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.

 

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About the Author

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

 

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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

 

 
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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.

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

 

 

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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

 

 
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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.

 

 


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

The Best Kept Shark Diving Secret: Cuba

 

PAGE 2

 

 

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.

 

Conclusion

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.

 

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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 goran.butajla@scubalife.hr

 

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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.

 

 
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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 brent@uwphotographyguide.com

 

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!


 

 
 
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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

 

 
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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.

 

Equipment

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. 

 

Location

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.

 

Kittiwake

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 SeaInFocus.com.

 

 

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

 

 
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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 www.scubarews.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! You can also contact them regarding trips to the Oil Rigs.


 

 
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Raja Ampat on the Indo-Siren - massive fish report

Scott Gietler
Photos and details from a Raja Ampat, Indonesia Indo-Siren trip in December 2012

Raja Ampat, Indonesia on the Indo-Siren

Underwater photos and dive report from Misool, Manta Sandy, Dampier strait and the mangroves

Text by Scott Gietler, photos by Scott Gietler and trip guests

 

 
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Raja Ampat, Indonesia - a mysterious, magical place. It brings up images of a far-away magical place filled with marine life. Is it worth the trip? What will you see? How do you get there? What is the boat like? Find out all of this and more - read on!

 

raja ampat trip report underwater photos
Starfish at the Arborek Jetty. Nikon D7000, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes

 

Raja Ampat Marine Life - What will you see?

Raja Ampat is filled with fish - lots of fish. And corals - lots of hard and soft corals. Beautiful soft corals, especially in the Misool area. 

Most of our dives had fusiliers, barracuda, jacks, napoloean wrasse, bumphead parrotfish, tuna, batfish, several trevally species, sweetlips, snapper, and rainbow runners. The amount of life was fantastic. Occasional sightings included mobula rays, spotted eagle rays, and sea snakes. Turtles were seen on several dives.

Manta Sandy has lots of Manta Rays getting cleaned.

raja ampat sea snake indo-siren dive report
Very fat banded sea snake

 

Raja Ampat - life in the Mangroves

We did not do the famous "Blue-water Mangroves" at Misool, where crocodile have been seen, but we did do some great Mangrove dives in the north near the Citrus Ridge dive site. Most people really enjoyed the mangrove dives, although a couple people didn't care for them. I loved them. There was a lot of unique marine life like Archerfish, cardinal fish and many interesting juvenile fish, and some juvenile blacktip sharks.

raja ampat mangroves underwater photo
Shooting wide-angle in the mangroves

raja ampat archerfish
The elusive archerfish, in the Raja Ampat mangroves. These archerfish "spit" at insects above water and knock them in the water, with surprising accuracy.

 

Raja Ampat macro life & night dives

The night dives at the piers had loads of macro subjects - blue ring octopus, bobtail squid, ghost pipefish, and more. In fact, I saw my first blue-ring octopus ever on this trip, on a jetty dive. Other guests saw one on a night dive at Yilliet Kecil.

Speaking of macro, there are pygmy seahorses on almost every dive site. A few sites had ornate ghost pipefish. There were squid, cuttlefish, and pygmy squid on a couple of the night dives. The night dives were much, much better at the jetties.

 

Raja Ampat sharks

We saw lots of Wobbegong sharks on the trip, a couple of Epaulette "walking sharks" on night dives, and a few blacktip, whitetip, and gray reef sharks when the currents picked up. Two of the sites have juvenile white tips sharks living under coral bommies, which sometimes would swim around the divers - very nice!

raja ampat marine life
Triggerfish getting cleaned

wobbegong shark raja ampat
Wobbegong shark swimming at Mioskon, Dampier Strait

 

Raja Ampat - getting there

Most Raja Ampat trips start and end in Sorong. You'll need to fly to Jakarta, Bali, or Singapore first. From Jakarta - you can take a direct 4 hour flight on Express Air. This is the fastest and easiest way. I like to stay in a hotel near the Jakarta airport - FM7 hotel is excellent.

Going through Bali takes longer, and there are no direct flights from Bali - but Bali is beautiful, a much nicer stay than Jakarta. And it has great diving!

If you go through Singapore, which is also a great place to overnight, you'll then transfer through Manado. So combining Raja with a Lembeh trip is very popular. Please note that there are often delays when transferring planes to Sorong, so for the fastest trip it is suggested to go through Jakarta. However, in general the boats will wait for you if you are delayed.

They do enforce weight limits on check-in bags on the flights to Sorong, the total weight limit is usually 20kg. You have to pay for each kg over 20kg. Our hand-carry bags were not weighed.

