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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Google maps takes a dive

Link: HERE

Yes, now Google maps has got in on the life aquatic by updating their maps to include d(r)ive-bys of underwater regions in the world.  

Well worth checking out if you can't make the trip to dive it yourself. True armchair diving.

"We’ve added the very first underwater panoramic images to Google Maps, the next step in our quest to provide people with the most comprehensive, accurate and usable map of the world. With these vibrant and stunning photos you don’t have to be a scuba diver—or even know how to swim—to explore and experience six of the ocean’s most incredible living coral reefs. Now, anyone can become the next virtual Jacques Cousteau and dive with sea turtles, fish and manta rays in Australia, the Philippines and Hawaii"

Monday, 24 September 2012

Elmo's World

Got some nice  boat diving in on Saturday which more than made up for the poor showing last weekend. A 30 min boat ride will see you at Elmo's Wall and depending on who you ask, they will tell you 10 different versions as to how it got its name. 

With a sand patch below us at 20 metres, we followed it along to the swimthrough which takes us down onto the wall proper.

If you followed it all the way to it's conclusion, you can come out at around 42 metres or if you prefer to be a bit more conservative you can swim out earlier at around 28 metres.

Swimthrough at 42
We headed out West along the wall with the current and worked in and out the cuts. Some lovely scenery here with loads of colour and life. The big stuff wasn't out in force today but still very pretty indeed.
Vibrant colours in the depths
Large shoals of triggerfish, grunts, jacks and snappers where happy enough to cruise on by with the occassional visit from some pretty large tarpons to see what were about.
On the cruise for the next meal
Most of the dive was spent getting some scenic shots for an upcoming project, luckily the light was in the right place a lot of the time and the viz was exceptionally good. It's one of those dives where a lot of things seem to come together at the right time and you're able to grab those magical shots.
End of Elmo's Wall
It was pretty lumpy getting back on the boat seeing as the wind had picked up a little, but we didn't have far to motor over to the Ironshore Gardens. I've done this a couple times before and just like previous times, there is a lot of surge and sand which makes it pretty challenging from a photographic stand point, so not my best shooting experience but still plenty to see and do with plenty of cuts and swimthroughs to play about in.
"My, what a hell of a lot of teeth you have Grandma!"
If you can anchor yourself to the bottom and resit the surge, it pays just to stop and check all the little nooks and crannies as they are teeming with life, especially of the smaller variety.
Small and perfectly formed
Gobies, blennies, shrimps, morays, cowries, hogfish, hamlets, they were all present and correct and quite happy to mooch around the dive site. We did get a nurse shark come in for a nose to see what we were about but it disappeared sharpish and I got one crappy picture of it in the distance. Still plenty more fish in the sea, pardon the pun. 

Also if you can find the telltale signs, there's quite a few octopus (octopi, octopusses, take your your pick) to be seen. Although they were reluctant to show a tentacle outside of their holes.
Unwilling to come out and share the octopus love with us
Also worth paying attention to some of the coral heads and islands sitting out in the sand as they have plenty of scorpionfish sitting out, waiting to be photographed.
A lovely, lumpy little fellow
And have a good nose in the sand as well as it's very easy to miss some really nice stuff in the cat litter.
A face a mother could love. Possibly
We had a great day diving with Ocean Frontiers, as always and with finishing up at lunchtime, we still had plenty of time to get back home for cocktails in the sun. Perfect.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Well we took a chance and tried our luck with a local dive operator to do some boat diving with them on the Saturday. That was our first and last time with them I reckon. 

It's true what they say, you get what you pay for. It's the first time we've ever got back on the boat with 140 bar still left in the tank!. Short dive times, shorter surface intervals and to make it worse, the staff listened to the majority of the divers (not us I hasten to add) and took them where they wanted to go instead of where the best diving actually was. 

The majority wanted to go to a particular dive site to get the best pictures (they said). As I've said for many years, the general public are idiots and they don't know what they want. We ended up on probably one of the sh*tiest dive sites I've been to anywhere in the world, and I've dived in some right old filthy puddles in my time.

To put the world to rights and put that horrible episode behind us, we went shore diving on Sunday. We only did a single tank dive but we had a 147 minute run time, which more than makes up for the utterly miserable dives the previous day.

Nurse sharks, angelfish, groupers, tarpons, octopus, but still sad to say the seahorses are continuing to elude us. Maybe this weekend..... And we nearly saw a scrap between a turtle and a barracuda, but they both backed down at the last minute and headed in opposite directions.

