Singapore’s First Marine Park

Victor Tang
The story and photos behind the birth of the new Sisters' Islands Marine Park


Singapore’s First Marine Park

The story and photos behind the birth of the new Sisters' Islands Marine Park

By Victor Tang


Sisters Islands Marine Park view

Photo: Courtesty of Discovery Networks Asia Pacific


Singapore, a tiny city-state in the heart of Southeast Asia, evokes images of streets that are clean and safe, Formula 1 racing under the stars and unforgettable eclectic cuisine. Singapore is home to the second busiest port in the world, which is now just a footnote in its curriculum vitae as this small island continues to glitz itself up. Singapore’s southern ocean, long the perennial lifeblood of the nation, is about to have its day in the sun again, for an audacious project is taking place just five kilometers from the mainland: setting up a Marine Park right within the port limits.


Sisters Islands Marine Park aerial

Photo: Courtesy of NParks


Sisters Islands Marine Park aerial

Aerial view of the Sister Islands. Photo: Courtesty of Discovery Networks Asia Pacific


Sisters Islands Marine Park aerial

A marine park next to the shipping lanes. Photo: Courtesty of Discovery Networks Asia Pacific


Sisters’ Islands Marine Park

After close to 20 years of lobbying by marine activists, Sisters’ Islands Marine Park was finally announced in July 2014. Centering around two islets that comprise Sisters’ Islands, it also includes the western reefs of Pulau Tekukor and St. John’s Island. At just 40 hectares in size it could well be the smallest Marine Park in the world! Furthermore, the Marine Park is situated in a precarious location: Sisters’ Islands lies right at the crossroads of major shipping lanes, while just a few kilometers to the west lies a vast oil refining complex counted among Asia’s largest. The challenges are immense, but having a Marine Park come to life presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give back to the ocean, and I have had the fortitude to be able to chronicle this journey in a documentary, titled Birth Of A Marine Park, to be shown on Discovery Channel in Asia.


Sisters Islands Marine Park cuttlefish

A cuttlefish camouflages itself in Singapore's new marine park. Photo: Victor Tang


Undiscovered to many divers in Singapore, its turbid waters hold a treasure trove of marine life that would rival more illustrious macro havens in the region. While acquiring underwater footage around the reefs of Sisters’ Islands Marine Park, there was just so much macro to document that often times my video lights went flat before I could finish! If you are a lover of nudibranchs, the Marine Park promises a “nuditopia” with as many as 40 different species recorded on one dive alone. The reefs around the Marine Park will also act as a test bed for marine biodiversity research, as plans are in place to reintroduce locally extinct marine species into Singapore waters.


Sisters Islands Marine Park giant clam

Giant clams can be seen in Sisters' Islands Marine Park. Photo: Victor Tang


Sisters Islands Marine Park nudibranch

Nudibranchs abound! Photo: Victor Tang



On Creating the Sisters' Islands Marine Park

Budin Aris, founder of Singapore’s premiere scuba diving forum ScubaSG, echoes the sentiments of many local diving enthusiasts:

The Marine Park is a terrific initiative to save whatever is left of our reef. Besides educating the public, it ensures the preservation of our marine biodiversity for our future generations to appreciate.


William Tan, arguably Singapore’s most famous underwater photographer, sees the Marine Park as a shot in the arm for the local underwater photography scene:

It is always exciting to hear about establishments of Marine Parks, especially of one right at your own backyard that comes with two designated dive trails for the public to explore.

Although located just outside the Ring of Fire, Singapore has its fair collection of unique marine creatures, many that even I have not encountered before. Gone will be the days when you need a long weekend to travel to either Malaysia or Indonesia to do any kind of serious underwater photography. Now I can plan for day trips, setting out in the morning with my camera to search for the rare Bornella or Goosefish and still be able to make it home in time for dinner!


Sisters Islands Marine Park fish

There are many great macro subject in Singapore's new marine park. Photo: Victor Tang


What Makes Singapore's Marine Park Unique?

What makes Singapore’s first Marine Park truly unique is its commitment to outreach and education. There is no Marine Park Fee levied on visitors, and in its efforts to make it as inclusive as possible, with guided tours hosted by volunteers, brings members of the public to the intertidal reef - an often forgotten aspect of a marine ecosystem. An area on the beach between high and low tide waterlines, the intertidal reef can be accessed at low tide, allowing anybody willing to get their feet wet to wade into the shallows to get up close and personal with members of the reef community. In this short window, you get to see clownfish in a comatose state as well as a huge variety of corals, sea slugs, crustaceans and octopuses (yes!) all patiently awaiting the return of the sea.


Sisters Islands Marine Park tidepool

Walking the tidepools in Sisters' Islands Marine Park. Photo: Courtesty of Discovery Networks Asia Pacific


Having travelled extensively throughout Southeast Asia to capture the best that the oceans have to offer, it is with some irony that the best action might just be occurring right at my doorstep. I have had the extreme privilege to change perspectives of Singapore’s underwater world with Birth Of A Marine Park. It is my greatest hope that in future, whenever one has the chance to catch a glimpse of the waters around Singapore, it is with the knowledge that despite the supertankers and cargo containers dominating the coastline, life has found a way to coexist, and that we are trying our best to give them every chance.


Watch Birth of a Marine Park on Discovery!

Birth of Marine Park premieres on Discovery Channel in Southeast Asia on Thursday, 13 August 2015 at (8pm Indonesia/ Vietnam/ Thailand), (9pm Singapore/ Hong Kong), (10pm Philippines), (11pm Malaysia).


Video Trailer



Sisters Islands Marine Park

Neptune's Cup Sponge: Extinct in 1908 and rediscovered in Singapore. Photo: Victor Tang


Dive Singapore on Your Next Trip

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Southeast Asia dive trip. Visit for more info.


