Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Manta - Ray of Hope

I recently came across Manta - Ray of Hope. It is a short, well produced documentary highlighting the plight of the manta rays, which have been heavily fished for their gills. The gills are used in "traditional Chinese medicine" and are in high and increasing demand in China and East Asia. Manta ray fishing is less high profile than shark finning but no less destructive and unsustainable. If nothing is done to protect the mantas, their time on this earth may be limited.

Having had the opportunity to dive with and interact with manta rays close up in Bali and Kona, I can say that these experiences were indeed very special and magical. I feel very fortunate to have been able to observe these giant and majestic creatures in their natural habitat, and the memories will stay with me forever.

Please watch the video and help educate the public on this important issue. Only by reducing demand for manta products, will the future of the mantas be secure.

Ocean Sky Diving, You Suck

I have been very keen to play with the Nauticam D7000 housing as I have been seriously considering upgrading to the D7000. Nauticam's local dealer is Ocean Sky Diving. I called them a couple of weeks ago and they told me that the housing would be available today. I called them again today and the lady who answered the phone said that they had them in stock. When I walked in, the lady took me to the camera area and promptly directed me to a D700 housing. D700, not D7000. No shit you have the D700 housing in stock, it was released more than a year ago. And of course, they did not have a D7000 housing in stock. All she could do was shrug her shoulders sheepishly in admission that she got the model numbers mixed up. She didn't even say sorry!

Note to Ocean Sky Diving: if u can't count your zeros and can't tell one camera model from another, maybe you should be in a different business. Is it so much to expect the authorized dealer for Nauticam housings to be familiar with the FREAKING MODEL NUMBER of the housings? Thanks for wasting an hour of my time and I am glad that the walk in the rain was worth it. Customers have options and I sure as hell am not going back to Ocean Sky Diving.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Diving Beaufort Island

Today, I dove Beaufort Island, off Aberdeen, with SCDC. We dove the northwest side of the island, the same place that we dove in early October. We dropped in to about 15m to find 2m vis and 21C water. The temperature was just right with the Xerotherm and 200G Thinsulate. We made our way shallower, towards the island, for almost 15 min before deciding that the life was actually getting more sparse as we got shallower, and we turned around. As we passed 11m, the marine life became much more plentiful. There were lots of bright orange sponges and tons of whip coral. We saw a playful baby cuttlefish, a few baby scorpionfish, lots and lots of wire coral gobies, a huge banded coral shrimp, baby filefish, and a rocky area infested with peppermint shrimp. Some of our group saw a blue ring octopus! The marine life was very nice indeed and the only unfortunate thing, I thought, was that we only saw baby creatures as anything larger had probably already been caught.

After one dive, we stopped by Po Toi for a big seafood lunch before heading back to Aberdeen. What a beautiful day of diving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Diving Sai Kung

Today, I dove Sai Kung with SCDC. It was a joint trip with HKUC, another BSAC club. I was quite excited to dive Sai Kung as I've heard that the visibility can be up to 10m and seen impressive pictures of the area. We shared a van for the 1 hour ride to Sai Kung. The boat ride was also about an hour, to our first stop at Basalt Island. It must be a popular spot as there were 2 other dives boats there before us.

Basalt Island was nice, with lots of orange anemones with anemonefish and tiny bubble shrimp. We also saw a huge banded coral shrimp, a crab, and a baby scorpionfish. The vis, however, was quite disappointing at about 2-3m. The vis was poor enough that most of us voted to switch sites for the 2nd dive. We motored over to nearby Bluff Island. Unfortunately, the vis was not much better and the area where we dove was covered in sea urchins. The seascape was mostly rocks and hard coral, as opposed to the soft coral on the 1st dive. The highlight of the 2nd dive was a very cute baby moray eel.

I was surprised to find that the water was in the low 20s, maybe 21-22C. Much respect to those diving wet. My Xerotherm and DUI 200G Thinsulate were just right but I'm afraid that if I gets colder, I'm going to have to bring out the 300G. Apparently it goes down to 13C in the depths of winter!

Green water, 2-3m vis, freezing temperatures - what a fun day out! It was bright and sunny, the water was very calm, and the company was great. I'm hoping to join SCDC next weekend in Aberdeen - stay tuned.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kona Manta Ray Night Dive Photos

Here are the highlights of the Kona manta ray night dive. I shot about 50 pictures and 10 keepers. Shooting conditions were not easy with surge, darkness (making it hard to autofocus) and lots of plankton in the water but it was a hugely memorable experience.

