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.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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Must Do Diving in Curacao

Stanley Bysshe
The West End is a somewhat isolated, Macro heaven perfectly suited for underwater photographers.

 

Must Do Diving in Curacao


The West End of Curacao is a somewhat isolated, Macro heaven perfectly suited for underwater photographers.

By Stanley Bysshe

 

Longlure Frogfish

Nikon D3s, Nikon 105mm Macro, f18, ss 1/80 Inon Z240 flashes

 
 
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It is often written that Bonaire is where divers go to vacation and Curacao is where vacationers go to dive.  While for the most part this may be true, Curacao is so much larger and consequently has more to offer the vacationer; there are exceptions to this rule.

 

On my way to Curacao's west end

I recently returned to Curacao to see old friends and to dive. Having lived full time on the island for three years, getting around was not an issue and I knew exactly where I wanted to go to maximize my underwater photography time. Quite simply, if you are planning a dive vacation on Curacao, go to the West end of the island. Westpunt is somewhat isolated and is perfectly suited for shore diving and two tank boat trips.

The island, much like Bonaire, is a macro heaven, but wide angle opportunities exist as well. Shore dives allow the macro photographer lots of time to sit in one place and work a subject for extended periods of time. I tried out a ReefNet SubSee +10 diopter and was glad to have lots of experimental time underwater. Most of the time I was shooting with a Nikon 105mm macro lens, occasionally taking out the 60mm macro. Wide- angle shots were with a 17-35mm.

Diver and Large Porcupine Fish

Nikon D3s, Nikon 17-35mm 2.8, f9, ss 1/100, Inon Z240 flashes  

 

Curacao dive sites

There are several places to shore dive within 20-30 minutes drive time from the West end of the island. However, a great place to start is the house reef, Alice in Wonderland, at Playa Kalki. This is also the home of Go West Diving, the only full service dive shop at Westpunt. A two-tank morning boat dive and a one tank afternoon dive are available at the shop. The dive sites are the same as the shore dives but further out on the reefs.

Alice in Wonderland - A great site for shallow macro work but the reef drop off from 30 to 100 feet offers a chance to find turtles, rays and large schools of bait fish.  This is an easy shore dive and can be two or three sites in one.

Watamula - Probably one of the top dive sites on the island.  Often a drift dive, an hour on this site is like going to an IMAX movie.  Large coral heads extend from 30 ft. to 80 ft. and large bait balls are often encountered.  Turtles are common and there has been a rare whale shark sighting here.

Elvin's Plane Wreck - Named after a sunken fuselage, there is always something different to see here.  Many locals call this their favorite dive.  Like Watamula, this is primarily a boat dive (it can be done with a guide from the shore) but is only a few minutes from All West dive shop.

Mushroom Forest - Gets its name from a maze of large coral heads that have taken on the shapes of giant mushrooms.  A long boat ride from the East End, but only 20-30 minutes from the West end.  Most dive magazines call this the signature dive of Curacao.

The possible exceptions are Watamula and Elvin’s Plan wreck, which are easier by boat and great wide-angle sites. (The boat ride to both is about 10 minutes.) When you read the dive magazines about Curacao, Mushroom Forest is always noted as the signature dive. I would say Watamula ranks right up there, it is just that a lot of divers don’t venture up to the West end, unless they are staying there.

All West Apartments

Nikon D3s    Nikon 24-120mm 4 @ 50mm, f20, ss 6sec.

 

Accommodations are easily available and run from the more upscale Lodge Kura Hulanda and Beach Club to the quiet, efficient All West Apartments and even a B&B single apartment.

All West Apartments will meet you at the airport and can supply rental cars and pickup trucks, saving a lot of hassle at the airport. Also, it has it’s own dive room with tanks and cleaning station so you can walk down the steps into the water. A perfect set-up, especially for night diving. Otherwise all your diving can be through Go West Diving. Bryan Horne, the Manager/part owner, can help you with all things diving, from tips on local shore dives to arranging boat dives. If you are traveling with a large group of photographers, email Bryan and see what he can arrange as far as boat trips dedicated to your group.

Chain Moray

Nikon D3s, Nikon 105mm Macro, f16, ss 1/160, Inon Z240 flashes

 

You can easily spend a week at Westpunt and just happily dive and photograph. You will miss some of the tourist attractions of Curacao, or decide it is worth the effort to drive in to Willemstad, the capital city. That of course is the beauty of visiting the island.

Spotted Cleaner Shrimp

Nikon D3s, Nikon 105mm Macro, SubSee +10 Diopter,  f18, ss 1/125, Inon Z240 dual flashes

Caribbean Reef Squid

Nikon D3s, Nikon 105mm Macro, f10, ss 1/125, Inon Z240 flashes

Secretary Blenny

Nikon D3s, Nikon 105mm Macro, SubSee +10 Diopter, f18, ss1/125, Inon Z240 flashes

Longlure Frogfish

Nikon D3s, Nikon 105mm Macro, f18, ss 1/100, Inon Z240 flashes

 

About the Author

 

Stanley BysscheI have enjoyed diving and underwater photography for over three decades. When I retired, my wife and I spent three years living full time on the island of Curacao and it was there that I was able to dive almost every day. Now back in the States, I don't get to dive as much but I still share the passion for photography that brings divers to this sight.

 

 

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!


 

 

From a dSLR to the OM-D E-M5 in Cozumel

Jim Lyle
Jim Lyle takes his new Olympus OMD EM-5 out to Cozumel and explains why he downsized his dSLR

Cozumel With A New Camera 

Taking My New Olympus OMD EM-5 Out For A Spin

By Jim Lyle

 

 
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Hello there, big boy! Is that a safety sausage in your BCD pocket or are you just glad to see me?" - actual quote from the Queen Angelfish pictured below

 

 

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)

The phone rings.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Jim, this is Scott from Bluewater Photo. When do you leave for Cozumel?"

"Hey, Scott! We leave Friday night."

"Well, you can pick up your new housing, strobes, lenses and ports on Wednesday."

"Really? Really? Excellent! See you tomorrow. Thanks Scott!"

After shooting an Olympus E-330 DSLR for six years, I was looking to upgrade my camera. My friend and camera guru, Roger, mentioned a few months ago that Olympus had just released a mirrorless camera I might want to look at. The new camera was getting rave reviews and might be the next-greatest-thing in underwater photography, but the camera had just come out, was backordered everywhere, and might take months to get. Because we were scheduled to leave for our annual three-week dive vacation in Cozumel within that timeframe, I figured there was no way I would have a camera, much less an underwater housing for it, by the time we left.

