Monthly Archives

January 2016

California Sea Lions at Los Islotes, Espiritu Santo Biosphere Reserve, Baja California, Mexico

Mexico, Sea Lion, Sea of Cortez, Underwater Photography

California sea lions underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico, Zalophus californianus

California sea lions underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Image ID: 31205
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

In October, Tracy and I joined our friends Mike and Sherry, Skip, Shirley, Barb and Walt for 9 wonderful days diving in the Sea of Cortez around La Paz. It was the first time Tracy and I had been diving together for any length of time in 18 years. It was so much fun to be back in the water together and the Sea of Cortez in Fall is about as relaxed, easy, warm and fun as can be. Los Islotes, a small island just north of Espiritu Santo, is famous for its rookery of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). I love diving there, more than perhaps any other place in the Sea of Cortez, and in particular like being there early or late in the day when there are no day boats around. (I could have spent the entire trip at Islotes, but fortunately for the others we did venture north to some relatively unexplored, colorful and fishy reefs that Mike has found over the years and keeps under wraps.) Islotes was as fishy as I have ever seen it, with enormous dense polarized schools of sardines along with pargo and other larger reef fish which the Sea of Cortez used to have in abundance but which are now harder to find. Los Islotes does have some legal protections against fishing, and these protections help to keep the waters around Islotes reasonably full of big fish and other marine life. But Islotes is also under threat of illegal fishing, and it is only through vigilance by those who care about a healthy Sea of Cortez that the laws that are on the books will mean something. Seawatch has made some progress on this front, but its difficult to keep eyes on Islotes 24-hours a day.

Here are some of my favorite images from our October dives around Islotes. I don’t keep a log any more but I would guess I spent about 30 hours underwater just photographing the sea lions, really getting to know several adult groups and having a great time watching how one bull in particular would manage his harem of females over the course of 4-5 days, not to mention the 30+ pups that would play with us at the edge of his territory. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

California sea lion underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico, Zalophus californianus

California sea lion underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Image ID: 31206
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Sea lion underwater in beautiful sunset light, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

Sea lion underwater in beautiful sunset light
Image ID: 31208
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Young California sea lion pups underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico, Zalophus californianus

Young California sea lion pups underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Image ID: 31209
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Sea lion blowing underwater bubbles as it stands on its flippers, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

Sea lion blowing underwater bubbles as it stands on its flippers
Image ID: 31210
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Blue-bronze sea chub schooling, Sea of Cortez, Kyphosus analogus

Blue-bronze sea chub schooling, Sea of Cortez
Image ID: 31213
Species: Blue-bronze Chub, Kyphosus analogus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

California sea lion and school of sardines underwater, Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Zalophus californianus

California sea lion and school of sardines underwater, Sea of Cortez, Baja California
Image ID: 31220
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Young sea lion hides in an underwater crevice, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

Young sea lion hides in an underwater crevice
Image ID: 31226
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Sardines and Scad, Los Islotes, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Sardines and Scad, Los Islotes, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Image ID: 31246
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Sea lion harem of females, underwater, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

Sea lion harem of females, underwater
Image ID: 31247
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Large adult male sea lion underwater, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

Large adult male sea lion underwater
Image ID: 31248
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Dendronephthya Soft Corals

Fiji, Seascapes, Underwater Photography

In my experience Dendronephthya soft corals are the most spectacular and photogenic of the myriad invertebrate denizens of tropical coral reefs. “Soft coral” is a broad term, often used to describe gorgonians, leather corals, cup corals, sea whips, octocorals, etc etc that are found in all oceans of the world. The genus Dendronephthya sp., including about 250 species, is the one I want to highlight here. I was recently diving and photographing in Fiji for a few weeks and focused my efforts on its colorful reefscapes, in which Dendronephthya plays a starring role.

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Dendronephthya is found on Indo-Pacific tropical reefs, often carpeting coral reefs with amazing color: red, orange, yellow, pink and white are typical.  Dendronephthya soft corals do not contain zooxanthellae (unicellular symbiotic algae found in many coral species) and so must capture and consume copious amounts of plankton passing by in order to survive.  Since planktons are delivered by ocean currents, Dendronephthya and other soft corals are often found in profusion in areas where ocean currents are strong. Dendronephthya soft corals have a thick main stalk with bushy groups of polyps at the end of branches. Supporting the polyps are a network of sclerite spicules which give some rigidity to the stalk and branches.  Below are a few images illustrating what I love about Dendronephthya soft corals: their fantastic colors, their capacity to attract large schools of reef fish, and the endless variety of shapes and details with which they are found.  Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Spectacular pristine tropical reef, including dendronephthya soft corals, sarcophyton leather corals and schooling Anthias fishes, pulsing with life in a strong current over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Sarcophyton, Namena Marine Reserve, Namena Island