I must say the nurse shark pics and video I got aren't my greatest but they were very skittish and I didn't want to frighten them, off so please excuse by below par shots.
As close as I dared without frightening the poor thing
And another shot for good measure
Loads of flamingo tongue cowries were out and about, it must be breeding season for them. Or some sort shellfish convention or something....
I love these little colourful cowries
There was a good selection of petersons shrimps scuttling over the reef as well and when you can get them to sit still for a few seconds you can get some great shots that really show up their colours as well as allowing you to see the eggs in their translucent bodies.
A petersons shrimp, sitting still
We had some really nice angelfish follow us around as usual, if it's not snappers or groupers then it's usually angelfish that are looking to be adopted by visiting divers. I swear they can remember you from previous dives. Maybe fish do have memories after all?
The adopted angelfish we always wanted...
....and the porcupine fish we never wanted but it adopted us anyway!
Jill made a nice find of a nesting octopus so now we've got it's location pegged, we'll be able to visit it whenever we're out. Unfortunately at this point it was content to stay in it's hole and blow bubbles at us. Maybe it'll be out for a forage next time we're out.
Anti-social octopus
And of course the obligatory christmas tree worm shot, because I like sneaking up on them and they're just so colourful and photogenic..
No excuses, I just like them
This coming weekend, we're out with our friends at Ocean Frontiers who may not be the cheapest for dives on the island, but they are the best on the island and we always get well looked after whenever we're out with them.

And maybe Sunday, we'll go seahorse hunting and try and find the little blighters once and for all!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Running with the Devil

The weekend was exceptionally hectic with more time spent underwater than at the surface with Lighthouse Point on Saturday morning to catch the turtles and seahorses rampaging over the reef before zipping over to the East End to test some new equipment.

Whilst there we encountered the lone dolphin that's been making the headlines on the island the last few weeks due to it's aggressive behavior. We'd just got back on the dock and it was playing around at the surface a couple of feet from us. It's quite distinctive as it has scars on its back by it's dorsal fin.

There's various theories as to why it's been acting the way it has, but the DoE is asking people to steer clear as it "poses considerable danger". Several stupid people have already ignored that advice and have been injured. However this is a story for another day.

On Sunday we decided to check out Eden Rock on the waterfront by the harbor as they boasted some good diving and we thought we'd check them out. They open at 8.30am on Sundays, so we actually had the luxury of a late start for a change compared to our usual in the water for 7am.

Everything is well laid out with benches, picnic tables, lockers and easy access. No ropes to lower camera rigs but you can get your buddy to do that if you trust them enough. Two ladders for access, the larger, wider one on the right is preferable for those not wearing boots as it has a sandy-ish bottom free of urchins. And definitely no giant stride entries unless you're very vertically challenged!

Three buoys at the surface mark the area comprising of two sites, Devils Grotto and Eden Rock. Head out for buoy three at a bearing of 330 which will take you to the middle of the main finger. Its worth getting down and under right at the start as there's so much stuff to see in the shallows, you might miss something special like the octopus, barracuda, mantis shrimps, bristle worms and tarpons. And at only a couple of metres, you use very little air.

After about a 5-6 minute swim the hard pan starts breaking up and the depth starts dropping off. If you follow the finger round with it on your left hand side eventually you'll be facing back towards shore and you'll see the entrance for the Church Window at 14.9 metres, which will provide you with some excellent photo opportunities with shoals of huge tarpons cruising around hunting for the silversides.
Monsterous tarpons guard the entrance to the Church Window
The terrain is exceptionally rugged and there are numerous swimthroughs and tunnels which are easily missed if you aren't looking for them. Some of them are very narrow and I think we'll be coming back here quite a few times to make sure we explore everywhere and with stripped down kit to make sure we fit through some of the very low and very narrow tunnels. Wings and big camera rigs aren't conducive to navigating confined spaces!
Entry through the window
We spent a while playing through the tunnel systems and checking out some of the darker ledges to see what may be hiding in the shadows, with spiny lobsters, shrimp and the occasional drumfish to be seen.
Sprightly juvenile drumfish pauses for the camera
There's also plenty of barrel sponges, whips and soft coral formations pulsing with vibrant colours enliven the scenery and catch the eye.
Colours everywhere you look
We had a nice big great barracuda shadow us for the last leg of the dive and he was a monster. No fear at all about approaching divers to check them out.
Our toothy companion quietly appraises us
With 76 minutes run time on the clock we ended up at the three concrete marker blocks close to buoy two before heading back into the shallows and a well deserved surface interval. It can get very busy at the centre, especially if cruise ships are in because its so close to the harbour, you can get everyone arriving to snorkel and dive which can make it a bit chaotic. Thankfully there were no ships in but it was still busy with snorkellers, divers and loud children.
Eden Rock dive centre
For Eden Rock dive site, head out from the shore for buoy two at bearing of about 30, you'll eventually get to the plaque indicating its a marine park and not to muck about with the wildlife. You have been warned.
No taking, touching, feeding, molesting, gloves or knives. You have been warned.
Following the sandy gully straight out from the plaque will gain you depth and you can simply keep the smaller coral finger to you right and you'll pick up the first of many entrances in the rock, come are dead ends and fully enclosed as well as pretty tight, so unless your comfortable in confined spaces, stick to the bigger wide open swimthroughs. The Sitting Wall entrance at around 14 metres is a nice wide open area to explore and plenty of options for getting in and out with light in most parts.