Downsizing from a DSLR

Like I said before, my friend Roger Carlson mentioned there a great new mirrorless camera, the Olympus OM-D. For myself , the advantage of the mirrorless camera is that there is no mirror to be flipped out of the way when you take a shot, so the response time when you press the shutter should be faster. I've never really been a mega-pixel chaser, but the 16 megapixels of the OM-D was very nice, and there was no noise at ISO 1600, which allows me to shoot in low light. But the nicest thing is the size - it is such a joy to take a small carry-on onto the plane. The entire rig with 2 strobes in just 10 pounds! It is also physically smaller than my dSLR setup. By the way, you can see some of Roger's great OM-D wide-angle shots of whale sharks in this Sea of Cortez article.

Fate Intervenes 

Roger located a dealer who had a camera in stock and I was quick to order it with a 12-50mm kit lens. When Deborah and I took a week's vacation in Southern Utah in late June to look at rock formations (yes, I have other interests than SCUBA and bicycling), I packed my DSLR and put the EM5 in the camera bag for the heck of it. After taking a few pictures with the new camera, I pretty much left the E-330 in the bag and played with the EM5. Half the size and weight of a DSLR, the EM5 is easy to carry, is lightening-fast on auto-focus, and has a great dynamic range. I quickly fell in love with my new toy.

That left an underwater housing to get for the camera. Disappointingly, Ikelite announced they were NOT going to make a housing. Olympus was making a housing for the EM5, but it was going to be pricey and was not yet on the market in the USA. Rumors were circulating on scuba/camera bulletin boards that Nauticam was coming out with a housing for the EM5 but there was no way it would be available before we left for Mexico.

Fate continues to smile

A "top secret housing" had been made available for divers to try on a Nauticam dive trip; from descriptions of the housing, it was a prototype for the EM5. Then, in a surprise move, Nauticam announced they would begin shipping a few housings in early July. I immediately called Scott at BluewaterPhoto and asked when he could get me one. He said he would find out and let me know as soon as he did. Time passed…no word from Scott. Finally, he sent me an email and said he had placed his order with Nauticam, but the housings would be shipped only a few at a time to dealers. ETA? Early July? Oh, well.

Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon Approach Alignment

In the nick of time, only three days before our departure, Scott called and I drove up to Santa Monica to pick up my new housing, lens ports, a pair of Sea and Sea YS-D1 strobes, fiber optic cables, and other misc. bits and pieces! No time to get a dive in before we left, I would have to try out the new toys in Cozumel. BTW, Kelli at BlueWaterPhoto was both helpful and easy on the eyes.

[No lens port was available for my 12-50mm kit lens, so Scott offered to loan me a 14-42mm lens, port, and focus ring for the trip. Thank you, Scott, great customer service.]

My backpack and carryon luggage were ten-pounds lighter than usual. The new camera, housing, and strobes were that much lighter than the E-330 rig! Big smile!

We took the "red-eye" United flight to Houston and then on to Cozumel. All the bags arrived with us and we quickly boarded a van for the short drive to our home-away-from-home Scuba Club Cozumel. For those of you who have never met me, we have been visiting the island for over twenty years and always stay at SCC. You will find my rave reviews of Scuba Club in my previous trip reports here:  Jim's Scuba Webpage

Scuba Club Cozumel

©Bonnie Pelnar, used with permission

Shore dive - My first time underwater with the new camera & housing.

I like this new camera and strobes. Autofocus is lightening-fast and dynamic range is superb. The lens port for the 8 mm fisheye lens is a tiny four-inch dome port. The whole rig weighs in at just over ten-pounds.

The Nauticam housing has great ergonomics; it fits perfectly in my hand and the controls are located in the right places. You cannot put the camera into the housing with the flash in the down or off position; a little wedge moves the flash into the on position when you insert the camera. Another added feature is access to the memory card and battery without having to remove the camera tray. Nice product.

Day 1 - Reef Star with Jesús

Deborah, me, Juanita, Mel, Mike, Betsy, Margaret, Walt, Scott, and Chris

Palancar Horseshoe; Paradise Reef

Grunt faces (Haemulon sp)

Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus)

Peacock flounder (Bothus lunatus)

Shore dive – macro with the 45 mm (equivalent to a 90 mm lens on film camera.)

Spotted cleaner shrimp (Pericimenes yucantanicus)

New eggs in Sgt Major "nest"
Sergeant major (Abudefduf saxatilus)

Sgt Major eggs with eyes
Sergeant major (Abudefduf saxatilus)

Spiral
Christmas tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)

The 45mm macro lens takes nice close ups, but hunts for focus in low light…a lot! Roger suggested using a single autofocus spot, but the lens was still slow to focus. A 60mm macro lens is in the works for this camera.

Day 2 - Reef Diver with Jesús – 14–45 mm zoom.

I must say, this is a very nice versatile lens for fish portraits with uber-fast autofocus.

La Francesa

Juvenile spotted drum (Equetus punctatus) Yes, Virginia, the juvenile spotted drum doesn't have any spots…just stripes. Go figure.

 

Yucab

Black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci) This big guy has been hanging out at Yucab Reef for several years. He's used to divers and isn't all that shy. Note the color variation from the usual black.

Shore dive –

Lantern bass (Serranus baldwini)

Nimble spray crab (Percnon gibbesi) These crabs are very shy. Ron Thackett posted some images that he had taken in front of SCC and inspired me to try to take some.

Banded clinging crab (Mitrax cinctimanus)

Grunts on the gate (Haelmun sp)

(Haemulon sp"Weren't you here last August?"

Rough fileclam (Lima scabra)

Deborah and scorpionfish

Spotted scorpionfish (Scorpaena plumieri)

Yawn. I wasn't expecting a scorpionfish yawn, even less so with a camera in my hand. The lack of shutter lag on the new camera made it possible for me to get off a shot before the fish closed its mouth.

Day 3 – Reef Diver with Jesús – 14-45 mm zoom

Palancar Gardens

Margaret

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus) Endemic to Cozumel, splendid toadfish are difficult to photograph in their dens; light from the strobes has to be in exactly the right place. A smaller camera/housing makes it easier to get the strobes next to the lens so they shine into the hole.

Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris) One of the big animals on the reef.

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota) It's always a joy to see turtles. The Hawksbill is the most common turtle species in Cozumel and the population is healthy.

