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Blackwater and Bonfire Night Diving at Lembeh Resort, North Sulawesi

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Critters at Lembeh Resort Dive Centre Manager Brigitte Gassner is a huge fan of blackwater and bonfire diving where she is able to spot and photograph critters at their larvae stages. Many of the sightings during these dives are critters which are unseen by the majority of underwater photographers and scuba divers. Brigitte has even been able to spot a paper nautilus at one of Lembeh Resort’s closest dive sites.

Brigitte is passionate about sharing these new diving experiences with guests staying at the luxury Lembeh Resort located on the banks of the Lembeh Strait. But what is bonfire and blackwater diving and how is it different to other night dives?

Image: Brigitte Gassner

It all Starts with Plankton

There are two types of plankton; zooplankton (which is animal based) and phytoplankton (which is plant based). These two forms of plankton drift with the ocean currents and are the source of all marine life. The word “Plankton” is derived from the Greek word “Planktos” which translates into English as “drifter” or “wanderer”. Did you know that in one teaspoon of sea water there are literally billions of life forms?

What is Blackwater and Bonfire Diving?

Blackwater diving takes place over deep water, away from the reef. In Lembeh, blackwater dives usually take place in the middle of the Strait. Bright lights are suspended in the water column at various depths up to 25 meters. The lights attract plankton in the water column which in turn attracts intriguing and rarely seen larvae stage critters.

Bonfire diving takes place at shallower depths on the reef or sandy slope – in Lembeh, there is no shortage of suitable dive sites. Bonfire diving is also based around the use of bright lights to attract plankton and both larvae stage and more mature critters.

Image: Lilian Koh

Blackwater and Bonfire Underwater Photography Subjects

The most iconic blackwater and bonfire dive critters include crustacean and cephalopod larvae and of course the paper nautilus which, to many, is the ultimate of all critters. Other common subjects include jellyfish and other critters which drift freely in the open ocean. Many larvae stage critters do not yet display any coloration and are often translucent as they are still in the early stages of development. Both types of diving feature a lot of critter behavior spotting and imaging opportunities.

Jellyfish are often behavioural hotspots, look out for jellyfish playing host to a range of species from tiny amphipods through to jackfish. The jackfish will enter the jellyfish and use it for protection, it’s often possible to see the jackfish going in and out of the jellyfish as it exits it host to breathe before re-entering.

Image: Lilian Koh

Blackwater and Bonfire Photography Techniques

Blackwater and bonfire photography require using fast shutter speeds – typically sync speed, as you are capturing images of larvae which is moving. A fast shutter speed will help to “freeze the action”. Shooting with a small aperture, which gives more depth of field, allows for more of the critter to be in focus as opposed to only a small section which is closest to the lens.

Best Times for Blackwater and Bonfire Diving

It’s technically possible to blackwater and bonfire dive at any time but Brigitte says the most abundant dives are around the new moon – up to 4 days before and 3 days after. Around the new moon there is little moon light so the bright dive lights become more active. When there is a full moon there is already light on the surface so the level of activity is dispersed and less centered around the dive lights.

Image: Lilian Koh

Lembeh Resort

Are you planning a trip to North Sulawesi? Lembeh Resort not only offers marine biology and underwater photography trained dive guides, luxury accommodation and exquisite dining – they are also committed to sustainability and are the 2019 winners of the prestigious Blue Green 360 award for Dive Operator of the Year awarded at ADEX in Singapore.

For more information about Lembeh Resort take a look at their website www.LembehResort.com 

Sarah Ann Wormald is a writer and PADI Master Instructor with a passion for underwater photography and conservation. Sarah is the author of “Diving in Indonesia” and “Diving in South East Asia” (Tuttle Publishing). With over 20 years of diving experience, Sarah has dived all over the Indonesian Archipelago and South East Asia. Find out more at www.MurexDive.com.

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BSAC launch #DiscoverUKdiving video competition

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BSAC is launching a new video competition which aims to get the diving community sharing and discussing the highlights of UK diving to inspire others to give it a try and discover it for themselves.

They are inviting you to share short UK diving or snorkelling videos – tagged #DiscoverUKdiving or #DiscoverUKsnorkelling – to be in with a chance of winning a Fourth Element Hydra Neoprene Drysuit worth £999 (or an alternative non-diving suit if a snorkeller wins). There are other prizes up for grabs too, with a Fourth Element duffel bag going to second place and a year’s BSAC membership for third.

The #DiscoverUKdiving video competition aims to get the diving community talking about the highlights of UK diving and/or BSAC club life by sharing short videos to surprise and inspire others to discover it for themselves.

BSAC is looking for videos that show an exciting moment, unique insight or anything that exemplifies why diving in the UK is so much fun and can encourage others to take up UK diving. People will be invited to vote for the entries they find most inspiring on the competition gallery website.

BSAC CEO Mary Tetley said: “We want to show others who haven’t experienced UK diving why we love it so much, and we need your help! Use your phone, GoPro or pretty much anything to share a short video that encapsulates why you love diving in the UK. Ideally, showing off UK diving the BSAC way!”

The competition will be open for entries until midnight on Monday 30 November.

The videos can be either be above water (e.g. a RIB ride out to a dive site), below water (e.g. exploring a wreck with your buddy) or a combination of both. Each video should be short (no longer than 15 seconds) and you can enter up to three videos. The winner will be the entry that receives the most votes. Voting will remain open for a further week and close on Monday 7 December. The winners will be announced the week of 14 December, good luck!

Full terms and conditions, including how to enter as well as how to vote on your favourite video can be found here.

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Henley Spiers: Black & White Photography at the September NUPG meeting (Watch Video)

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The September NUPG meeting saw Henley Spiers take to the virtual stage. Henley decided to divide the evening into two topic areas for discussion: Black and White Photography and Pelagic Encounters – his two biggest passions in underwater photography at the moment.  Henley showed off his stunning black and white images to the NUPG audience, talking about why he selected each image to convert to monochrome and was generous enough to share the photoshop techniques with the group too. He then went on to wow the group with images from the deep blue sea, with some simply stunning pelagic encounters. 

As always, the NUPG members also had a chance to show off some of their images in the monthly competition. This month’s theme was “Invertebrates” and it saw a range of ideas and images from the group.

The winning shot of a sea lion was taken by Maggie Russell

The runner-up was by John Spencer

Third place was taken by Justin Beevor

The next meeting was held on Monday 12th October, a talk from Simon Rogerson: Difficulties with Sharks. Check back soon for the video!

For more information about the NUPG please visit the website by clicking here.

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