Archive for Bunaken Island

Dec
31

My 10 Top Travel Photos of 2011

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2011 has again been a good year for me to discover wonderful new places in the world. Rather than bore you with a very brief and inadequate description, I thought I’d rely on the old saying of “a picture paints a thousand words” or rather in this case a photo. Here are my favourite photos I took during the last year.

Kronborg Castle

My first trip of the year was to the Danish capital of Copenhagen. I’ve been there many times and decided to head up the coast to Helsingor and the famous Kronborg Castle. It is said to be the setting for Shakespeare’s famous play “Hamlet”.

Kronborg Castle – One of Northern Europe’s finest Renaissance castles

 

Sveti Stefan

I spent a couple of days on the Montenegro coast at Sveti Stefan overlooking this iconic iselt.

Sveti Stefan – Famous visitors here include Elizabeth Taylor and Sophie Loren.

 

Mandarin Fish

My first diving trip to Manado was extremely rewarding. On a night dive I managed to capture a couple of pictures of the elusive Mandarin Fish on a night dive.

The elusive Mandarin Fish on Bunaken Island, Manado, Indonesia

 

Queens Colours 1/24th Regiment

The Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 was the greatest defeat a British force ever suffered at the hands of a native army. On that fateful January day, the Queens Colours of 1/24th Regiment were lost in the Buffalo River. Two weeks later, against all odds they were recovered. Queen Victoria added a wreath of immortals around the crown as reminder of what happened to those colours at Isandlwana. Today, they are hanging in the Havard side chapel in Brecon Cathedral, Wales.

Queens COlours of 1/24th Regiment that were lost and later found after the Battle of Isandlwana in January 1879.

 

Burning Bush / Fire Extinguisher

High in the Sinai Mountains in St Catherine’s Monastery. It is a hugely significant religious site and  this picture is of the Burning Bush. I found it slightly amusing that there is a fire extinguisher next to it…just in case.

In 2011, the Burning Bush is less of a safety risk that back in the days when it was described in the book of Exodus thanks to a fire extinguisher.

 

Soldier on guard, Hall of Valour

The Battle of Stalingrad was an horrendous fight to the death for hundreds of thousands of Russian and German soldiers. Today at the Hall of Valour at Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd, there is a permanent guard.

A soldier stands guard in the Hall of Valour, Mamayev Kurgan, Volgograd

 

Petra through the Siq

The Siq at Petra is a long passage all visitors have to travel through to reach the famous Red City. As you approach the end, you get your first glimpse of the Treasury in Petra.

Nearing the end of the Siq and catching a first sight of the Treasury at Petra.

 

Kotor – cruise ship

The old walled town of Kotor in Montenegro is a popular cruise destination.

A cruise ship docked at Kotor, Montenegro

 

Pufferfish

This photo isn’t so much a favourite, I just want to highlight a problem (excuse the blurriness). When threatened, Pufferfish expand their bodies. Its a rare sight and is incredibly stressful for them. On this night dive in Aqaba, the guide annoyed this Pufferfish enough for it to puff out it’s body. I was really annoyed that someone meant to educate and protect the marine environment could do this. It was at a 5* PADI centre in a marine park.

This poor Pufferfish was annoyed by our dive guide and felt it had to expand it’s body to defend itself.

 

Ma’In Hotsprings

If you want to visit a fantastic spa resort in a stunning setting, the Ma’In Hotsprings 260m below sea level in Jordan will not disappoint.

The main waterfall at the fabulous Ma’In Hotsprings in Jordan.

 

I regularly update my Flickr account with my latest photos which you can find here:

http://www.flickr.com/bbmexplorer

Please feel free to add me as a contact.

Thats all from me for 2011, now I’m looking forward to 2012 which will take me to more new places and the Euro 2012 Championships in Ukraine.

Dec
18

Learning to Identify Marine Life

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When I was learning to scuba dive many years ago, I remember getting back on the boat after one of the training dives and my instructor was all excited.

“Did you see the Guitar Shark?”

“The what??”

I had never heard of a Guitar Shark. Since then, I’ve logged more than 200 dives and haven’t seen another one so I guess they are pretty rare. Today, I take a camera with me on every single dive and I love nothing more than spending the entire dive trying to take that perfect picture of a little marine creature I haven’t seen before. The display of colours on the coral reefs are spectacular but unless I know the names of what I’ve seen, the experience isn’t complete. Imagine going on safari and telling people you saw a massive grey thing with big ears and a long nose or a big cat with black dots. It wouldn’t seem right, would it?

Massive Grey Things With Big Ears

Back on land, I download the images to my lapt0p and start editing the best pictures. I normally just delete about 60-80% for any number of reasons such as being blurred, bad colours or missing the shot. The best ones are filed away and then I start tracking down the names of the fish in various books. That itself is no mean feat. On my last trip to Bunaken Island, the instructor was also a marine biologist so we spent hours trawling through books to identify more than 250 images but we got there in the end.

I like to think some of my pictures aren’t too bad and I do receive a few compliments. Identifying exactly what I have taken a picture of is sometimes as much of a challenge as getting the shot in the first place. Underwater a reef may seem vast but certain types of fish can usually be found in the same place. If you want to see an Anemonefish (aka Clownfish), you need to find an Anemone. Moray eels are often found hidden in holes in the reef with just their head sticking out. Larger fish such as Tuna will be ‘out in the blue.