Painted elysia (Thuridilla picta) This is a tiny seaslug that is often found on little patches of green "grass," its food source.

Chankanaab

 

Lineshout goby (Gobiosoma sp)

Mike, Juanita, Mel, and Jesús

Shore dive

Evil looking octopus. This critter was in a hole and shadows from the strobes give the image an eerie tone.

Day 4 – Reef Diver with Jesús – 14-45 mm zoom

La Francesa

Margaret and sponge

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus) Coneys look dull on the reef, but turn a beautiful red color under strobe light. They can be distinguished from Red Hinds by the two spots on their lower lip.

Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) WOW, WOW, WOW! I've only seen a loggerhead once before. This was a big turtle, about three feet across, just slowly swimming into the current.

Gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus)

Tormentos

Queen conch (Strombus gigas) I just love the weird eyes of these mollusks.

Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) Nurse sharks are common on Cozumel's reefs. Other shark species are not often seen.

Jesús in the window.

Shore – 45 mm macro + subsee 10x

The SubSee 10X adapter gives greater magnification to the 45 mm macro.

Lionfish ( Pterois volitans) Yes, the invasion by lionfish continues. I've heard it tastes like chicken.

Squat anemone shrimp (Thor amboinensis)

Spotted cleaner shrimp (Pericimenes yucantanicus) There were lots of these shrimp on anemones this year.

Yellowline arrow crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis)

Cardinal fish in anemone

Day 5 – Reef Diver with Jesús – 8 mm fisheye

I love, love, love this wide angle lens. One of my pet peeves has been the inability to capture images that show what it's really like to dive the huge coral structures on the deeper reefs. The 8 mm fisheye lets me get close to the reef and light up the sponges with divers on the wall. The 4-inch dome port is compact and easy to pack!

Reef Diver WA

Safety stop. I never did find out what they were doing.

Jesús' reef – Colombia Sur – wide angle heaven.

Jesús took us to a reef that he found by accident. Similar to Colombia, this reef sits deeper on the sand and gets shallower as you move from pinnacle to pinnacle. The day was perfect for wide angle photography: calm, gentle current, sunshine, and clear water.

Lionfish ( Pterois volitans)

San Francisco

Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) and Sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates)

Shore – macro

A band of fish = trumpetfish, cornetfish, drum, guitarfish…etc.?

Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus)

Day 6 – Reef Diver with Jesús – 14-42 mm

Santa Rosa Wall; El Paso de Cedral

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus) If you ever see a picture of a school of porkfish, it's likely the image was captured on el Paso de Cedral.

Shore – macro

White speckled hermit (Paguristes punticeps)

Painted elysia (Thuridilla picta)

Sex! Thuridilla reproduce via two mechanisms, hyperdermic transfer and reciprocal copulation. The first method involves injection of sperm into the body cavity of the partner, the second is a head to head mutual exchange of sperm. These two sacoglossans approached one another and neatly coiled into the position shown in the image. Coitus lasted about five minutes before the two slugs separated and went off on their own.

Junk yard dog
Purplemouth moray (Gymnothorax micinus)

Gumby
Purplemouth moray (Gymnothorax micinus)

 

Word came in that Tropical Storm Ernesto was forecast to turn into a category 1 hurricane and hit Cozumel on Wednesday.

Day 7 – Reef Diver with Manuel – 14-42 mm

Palancar Caves

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

 

Shore

Unknown fish in anemone

Yellowline arrow crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis)

 

Fringed filefish (Monacanthus ciliatus)

 

 

Day 8 – Reef Diver with Jesús – 14-42 mm + 10X SubSee

A few friends and relatives decided to come down and join us for the second week of our vacation!

I had my 10X SubSee adapter in my BCD pocket on this dive and decided to give it a try with the 14-42 lens. The lens port has 67 mm female-thread for wet-adapters. Wow! You can take macro pictures using the SubSee and this lens…and it's fast! At this point, I can see no reason to use the 45mm macro lens. In fact, the 14-42 is now my go-to lens for both fish portraits and macro…at least until I get a lens port for the 12-50.

El Paso del Cedral Wall

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota) El Gordo needs to go on a diet.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus)

Smooth trunkfish (Lactophrys triqueter)

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus)

Black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci)

Paradise

Foureye butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus)

Shore

Slate pencil urchin (Eucidaris tribuloides)

Nimble spray crab (Percnon gibbesi)

Juvenile French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru)

Balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus)

Rough fileclam (Lima scabra)

Mushroom scorpionfish (Scorpeana inermis) These little scorpionfish are well camouflaged and I only saw them because they moved. At the top of the eye, you will see little, fleshy tabs that look like upside down mushrooms, hence the name.

Day 9 – Reef Cat with Jesús – 8 mm fisheye

Colombia Bricks; Yucab

You may notice, there are no pictures for Day 9. I broke rule number one, always take a picture after you have assembled the underwater rig to make sure everything is working correctly. I dropped in the water on the first dive and couldn't turn the camera on. The on/off switch had misaligned when I closed the door on the housing. Wouldn't you know it, a southern stingray let me get up close and personal but no picture?

I don't like to open a housing on a boat, so I dove cameraless on the second dive – very strange feeling not knowing what to do with my hands.

We didn't get back to the dock until 2:30, so lunch was later than usual. I opted to skip an afternoon shore dive. It looked like rain anyway.

The good news, Hurricane Ernesto had been forecast to slide a couple of hundred kilometers south of the island. We would get some rain, but no threat from the storm.

Coffee

Day 10 – Reef Cat with Jesús

Dalila

Red hind (Epinephelus guttatus)

Rock beauty (Holacanthus tricolor)

Villa Blanca

TWO seahorses
Longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi)

Red sponge and arrowcrab
Yellowline arrow crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis)

Shore

James and Katje

 

Bumblebee shrimp (Gnathophyllum americanum) Think very, very small…about a quarter inch long and very quick. These shrimp are often found on seacumbers.

Day 11

Port closed due to tropical storm Ernesto. As expected, some rain but no strong winds.

No joy. The port stayed closed.

Shore dive

Sand divers (Synodus intermedius)

Jodi and Doug (newly engaged!)

Flying Gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans)

Spotted eel dentition – toothy little devil. What goes in that mouth doesn't come out.
Spotted moray (Gymnothorax moringa)
eel

Surge and poor visibility

Day 12 – Reef Cat with Jesús

Santa Rosa

Diamond pipefish (unidentified)

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota) "You've been coming here since I was this high!"