Further Reading


About the Author

victor tangVictor Tang is the founder of Wodepigu Water Pixel, an adventure dive company and photography consultancy with a nose for off the beaten track dive destinations.  When not stranded on shore with other pursuits as a musician and TV producer/director, Victor is on the prowl around Southeast Asia searching for new pristine waters to explore. His sister will always tease him for taking an oath never to take a camera underwater again after his first try in Malapascua, but lately he carries a camera anywhere he goes. Victor has embarked on his journey as an underwater filmmaker, his first effort "Birth Of A Marine Park" broadcast on Discovery Networks Asia Pacific.


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It is time to save some sharks

Scott Gietler
Want to know how you can make a difference? There is finally a way prepares for direct action against shark finners

Fundraising campaign will support stopping shark finners in Costa Rican waters

They need your help

By Scott Gietler 



Shark Savers, World Wildlife Fund, Bite Back, Shark Trust, Shark Conservation Society. There are many organizations out there that are trying to save sharks, put sharks on the endangered species list, ban shark finning, and reduce consumption of shark fin soup. I have many friends in these organizations, and they are working hard and doing a great job.


However, direct interaction with shark finners is rare. In fact, we are not aware of anyone that has tried to prevent shark finners from capturing sharks, through direct action - before they do it - until now.


  • will arrive in Costa Rica this December

  • They will engage illegal fishermen before the damage is done

  • has been authorized by the Costa Rican government to enforce & monitor the MPA

  • First location is a 12-mile radius around Cocos Island

  • $80,000 needs to be raised to fund this effort - donate now on IndieGogo


Chris Wade has spent the last decade fighting for sharks. We have seen his boat, crew and dedication first hand and we feel strongly that he has the ability to carry out this mission, and that the money will be used wisely to help prevent illegal fishing. and its director Captain Chris Wade are working in conjuction with the Costa Rican government, and a Costa Rican non-profit NGO called PRETOMA to fight the illegal fishers. The Shark Boat will have a park ranger and a judge on the boat to assist them in their efforts. Boats suspected of illegally fishing in Costa Rican waters will be approached, inspected, and if warranted, prosecuted.


How you can help

Visit the IndieGogo campaign today - and donate to help Captain Chris Wade help the sharks.


Hammerhead sharks photographed at Cocos Island. Photo by Kadu Pinheiro

chris wade shark boat
The M/V SeaWatch, aka "Shark Boat"


Where to Buy

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Interview with Rene Umberger - Scuba Diver who was attacked underwater

Scott Gietler
Rene explains why she may have been attacked underwater by another diver


Scuba Diver Attacked:
Interview with Rene Umberger

By Scott Gietler,  May 19th, 2014



Attacked underwater by a diver

On May 8th, 2014, Rene Umberger was diving underwater in Kona, Hawaii with several other divers, when another diver suddenly rushed towards her and forcefully removed her regulator, removing her only source of air. Luckily Rene survived the event, and was able to tell her story. But what led up to this shocking underwater assault? We spoke with Rene on the phone to find out more details.



Interview with Rene Umberger

Scott: Rene, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Rene: Hi Scott. I live on the island of Maui, and I run the non-profit Our mission is to protect the marine life and coral reefs of Hawaii, and help bring public awareness to dwindling fish population due to collecting for aquariums. 

Scott: Tell us what happened underwater on May 8th.

Rene: I was on a private boat with 6-8 friends of mine. Three of us were diving, the rest were snorkeling. We descended down to videotape the coral reefs and see if there was any activity going that was harmful to the reefs that we could document.

Scott: Please continue.

Rene: When we got down to 50ft depth, I saw in the far distance 2 divers who appeared to be collecting fish for the aquarium trade. They use distinctive nets, so it is easy to tell when this is going on. Visibility was quite good, and they also saw us. Before we could get near them, one of the divers swam towards us as fast as he possibly could, and ripped the regulator out of my mouth. 

Scott: Then what happened?

Rene: After about 30 seconds, I luckily managed to find my regulator and get my air source back. I was unable to breathe during that time. The diver then made several threatening gestures, and I was in grave fear of my life. At that point I slowly swam to the surface.

Scott: And this was all captured on video tape?

Rene: Yes, I was videotaping the entire event. It was also witnessed and videotaped by about 3 other divers, and 3 snorkelers.

Scott: Had you ever had contact with this diver before?

Rene: No, I had never seen him before. I had just entered the water, so this was the first moment that he ever laid eyes on me. He didn't know who I was, what I was doing there, or what my experience level was. Another diver could have panicked, shot to the surface and died. Luckily I have over 10,000 dives as was able to remain calm and ascend in a safe manner.

Scott: Why do you think he attacked you?

Rene: Aquarium collectors don't like people to see what they are doing. They feel that if people are aware of their harmful activities, they may pass laws to restrict their trade, which is currently fairly unrestricted. Also, I suspect because of his behavior that he may have been doing illegal activity.

Scott: Is aquarium collecting illegal?

Rene: Aquarium collectors must have the right permits, the correct flags and identification on their boats, and collect in the proper manner. If they are following all the rules, it is extremely unrestricted. They can remove unlimited numbers of fish which can decimate the reefs. Kona exports more aquarium fish than the entire Great Barrier Reef! And who does this benefit? Almost no one.

Scott: So you document this activity to help bring awareness to it?

Rene: Yes, my hope is that people will become outraged that their marine resources are being pillaged in this manner and demand for the situation to change.

Scott: Do you know who attacked you underwater?

Rene: I'm told it was someone named Jay Lovell. After I was attacked, he called DOCARE to let them know to expect a call from "some woman" who had been harassing them, and then he had the nerve to file a harrassement claim against me!

Scott: A claim against you, how is that possible?

Rene: There is an obscure law that says it is illegal to enter an area and approach a fisherman with the intent to prevent fisherman from taking fish. This law only applies to fresh water fishing, and a similar complaint by an aquarium collector who was photographed underwater on the Big Island was thrown out of court several years ago. Anyways, I certainly was not going to prevent him from doing anything, only document it.