Spinecheek Anemonefish

Generally, I take as many pictures as possible. If I know a particular reef, I may well trying to find a specific type of fish. On my next trip to Sharm el Sheikh, I hope to find a Long Nose Hawkfish on one of the large Gorgonian Fans in the Straits of Tiran. They are beautiful little fish but very hard to photograph.

I upload my better pictures to Flickr. I normally create different sets for each trip but I’ve also finally got round to grouping my underwater photos into sets. Hopefully, that will help both myself and others in trying to identifying marine life. I’ve got plenty more pictures to add and with more trips to come. I may even get to see a Guitar Shark.

If you want to browse my underwater photos on Flickr, you’ll find them here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbmexplorer/collections/72157628128068434/

 

Living in the UK and not being into the cold water diving thing, I normally end up diving in Egypt. When the opportunity came to visit a new diving destination, I couldn’t resist. That and getting the opportunity to fly on the Airbus A380.

Bunaken Island is a few miles off the coast of Manado in the north east corner of North Sulawesi in Indonesia. I’ve done relatively little diving in the Far East and Bunaken Island has a reputation as a great place to dive so it was an easy decision. There is a direct flight from Singapore to Manado which takes around 3.5 hours but it doesn’t operate every day. However, there are other options via Jakarta. Luckily, the connections from London with Sinagapore Air are pretty good and I ended up with just a single stop in Singapore.

I had a good look at the various dive resorts in both Bunaken Island and Lembeh and I eventually decided to stay at Froggies. Apart from the superb rates, free wifi and laundry swung the decision for me. After connecting through the superb Singapore Airport, I was picked up at Manado airport and taken to the harbour for the 40 minute boat transfer to Bunaken Island.

 

Bunaken Island, Indonesia

 

Froggies is an intemate little resort. My bungalow overlooked the sea and at night you could hear the sound of the waves gently breaking. There isn’t really much in the way of infrastructure on the island but Froggies provided everything I needed. All meals were included in the rate. The dive boats left from right in front of the resort, usually departing at 9am and returning by 11.30am in the morning. The afternoon dives would depart around 1.30pm and by 4pm. This gave plenty of time to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Underwater, the diversity of marine life was superb. My first dive was at a site called Negeri and I don’t ever remember seeing so many different varieties of nudibranchs on a single dive. Everywhere I pointed my camera, I could see something new and exciting to take a picture of. Anyone with an interest in underwater photography can’t help but to be impressed.

 

Anna's Chromodoris

 

Bunaken Island isn’t really a destination for the family but if you want to chill out and relax in a serene setting or spend the days scuba diving, it is well worth the effort of getting here. Non-divers were also welcome on the boats and a number of the dive sites were also ideal for snorkelling. There were never more than 6 guests on a boat while I was here and every dive I made, it was always just me and my dive guide, Fendy. The relatively small number of divers mean that in most places, the coral is in pretty good condition. In turn, this attracts more fish, nudibranchs, lobsters, turtles and many other species.

 

Ornate Ghost Pipefish

 

Fendy was excellent and pointed out no end of marine life that I would almost certainly have missed if it wasn’t for his expertise. On two seperate dives, Fendy showed me an Ornate Ghost Pipefish which is a beautiful little creature. They are incredibly hard to find and I was even more pleased that the photos I took came out reasonably well.

 

Blacktip Reef Shark

 

We also found a small Blacktip Reef Shark under a piece of coral. Unfortunately, sharks are becoming harder and harder to find. That evening I was chatting with an instructor and looking back, we both estimated that we’d only ever seen sharks on about 5% of our dives.

 

Mandarin Fish

 

The night diving was equally enjoyable. I completed two night dives and we set out just before it got dark in search of the elusive Mandarin fish. It is a wonderfully coloured little fish that is also very shy. However, Fendy knew exactly where to look to find them and we soon saw them. It was difficult to use our torches as the bright beam would scare the Mandarin and as the light was fading, it was almost impossible to distinguish the colours. On our second night dive, I managed to get a couple of photos and we could see what all the fuss was about. Sometimes, the little fish can be as impressive as the larger sharks, rays and turtles.

By the end of my trip, I had managed 11 dives and taken well over 500 pictures of the amazing reefs and their inhabitants. If you are looking for a diving holiday in the Far East, Bunaken Island should definitely be on your list of places to consider.

Travel Information:

I booked my flights via Expedia from London to Manado on Singapore Airlines and Silk Air (http://holidaydestinations.at/bbmexplorer).

The accommodation and diving was booked direct with Froggies (http://www.divefroggies.com)

Photography Information:

My full portfolio of photos from Bunaken Island can be found on my Flickr account: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbmexplorer/sets/72157627971197222/

I would also like to thank Maria Munn from Ocean Visions for helping me with my camera settings. It meant that more of my underwater pictures turned out how I wanted them to and I didn’t have to spend hours editing and tweaking them, trying to correct the colours and lighting on my computer. Maria runs underwater photography courses for compact cameras and has also just published an excellent guide book.

All my underwater images were taken using an Olympus C5060W with a fish-eye lens and Inon D2000 strobe. The shutter speed was set to 1/500 with the apenture f8.0.

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