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Underwater photography – without getting wet!

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First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room. The image above. It’s a starfish, and those are its spines. OK great, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about an underwater (just about) photography idea you might not have considered before: rockpools!

If you’re a warm water diver who enjoys a bit of underwater photography, chances are your camera gear spends more time in storage than in the water. Even us hardy UK divers often leave the camera at home when diving our local site, there’s no denying it’s another thing to worry about.

This is where rockpool photography comes into play. Don’t get me wrong, this type of underwater photography certainly brings its own challenges. Swap buoyancy control for slippery footing, gas management for incoming tides, and a foggy mask for a hidden view finder. But here’s the thing; keep your battery charged and when the mood strikes, you can be out the house in 5 minutes, driving to the beach to take some underwater pictures. Rockpool photography enables one key thing, spontaneity. And when you can be spontaneous, your expensive underwater camera is much more likely to get used!

Macro

Tompot Blenny. Wembury Beach, Devon, UK

Get comfortable – rockpools are spiky! If you can bring yourself to embrace the fashion faux pas, gardening knee pads would be a blessing. Personally, I just can’t do it, so a rolled-up jumper has to do. Getting comfortable is particularly important when it comes to the first type of shot I’m going to talk about – macro. The Tompot Blenny above was in about 20cm of water which meant the viewfinder was totally submerged. I also had a tiny depth of field because of the macro lens I was using; look at the surface of the rock on the left to see the focus go in and out. Put these things together and you can guess how many shots it took to get that front eye and head fringe sharp.

Macro in rockpools is great, it allows you to bring to life the overlooked critters hiding right under our noses. It definitely takes some time and patience though and getting comfortable makes the experience much more enjoyable.

Beadlet Anemone. Wembury Beach, Devon, UK

When you think there’s nothing to see, keep looking. At first glance, most rockpools look fairly uninteresting. But in a similar way to when you look at the night sky and the stars gradually reveal themselves, the more time you spend looking in a rockpool, the more you will notice.

This Beadlet Anemone, a pretty common sight in UK rockpools, happened to be dealing with a stray claw that had recently been shed by a moulting crab. I didn’t even notice there was something unusual until I was lining up the shot, and it wasn’t until I got home and zoomed in that I realised exactly what it was.

There is more going on in most rockpools than you might think. It’s quite a departure from open water diving where you have space to take everything in, but I promise – keep looking, it’s worth it!

Shore Crabs. Wembury Beach, Devon, UK

Capture behaviour. You can be forgiven for assuming that rockpools are quite static. They are just full of creatures waiting for a high enough tide to get back to the sea, right? Not necessarily. When I crouched down to take the shot above, I thought there was only one crab. To my surprise, I noticed that there were actually two! The larger of the pair was carrying a smaller crab underneath it, chasing away other critters as it went.

After researching the behaviour, I discovered the two crabs were in a mating embrace. When this happens, a male crab carries a female away from other males where he will guard her for up to six days. During this time, she moults her hard shell (now I think about it – perhaps it was her claw I found in the anemone above?!) in preparation to mate, leaving her vulnerable. Throughout this time, she is totally reliant on him for protection.

Observing behaviour as it unfolds and capturing it with your camera makes you feel connected to rockpools in a more meaningful way than you might be used to. Next time you’re out, watch out for interactions between creatures, you might be surprised how dynamic these habitats are!

Rockpool Prawn. Wembury Beach, Devon, UK

Don’t wait for something amazing. If there’s one thing that you are almost guaranteed to see in rockpools, it’s prawns. They are generally semi-translucent, small, and not particularly interesting. But when you get very close, all sorts of colours, textures and intricate physiological features are unveiled.

The Rockpool Prawn above was only about 1.5cm in length and I only really bothered photographing it to practice with my macro lens. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the fascinating blue silver detail in the eyes, similar to a fly. Spiky ridges along its back, bright yellow bands and colourful green eye stems were also revealed under the scrutiny of the macro lens

This silly little creature that I generally ignored, was turning into something far more interesting. Don’t wait for something amazing, get shooting because you might be surprised how amazing the mundane is when given some close attention.

