I recently arrived back from a short trip to the Komodo National Park in Indonesia and it was another great trip to this wonderful location. The highlight of the trip for myself was that we were able to swim with dozens of manta rays in the south at a site called Manta Alley. The mantas themselves were all at the surface feeding for the entire morning, so even though we tried jumping in the water to dive with them, we weren’t having much success with encounters. Therefore, we did the smart thing and surfaced from our dive in order to snorkel with them instead! These beautiful animals did not feel any threat from our presence and willingly swam alongside us for minutes at a time. We enjoyed the encounter so much we even came back and jumped in a second time! Although the water was cold and somewhat green, that doesn’t really matter when you are surrounded by mantas does it?!? Interested in a trip to Komodo, join the Underwater Tribe on an adventure there in September 2015!
This is probably the single most frustrating clip I have ever shot when I look back at it. IE: I screwed it up big time! Not only had I scratched the port of my video camera two days prior, I also got greedy and tried to take still photos with my right hand on one camera while recording video with this video camera in my left! Wouldn’t you know it, neither the stills nor the video came out all that great which is a darn shame as it could have been amazing footage of 30 or more Manta Rays mating in a frenzy right in front of me! Mi’il Channel, Yap, Micronesia
Meet Seb, he is the French diveguide that I used to work with back in French Polynesia 10 years ago or so. Seb lived on the island of Rangiroa and joined the Tahiti Aggressor when I worked on that boat from 2002 to 2004. Seb was a special kind of person, he loved sharks and loved feeding them even more! No mesh glove, no special equipment, no fear! It was always a great adventure diving with Seb as you could always find a stray tuna head in his BCD, the photo opportunities for shark shots was always incredible. On this particular dive Seb was feeding sharks at the bottom and I positioned myself right beside him in order to get some great photos. This particular grey reef shark came in for a quick pass to see what was in store and I was able to take the shot as it shot between Seb and I.
Tuamotu Island Group, French Polynesia, Settings unrecorded, Nikonos V and Provia 100 film, 15mm lens, Sea and Sea YS 120 Strobes
This photo is one of a series of photos from one of the best manta interactions I have had in the last 10 years. It was the 27th of Dec 2013 and I was in the Raja Ampat region of Indonesia at a site called Manta Sandy. The group of people that I was with were a large family of snorkelers who were super excited at the chance of encountering a few mantas if they were lucky (little were they to know!). We all jumped in close to the “cleaning station” at this famous dive site and drifted along the coral reef while interacting with a group of 5 or 6 mantas that were actively swimming only a few metres away from us. The water was full of small jellies and other planktonic goodness that the mantas were feeding on and they didn’t seem to mind our attention at all. After being in the water for around 30 minutes, and encountering at least 10 different mantas, the group tired of the swimming and decided to jump back on the chase boat for a few cool beverages while talking excitedly about the great manta action they had just witnessed. While the family basked in the sun, myself and the resident dive ops manager of the boat, Alex, kept a sharp eye out on the water surface to see if we could see any further manta activity. Sure enough, as the boat drifted across the channel from the manta cleaning station, we could spot plenty of manta wing tips breaking the surface. After a few minutes of watching the manta activity from a little ways away, and noticing that the guests were not in any hurry to head back to the mother ship, Alex and I asked if we could jump in the water again to “investigate” the mantas that we could see in the distance (Being the photographer that I am I of course brought my camera as well). Within seconds of jumping off the boat we were surrounded by what must have been a minimum of 30 mantas rays feeding at or near the surface scooping up the rich plankton and jellies in the water. Of course we immediately told everyone on the boat to jump back in the water and everyone had the most incredible experience of being surrounded by these magnificent creatures in a once in a lifetime opportunity! I won’t forget that snorkel anytime soon and every time I head back to Raja in December I am constantly looking to repeat it!