Full set of pictures here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Amazing Kona Manta Ray Night Dive

I was on the Hawaii's Big Island recently for a good friend's wedding and had the good fortune doing the Kona manta ray night dive. It's a world famous dive in a shallow bay where giant manta rays have been coming for years at night to feed on the plankton. Every night, boats take divers and snorkelers out to the bay, shine powerful lights to attract plankton, and hope for mantas to come. A normal night apparently brings 2-5 mantas but there are unfortunate nights where none come out to play. The mantas range in size from 2-6m wingspan and are quite a sight to behold.

We went out with Fair Wind. We started out by meeting at 5.45pm at the dock. There were more than 20 of us (all snorkelers except 3) so it took a while to do the paperwork. Then we boarded the boat for the 10 min boat ride to the manta area. Fair Wind specializes in snorkelers, which is a good thing as there are not many divers in the water. I heard that some nights the water can be really crowded.

The snorkelers got in and hung on to a large makeshift float with bright lights on it, while the divers submerged and started looking around. At first, there was not much life except a few reef fish and a couple of hunting morays. We caught a glimpse of 2 mantas fly by but they did not hang around long enough to get a good look. After 30 min of circling the area and not seeing much, I was just about resigned to not seeing any mantas that night... then suddenly 2 large mantas swam by and started doing acrobatics right in front of us! I began snapping pictures like crazy. The video guy's lights really attracted the mantas and they began doing somersaults and fly bys right before him. At times, they came so close that it really seemed like they would crash into us, but they would always turn away at the last moment to avoid a collision. It was incredible to watch such large creatures move so quickly and with such grace.

We got to spend about 30 min with the 2 mantas before I was low on gas and had to surface. Just as I was ascending, one manta came straight at me with its mouth wide open. I managed to fire off one shot of its gaping mouth before it swooped up and over my head, bumping my camera in the process. What a rush! The dive absolutely lived up to its reputation of being "one of the top ten things to do in your lifetime" (Travel Channel)!

I got back on the boat to find most of the snorkelers seasick. Some had even left the water before the 2 mantas showed up. I know the divers had a great time but maybe half of the snorkelers did not as they had bobbed in cold, choppy seas for 30 min without seeing anything.

Unfortunately, I did not have any time to do any other dives in Hawaii. That will have to be for next time...

I'll post pictures up in a few days' time once I have had time to edit them.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

HK Underwater Photos

I came across an EXCELLENT album of underwater photos taken in Hong Kong. It belongs to a local underwater photographer by the name of Jackson Wong. Some of the stuff that he's managed to catch on camera blows my mind and is not stuff you would expect to find in HK - blue ringed octopus, bobtail squid, dragonet, and sawblade shrimp for example. The pictures are really outstanding and could hold their own against the best from anywhere. Props to the photographer. The album is here.

Intro to Hong Kong Diving

Yesterday, I did my first couple of dives in Hong Kong. I had been introduced by HK-based GUE instructor Graham Blackmore to one of his recent Fundamentals students, Catheryn. Catheryn introduced me to her diving club, the very active South China Diving Club. SCDC is a BSAC club that has been active in HK for years. They also apparently do a lot of drinking and social events but I have not been able to join them due to work.

Finally, I was able to join SCDC on a dive as yesterday was a public holiday due to National Day. We met at 9am at Aberdeen Boat Club in the southwest of HK. We had about 10 divers on a large boat that could fit a lot more, so it was a comfortable ride. The winds were blowing quite strongly from the northeast, so we motored to a sheltered spot on the western side of Beaufort Island, a 45 min boat ride from ABC.

My expectations were pretty low as everyone I had spoken to had warned me of the poor vis (sometimes down to 1m) and lack of marine life. But I was optimistic given that I have enjoyed diving in some pretty inhospitable places, such as Pulau Hantu, quarries, and rivers.

I left the camera at home as it was my maiden dive trip in HK and wanted to spend the time evaluating the conditions. It turned out to be the right decision as vis was too poor to get any decent shots.

After a briefing and setting up our gear, the teams splashed in. We dove in 2 flights, with one flight keeping a lookout on the boat while the other flight was in the water. After about an hour, the first flight returned and it was time to go. I was buddied up with Wing, a trimix diver who has been diving for many years. But today we would be doing some easy, shallow dives. Our first dive was to the north of the mooring point, with a max depth of around 16m. When we descended, we were greeted by murky green water and around 4m of vis. Good thing I brought my HID light! The bottom was rubbly and barren until about 13m, where there were lots of car-sized boulders covered in beautiful orange sponges. We mostly hung around the 11-13m depth where most of the soft corals were. The macro life was surprisingly good, and we saw several crabs, a couple of wire coral goby (my favorite!), and 2 cowries. The highlight was seeing a very cute white baby cuttlefish the size of my pinkie finger nail.

