Hairy Squat Lobster

The Pink Hairy Squat Lobster or fairy crab, Lauriea siagiani, is closely related to a hermit crab. Although they are fairly common in the Philippines and Indonesia, they are rarely seen by divers partly because they are very small (less than half an inch in length). They also blend in really well with the textured ridges of the giant barrel sponge, Xestospongia testudinaria, on which they live.

Hairy Squat Lobster

Experienced dive guides will usually be able to help find you a subject if you tell them what you are looking for.

Getting good images or video also requires plenty of patience, a steady hand and a good macro lens that will let you get as close as possible. Camera Equipment: Nikon D7100, 105mm macro lens, Sea & Sea Strobes. Images taken at ISO 200, F/11, 1/200.

Photo Tip: Creating Black Backgrounds

A Simple approach to Underwater Photography

In underwater photography, black backgrounds are a great way to emphasize and highlight your subject. This can sometimes be a frustrating and challenging task, but you can simplify the process by following a few basic steps. Spend a little time setting up your shot, preset manual exposure controls and experiment with camera and strobe angles and lighting to get the results you want. The isolation of subjects against a black background is used primarily for macro photography, but it can also be used for larger subjects.

You can use this technique for large subjects like this 14 foot-Tiger Shark.


First, select a subject that has mostly water in the background. Try to find a subject that is perched on a rock or sitting on a coral branch. An easier approach is to photograph a critter that is up in the water column

I got below this Leaffish perched on coral to remove some objects from the background.

LeaffishSecond, follow the simple rule of getting close, getting down and shooting upward to isolate your subject. Preferably you want to get as close as possible to your subject and fill the frame. Get lower than your subject and shoot upwards to eliminate anything in the frame that may appear behind your subject. If the light from your strobe doesn’t have anything in its path except for the main subject, there is nothing else to reflect the light back to the camera lens. Use a combination of camera control settings, so that there is no visible ambient light. You will be using only artificial light from your strobe(s) to expose the subject.

Blue Ring Octopus

Some subjects, like this Blue Ring Octopus, are easier to expose with a black background while up in the water column.

Third, preset your camera settings and strobe output so that you will just paint the subject and perhaps the foreground with light. I like to use a low ISO (usually 100 or 200), a fast shutter speed (at least 1/200th of a second or faster), and a small aperture to limit the amount of light in the exposure. Keep in mind that your depth of field (or area that is in focus) is largely dictated by the aperture you use. The higher the aperture number (the smaller the hole in the lens), the larger the depth of field. If you are using a lens that has a narrow angle of view, such as a Nikon 105mm macro lens, the smaller the depth of field. This is especially true for macro subjects. This is where the aperture really becomes more critical, and any advantage you can obtain by using a higher numbered aperture will allow you to get more of the subject in focus. If you are shooting larger animals with a wide angle lens this is less of an issue.

Macro critters found on whip corals are excellent subjects for creating black backgrounds because it is easy to avoid objects in the background.

I have found that the easiest way to obtain the correct amount of light for your image is to use manual exposure. I like to use a single setting for ISO and Shutter Speed, with a constant amount of light output from my strobes. If you play with this a little, you can come up with an F/Stop (aperture setting) that will put you in the ball park for getting the right amount of light for macro images, medium portraits and wide-angles. That way you can tweak the exposure by just adjusting the aperture to give you the right amount light for your subject and obtain a black background.

Approximate Settings

  1. Camera on Manual
  2. ISO set to 100 or 200
  3. Shutter Speed at 1/200th to 1/250th
  4. Set your strobe(s) on a manual setting (1/4 power for most strobes will give you plenty of light) to give you a constant light source. Note that strobe to subject distance will also impact exposure. If you double the distance of the strobe to your subject, you will cut the light in half.
  5. Starting point setting for Aperture
    • F/25 for macro subjects
    • F/16 for medium size portraits
    • F/11 for wide-angle close-ups


It is important to carefully use your strobe positioning to avoid lighting things that may be found behind the subject.

Finally, you will want to limit the amount of light from your strobe and try to use a strobe angle that will light as little of the background as possible. If there is anything in the background behind your subject, (and sometimes you just can’t avoid this), you may be able to angle your strobe to avoid lighting these objects. Take multiple shots and work on strobe angles being careful to just illuminate the subject. If you are shooting a subject up in the water column and there is nothing but water behind your subject, you can use a strobe position that will just minimize backscatter. For example, with a wide angle-subject you can position your strobes outward at a 45-degree angle. You may even consider using a single strobe. if the subject is angled so that it just presents one side toward the lens, you don’t have to worry about the appearance of harsh shadows in the image.