Scott: What other type of harmful activity have you been documenting?

Rene: Just a couple of days earlier, we documented giant lobster traps that wipe out all the big eels in an area. This is legal! There is no limit on the number of reef fish you can take, whether you collect with nets or traps.

Scott: I'll embed the eel video at the end of this article. Just to confirm - you had never seen him before, and this was the first contact with him, and the closest contact was shown on the video?

Rene: Correct.

Scott: How many aquarium collectors are there, and how does the community feel about them? 

Rene:  There are 30 guys who report their catch to the state. there is no-one checking them. In fact, enforecement officers dont even check their containers. I ask the question - what is best for the survival of the reef, and the communities? The state says that this activity is sustainable, but many species are down by 50 - 99%, the state calls it "sustainable" if the species is reduced but not wiped-out. What is the benefit to the community? There isn't one. The community is against the aquarium trade but, they can only speak up so much. People are afraid of these guys.

Scott: Tell us about what else you are doing to bring awareness to the harmful effects of Aquarium collecting

Rene: I am going to launch a phone app for quick identification of fish in aquariums, focusing on whether the fish is captured wild or potentially captive bred. It is coming later this year! It is called TankWatch - the purpose is to bring awareness that most tropical fish are captured from the wild, and also to identify what species they are.

Scott: Rene, thanks for the time, and please stay safe underwater.



Video of Rene being attacked:




Video Showing Eels Being Legally Captured & Removed from the Reef in Kona, HI:




Rene is such a dedicated reef cleanup diver that she didn't even come out of the water for lunch.



Further Reading


Where to Buy

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Get Involved: Protecting Our Ocean

Jonathan Lavan
Easy Ways You Can Help Protect the Oceans, the Planet and its Creatures Without Breaking A Sweat

Get Involved: Protecting Our Ocean

Easy Ways You Can Help Protect the Oceans, the Planet and its Creatures Without Breaking A Sweat

Text and Photos by Jonathan Lavan




As divers and underwater photographers, we are more tuned in than most to the current state of the environment. And while much positive progress has been made in recent years, we witness some negative side effects of modern society at the heart of the planet: our oceans. It’s easy to feel helpless and that there is nothing that you can do to help as an individual, but every tiny attempt and gesture does truly make a difference, cumulatively and over time. Here are six easy things you can do as a diver and underwater photographer that can help the big picture.


Practice expert buoyancy control

Most fish have swim bladders that help them to maintain buoyancy. Yours is strapped to your back and called a Buoyancy Control Device. The key word here is “control”. You should (with little effort and minimal weight) be able to hover a foot or less over the reef with precision. It’s important to stay off the reef! There’s no need for sites that are dived frequently to be suffering the ill effects of divers that do not know how to control their buoyancy. Also, always know where your fins and gauges (keep them tucked and secured) are and don’t touch anything living. As photographers we often need to steady ourselves to get the shot. A good rule is to use one or two fingers tips on non-living substrate and no gloves unless absolutely necessary. An ungloved hand is a careful hand.



Don’t stress the wildlife

Sometimes when you want to get the shot you might work with a subject a bit longer than the animal is comfortable with. It’s best to get some shots and then move on. Another opportunity will undoubtedly present itself and you also never know what you’ve truly got on that tiny LED screen anyway. It goes without saying that large pelagics like whale sharks, manta rays and turtles should never be touched or molested in any way. People making pufferfish puff up or manipulating or stressing animals in other cruel ways should be told that their behavior is not appreciated and will not be tolerated.



Buy Smart

Make sure that your dive center, resort, live aboard or hotel is committed to and practicing environmentally friendly business. Check with friends, associates or online bi-partisan reviews to try and get the real story about your next dive vacation. Alternatively, call the owner or manager and ask them about their recycling practices, water use policies, etc.



Know your Subject/Spread the Word/Share your Work

As divers and photographers we know how wonderful the undersea world can be. Many people have no concept of how amazing the ocean is or how essential its health is to our own continued existence. Find out as much as you can about the subject you are photographing: name, habitats and behavior, and when you share your work be sure to include that information for the benefit of all. Share your work freely and to as many sources as possible. If people don’t know anything about these amazing creatures it is very hard to care about them and have an invested interest in the animal’s future.



Make a difference even when you’re not diving

Take the daily steps necessary to have as small a bio-footprint as possible. Use little plastic (it never goes away), limit water use (we can’t make more), try to purchase locally sourced foods whenever possible (your health will thank you for it), take your bike instead of the car whenever possible (your health will thank you for it) and of course, always recycle.



Get involved in Special Projects

Become a Citizen Scientist! You can make a difference, whether doing fish surveys or helping to eradicate Caribbean Lionfish (, helping with coral restoration or beach and harbor clean ups. You could also go into your kid’s school to give a talk and slide show of the many creatures you have “captured,” or let the kids breathe on a regulator. There are many, many ways that you can have a positive impact. Doing your part is just that simple. And if you do break a sweat it will be well worth it.



About the Author

Jonathan Lavan: The owner/operator of Underpressure Diving & Nature Photography is a citizen scientist and wildlife expert and has been SCUBA Diving for thirty years and taking photographs both above and below the water for about 10. He was pleased to have been made Volunteer of the Year for 2012 by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation. As a SCUBA Diver he has been a photographer, teacher and research associate for many different organizations. Among them: National Geographic, Smithsonian, Scuba Diving Magazine, Natures Best Photography Magazine, Encyclopedia of Life/Earth, Florida Museum Of Natural History, OnEarth, Fishwise, Fishbase, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Defenders of Wildlife, Discover The Depths, REEF and Shedd Aquarium. He is a staunch environmentalist and educator of young people. Jonathan is committed to making a difference on this planet through his images and his message of good will to all creatures.