We had a short surface interval and lunch on the boat before diving again. This time, we headed south from the mooring. Funnily enough, there were no orange sponges at all and the bottom was covered in smaller rocks and nasty sea urchins. The visibility had deteriorated to 3m and the current had picked up a little. After a few minutes of not seeing anything interesting, I feared that we might have headed the wrong way... until we started to notice lots of peppermint shrimp (another of my favorites!) hiding beneath many of the rocks. Slowly, we began to notice more and more macro life - 3 morays, 3 banded coral shrimp (including the largest one I have ever seen with a 1 inch diameter body), crabs, hermit crabs, a tiny nudibranch egg ribbon, and lots of wire coral gobies. The dive turned into quite a prolific one and a test of our powers of observation. As anyone who likes macro life can attest to, this is the best kind of dive!

Back on the boat, we packed up and headed back to shore, arriving back at ABC at 5pm. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the dives. I was heartened by the fact that everyone said that the vis is about as bad as it gets in HK. I really look forward to diving some of the better vis spots. It's a real pleasure to do some decent dives in my back yard, all within a day's work.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lembeh Photos

Full set of pictures is here.

Bubble shrimp at Kelapa Dua. 105mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Flamboyant cuttlefish at Jahir 2. 105mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Pair of coleman shrimp on fire urchin at Makawide. 105mm, 1/250s, f/25, ISO 200

Emperor shrimp hitching a ride on a nudibranch at TK3. 105mm, 1/250s, f/20, ISO 200

Pregnant mantis shrimp at Runu Point. 105mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Candy crab at Nudi Retreat. 105mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Pair of wire coral shrimp at Nudi Retreat. 105mm, 1/250s, f/32, ISO 200

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lembeh Trip Report, July 2010

I just got back from 6 days at NAD Lembeh. Silkair flies direct to Manado, and a 60 min car and 30 min boat ride later, I was at the resort. NAD is a small resort with only 12 rooms. It is quite rustic and local. The rooms are quite basic but I appreciated the small ecological footprint as the energy and water needs are kept to a minimum. The food is local and quite good. Dive sites are all within 15 min boat ride from the resort and the boats are comfortable and fast, with drinking water, snacks, and fruits on board. Nitrox is available at a small additional charge.

The macro life in Lembeh is quite amazing. Highlights of my dives were seeing 4 mimic octopus on one dive, mating mandarinfish, wonderpus, coconut octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, hairy frogfish, pygmy seahorses, 3 tiger shrimp on one sponge, coleman shrimp, emperor shrimp, and lots of wire coral gobies and shrimp. The blue ringed octopus and stargazer remained elusive. I saw a huge solar powered nudi and a couple more that I had not seen before, but the nudi life is better elsewhere. As good as the marine life was, I felt that it was noticeably worse than when I spent a day diving Lembeh in December 2008. I was told that efforts are being made to conserve the area (divers are now charged a nominal conservation fee to dive the area) but more needs to be done to preserve the treasures of Lembeh.

The main attraction for me with NAD was the opportunity to take a photography class with Mike Veitch (his website is here). Mike is a well known nature photographer and runs NAD with Simon Buxton (his website is here). After a discussion of what I was looking for and reviewing some of my photos, we started the class, which consisted of theory, 4 dives, and a critique of my photos. My main focus was composition, ambient light, selective lighting, and using snoots. The pace was leisurely, with the class unfolding gradually over 3 days, interspersed with regular dives where I would practice what I had learned. I found the class extremely helpful and it was great to have an experienced photographer like Mike to answer my questions and bounce ideas off. I definitely plan on returning when I next hit a plateau.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Photography Trip to Lembeh Straits

My next diving trip will be to the Lembeh Straits in North Sulawesi. When I last went to Manado in December 2008, we spent most of the time diving Bunaken and only one day diving Lembeh. It was on that trip that I got hooked on underwater photography. Ever since then, I have been wanting to go back to Lembeh. This time, I will be staying at NAD Lembeh. I will be spending 2 days getting photo instruction from Mike Veitch (his website is here) and the rest of the time hopefully practicing my new skills.

On my list of things to photograph:
Bobbit worm
Blue ringed octopus
Flamboyant cuttlefish
Hairy frogfish
Lots and lots of nudis!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bali Trip Report

After spending 8 days on a diving safari all over Bali, I feel like I know a little something about diving in Bali. Bali is a big island with small roads. I spent a lot of time in the van driving from place to place. Notable was the 5am start from Sanur to Menjangan (a 4 hour drive). There wasn't a lot of downtime at all considering all the traveling and the logistics of the dive sites (more on that in a moment).

Diving in Bali is highly varied with pelagic cleaning stations, wall dives, reefs, black sand, wrecks, and everything in between. Each area is dove differently - by the end of my trip I had dove by speedboat (Nusa Penida), large fishing boat (Menjangan), shore (Puri Jati, Tulamben, Seraya), outrigger boat (Amed), and medium sized fishing boat (Padang Bai). The marine life is also highly varied, featuring pelagics (mola molas, mantas, sharks), schooling fish (jacks, rainbow runners), reef fish, and all manner of macro critters. I can't think of many places with this much variety all within a few hours' drive.