Raja Ampat Dive sites

Diving in Misool - the "south"

Raja Ampat is a big area. One of my favorite areas for underwater photography was near Misool -  the area which included Nudie Rock, Yilliet Kecil, and Boo Windows. A photographer can easily do several dives at each of these sites - they were awesome. Lots of soft coral, lots of great fish.

I divide Raja into the "north" and the "south". The Misool area is the south, and generally has more soft coral and less current. The "north" includes the jetty dives, manta dives, and the Dampier strait dives, and general has more current, and a little better visibility.

Diving Raja in the "North"

Manta Sandy and Arborek Pier are near each other. Both are fantastic photo dives and deserve many dives.

In the Dampier strait, Mioskon was a great dive site for Wobbegong, pygmies and reef sharks. Cape Kri was a favorite dive for reef sharks, lots of fish and beautiful corals. On 2 or 3 dives, we had so much current that we really couldn't take photos. But current does bring out the fish. The best dives had enough current to bring out the fish & sharks, but not so much that we couldn't get photos.

Supposedly there are 30-40 boats in Raja Ampat. We did see a few other boats, but not as many as I thought we would see. The crew did a pretty good job of timing our dives so we rarely saw divers from other boats underwater.

Raja Ampat Currents

Sites can have strong currents, especially in the north, and when there are large tidal swings. Let your cruise director know if you won't want to dive in strong currents. Some people will advocate using reef hooks, but in my experience you won't get any photos using a reef hook, so I don't use them. Ideally on some of these sites you want a little current on some dives to bring out more fish, but not too much.

raja ampat soft corals
Bumphead in soft corals at Boo Windows, Misool

raja ampat mandy sandy underwater photos
Manta Ray at Manta Sandy, photo by Tracy Winholt

whitetip reef shark at raja ampat
Juvenile whitetip shark, Misool area, photo by Mike Samale, Nikon D300

 

Indo-Siren - about the boat

indo-siren liveaboard boat
Here's the Indo-siren! With the sails up for a photo-op. Two of our dive guides are on the bow.

 

The outdoor eating area


 

This was my favorite part of the boat. Having an outdoor eating area is fantastic. It really adds to the ambience of the trip. We had all of our meals here, and it became a nice "hang-out" area. The area was covered, so it was always shady.

Speaking of meals, they had a gourmet coffee maker on board, lots of bacon & eggs for breakfast, and an endless supply of nutella. So I was happy. All meals were buffet style, with a couple different tasty indonesian dishes for lunch and dinner.

The Indo-Siren "Dive Deck"

The dive deck was awesome. Everyone has their own station, and plenty of room to suit up. The height of the bench was perfect. Everyone has a couple of drawers to put their computer, mask, etc. 

Gear was well organzied, everyone's wetsuits & dome port covers had tags on them so the crew knew who's gear it was. Rinse tanks were large, and the crew washed our gear for us. Lots of towels were available.

The dive dinghies were great. There were 2 of them - they were easy to get in and out of, fast, and one was always around to pick us wherever we surfaced. Cameras were brought into the dinghy for us, and tank/weights/fins were taken care of for us after the dive. Great service! The dinghy driver even stopped and let us snorkel with feeding mantas after one dive, on the way back to the boat.

 

The sundeck

The sundeck was a large lounging area on top of the boat, good for sunbathing and reading. But most people hung out at the eating area, or the indoor lounge.

 

The indoor lounge

This is where people set up their camera, charged batteries, watched presentations, and hung out on couches. It was a large, comfy area. People had their own drawers, and there were plenty of charging stations. You can see the coffee maker to the left, it ground fresh beans for every cup. There were dedicated camera areas for 8-9 people, not enough for everyone on board, but still plenty.

 

Raja Ampat underwater photos

raja ampat indo-siren misool
Cuttlefish at the Arborek Jetty. F18, 1/320th, ISO 100, dual YS-D1 strobes


Explosion of glassfish at Cape Kri. Many thanks to my dive guide Dince for being a great dive model.

raja ampat underwate photos indo-siren
Goby on soft coral, night dive, 60mm macro + 1.4 tele


Pontohi Pygmy Seahorse, photo by Eduardo Nadal, NIkon D7000, F20, 1/320th, ISO 200, Nikon 105mm VR with subsee diopter