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!



Sipadan History and Upcoming Underwater Camera Ban

Travis Ball
A brief history of Sipadan Island, the diving permit situation and upcoming underwater camera ban

Sipadan History and Upcoming Underwater Camera Ban

Changes for Underwater Photographers Wanting to Dive Sipadan

By Travis Ball


Turtle in Sipadan, photo by Nikki Pieper



Sipadan is widely recognized as one of the best scuba diving locations in the world.  With more than 3,000 fish species and hundreds of coral species, this reputation should come as no shock.  A diver visiting the area can expect to see green and hawksbill turtles, massive schools of barracuda, and larger pelagic animals like scalloped hammerhead sharks, manta and eagle rays and the occasional whale shark.

History of Sipadan Diving

Living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone formed the island of Sipadan thousands of years ago.  It’s location in the heart of the Indo-Pacific Basin places it in the center of one of the most diverse marine habitats in the world.  Widely unknown until the 1990s, it was a visit by Jacques Cousteau that really brought attention to the island.  The release of Borneo: The Ghost of the Sea Turtle in 1989 brought Sipadan to the attention of millions, and you can’t go to a website about Sipadan these days without seeing the familiar quote: “I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more.  Now we have found an untouched piece of art."

By the early 90s, there were dive resorts crammed onto the island catering to ever increasing numbers of divers looking to experience the pristine environment.  This massive influx of people, boats and general diver traffic quickly started to have an effect on the coral and reefs.  By 1992 a coral reef conservation officer with Britain’s Marine Conservation Society, Dr. Elizabeth Wood, began noticing obvious deterioration in the quality of the reefs.  In 1997 the Malaysian government stated that they would begin limiting the number of tourists visiting the island, but they failed to enforce the statement.


Moving resorts off Sipadan island

In 2004, the Malaysian government instructed everyone currently operating resorts on the island to leave by December 31st, 2004.  In 2006, in an attempt to further protect the ecosystem, the Malaysian government proposed to include the island in a marine protected area called Sipadan Island Marine Park.  At this point they instituted a permit system limited to 120 divers per day and controlled by the Sabah Park Management organization, although it was not fully enforced until mid-2008. A permit is required only to dive on Sipadan island, not for the numerous other dive sites in the area. There is more info on the permit system here.

Diving Sipadan Today

The lack of resorts on the island mean divers looking to visit the Sipadan Island Marine Park must use one of the neighboring islands as a base.  Generally, this will be Mabul, although Semporna has a number of lower priced operators who are also being given a small number of permits. There is also a resort on Kapalai. The real issue for divers, however, is the 120 daily permits and the way they are issued.

Most resorts require a minimum stay in order to guarantee a day of diving in Sipadan.   Some work on a first come, first serve basis while others institute a lottery system, both of which are subject to possible staff preferences and alteration.  Stories of one group staying 8 days with 1 day of permits while another group staying 5 days with 4 days of permits have been heard, as you can see here. Visiting in low season, or for a longer period of time, will increase the number of days you can get a permit.

New Camera Ban Coming Soon

When the permit system went into effect, so did a ban on gloves and fish pointers.  These items were thought to increase the likelihood of damage to the reef and are not permitted.  A Sipadan resort owner told us that a recent study by an International NGO has now found that Underwater Camera users are “a significant contributor to coral damage at Sipadan."  The government authority in charge of Sipadan has already declared that an underwater camera ban will go into effect, but will not give an implementation date. Several Sipadan dive operators have told us to assume that the ban will go into effect with little notice. 

The only way around the ban on underwater cameras appears to be a special exemption for professional photographers.  In this instance, a professional photographer is someone who has a proven record of shooting images for magazines, newspapers, television and more.  The resort running your trip would likely help you go through the process of requesting your exemption, but since the ban is not yet in effect, it is difficult to say how this will work.

We also read that divers going to Sipadan will be required to have an advanced open water certification, or a minimum of 20 dives - effectively saying "no newbies".


Summary for Underwater Photographers

With a ban on underwater cameras looking likely, this may be a perfect time to squeeze in a underwater photo trip to Sipadan, if you can travel on short notice.  Of course, if you think you’ll qualify for the exemption, there’s no need to worry. 

How do you feel about the new ban on underwater cameras in Sipadan?  Do you think it is a good idea? Leave your opinions in the comments.


About the Author


Travis Ball is a travel blogger and underwater photographer who recently finished 30 straight months of travel. He believes everyone should enrich their lives with travel and all the experiences it has to offer. His photography and writing can also be seen at his blog




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!



Celebrating California's Underwater Parks

Michael Zeigler
Southern California's new MPAs went into effect on January 1, 2012, increasing the number of Underwater Parks from thirteen to fifty.

Celebrating California's Underwater Parks

First state in the US to develop statewide marine protected areas1

By Michael Zeigler


Recently, I was asked by the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA, to help them celebrate 'Underwater Parks Day.'  Being a volunteer diver and a member of their scientific dive team, I was more than happy to help in the celebration.  This is the fourth year that the Southern California Aquarium Collaborative, including the Aquarium of the Pacific, has celebrated the Marine Protected Areas.  My goal, via my underwater photography, was to make the audience, especially the non-divers, aware of the incredibly diverse and colorful critters and ecosystems we have here in our local Underwater Parks.  My goal with this article is to share the changes that have gone into effect here in southern California and shed some light on some of the Marine Protected Areas around the world.



The garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicundus, is the official state marine fish of California. Nikon D90, 60mm macro lens + 1.4x teleconverter.  F18, 1/8, ISO 200, with flash set on rear-curtain sync.


Brief History

At the root of the Underwater Parks is the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 (MLPA). The MLPA requires California to reevaluate all existing marine protected areas (MPAs) and potentially design new MPAs that together function as a statewide network.  California has taken a regional approach to redesigning MPAs along its 1,100 mile coastline.  The major regions include northern, central, and southern California.