Spectacular pristine tropical reef, including dendronephthya soft corals, sarcophyton leather corals and schooling Anthias fishes, pulsing with life in a strong current over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31309
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Sarcophyton Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Sarcophyton
Location: Namena Marine Reserve, Namena Island, Fiji

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Namena Marine Reserve, Namena Island

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31319
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Namena Marine Reserve, Namena Island, Fiji

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31340
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Fiji

A Large Dendronephthya Soft Coral extends into ocean currents to grasp passing planktonic food, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

A Large Dendronephthya Soft Coral extends into ocean currents to grasp passing planktonic food, Fiji
Image ID: 31356
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Dendronephthya
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Dendronephthya soft coral detail including polyps and calcium carbonate spicules, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Makogai Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago

Dendronephthya soft coral detail including polyps and calcium carbonate spicules, Fiji
Image ID: 31453
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Dendronephthya
Location: Makogai Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago, Fiji

Dendronephthya soft coral detail including polyps and calcium carbonate spicules, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Makogai Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago

Dendronephthya soft coral detail including polyps and calcium carbonate spicules, Fiji
Image ID: 31455
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Dendronephthya
Location: Makogai Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago, Fiji

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Fiji
Image ID: 31499
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Dendronephthya
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Seven of my Favorite Images #challengeonnaturephotography

Alaska, Antarctica, Bald Eagle, California, Fiji, Hawaii, Mexico, Ocean Sunfish, Penguin, Surf, Underwater Photography

In December a Facebook “challenge” was making the rounds named #challengeonnaturephotography. One of my favorite underwater photographers, Allison Vitsky Sallmon, nominated me to give it a try, and these are the seven images I plucked from my files to share. Each bears a special place in my personal history of travel, diving and photography, even if they don’t cut any new ground photographically. If you want to connect you can find me on Facebook and Instagram. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Ocean sunfish recruiting fish near drift kelp to clean parasites, open ocean, Baja California, Mola mola

Ocean sunfish recruiting fish near drift kelp to clean parasites, open ocean, Baja California.
Image ID: 03267
Species: Ocean sunfish, Mola mola

Sunrise breaking wave, dawn surf, The Wedge, Newport Beach, California

Sunrise breaking wave, dawn surf.
Image ID: 27978
Location: The Wedge, Newport Beach, California, USA

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Gau Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31378
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Gau Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago, Fiji

Bald eagle spreads its wings to land amid a large group of bald eagles, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

Bald eagle spreads its wings to land amid a large group of bald eagles.
Image ID: 22669
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

A curious Adelie penguin, standing at the edge of an iceberg, looks over the photographer, Pygoscelis adeliae, Paulet Island

A curious Adelie penguin, standing at the edge of an iceberg, looks over the photographer.
Image ID: 25015
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Aerial photo of gray whale calf and mother. This baby gray whale was born during the southern migration, far to the north of the Mexican lagoons of Baja California where most gray whale births take place, Eschrichtius robustus, San Clemente

Aerial photo of gray whale calf and mother. This baby gray whale was born during the southern migration, far to the north of the Mexican lagoons of Baja California where most gray whale births take place.
Image ID: 29029
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: San Clemente, California, USA

Humpback whale (male) singing, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Humpback whale (male) singing.
Image ID: 02813
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

Chironephthya, Fiji’s “Other” Soft Coral

Fiji, Seascapes, Underwater Photography

Fiji’s Coral Reefs are known as the “Soft Coral Capital of the World” for good reason. Spectacular displays of colorful soft coral, usually Dendronepthya, are found on Fiji’s coral reefs in abundance. I had done a fair bit of research before the trip and thought I knew what types of soft coral I would see, and how I wanted to photograph them. However, one type of soft coral that escaped my attention before I got to Fiji was Chironephthya. While Dendronephthya tends to inflate and “stand up” off the reef, with fat cylindrical branches, Chironephthya on the other hand more often “hangs down” and, at first glance, looks similar to some of the gorgonians and sea fans I have seen in temperate water albeit with more intense color.

Colorful Chironephthya soft coral coloniea in Fiji, hanging off wall, resembling sea fans or gorgonians, Chironephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Colorful Chironephthya soft coral coloniea in Fiji, hanging off wall, resembling sea fans or gorgonians.
Image ID: 31487
Species: Chironephthya Soft Coral, Chironephthya
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

From “species-identification.org”: Colonies heavely branched, resembling gorgonians. Polyps scattered on stalk and main branches as well as at the end of terminal branchlets. Calyces prominent. Stem and main branches almost hollow. Brightly coloured pink, purple, red, yellow, orange. Sclerites are spindles. Zooxanthellae absent.