Herman the Hermit Crab. Wembury Beach, Devon, UK.
Photo credit: Anna Clarke

Give it a go! The image above was taken during a trip to Wembury Beach by my partner and it was her first time trying underwater photography. She was using a ten-year-old camera and managed to capture a picture as good as any I took.

This shot has such good composition and beautifully captures a moment in time. By getting down low and facing the Hermit Crab head-on, it looks like it’s posing for a portrait. The sprinkle of sand on the top of the shell and the vibrant blue colouring on the legs are the icing on the cake. I love this picture and it’s proof that you don’t have to be a pro to take a great shot. Get out there and give it a go!

Wide-angle & under/over

Shore Crabs. Wembury Beach, Devon, UK

Put things into context. If you don’t have the equipment/eyesight for macro photography and aren’t sure how your wide-angle setup can be used in a rockpool full of tiny creatures, keep reading.

You might recognise the two Shore Crabs above from an earlier image. That earlier picture was taken using a macro lens whereas this one was an under/over image using a wide-angle lens. Wide-angle is great for this type of shot. The larger dome gives you more glass to position the water line where you want it, allowing you to capture both over and underwater worlds in one shot.

I find this type of picture great for giving some context to your images. They aren’t just random underwater scenes; they are moments in a recognisable environment.

Various rockpools. Wembury Beach, Devon, UK

Animals are optional. Now, despite me saying how many hidden creatures will reveal themselves if you look for long enough, those of you with a patience deficiency have another option. Rockpool landscapes are incredible varied and fascinating, particularly if you use a wide-angle lens to capture under/over pictures.

The collage above is a collection of rockpool landscapes I took one evening at Wembury Beach. You can see how different the textures and colours between rock pools within metres of each other can be. From the surface, they look fairly similar, but capturing them in this way allows you to showcase the diversity that’s hidden beneath the water’s surface.

A final thought

If you’re anything like me, one word comes to mind when you imagine taking your underwater camera into a slippery rockpool – awkward. To a certain extent it is, and honestly, it takes a bit of getting used to, but compared to scuba diving, rockpool photography is so convenient. It’s easy to dismiss, but stick with it, stay patient, follow some of the tips above, and you’ll be surprised what you can find just under the water’s surface. Get out there and give it a go and don’t forget to tag me if you post anything online, I’d love to see it!

James is a freelance scuba diving instructor and underwater photographer/videographer based in Plymouth where he works for the Shark Trust. As a passionate marine conservationist he advocates for our oceans by sharing pictures and videos of the underwater world. Follow him at instagram.com/a_british_scuba_diver

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Smart Shark Diving: The Importance of Awareness Below the Surface

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By: Wael Bakr

Introduction to Shark Diving Awareness‍

In the realm of marine life, few creatures captivate our interest, and sometimes our fear, like the shark. This fascination often finds a home in the hearts of those who venture beneath the waves, particularly scuba divers who love shark diving. It’s here that shark awareness takes the spotlight. Shark awareness is not just about understanding these magnificent creatures; it’s about fostering respect, dispelling fear, and promoting conservation. As Jacques Cousteau once said, “People protect what they love.” And to love something, one must first understand it.

Shark awareness is not a mere fascination; it’s a responsibility that we owe to our oceans and their inhabitants. From the smallest reef shark to the colossal great white, each species plays a crucial role in the underwater ecosystem. Our understanding and appreciation of these creatures can help ensure their survival.

However, shark awareness isn’t just about protecting the sharks; it’s also about protecting ourselves. As scuba divers, we share the underwater world with these magnificent creatures. Understanding them allows us to dive safely and responsibly, enhancing our experiences beneath the waves.

