Dive Adventure

Incredible dive adventure articles, dive stories and marine life encounters from oceans around the world.
Groupers and Critters and Sharks, Oh My!
By Mike Bartick

Jupiter by Surprise

Mike Bartick
Groupers and Critters and Sharks, Oh My!

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

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


Florida Goliath Grouper


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

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

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


The Photos


Blue Heron Bridge Batfish

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


Blue Heron Bridge Batfish

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


Blue Heron Bridge Bumblebee Shrimp

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


Florida Goliath Grouper

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


Florida Goliath Grouper

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


Lemon Shark in Florida

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


Lemon Shark in Florida

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


Lemon Shark in Florida

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


Lemon Shark in Florida



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



Lemon Shark in Florida



Special Thanks to:

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


Further Reading


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


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

Secret Macro Subjects of the Sea of Cortez

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

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

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



About the Sea of Cortez

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

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


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


The Macro Diving

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

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

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


Macro Subjects in the Sea of Cortez


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Signal Blenny.


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


Panamic Fanged Blenny.


Blenny portrait.


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



In Conclusion

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

Now get out there and have an adventure!


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

Scuba Diving Guide to the Sea of Cortez



Further Reading


The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


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5 Dive Sites you Must Visit in Hawaii
By Jeff Milisen

Inside Look at Hawaii's Best Dives

Jeff Milisen
5 Dive Sites you Must Visit in Hawaii


Inside Look at Hawaii's Best Dives

5 Dive Sites you Must Visit in Hawaii

Text and Photos By Jeff Milisen




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

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

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


Hawaii’s Best Dives

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


The YO-257


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

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

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

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


YO 257 Shipwreck

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



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


Night Manta Dive


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

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


manta night dive

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



Kona and Oahu

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

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

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


fish in pyrosome blackwater dive

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




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

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


whitetip shark at molokini

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


Moku Ho’oniki (Elephant) Rock


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

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

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


spinner dolphins at molokai

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


hammerhead shark at moku ho'oniki rock

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


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



About the Author

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


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


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


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


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


Mysterious Aggregation of Huge Crabs and Unique Photo Opportunities
By Matt Krumins

The Spider Crabs of Rye Pier

Matt Krumins
Mysterious Aggregation of Huge Crabs and Unique Photo Opportunities

Summer has passed and thousands of holidaymakers have packed up their chairs and deserted the beach. The weather has turned and only the most dedicated fishermen are left sitting lonely on the end of the pier without so much as a bite on their motionless fishing lines. The beach appears to be empty and there are few signs of life above the water.

Every year as the cold sets in between April and June, anticipation builds amongst the divers of Victoria, Australia as weeks go by while anxiously awaiting the first sighting of a spider crab. And then one day you see it…. A Facebook post from Academy of Scuba, located just across the street from Rye Pier:



Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


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


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


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

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


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


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


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


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


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


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


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


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

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


Further Reading


Matt Krumins is the owner and operator of Deeper Than Diving UW Photography and ambassador to the Olympus underwater housing range. His experience in UW photography is concentrated around the Asia Pacific region and it has led him to launch his own unique, fun and contemporary brand of UW photography courses based in Australia. To follow his photography and course information jump onto www.facebook.com/deeperthandiving and be sure to check out www.deeperthandiving.com.


The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


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


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


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


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

Malpelo in Photos - Sharks & Big Fish Galore

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


Malpelo in Photos - Sharks & Big Fish Galore

One of the Coolest Dive Destinations You Never Hear About

Text and Photos By Carolyn Wang




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

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


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


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

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

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

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

- Carolyn 




2014 Malpelo Photo Essay


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



Photo Tips:

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

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

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

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

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



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



Check Out Carolyn’s Gear

Sony RX-100 Camera

Recsea RX100 Housing

UWL-04 Wide-Angle Wet Lens

Sea & Sea YS-D1 Strobes


More on Diving Malpelo

Learn about diving Malpelo Island on Bluewater Travel

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



About the Author

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



Further Reading


Where to Buy

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




The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


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


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


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Get Your Blood Pumping with these Incredible Shark Dives
By Brent Durand (text), Various (photos)