Captain of the Reef Cat

Tormentos - El Paso del Cedral (twilight)

Scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus)

 

Paradise (night)

Red night shrimp (Cinethorhynehus manningi) This was a new find for me. Mary Wicksten from Texas A&M University says they are common on the Flower Gardens.

 


Day 13 – Reef Cat with Jesús

San Francisco

Coney –bicolor phase - (Cephalopholis fulvus)

Spinyhead blenny (Acanthemblemaria spinosa) Having a great background is what makes this picture so much more interesting.

Chankanaab

Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris) and Midnight parrotfish (Scarus coelestinus) The green moray was free swimming and I was following the midnight parrotfish. I didn't see the moray until he saw me and then ducked under a ledge

 

The big group's last day of diving.

Day 14 – Observer with Manuel

Colombia Deep

Boat briefing with Manuel

San Clemente

Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) Factoid: the green turtle is not named for the color of its shell, but the color of its fat! Green turtles are not common due to overharvesting. The Catholic Church views turtles as "fish" and, as such, can be consumed during Lent. As a result, thousands of turtles are poached for food each year. Please, write the Pope and suggest he clarify the list of "seafood."

Spanish hogfish (Bodianus rufus) cleaning a French angelfish

Shore

Red snapping shrimp (Alpheus spp.)

Sharptail eel (Myrichthys breviceps) NOT A SNAKE!

Sharptail eel (Myrichthys breviceps)

Day 15

I took the day off from boat diving…tummy rumbles.

Feeling better, I attempted a shore dive but didn't stay in the water long.

Day 16

Our dear friend Betsy was having ear problems and went into town to see a doctor. She had a perforated eardrum and could no longer dive until it healed. We were really bummed.

I took the day off, too.

Day 17 – Reef Cat with Jesús

Palancar Horseshoe

 

Villa Blanca

Spotted cleaner shrimp (Pericimenes yucantanicus) on a Sun anemone (Stichodactyla helianthus)

Opal was a popular Cozumel dive master who recently died in a tragic dive accident. This mermaid is a memorial to her. Unfortunately, the sand is eroding underneath and the block is listing badly.

Day 18 – Reef Cat with Jesús

Chris' nitrox reminder

Bolones de Chankanaab

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus)

Atlantis submarine

Chankanaab

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus) I don't have a clue what this coney was doing. After I took this picture, he spit out a bunch of sand and continued standing on his fins.

Squirrelfish (Holocentrus adscensionis) Every trip report has to have a squirrelfish picture. Roger says I post the same picture every year, but it's not true.

Variable boring sponge (Siphonodictyon coralliphagum) How can a sponge be boring? Is there an entertaining sponge?

Spendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus)

Googleeyes (unknown mantis shrimp)

 

 

Day 19 – Reef Cat with Jesús

This was Amy's fiftieth birthday! Happy Birthday, young lady! Not only was this Amy's birthday, but she completed her 500 th dive on Paradise! WTG, Amy.

Santa Rosa Wall

Deborah in window

More hawksbill turtles

Paradise

CFWA

George and seahorse

Day 20 – Reef Cat with Jesús

Dalila

Turtle with entourage
Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus)

El Paso del Cedral

Juvenile queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) Isn't a juvenile queen a princess?

Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

Odd couple?

Longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi)

 

 

The end of our undersea adventure.

If you would like to know more about the new Olympus OM-D EM-5, here's a link to D P Review's in depth look at the camera:

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/olympusem5

Another great getaway to Cozumel for wonderful warm-water diving. We will be back. In fact, I'm seriously considering spending the entire month of August at SCC next year.

My thoughts on the Nauticam OM-D E-M5 housing

The Nauticam housing is fantastic - the ergonomics of the housing is actually better than the camera itself, because the camera is a little small. All the controls are easily reachable, and you don't have to hold down an extra button to adjust the shutter speed or aperture. The OM-D has a nice super menu that allows you to adjust almost anything with only one or two clicks.

 

About the Author

 

Jim LyleJim Lyle is a retired chemistry professor who lives in Hermosa Beach.  A "been there, done that" diver, he and his wife have traveled extensively to many dive locations, but his heart remains in Cozumel.  He has been taking pictures underwater for almost twenty years, starting with a point and shoot film camera. Jim was previously the LAUPS photographer of the year.

 

 

 

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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Sea of Cortez: Photo Workshop Trip Report

Todd Winner
A report on Underwater Photography Guide's recent photo Whale Shark / Sea Lion trip to the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Sea of Cortez: Photo Workshop Trip Report

A report on Underwater Photography Guide's recent photo trip to the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

By Todd Winner

 

 
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This year's Sea of Cortez workshop was full of photographers seeking out Whale Sharks, Sperm Whales, Sea lions, and whatever other surprises the Sea of Cortez brough. The trip began in Phoenix, Arizona. We met up with the "Head Out to Rocky Point" crew at the airport, where they picked us up in two passenger vans and two enclosed trailers to hold all our gear. Imagine just how much gear close to 20 scuba divers bring with them, add all their camera gear on top of that, and you'll have a good idea of why they needed two trailers.  It didn't take long for our adventure to begin.

Early Trip Detour

Soon after crossing the boarder into Mexico, a bridge remodel forced us to take a detour through a small river. What is it they say about not crossing running water? (see picture)   It was good we had experienced drivers because I wouldn't have driven my truck through that river. We continued on to Puerto Penasco, where we boarded the Rocio Del Mar.

 

Rocio Del Mar dive boat - preparation

The Rocio Del Mar is a comfy 110ft ship built for diving, but it soon became apparent that they never planned for this many cameras at one time. We had over 20 underwater cameras on board with a mix of DSLR mirrorless and compacts.  We even had 3 housed Canon 5D Mark III's!  To create more space, we converted a large area of unused dive stations into a second camera table. The crew found us a large rubber mat to keep anything from sliding off and it worked out great. Now we were all set for diving *and* underwater photography.

 

There are 10 cabins located on the mid and upper decks.  The cabins are comfortable and all have private baths.  However, some of the bunks were a little short for the taller guests.  If you are tall make sure you get checked into a longer bunk.  There was always plenty to eat with 3 meals and snacks in-between.  The meals were a combination of Mexican and American cuisine.  I especially enjoyed the fresh salsa!  Most meals were served in the dining area down on the lower deck, but the last night we enjoyed a fiesta on the upper sun deck.  