Importance of Shark Awareness in Scuba Diving

The relevance of shark awareness in scuba diving cannot be overstated. Sharks, like all marine life, are an integral part of the underwater ecosystem. Their presence and behavior directly influence our experiences as divers. By understanding sharks, we can better appreciate their role in the ocean, anticipate their actions, and reduce potential risks.

Awareness is crucial for safety when shark diving. Despite their often-misunderstood reputation, sharks are generally not a threat to humans. However, like any wild animal, they can pose risks if provoked or threatened. By understanding shark behavior, we can identify signs of stress or aggression and adjust our actions accordingly. This not only protects us but also respects the sharks and their natural behaviors.

Moreover, shark awareness enriches our diving experiences. Observing sharks in their natural habitat is a thrilling experience. Understanding them allows us to appreciate this spectacle fully. It’s not just about seeing a shark; it’s about understanding its role in the ecosystem, its behavior, and its interaction with other marine life. This depth of knowledge adds a new dimension to our diving experiences.

Understanding Shark Behavior: The Basics

The first step in shark awareness is understanding shark behavior. Sharks are not the mindless predators they are often portrayed to be. They are complex creatures with unique behaviors and communication methods. Understanding these basics can significantly enhance our interactions with them.

Sharks communicate primarily through body language. By observing their movements, we can gain insights into their mood and intentions. For example, a relaxed shark swims with slow, fluid movements. In contrast, a stressed or agitated shark may exhibit rapid, jerky movements or other signs of discomfort such as gill flaring.

Sharks also use their bodies to express dominance or assertiveness. A dominant shark may swim with its pectoral fins pointed downwards, while a submissive shark may swim with its fins flattened against its body. Understanding these signals can help us interpret shark behavior accurately and respond appropriately.

How Shark Awareness Enhances Scuba Diving Experiences

Shark awareness significantly enhances our scuba diving experiences. It transforms encounters with sharks from mere sightings into meaningful interactions. Knowledge is power, and in this case, it’s the power to appreciate, respect, and safely interact with one of the ocean’s most fascinating inhabitants.

A thorough understanding of behavior when shark diving allows us to interpret their actions and responses accurately. It enables us to recognize signs of stress or aggression and adjust our behavior accordingly. This not only ensures our safety but also promotes responsible interactions that respect the sharks and their natural behaviors.

Furthermore, shark awareness adds a new layer of depth to our diving experiences. It’s one thing to see a shark; it’s another to understand its behavior, its role in the ecosystem, and its interactions with other marine life. This depth of understanding enriches our experiences and fosters a deeper appreciation for our underwater world.

Misconceptions About Sharks: Busting the Myths

Unfortunately, sharks are often misunderstood, feared, and even demonized. These misconceptions can be detrimental, not only to our experiences as divers but also to shark conservation efforts. As part of shark awareness, it’s important to debunk these myths and present sharks in their true light.

First and foremost, sharks are not mindless killing machines. They are complex creatures with unique behaviors and communication methods. They are not interested in humans as prey and, in most cases, prefer to avoid us.

Secondly, not all sharks are dangerous. Out of over 500 species of sharks, only a handful are considered potentially harmful to humans. Most sharks are harmless, and even those that can pose a threat are unlikely to attack unless provoked.

Lastly, sharks are not invincible. They are vulnerable to a host of threats, most notably human activities such as overfishing and habitat destruction. They need our understanding and protection, not our fear and persecution.

Shark Behavior: What to Expect When Scuba Diving

When scuba diving, it’s important to know what to expect from sharks. Most encounters with sharks are peaceful and awe-inspiring. However, as with any wild animal, it’s essential to be prepared and understand their behavior.

Most sharks are shy and cautious creatures. They are likely to observe you from a distance, often circling around to get a better look. This is normal behavior and not a sign of aggression.

However, if a shark becomes agitated or feels threatened, it may exhibit signs of stress such as rapid, jerky movements or gill flaring. In such cases, it’s essential to remain calm, avoid sudden movements, and slowly retreat if possible.