The Plume of Death – Save Cayman’s Shallow Reefs

For those in the diving community who haven’t been paying attention, George Town Harbor and the surrounding area is currently the focus of a huge controversy regarding construction of a proposed cruise ship berthing facility (cruise ship pier) in Grand Cayman. The reasons given by the proponents of the plan seem to include peer envy and greed. Some politicians have stated that other Caribbean Islands, such as Cozumel, have cruise ship piers, so Cayman needs one in order to “keep up with the Jones’s.” Others contend that a cruise ship pier will bring more cruise ship passenger dollars to the island.

Grand CaymanThe realty is that Cayman’s economy was built in large part upon tourism. One of the main attractions that Grand Cayman provides cruise ship visitors has historically been the warm clear water and the shallow reefs in and around George Town Harbor. Tourists have flocked to Cayman to dive, snorkel and participate in a myriad of water sports and other activities resulting from this natural resource.

If the cruise pier is constructed, the dredging and resulting silt plume will directly or indirectly devastate the shallow reef system from just north of the Lobster Pot Dive Center south to the near shore reefs along South Church Street. The extraordinary dive sites in this area include Soto’s Reef (Cheeseburger Reef), the Wreck of the Cali, Eden Rock, Devil’s Grotto, the Wreck of the Balboa and other reefs lying in and around George Town Harbor. The Wreck of the Balboa lies directly within the construction zone and these other reefs are located adjacent to the dredge pit. The silt resulting from the construction, the ongoing dredging and the constant bombardment of silt generated by the Cruise Ships’ prop wash will result in the corals and sponges being suffocated and destroyed, leaving behind a dead and lifeless reef system. Unlike other areas in the Caribbean such as Cozumel, George Town Harbor has no current, so there is no natural way to clear the cloud of silt from the area.

If this development is allowed to happen there will be no possibility of recovery. These amazing reefs, which are home to one of the largest aggregations of dwarf herring (Silversides) found anywhere in the Caribbean, will be destroyed. The incredible profusion of corals and sponges will disappear. The reality is that future generations will never be able to experience the incredible beauty of these historic and extraordinary dives sites.

Grand CaymanDEMA, the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association, has also recently weighed in with its opinion that “the construction and operation of this facility will be devastating to the natural coral reefs.” This is based in part on the Environmental Impact Statement commissioned by the Cayman Department of Environment, which found that severe damage would occur due to direct dredging action, turbidity and siltation on the shallow living reefs in and around the Georgetown during construction and additional damage would likely be caused by the on-going dredging required to maintain the berthing facility. It should also be noted that the economic data presented in the Environmental Statement, showed that the Proponent’s argument that ‘the construction of a cruise ship pier would result in an economic benefit to the Cayman Islands” appears to be questionable at best.

The proposal for the pier as presented, necessitated costs in the form of millions of dollars to re-locate a shipwreck (the Balboa) and portions of the living reef in the immediate area of the construction. The economic data as presented also pointed out that tourists arriving by air to the Cayman Islands (rather than cruise ship) account for 77% of the tourist revenue generated on the island. Given that fact, it appears to make little economic sense to destroy the very fabric of Grand Cayman’s attraction to tourists (the shallow living reefs), to accommodate a greater number of cruise ships ferrying tourists who, according the Environmental Statement, spend an average of less than $CI 100 per person on island. Furthermore, it appears likely that if the project goes ahead, the number of stay over tourists would actually decrease over the long run.

It appears that the decision of whether or not to build the cruise ship pier will be a cabinet decision, so all of the legislative assembly members and ministers in the Cayman Government will vote. It should be noted that the daily administration of the islands is conducted by this Cabinet.

A new grass roots group says it will take the fight against a cruise berthing facility to the voters if the cabinet moves forward with the plan. This group,, is hoping to force a referendum getting one quarter of the country’s registered voters on board to force a public vote. A referendum would require the approval of approximately 4600 registered voters to make that happen. That number is 25% of the existing registered voters

(Caymanian status holders or Caymanians defined as Cayman born w/ Caymanian parents or grandparents) in the Cayman Islands. It would be a difficult task to assemble that amount of support, but such vote would only require a simple majority to reject the proposal. Sources close to the group have indicated that this effort may very well delay the outcome of this issue or perhaps force a compromise solution to be put in play.

