Sunday, November 09, 2014

Bintan Island Photos, November 2014

Here are some of the photos I took in Bintan last weekend.

Snooted spider crab (achaeus spinosus).  105mm & Subsee +5 diopter, 1/320s, f/32, ISO 100

Mating doto bella and eggs. 105mm & Subsee +5 diopter, 1/320s, f/32, ISO 100 

Rosy spindle cowrie (phenacovolva rosea).  105mm & Subsee +5 diopter, 1/320s, f/25, ISO 100

Bornella sp.  105mm, 1/320s, f/25, ISO 100

Monday, November 03, 2014

Diving Bintan, November 2014

This past weekend, I dove Bintan Island for the first time.  I have been looking for a a decent place to do weekend trips since I've outgrown the options of Aur or Tioman.  Aur is off limits these days and I've had enough of Tioman because of the awful travel logistics and the bad accommodations.

It is now the tail end of the diving season before the monsoon starts.  I did 2 dives each on Saturday and Sunday and wasn't able to do more because the winds pick up in the afternoon, making diving conditions unsafe.  I dove with Tasik Divers Bintan, which is affiliated with Tasik Ria Resort in Manado.  While it is a new operation, having just completed its first full season, some of its guides come from Manado and bring experience and high standards with them.  I thought the operation was quite well run and the guides know how to handle photographers well.

The diving itself is not bad.  All our dives were near Trikora Beach, where the diving is best described as white sand muck diving.  I saw lots of crabs, shrimp, and nudibranchs, including 2 rare bornella sp., a leaf with about 10 tiny costasiella kuroshimae, and what appeared to be hundreds of pairs of mating doto bella.  I saw also a beautiful zebra batfish, 2 cowries, and a coconut octopus.  Visibility averaged 5m, which is doable for macro photography but not wide angle.  There are quite a lot of suspended particles in the water, especially when the current picks up, and this makes it vital to use creative lighting techniques or a snoot to minimize backscatter.  I understand that currents can be very strong and it is important to check the tide tables before planning a trip.  I was told that night dives are spectacular but wasn't able to do any myself.

I stayed at Spa Villa Bintan, which was very clean and comfortable as a diving base.  The food is so so.  They have wifi but it can be spotty.

Logistics are indeed a lot better than Aur or Tioman.  The ferry to Bintan Island leaves from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and takes about 60 minutes.  And then a 60 min car ride takes you to Trikora Beach in the east, where the diving is.  The pace is also a lot more relaxed than at Aur or Tioman as travel times are short and there is no need to rush at any point.

Overall, Bintan makes for a good weekend diving trip.  I will be back.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Bali Photos August 2014

Here's a selection of photos from Bali:

Selfie on deco at Gili Tepekong.  Tokina 10-17mm @ 10mm, 1/125s, f/8, ISO 100 

Huge gorgonian sea fan on the USAT Liberty.  Tokina 10-17mm @ 10mm, 1/320s, f/13, ISO 100

School of bumphead parrotfish on a dawn dive an the USAT Liberty.  Tokina 10-17mm @ 11mm, 1/30s, f/4.5, ISO 100 

 Huge soft coral cluster on the USAT Liberty.  Tokina 10-17mm @ 14mm, 1/30s, f/10, ISO 100

Costasiella kuroshimae.  105mm & Subsee +5 diopter, 1/320s,  f/25, ISO 100

Stiliger ornatus.  105mm & Subsee +5 diopter, 1/320s,  f/20, ISO 100 

Doto sp. with eggs.  105mm & Subsee +10 diopter, 1/320s,  f/25, ISO 100 

 Doto bella.  105mm & Subsee +10 diopter, 1/200s,  f/20, ISO 100 

Bali Trip Report, August 2014

It’s now 2 months after my 9 day diving trip to Bali, but as they say, better late than never.  It was a fantastic trip indeed.  I spent the first half of the week tech diving with Leon and the second half focusing on photography in Tulamben.

It was a very interesting and varied week.  We started out diving in Lake Batur, a crater lake in northeast Bali.  Our mission was to take some video to help a local government geologist in his research on what’s going on in the lake.  Our video proved to him the existence of lava flowers at the bottom of the lake, which was something nobody knew or expected.  So the 1m vis and 22 degree water was worth it.

Leon and I then went on to do a few tech dives at Gili Tepekong and Padang Bai.  I had a catastrophic wing failure at our 60m dive at Gili Tepekong.  I’m thankful for my GUE training and good buddy, which made the consequences of the failure an inconvenience rather than a problem.  I managed my buoyancy with my drysuit and SMB and got through the dive and 30 min of deco stops.  At Padang Bai, I saw my first ceratosoma magnificum and janolus sp. just below 30m but could not get a decent shot of them as I had my wide angle lens on.

Then we did Nusa Penida, which was hugely disappointing as our dive boat refused to go to Crystal Bay or Manta Point.  Nusa Penida is completely overrated unless you see mola molas or mantas, which is the whole point of going there.

Then we went up to Tulamben to dive the USAT Liberty and surrounding area.  The Liberty is one of my favorite wrecks.  It is covered in soft coral and all manner of marine life have made it their home.  There are huge groupers, snappers, sweetlips, and lots of small critters all over the wreck.  With Leon, we dove the wreck on doubles and stages and did 2 very long deco dives, which gave us a lot of time to explore the wreck thoroughly.

Finally, my last dive with Leon was a 2.5 hour staged dive with a 75 min deco, which he calls the Traverse.  It starts at the Drop Off in Tulamben and ends at Macro Point.  We spent most of the dive at 45m and saw some very healthy reefs along the way that rarely get dived.  We saw a large reef shark, a whitetip shark, barracuda, snapper, and lots of cleaning action.

After Leon took off, I changed gears to focus on photography.  I checked in to the Liberty Dive Resort in Tulamben.  I had reached out to Jeff Mullins at www.reefwreckandcritter.com to request a dive guide who was experienced in dealing with photographers, and I wasn’t disappointed with my guide Tisnu.  We would wake up at 5am each day to do a dawn dive on the Liberty and shoot the school of bumphead parrotfish as they left the wreck for the day, then spend the afternoon muck diving and looking for tiny critters.  He found me every critter on my list and more, and planned our diving schedule to maximize the photo ops and minimize running into other divers.

I am continually impressed by the diversity in the diving Bali has to offer.  From the deep sloping reefs of the southeast, to the black sandy critter hunt of the northeast, to the Liberty wreck, every dive in Bali is a totally different experience.  And now that there are legitimate technical diving options available with Living Seas, there are no limits on diving in Bali.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Bali, Here I Come

I am spending next week diving with Living Seas in Bali.  Living Seas set up shop in Bali about a year ago and is fully set up for technical diving and bespoke adventures.  We will be heading all over the island to dive some common and some off the beaten path sites.  We are going to be diving Padang Bai (southeast), Nusa Penida (island off the southeast), Lake Batur (inland northeast) and Tulamben (northeast).  Nusa Penida is home to a mola mola and manta cleaning station.  Fingers crossed to have good conditions, reasonable vis, and responsible divers so I can get some decent photos.  Tulamben is home to the USAT Liberty, a 125m long US Army cargo ship torpedoed by the Japanese in WWII and one of the best wreck diving sites in the world.

We'll be doing a mixture of technical and recreational dives, depending on what's hot.  At the tail end of the trip, I have arranged an additional 2 days of guided diving in Tulamben with Jeff Mullins' Reef Wreck & Critter focused on photography.

Bali has great diving and very diverse marine life, but the obvious problem is overdiving and diver damage.  There are also a lot of unscrupulous dive guides who have no qualms manipulating the marine life.  I'm hoping to avoid the crowds and dive at pristine sites given all the arrangements that I've made.  Also, Bali is largely unexplored below recreational depths so I'm hoping that we'll be lucky and get some surprises on our technical dives.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Diving Tioman Island, June 2014

We had another fun weekend trip to Tioman Island last weekend.  The school holiday traffic made the journey to and from Tioman Island very painful, but the diving was worth it.  Highlights of the trip were bumphead parrotfish, 2 turtles, and lots of clownfish and anemones.  I had a lot of fun experimenting with the Tokina 10-17mm and Zen 4 inch dome port.  I'm finding it challenging to avoid/minimize backscatter in CFWA shots but am making progress.  Examining some of the pictures, I am not happy with the corner sharpness of the Tokina 10-17mm and mini dome at f/8, so I am going to try f/13-14 as my base aperture from now on.