Remember, every encounter with a shark is an opportunity to observe and learn. With understanding and respect, these encounters can be safe, enriching, and truly unforgettable experiences.

Practical Tips for Shark Awareness During Scuba Diving

Being aware of sharks during scuba diving is about more than just understanding their behavior. It’s about applying this knowledge in practical ways to ensure safe and respectful interactions. Here are a few tips for shark awareness during scuba diving.

Firstly, always observe sharks from a safe distance. Avoid approaching them directly or making sudden movements, as this can startle or threaten them.

Secondly, never attempt to touch or feed sharks. This can disrupt their natural behavior and potentially put you at risk.

Lastly, always respect the sharks and their environment. Avoid disturbing their habitat or interfering with their natural behaviors. Remember, we are visitors in their world.

Promoting Shark Conservation through Scuba Diving

Scuba diving offers a unique platform for promoting shark conservation. As divers, we have the privilege of witnessing the beauty and complexity of sharks firsthand. We can share these experiences with others, fostering understanding and appreciation for these magnificent creatures.

Moreover, we can actively contribute to shark conservation. Many diving operators offer opportunities to participate in shark research and conservation initiatives. By participating in these programs, we can help ensure the survival of sharks for future generations.

Lastly, we can advocate for sharks. By sharing our knowledge and experiences, we can help dispel misconceptions about sharks and promote their protection. Every voice counts in the fight for shark conservation.

Courses and Resources for Shark Awareness and Behavior

There are many resources available for those interested in shark awareness and behavior. Scuba Diving International as well as numerous conservation-based organizations offer courses and workshops on shark biology, behavior, and conservation. These courses provide in-depth knowledge and practical skills for interacting with sharks responsibly and safely. From courses like our Marine Ecosystems Awareness Specialty and our Advanced Adventure Certification provide you with the information you need to tackle this new challenge!

Additionally, there are many online resources available, including websites, blogs, and forums dedicated to shark awareness and conservation. These platforms offer a wealth of information and a community of like-minded individuals passionate about sharks.

I encourage anyone interested in sharks to explore these resources, to sign up for one of SDI’s courses call your local dive center or instructor or reach out to your regional representative/ World HQ to find where the class is being taught near you. Knowledge is the first step towards understanding, appreciation, and conservation.

Conclusion: The Role of Shark Awareness in Future Scuba Diving Experiences

As we look to the future, the role of shark awareness in scuba diving will only continue to grow. As our understanding of these magnificent creatures deepens, so too will our appreciation and respect for them. This knowledge will shape our interactions with sharks, enhancing our experiences and promoting responsible and respectful behavior.

Shark awareness is more than just an interest; it’s a responsibility. It’s a commitment to understanding, respecting, and protecting one of the ocean’s most fascinating inhabitants. And it’s a journey that I invite all divers to embark on.

As we dive into the blue, let’s dive with awareness. Let’s dive with respect. And let’s dive with a commitment to understand and protect our underwater world. For in the end, the ocean’s health is our health, and every creature within it, including the sharks, plays a crucial role in maintaining this delicate balance.

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Divers Have More Fun in the Philippines (Watch Video)

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Pretty much whatever kind of diving interests you have, the chances are there is something for you in the Philippines.

From the Japanese WW2 wrecks in Coron; the Thresher sharks in Malapascua; big schools of fish, sharks and huge walls in Tubbataha; World class macro diving in Anilao, Puerto Galera, Romblon and Dumaguete; Whalesharks in Southern Leyte, Oslob, Donsol and Bohol; Massive schools of sardines in Moalboal and Bohol and stunning hard and soft coral reefs right across the country.

Plus, the Filipinos are the friendliest people on the planet!

Divers have more fun in the Philippines!

Book your next Philippines Dive Adventure with Philippine Dive Holidays, the specialists when it comes to diving in the Philippines! Visit www.philippinediveholidays.com to find out more.

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