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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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.

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Phyllidia ocellata

Cruising Catalina.

Its always nice to escape with friends on a relaxing dive. Jessica and I hopped on a last minute boat out to Catalina for a couple of advanced dives, hitting some new sites I hadn’t had a chance to dive before. We started at Blue Caverns, though sadly were not pointed in the right direction and did not find the awesome large cavern. After that we spent a long dive at Bird Rock, one of my favorites with varied terrain. Lush kelp, a large wall drop off and shallow rocky reefs surround this low lying bird crap encrusted island. Lastly we dove Sea Fan Grotto with the small room with sea fans descending from ceiling. I enjoyed a really nice day of diving, and despite not really devoting the dives to photography came away with a few shots that I liked.

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Valiant Voyage.

In February I revisited a wreck I had dove once before, and discovered just how much some added valiant2experience can change a dive adventure. The first time I hit this wreck was with a friend in 2010, visibility was limited and neither of us felt extremely comfortable wandering far through the site. We happened upon part of the wreck, but did not realize it extended deeper down into the depths and was as large as it actually was. Three years later, with much more diving experience under my belt I found myself at the wreck of the Valiant again and experienced an entirely different wreck. A long sprawling body with a huge sweeping hull, the Valiant was a 162′ yacht which sank due to fire just off Catalina outside Avalon Harbor.

Visibility on this second dive was a bit better allowing us to see more of the wreck, and after realizing just how much we had missed the first go round, I’d love to get back over there and dive it again!

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Electric Encounter.

One of the diving best days on Farnsworth Banks, off the back side of Catalina Island – clear skies, warm weather and water, with visibility stretching on and on and on! Among the many wonders this large ocean pinnacle holds we enjoyed a sighting of a Pacific Electric Ray – or Torpedo Ray. This guy was lazily swimming along and allowed us to approach, swim near and snap a few pics. These guys usually hang out at Farnsworth, in deeper water and can offer a bit of a jolt if you get too close!

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