Hard coral landscape in the shallows. Tokina 10-17mm @ 10mm, 1/125s, f/8, ISO 100 

Giant sea fan.  Tokina 10-17mm @ 10mm, 1/320s, f/13, ISO 100

 Turtle.  Tokina 10-17mm @ 10mm, 1/125s, f/8, ISO 100


Monday, June 02, 2014

Diving Tioman Island, May 2014

A couple of weekends ago, we had an excellent trip to Tioman Island.  It was Taitti's last trip to Tioman for now and a very apt farewell as the conditions and marine life were as good as any of us had ever experienced in Tioman.  It was also my first trip out with my Tokina 10-17mm lens and Zen 4 inch dome port, and I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of pictures that I was able to get.

Highlights of the trip were having a chance to shoot Grouchy, the resident turtle on Roger's House Reef, seeing 2 bumphead parrotfish and a cuttlefish couple laying eggs at Chebeh, lots of anemones and clownfish at Malang, the biggest spiny lobster I have ever seen on the House Reef, and lots of schools of juvenile fish in general.  The cuttlefish laying eggs in particular was very special for me as I felt blessed to witness such a tender underwater moment.  I saw her placing her eggs within the folds of a large hard coral head while her partner looked on.

This trip renewed my interest in Tioman and left me very grateful that we have such good diving so close to home.  Weekend trips to Tioman are tiring because of the long travel time and many transfers but totally worth it for this quality of diving.  I had a lot of fun with the 10-17mm lens and I'll definitely be spending more time with it learning how to shoot wide angle.

Goodbye Taitti and come back to dive with us again soon!

 Grouchy the turtle.  Tokina 10-17mm @ 17mm, 1/200s, f/8, ISO 100

Broadclub cuttlefish.  Tokina 10-17mm @ 17mm, 1/320s, f/16, ISO 100

Giant spiny lobster.  60mm, 1/320s, f/14, ISO 100

Diving Catalina Island, March 2014

When I was in Los Angeles in March, I had the opportunity to sneak in a day of diving so I contacted Scott Gietler, owner of Underwater Photography GuideBluewater Photo Store, and most recently, Bluewater Travel.  He arranged a day trip to Catalina Island, about 1 hour south of Long Beach by boat.  While Scott was unable to join the dive trip, Brent Durand did instead.  Brent is a cool, laidback dude who has tons of experience with photography and diving Californian waters, and was the perfect buddy.

We met bright and early at Long Beach and after a slow start, were on our way.  Catalina Island is very accessible from LA and is a popular destination for short trips for both divers and land visitors.  We spent the day moored around the island and did 2 leisurely dives among the kelp forests.  The kelp forests are quite a unique underwater environment.  Kelp is a type of gigantic leafy seaweed that stretches from the rocky bottom all the way to the surface.  The fronds create a natural shelter for juvenile fish so the kelp forests tend to be quite fishy.  The highlight of the dives was seeing a few giant sea bass, which can grow up to 2m long, in the distance.  During the surface interval, we had a friendly baby sea lion hop onto the back of our boat and hang out for about an hour, which I understand doesn't happen too often!  We had a very nice sunny day but the water was around 13C, which was a little chilly in my DUI 30/30 drysuit.

My drysuit neck seal had deteriorated significantly since the last time I used it and I had to duct tape it to my neck to keep the seal watertight.  I had to be very careful not to move my head too much to avoid any leaks, and as a result, I wasn't very productive in taking photos.

It was a fun day out and a cool first experience in the kelp forests.  Next time, I will be back with a wide angle lens to try to capture the full splendor of the kelp forests.

