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.

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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Underwater Photography Guide Photo Workshop Trip Report, May 2011

I just got back from an excellent weeklong trip to Anilao to attend Underwater Photography Guide's photo workshop with Scott Gietler and Mike Bartick. It was tons of fun and I feel like my photography skills improved markedly throughout the week.

I saw many firsts on this trip: saron shrimp, stargazer (3 of them), ocellated octopus, thecacera picta nudibranch (commonly called the "pikachu"), sawblade shrimp, pygmy cuttlefish, and lots and lots of interesting nudis and flatworms. Other notable sightings include jorunna funebris laying eggs (2 of them), 2 giant frogfish, 2 bobbit worms capturing prey, mating nembrotha chamberlaini, 2 napoleon snake eels, a trumpetfish eating a damselfish, cavorting risbecia tryoni, clownfish eggs, and more than 40 distinct sea slug species. There were several dives where we saw 8 or more species of nudibranch on one dive. Other divers saw flamboyant cuttlefish, boxer crab, xenia mimic nudibranch, rhinopias, mimic octopus, and wonderpus, but I missed these. Anilao is well known for great macro life but the wide angle opportunities were fantastic as well, with some participants getting some excellent reef and fish shots.

Anilao's many dive sites offer a great diversity of seascapes. There are black sandy bottoms (Secret Bay, Mainit Bubbles), white sandy bottoms (Anilao Pier), wall dives (Kirby's Rock), sloping reefs (Twin Rocks, Aphol Reef), sandy slopes (Mato Point), rubble patches (Bethlehem), hard coral forests (Cathedral), and everything in between. I've always enjoyed diving Anilao and the more I see, the more special I realize it is.

Each day would start early with 2 dives before lunch. We would break for lunch at the resort, do a lecture, and then do 2 more dives in the afternoon/evening. Lecture topics included local marine life and how to best photograph it, wide angle photography, taking your photography to the next level, and basic photoshop skills.

Boat and buddy assignments were flexible, and took into account site preferences and diving styles. There were generally anywhere from 1 to 4 divers per guide/boat. Scott and Mike rotated so that they got to spend time with everyone. Dives averaged 60-80 minutes and were never rushed. We often sucked our tanks dry in the shallows, right beneath the boat.

Crystal Blue is a nice and cozy resort. It is located right in the middle of the channel in what is probably the best location in all of Anilao for easy access to the best dive sites. The service from the dive guides, boat crew, restaurant, and resort staff was top notch.

Just one word on conservation: Anilao has done a pretty good job of protecting its marine resources by restricting commercial fishing in the area. However, there are a lot of improvements that can still be made. The boats often drop anchor at dive sites, when it would be much better to have permanent mooring buoys installed. It is still common to see trash from nearby villages and resorts floating in the water. And dive resorts and guides need to do a lot more to raise the standard of diving in the area in order to protect the marine life.

It was really beneficial to spend time with 2 experienced photographers as they gave tips and critiques and were open to our questions. It was also great to dive with like minded folk and to share our passion with others. I'll be back for future trips, that's for sure.

Anilao Photos May 2011

Just got back from an excellent trip to Anilao with Underwater Photography Guide. Here's a quick selection of photos. Full set of photos here.

Saron shrimp at Cathedral. 60mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Giant frogfish at Secret Bay. 60mm, 1/250s, f/16, ISO 200

Stargazer at Anilao Pier. 60mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Noumea Alboannulata at Bethlehem. 105mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Xeno crab at Secret Bay. 105mm, 1/250s, f/20, ISO 200

Sawblade shrimp at Secret Bay. 60mm, 1/250s, f/20, ISO 200

Yawning pink anemonefish at Kirby's Rock. 105mm, 1/250s, f/13, ISO 200

Cavorting risbecia tryoni at Arthur's Rock. 60mm, 1/250s, f/18, ISO 200

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Underwater Photography Guide Photo Workshop

I am very excited that I will be joining Scott Gietler and Mike Bartick from Underwater Photography Guide on a photo workshop trip to Anilao in late May. I just got back from a short trip to Anilao over Easter and the diving was fantastic as usual. This will be my third trip to the area. I have been studying Scott's website to improve my photography skills for some time, so when he announced this trip several months ago, I jumped at the opportunity. Scott does underwater photographers a great service by publishing his free website that is full of instruction, tips, information, and great pictures. It is also a good source of inspiration as the photos on his site are from a number of world class photographers.