Worth also keeping an eye out for the roving shoals of blue tangs that hover round the exits as they make a spectacular photo op as you come out of the tunnels.
The blue tang clan
The odd turtle was foraging around in the distance and the large brain coral at about 3 metres depth halfway between the shore and buoy two houses one of the few octopus to adorn the site. Unfortunately he wasn't home as we went past but there were quite a few bristle worms mooching about in the sand.
A worm, bristling with vitality
As well as a fine selection of arrow crabs to frustrate the keen photographer with their non co-operation to stay still infront of the lens.Patience and bubbles of steel paid off in the end.
Posing perfectly for once
I was also delighted and incredibly excited to catch a flicker of movement in the sand, which upon closer inspection proved to be a pair of eyes belonging to a mantis shrimp. This one was about 2-3mm in size and he wasn't willing to come any further out of his lair but now I know they are here, I'll definitely be on a mission to find one out and about.
The eyes have it. Such a tiny little thing.
We hit the surface at 92 minutes and about to head up the ladder when got a nice surprise of three huge tarpons flitting between our legs as they chased their next meal. I didn't kget a shot as the rig was all shut down but is was definable a nice way to finish a dive. There's regular reports of anywhere up to 60 cuttlefish that can hang around the ladders, but no such luck today.

With friendly staff, a good layout and some excellent diving, Eden Rock Dive Centre is definitely well worth a visit as long as you can time it right to avoid the mad crowds.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Any colour you like

What a great weekend, the sea was flat calm, only about 3 knots NE wind at the surface, it was a divers delight. We were so long underwater my hand was actually covered in blisters from carrying/handling by rig. It was well worth it though. Turtles, rays, cuttlefish, loads to see and do, so much to photograph.
All the chicks love diving on Nitrox......
The angelfish and groupers were particularly friendly today, sometimes to the detriment of the shot. But I'll not begrudge them wanting to play with us. They can get a little too inquisitive in front of the camera though, the amount of shots I've deleted because they were nuzzling the port or nibbling the strobes. As long as they don't literally start making love to the camera though!
Say cheese
The main wall proved to ideal for some shots with the bigger stuff as it cruised by to do whatever it is that the bigger stuff does at the weekend. Shopping?
Turtles were out in force today
Hitting the water at this time of the morning is ideal as there is no one else about, the ocean is your playground and you've got first dibs on the roundabout.
A gray angelfish wreck-ing the shot. Ho-ho. See what I did there?
Quite a few barracuda out and about too with a particularly monstrous specimen stalking us for most of our bottom time. He wasn't interested in getting close for a shot though, which was a pity. Next time.
Lobsters, avoiders of pots and masters of scuttling backwards very fast
The mini wall proved to be equally as bountiful for photographic opportunities with triggerfish, grunts, snappers and sergeant majors getting all broody and territorial.
More fish than you can shake a stick at. A fish stick if you will.
And even more turtles were scouring the wall for grub with the occasional fly-by from southern stingrays. You can tell they are southern stingrays by the confederate flag sticker on their bumpers.......
"Do you mind?"

Plenty of flamingo tongue cowries out and about with a particularly nice example of mother and kids out for the day.
Four for the price of one. Bargain.
With a bit of hard searching and checking under every ledge and in every nook and cranny, drumfish were also to be found darting hither and thither.

Typical drumfish, always banging on about something.......
And made a very nice find of a juvenile file fish snugged up in the crook of a piece of coral, which was a pain to get a shot of as it wouldn't stay still. Got it in the end though.
Blink and you'd miss it.
If we're lucky, next week we'll get some boat diving in as typically September is a slow month for tourists, so there should be plenty spots on the boat. We'll know closer to the day. Onwards to some more diving!