According to the California Department of Fish and Game, there are six goals that have guided the development of the Underwater Parks.

  • Protect the natural diversity and abundance of marine life, and the structure, function and integrity of marine ecosystems.

  • Help sustain, conserve and protect marine life populations, including those of economic value, and rebuild those that are depleted.

  • Improve recreational, educational and study opportunities provided by marine ecosystems that are subject to minimal human disturbance, and to manage these uses in a manner consistent with protecting biodiversity.

  • Protect marine natural heritage, including protection of representative and unique marine life habitats in CA waters for their intrinsic values.

  • Ensure California's MPAs have clearly defined objectives, effective management measures and adequate enforcement and are based on sound scientific guidelines.

  • Ensure the state's MPAs are designed and managed, to the extent possible, as a network.


Kelp forest at one of my favorite Catalina Island sites, Empire Landing.  Nikon D90 with Tokina 10-17mm FE lens.  F10, 1/25, ISO 400 @ 10mm.


New Underwater Parks

January 1, 2012, marked the implementation of a new network of Underwater Parks here in southern California.  Just so that we’re on the same page, an Underwater Park is a blanket term used to describe the Marine Protected Areas, which are divided into a few different categories.

The map below, albeit busy, depicts the 50 Underwater Parks in southern California.  They extend from Point Conception, to the Mexican border. With the addition of the southern California region, the entire network of California's Marine Protected Areas has grown to over 100.


This is a map representing the southern California Underwater Parks, most of which went into effect on January 1st of this year.  The new parks cover approximately 354 square miles of state waters and represents approximately 15% of the region1. Map courtesy of California Department of Fish and Game.



A torpedo ray (aka Pacific electric ray) glides slowly through the water column, framed by huge blades of elkhorn kelp in the foreground. Photo taken at Catalina Island. Nikon D7000 in Sea&Sea housing, Tokina 10-17mm FE lens. F8, 1/320, ISO 400 @ 17mm.



Marine Protected Areas around the globe

As of October 2010, data gathered by the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) indicated there were approximately 6,800 MPAs around the world, which embodies just 0.7% of global ocean area. The largest of these is the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in the Pacific Ocean (41,050,000 ha), and the smallest is Echo Bay Provincial Park in Canada (0.4 ha).2


Elkhorn kelp takes over where the giant kelp leaves off near 60fsw. Image taken at Kroll's rock, Catalina Island, CA.  Nikon D7000 with Tokina 10-17mm FE lens. F8, 1/80, ISO 100 @ 10mm.


Notable Marine Protected Areas around the world

  • The Bowie Seamount on the Coast of British Columbia, Canada.
  • The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia.
  • The Ligurian Sea Cetacean Sanctuary in the seas of Italy, Monaco and France
  • The Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys, USA.
  • The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii.


"Rock stars," taken at Anacapa Island, CA. Nikon D90 with Tokina 10-17mm behind 5" Precision Dome.  F9, 1/100, ISO 200 @ 10mm.


You don't have to be a scuba diver to enjoy the critters of southern California.  This bat ray was photographed while snorkeling at Diver's Cove in Laguna Beach, CA. Nikon D90 with Tokina 10-17mm. F8, 1/125, ISO 200 @ 17mm.  Converted to black & white using Silver Efex Pro 2.


A simnia snail looks up to say hello at Rat Rock - Anacapa Island, CA.  Nikon D90 with 60mm macro lens + 1.4x teleconverter.  F22, 1/200, ISO 200.


Final thoughts

Obviously I am just scratching the surface of the information available on Marine Protected Areas.  As controversial as these areas are, I believe that future generations will benefit greatly by their implementation.  As an underwater photographer, I am looking forward to witnessing the locals habitats proliferate.  For more information, please visit the sites below.


About the author


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

Join Michael as he leads an amazing underwater photography workshop at the famous Wakatobi Dive Resort 11/21/13 - 12/2/13!


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!

Shark Angels - Making a Difference

Jamie Pollack
Globally connected, Shark Angels around the world are changing the future for sharks.

Shark Angels - Changing the Future for Sharks

Globally connected, Shark Angels around the world are taking action

By Jamie Pollack



While many are aware of the plight of charismatic ocean creatures, like the dolphins and whales, few know - often blinded by irrational fears - of the sharks' current fate.  Surprisingly, sharks, the creatures we fear most, are battling for survival, putting our oceans – and ourselves - at dire risk.  The sharks are in desperate need of help, and guardian angels just might be their only hope.


Julie Andersen, Founder, Shark Angels.  Photo: Paul Wildman


Meet the Angels

Globally connected, Shark Angels around the world are taking action locally, fueled by empowering tools, a collaborative community, and a shared passion. Through positive education, media and grassroots outreach, Shark Angels are changing the future for sharks.


Our history

In October, 2007, three dynamic shark conservationists from different organizations came together on a project of passion to show the world a new perspective on sharks in the Bahamas. Dubbed the Shark Angels, Julie Andersen, Alison Kock, and Kim McCoy got into the water with over a dozen tiger sharks and countless lemon sharks, with a team of friends and cameramen.

They believed that when the world came face to fin with the “world’s most dangerous sharks” with them, they would realize, that sharks aren’t the enemies, the only thing we have to fear is ourselves. A short film was released on the Internet, and Julie, Alison, and Kim continued gaining media attention. More importantly, the project ignited a movement around the world. What started as a video project in the Bahamas achieved even greater potential. People, energized by the Angels’ passion, began reaching out and asking to get involved, and Shark Angels began to evolve beyond much more than just a small collaboration.

Realizing that Shark Angels was exciting conservationists and enthusiasts alike, in an attempt to better harness potential and have a greater impact on the preservation of the world’s last remaining sharks, Julie officially started Shark Angels, as a non-profit organization.