The entire trip is 10 days but I will be going for 7. We will be staying at Crystal Blue Resort.

For some info on Anilao and great photos from Scott and Mike, check out:

Diving Anilao (Scott)
Anilao Underwater Photo Essay (Mike)

Here is a snippet from Scott about the Anilao trip:

Experience more photo subjects than you have ever dreamed of.

Anilao boasts some of the richest reefs in the world. Whether at 100ft or 10ft depth, you will be inundated with photo subjects that will fill up your memory card before the day is over. Almost all species on our critter list can be found in Anilao - such as rhinopia, blue-ring octopus, hairy frogfish, flamboyant cuttlefish & bobbit worms, along with huge schools of jacks, great barracuda, sharks and beautiful soft corals. Anilao is also the nudibranch capital of the world.

Your hosts are Anilao experts Scott Gietler and Mike Bartick. Mike and Scott know the Anilao reefs inside and out, and will show you where to take that perfect wide-angle, macro or critter behavior shot.

  • $1750 includes an amazing 36 dives, including all meals, nitrox, and transport to/from Manila. This is an awesome deal! You just need to purchase airfare to Manila
  • 10 nights, 11 days, 4 dives a day
  • Deluxe accommodation in sealed rooms with air-con
  • Small dive guide to diver ratios, long dives
  • Nightly photo clinics and workshops to help you improve your photography
  • We will visit the best dive sites early and often! Most sites are just 10-20 minutes from the resort
  • May is the best time to dive Anilao, with warm water and great visibility
  • Prizes for photographing the most critters, the most nudibranch species, best video, and the best macro, wide-angle, and behavior shots
  • 1 week stays may also be available, inquire for prices
  • Photographers with even the smallest point and shoot camera will feel very welcome here, and will come home with some great shots
  • we will have several boats, so you can dive the type of sites you like
[End Quote]

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

In the Name of Conservation

On my most recent trip to Anilao over Easter, we shared a number of dive sites with other groups of divers from other resorts. I couldn’t help noticing the general poor standard of in-water finesse, situational awareness, and conservation-mindedness. We observed lots of instances of divers crashing into the bottom and kicking up corals, sand, and marine life. All open water divers should have the basics such as buoyancy, trim, body positioning, situational awareness, and buddy skills. Dive resorts and guides need to take responsibility for the actions of their clients. If their clients are unaware, apathetic, unsafe, or lacking in skill, something needs to be done. At the very least, they need to speak up and demand better behavior from their clients. If their behavior does not improve, the divers should not be allowed in the water, lest they cause further damage. It is very short-sighted for resorts and guides to turn a blind eye as the reefs and marine life will undoubtedly suffer and this will impact all of us.

I was so excited to see my first bobbit worm on a night dive at Anilao Pier. I settled down on a sandy patch next to it and was waiting patiently, camera in hand, to try to capture the "peak of the action". Suddenly, a group of divers charged by, like a herd of raging bulls, completely unaware that they were stirring up the bottom and causing a huge sandstorm. I looked over to my guide and we shared a moment of disappointment before being engulfed by the dust cloud. Visibility literally went to zero.
When the silt settled (only partially settled; Anilao Pier has a sandy bottom and no current so suspended particles can take hours to fully settle), the bobbit worm was covered in sand and the photo opportunity ruined. I can only imagine the impact on the bobbit worm and other marine life affected.

This is not directed at anyone in particular but I would like to make a general statement. If you don't have the skills (whether motor skills, experience, or situational awareness) to dive in delicate environments, please have enough respect and care for the environment to refrain. It is advisable to dive in more benign environments and gain experience before moving on to fragile sites. Even better - please seek appropriate training to improve your buoyancy, trim, body positioning, fin kicks, situational awareness, and buddy skills. I suggest GUE Fundamentals and there are lots of other classes out there that emphasize these basic skills.