Nikon D7000 in Aquatica Housing, 10.5mm lens, f8, 1/250, ISO 400, natural light
We have just recently finished an Underwater Tribe group trip aboard the Mermaid II liveaboard in Raja Ampat and there is no way to describe other than the word FANTASTIC! When we planned this trip almost two years ago, we looked at the calendar to decide what dates would work best in terms of tidal and moon phase as well as the optimal time of year for weather and we decided that the end of March would be perfect, and boy are we happy that we chose those dates! The weather and sea conditions could not have been better, the water was crystal clear, and the currents were mild which made life easy for our group of divers. We spent the vast majority of our time in the Misool area enjoying the incredible dive sites that the area has to offer including Fansea, Nudi and Tank Rock, Whale Rock, Magic Mountain, Bo’o, and the Daram area along with a few other sites thrown in as well. In the Dampier Strait area we dove Cape Kri, Blue Magic, Arborek, Manta Sandy and Sardine. As can be expected from Raja Ampat, the fish life was prolific and the incredible amount of colourful corals was just mind-boggling. For those looking for macro subjects there was certainly no shortage of pygmy seahorses as we saw Denise, Bargibanti, and Santa Clause (the red and white Denise) on pretty much every dive. We had plenty of turtle encounters and we were also very lucky with mantas both in the Misool region as well as in the Dampier Strait. The diving could not have been better as everything worked out perfectly. When not diving we also enjoyed several cruises investigating and photographing the unique karst limestone formations that can be found in the Balbulol and Wayil area and also had the chance to wander around the island of Arborek and enjoy a very well performed dance by the kids. Of course we also presented our patented Underwater Tribe photo seminars each day and answered questions about photography for those interested.
We were very impressed with the Mermaid II, the boat was quiet and the ride was smooth, the food was excellent and plentiful, and of course the crew and guides were absolutely outstanding! We are already planning our next trip aboard the vessel and are looking forward to another week with the Mermaid II. Special thanks for everyone who joined us on the trip, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did and we are looking forward to seeing you all again soon. Enjoy some pics and stay tuned for a few short videos as well!
Alor is one of the most underrated destinations in Indonesia, in fact, the entire area east of Maumere is home to some incredible geography with plenty of belching volcanoes, healthy reefs, and traditional cultures. Although many divers head to the area to take advantage of the superb macro photo subjects, the wide angle photography opportunities are also very rich. One of the more unique areas is the island of Pura, a large volcano thrusting 1000 metres out of the water in the strait between Pantar and Alor. On the south eastern shore of Pura lies one of the more interesting dives in Alor, basically several kilometres of never ending bubble tipped anemones and their resident clownfish. Although the endless spread of anemones is a cool site to see, it’s the chance to encounter local kids in the water at this site that can often be the highlight of a dive here. Quite often the young boys from the village can be found playing in their small boats or swimming in the water with their hand made spear guns. It’s quite a sight to look up from the reef to see one of these young men peering down at you from the surface while wearing home made goggles. With this particular shot I spotted the guys paddling out toward me in their small outrigger while I was near the surface. Next thing I knew, the two young fellas both popped their faces into the water at the same time! I think they did this not only to check who was down there but also to see if I had a camera, because the next thing you know they both jumped into the water at the same time. Why did they want to see if I had a camera? Why did they jump in the water? They wanted to perform for my camera of course! While one of them kept diving down and posing in a zen like state, the other was swimming along with his spear gun trying to impress me with his fish killing prowess (I ignored him because of that..) I spent 15 or 20 minutes with these kids taking quite a few photos of them but it was the first photo that stands out the most. I was extremely fortunate to capture their happy smiles and the obvious eagerness as they were waiting to “clown” for the camera.
Alor, Eastern Indonesia, Nikon D90 with Aquatica Housing, 10-17mm lens at 10mm, f8, 1/250
This is my second “Story Behind the Shot” that talks about coral reef destruction by illegal fishing methods such as dynamite fishing (my first one is here, an encounter with a bomb that didn’t explode). This photo is of a very large stony coral head that has literally been blow to pieces by a home made bomb thrown by an illegal fishing boat. The practice of “dynamite fishing” is as simple as it sounds; a fisherman creates a “bomb” with the main ingredients of fertilizer and diesel or kerosene and sets it off with some sort of detonater. It may sound like a basic little device but just look at the Oklahoma bombing from a few years ago (that brought down a huge building) using the same method. On this particular shot, we had arrived at our diving spot (an offshore pinnacle) to find a lone local fishing boat anchored to the spot. As the fishermen didn’t look active, and saw us coming, we prepared to jump in on the spot for an early morning dive. Before leaving the main boat I did find something a little strange, several dead fish were floating past the boat on the surface. I pretty much knew that this meant these fishermen had been doing some dynamite fishing but didn’t realize the extent of it before I jumped in. I had a camera with me during the dive set up with a macro lens as the conditions didn’t seem all that great for wide angle and I set about looking for small things along the mini wall. As the dive wore on and I was approaching my shallow safety stop I could see a lot of “white rocks” in the distance that looked a little strange. As I approached these white rocks I started to see a lot of dead fusiliers littering the reef, this gave me a sudden sense of trepidation of what I was looking at in the distance. Sure enough, as I got closer I could see that it was an entire large coral head that had been blown to smithereens by bomb fishing. I was most definitely flabbergasted by the destruction and was lamenting the fact that I had a macro lens on as I wanted to capture images of the immense destruction to show anyone who would pay attention. After taking a few shots of the dead fusiliers I headed to the surface and went back to the main boat to change lenses. Once putting my wide lens on I headed back to the scene of the crime and took a series of shots of the carnage, I believe this photo best captures the widespread damage. However, no one photo could also show the amount of dead fish that were spread all over the bottom, fish that would never be collected by the fishermen as they only scoop up the fish that float to the surface. In other words, I was a witness to a shocking example of what a complete waste of life dynamite fishing is. Not only do the majority of the fish killed by this method go to waste but it completely destroys the environment they live in and creates an area devoid of life. What a waste!
