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All Creatures Great and Small in the Galapagos

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Galapagos

“Macro Photography” and “the Galapagos” are not two phrases you would commonly hear in the same sentence. The majority of divers and underwater photographers travel to the Galapagos Islands for the abundance of hammerhead sharks and other large pelagic fish species. With the focus of attention on the wealth of life out in the blue, there is a tendency to overlook the smaller creatures, but on a recent trip aboard the Galapagos Master I decided to put my new TG4 camera to the test and do a bit of critter hunting.

Galapagos

Galapagos Master

Before you all start hollering in disbelief, I of course had my time gazing in awe as schools of hammerheads came in to be cleaned by the king angelfish. I, like the rest of our dive group, excitedly snapped away as a whale shark cruised by us at Wolf Island and diving with Mola Mola at Punta Vicente Roca was a dream come true. Yet in between all that action there was a good deal of waiting around holding onto the rocks, so it was easy to spend some time checking out the cute blennies or marveling at the curious hawkfish.

Like most dive sites, if you look hard enough at the reef or rock wall there will always be something of interest to photograph. At Darwin and Wolf islands the blennies were happy to pose and an easy, fascinating distraction whilst waiting for more hammerheads. My favourites were the large banded blennies, due to their gaping mouths and attractive cirri, but also the ability to photograph them in different settings.

Galapagos

Banded Blenny. Photo: Susie Erbe

Along the reefs wall of Cabo Douglas and Isabella Island amidst black coral bushes and seafans there were dozens of Long-nosed and Falco hawkfish. Now anyone who has ever tried to take a photo of the long-nosed variety will know they are tricky little critters who like to hop and hover about, flitting off just as you got the focus set. But not so with the ones seen in the Galapagos. Perhaps they were unused to divers and flash photography but they seemed happy enough to hang about and pose for me. I experienced the same action again at Cousin’s Rock where 3 of the Falco variety happily stayed in place, turning occasionally to give me a different angle – how very obliging!

Galapagos

Falco Hawkfish. Photo: Susie Erbe

Possibly the most odd looking fish to be found during the trip, the Red-lipped batfish is a flattened pancake shaped fish with protruding “lips”, beady eyes and pectoral fins adapted into walking appendages. We found our first ones at Wolf Island, resting down on the sandy seabed at 27-32m. These fish can be approached by divers but you need to be cautious as they can swim pretty fast and tend to head directly to deeper water. Positioning ourselves between the deep and the batfish the photographers among us were able to get some cracking shots. We also discovered that we had seen the lesser known Rosy-lipped batfish too. These can be identified by the small white hairs under their chins! Another one was found at Cabo Douglas too.

Galapagos

Rosy-lipped Batfish. Photo: Susie Erbe

Red rock crabs could be found scurrying over the rocks at almost every dive site and were easy to photograph both in and out of the water. But it was during our batfish hunting dive that I managed to spot a tiny shrimp exhibiting symbiosis with its seastar host – admittedly my photo is pretty bad but i was happy to find it in any case. Though the most surprising find was whilst drifting over the sandy reef at Darwin’s Arch. Our guide, JC, spotted two Harlequin shrimp busy tackling their seastar meal. This was totally unexpected; I’ve only seen a few harlies in the Philippines so was in no way anticipating finding any in the Galapagos. I think JC was as surprised as we were!

Galapagos

Harlequin Shrimp. Photo: Nicole Hemsley

I read about the possibility of seahorses on the Galapagos Master itinerary, so upon arrival at Cabo Douglas we asked about the opportunity to look for these critters. The majority of us have seen seahorses of many varieties but for one of our group it was a first time experience. We found 2 curled around a coral frond in the shallow water. These pacific seahorses are far larger than their Indo-Pacific cousins and gigantic when compared to the miniscule pygmy seahorses of Raja Ampat.

Galapagos

Seahorses. Photo: Nicole Hemsley

Aside from these fascinating tiny critters we were able to closely approach both turtles and the Galapagos horn shark for a bit of eye candy, we found numerous lobsters and scorpionfish and it was relatively easy to get up close with the marine iguanas as they were feeding on the algaes. The shallow water with surge and low visibility made photographing them a challenge but certainly everything was possible. The anemones at Punta Vicente Roca also provided colourful macro subjects.

Galapagos

Horn Shark. Photo: Susie Erbe

 

There are so many interesting creatures to see and photograph in the Galapagos Islands that no dive, even if lacking the big fish action, will ever be dull. Consider bringing a macro lens with you and dedicating at least 1 dive to a bit of critter spotting.

Susie took a 10-night trip aboard the Galapagos Master Liveaboard, departing from San Cristobal Island.

Susie has been enjoying the life of a dive instructor, travelling the world diving and teaching. Susie is somewhat of a liveaboard junkie after working as a cruise director in the Red Sea, the Philippines and Indonesia. She has also led trips to Fiji, Palau, Similans, Myanmar, East Timor, the Maldives and the Galapagos, yet she still finds time to do some shore based diving at her favourite sites in the Philippines too. Find Susie at www.heritagediving.com

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Book Review: Plankton

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Plankton: A Worldwide Guide by Tom Jackson and Jennifer Parker

This is a book that jumps off the shelf at you. The striking front cover demands that you pick it up and delve further, even if you may not have known you wanted to learn more about the most diminutive life in our ocean, plankton!