The Search for marine life begins

 

After everything was stowed away, it was time to go looking for big animals.  Everyone was very interested is seeing sperm whales, so we first headed south down to a location known for them and hit a few dive sites along the way. Our first dive was a check-out dive and I wasn't expecting much. When we first hopped in, visibility was only around 30ft, but when I got down to the sand I saw jaw fish and pike blennies everywhere.  Suddenly, my so-so dive was becoming spectacular!  I've never seen so many pike blennies out of their holes and sparing for dominance.  

Sea Lion Madness

For our second and third dive, we hit a couple of sea lion rookeries.  Like most rookeries, we had some playful juveniles and females, but the most interesting part of the sea lions on this trip for me was the large male bulls.  Every rookery we dove at had bull sea lions patrolling their areas.  They swim back and forth, barking constantly underwater.  Often their areas were so close together that they overlapped a bit.  Bull Sea Lions are very territorial and will fight to protect their space.  Some of us even got to witness three bulls battling it out underwater. Talk about exciting!   I've seen bulls clashing on land, but had no idea this occurred underwater.  Even though the bulls were doing their best to scare us away by charging and barking in our faces, that did not stop us from getting amazing shots.

sea of cortez sea lion underwater photo trip
Sea lions playing in the shallow water

Sea of Cortez Sea Lion underwater photography
Sea Lion, with the rocks on the surface visible

 

Sperm Sharks, Dolphins and Boobies

 

We spent a good portion of the next two days looking for sperm whales. We spotted pilot whales, dolphins and even a few sperm whales from the surface. We made a number of jumps in the water with them, but none were very interested in playing with us. We had a few fly bys. and most of us got a chance to see both the dolphins and pilot whales underwater but no incredible photo opportunities. Unfortunately, this some times happens in wildlife photography, but this did not stop us from letting a good photo opportunity pass us by. Many guests did see the Pilot whales underwater, but they would quickly exit the scene.

At one point from the boat we saw thousands of dolphins - more than anyone has ever seen before. They were everywhere - the boat slowed down and for 20 minutes we were surrounded in every direction by dolphins.

Some of started shooting the brown footed boobies that were landing in the water near us.  They would stick their heads underwater as we approached them and this soon became a game to see how close you could get to one.  This turned out to be a lot of fun and we came away with some great images.

With the sperm and pilot whales not cooperating, we headed off to go dive a few more sites.   We had several more playful sea lion dives.  We dove a couple of macro sites that had giant jaw fish at them.  These guys are huge!  They are about a foot long and as thick as a baseball.  

Attack of the Giant Jawfish

"They told us we would look on the sandy bottom for the giant jawfish. I've seen smaller jawfish before, I'm looking for holes. and then suddenly, I see a cluster of people looking at something. This jawfish came out, it must have been a foot and a half long, I was like "Holy Cr*p!". I did not expect this HUGE jawfish to come out. I practically pushed my way in to see this highly unusual creature. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip." - Judy
 

sea of cortez sperm whale
Snorkelers approaching a Sperm Whale. Unfortunately the Sperm whale soon descended.

sea of cortez dolphin underwater
Dolphin swimming by

 

Underwater Photo Workshop

Typically we give a photo talk each night on our workshop trips, but on this trip we did several lengthy night dives that ate into our workshop time.  We still had a lot of opportunities to do one on one sessions and small group discussions during travel time between sites. Some of the topics we covered were strobe lighting, slow shutter techniques and organizing and editing images in Lightroom.  

Whale Sharks, whale sharks, whale sharks!

On our last day and a half, we went to the Bay of Los Angeles. which is known for whale sharks.  When we arrived there, we were not disappointed.  At one point we counted nine sharks in the water at once!  They ranged in size from a 12 foot juvenile up to the 30 foot adults.  These gentle creatures spend most of their time slowly swimming at the surface collecting plankton in their ginormous mouths.  It still requires a bit of effort to kick along side of them, but we had so many opportunities and got some beautiful images.  Everyone agreed this was the highlight of the trip. Unlike most Rocio del mar trips that only spend a couple hours with the whale sharks, we spend two days with them.

Sharks - The most fun I've ever had!

"Snorkeling with the Whale sharks is the most fun that I've ever had in the water. There were a *lot* of them, and I like the way the boat did it, you could jump in the water whenever you wanted to from the inflatable.In the beginnning, we would all jump in at once, but after a while we each grabbed out own shark. My husband Roger swam with his own shark for over an hour! And this was just the first morning! When we went back in the afternoon, we counted 8 or 9 whale sharks. Twice I didn't see any fins, and then I stuck my face in the water and I saw one. One time a shark swam right underneath me which was amazing" - Judy

Sea of Cortez whale shark
Whale Shark Silhouette, Olympus OM-D, Nauticam housing, 8mm fisheye lens

 

Final Thoughts

 

The Sea of Cortez continues to be one of my favorite locations for big marine animals, and this year proved to be a great macro location as well. The workshops are an excellent place to dive with like-minded people and learn a few things along the way. Please join Bluewater Photo on one of our other exciting photo workshops for your own awesome images.

Jawfish: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro, 1/160, F9.0, ISO 100

Pike Blenny Face Off: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 100mm F2.8L Macro, 1/160, F9, ISO 100

Whale Shark with Remoras: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 8-15mm F4L Fisheye @ 15mm, 1/500, F8, ISO 640

Equipment: Nikon D300 in Sea & Sea Housing with Dual S&S YS250 strobes, Tokika 10-17 lens.  Settings:  Zoomed in to 17mm, F10, 1/250 sec.

About the shot: I was attempting to do an over/under shot of this sea lion pup resting on a rock above water.  After going under to readjust camera settings a few times, I noticed the pup was curious and sticking his head under water to see what I was doing.  So I seized the opportunity and took a series of photos of her peeking at me.

Trip Highlight: The Rocio del Mar trip was a great opportunity to dive and photograph,  both wide-angel and macro, with a great group of like-minded photographers.  My highlight was photographing the whale sharks in the afternoon with magic light.  The conditions in Bahia de Las Angeles were like glass and the surrounding desert mountain scenery was stunning. - Ron

Equipment: Canon 5D Mark III in Ikelite housing, Sigma 15mm fisheye, precision 4" dome.  Settings:  ISO 800, Aperture priority F/8, Centre weighted average metering, 1/1000 sec, ambient light, camera RAW, Auto white balance with some correction in Aperture

About the shot:  The sperm whales didn't want to play, but this brown boobie was curious and kept looking underwater to see what I was doing.  Out of the water my go-to birding lens is a 600mm f/4, but I was able to get close enough here to use a 15mm fisheye to capture full frame images.