To those who observe this type of unacceptable behavior: please, please, please say or do something. Today, I pledged to myself that I will not observe silently anymore. If you care about conservation of the marine environment, please do something. The reefs will thank you and so will I.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Anilao Photos April 2011

Full set of pics here.

Coconut octopus at Anilao Pier. 60mm, 1/250s, f/20, ISO 200

Phyllodesmium opalescens at Secret Bay. 60mm, 1/250s, f/25, ISO 200

Gymnodoris ceylonica at Mato Point. 60mm, 1/250s, f/32, ISO 200

Wire coral goby at Mato Point. 60mm, 1/250s, f/25, ISO 200

Pygmy seahorse at Sunview. 105mm, 1/250s, f/25, ISO 200

Wire coral shrimp at Sunview. 105mm, 1/250s, f/29, ISO 200

Xeno crab at Sunview. 105mm, 1/250s, f/25, ISO 200

Sea cucumber crab at Dive 7000. 105mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Anilao Trip Report, April 2011

I just got back from 4 days at Acacia Resort in Anilao. It was my second trip there, the first being in April 2010, and it was equally good - maybe it should become an annual tradition? The trip started out a bit slow on the first day but that changed quickly and I found the macro life to be as plentiful and diverse as ever. Highlights of the trip were coconut octopus, lots of wire coral gobies and shrimp, pygmy seahorse, xeno crab, ornate ghost pipefish, bobbit worm, squat lobster, coleman shrimp, and lots and lots of nudis. It was a great trip for macro photography.

Travel to and from Acacia was surprisingly easy despite it being Easter weekend. It's actually a pretty good time to visit, with calm seas and mild currents. The water was a little colder than expected and I needed at 5mm full suit and hooded vest to keep warm. Acacia was nice and homey as usual. The resort was a little more crowded than usual due to the holiday weekend but it was still quite manageable. I dove off a private boat with Marlou as my guide again - he was a good eye and is a really nice guy. Acacia is currently building a new wing to accommodate more rooms. I hope it never loses its small resort feel.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Anilao, Here I Come

Ever since I first went to Anilao in April 2010, I have been dying to go back. The abundance and diversity of macro life just blew me away. The reefs are also very healthy and it is great to see beautiful, colorful soft corals and the critters that make their homes there. I am going to Anilao again for a short trip over Easter break. I will only be diving for 3 days (max 12 dives) but the life is so prolific that I expect to shoot a number of good subjects. On my list for this trip:

Halimeda ghost pipefish
Coconut octopus
Coleman shrimp
Blue ringed octopus
Bobbit worm
Wire coral goby
Wire coral shrimp
Xeno crab
And lots and lots of nudis and flatworms

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Winter Diving, Brrr

Today, we dove off Sai Kung. We started bright and early and headed for Basalt Island. Ben and I were one of the first to jump in. We were told the bottom was around 15m and began to descend. Vis was pretty murky and dark as we were descending and then all of a sudden I crash landed on top of Ben (!?). The bottom was in fact at 6m and the vis was so terrible that Ben had hit the bottom and I had landed on top of him. Not a good sign. After a few minutes of trying to see the bottom and each other, we decided to call the dive. I didn't see any point in continuing as vis was barely 0.5m and we were struggling to see the rocky bottom.

It turns out that 2 other teams had also called their dives and so we headed for sheltered Bluff Island instead. Ling joined our team for the next dive. Surprisingly, vis was around 5m - by far the best I have seen in my limited experience in HK. The macro life was quite good and with the help of Ling's very sharp eyes, we saw a baby cuttlefish, baby crocodilefish, baby scorpionfish, one nudibranch, 2 crabs hiding in one hole, peppermint shrimp, and lots of anemones with clownfish and anemone shrimp. Good thing too, as everyone enjoyed the dive and it made up for the blowout first dive.

Water temps were around 17C. I dove with Xerotherm and 300G undergarments and was comfortable, but my hands got cold. Lots of people were diving wet - they are a lot tougher than I am!