Here are my opinions on the major diving areas:

Nusa Penida: Famous for Manta Point, a prolific manta cleaning station, and Crystal Bay, a mola mola cleaning station. We saw 7 mantas for 70 min on our dive at Manta Point. Mola mola season is July-October so we did not see much at Crystal Bay. Nusa Penida, contrary to current practice, is not a place to take beginners. The currents can be highly unpredictable and very strong. It can also be very cold (low 20s C). Go to Nusa Penida to see the mantas and mola molas, which are very special, but there is not much else there.

Menjangan Island: The biggest let down. I had heard all kinds of hype about the beautiful reefs and walls of Menjangan. I would rate Menjangan as very mediocre reef/wall diving. The underwater seascapes can be quite beautiful with large fans and barrel sponges, but there are not many fish there at all. Combined with the remoteness of the location, I would not recommend visiting Menjangan.

Puri Jati: Completely barren black sand area. There is NOTHING there except a few anemones, anemone critters (porcelain crab, shrimp, clownfish), lionfish, and garden eels. It is, however, a relatively common place to see the mimic octopus, which made my day.

Tulamben, Seraya, Amed: These three areas are within 10 min drive of one another in northeast Bali. The wreck of the Liberty is the main attraction in Tulamben. It can be dove from shore and starts at 5m. It is home to large schools of bumphead parrotfish, jacks, and many other fish. All three areas are black sand muck diving heaven. This is where I saw the majority of critters on my list - harlequin shrimp, coleman shrimp, wire coral shrimp and gobies, snake eels, boxer crab, pygmy seahorses, etc.

Padang Bai: Padang Bai is mostly white sand and artificial reef diving. The dive sites are close to shore and are full of trash. The marine life can be good but hit or miss. I saw several rare nudis and clown frogfish here.

I dove with Bali Scuba. They are a bit of a paradox. My dive guide Komang was excellent and responsible. He was always on time and the transfers were flawless. Bali Scuba HQ is rather disorganized, though, and nobody at the office seems to know what is going on. For an outfit that sees as much volume as they do, they don't get a lot of photographers and I was rather annoyed that nobody could advise me on lens choices for the various dive sites.

Our dives generally followed the same profile - descend to 25m and make our way back up to the shallows. Dive times regularly exceeded 60 min and I never felt rushed. Komang knew the dives sites well and has a good eye.

The infrastructure in Bali is quite poor in the north, so bring everything you need and don't count on being able to buy anything.

Would I go back? Most definitely, but I would focus on Nusa Penida (for mantas and mola molas) and Tulamben, Seraya, and Amed for macro stuff.

Custom Wetsuits Revisited

Two thumbs up for Acronman. I wanted to post a quick note to mention how much I like the 5mm custom wetsuit I had made by Acronman. I used it on 27 dives in Bali. While the fit was slightly tight in places, the quality and warmth are indisputable. The workmanship is great and the suit is very comfortable. I sent it back for slight alterations today. I liked the suit so much that I placed an order for a custom 3mm suit as well. I expect these suits to far outlast off the rack commercial suits.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bali Pictures

I am finally done processing my photos from Bali. Full set of pictures here.

Huge manta at Manta Point. 12-24mm at 12mm, 1/100s, f/5.6, ISO 200

Schooling jacks at the wreck of the Liberty. 12-24mm at 12mm, 1/80s, f/6.3, ISO 400

Mimic octopus at Puri Jati. 105 mm, 1/100s, f/14, ISO 200

Coleman shrimp on a fire urchin at Seraya. 105mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Goby on cowrie on whip coral at Seraya. 105mm, 1/250s, f/20, ISO 200

Honeycomb moray getting cleaned at Seraya. 105mm, 1/200s, f/14, ISO 200

Bobtail squid digging itself in at Seraya. 60mm, 1/250s, f/16, ISO 200

Pregnant porcelain crab at Amed. 105mm, 1/200s, f/18, ISO 200

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Diving Padang Bai

We dove Padang Bai today on my last day in Bali. Padang Bai is a popular beach area in East Bali with the dive sites very close to shore. We used a fast jukung and dove Jepun, Turtle Neck, and Blue Lagoon. All had white sandy bottoms with patches of coral. Jepun also had various wire structures sunk as artificial reefs. We must have had back luck as the water was freezing and the vis was terrible, between 5-15m. We saw a few rare nudis, nudis mating, a cave full of peppermint shrimp, and lots of reef fish. One thing I noticed was the water was full of trash like plastic bags and snack wrappers. I hope they do something about the trash or the marine life is going to keep deteriorating.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Diving Amed

We dove Amed today by outrigger boat (jukung). The sites have sandy bottoms with patches of hard coral and concrete blocks and formations as artificial reefs. The first dive was great with 9 pygmy seahorses on one seafan - the highlight of the dive was when two of them interlocked tails. We also saw 2 emperor shrimp on one sea cucumber. The artificial reef served its purpose well with lots of anthias and reef fish making their homes there. The next two dives were less good. We saw frogfish, white eyed morays, millions of lionfish, and a huge hermit crab trying to take over a shell that was occupied by a conch.