The EIA, Environmental Impact Assessment, can be seen in its entirety on the website of the Department of Environment, For more information on what you can do, go to the website.

The Smooth Trunkfish

TTrunkfishhere are a number of very interesting fishes in the Caribbean. One of my favorites is certainly the Smooth Trunkfish, Rhimesomus triqueter, a member of the family of fishes called boxfish. These slow-moving reef fish can be one of the most entertaining fish to watch on a dive. They are easily recognizable by their shape, coloration and their unique means of propulsion.Trunkfish
They have short triangular bodies enclosed in a boney covering, which has the appearance of stretched canvass. When viewed from the front, the body is triangular in shape with a wide base and a narrow pointed top. Only the jaw, bases of the fins and the tail protrude from this carapace, and the locomotion of these fish is unusual if not peculiar. The dorsal and anal fins propel the fish with a rotary motion, while the tail acts as a rudder. The ventral fins move continually, forcing air through the narrow, constricted gill openings. They have a pointed snout with bulging lips encircling its small mouth.

The general background color is dark shades of black to brown, with a pattern of small white spots. If you look closely, you will see that it has hexagonal patterns giving a honeycomb-like appearance in the middle area of the body. The Smooth Trunkfish may have gotten its name because it is the only member of the boxfish family that has no spines above its eyes or by the anal fin.

They appear clumsy or sluggish at first, but if you try to approach them too quickly, you will be surprised at how fast they can accelerate using their tails. They normally frequent shallow water, in sandy or strip reef areas. They don’t seem to mind the presence of divers, especially if you hang around, keeping your movements to a minimum. When you observe them for a while, they take on an almost coquettish personality, displaying a bashful, timid side and yet curious and carefree at other times.

Its normal adult size is about 7 to 8 inches in length, although it can get much larger. The smooth trunkfish is normally solitary but sometimes moves around in small groups. In fact, the male trunkfish is thought to have a harem of females in its large territory. I was recently lucky enough to observe some very interesting mating displays within such a group, including dramatic color changes. The scientific names Lactophrys triqueter and Rhimesomus triqueter are synonymous.

I often find myself watching in amazement as they blow water at the sand in an attempt to uncover food. It uses its protruding lips to expel a jet of water, to prey items such as which disturbs the sandy seabed and reveals any shallowly buried benthic invertebrates, such as tiny mollusks, crustaceans, worms, and sponges.

The (Not So) Terrifying Tiger Shark

Although tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, have long been considered dangerous to humans, today there are a growing number of dive operations worldwide that focus on putting divers and the sharks in the water together. While some shark experts assert that these encounters are just an accident waiting to happen, it is interesting to note that despite baiting, close proximity and almost daily interactions over the course of more than 10 years, there have been no reported attacks specifically involving tiger sharks and divers.

Partially to thank for that record are reputable dive operations that set up strict guidelines for these interactions, and which require all of their divers to adhere to a strict set of rules. When these big predators show up, divers are required to continuously track them, maintain eye contact and point them out to the rest of the group.

Up-close, personal encounters have taught me that tiger sharks generally swim slowly and deliberately. When there are bait boxes in the water, other sharks, such as lemons and bulls, will swim directly to the bait. The tigers, however, approach warily, with their noses to the sand as if following a scent like a bloodhound. Ordinarily they don’t immediately compete with the other sharks, instead taking their time to investigate the smell. Despite their sluggish behavior, tiger sharks are very strong swimmers and extremely fast when they want to be. Their high back and dorsal fin can be used as a pivot, allowing them to spin quickly on their axis. This is why dive operations insist that divers maintain eye contact and keep track of the sharks as they pass, especially when they are nearby.

As soon as the tiger figures out that the smell is coming from the bait box, it often becomes focused and determined. I have seen a shark suddenly swim directly to the crate and grab the whole box, or one of the tether ropes, in its mouth and then swim away with its prize in tow.

Formidable looking animals, these sharks are named for the dark, vertical stripes Tiger sharks are also recognizable by their wide, blunt nose. They have very large mouths, with rows of 18 to 26 sharp, serrated teeth. Their powerful jaws allow them to crack open the shells of sea turtles and large clams.

The stomach contents of captured tiger sharks have revealed almost anything you can imagine, including stingrays, sea snakes, seals, birds, squids, and even license plates and old tires. Large specimens can grow to 18 feet or more (5 meters) and weigh more than 1,900 pounds (900 kilograms). Tigers live up to 50 years in the wild. They have small pits on the snout, which hold electro-receptors called the ampullae of Lorenzini.

