Tag Archives: scuba

Reef Fish & Photography

Check out some photos from my recent diving adventures along reefs outside of Dumaguete City and off of Malapascua Island in Cebu.

Longfin Spadefish (Platax teira)
Longfin Spadefish (Platax teira)

The above photo was taken using a red filter on my gopro camera. When shooting underwater a red filter is useful because water absorbs and scatters light as it passes through. The long wavelengths of light (especially red, orange and yellow) are absorbed first. As you travel deeper in the ocean, there are no red wavelengths of light to reflect off various fish or corals. All of the marine life looks blue or green, because these colors are shorter in wavelength and able to penetrate to greater depths. Therefore when I looked at the algae-covered mooring line that the Longfin Spadefish above are swimming by it appeared blue, because that was the color reflected back to my eye. However, when my red gopro filter added back in the red wavelengths you can see the beautiful colors of the marine life growing on this rope.

Below is a photo taken without a red filter, demonstrating the blue underwater world seen by a SCUBA diver. For any aspiring underwater photographers, I would recommend buying the red filter! (Note: all other photos in this post used the red filter)

Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata) resting on a blue seastar
Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata) resting on a blue seastar
Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata)
Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata)

The lionfish above falls in the family Scorpaenidae or Scorpionfish. These fish are so named for their venomous fin spines, particularly the dorsal spine along their backs. Toxins are produced by glands on either side of the spines and embedded into long grooves along the spines. Fortunately, scorpionfish do not actively try to spear divers with their venomous fins. In fact, most fish (sharks are fish too!) tend to swim away from you.

Scorpionfish, unidentified (please comment if you know the species)
Scorpionfish, unidentified (please comment if you know the species)

Some scorpionfish, like the one shown above, are master’s of camouflage. I recommend not touching anything while underwater because it is deceivingly easy to place your hand on the rocky ground only to realize you discovered a scorpionfish’s hiding spot. The pain from a scorpionfish sting may very from uncomfortable to intense. Immersion in hot water may offer some relief. Best practice while snorkeling or diving: “Take only pictures and leave only bubbles.”

Painted Frogfish (Antennarius pictus)
Painted Frogfish (Antennarius pictus)

The fish shown above can change to almost any color including black, red, pink, orange, yellow and brown. Frogfish have extremely large mouths which can open to the width of their bodies to engulf prey. Also known as Anglerfish, frogfish possess a stalk-like first dorsal spine, equipped with a lure (esca) which they wiggle like a casting rod to attract prey. The esca may be shaped like a small fish, shrimp or just a nondescript tuft depending on the species.

Flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi)
Flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi)

The cuttlefish is a mollusk, classified by its soft body and closely related to the squid and the octopus. It has specialized cells called chromatophores, which allow it to change color almost in a continuous radiating pattern. Want to eat flamboyant cuttlefish for supper?? No! The muscle-tissue of the flamboyant cuttlefish is highly toxic. Fun Fact: This cuttlefish is considered poisonous because it must be eaten to cause damage, while scorpionfish are venomous because their toxin is injected through spines. Want more examples: Frogs, mushrooms and plants are poisonous, while snakes and spiders are venomous.

Robust Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus)
Robust Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus)

This male/female pair of pipefish is considered an indicator species, because they are fragile creatures easily threatened by small changes in the ecosystem. Therefore finding this pair is a good indication that the marine ecosystem at this dive site is still healthy.

Photographing the ghost pipefish pair.
Photographing the ghost pipefish pair.

Source: Allen, G., Steene, R., Humann, P. & DeLoach, N. (2012) Reef Fish Identification Tropical Pacific. New World Publications, Inc. Jacksonville, Florida, USA.

Shark Diving off Malapascua Island

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April and May mean summer vacation here in the Philippines therefore adventures are abounding, families are traveling, and I am no exception…

This past weekend I visited Malapascua Island, a 2.5 square km island just north of Cebu known throughout the world for its regular thresher shark sightings. Thresher sharks (Alopias vulpinus) are nocturnal and generally live at depths of 200-300m. They are roughly 4-5m in size and are easily identified by their very long tail and large eye. At sunrise each morning these sharks come up from the depths to meet cleaning wrasse, small fish, which remove parasites from the shark’s body. Therefore, at 5am our dive boat set out for Monad Shoal dive site, the cleaning station of choice for local thresher sharks.

