Where’s Ellen? Part One… (Watch Video)


In the first in an exclusive new series of blogs, renowned underwater and wildlife photographer Ellen Cuylaerts, takes Scubaverse visitors on her latest travel adventures…

After talking at Asia Dive Expo (ADEX) in Singapore 4 years ago, it was about time I would return for another visit and contribute to the special 25th anniversary ADEX celebrations with a talk, some panel discussions, live judging of the Voice of the Oceans Photo Competition and, imagine that at 49, participating in a fashion show wearing hand-painted designs by the talented Anne K. Adijuwono representing 25 endangered species.

This year’s ADEX is dedicated to plastic-free oceans and that’s something I’m very passionate about!

But I’m also passionate about reducing my already awful carbon footprint flying around, hence I try to minimize flying back and forth home unnecessarily and maximize ‘layover’ time looking for things I would otherwise not experience.

Singapore as my destination triggered an article I recently read about two otter families living in the Marine Bay. A true wildlife soap drama took place where the Bishan 10 family chased the Marine family, even resulting in the death of a pup. That’s the course of nature, but otters are known to be very elusive and are also known to only thrive close to clean waterways… and this species, smooth-coated otters, were on the critically endangered list in Singapore but they were also spotted on a regular basis.

The perfect reason for me to include three days of urban wildlife exploration in my trip!

Through Facebook I got in touch with the group Ottercity and they sent me a map of the huge territory the otters lived in and the time of day to best go out and explore.

On Day One, my jetlag and a late arrival only got me outside at noon, 33 degrees Celsius, hot and humid, but I walked the area for scouting. I did not carry my heavy lens and, to my surprise, I could hardly believe it, I spotted three otters in the river, munching on a freshly-caught fish. Pure joy to witness! Their human-like behavior in using their tiny webbed hands and standing tall on their wide tail, brought an instant smile on my face.

I took a few shots but mostly observed them and followed them around, which is hard because once they swim, they’re very fast.

The next day I did two rounds, morning and evening, 15 miles in total, but no otters spotted.

On my last day before ADEX would start, I decided to leave a bit later, my gut feeling told me the overcast weather and rain would also have an effect on the otters. At my return point, no otters sighted, I deviated and stopped at a Lily pond in the Gardens by the Bay to take a picture for my Mom’s birthday. I thought the frogs must be huge because they stirred up quite a bit, except… they were not frogs but… my beloved otter family. They hung out a while, playing hide and seek with each other. It was hard to take images, and suddenly they were gone.

The scouting of the previous two days came in handy and I anticipated on their next move running and sweating from point A to B to C where I found all 15 of them sleeping in the sand. I spent a whole two hours watching them sleep and taking images, sweaty, on my hand and knees in the sand (go low, go slow, go close), already out of water supply since I found them at the Lily pond, but nothing could make me leave them.

And then they woke up and off they went again, and off I went again too! Another hour of swimming action, running, eating and making funny sounds communicating with each ‘otter’. And as soon as I spotted them… they were gone, leaving me exhausted, sunburned but extremely grateful I took these days and went on a mission! Otterly pleased I should say!

This whole experience feels especially poignant with ADEX dedicated to plastic-free oceans and the otters a symbol of Singapore’s greening policy creating a healthier river system. I’m so very happy to have found the otters here…

Find out more about Ellen and her photographic adventures at www.ellencuylaerts.com.

Ellen Cuylaerts

Ellen Cuylaerts

As an underwater and wildlife photographer, Fellow of The Explorers Club and having a front seat in exploration being part of the Flag and Honours Committee, Ellen was also recently inducted in the Women Divers Hall of Fame. She travels the world and tries to make the most of every destination and the path that leads her there. Ellen acts as an ocean citizen and believes as divers we should all be ocean ambassadors and lead by example! She’s also a crazy cat lady and lives with her family in the Caribbean.

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