Beautiful nudibranch, photo by Ross Makulec, Nikon D300s, F14, 1/200th, ISO 100, Nikon 105mm VR lens

raja ampat wide angle underwater photography
"S-Curve" of fish, taken in Raja Ampat

raja ampat schooling fish underwater photo
Barracuda at Raja Ampat

raja ampat underwater photography
Beautiful clownfish, photo by Scott Friedman, Canon 5D Mark II, F5.6, 1/100th, ISO 200, Canon 100mm macro lens

three lionfish at Raja Ampat
Three lionfish in Raja Ampat, near Misool, photo by Craig Rudnick, Canon G11, F8, 1/60th, ISO 80

 

Raja Ampat gear mishaps

  • Always double-check all your gear.. one guest had forgot his ports, and no one else had his brand of housing, so he couldn't dive with his housing
  • I banged my dome port up a few times... in the future I am going to bring a micro-mesh kit with me. Mid-way through the trip, I started diving with my dome port cover stuffed into the top of my wetsuit, I think I will do that going  forward, in case I find myself in strong current where my port could get banked
  • One diver had a fogged-up 180 degree Subal viewfinder, making it difficult for him to see through it. He didn't bring the standard viewfinder with him, so he was stuck with it throughout the trip. If you have a 180 or 45 degree viewfinder, always bring the standard viewfinder with you!
  • One guest had his o-ring fall out of his Ikelite battery pack, and his 2nd Ikelite strobe flooded. Sometimes strobes can still work if the battery cap / pack is replaced, but he did not have a spare. Luckily he was able to borrow a strobe from the person who forgot their ports
  • We had plenty of spare batteries and clamps for people, they were definitely used. Bring spare rechargables for others if you can. I brought a couple extra YS-D1 strobes that were put to good use by people who only had 1 strobe, and I brought an extra Sola light for people
  • Our trip was relatively flood free.. good job everyone!

 

Raja Ampat travel tips

  • Bring extra rupiah with you to pay the small airport departure fees at every Indonesia airport, or for spending in Jakarta, Bali or Sorong
  • Don't bring too much luggage! Many of the dive boats have free gear rental
  • I did not need any shots or special medicine for Raja Ampat
  • Our boat had everything we needed! I simply brought shorts, t-shirt, camera gear, mask & sudafed.
  • Get coffee on the flight to/from Sorong, it tastes great.
  • Try to get direct flights to Sorong if possible, i know that Express Air offers them
  • Try to get 8 hours rest in a hotel in Jakarta, Bali, or Singapore. It really helps to break up the trip, and it makes the entire journey seem shorter.

raja ampat dive trip group photo
Raja ampat group photo - lots of happy divers!

 

Raja Ampat - is it worth the travel time?

Definitely. Getting a hotel room in Jakarta outside of the airport really helped break up the travel. Once you arrive in Sorong, 30 minutes later you are on a boat and the relaxation begins. But to be honest, the flight to Sorong was easy, so my travel really stopped the moment I landed in Jakarta.

The amount of fish I saw in Raja was amazing. You don't have the critter diversity of Anilao / Lembeh, or the sharks of Palau, but if you do the right dive sites you will get many more fish and great wide-angle scenes than you bargained for.

 

Further Reading

Raja Ampat destination guide

Raja Ampat Macro dive report

Misool and Triton Bay on the Arenui

 
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Bali: A Diving Safari To "The Other Side"

Victor Tang
Victor Tang visits an assortment of dive sites in Bali, Indonesia, by land.

Bali: A Diving Safari To "The Other Side"

An assortment of dive sites in western & eastern Bali, Indonesia, visited by land.

Text and Photos By Victor Tang

 

 
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The island of Bali, just east of the Java in the Indonesian Archipelago, has been adorned with several nicknames, of which the most apt would seem to be “Island of the Gods”, for this is truly a blessed land. Hemmed in by both the Bali and Lombok Straits on both sides, the Balinese has been left in relative isolation throughout its history, resulting in a Hindu enclave in a vast territory whose population has primarily pledged allegiance to the Islamic faith.

Left to its own devices, the people of Bali developed their own unique system of irrigation called Subak, which led to the iconic terraced paddy fields of which Bali is so acclaimed. Subak, along with rich fishing grounds in the surrounding seas endowed access to secure food supplies that has also allowed the Balinese people to develop a rich cultural heritage, which in addition to its intricate handicrafts, boast some of the most celebrated performing arts cultures that tourists flock from all over to admire.