Sunrise SCUBA diving
Sunrise SCUBA diving
The thresher sharks and cleaning wrasse meet at a depth of about 80ft where a large rock ledge forms a table for cleaning, before the threshers descend back to the depths to avoid the intensity of daylight sun. Kneeling on the rubble ground, as thresher sharks swam by was incredible!

Myself and John, hanging out at 80ft
Myself and John, hanging out at 80ft
“People come to Malapascua to see thresher sharks, but what they remember is Gato Island.” So we were told upon arrival by our divemaster. After visiting Gato Island myself, I completely agree!!! This site current ranks as the best dive of my life, thanks to Wilbert our expert divemaster. Here is a quick list of some of the most exciting discoveries on this dive. (I suggest you google any animal you haven’t heard of before because some are so unusual you’ll be wondering how they ever came to be in the first place)

• Cuttlefish – related to an octopus and can change color instantly
• Nudibranches – sea slugs that breath through hair-like gills streaming from their backs
• Whitetip reef sharks – we saw one swimming towards us as we came out the other side of an underwater tunnel
• Pygmy seahorses – the size of your fingernail when full grown
• Ornate ghost pipefish – related to the seahorse but extremely fragile
• Skeleton shrimp – transparent tiny shrimp
• Frogfish – camouflage so well that even though our guide pointed right at it, it a game of underwater charades for me to understand what I was looking at
• Spiny devilfish – I almost placed my hand right on top of this guy because of his incredible camouflage, luckily I didn’t because he has venom in his dorsal spine
• And even more!!!

Wilbert is on the other side of this sea fan, highlighting a tiny pygmy seahorse with his dive light.
Wilbert is on the other side of this sea fan, highlighting a tiny pygmy seahorse with his dive light.

Swimming through the underwater tunnel, as we emerged whitecap reef sharks swam past!
Swimming through the underwater tunnel, as we emerged whitetip reef sharks swam past!
My next summertime adventure is planned for early May when I will be attending a 3-day workshop on seahorses.

Provincial Dive Team Training

One of my biggest projects at site is developing the Provincial Reef Assessment Team, a group of divers to conduct regular assessments of Romblon’s marine resources to ensure proper management. We hope to also identify areas for protection in the future. Here are some photos from our recent dive training session.

The Dive Team
The Dive Team

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We lay a 50m transect line and then record the substrate under the line to determine % coral coverage on a given reef.
We lay a 50m transect line and then record the substrate under the line to determine % coral coverage on a given reef.
We also conduct fish surveys of species diversity and abundance.
We also conduct fish surveys of species diversity and abundance.
And in typical Filipino style, our entire team can fit in one vehicle!
And in typical Filipino style, our entire team can fit in one vehicle!

Coron and Cuttlefish

Coron, Palawan
Coron, Palawan

Palawan, Philippines is known worldwide as an amazing dive location. While visiting Coron I dove 4 different WWII wrecks and also saw an abundance of marine life including my first cuttlefish!

Cuttlefish
Cuttlefish

The Cuttlefish is a mollusk, meaning it has a soft, squishy body, and more specifically a cephalopod related to squid and octopus. This cuttlefish was rapidly changing color almost like waves rippling over its body, due to specialized cells called chromatophores, which allow it to change color. Cuttlefish and other cephalopods also have highly developed eyes and relatively large brains.

Wreck diving

Sea cucumber
Sea cucumber

I found this sea cucumber while diving at my site. It is an echinoderm, due to its spiny skin and tube feet, related to seastars and sea urchins. April and May are the summer months here in the Philippines, which also means that the ocean water is calm and perfect for SCUBA diving. Next month and during the summer I will be working with my office to survey the reefs in Romblon…more diving!