Curious Garibaldi.  60mm, 1/320s, f/14, ISO 100

Spiny lobster.  60mm, 1/320s, f/14, ISO 100

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lembeh Photos October 2013

Here are some of the highlights from the Lembeh photo workshop:

Ceratosoma tenue and emperor shrimp.  60mm & 1.4x teleconverter, 1/320s, f/25, ISO 100

Peacock mantis shrimp.  60mm & 1.4x teleconverter in 1.3x crop mode, 1/320s, f/16, ISO 100

Juvenile pinnate batfish. 60mm & 1.4x teleconverter in 1.3x crop mode, 1/320s, f/16, ISO 100

Hairy frogfish.  105mm, 1/320s, f/20, ISO 100

Blue ring octopus.  105mm, 1/320s, f/18, ISO 100

Cuthona yamasui.  60mm & Subsee +10 diopter in 1.3x crop mode, 1/320s, f/25, ISO 100

Marionia pustulosa.  105mm, 1/320s, f/22, ISO 100

Mating mandarinfish.  105mm, 1/320s, f/13, ISO 100

Lembeh Trip Report, October 2013

I attended a most excellent underwater photography workshop in October 2013 that I am only writing about now.  My wife’s awesome wedding present to me was, in addition to the new camera set up, a dream diving trip. So I chose to attend Wetpixel’s Lembeh Macro Workshop at Lembeh Resort, led by famed marine biologist and underwater photographer Dr. Alex Mustard and Wetpixel editor Adam Hanlon. And it did not disappoint.

It was a very productive trip.  We were blessed with prolific marine life and all the strange critters were out in droves.  Despite having been to a number of muck diving havens such as Anilao, Bali, and even Lembeh itself (twice previously), I still recorded a number of first sightings on this trip: Denise’s pygmy seahorse, ceratosoma nudibranch (6), paddleflap rhinopias, blue ring octopus (3), cuthona yamasui, marionia pustulosa, thecacera pacifica, Lembeh hairy frogfish, and juvenile pinnate batfish.

Alex more than lived up to the hype.  Obviously, he is an excellent and visionary photographer and it was great to see him in action.  But what made his workshop extra special was his passion for making outstanding photos and especially his strong desire to teach us how to do so for ourselves.  He is a strong communicator and put a ton of effort into his presentations, demonstrations, and lectures to make sure that we grasped the techniques and added them to our shooting toolboxes.  Alex is all about originality and pushed us to take artistic, novel, and differentiated photos.

It was also a real pleasure to be in the company of many other excellent photographers, many of whom have won prestigious awards and been published!  I learned a tremendous amount from speaking to and diving with the other trip participants.

Lembeh Resort is a beautiful, high-end resort for divers.  It is designed with respect for nature in mind and the rooms are built around the trees and vegetation.  The practices are eco-friendly, with no plastic bottles on the premises and minimal waste.  Rooms are comfortable and clean.  The staff is very friendly and well trained.  The food is plentiful but I thought it was so so.

The dive operation, Critters@Lembeh, is professionally run and is a high quality operation.  The dive guides are truly excellent – they are very knowledgeable about the local species, try hard to find good subjects, and are passionate about what they do.  The boats all run smoothly and you don’t have to worry about carrying anything yourself or setting up your own gear as they do that all for you.  The camera room is great, with individual table space for each photographer.  There is plenty of room for gear, accessories, and battery charging.  Between the dive operation and camera room, Lembeh Resort takes care of all of a serious underwater photographer’s needs. But perhaps the most differentiated aspect of the resort for photographers is the fact that they have a photo pro, Sascha Janson, based there full-time.  I found him invaluable for his advice, local knowledge, and resourcefulness in dealing with camera issues.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My New Camera

My wonderful wife bought me a new camera, housing, and associated accessories as part of her wedding gift to me.  So, I recently acquired a Nikon D7100, Nauticam NA-D7100 housing, Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, and Reefnet Subsee wet diopters.

I’ve had a chance to take the new system out on a couple of short trips to Tioman Island now, and I can say unequivocally that this is a huge upgrade from my previous system.  There are lots of improvements but the ones that I’ve found that made a real difference to my underwater photography are the improved autofocus system, internal motor for non-AF-S lenses, 1.3x crop mode, and U1 and U2 recall modes.