I have written another short article over on the Dive Advisor website called “A Guide to Cleaning Stations” via their Sub2o platform. If you are not following the Sub2o blog then you are missing out on some great articles! My latest article is all about the magic of exploring and experiencing cleaning stations, whether the creatures being cleaned are large or small! Have a look at it at the following link and spend some time on the site while you are there to read other posts by a great set of authors.
Although the ocean is in a constant swirl of prey and predator interactions, it’s difficult for divers to observe natural behaviour, as animals often flee from our large and intruding presence. However, as any seasoned photographer or naturalist knows, there is one place that is always home to a buzz of activity on the reef: the cleaning station! Read More… A Guide to Cleaning Stations Full Article
This shot is from my first ever trip to Raja Ampat and was taken at the iconic site of Citrus Ridge. Although this site would quickly become my favourite site in the northern R4 area after working on liveaboards there for several seasons, my first experience was certainly a memorable one. We jumped into the blue at the mouth of this channel dive and started descending toward the wonderful coral cover when I spotted this large school of batfish in the water column. Being a fan of big schools of fish, I never did actually make it to the reef on this hour plus long dive! With very minimal current, I was able to stay in the same area throughout and spent the full 70 minutes photographing this curious school of batfish as well as the thousands of fusiliers and baitfish that were swarming in the water column. Not to be outdone by the batfish, I was also visited by a large school of horse eye jacks and buzzed by a school of chevron barracuda. This image is my personal favourite of this memorable dive as the single batfish in the foreground seems to be curiously looking straight at me while the rest of the school swims away into the blue.
Nikon D90, Aquatica Housing, 10-17mm lens at 17mm, f10, 1/200 ISO 200
View more Raja Ampat images at my Raja Ampat Gallery
One of my more popular photos, the Pregnant Pygmy Seahorse, was taken in 2010 at Cannibal Rock in Horseshoe Bay, Komodo National Park, Indonesia. After spotting this pygmy seahorse a few days before, I made a mental note to prepare my camera for “super macro” for my next visit to the area. In all honesty, I didn’t expect this particular seahorse to still be so “pregnant” looking when I arrived 5 or 6 days later but I was more than happy to see it was still in this condition when I arrived. When shooting “super macro” I use a Nikon 105mm lens coupled with a Kenko 2X Teleconverter which creates a 210mm lens. However, as I was using a crop sensor camera this setup has macro capability of about 2.5X lifesize (with my basic math). Shooting with a teleconverter (TC) is extremely annoying as the autofocus takes a very long time and will “stutter” at the slightest movement of the button. Therefore, the best way to shoot when using this setup is to preset the lens to manual and “rack it” all the way to minimum focus distance before putting it in the housing. This way the lens is set to its optimum “super macro” setting and will be able to take photos quickly without the issue of the auto focus losing focus. On this photo I waited patiently beside the seafan and rocked gently back and forth with the lens until the pygmy was in focus before taking any photos. A lot of time and patience was spent (I won’t mention my deco obligation) on this set of images while waiting for this notoriously shy subject to turn toward the camera.
Nikon D90, Aquatica housing, 105mm with 2X TC, f 14, 1/250, Sea and Sea YS 120 strobes