Diving Seraya

Yesterday, we did 4 dives at Seraya. Seraya is a small area of sloping black sand in front of Scuba Seraya resort. The locals have set up a small station with shade and running water as a base for day trippers. The seascape is quite sparse except for some patches of coral and some artificial reefs. The macro life is amazing - it is as though that there is something hiding under every rock. On our dives, we generally headed down to 25m and made our way up the reef. I saw lots of critters on my list - harlequin shrimp (2 pairs), coleman shrimp (2), wire coral shrimp and gobies, a snake eel, and a boxer crab. We also saw bobtail squid, an army of peppermint shrimp, various nudis, cleaner shrimp, tons of lionfish, and a huge honeycomb moray getting cleaned. It was one of my most prolific shooting days with over 400 shots.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Diving Tulamben

We started today with a dawn dive at the USS Liberty, a well known cargo ship sunk during WWII. Tulamben has one main road parallel to the beach and dive shops line this road. The wreck is dived from shore as the top is in 5m of water and the bottom around 30m. From where I am staying at Paradise Hotel, we walked along the beach to the wreck, geared up on shore, and waded into the water. Porters carry your tanks for you. The Liberty is best dove in the early morning or at night to avoid the day trippers, who arrive around 10am and leave around 3pm.

The seascape is sloping black sand with patches of anemones and coral. The wreck is huge and lies on its side. It is covered in marine growth and is very fishy. The first thing we saw was a school of 20+ bumphead parrotfish at 8m. They must have been sleepy as they didn't mind us getting very close. We did a tour of the wreck (which took a while due to its size) and caught a huge school of jacks right in front of us. With this much life, it is no wonder that the Liberty is as famous as it is.

We did the next 2 dives in the sandy area surrounding the Liberty to avoid the crowds. The area has some seriously good muck diving. We saw wire coral gobies and shrimp, xeno crabs, nudis, anemone shrimp, pipefish, clownfish, and a leaf scorpionfish.

There were lots of divers during our night dive on the Liberty. It's a big wreck so that's mostly ok but there were times when there were a lot of lights going on at the same time. This time, we didn't see much apart from a few nudis, sleeping reef fish (including several large groupers), and sleeping bumphead parrotfish. They were still enough to get some shots but I thought it best to let them sleep in peace.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Critter List

Underwater Photography Guide recommends making a critter list for macro photography so here's mine (in no particular order):

Spanish dancer
Ceratosoma nudibranch
Janolus nudibranch
Sawblade shrimp
Saron shrimp
Halimeda ghost pipefish
Robust ghost pipefish
Ornate ghost pipefish
Harlequin shrimp
Coleman shrimp
Coconut octopus
Mimic octopus
Blue ringed octopus
Bobbit worm
Emperor shrimp
Tiger shrimp
Boxer crab
Flamboyant cuttlefish
Snake eel
Wire coral goby
Wire coral shrimp
Xeno crab

Diving Puri Jati

Today's objective was to find the mimic octopus. We did our first dive at Khayanganyar, a small stretch of black sand beach in front of an abandoned house. It didn't seem like a well known site as we were the only ones there and were sharing it with pigs and chickens. We did a shore dive, where we geared up on the beach and walked into the water. The seascape was a gently sloping black sand bottom with minimal vegetation, only the odd anemone and debris pile. We didn't find any mimics but there saw a pair of white eyed morays, millions of garden eels, a cuttlefish, and a big angry crab. The next 2 dives were at Puri Jati, also shore dives near a fishing village. Puri Jati is classic muck diving at its best - it always appears that there is nothing to see but in reality there is a ton of macro life. There were lots of lionfish, clownfish, anemone shrimp, puffer fish, dragonets, banded coral shrimp, and a porcelain crab or two on every anemone. I saw a beautifully decorated snake eel and caught it on camera. Apparently, there used to be a lot of more life but since they cleaned up the garbage, the life decreased. There was a tree stump that was home to 6 lionfish, 3 puffers, and a wrasse cleaning station. On the 3rd dive, I heard my guide furiously tapping his tank to get my attention. He'd found a mimic octopus! It stayed with us for about 10 minutes and I got about 90 shots before it disappeared into a hole in the sand. After our 3 dives, we made the beautiful 2 hour drive along the north coast to Tulamben.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Diving Menjangan Day 2