Trip Highlight: Aside from the incredible encounters with wildlife on this trip, I would say the highlight for me was the camaraderie between a group of strangers who were so willing to share and learn from each other about underwater photography.  Friends were made! - Jeff Sheppard

 

Bull Sea Lion taken at the Sea of Cortez

Equipment: Canon 7D with Hugyfot housing, Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye, dual INON Z240 strobes.  Settings: F8, 1/250, 17mm, ISO 250

About the shot: This bull sea lion was hanging around me and I tried to take as many shots as I could, which wasn't so easy.  he was biger tan me and I was quite scared when he approached me.  It's a lucky shot and I have no idea how I took it to be honest.

Trip Highlight: I've never seen sea lions before, so this trip was special and exciting for me just being able to see lots of them.  It was quite challenging to take photos of them because they were swimming around so fast.  It was an unforgettable trip, getting to know many kind people who are awesome and talented photographers. - Lea

 

Equipment:  Olympus OMD E-M5, 8mm Fisheye lens, Nauticam housing Settings:  F10, 1/320, ISO 400

About the shot: We swam together for over an hour, covering the whole bay. No one else around. We'd swim pretty fast where plankton was thin, then stop and vacuum where it was thick. From time to time I'd pick my head up and look around to see where I was. There were times I practically swam into the boat, there were times I couldn't see the boat. Beat of all, it let me stay on the well-lit side. With the flat water, it was really peaceful. It's one of the best times I've ever had in the ocean, and that photo captures it. 

Trip Highlight: On this trip, the highlight for me was swimming with that whale shark. It liked me, or tolerated me, and I could keep up with it.  - Roger

Sea Horse

Equipment: Canon S100 Settings: ISO 125, F8, 1/800

About the shot: I found a seahorse and took several pictures, correcting strobes until I got one that was good enough.  I don't like to take too many shots of a seahorse as lights are bad for their eyes - they can't blink.

Trip Highlight: The highlight of the trip was swimming with whale sharks in warm, calm water for as long as we wanted. - Dan

Whale Shark

Spanish Shawl

Equipment: Nikon D300 in Sea & Sea housing with Sea and Sea YS250 strobe with fiber optic snoot attached, Nikor 105mm lens, subsea +5 diopter, L&M Sola 800 focus light.  Settings: F32, 1/250

About the shot: Although this is a common subject in California and Sea of Cortez, I was trying out a new lighting technique with super macro on this small nudibranch.  I was using a subsee +5 diopter and a new fiber optic snoot attached to the strobe.  Fortunately, this Spanish Shawl wasn't moving too fast so I was able to adjust the snoot to light the subject and took several shots. - Ron

 

Arrow Crab

Equipment:  Nikon D-200, Micro Nikkor 105mm 1:2.8G ED  Settings: ISO: 200, f9 @ 1/200,  2 Iklite strobes set on manual @ 1/2 power

About the Shot:  I discovered on this dive that the lens was set on manual focus not auto, thus I had to move in and out (bodily) to find the focus point.  Fortunately, the focus point was at a distance which was ideal for the small critter subjects, such as this arrowcrab.

Trip Highlight:  What I loved about this trip was that the Sperm Whales, Dolpins, and Whale Skarks were there. The whales and dolpins didn't stay up for us to photograph, but that's life. Maybe next encounter on the May 1st Socorro Island trip! - George

 

Join us on the July 2013 Sea of Cortez trip!

 

About the Author

Todd Winner is the technique editor for Underwater Photography Guide and an instructor and trip leader for Bluewater Photo Store in Santa Monica, CA. You can see more of his work at www.toddwinner.com.

 

Further Reading

 


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Diving Papua New Guinea, Part II: Macro

Ron Watkins
Part II of Ron Watkin's incredible journey with macro, topside and cuttlefish photos

Diving West New Britain, Papua New Guinea on the MV Febrina

An underwater photographer's unique and spectacular experience diving in the PNG

Part II: Macro, topside and cuttlefish

By Ron Watkins

 
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Continued from Part I: Sharks and wide-angle opportunities like never before

World-Class Muck Diving

Despite the plentiful wide-angle opportunities, I switched to macro on several dives and found no shortage of subjects. The reefs and pinnacles play host to soft coral crabs, transparent shrimp, scorpionfish, leaffish, anemonefish, blennies, crinoids shrimp, saron shrimp and a wide variety of nudibranchsDigger also found several boxer crabs that carry small anemones in their claws and use them to fend off predators. I think they look more like cheerleader crabs with pom-poms. There is also world-class muck diving at Garove Island in the black sand of Dicky’s Place, which rivals that of Lembeh and other areas throughout Indonesia. I could have stayed another day or two, as there were so many unique species in the muck. Keen-eyed Digger also found Halimeda pipefish, robust pipefish, a tiny Green Oxynoe sea slug, porcelain crabs on anemones, an anemone hermit crab, different varieties of lionfish, false clown anemonefish, and sea cucumbers with numerous small shrimp and crabs on them. One unique discovery was the robust pipefish with a baby squid attached to its tail. Here are a few of the macro images taken, but you can see more of my super macro images in the article Learning Super Macro Photography in PNG.

 

Robust pipefish with a baby squid attached to its tail

 

A rare saron shrimp hunting at night

 

A boxer crab extends his anemones in defense

 

A soft coral crab blends in perfectly with his host

 

A family of false clown anemonefish settles in for the night along with a few shrimp

 

A pink anemonefish peaks out into the darkness from the safety of his host

 

An Anemone hermit crab on the blank sand of Dicky’s Place

 

The Beautiful People of Balangore

Upon arrival to Garove Island we picked up an interesting old plantation owner named Dicky, who was hitching a ride back to Kimbe Bay. Dicky is Anglo, but was born in Rabaul, married a local girl and still lives with his extended family in the village. It had been six months or so since he had been out of the village so he was very happy to be on the boat and talking with all of us. His stories about PNG, the people, WWII wrecks and his friend Paul Allen were very entertaining.  