With this system, I now have several options for supermacro photography: 1.3x crop mode, teleconverters, and wet diopters (or some combination of this).  The best thing about it is that I can choose at any point in the dive whether to use 1.3x crop mode and/or the wet diopters.

The YS-D1 strobes are great.  They are tiny, powerful, and user friendly.

I am reserving my judgment on the Nauticam housing until I’ve spent more time with it.  In general, I love the ergonomics and smart design, but I’ve been having a few issues with the housing.  Nothing huge, but annoying enough to make a difference. 

Tioman Island 

I spent 2 weekends in Tioman using the new camera system.  Having not been there for a few years, I was pleasantly surprised by the vibrant marine life.  I saw lots of clownfish and anemonefish, a few interesting nudibranches, lots of gobies and blennies, and millions of marble shrimp (which are very rare except in Tioman, apparently!).  Definitely enough to keep a macro photographer busy.  Conditions were generally benign except for some surge, which made supermacro photography challenging at times.

I tried the 60 mm & 1.4x teleconverter combination for the first time and it was great.  I didn’t really notice any deterioration in autofocus capabilities, which is really a testament to the camera’s good autofocus.

The things I don’t like about Tioman are the accommodations and the journey.  The accommodations are very basic and I didn’t have any hot water on both trips.  The journey involves a long van ride, going through Singapore and Malaysian immigration, and a long ferry ride.  The part I like the least is the long waiting time in between stops and the unpredictability of the ferry.

Salang panorama.  iPhone 5
 

Pink anemonefish.  105 mm, 1/320s, f/10, ISO 200

Striped triplefin.  105mm, 1/320s, f/7.1, ISO 200


Triplespot blenny.  105mm, 1/320s, f/14, ISO 200
 
Tiny Flabellina Rubrolineata, about 1cm long!  105mm & Subsee +5 diopter, 1/320s, f/29, ISO 200
 

Yawning tomato anemonefish.  60mm & 1.4x teleconverter, 1/320s, f/18, ISO 200
 

Chromodoris Reticulata.  60mm & 1.4x teleconverter in 1.3x crop mode, 1/320s, f/16, ISO 200
 

False clown anemonefish in balled up anemone.  60mm & 1.4x teleconverter, 1/320s, f/16, ISO 400
 

Pink anemonefish.  60mm & 1.4x teleconverter, 1/320s, f/14, ISO 400

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Cabilao Photos December 2011

Here are some highlights of my Cabilao trip. Full set of photos is here.

Dwarf hawkfish. 105mm, 1/250s, f/10, ISO 200

Bubble coral shrimp. 105mm & +7 diopter, 1/250s, f/25, ISO 200

Ornate ghost pipefish. 105mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Spotted porcelain crab. 105mm, 1/250s, f/18, ISO 200

Network pipefish. 105mm, 1/250s, f/10, ISO 200

Halgerda Batangas. 105mm, 1/250s, f/18, ISO 200

Backlit leaf scorpionfish. 105mm, 1/250s, f/18, ISO 200

Rock's pygmy octopus. 60mm & +7 diopter, 1/250s, f/16, ISO 200

Monday, January 02, 2012

Dyron Double Macro M77 Lens

My recent Cabilao trip was the first time I tried supermacro photography with my new Dyron Double Macro M77 Lens. It is a wet diopter that gives 1.3x magnification with a 60mm lens and 1.7x magnification with a 105mm lens. It lives in my thigh pocket and I screw it on the front of my flat port when necessary. In line with what others have reported, it is very difficult to use, especially with a 105mm lens, due to the close working distance and very small field of view. I had a lot of fun with it, though, and was happy to come home with several usable shots. After quite some time of macro shooting, I really appreciated the ability to get greater than 1:1 shots. I think it will be very interesting to stack it with a teleconverter – it will give me a lot of flexibility with various supermacro combinations.

By the way, Underwater Photography Guide's review of the lens is here.

Sola 600 Aiming Light



I used my new Sola 600 aiming light for the first time on my recent Cabilao trip. People have been raving about it for ages and I am glad that I finally got one for myself. It was a pleasure to use, with a wide and strong beam that had enough coverage for my needs. The best thing about the light, though, is the red mode. I found that the critters were significantly less bothered by the red light, which enabled me to get a lot closer than I have gotten in the past – a real boon for supermacro photography. My only gripe with it is the short battery life. It lasted about 60 minutes on full power, which is only one dive.