Alison, Kim, and Julie swimming with tiger sharks off Tiger Beach, Bahamas. Photo: Eric Cheng

For the past three and a half years, the grassroots movement has grown and the Angels have relied upon one another to tackle shark issues around the globe and rally around sharks. The Angels also incorporated kids into the movement, starting Shark Cherubs as a way to get future generations involved. While Shark Angels was started by a woman, it has expanded to include anyone who is passionate about sharks, the oceans, animals or simply conservation, and wants to translate that passion into action. We even have our own version of Charlie.

It isn't just a girl thing... many men have joined our ranks, working together with us on the Shark Front. We come from very different backgrounds, education and perspectives, but share a undeniable desire to get involved.

The Shark Angels have accomplished much through sheer willpower, donated time, and grassroots campaigns. These include heightening awareness and changing perspectives, the creation of a robust, edgy but educational conservation toolkit, and the formation of a global network of Angels over 4,000 strong.  Media in many global publications and programs in France, South Africa, the US, the UK, Japan, and Spain take the issues facing sharks into the mainstream, and develop of a very strong brand identity with world-wide recognition (people want to be shark angels). The creation of a line of apparel, and the deployment of world-wide campaigns are having measurable results on shark populations world-wide, like Fin Free. All of this has been personally fueled through passion, time, and personal funds donated by Angels.

Kim, Alison, and Julie still remain strong allies and friends that represent some of the first Angels and others around the world continue to look to them for inspiration. Yet, it has become so much bigger than that, and is now a positively-fueled, empowered, connected movement led by thousands of Angels world-wide acting locally on behalf of an animal who desperately needs our help.


Julie Andersen swimming with black tip sharks, Aliwal Shoal, South Africa. Photo: Paul Wildman


Why sharks

Many are shocked to learn sharks are disappearing at an alarming rate – their numbers down by 98% in some regions – with many species facing extinction during our lifetime. Over one hundred million sharks will be killed this year.  That’s 11,432 every hour.


Out of sight out of mind

Few know about this issue, because it happens so far away from us. Out in the oceans, in countries few of us will ever journey to, for a reason that is foreign to many of us.

And, worse, few care, as sharks have evolved into terrifying monsters that ironically, while often times fueling a mass hysteria, really only exist within our collective imagination. And thus, most share the inaccurate sentiment “the only good shark is a dead shark."

Say the word “shark” and most people immediately imagine a bloodthirsty monster worthy of a “Jaws” remake. As a society, there are few things we fear more than sharks, with shark attacks consistently ranking as one of the top three most-feared natural dangers, making it difficult for many people to understand why sharks are worth saving – let alone take measures to do so. And thus, countless animals continue to disappear without us noticing or caring.

But, the man-eating monster is a myth that Hollywood and the media have created in order to increase ratings and sell newspapers.  Actual attacks far outpace reports – as do the severity of the incidents. You are more likely to be killed in a hunting accident or lightening strike than a shark. In 2007, one person worldwide was killed by a shark bite, while 793 people died in bicycle accidents, and 49 died from dog bites.  Of the over 500 species of sharks, only a handful have been linked to any incidents with humans; the vast majority of sharks are harmless to humans.

Misunderstood and mal-aligned, the stakes at hand are life or death – not just for the sharks, but also our oceans. Turns out, we need sharks on this planet for our very survival.

The frightening reality is, like them or not, sharks play a crucial role on this planet. Remove sharks from the oceans and we are tampering with our primary food and air sources. And the livelihoods of the over four million people that rely on the oceans for their main source of income. Sharks are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides 1/3 of our world’s food source, produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere’s manmade carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas), and controls our planet’s temperature and weather.

As the apex predators of the oceans, the role of sharks is to keep other marine life in healthy balance and to regulate the world’s largest and most important ecosystem. Remove sharks and that balance is seriously upset. Studies are already indicating that regional elimination of sharks can cause disastrous effects including the collapse of fisheries and the death of coral reefs. No one knows for sure what will happen globally if shark populations are destroyed, but one can safely fear the results. Two hundred and fifty million years ago, this planet suffered the largest mass extinction on record, and scientists believe this was caused in part by catastrophic changes in the ocean. Sharks play a keystone role in our seas remain in a healthy equilibrium.

An animal hunted

In addition to the factors challenging all marine creatures - pollution, destruction of habitat, and elimination of food sources - sharks face an even more urgent threat: the demand for their fins are skyrocketing increasing their value exponentially. Indeed a single whale shark fin can sell for upwards of $50,000 USD. As the demand for shark fin far outweighs supply, no sharks are safe from desperate fisherman – sharks everywhere – even the handful that are protected and in the few areas that are protected - are under attack.

The incredibly lucrative market for shark fins is driving the slaughter. This extinction trade full of greed and corruption is often likened to the illegal drug trade, as it is rife with murder, mafia, and millions of dollars. Fisherman desperate to feed their families will stop at nothing and are being driven to extremes, though it is only a handful of individuals who are benefiting – at an incredible cost to all of us.

It is a race against the clock to save sharks – and us - from a looming demise. The Angels have their work cut out for them taking on the world’s hardest public image campaign while for their survival. But it’s a battle worth fighting – and one they are slowly winning.


Julie Andersen operating in the field in Indonesia. Photo: Paul Wildman


Guardian Angels

The Angels have a singular goal and believe that by harnessing the power of the passionate, together, we have the power to do what many disparate efforts cannot: together we can save sharks. The Shark Angels raise awareness to the critical issues and also attempt to change perspectives. Through media, community involvement and activating local networks to take back their sharks, they are making a real difference around the globe.