Small it might be. Much of the imagery in the book has been taken under huge magnification. Revealing stunning beauty and diversity in each scoop of “soup”. There is lots to learn. Initial chapters include interesting facts about the different vertical zones they inhabit, from sunlight to midnight (the darkest and deepest areas). I loved finding out more about the stunning show that divers oft encounter on night dives – bioluminescence.

The black water images are wonderful. So this is a book you can have as a coffee table book to dip in and our of. But, these tiny organisms are also vital to our very survival and that of all the marine life we love. They provide half the oxygen produced on our planet. They are also responsible for regulating the planets climate. And for a shark lover like me – they are food for charismatic sharks and rays like the Basking Shark and Manta Ray, along with a huge number of other species. This book contains great insight into their biology, life cycles, migration, and how the changes in currents and sea temperatures affects them.

This is a book that is both beautiful and packed with information about possibly the most important group of organisms on our planet. Anyone interested in the ocean should have it one their shelves.

What the publisher says:

Plankton are the unsung heroes of planet Earth. Passive drifters through the world’s seas, oceans, and freshwater environments, most are invisible or very small, but some are longer than a whale. They are the global ocean’s foundation food, supporting almost all oceanic life, and they are also vitally important for land-based plants, animals, and other organisms. Plankton provides an incomparable look at these remarkable creatures, opening a window on the elegance and grace of microscopic marine life.

This engaging book reveals the amazing diversity of plankton, how they belong to a wide range of living groups, and how their ecology, lifestyles, and adaptations have evolved to suit an enormous range of conditions. It looks at plankton life cycles, the different ways plankton feed and grow, and the vast range of strategies they use for reproduction. It tracks where, how, and why plankton drift through the water; shares perspectives on migrations and population explosions or “blooms” and why they happen; and discusses the life-sustaining role of plankton in numerous intertwined food webs throughout the world.

Beautifully illustrated, Plankton sheds critical light on how global warming, pollution, diminishing resources, and overexploitation will adversely impact planktonic life, and how these effects will reverberate to every corner of our planet.

About the Authors:

Tom Jackson is a science writer whose many popular books include Strange Animals and Genetics in MinutesJennifer Parker is a zoology and conservation writer and the author of several books. Andrew Hirst is a leading expert on plankton whose research has taken him around the world, from the Antarctic to Greenland and the Great Barrier Reef.

Book Details

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Hardcover

Price: £25

ISBN: 9780691255996

Published: 9th April, 2024

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Marine Life & Conservation

Dive with a Purpose: Shark Guardian’s Expedition Galapagos

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Shark Guardian has just unveiled their largest and most exciting expedition yet: a seven-night, eight-day adventure in August 2026 aboard the Galaxy Diver II, a state-of-the-art
vessel specifically designed for divers exploring the enchanting waters of the Galapagos
Islands. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to engage deeply with marine
conservation in one of the world’s most revered diving destinations.

Shark Guardian is a UK registered charity dedicated to protecting sharks and marine
ecosystems worldwide. Founded by marine biologists and conservationists, Brendon
Sing and Liz Ward-Sing, Shark Guardian leads educational programs, research projects,
campaigns and expeditions aimed at fostering a better understanding and respect for
marine life. Their work spans several continents and focuses on direct action,
education, and advocacy.

Shark Guardian’s ethos revolves around the concept of “diving with a purpose.” This
philosophy underscores the importance of not just experiencing the wonders of the
underwater world but actively learning and contributing to its preservation. Participants
in Shark Guardian expeditions engage in citizen science projects, which involve
collecting data that supports ongoing research and conservation efforts. These
activities empower divers to make a tangible difference, turning each dive into an act of
conservation.

One of the newer additions to the Galapagos diving scene, the Galaxy Diver II, is
specifically tailored for divers. Its design prioritises comfort, safety, and environmental
responsibility. The vessel boasts modern amenities, spacious dive decks, and the latest
navigational technology, ensuring that every dive is not only memorable but also has
minimal environmental impact.

A highlight of this expedition is the opportunity to dive at Wolf and Darwin islands,
renowned for their vibrant, untouched marine ecosystems and as a haven for large
pelagic species. These islands are famous for their schools of hammerhead sharks,
whale sharks, and manta rays, offering spectacular diving that attracts enthusiasts from
around the globe.

Shark Guardian have developed this trip to ensure a hassle-free experience. The
expedition package also includes internal flights from Quito, Ecuador, to the Galapagos,
plus accommodation in Quito before and after the trip. This allows divers to relax and
enjoy the experience without worrying about logistics.

Participants will join a diverse group of passionate divers and conservationists. This trip
offers a unique opportunity to network with like-minded individuals who are eager to
learn about and contribute to marine conservation. It’s a chance to share experiences,
knowledge, and a commitment to protecting the marine world.

sharks

Shark Guardian is offering an early bird price available until May 31st 2024. This special
rate provides a fantastic opportunity to secure a spot on this exclusive expedition at a
reduced cost. Availability is limited, so interested divers are encouraged to act quickly
to ensure they don’t miss out. All the details can be found on their WeTravel page, where
bookings can be made easily and payment instalments are available.

Expedition Galapagos, aboard the Galaxy Diver II offers more than just a diving
holiday—it is an investment in both personal and planetary well-being. By participating,
divers not only witness the majesty of one of the world’s premier diving locales but also
contribute to its preservation for future generations.

Find out more about Shark Guardian at www.sharkguardian.org.

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