10 Epic Shark Dive Destinations

Brent Durand (text), Various (photos)
Get Your Blood Pumping with these Incredible Shark Dives

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

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

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


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



Where: Several locations

Type:  Baited, feeding & wild encounters

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

Bahamas dive info on Bluewater Travel


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


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


Beqa Lagoon

Where:  Fiji

Type:  Shark feeding

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

Fiji dive info on Bluewater Travel


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


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



Galapagos Islands

Where:  Ecuador

Type:  Wild encounters

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

Galapagos Islands dive info on Bluewater Travel


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


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




Where:  Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia

Type:  Wild encounters

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

French Polynesia dive info on Bluewater Travel


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



Jardines de la Reina

Where:  Cuba

Type:  Wild & baited encounters

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


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


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



Malpelo Island

Where:  Columbia (boats often leave from Panama)

Type:  Wild encounters

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

Malpelo Island dive info on Bluewater Travel


Schooling hammerheads make a close pass. Photo: Carolyn Wang


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



Isla Guadalupe

Where:  Mexico

Type:  Cage diving with great whites

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

Isla Guadalupe dive info on Bluewater Travel


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


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



Aliwal Shoal & Protea Banks

Where:  South Africa

Type:  Wild & baited encounters

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


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


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




Where:  Philippines

Type:  Reliable wild encounters at cleaning stations

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


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


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



Cocos Island

Where:  Costa Rica

Type:  Wild encounters

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

Cocos Island dive info on Bluewater Travel





Southern California

Where:  USA

Type:  Baited open water dives

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


Mako shark off Southern California. Photo: Scott Gietler


Blue shark off Southern California. Photo: Scott Gietler



Let Bluewater Book Your Shark Trip

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

Visit Bluewater Travel or email info@bluewaterdivetravel.com for more info.



Protect the Sharks

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









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



About the Author

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



Further Reading


Where to Buy

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




The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


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


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


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


Explore 1,400 year-old ruins, submerged for over 50 years in Eastern China
By Carolyn Wang

Dive Ancient Ruins of Lion City in Qiandao Lake

Carolyn Wang
Explore 1,400 year-old ruins, submerged for over 50 years in Eastern China

Deep below the calm surface of Qiandao Lake in the Zhejiang Province of China lie the mysterious ruins of two ancient cities, dating back to the Han and Tang dynasties.


The Origins of Lion City

Qiandao Lake, also known as Thousand Island Lake, is a sprawling body of fresh water, covering 573 sq. km. The name comes from the fact that there are over a thousand islands in the lake. Qiandao Lake was created in 1959 when the valley at the base of the Wu Shi (Five Lion) mountain was flooded to create the Xin'anjiang Reservoir and Xin'an River hydroelectric station.


Aerial view of Qiandao Lake. Photo by Chinese National Geography.


This was a massive government project that forced 290,000 people to relocate their homes as more than 1,300 villages and tens of thousands of acres of farmland were flooded and submerged. In addition to the direct impact on the local residents, two ancient cities located in the valley at the foot of the mountain were also submerged into the lake.

It is believed the city of Shi Cheng (also known as Lion City, named for Wu Shi mountain) was built during the Tang Dynasty in 621 AD, making it nearly 1,400 years old. Based on records of the region’s history, it is thought to be quite large, possibly over 60 football fields, and featured 265 arches throughout the city.  Shi Cheng was also unusual in that it was constructed with 5 city gates and towers, as opposed to the norm of 4.  The city of He Cheng is believed to date back even further to the Han Dong dynasty (25 -200 AD).  

The cities lay undisturbed at the bottom of the lake, until recent rediscovery and exploration starting in 2001. The early divers found Shi Cheng to be largely intact, with many of the structures, carvings, guardian lions, and arches still preserved. There have been efforts to map & document Shi Cheng by divers and researchers, as well as looking into protective measures to prevent damage to it. In January of 2011, the cities were declared historical relics under the protection of the Zhejiang Province.


A closer look at one of Lion City’s many intricate carvings.


Getting There

There are very few dive operators running trips to Qiandao Lake. I opted to dive with Big Blue Scuba, based in Shanghai, as they have scheduled trips to dive the lake. In addition, Shanghai has a wide range of travel and accommodation options, along with many international and domestic flights to either Pudong Interational Airport (PVG) or Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA).

The Qiandao Lake dives were offered as a weekend package, including round trip transport between Shanghai and the lake, the dives, tanks and weights, food, and local accommodations. Nitrox and rental gear is available if needed.


Qiandao Lake on Google Maps.


From Shanghai it is approximately 400km to the small town of Dashuzhen near the southwestern edge of the lake, taking between 6-7 hours by car.  It was actually only 4 hours to reach the eastern edge of Qiandao Lake, however, you will still needed to navigate the local winding roads around the lake (some of which were still under construction) to reach the hotel in Dashuzhen.

Another option is to contact the Beijing Dragon Diving Club to see if they have any upcoming Qiandao Lake dives. Members of the club were the first to rediscover the underwater city in 2001.


At the Lake

Dashuzhen is a small and remote town with a handful of local shops and vendors. We stayed at a small hotel that was just 10-15 minutes by van to the dive staging area and boat dock. The hotel was fine for dive purposes (sleeping & showering) but it is definitely more on the adventurous of the accommodation scale. So if you choose to dive Qiandao Lake, be aware that you will not find any 4-star hotels near the dive sites.  It should also be noted that most of your food options while in Dashuzhen would be traditional Chinese dishes, prepared from fresh, locally farmed ingredients. This will undoubtedly thrill some people, while less adventurous eaters may have a tougher time.


The Dives

Because this is a lake dive, it is important to understand the differences between the conditions encountered here vs. clear ocean water. All divers were required to do an initial checkout dive in the lagoon, which only reached around 25ft in depth.   Visibility at the surface was 5ft at best, dropping down to a mere 6 inches in some places at the bottom of the lagoon. This quickly made us realize how quickly the visibility could deteriorate, how easily you could become separated from your guide and how disorienting the conditions could become. If any group members had lapses in buoyancy or improper kicking technique that disturbed the sediment at the ruins, the dive could be completely destroyed for everyone. 


Panoramic view of the calm waters of the lagoon at Qiandao Lake where we conducted our check out dive. 


The dive boat can hold 6-8 divers and was docked in the lagoon near the dive staging area where we prepped our gear and suited up. Bathrooms and showers are located at the staging area as well. The Lion City dive sites are about 10 minutes by boat from the dock, and we dove as a group of 3 with our guide. The lake itself becomes dark very quickly as you descend, and dive lights are mandatory as it essentially becomes a night dive as you near the ruins, which lie between 85 – 130ft below.


Your first glimpse of the ruins of Lion City will take your breath away. Clear structures appear out of the dark waters as you approach with your lights.  Thankfully the visibility at the ruins was much better than in the lagoon, topping out around 20-25 feet.


The beautiful city structures rise above you, covered with extensive carvings.


The upper right edge of an archway in Lion City.


Lion City (Shi Cheng) has been submerged in Qiandao Lake for over 50 years since the building of the Xin'anjiang Reservoir and Xin'an River hydroelectric station in 1959.


Another close up view of the ruins. Remarkable detail considering Lion City dates back nearly 1400 years to the Tang Dynasty.


A gorgeously detailed dragon and phoenix in Lion City.


It’s amazing to see the rich, 3-dimentional detail characterizing the carvings on the city structures. 


Free from the damages of sun, wind and rain, the lake has preserved the ruins relatively free of growth and intact.


Panels and carvings cover nearly the entire surface of this Lion City wall.


While it can be easy to stay fixated only on the animal carvings in the city, Chinese characters can also be seen carved into the walls, giving further context to the city.


Another section of intricate carvings and Chinese characters on the city walls.


Detailed carvings adorn the top of one of Lion City’s 265 archways.














As we explored further, you could see some of the ruins have begun to topple over time.  


Our guide getting a close up look at some of the looser stones from city structures. 














Photo left:  Both stone and wooden structures are visible at the ruins. The water actually preserves the wood quite well.  Some wooden beams that were recovered from Lion City during earlier dive expeditions quickly became damaged as they dried and shrank in the air.

