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Midnight Cannibalism takes Top Award at Yap’s Annual MantaFest 2019

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MantaFest brings professional and amateur underwater photographers together to Yap, a hidden gem in the Pacific.

Long after sunset, 35 feet down and miles offshore, a squid stalks in the inky darkness of the Yap Trench in the western Pacific Ocean. With a lightning fast strike, it captures its prey in a forceful act of cannibalism. The split seconds that unfolded in this drama of one squid catching and devouring another of the same species was captured by blackwater diver/photographer Sheila Ott of Switzerland. Her image was recognized as the Best of Show by the international panel of judges during MantaFest 2019 held August 24 to September 8 and hosted by the Manta Ray Bay Resort & Yap Divers on the remote island of Yap in Micronesia.

Blackwater diving is a fairly new scuba diving endeavor, done well after dark and far away from land. Lights are hung from a boat that drifts in the open sea. During MantaFest, the divers entered the water in the Yap Trench, the second deepest ocean trench in the world, that falls to depths past five miles. Then, camera in hand, they wait to see what the lights will attract. They search for photogenic pelagic larvae to drift by, but anything can show up. In this case, for Ott, it brought an act of nature few people have ever seen.

“Black water night diving is so addicting!”, exclaimed Ott. “If you get a chance, just do it! I first saw the squid attack at some distance and took off kicking to try to get a shot.” Ott’s efforts paid off as she won the top prize and racked up a free dive trip and other prizes.

Image: Mike Fusco

During the annual two week photo school and contest, the protected reef and ocean off Yap’s pristine shores produce daily shows from marine creatures big and small including its famous resident sharks and manta rays and a plethora of small, colorful tropicals like the brightly colored mandarinfish, MantaFest Photo School 2020 will take place August 31 to September 13, 2020.

Now in its 13th year, MantaFest brings underwater photographers, both amateur and professional, to the small island to compete for prizes, attend workshops, take tours of the island, and experience the unique culture of Yap, considered to be among the best preserved in the Pacific region.

Workshops are led by experts in the field providing their knowledge of still photography and video workflow and editing software. They also offer advice during sessions with local models in settings that include the island’s unique stone money banks and traditional dance performances. Daily underwater shoots provide opportunities to dive with the manta rays, sharks and other creatures that inhabit the surrounding, protected reefs and steep coral walls.

Image: Katja Jakobsen

In addition to Ott, who lives in Les Monts-de-Corsier, Switzerland, grand prize winners were Mike Fusco of Guam, Best of Class DSLR ; Katja Jakobsen of Smorum, Denmark, Best of Class Non-DSLR; and Judy Bennett, New Orleans, Louisiana, Best Video Submission. Prizes were dive vacations and gear from leading manufacturers of diving and photo equipment from Dive Damai, Siren Fleet, Truk Odyssey Adventures, Aquanautic Elba, Mares, Ikelite, Akona, Diver Design, Ear Shield, Henderson, Dive 1st Aid, Gear Aid and Light & Motion.

Bennett was also the proud winner of the Crying Towel Award. “This special award is for the last dive day, after everyone has submitted their contest entries,” said Bill Acker, founder/owner of Manta Ray Bay Resort & Yap Divers. “’Murphy’s law’ is that one of the best images or video clips is captured the day after and, as history repeats itself, a video of a Zebra shark waking up and swimming off into the channel won a special edition MARES – Just Add Water mask and snorkel and a custom crying towel.” Bennett was overcome and immediately used the towel for its stated purpose.

MantaFest Photo School 2020 will take place August 31 to September 13, 2020. For more information, go to www.mantafest.com.

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Photo Gallery: Dive Fest Barbados

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In our Gallery feature, we let the photos tell the story… Each Gallery showcases a selection of outstanding images on a chosen theme, taken by our Underwater Photography Editor Nick and Deputy Editor Caroline of Frogfish Photography. This time they reflect on their visits to the Caribbean Island of Barbados for the annual Dive Fest celebrations.


Dive Fest Barbados is a week of celebrating the marine life, diving and snorkeling this idyllic island has to offer. There are activities organised each day for all those that attend that include wreck diving, marine conservation, learning to dive, snorkeling and one an unusual dive for us – riding a submarine to the bottom of the Caribbean Sea! Dive Fest Barbados allows divers to get the very best out of a trip here, with plenty of diving, but also to sample the unique atmosphere, mouth-watering food and drink, stunning scenery and beautiful beaches.

For more images from Barbados and around the world, visit the Frogfish Photography website by clicking here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Video Series: The CCMI Reef Lectures – Part 4 (Watch Video)

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Introduced by Jeff Goodman

Never before since human beings have had major influence over our earths climate and environments, have we come to so close to the brink of global disaster for our seas and marine life. We need to act now if we are not going to crash headlong into irreversible scenarios.

A good start to this is understanding how the marine environment works and what it means to our own continued survival. We can only do this by listening and talking to those with the experience and knowledge to guide us in the right direction.

CCMI (Central Caribbean Marine Institute) are hosting an annual Reef Lecture series that is open to the general public and Scubaverse will be sharing those lectures over the coming months.


Part 4: Stop Whining! Life as an Ocean Ambassador; Ellen Cuylaerts

Ellen Cuylaerts shares her insights on how to act, practice what you preach and use your voice to contribute to constructive change. Ellen is a wildlife and underwater photographer and chooses to take images of subjects that are hard to encounter like harp seal pups, polar bears, orcas, beluga whales and sharks, to name a few. By telling the stories about their environment and the challenges they face, she raises awareness about the effect of climate change on arctic species, the cruel act of shark finning and keeping marine mammals in captivity.

During this seminar, Ellen will take you on a virtual trip and show you the stories behind the shots: how to get there, how to prepare, how to create the most chances to come home with a shot, and how to never give up!

Ellen Cuylaerts is an ocean advocate, underwater & wildlife photographer, explorer, and public speaker.


For more information about the CCMI click here.

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Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village is a Bedouin-owned resort with stunning views and a lovely private beach. It is ideal for divers as everything is onsite including the resort's jetty, dive centre and house reef. The warm hospitality makes for a diving holiday like no other. There is an excellent seafood restaurent and beach bar onsite, and with the enormous diversity of the Sharm El Sheikh dive sites and the surrounding areas of the South Sinai, there really is something for every level of diver to enjoy.

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