In between the afternoon and night dives, Dicky gave us a private tour of Balangore, where his wife was raised. At the center of the village is huge grassy field, which provides a central meeting place as well as an area for the children to play. At one end of the field is Balangore Primary School. We walked through the residential area and met with many of the local residents. The children are adorable and love to have their picture taken and then see what they look like in the camera. The women weave palm leaves for their roofs, scrape coconut meat from the shell, prepare copra (their main cash crop) and cook. The men fish, wood carve and cut the palm leaves from the trees. The children help out around the village, swim and play soccer in the field. The tour ended at the opposite end of the field at a community church on the hill. At the end of the tour, we were escorted back to our skiff by an entourage of children who waved goodbye as we returned to the Febrina.

 

Shy at first

 

Young boys in Balangore

 

A young boy from Balangore in his dugout canoe

 

The Balangore church on the hill

 

Krackafat and the Cooperative Cuttlefish

The weather continued to improve and the sunrise was beautiful through the partly cloudy sky. We were able to dive four more times in the Witu Islands, with spectacular dives on Barney’s Reef and Krackafat. Alan Raabe discovered most of the dive sites, installed moorings and named them. Many were named after family members or friends, but I had to ask about what Krackafat meant. The Aussies let out a big laugh and informed me that there is a saying about "cracking a fatty," which means getting an erection. Alan says that this dive site is so good that when you surface, you will understand the true meaning of the site’s name. The site was appropriately named, and the origin of name gives you some insight into Alan's colorful humor.

Krackafat is covered with huge barrel sponges, clusters of soft coral, gardens of red sea whips and with moderate currents come huge schools of large fish. The icing on the cake was a very cooperative foot-long cuttlefish that I spent most of the dive practicing my close-focus wide-angle photography technique on. Digger and I followed it all over the reef as it passed in front of colorful soft corals and sponges changing color and shape for camouflage and in an attempt to communicate with us. It allowed us to get extremely close and at times reached out to touch the dome port of the camera in an inquisitive way. They are truly remarkable animals and I feel very fortunate for our time spent together.

 

Cuttlefish posing on the reef with a large school of fish

 

Same cuttlefish turning changing colors

 

A large soft coral provides a good hiding place for the cuttlefish

 

A large stand of red sea whips

 

Father’s Reef and The Arch

The Febrina traveled 100 miles the next night to Father’s Reef and we woke up on Norman’s Wall. Shortly into the dive I was concentrating on getting the eyes and claws of a transparent shrimp in the same focal plane when I felt something nudge my arm several times. Thinking that Digger had found another amazing subject, I looked up to find a large hawksbill turtle in my face, curious about what I was looking at. He continued to stick his beak into my business, so I decided that maybe he wanted his picture taken. I flipped back the diopter, adjusted the aperture, shutter speed, and strobes and took a few macro turtle shots. Then we found several other small shrimp, crabs, a leaffish and several nudibranchs to photograph.

 

The hawksbill turtle who wanted his picture taken

 

Tiny red spider crab with coral polyps growing on him

 

A leaffish with a tiny green nudibranch on his dorsal fin

 

One of the many nudibranchs seen in PNG

 

The next dive was back to wide-angle at The Arch, which is a large underwater arch reef formation and swim through at 90 feet. There is a convenient reference line close to the mooring that leads you down to the arch. I got down there first to set up some shots, but quickly the other divers appeared and filled up the arch so I pulled back and allowed them to pass through. Then Digger went on the other side of a smaller piece of the arch that had some beautiful sea fans and posed with his light. 

 

Digger poses above The Arch

 

A red sea fan adorns the side of The Arch

 

Why Papua New Guinea Diving Is So Special

Despite the bad weather causing us to skip a few dives, I was still able to log 31 dives in the 7.5 days of diving. In addition to the previously highlighted dives in this article, the diving at all of the sites is consistently good and each offers a wide variety of wide-angle and macro photography opportunities. Shaggy’s Reef, Leslie’s Knob, Elaine's Reef, Jane’s Gully, Killibob's Knob and Kirsty Jane's are all signature dive sites of this North Coast New Britain itinerary. Each site uniquely delivers on healthy reefs, stunning pinnacles, prolific marine life and biodiversity that will impress even the most seasoned diver and underwater photographer.

The cooperative cuttlefish on Krackafat, like most of the marine life in these remote areas, are not used to interactions with divers and are easily approached if you move slowly. On nearly every dive in PNG there are curious turtles that appear to enjoy their reflection in the dome port, or fearless sharks that come in very close and brake off only at the last minute. One puppy-dog-like white tip bumped me several times and even head butted an unsuspecting diver. Schools of barracuda and trevally numbering in the hundreds will allow you to approach them and enter their inner sanctum as if they are protecting you.  Even the typically shy anemonefish seem curious enough to leave the protection of their host and pose for pictures. One reason for this behavior is that there are currently only two full time dive boats in PNG, so some of the sites only get visitors a few times a year. Alan said that most of the boats that were in PNG have either gone bankrupt or relocated to more popular markets like Raja Ampat, Indonesia. We never saw another dive boat on the entire trip, except for Paul Allen’s private yacht the Octopus. Much of the trip we were diving in the protected waters of a Nature Conservancy sponsored marine park. The strict level of enforcement, which is rare in remote parts of the world like PNG, is well publicized and serves as a warning. Alan shared a story of a foreign commercial fishing vessel that was seized by the government, the crew imprisoned and the company levied a heavy fine. The ship was held in quarantine for over a year and eventually returned, but only after it had been completely stripped of everything of value onboard. This type of enforcement will hopefully keep the area pristine for many years to come.

After returning, I was asked by a fellow diver and underwater photographer if I thought the diving in Papua New Guinea is really worth all of the time and expense to get there. I responded without hesitation that it absolutely is worth it and I would again dive on the Febrina. My only regret is that I did not stay longer to explore other areas of the country and experience more of their colorful culture. I definitely plan to return in the near future, so stay tuned for the next chapter of my Papua New Guinea travel adventure.

 

The sun sets behind an erupting volcano

 

About the Author

Ron Watkins is an international award winning photographer and writer. He has been passionate about underwater photography since 1996 and his photography has appeared in magazines, websites, juried art displays, national aquariums, libraries and private collections. Additional images from this trip and many others may be viewed at www.scubarews.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!


Diving Papua New Guinea on the MV Febrina

Ron Watkins
An underwater photographer's unique and spectacular experience diving in the PNG.