I did 3 more dives at Menjangan - POS 2, Bat Cave, and POS 1. The dives were similar to yesterday's with sloping reefs and large sea fans. The seascapes were quite beautiful but I noticed that there are not that many fish. I discussed it with my dive guide but he had no explanation. Given that fishing is not allowed in the area, I thought the fish life should be healthier like in the Similan Islands. I had a sync cord malfunction on the first dive and some complications with my camera settings on the second, so I did not manage many good pictures. We did a dusk dive at Pemuteran to look for mating mandarinfish but luck was not with us and we did not see any. The dive was not wasted, however, and I spent 70 min shooting clownfish, hermit crabs, strange looking shrimp, and a scorpionfish. Better luck tomorrow at Puri Jati.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Diving Menjangan Island

Today's dives were at Menjangan Island. Menjangan is a small, uninhabited island off the northwest of Bali. "Menjangan" means "deer" in Bahasa. The island is a marine park and is protected from fishing. The van picked me up at 5am for the 3 1/2 hour drive. From the jetty, we boarded a small fishing boat for the 25 min slow ride. My dives were at Garden Eel and POS 2 (2 dives). The sites were wall dives with coral gardens on the top, with some sandy patches here and there. The reef life was pretty healthy, with hard and soft coral, reef fish, and some macro life such as nudibranches, flatworms, and shrimp. There were some massive sea fans that looked healthy. Highlights of today's dives were a devil scorpionfish and several nudis and flatworms (but only one that I had not seen before).

We decided to postpone the night dive at Pemuteraan after hearing some reports of bad conditions.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Diving Nusa Penida

Today, we dove Nusa Penida. I had high expectations as I had heard so much about it. We departed from Sanur beach and took a 45 min fast speedboat ride to Nusa Penida. The ride was bumpy due to seriously large swells in the channel. Our first dive site was Manta Point. It is an area with large boulders and a small underwater mound that is a manta cleaning station. The bottom is around 12-15m and the top of the mound is around 6m. Vis was quite poor for the area (so I'm told) at about 10m and rather cloudy. The water was also quite surgy, with side to side movements of up to 2m (!). At first, a shy manta or two showed up, just doing fly-bys with minimal photo ops. After a few minutes of hide and seek, the mantas seemed to lose their inhibitions and started popping up everywhere and posing for photos. I probably got within 2m of them a couple of times. We counted 7 large mantas and they stayed with us until we surfaced 70 min later. Not the best conditions but one hell of a close encounter.

Our next two dives were at Crystal Bay and Bed. Crystal Bay is famous for mola molas but it is not mola season at the moment. We actually saw one in the distance but it quickly sped off before I could get any photos. Apart from that, both dives were quite forgettable.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Bali Trip

Next week, I will be going to Bali. We are spending 5 days in Ubud and then I am spending a further 8 days diving. It is rare that I have this much free time to dive! Leon hooked me up with Bali Scuba, which Living Seas has used for the last 4 years for Bali trips. We organized a dive safari with dives in Nusa Penida, Menjangan, Puri Jati, Tulamben, Seraya, Amed, and Padang Bai. I will be staying at 3 different places in the course of the 8 days: Sanur, Pemuteran, and Tulamben. Pictures and a dive report to come.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Custom Wetsuits

Today, I went to see Acronman to get measured for a custom wetsuit. I have been looking for a 5 mm wetsuit for some time but none of the stock sizes fit me. After freezing my nuts off in Puerto Galera and Anilao in April, I decided that it is time that I get a custom wetsuit. They measured me in about 10 minutes and although the typical turnaround time is 1-2 weeks, they agreed to do a rush job (at no extra cost) in time for my Bali trip next week. It cost me S$360 for a 5 mm suit with fleece lining and ankle zippers. I will pick up my suit on Friday. Fingers crossed that it fits.

Underwater Photography Resources

Since I picked up underwater photography, I have been reading about and researching the topic extensively. Here are a few resources that I have been using that I find extremely helpful:

Underwater Photography Guide by Scott Gietler. Scott maintains a free online guide to underwater photography that covers many topics that from beginner to advanced. I especially like his dive destination guides. His photos are excellent and very inspirational.

The Underwater Photographer by Martin Edge. Now in its fourth edition, this book covers all aspects of underwater photography and is an easy read. I just got my copy and am in the process of devouring it.

Wetpixel forums. Many, many useful discussions on all kinds of topics. Several prominent and world class underwater photographers are frequent contributors. There are so many skilled photographers on wetpixel that I get a lot of inspiration from perusing their photos.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Decisions, decisions

So I just quit my job a few days ago and I have an unexpectedly long 3 months before I start my new job. Now that some of the excitement has worn off, I am considering which dive spots I should hit during my break. Right now I am thinking of either (1) a few days each in Bali and Anilao or (2) a longer trip to just Bali. I have been to Bali several times but have never dove there, and the more I research Bali, the more attractive it looks as a diving destination.

