences in over 16 years of underwater photography.

Sea Lion Pup


Diving the Eureka Rig

The oil rigs are located a few miles offshore of Huntington Beach, CA. My first two dives on The Eureka Rig yielded endless subjects to photograph including the colorful rig structure covered with pink and white anemones, starfish, friendly garibaldi, swimming cormorant birds and a large cooperative nesting cabezon.  I was hooked on rig diving and was eager for one more dive on the Eureka before heading back.  More details of all three dives and photos will be published in a separate trip report on Underwater Photography Guide. This article is focused on the incredible event that transpired on the third dive.


Milk and bubbles mixed together underwater


The Third Dive on the rigs

Conditions worsened for the third dive with increased surge and visibility dropping to about 20’. I spent most of the last dive at 65’ exploring the first horizontal platform but eventually had to start my ascent to 15’ for a safety stop near the corner of the rig. I was the first to ascend and observed a colony of sea lions playing around in the shallows with the yellow rig structure just above the waterline providing a contrasting backdrop.  The sea lions approached me while on my safety stop and I noticed a pair swimming very close together. Upon closer examination, I discovered it was a female sea lion nursing its young pup.  We had just discussed on the boat how rare it is to observe the behavior of a momma nursing her pup underwater. I was mesmerized.


After watching from a distance for about two minutes I decided to slowly approach the nursing sea lions to see if I could position myself for a shot.  I found myself under a dark shaded area of the rig, but I could clearly see white milky plumes and bubbles emerging from the mother’s nipple as the pup nursed. The surge continued to worsen but I managed to slowly approach the pair as sunlight beamed between the gaps in the rig.

By this time I was really low on air so I surfaced and switched to my snorkel and in the process lost the pair briefly in the surge. Then the mother started swimming circles around me as if to get my attention while her pup surfaced for air before they returned to nursing.  I put my regulator back in my mouth and spent another few minutes with the sea lions witnessing the most beautiful and surreal behavior I had ever encountered.  Eventually the current pushed me out into the open water away from the rig at which point I decided to surface and signal for the boat.

Sea Lion Pup


On board while waiting for the remaining divers, I sat quietly in awe at what I had just been blessed to experience and reflected on just how incredible Mother Nature is.  It was this rare and intimate moment between a mother and her pup that made me realize just how much we as humans have in common with marine mammals. 


Underwater Settings

All of the images shown were taken with a Nikon D300, Sea&Sea housing, dual YS-250 strobes, Tokina 10-17mm (at 10mm), F/11, 1/100th sec, ISO 200.  


Deep down at the Rigs

Read this Dr. Milton Love interview article to find out about what you see several hundred feet down at the Oil Rigs.


About the Author

Ron Watkins is an international award winning photographer and writer and frequently contributes to Underwater Photography Guide.  He currently shoots a Nikon D300 camera housed in a Sea & Sea Housing with YS-250 strobes. Additional images from the Rigs trip that day, the Bahamas and other international destinations can be viewed 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! You can also contact them regarding trips to the Oil Rigs.


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