Magic in the Midriff Islands.

Last summer I lead a trip for Bluewater to the Sea of Cortez. An incredible week aboard the Rocio del Mar liveaboard diving these unique and incredible waters. Here’s my trip report from this fantastic trip (adapted from what I wrote up for Bluewater’s website).

Welcome to the Sea of Cortez. Dubbed by Jacques Cousteau as the “World’s Aquarium” this living sea definitely lives up to the name. Abundant life swimming through warm waters provides a unique diving experience where temperate and tropical worlds collide. From the tiniest skeleton shrimp to the giant whale shark, the Sea of Cortez offers a variety of marine encounters and incredible diving.


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The Stressful Short Life of the Pelagic Tuna Crab

The past few months the waters around the Channel Islands have been inundated with tiny little pelagic tuna crabs. These poor sea creatures are about 3 inches long, bright red and seem to live life within three feet of the surface. They float around just below the water’s surface, constantly working to evade death from above and death from below.

I got to see these little creatures on a dive last November, and felt so sorry for their stressful little lives. As they sink towards the bottom I watched fish flash up and and devour them. To escape that horror the little crabs would swish away towards the surface, where they’d get dive bombed by the circling sea gulls. There was no rest, there was no safety.

So here’s to the little pelagic tuna crab. May your short life be free from terrors above and below. May you ride the currents of the sea until that time when you become lunch.


Thankful for Dive Buddies

I’m a few weeks late on this post, but I’m always thankful for my dive buddies. While I often end up diving solo on many local boats with my nose to my camera screen, it’s always fun to step back from those serious photography dives and just cruise around with a couple friends.

After Thanksgiving this year myself, my husband and a couple friends went out diving for the day on the Peace off Anacapa. We caught the tail end of this beautiful summer here in California (and yes I mean tail end of summer when we were diving on November 29th!!) We’ve been experiencing some crazy weather here in SoCal with extremely warm water temps which have unfortunately killed much of the kelp around the local islands, but also brought clear visibility, comfortable diving temps and unique sightings. This dive at the end of November hearalded the beginning of classic California season, as the water temp had dropped at least 10° from my dives a month prior and the viz was diminishing.

Regardless, I had two great dive buddies keeping me company underwater and posing as models (whether they realized it or not!) It was a blast to swim with friends and just enjoy a laid back day of diving!

Anilao Wide Open.

The beauty of Anilao is found in the diversity. When your eyes get tired of hunting for the minuscule among the sandy muck or hiding within the folds of a crinoid you can simply change lenses and open your eyes to the full scene. Lush coral reefs abound around the area offering colorful fish by the hundreds and incredibly scenes to try to capture. Here are a few of those scenes from my first trip to the Philippines back in 2013.

ID Insanity.

One of my favorite aspects of diving is looking up the fish and critters I photographed during the dive to learn what they are. While I’m not great at retaining the knowledge, especially with places I only visit infrequently (or just once), I enjoy knowing what I saw. I also try to log the names as keywords in Lightroom so I can reference them later.

Of course there are always those critters that don’t quite match the options available in my book and you start to wonder. Could it be? Maybe it’s? Hmm, I wonder….

Luckily for me, we live in a digital age, where I can upload a photo into google image search, add a keyword and bring up all the similar images floating around the interweb… mystery critter no longer!

This was the case for one of my nudibranch from the 2013 Anilao trip. In my book there were a few possibilities, but none of the photos matched. My nudi had white bumps when all of the pictures had orange or yellow bumps. Another species had major variation with either orange or white bumps, but I dismissed it because it still was not quite what I had seen. Turns out I was wrong. That last species was the winner, thanks to a google image search which brought up several matching nudis, more than one of which was labelled Phyllidia ocellata. While you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, I feel pretty confident that its a good ID. I guess I should have put more faith in the first two words on that entry in my Reef Creature Guide…. “Highly Variable”.

Hello Phyllidia ocellata.

Phyllidia ocellata

Phyllidia ocellata

Anilao Nudibranch Heaven.

Anilao is known as the nudibranch capital of the world and for good reason. Not only are you apt to find a nudi on every dive, but its very likely that you can find a different nudi on every dive (or several different nudi’s). In 2013 I got my first chance to dive Anilao, in Batangas, Philippines, as a trip leader for Bluewater Photo. Nervous, as it was my first time leading a trip… let alone my first ever international diving trip, it all ended up going very well. We had a great group of guests, really enjoyed the resort (Crystal Blue), and my co-leader, Ron, was excellent.

I had heard tales of the variety of life found throughout the Anilao region and had perused through some fish and invertebrate ID books prior to the trip but was still floored by the incredible biodiversity found on every dive. This region varies from beautiful coral reefs to seemingly barren, sandy muck dives. The knowledgeable guides really make the trip, as they know where to find unique critters and help you discover all the treasures hiding throughout the dive.

I love the various colors, shapes and sizes of nudibranchs found throughout the world and getting to dive in Anilao was amazing. Here are just a sample of what I saw throughout my (too short) week diving with the hundreds of nudibranchs in Anilao. (I tried to ID them properly, but if I am incorrect, let me know in the comments!)

Ranging in size from extremely small to bigger than my fist, one of the most enjoyable parts of diving in Anilao was searching for as many different nudibranchs as I could find. It was easy to spot the Choromodoris annae as they stand out and can often be found out and about. The better camouflaged ones were often spotted by the incredibly talented guides, who know where to look and what to look for. More often then not, the guide would point at a nondescript section of reef and it would take me a few moments before I could discern the nudibranch from the surrounding environment. These of course were often the most unique sightings, and usually the ones most difficult to photograph well.

One of my favorites from Anilao is the Chromodoris willani, which I dubbed “Sparkle Butt” as its gills were speckled and looked like they sparkled. In addition to that, the Ceratosoma alleni was incredible primarily for its size and unique shape, though easy to miss despite being nearly 5 inches long as it camouflaged well with the surroundings.

There are so many more incredible nudibranch and other critters from the Philippines, way too many for one simple post, but I figured this would be a great place to start.