Diving West New Britain, Papua New Guinea on the MV Febrina

An underwater photographer's unique and spectacular experience diving in the PNG

Part 1: Sharks and wide-angle opportunities like never before

By Ron Watkins

 
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After fifty hours of traveling from Phoenix, Arizona, the MV Febrina at the Walindi Resort dock is a welcome sight. Even for the most seasoned of travelers, this is a long and trying trip, but the bountiful waters of West New Britain, Papua New Guinea are host to some of the most pristine reefs, prolific marine life and diverse muck diving in the world. Although I journeyed here for the spectacular diving, it was the crew of the MV Febrina, the local people and my fellow divers that made this adventure truly special. 

 

The MV Febrina anchored off Garove Island.

 

Welcome to Papua New Guinea

Upon arrival in Port Moresby, you will need to purchase a visa for 100 Kina (~ $50US), but you must pay with local currency. Unfortunately the Singapore airport did not have Kina, so I went to the Port Moresby airport exchange booth where I was greeted by a young lady who was listening to a very familiar American song. I paused for a moment and then asked “LMFAO?” She gave me a big smile, exposing her red stained betel nut teeth and replied, “I’m sexy and I know it.” We both laughed and I realized that although PNG is one of the least toured countries in the world, there is plenty of Western influence in the capitol city.

Papua New Guinea consists of over 600 islands located just south of the equator and right above Australia. The country has very little tourism infrastructure and with over 800 languages spoken it can be an intimidating place for solo travelers. I worked with Jenny Collister to plan my trip, and she is incredibly knowledgeable of the area. Unfortunately, due to limited vacation days I was unable to venture into the highlands to experience a sing sing (cultural festival) or visit the Sepik River villages. Traveling within PNG is expensive compared to neighboring Indonesia due to the limited infrastructure, the required Air Niugini flights and the high cost of doing business in the country. If you have the time, the budget and a sense of adventure, you should try to extend your trip beyond diving to experience the culture and beauty of this country.

After a bumpy yet scenic drive from Hoskins Airport, the air-conditioned shuttle van dropped us off at the end of the dock. I boarded the Febrina and within 30 minutes we set sail. That night I settled into my single cabin with private bath, unpacked my dive gear and set up my camera equipment on an ample sized table and shelves. There is also a dedicated dry charging station conveniently located on the deck. At dinner I formally met my shipmates for the next nine days, who included two young British doctors practicing in Australia, two Aussie educators, an award winning 3D videographer and his wife from Holland, and five Russians. Josie, the cruise leader and dive master, conducted a thorough safety and dive briefing then introduced us to the smiling PNG crew.  

 

Sharks on Nearly Every Dive

When I woke up on the first morning it was windy, cloudy and rainy. The first dive was on Vanessa’s Reef, with lots of large healthy sea fans, sponges and schooling fish. The second and third dives were on Inglis Shoals, the third dive being a shark dive. A small bucket of chum was placed at about 60 feet and immediately five wide body silvertip sharks and one small pesky white tip approached. The sharks swam in close and fast. The little white tip kept bouncing off of my dome port, biting my strobes and bumping me in a non-aggressive way like a little puppy looking for a treat. During the trip we did a couple of other shark dives and they never disappointed with the quantity and quality of sharks.  Even on most of the dives with no chum it was good to observe that sharks were present and patrolling the reefs, indicating a healthy ecosystem.

 

A silvertip shark comes in for a closer look.

 

A whitetip shark plays chicken with the camera.

 

A whitetip shark turns on a dime inches from the camera.

 

A large silvertip shark parts a school of fish.

 

The Weather Worsens and the Captain makes a tough decision

We spent the night moored at South Emma and awoke to another rainy morning dive. The ship then motored a short distance to Joelle’s Reef and conditions had worsened with stronger current and surge, making a descent down the anchor line a necessity. The Febrina has a nice descent line from the stern of the boat up to the bow and attached to the mooring line. There is also a tank hanging at 15’ at the stern if needed on safety stops.

I almost skipped the dive, but decided I would feel better if I got back in the water instead of remaining on the rocking boat. Joelle’s Reef was another amazing pinnacle encircled by large schools of spadefish, barracudas and red pinjalo snappers. There were numerous sharks including a hammerhead, hawksbill turtles, clown triggerfish and several closed anemones in a ball. When it was time to surface, the current had increased and the seas were much more choppy. One by one, we each carefully timed the ladder in the 6-8’ swells.

Captain Alan Raabe gathered everyone in the saloon to show us the latest weather map, which showed three cyclones in the region and tightly aligned isobars converging on our location (the "perfect storm"). He informed us that we would be skipping the last two dives and motoring six hours ahead to get out of the storm’s vortex. He then added, “It may not be much better conditions where we are headed, but it sure the bloody hell can't be any worse.” Fortunately, Alan's gamble paid off and we moored for a calm evening and enjoyed another delicious dinner. All of the meals onboard were excellent and there was always plenty to eat. I went to bed that night reflecting on the good diving we had thus far and with high hopes for the remainder of the trip, despite the weather mishaps.

 

A diver swims with a large school of red pinjalo snapper.

 

A large school of barracuda converge in the currents.

 

Clark's Anemonefish stay close to the safety of their host.

 

Gabriel observes a pink anemonefish family.

 

Diving in the Famous Witu Islands

After the weather conditions broke, we spent the next few days diving the signature location of the itinerary: the Witu Islands. The area features deep pinnacles with steep sloping drop-offs and muck diving in the volcanic black sand. The water conditions improved at Dicky’s Knob with the sun making a brief appearance from behind thick storm clouds. The pinnacle started in 25’ of water and dropped off to about 90’. This site, like many in the area, is carpeted with a coral called corallomorph that is very painful if touched and can actually penetrate dive skins and thin wetsuits. Fortunately the reefs are also covered with beautiful large soft corals gardens, sea whips, sea fans with colorful crinoids, anemones and a plethora of small schooling fish in every color of the rainbow.

 

A diver descends to a lush garden of soft coral.

 

Schooling anthias stay close to the reef.

 

The warm waters of PNG are home to healthy sponges and corals.

 

Pyramid butterflyfish ride the currents over a plume of soft coral.

 

Several colorful crinoids attach to the coral on the reef.

 

Next week we will be publishing Part II of this article, continuing Ron's incredible adventure in the PNG...

 

About the Author

Ron Watkins is an international award winning photographer and writer. He has been passionate about underwater photography since 1996 and his photography has appeared in magazines, websites, juried art displays, national aquariums, libraries and private collections. Additional images from this trip and many others may be viewed at www.scubarews.com.

 

Continue on to PNG Macro Mania, Part II of Ron's adventure

 

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!


 

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