 

The growth of Bali

The advent of air travel in the last few decades has allowed Bali unprecedented exposure to the outside world, with travellers converging on Bali to bask in its cultural and natural riches. Paddy fields have become photo opportunities, deep waters around the island has sprouted a sport fishing industry and most importantly for us scuba divers, the coral reefs that fringe the island have become a mecca for observing tropical marine life. Although Bali has since become a hub for travelling to other exotic diving destinations within Indonesia like Komodo or Wakatobi, its marine treasaures can more than hold its own against them.

Rich waters

How rich are the reefs around Bali? Just in 2011 a survey by scientists under the aegis of Conservation International Indonesia has found that the level of healthy coral cover is higher than higher profile places like Raja Ampat and Halmahera! This probably explains the maturity of the scuba diving industry in Bali, with services catered for the uninitiated to technical divers seeking the ultimate adrenaline experience.

At present the bulk of diving activities are centered on the eastern seaboard of Bali, with its world-class dive macro sites at Tulamben and of course the chance to catch Manta Rays and the enigmatic Sunfish at Nusa Penida. For most scuba divers the sites at Tulamben is the furthest from the airport they explore before turning back and heading elsewhere.  A group of divers and I decided to explore the much less visited dive sites of Northwestern Bali on a land safari, eagerly anticipating what awaits us the “other” side of Bali has to offer.

 

Diving Menjangan Island

It is truly ironic that this small island just off West Bali National Park has been relegated to a second tier dive location, for Menjangan Island was the genesis of scuba diving in Bali. In 1978 the Indonesian Navy invited the country’s main diving clubs to explore Menjangan Island and the divers were so impressed some of its members become pioneers of the Bali diving industry, sparking off an age of exploration along the Balinese coast. This ultimately led to the first underwater explorations a year later at the USS Liberty wreck at Tulamben and its surrounds, and with its relative proximity to the main tourist areas in the south, and with the emergence of Amed, Seraya and Padang Bai soon to follow, Menjangan Island lost its allure. Menjangan Island now receives but a tiny fraction of the number of scuba divers coming to Bali each year, but that was great for us, as we saw but 3 other dive boats for the whole day we were there.

Gateway to Mengjangan Island

 

Birthplace of Bali Scuba Diving

 

As one enters the waters of Menjangan Island, one can’t help but be astounded by the sheer size of the walls replete with healthy corals straining your peripheral vision from left to right. Moments later another realization dawns: the water visibility is excellent. In fact for all the time diving around Menjangan Island visibility never deteriorates below 20 meters. There is a reason for this: there are no freshwater sources on Menjangan Island that can create the runoff that kills visibility, so the waters around the island see great clarity most of the time.

 

Clear waters of Mengjangan. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80.
Manual mode at f8 and 1/100s. Dyron 8mm fisheye.

 

Sea fans here will strain your wide angle capabilities to the limit. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/640s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

New coral sprouting on existing ones. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/320s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

The “grass” is longer this side of Bali. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/100s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Many places for subjects to hide. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/160s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Traversing the walls around Menjangan Island requires an exercise in self restraint, for whilst the teeming walls beckons the diver to peer closer to look for macro subjects, but that risks missing out on the majestic underwater panoramas that are so hard to find in this time and age, which is the whole point of visiting the island. Reef fish abound, but remember to turn your head ever so often to look out for the pelagics that dart in and out of the blue. Reef sharks are a definite maybe on every dive here, but do not despair if they are not spotted, the humongous sea fans that pepper the walls will not fail to leave you in awe of their grandeur , compelling a moment to ponder if these are the sights that greeted the first divers back in 1978.

 

Well stocked coral head. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO160. Manual mode at f8 and 1/200s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Colorful reef scenes abound. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/320s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Plentiful and varied fish life. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/160s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Going close, macro life is easily spotted. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO160. Manual mode at f8 and 1/100s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

One of but many sea fan forms at Mengjangan. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Permutaran & artificial reefs

A sleepy fishing village 90minutes away (east) from Menjangan Island, Permutaran would have been a unremarkable northern waypoint to Tulamben save for one distinction: it hosts what is arguably the largest coral conversation project in the world. According to local lore, Permutaran boasted some of the lushest coral reefs in Bali, but the effects of El Nino in 1998 severely damaged the reefs and corresponding fish stocks, prompting the villagers to embrace marine conservation methods to revive the marine habitats they are so dependent on. Salvation came in the form of Biorock, a method of encouraging coral growth by sending a low volatage current to metal structures that have been seeded with live coral taken from the damaged reefs.