My best looks at Chironephthya were at the dive spot Mount Mutiny, a lone coral bommie in the current-laden Bligh Waters, with vast sheer walls perfect for soft corals to thrive. I made several dives at Mount Mutiny, each time passing along the spectacular Rainbow Wall section, a huge wall replete with dense swaths of Chironephthya color, particularly underneath overhangs. I hope to return in the next few years and photograph it with some macro gear. All of my Fiji coral reef images are available for publication and as high quality metal, canvas or photographic prints. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Colorful Chironephthya soft coral coloniea in Fiji, hanging off wall, resembling sea fans or gorgonians, Chironephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Colorful Chironephthya soft coral coloniea in Fiji, hanging off wall, resembling sea fans or gorgonians.
Image ID: 31682
Species: Chironephthya Soft Coral, Chironephthya
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Diving the Vatu-I-Ra Passage in Fiji’s Bligh Waters

Fiji, Seascapes, Underwater Photography, Vatu i Ra Passage

See also: Photos of Fiji’s Beautiful Coral Reefs

The ocean waters between Fiji’s Viti Levu and Vanua Levu islands are called the Bligh Waters after Captain William Bligh and his flight from mutineers. The Bligh Waters are famous among divers as they are home to some of the most spectacular coral reef diving in the world. In particular, the Vatu-i-Ra Passage area of the Bligh Waters is wonderful, perhaps my favorite in Fiji and certainly the most colorful diving I have seen anywhere in the tropics. Some friends and I spent 6 days exploring the bommies, reefs, canyons, and walls of the Vatu-i-Ra region (as well as 8 more days elsewhere in the Bligh Waters), both from a land resort (Wananavu, highly recommended) and from the excellent liveaboard dive vessel Nai’a (one of the finest diving experiences I’ve ever had). The Vatu-i-Ra Passage, or Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, is named after the small island Vatu-i-Ra, a bird sanctuary with two beautiful white sand beaches. The coral reefs near this island, and in particular the narrow passages between the reefs and opening into atolls, pulse with life and energy when currents build and water begins flowing quickly. It is then that the soft corals for which Fiji is famous are fully extended, reaching for planktonic food, surrounded by the clouds of anthias and reef fishes, and at their most beautiful. Here are some underwater photos of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape to give you a sense of what its like. All of my Fiji coral reef images are available for publication and as high quality metal, canvas or photographic prints. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Colorful Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fish on coral reef, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Tubastrea micrantha, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Colorful Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fish on coral reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31316
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Black Sun Coral, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Tubastrea micrantha
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Colorful Dendronephthya soft coral and schooling Anthias fish on coral reef, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Colorful Dendronephthya soft coral and schooling Anthias fish on coral reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31349
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Bright red Plexauridae sea fan gorgonian and yellow sarcophyton leather coral on pristine coral reef, Fiji, Sarcophyton, Gorgonacea, Plexauridae, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Bright red Plexauridae sea fan gorgonian and yellow sarcophyton leather coral on pristine coral reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31325
Species: Sarcophyton Soft Coral, Gorgonian, Sea Fan, Sarcophyton, Gorgonacea, Plexauridae
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Symphyllia brain coral on tropical coral reef, Fiji, Symphyllia, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Symphyllia brain coral on tropical coral reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31327
Species: Brain Coral, Symphyllia
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31358
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Sarcophyton leather coral on diverse coral reef, Fiji, Sarcophyton, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Sarcophyton leather coral on diverse coral reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31456
Species: Sarcophyton Soft Coral, Sarcophyton
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Acropora coral (foreground) on South Pacific Coral Reef, Fiji, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Acropora coral (foreground) on South Pacific Coral Reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31483
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Acropora table coral on pristine tropical reef. Table coral competes for space on the coral reef by growing above and spreading over other coral species keeping them from receiving sunlight, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island, Fiji

Acropora table coral on pristine tropical reef. Table coral competes for space on the coral reef by growing above and spreading over other coral species keeping them from receiving sunlight.
Image ID: 31490
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Staghorn coral Acropora palifera on pristine Fijian coral reef, Acropora palifera, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Staghorn coral Acropora palifera on pristine Fijian coral reef
Image ID: 31514
Species: Staghorn Coral, Acropora palifera
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Green fan coral, extending into ocean currents where tiny polyps gather passing plankton, Fiji, Tubastrea micrantha, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Green fan coral, extending into ocean currents where tiny polyps gather passing plankton, Fiji
Image ID: 31687
Species: Black Sun Coral, Tubastrea micrantha
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji