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.