 

Recovering with a little help. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/500s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Biorock has been controversial from the outset, with critics arguing that using electricity to boost coral growth is counterproductive as the electricity used is generated from fossil fuels that contribute to changing climate patterns in the first place. There are now more than 40 metal frames installed in the shallow waters of  Permutaran Bay, making it a significant enough spectacle for divers to visit the place. Thus for the villagers whether the project really helps to restore their reefs in the future is a moot point, for these underwater structures have been a boon to the development of the tourist trade in Permutaran.

 

Damaged coral getting a new lease of life. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/800s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Environmental and ethical considerations aside, the Biorock structures that throng the coastline at Permutaran Bay truly counts as one of the most surreal dives any diving enthusiast will experience anywhere, for Biorock actually works. Getting to the dive site was as idiot proof as following the thick black cables that straddle the beach Even as the divers were hit with terrible visibility as we entered the water, it can be clearly seen that coral cover is certainly impressive on the earliest structures, the colonization of coral so complete they form dramatic coral mounds dotting the shallows. Other structures have been sponsored by well-wishers from afar, with attempts to differentiate their patronage by welding unique shapes like a fish or a giant crab, with their names included as part of the fabrication of course.  The success of the corals begets reef fish, which is plainly abundant through the murky waters, with damselfish and anthias the dominant species in these waters.

 

Proof of their success. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/125s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Moving beyond the beachhead and towards the other reefs, the damage that has been wrought on the underwater environment has become plain to see, although it becomes apparent that other than El Nino the scars of inflicted by trinitrotoluene and most definitely cyanide are plain to see. There are still pockets of healthy coral present with decent macro life to be found, but these morsels hint at a more illustrious past that serves as painful reminder for the continuous vigilance against the potent combination of undesirable fishing practices and ignorance.

 

Remannts of a former glory. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/60s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Spared from the wrongdoings of yesteryear. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Rejuvenation goes innovative. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/160s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

A lonely outcrop. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/320s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

A Secret Dive Site

The excitement grew as the convoy made a turn off the main road in the middle of nowhere, for it was not everyday one could claim to visit a dive site in Bali that is truly secluded and unheard of. The locals call it Ocean Park, most probably in homage to the intrepid Hong Kong and Chinese divers whom are claimed to frequent this spot. As tarmac turned to dirt and houses morphed into foliage a sense of foreboding permeated the air and as the convoy burst out into the clearing the scene before us it become clear what we have arrived at: a fisherman’s base. The area was chock full of traditional fishing boats called Jukungs, local fishermen going about their chores maintaining boats and mending nets. It turns out that the waters in this area are still rich fishing grounds, and that augured well for the dive ahead.

 

Getting ready among the Jukungs

 

Right on the edge. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/160s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

The site is accessed via the shore, and after descending down a gentle slope you come to the first in a series of drop offs, the bottom reaching a maximum depth of 30 meters where there are coral outcrops of various sizes.  A singular feature in this underwater landscape is that at the tips of each drop off feature a huge barrel sponge of at least 1.5 meters high that juts out at barely possible positions and angles, much like watchtowers protecting a castle. 

The coral growth is good here, with macro life in abundance, but what is truly special here is the amount of fish biomass that can be observed here. Schools of Snapper, Jacks and the odd Trevally can be spotted at the various drop offs, and there are enough juvenile Groupers darting among the coral outcrops to consider this place a healthy nursery for this tasty sought after species. The water visibility is decent here at 15meters and above, allowing the diver to take in the fish life on show here, making this site a fine representation of a healthy reef ecosystem in Bali.

 

5 fish species on 1 seafan. Not bad. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/320s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Sentinels of Ocean Park. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/500s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

It’s been here a while. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/640s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Lionfish at Ocean Park. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/800s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Trevally patrolling the reef. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Tulamben and Seraya

A dive trip to Bali would not be truly complete without a visit to these dive locations, so we popped in to explore the USS Liberty wreck and did a night dive at Seraya. After being the more or less the only divers around for the past three days, the explosion in diver density in the Tulamben counts as a bit of a letdown, for we have truly crossed over from the other side into the “Dive Central”, but we knew the USS Liberty would not disappoint.

 

A species I have never seen before. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.

 

Chromodoris Magnifica nnudibranch. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 diopter

 

Going macro - good choice?

I decided to change into my macro setup for the first time in this safari, since the USS Liberty wreck was renowned for harboring superb macro life. That turned out to be a tactical mistake, for less than 5 minutes into the dive we were greeted by a two meter Giant Grouper that would continue to dog as for the rest of the dive, Giant Trevallies swimming tantalizingly close to divers around the wreck, you get the picture. If the resident school of Jacks had decided to join the party it would really have been a cruel icing on the cake (Incidentally the school of Jacks have been reported to have moved to Seraya).