These enable them to detect electric fields, including the weak electrical impulses generated by potential prey. Tiger sharks also have a sensory organ called a lateral line on their flanks that allows them to detect minute vibrations in the water. These adaptations, their excellent eyesight and acute sense of smell make them fearsome nocturnal hunters, able to follow faint traces of blood in the water to their source, even in murky water. The tiger will circle its prey and study it by prodding it with its snout before doing a taste test. This is somewhat reassuring when it is bumping into my camera port. Tigers are not at all shy about coming in close to inspect your cameras and check you out.

Diving with tiger sharks at night is an incredible experience, albeit a daunting one, knowing that tigers had been present on the late afternoon dive. The night dives I have participated in have usually been in relatively shallow water, beginning at dusk to let the dive group form a close line on the bottom. Diving directly under the boat with lights mounted at the surface can add enough ambient light to allow divers to spot the sharks before they just appear in front of you.

These awesome predators are found in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide. Off the Atlantic coast of the United States, tiger sharks are found from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. Off the Pacific coast, tiger sharks are found from Southern California southward. They’re found in the Hawaiian, Solomon, and Marshall Islands. In the western Pacific they are found from Australia and New Zealand, up through Indonesia, Fiji and Micronesia and as far north as Japan.

It is thought that tiger sharks bear offspring only every two to three years, usually two at a time. The tiger shark is the only species in its family that is ovoviviparous; its eggs hatch internally and the young are born live when fully developed.

Unfortunately, tiger sharks are considered a Near Threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to excessive finning and fishing. They are still killed by man for sport. Tigers are especially vulnerable because they grow slowly and take many years to mature. They are also hunted for their livers, which contain high levels of vitamin A that is processed into vitamin oil. This beautiful animal, often characterized as a man-eater, faces far more danger from men than it poses.

Using Snoots In Macro Photography

A Snoot is simply a device that attaches to the end of a strobe to narrow the beam angle from the light source. Its purpose is to provide a photographer with more control over the illumination of the subject. There are companies that make snoots to be used with a number of different strobes on the market. However, snoots can be made very inexpensively from a variety of household items. They can be constructed very easily from a number of items that you can find at the hardware store or local grocery. My favorite snoot is simply a plastic funnel glued to a diffuser that is made for my Sea & Sea Strobes. A friend aptly nicknamed my creation the “Ghetto Snoot” based on its very intricate design.

The concept of the snoot is pretty simple. The idea is to narrow and concentrate the light from the strobe, so you can project the light exactly where you want it. Picture the effect of shining a spotlight on an actor in the middle of a stage, keeping everything else in the dark. The narrow beam of light isolates actor, drawing everyone’s attention to him alone. Many photographers use creative lighting to illuminate a subject against a black background. The easiest way to achieve this effect is to use a snoot. Using a snoot can also eliminate unwanted backscatter from your picture.

Whether they are used for creating black backgrounds, spotlighting, or for directional lighting, there’s no doubt that snoots can be very helpful tools for creatively lighting underwater subjects. However, as useful as they are, they can be (and often are) very difficult to use. The process of aiming a snoot for macro photography can be very difficult at best. The use of snoots requires patience, practice and luck. However, if you are willing to spend the time and follow a few helpful tips, using snoots can be fun and very helpful in in creating dramatic results to your library of images.

Lets face it; the hardest part of using a snoot is pointing that narrow beam of light where you want it to go. The easiest way to do this is by using a strobe that has a built in focusing or modeling light. You simply turn on the light and position the strobe so that the beam hits your subject where you want it to, also paying attention to the direction of the light source. If you don’t have a modeling light, this may become a very frustrating process. Obviously it is easier to use a snoot with a very slow moving or stationary subject. Frogfish, small scorpionfish and virtually any type of weighted plastic marine life will work very well. If your subject is going to stay in the same place you can mount your strobe on a tripod and take the picture. If the angle or placement of the light is a bit off, you can reposition the strobe and take another image. Then you can work on exposure by manually correcting the amount of light by changing the shutter speed, ISO or aperture settings or positioning the strobe a bit closer to your subject. If you are using a small aperture, the light from the strobe will stop action, so you can use a slower shutter speed to change your exposure. If you are using manual settings to control your exposures, remember that you can add or detract light by changing any of these controls, but opening up your aperture will decrease your depth of field. You will usually find that a higher strobe output will work better and give you a more defined spotlight effect.