Julie Andersen, Founder, Shark Angels and Jamie Pollack, Director, Shark Angels
Photos: Paul Wildman and Gerie Muchnikoff


According to founder, Julie Andersen, “We are the next generation of shark conservationists, working independently and as a network of angels to bring about change. Because sharks need all the guardian angels they can get! The Shark Angels are raising awareness on the plight facing sharks, giving the world a new perspective on these misunderstood animals, and often, in the trenches, stopping the slaughter of sharks, protecting them from our collective greed and ignorance.  Instead of talk, we are all about action. We are making a difference.”

We caught up with Julie to hear about their plans for this year.

We’ve got a huge year ahead of us… rocking the world for sharks in 2012:
• After big wins in Canada, we are making more of the world shark Fin Free. A global, positive, movement, it is spreading across the world – even in Taipei.
• Shark Angels is launching in France… and China!
• Kids take center stage – as we launch new programs for our Cherubs – from Canada to Singapore.
• We’ve got lots of media appearances lined up – from Shark Week to several documentaries.
• We are journeying to Layang Layang, the Bahamas, Maldives, Singapore, Chicago and New York. And you can join us doing real work in the field for sharks!
• We’re launching new programs targeted at people who can make a difference for sharks – but are new to the cause.
• We will continue to grow, inspire and build a community of angels.

So what are you waiting for? If you haven’t already earned your wings, check out to get inspired and become involved.

Further reading


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Conservation: Restoring Orange County's Kelp Forests

Nancy Caruso

Kelp Forest Conservation: Get Inspired!

Orange County Ocean Restoration Project

By Nancy Caruso



Southern California divers care about their oceans.  I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with so many divers who want to bring about change.  In fact, I would not have a career were it not for the passion of the diving community in Southern California.  You see, in 2002, amidst some criticism, I started a project in Orange County to restore the kelp forests that had been gone for 30 years.  That was a mega-task.  A task I alone, could not have done.  Happily, it was the goal to include volunteers to help me with this task, so I dove in head first, and it has been the most rewarding experience of my life. 


Planting Kelp

  A diver attaches kelp hold-fasts to the rock with rubber bands


Orange County Ocean Restoration Project

Over the last nine years we have:

  • Planted five acres of kelp that has spread all over Orange County
  • Taught 5,000 students in 27 different schools to grow kelp in their classrooms and about kelp forest ecology
  • Educated 15,000 people through public outreach events
  • Surveyed 15 reefs (consistently) in Orange County which serves as the baseline for the new MPA in Laguna Beach
  • Relocated over 100,000 sea urchins (that’s a lot of spines)
  • Taught 1,100 students how to grow green abalone in their classrooms which are waiting for permits to be planted on reefs
  • Taught 100 students how to grow white sea bass in their classrooms which will be released In June, 2011
  • Started Kelpfest, an annual event to celebrate giant kelp and inspire a culture of appreciation for kelp forests

Kelp Restoration Before


And the effort continues…

We are currently restoring kelp in Shaw’s Cove and looking for other urchin barrens (reefs covered with urchins) to restore.  The ocean conditions are perfect for kelp to grow so we want to reestablish as many reefs as possible.  Please let me know if you are aware of any in Orange County, specifically Laguna Beach.  I am also looking for sightings of abalone in Orange County.

We hope to continue the school programs next school year to keep creating ocean stewards.  The students that take part in growing organisms for the project create a lasting connection to the ocean because they spend the whole year caring for them. It is our hope that they will make decisions to protect them in the future.

I have experienced lots of drama, heartbreak, love, disappointment, and joy in the last nine years of this project but my favorite take away has been the friends that I have made and the adventures that we have had together.   Thousands of people have helped make this project a success whether it be donating airfills, relocating sea urchins, letting me use your photographs for education, discounting a table for me at the scuba show, taking me out on your boat, teaching in a classroom,  giving me money, giving me discounts,  writing articles about the project to spread the word, giving me “stuff”,  fixing my boat,  and countless other ways, that you show your love for the ocean and your belief in what we are trying to do, Thank you Southern California Divers for all of your contributions and thank you for loving our ocean, I look forward to continue to change the world together.



Get Inspired! Volunteers

Get Inspired! volunteers after a successful day of helping to restore the kelp forests



Upcoming Events


If you would like to share your inspiration and volunteer to help Get Inspired!, please contact Nancy Caruso at or 714-206-5147
Upcoming events: 

  • June 7th  “Help the Kelp” Open House Huntington Beach High School. Come see the white sea bass growing in the classroom, arts and crafts for kids, science presentations by students, art contest ( all put on by a Girl Scout earning her Gold Award which is the highest award in Girl Scouting)
  • June 26-30  Discover the Channel Islands: Scuba and Marine Science Camp for kids 13-18 years old.  Students will earn open water or advanced certification while learning marine science with Nancy Caruso and Ocean Gear Dive Center
  • July 15-September 15 “Voyage: Get Inspired” Get Inspired will travel across the country by boat with stops in major cities to inspire people to get outside and explore the natural world.  Follow this journey on Facebook “Get Inspired”


Editor's Note:  Nancy has recently been selected by a panel of experts as a finalist for this year's Oceana "Ocean Hero" award for her work with the Orange County Restoration Project.  Please take a second to vote for Nancy here.  *Hint* She's the one with the scuba mask on her head!  Thanks, and congratulations again to Nancy!



Further Reading:


Bluefin Tuna - What You Can Do

Vincent Kneefel
Bluefin tuna are being hunted to extinction. Find out what you can do.

The Tale of the Bluefin Tuna

Time is running out for the Bluefin

Written by Vincent Kneefel, Marine Conservation Editor



"Fish, amphibian, and reptile, warm-blooded bird and mammal - each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium, and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in sea water." - Rachel Carson


Ever since I had the dream come through of swimming through a school of 20+ bluefin tuna in the Azores, I have been sort of obsessed with the lifespan and future of this iconic creature.