Cabilao Trip Report, December 2011

I just got back from 4 days in Cabilao Island in the Visayas, the Philippines. We were in Cebu for a friend’s wedding and decided to hop over to Cabilao for some diving. I chose Cabilao because it is a secluded island with pristine reefs and is relatively undeveloped. It has a population of 4,000 people and there are only 3 small resorts on the island. We got picked up from Cebu City and a 2 hour car and 1.5 hour boat ride took us directly to Cabilao Beach Club. All diving was with Sea Explorers, which made all the arrangements for us.

The diving topography in Cabilao consists primarily of walls and sloping reefs. The reefs are quite healthy and there are no signs of fishing damage. However, it seems that trash on the island is not well disposed of and it is not uncommon to find discarded food wrappers underwater. The marine life is exclusively macro. It is hard to generalize about the marine life as it is quite varied, but during the course of our stay, we saw frogfish, various pipefish, various shrimp and crabs, various gobies and blennies, octopus, squid, anemonefish, and nudibranchs (only a few). The life was good but not as prolific as say, Anilao. I wish there were more sandy areas that were not covered in corals, which would make conditions more favorable for macro photography.

Unfortunately, our few days on the island were plagued with bad weather – strong winds, intermittent rain, and unpredictable conditions. We made the most of it and dove when we could. I found Cambaquiz I to be the standout dive site. It is a shallow sandy slope with coral outcroppings, which is perfect for macro photography. It is located about 200m from the Cabilao Beach Club dive shop and can accessed either by boat or from shore. It is quite sheltered from the elements, making it an ideal site in bad weather. It is also the default night dive spot for Cabilao Beach Club, which suited me well.

This was my first trip using both the Sola 600 and Dyron Double Macro M77 Lens and both proved to be good purchases.

The resort is secluded and located on a beautifully landscaped plot of land with a private beach. The dive shop and a few chalets are located on the beach, and the restaurant and a few more chalets are on a cliff 52 steps above the beach. The resort is small and personal, with something like 13 rooms. The guests are primarily European. It is very quiet and there is no entertainment other than diving. The employees are very warm and service is good. The food, however, is quite uninteresting.

Overall, I was quite happy with the resort. The macro diving is somewhere between good and great. Perhaps I have been spoiled after diving Anilao several times, but all things considered, I would go to Anilao in the future over Cabilao.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Diving Tai Mei Tuk

Today, I finally had a chance to dive Tai Mei Tuk. We met bright and early and loaded the boat and headed for Wong Nai Chau, a tiny rock outcropping. We anchored off the island in about 16m of water and my buddy and I were one of the first in the water.

We quickly discovered that the deeper water was surprisingly cold and eerily dark, so we started heading for Wong Nai Chau island. Above 10m was a lot brighter and the vis improved. We spent most of the dive around 5-6m on the rocky slope poking around looking for marine life.

Vis was pretty decent at 3-4m. On our first dive, we saw lots of small crabs, anemones with baby clownfish and anemone shrimp, and we ended our dive accompanied by a small school of curious yellowtail amberjacks. This was one of the fishiest dives I've done in Hong Kong and the amberjacks were the largest fish I've seen locally.

After a break for lunch, we splashed in again at the same site. The highlight of the dive was my buddy spotting a tiny (less than 2cm long) free swimming persian carpet flatworm (pseudobiceros bedfordi). I put my hand out and it landed on my open palm. I spent a good minute or two staring at it and admiring its beauty before placing it on the bottom. As we were ending our dive, I spotted a cute shorthead fangblenny perched on top of a large rock. It was just hanging out, with its dorsal fin out on display.

All in all, an excellent day of diving in Hong Kong. Days like these make me wish I had brought my camera.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Anilao Shootout Winners 2011

On the recent Underwater Photography Guide Photo Workshop in Anilao, the trip leaders organized an informal competition among course participants. There were 3 categories each for DSLR and compact - macro, behavior, and portrait. My shot of a yawning pink anemonefish won the DSLR behavior category.


