Our latest dive safari in Indonesia aboard Damai II liveaboard was put together by Blue Water Dive Travel and hosted by experienced underwater photographer Mark Strickland. We were set for 10 days of photo-led dives, with an itinerary to cover a variety of sites from sloping coral covered reefs with schooling fish, to blue water mangroves and dark sand critter hunting. We kicked off with a gentle check out dive at Pulau Mattan off Salawati Island then settled in for a great evening presentation from Mark on the wonders of diving the fabulous reefs of Raja Ampat.
The reefs here really allow for any type of photography divers would like, so it was with a mix of camera set up and lenses that we rolled into the warm water at Cape Kri. The clouds overhead made it a little dark for the full colour and experience to shine through but still cries of “wow” and “great shot” were heard afterwards on the dive deck as people reviewed their photos. Schooling jacks, wobbegong sharks, sweetlips and barracuda were the delights of the dive at Blue Magic, where Shiloh captured a stunning image of a wobbegong perfectly framed in a hard coral.
Mioskon was exceedingly fishy with schools of snapper and jacks, but for the macro hunters Pontohi pygmy seahorses were a real highlight thanks to super spotter Salim. Daniel led the 75 minute night dive at Friwinbonda finding copepods, microscopic squid and decorator crabs – thank heavens for a diopter!
The sun was shining and the birds singing as we approached Mike’s Point for our early morning dive. Again our divers went for a mix of wide- angle and macro – and why not? With stunning seafans in the shallow sloping reef, wobbegong sharks, colourful fish hanging in the current, pygmy seahorses and nudibranchs there’s always something to get a great photo of no matter what camera you use. We returned to Cape Kri in the hope of getting better light than the day before and it didn’t disappoint.
Flat calm sea and a light current provided perfect diving conditions for our morning dives at Mayhem and Citrus Ridge. A Manta ray, schooling bumphead parrotfish, turtles, barracuda, wobbegong sharks and black tip reef sharks, plus more soft corals than you could shake a nudi-pointer at, gave our photographers plenty of opportunity to put Mark’s expert tips and techniques to use and practice their composition. A calm cruise after lunch brought the Damai II to Penemu for a macro filled afternoon dive and lagoon tour which included the climb up to the viewpoint. Breathtaking in more ways than one!
Stories of crocodiles aside we eagerly prepared for our day of fun in the Blue Water Mangroves on the Western side of Misool. With spectacular light hitting the water the divers fanned out and found their ideal spot for shooting, capturing superb images of colourful corals, mangrove roots and blue skies. “Snell’s windows” were put to good effect as well as the use of sun rays shooting through the mangrove leaves. Delving a little deeper, to about 50ft, coral bommies provided a haven for nudibranchs, shrimps and crabs, whilst Salim found a lovely blue-ringed octopus scurrying over the rubble – a highlight of day for Cindy and Hank with yet another “wish list” item being found during this trip.
A magical morning awaited us in Wakararket and Fiabacet. The reefs of Magic Mountain were teaming with fish life, from colourful angelfish to schooling trevally jacks. Oceanic manta rays graced us with their presence and the batfish were so mellow allowing divers to approach and fire off some fabulous shots whilst in the depths, Mark was buzzed by several grey reef sharks as he played around with a larger marbled grouper. High tide at Boo Windows provided a great backdrop for scenic shots, whilst an extremely relaxed and friendly hawksbill turtle posed happily on the reef slope.
An issue with the engine meant we were stuck in Fiabacet for the remainder of our trip, but with so many dive sites within a 15 minute tender ride it could be seen as a blessing. Dives at Yelliet Kecil, Nudi Rock, Romeo and Boo East were all met with enthusiasm, the divers seeing everything from schooling barracuda, Napoleon wrasse and spadefish being cleaned to pygmy seahorses and tiny coral cowries. An endemic epaulette shark was spied during the night dive and a return to Magic Mountain turned up too many fish and photo opportunities to recount.
A final night aboard was full of singing and dancing with the crew and plenty of red wine then rounded off with a photo and video presentation from all of our guests. Great work from all with noticeable improvements in technique and composition – see you all again on the next Blue Water Divers Photo Workshop.
Many thanks to Cruise Director Susie Erbe for sharing this experience and also to our intrepid photographer, Shiloh Jackson.
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