Bluefin tuna swimming underwater

Bluefin tuna underwater, Malta Tuna farm, photography by Edward Curmi


While sushi for a long time has been one of my favourite dishes, I have a couple of years ago decided never to eat bluefin tuna again. The reason is simple. Because a lot of people in the world like bluefin tuna (probably the best fish meat out there), in the last 30 years global stocks have dwindled over 90 percent. Scientists now predict that at the current fishing rate all the world's bluefin tuna could be fished out within a few years.


But before we go into all the doom and gloom (yes, there is some pretty sad news coming up later), let us go back and see what makes the bluefin tuna such an amazing fish; a fish that very few photographers / scuba divers have encountered in the wild. Bluefin tuna are capable of reaching well over a thousand pounds (453.59 kilograms) in weight, and rival the black marlin and blue marlin as some of the largest known bony fish.



Bluefin tuna have been clocked in excess of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h) during 10 to 20 second sprint (with faster acceleration than a Ferrari!), which makes it very capable to catch any fish it wants. Bluefin tuna can live for 30 years, but due to heavy fishing mortality, few known specimens grow to a mature age.


Bluefin Tuna populations

There are three bluefin tuna populations in the world; the Atlantic bluefin tuna, the Pacific bluefin tuna and the Southern bluefin tuna. Tuna travel thousands of miles across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, which are traditional migratory routes. TOPP tags the Pacific bluefin tuna, which allows you to keep track of their exact migratory routes.





The story of giant Atlantic bluefin tuna began with enormous abundance, as they surged through the Straits of Gibraltar each spring, fanning out across the Mediterranean to spawn. Over the years, fisherman devised a method of extending nets from shore to intercept the fish and funnel them into chambers, where they were slaughtered (called the Mattanza - portfolio by Norbert Wu). By the mid-1800s, a hundred tuna traps—known as tonnara in Italy and almadraba in Spain—harvested up to tens of thousands of tons of bluefin annually. The fishery was sustainable, supporting thousands of workers and their families.


End of the line for Bluefin Tuna

Today the Atlantic bluefin tuna is losing it's fight for survival. Because catches have shrunk significantly, fishermen developed “tuna ranching”. Ranches consist of huge circular nets anchored where bluefins are glutted on mackerel, sardines, and pilchard until they are fat enough to be slaughtered. The Ocean Conservancy’s George Leonard calls tuna ranching “the least sustainable form of aquaculture on the planet.".



bluefin tuna

Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy



At the last CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) there was the opportunity to take appropriate measurement to protect the species. However, as expected, the proposal to ban international trade was rejected by Japan and Russia. The Japanese market for bluefin tuna is enormous, employing more than 100,000 people and a revenue of $5+ billion a year. Just a couple of days ago, a single bluefin tuna has been sold for the highest price in the past nine years at a Tokyo fish auction. The 232 kilogram (511 pound) fish was sold for 16.28 million yen, or a bit over $175,000. That makes 342 USD per pound!


While this is a record, this season might very well be the last season EVER that a bluefin tuna is sold..


Because while on the one end of the Atlantic Ocean, fisherman are taking out 22,000+ tonnes bluefin tuna, on the other end of the Ocean a major disaster is happening. The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could not have happened at a worse time, or in a worse spot.


"The giant bluefin only show up for about a month, and this is the time they show up," Stanford University marine biologist Barbara Block told AOL News. "Bluefin tuna are moving to the Gulf of Mexico exactly right now to spawn." Plus, she said, the spill is centered around one of the preferred breeding areas. "Many of the tuna go exactly to that region." The exact consequences of this disaster are yet to be seen.


How you can help save Bluefin Tuna


As you might agree, the scenario does not look very positive (and that is an understatement). But there is still hope (after all, it is too late to be a pessimist); ANY aquanaut (you for example), can do a number of things to help the bluefin tuna:


  • Get informed (e.g. watch the End of the Line or read Tuna a Love Story)
  • Stop eating bluefin tuna
  • Spread awareness among your friends and family
  • Support Sea Shepherd in their operation Blue Range
  • Send out letters to your local and national politicians
  • and so on..


A world without bluefin tuna? Diving in our oceans would never be the same, knowing that the unexpected encounter you have always been dreaming about is never going to take place.


ps. For those that have to see the tuna in real life, there is an ultimate option: travel to Carloforte, Sardinia. Isla Diving offers dive excursions to dive in a ranch between a school of hundreds of Bluefin Tuna.  


Bluefin Tuna Underwater Photos


schooling bluefin tuna underwater photography

Schooling bluefin tuna, Photo by Paul Colley. Taken in Malta in a Bluefin tuna farm. Nikon D300, Tokina 10-17mm lens, 2 Inon Z240 strobes.


bluefin tuna underwater photo

Bluefin tuna underwater, Photo by Paul Colley 


bluefin tuna underwater, turkey

Bluefin Tuna in İzmir - Çeşme, Turkey, Tuna farm, photo by Aziz Saltik. Sea & Sea DX5000-G, natural light.  The pen was 37 meters deep and 60 meters in diameter. We did 4 dives there and the average population in the pens were about 250-300 blue fin tunas per cage. The fish are caught in the Mediterranean sea and towed to İzmir at a speed of 1 naut. mile per hour, the fattening takes place for 4 months and then they are "harvested" and exported to Japan.


About the Author


Vincent Kneefel is a 25-year old underwater photographer / conservation writer / sustainability consultant from Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Vincent has a passion for marine life and is committed to conservation of the underwater world. He is currently a PhD student at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Vincent's challenge to himself is to make an effort to increase the awareness for underwater marine life. By showing and telling people what beauty lies beneath the surface, he hopes to make a contribution to the conservation of this unique habitat. You can visit his website at




Bluefin Tuna Underwater Photography


Paul Colley supplied underwater photos he took in Malta at a bluefin tuna farm. You can see his work at Thanks also to Edward Curmi and Aziz Saltik for their underwater photos.



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