Photo Dispatch from Yap
Our latest installment of Paul & Lisa's Dispatch series brings photos from an iconic dive destination in Micronesia.
Google up some images from Yap.
If there’s ever a selection of photos that conjure up what most people think the Tropical Pacific is, then these are it! Blue water, white sandy beaches, palm trees, amazing culture and beautiful people.
Yap is one of the 4 states of Micronesia. Due to its small population and remote location, it sadly plays poor cousin to the 3 larger states. Even in diving tourism, it receives only a fraction of the country's visiting divers. (The majority descends on the famous wreck diving location of Truk Lagoon in the state of Chuuk.)
Divers mainly come to Yap for the Manta Rays. After all, Yap is regarded as one of the world’s premier locations to view the magical Mantas.
In recent years the Mantas have moved locations (the sites where divers go to see them), which has brought with it both pros and cons.
The old location was a cleaning station bommie within a channel inside the lagoon. It was close to the outer reef edge, meaning it was flushed with clear blue water for most of the time. The downside was it was in 18m/60ft depth, which meant that the dive was limited by NDL’s – although the use of Nitrox (if available) could help.
The new location is within the same channel but it is a lot further inside the lagoon and away from the reef edge. The downside is the reduced visibility inside the lagoon, however, diving towards the top of the flooding tide helps considerably. The huge advantage of the new location is the depth. The top of the coral bommie is just 5m/16ft deep with the Mantas hovering above that. It means both snorkelers and divers can enjoy long periods of time in the water with them. We found the limiting factor of our dives being our strobe batteries!
Diving with the Mantas
Initially we were unsure just how close the Mantas would come to the divers, so we started with a 12-24mm Nikon Lens. We quickly found out that they can come very close - hovering only inches above your head - so we swapped to a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens.
For photographers, the coral bommie is round in shape and it only takes a few minutes to swim around it. This means you can chose your photography spot depending on the sun's location. With such shallow depths you can not only have the sun behind you, but also experiment by using it within the frame as sunbursts with the mantas. The effect can be stunning with the right exposure.
Transiting from the dive shops in the main town of Colonia to the Manta location is a blast, as the experienced boat skippers push their craft at high speed through a series of tight mangrove and rock lined passages. At no time do you go anywhere near the reef edge or outer ocean, which means that the site can be accessed in most weather conditions.
Not Just Mantas in Yap
The dive action in Yap doesn’t stop after dark, with dusk/night dives being very popular at O’Keefes Island, which is also within the protected inner lagoon waterway.
O’Keefes Island’s claim to fame is it has the world’s largest population of Mandarin Fish.
These cute and very colourful fish emerge out of the coral just before dark. This gives photographers the opportunity to get a photo of them as they cruise around the coral looking for a mate. The courtship happens all too quickly as they spiral up out of the coral together before releasing eggs and returning back to the safety of the reef. It can be a real challenge to get a good mating shot, but with depths once again being shallow at around 6m/20ft, there is ample time.
We found the Nikon 60mm Macro lens perfect for the job. A small modelling light with variable power settings also helped with finding the mandarin fish and focusing. It didn’t seem to scare them off when used on low power.
Topside in Yap
In between dives take some time to walk around the island to explore the history and culture. One famous Yap icon is the stone money. Some of it is huge... over 3m/10ft diameter.
One of the best locations is the province of Rull, which is only a 15 minute walk south of the resort and dive shops. The streets are lined with them along with many traditional thatched roof leaf houses and the old but well maintained stone paths. If you are walking without a local, carry a small leafy tree branch in one hand indicating you are coming in peace.
If you can time it, try to get your dive holiday to coincide with Yap Day, an annual weekend of Cultural significance for the Yapese people. It includes performances, dancing, competitions and displays. It is for the local people and they must be in traditional dress, however tourists are welcome to attend and are even encouraged to also wear traditional dress – and that includes the women going topless. This is, after all, an everyday Yapese custom.
Of our 6 years of full time travels on-board our yacht Lorelei, Yap Day has by far been the cultural highlight of our journey.
Read more from our Yap adventure at yachtlorelei.blogspot.com.
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