I hope to also squeeze in a long weekend or two doing some tech dives in the South China Sea.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Anilao Pics

I have uploaded the pictures from my Anilao trip. They are at the following links:

Anilao pics
Slugs and flatworms. The ones from Anilao are numbered 33 to 86.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Anilao Trip Report

I just spent 4 nights at Acacia Resort in Anilao. Anilao is south of Manila, about 3 hours' drive in normal traffic. The resort fits about 30 people and is quite a new resort (opened in 2008). Like all the other resorts in Anilao, Acacia does mostly weekend business from Manila. It's best to come during the weekdays - I was the only guest for the first day and one of a handful of guests on the second day. The rooms are simple, modern, and clean. The food is quite good and varied with a mix of local and international fare. The resort is named after a huge and ancient acacia tree that sits in the middle of the property - see pictures below. Overall, the resort is pretty, comfortable, and well equipped to handle visiting divers. The one annoying thing is that there are occasional power outages. We lost power 3 times during my stay, for not much more than an hour each time, but it can be disruptive for photographers who need to keep their equipment charged.

Diving is done from small banka boats with minimal shelter. They are crewed by 2 boatmen and one dive guide. Marlowe guided me on my 12 dives. He is patient, has a good eye, and is motivated to find interesting marine life. The macro life in Anilao is amazing - I saw more nudis than I have ever seen, by a wide margin. For context, I photographed more than 60 nudis on 12 dives (and passed on a number of others). Other interesting life includes various crabs, shrimp, octopi, scorpionfish, frogfish, etc. I did not have any luck with coleman shrimp (I was told that fire urchins are seasonal), mimic octopi, blue ring octopi, or stargazers, but I'm very happy with what I saw and photographed. I used a 60 mm lens for 7 dives and a 105 mm for 5 dives; that mix is about right for what I saw.

The dive sites are typically 15-25 min boat rides away from Acacia. Visibility ranged from 5m to 20m with an average of about 10m. Dives usually start with 20-30 min at 15-25m and end up in the shallows in a few meters of water. Most of the dives are leisurely, with little current or surge. The dives tend to be quite long (average over 60 min). The water can be quite cold from November to April. Personally, I will dive dry in the future during those months. We were getting cold after about 45 min and quite chilled during the surface intervals.

I'm very happy with my trip and intend to go back. My time there was very peaceful and laid back - but I'm not sure how it is during peak season on the weekends.

Thanks to Miko for making the arrangements and loaning me his gear.

Nudibranch Madness

Today's dives were at Dari Laut, Bethlehem, and Sand View. Dari Laut is the steel structure of a floating restaurant that was sunk many years ago. It is home to many tiny and rare nudibranchs. Bethlehem and Sand View are both sandy dives, where we spent our time moving slowly and staring at the muck. I used the 105 mm lens on all the dives. The highlights of today's dives were more nudis, whip shrimp, whip goby, and a very strange nudi threesome. A very nice end to a good week of diving.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Nudibranchs Galore

Today, we did 4 daytime dives - Sand View, Koala, Kirby's Rock, and Cathedral - a nice combination of soft/hard coral reefs and sandy mucky bottom. There are so many nudis here that it is getting a bit ridiculous. Several times today, I passed over nudis that I had already photographed so I could make time for other things. "There's a nudi. Let me clear my mask. Oh, there's another nudi. Let me check my depth. Oh, there's another nudi." Ok, I exaggerate a little, but there are a LOT of nudis here.

I used my new 105 mm macro lens for the first time today, on two dives. As expected, it was hard to autofocus in all except the brightest light. My focus light was borderline effective. The autofocus tended to hunt a lot, especially with small and moving things, like pygmy seahorses. But, it was brilliant at capturing the real tiny stuff. I actually prefer the 105 mm to the 60 mm for shooting nudis. I took the 105 mm only after discussing with my guide what to expect on the dive. The funny thing is, when I switched back to the 60 mm lens, autofocus and composition suddenly felt like a breeze. The 105 mm is a fantastic lens but it has its limitations. I am doing 2 more dives tomorrow morning with the 105 mm lens... really looking forward to it.