To pour salt into the wound, this was one of those days at the wreck where the big stuff took center stage, macro creatures proving elusive. Nevertheless we were still able to spot some macro subjects, and I exited the water consoled that the next time here will only get better.

 

Lysioquillina Lisa Mantis Shrimp. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron +7 diopter

 

Banded Cleaner Shrimp. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 diopter

 

A pair of juvenile scorpion fish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/100s.

 

White-spotteef shrimp. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron +7 diopter

 

Seraya at night

Seraya has always been a haven for macro lovers, and for the night dive it did not disappoint. Lots of strange and wonderful critters could be spotted among the black sands, with sleeping fish making perfect models for us as we could methodically compose our shots. A dive in Seraya always serves up a personal first, this time coming across nudibranchs I have never seen before.  Towards the end of the dive there were some huge lionfish just starting their mating ritual, but getting close to them at this point is discouraged for the males become especially aggressive during this time, which we learnt to our peril.

 

Unidentified creepy crawly. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 diopter

 

Sleeping Goby. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f4.5 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 diopter

 

Underwater Spiderman. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 diopter

 

A sleeping fish is a good fish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/60s.

 

Carminodoris Estrelyado nudibranch. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 diopter

 

Mantas at Nusa Penida

Manta Point at Nusa Penida, just off the southeast coast of Bali, has been a marquee dive site over the years for spotting Manta Rays on a reliable basis. In very recent times however a new site has been discovered where Mantas congregate to feed on the plankton that gets trapped in a small bay at Nusa Penida. One prime advantage of this new site is that it is shallow, reaching a maximum depth of 12 meters, so divers can ostensibly stay longer to enjoy observing the Mantas as they enter the bay to feed, if they appear at all.

The downside is that when the Mantas do come it means the waters tend to be laden with plankton, which means visibility drops considerably. Keeping in mind the strong currents from the Lombok Strait that Nusa Penida is notorious for, sometimes with fatal consequences, the waters in the bay are prone to surges, so divers need to keep up awareness when diving at Manta Feeding Point.

 

The entrance to Manta Feeding Point

 

As we dropped in at Manta Feeding Point the water was indeed murky with plankton, so it was not long before the first Mantas were spotted, gracefully gliding through the water to filter feed on the plankton buffet on offer. Possibly coming from every direction, one needs to have eye peeled all the time and cooperation among the divers in the group is essential, for the Mantas dart in and out of the murkiness in a flash.  The underwater landscape is barren save for a few reef fish, so all your attention can be put to spotting Mantas. In the 90 minutes that we were in the water we managed to spot about 10 Mantas arriving at the bay to feed. Suffice to say this new discovery will entertain divers for a long time yet.

 

Swooping in through the murk. Ambient Light at ISO400. Manual mode at f8 and 1/320s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

Manta Ray. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/100s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Not getting enough of Mantas, it was decided to dive the same spot again in the afternoon, hoping to get better photo opportunities. This time however the visibility in the bay was amazing, easily reaching 35 meters, so in our hearts we knew that spotting any Mantas was always going to be difficult. Pushing out of the bay in the hope of catching any more Mantas, the great water visibility brought to attention the dramatic landscapes around the bay. With a mixture of huge rocks and soft white sand, it was a refreshing experience to see the geographical effects of years of erosion on the seabed.

 

Manta Runway? Ambient Light at ISO200. Manual mode at f8 and 1/30s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

A Zen-like arragenment. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/25s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

Treasure hunt! Taken with 2 Sea & Sea ys-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron 8mm fisheye

 

From Tip to Tip

Going on a land safari to visit the different dive locations in Bali lets you appreciate the sprawl of the island, with a whole assortment of dive sites to experience and enjoy. The main drawback is that the distances between places are far, so travelling time is a big consideration in planning should one wants to take in all that Bali has to offer. From spectacular wall diving at Menjangan Island at the northwest tip, excellent macro life at Tulamben and Seraya to the southeast island of Nusa Penida and its pelagics, Bali can well be considered a one-stop shop for any scuba enthusiasts. Not forgetting that there is still the west of Bali and sites like Ocean Park that are off the dive map and requiring local knowledge, the age of dive exploration in Bali is still not over. Not by a mile.

 

 

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. While not being stranded ashore 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, for at present he seems perpetually never without a camera anywhere he goes.

 

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