There were 2 physical prizes that were randomly allocated to 2 of the 6 category winners - one Light & Motion Sola 600 light and one return stay to Crystal Blue Resort. Both great prizes, which unfortunately I did not win! Still, I had tons of fun and it is nice to have your photos appreciated! The winning shots are here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fatality in the WKP

It is with a heavy heart that I report of a fatality in the Woodville Karst Plain. Jim Miller, WKPP exploration diver, passed away on June 11, 2011. My condolences to all his loved ones and friends. Tragically, his death was caused by human error. I never knew Jim, but I had seen him a few times in and around Extreme Exposure in High Springs, and his name and face were familiar from years of reading WKPP exploration updates. His death is a big loss for the WKPP, GUE community, cave diving community, and greater diving public. It is a reminder that no-one is infallible, not even those at the peak of competence and experience.

I copy below a forum post from WKPP member Todd Leonard. The post explains the circumstances behind the accident and what went wrong.

[quote]
I have some additional info to relay now, some of which has been described in fragmentary form on other forums, but for greatest clarity, I'll just try to present a chronological summary of the dive:

Jim was diving with two buddies Saturday, each using an RB80 rebreather. They entered at a site in the WKP (Woodville Karst Plain) called Whiskey Still Sink. From Whiskey, the conduit proceeds at a shallow depth to Innisfree Sink, and beyond Innisfree it drops deeper to a max depth around 220ft and continues. Thus, their decompression was to be done on the other side of Innisfree. Their bottom mix was 240 gas. They carried deco gas to be used at 120, 70, and oxygen at 20. Given the offset profile, they did their own deco setup.

They began the dive on their 120 bottles, which are suitable for the shallow cave between Whiskey and Innisfree. Passing Innisfree they dropped deco bottles at their respective depths. The first error occurred at the 70ft stop, where Jim dropped one of his 240 bottles -- he should have dropped his 70ft bottle, and it should not have been carried any further into the cave.

After proceeding down to the 120ft stop, the team stopped for their switch to 240 gas (their bottom gas). At this point the second and most serious error occurred -- Jim switched onto his 70 bottle. Part of our standard procedure and a very critical step in each and every bottle switch is to check the MOD sticker on the side of the bottle, which would have made very clear that he was about to switch to the wrong bottle; we don't know why, but this check was missed. We also want buddies to watch each others' switches carefully enough to confirm the correct bottle is in play, but this secondary check was not performed and the error was not caught. Following the switch the team dropped their 120 bottles, and proceeded into the cave.

They continued into the cave for a little less than an hour (with Jim breathing his 70 bottle), and turned the dive as planned. Not long after the turn, Jim experienced a seizure. His buddies tried unsuccessfully to help him recover from the seizure, and Jim drowned.

After a prolonged exit the team was able to bring Jim back to the basin at Innisfree, and shortly thereafter a pair of our support divers brought him back to the surface.

So, that's the crux of it. There was a significant error, a critical error, plus missed opportunities to catch and correct those errors.

Jim was a very experienced and responsible diver, and known among his friends for his exceptional meticulousness. We're profoundly shocked and saddened to lose him, and he'd be one of the last people we'd ever imagine might die this way. This dive was well within his skill and experience levels, and the site was very familiar to him.

- Todd Leonard
[end quote]

Monday, June 13, 2011

Muck Diving Tips

Steve Fish and the team at Lembeh Resort have released an excellent short video highlighting good muck diving practices on Youtube. I'd say that these diving practices are relevant for all types of diving, not just muck diving and not just for photographers/videographers. Most divers I know or have observed would benefit from following these tips! Since observing various bad behaviors on my two recent Anilao trips, I had been thinking about how to raise awareness of the importance of better diving practices. This video is the perfect instructional tool for that purpose. But awareness is just the beginning. It needs to be followed by concerted action.

Please share this video with your friends, favorite dive shop and/or resort, and anyone you think might benefit from watching it. Let's work together to minimize our impact on the wonderful underwater world so that we can preserve it for the future.