Photo right: Interspersed amongst the structures, it was eerie to see the remnants of the trees that used to line the city when it was above water.


When To Go

Generally, April – October are the recommended months to visit, as there is warmer weather at the lake, and hopefully warmer water below the thermocline. The colder air temperatures Nov – March can make it uncomfortable for divers to do 3 dives in a day, particularly those diving in wetsuits. Depending on the time of year, the water temperature can range from 45-60F (7-16C).  

During my visit in early May, the air temperature was in the upper 70s to low 80s, with the surface water temperature in the low 70s – quite manageable upon entry. However, the water quickly dropped to a chilly 48F/8C below the thermocline.

For exposure protection, those diving wet first got into 3mm full wetsuits, and then had to contort themselves to get another 7mm wetsuit over it for 10mm in neoprene total, plus gloves and hoods. Even with that protection, several of the divers chose to cut their dives short either due directly to the cold temperature, or because they were consuming their air more quickly than usual from being cold while in the water.

I dove in a drysuit with similar undergarment layers to what I would wear in Southern California waters, and did not have any issues with the cold water temperature during the dives. I definitely recommend using a drysuit if you have one, particularly if you’re planning to do these dives for photo or video and are looking to maximize your dive time. After all, if you come this far to see the underwater cities, I don’t think you’ll want to cut your exploration short.


A last look at Lion City.


Photo Tips

Treat this like a night dive and bring lights, lights, and more lights. There is almost zero ambient light when you reach the ruins down at 85-130 feet. You’ll need lights for navigating, spotting/focusing your camera, and strobes or video lights. Don’t bother with a macro lens; a mid-range lens or wide-angle lens will be your best bet. Just keep in mind that if you choose to shoot wide-angle, you will be fighting with the sediment in the water and limited visibility of no more than 20-25 feet, so it can be difficult to get a shot without any backscatter.

The photos in this article were taking using a Sony RX-100 in a Recsea housing and a UWL-04 fisheye wet lens with dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. The video was filmed on a GoPro Hero 3 Black edition with two Sola video lights


VIDEO:  Diving Qiandao Lake & Lion City Ruins:

Filmed by Carolyn Wang and edited by Lawrence Wang.

Further Reading


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


The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


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


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


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


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

Diving into History: The Flooded Farms

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


Diving into History: The Flooded Farms

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

Text and Photos By Christian Skauge




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

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

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


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


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


Spectacular Scenery

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

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


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


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

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


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


Straightforward Wide-Angle

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


Sunballs and Light Rays

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


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


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


The Flooded Forest

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


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


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

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


Lens Choices

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

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

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




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


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


Link to Google maps:





About the Author

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


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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




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

Diving Cozumel: A Photo Essay

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

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

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

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

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


Schoolmaster snapper hover above the reef at Yucab.


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


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


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


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


A diver exits a swim through at Palancar Deep.


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


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


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


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




Cozumel Resort Highlights



Scuba Club Cozumel

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

Dive Operation:  Fantastic dive operation in-house.

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

More info on Scuba Club Cozumel




Presidente InterContinental

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

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

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

More info on Presidente InterContinental




Cozumel Palace

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

Dive Operation:  Aqua Safari location on-site.

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

More info on Cozumel Palace




Living Underwater

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

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

More Info on Living Underwater




Hotel Cozumel & Resort

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

Dive Operation:  Dive Paradise location on-site.

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

More info on Hotel Cozumel & Resort

Have you Visited Bluewater Travel yet?

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

Bluewater Travel would like to book your next trip!  

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





Further Reading


Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer and story teller from California.
BrentDurand.com   |  Facebook  |  Instagram

Brent is a writer for the Underwater Photography Guide, an avid diver and adventure photographer, and shoots underwater any time he can get hands on a camera system. He can be reached at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.


The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


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


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


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


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

Diving into Egyptian History: Cleopatra's Palace

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

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

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


Site History

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

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


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

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


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

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


Rediscovery of the Site

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

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

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

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

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


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

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


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

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


Diving Cleopatra's Palace Today

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

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

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

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


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

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


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

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


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

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

Further Reading


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


The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


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


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


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


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