Highlights of today's dives were whip shrimp, pygmy seahorses, emperor shrimp, the biggest frogfish i have ever seen, and lots and lots of nudis.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Anilao Continued

Today's dives were just as crazy as last night's. On our first dive at Mainit Point, we saw at least 10 nudibranchs of different varieties. Mainit Point is a healthy sloping reef made up of lots of hard and soft coral. I've never seen so many nudibranchs in my life. The funny thing is they all seemed to be in a hurry; I've also never seen nudibranchs move so fast. We ended the day with 2 dives at Secret Bay. Secret Bay is as different from Mainit Point as can be - it is true muck diving with nothing but a crappy sandy bottom. Highlights of today's dives were millions of nudis up close, hairy squat lobster, zebra crab, xeno crab (alas, no good pictures), 3 ornate ghost pipefish, and 2 playful octopi.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Crazy Night Dive

I did one night dive in Anilao and I'm hooked. As far as crazy stuff underwater, that dive takes the cake, and I've seen some pretty crazy things underwater. There was one rock where we saw an ornate ghost pipefish, a crab, sleeping clownfish, a lionfish, and banded coral shrimp all within 2 feet of one another. Then there was the crazy octopus trying to made a fortress out of 3 seashells, which I photographed for 15 min. And how about the 6 inch long nudibranch? One of my strobes died 20 min into the dive, which made me yell %!&^!*^$%, but still, I've never had so much fun in 4m of water.

The Alma Jane

I forgot how nice a dive the Alma Jane is. The Alma Jane is a metal frame of a wreck in Sabang Bay, about 40m long and with a max depth of 30m. We saw, among other things, huge snapper, trumpetfish, common lionfish, and 3 kinds of shrimp within a 2m radius: scarlet skunk shrimp, banded coral shrimp, and my favorite, an army of peppermint shrimp. We spent 30min on the Alma Jane before scootering inland. Vis was terrible (less than 10m) but that's ok when the focus is on macro life.

This afternoon, I am transferring to Anilao. I am doing my first dive in Anilao tonight, a night dive.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Hello from Puerto Galera

Puerto Galera hasn't changed much since I was last here in May 2008. A few dive shops have changed hands. Some of the buildings in Sabang look a little different. The El Galleon looks a bit nicer and it seems like the food has improved. The diving is still the same, that is to say, still a good time. Yesterday I did 2 dives to about 45m - the first one on Sabang reef, surfacing right in the middle of Sabang bay, and the second one at Fishbowl and ending up in the Canyons. This morning, I did a 60m dive at Blackfish corner in Verde Island. The currents there are always exhilarating - at some points, I struggled to move forward with my Gavin on full pitch while kicking. We ended up on a very healthy sloping reef all the way up to 6m. Not many people dive there and as a result, the marine life is healthier than elsewhere in PG.

Visibility is not the best at the moment. The water is clear but dark below 40m or so and a bit milky above that. The water is a lot colder than I expected - 27C is colder than it sounds. I went to every shop in town to find a new wetsuit and/or hooded vest but with no luck. I guess I am just going to have to suffer through the cold this week. Note to self: apart from in the summer, dive dry in PG.

Dave has already taken off and Sam is off tomorrow for Sri Lanka. They are hosting 2 one week expeditions to the HMS Hermes, a British aircraft carrier sunk in WWII. After tomorrow's dives, I will be moving to Anilao to do some macro photography dives.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Next Trip

I have made last minute plans to go diving next week. I am spending 3 days at Tech Asia in Puerto Galera and another 3 days at Acacia in Anilao. My time with Tech Asia will be spent doing Tech 1/2 scooter dives to get my tech fix, and my time with Acacia will be mostly muck and reef diving and macro photography. I have been to Tech Asia many times in the past and it will be nice to catch up with Dave and Sam after not having visited in almost 2 years. It will be my first time in Anilao and I have high expectations for the quality of the macro life, after hearing so much about it in articles such as this one. I will be taking my 60 mm and 105 mm macro lenses. Fingers crossed that I will be able to photograph stuff like coleman shrimp, emperor shrimp, nudis, bobbit worms, seahorses, stargazers, etc.

I will report back during/after the trip.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ikelite housing port upgrades

Ikelite recently announced 2 upgrades to their housings - the addition of 2 port locks (for a total of 4) and a threaded mounting point for a focus light. The 2 new port locks are a welcome addition as it has long been noted that the old port locking mechanism is flimsy and does not inspire confidence. The threaded mounting point is also nice as it simplifies mounting a focus light (previously had to be mounted on a strobe arm). I sent my housing back to Ikelite last week for upgrading. After transit time and 3 week turnaround time, I'll probably get my housing back in March.

Read more about it here.

Nikon 105 mm f/2.8 macro lens

My wonderful friends bought me a Nikon 105 mm f/2.8 macro lens for my birthday. This lens is highly specialized and will be awesome for shooting nudibranchs, slugs, and intricate details on other marine life. I'm not sure when I will get to use it yet as I have not yet planned my next diving trip, but I am really looking forward to it.

I will need to buy the Ikelite flat port to go along with the lens.