Some photographers like to hand hold the “snooted” strobe. I find that this is an option if you have the patience. It certainly allows much more flexibility to change the angle of the light. However, because every minor change in the strobe position will also change your ability to keep the beam of light on your subject, this can be extremely frustrating. My preference is to either use a tripod or, even better, a snoot Sherpa. I should plug a few of my very good friends (James Bassett, Dave Reid and Greg Bassett) who have patiently put up with my excessive snootiness over the years. I have found that if you are going to shoot a moving subject, that this is a necessity unless you are extremely lucky.

Finally, it is much easier to aim the snoot if it is really close to the subject. The farther away you hold the snoot, the dimmer the illumination from the modeling light. Of course, the light from the snoot will also be more concentrated and have a tighter beam the closer you hold the tip of the snoot to the subject. You may find that snooting on night dives is simpler because the light from the snoot is easier to see. Keep in mind that a snoot is just one of many tools in your bag of tricks for creative lighting. The thing for you to really focus on is that all of these suggestions are merely that, suggestions. Go out and have fun, and don’t hesitate to try new things.

The Fascinating Coconut Octopus

During a recent trip to Lembeh Strait in Indonesia, I happened upon one of the most fascinating marine-life behaviors that I’ve ever observed. Diving along a fairly shallow, barren, sandy slope, I was searching for something really interesting to photograph. My dive buddy was busily taking pictures of porcelain crabs and ghost shrimps going about their daily lives among the tentacles of the occasional carpet anemone. As I scoured the sandy expanse ahead of me, I concentrated on controlling my fin kicks, trying not to lift clouds of fine silt.

Perhaps because there was a scarcity of potential subjects in the expanse of sand, a solitary clamshell drew my attention. The shell, perhaps 3 or 4 inches across, was clean and intact. It struck me as odd that it would be just sitting by itself, out in the open. As I continued to investigate, the shell opened a crack and then quickly closed. I thought then that the shell might contain an eight-legged resident, so I settled in for a closer look. I balanced my camera atop my reef stick, which I had gingerly pressed into the sand to form a makeshift mono-pod. My buddy noticed that I was “on point” and settled in next to me to see what had attracted my attention.

Octopuses will often use discarded objects for shelter. Empty containers, such as bottles, cans and clamshells afford excellent refuge for small octopuses. I’ve found they exhibit a remarkable sense of curiosity, even about intruders many times their size. Move slowly and patiently on your dive, and you will often discover they are as curious about us as we are about them.

In this case, the opening between the halves of the clamshell reappeared in less than a minute, and this time I could see two diminutive eyes staring back at me intently. The top shell continued to open very slowly as the octopus grew braver. At some point, I realized that the cephalopod I was observing might be the highly intelligent coconut octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, which I have heard so much about.


In some respects the coconut octopus is like any other octopus. It is normally found on sandy bottoms in bays or lagoons. It has four pairs of arms covered with suckers, two eyes and an uncanny ability to make itself invisible from potential predators. The main body of this octopus is smallish, typically around 3 inches in size, and has arms approximately 6 inches long. The coconut octopus displays a fairly typical color pattern with dark branching lines similar to veins, and usually displays a yellow siphon.

Marine biologists coined the name “coconut octopus” after observing the animals excavating coconut half shells from the ocean floor and carrying them for use as portable shelters — the first documented example of invertebrates using tools and carrying objects for future use. Although octopuses often use foreign objects as shelter, the sophisticated planning ahead of coconut octopuses, in selecting materials, carrying and then reassembling them, is considered far more complex. In recent studies, researchers have observed the animals carrying those half-shells up to 65 feet across the seafloor, where they reassembled them into a roughly spherical hiding place. Interestingly, while the octopuses are transporting the shells, they receive no protection from them, which is highly unusual behavior. It’s even more difficult to keep from laughing out loud and flooding your mask as you watch an octopus tiptoe awkwardly across the sand carrying its shells, and then reassemble them to create a protective shelter.

As we continued to watch, this particular octopus opened its clamshell a full 180 degrees, until the two halves lay flat on the sand. At this point we could clearly see that the two halves were no longer connected. We watched as the octopus maintained a firm grasp on both halves of the shell as it extended two of its arms out over the edges of the shell and onto the sand. Next, the octopus awkwardly lifted the shells off the bottom and actually stood up on the two arms. As it began shuffling across the sandy floor, it used the two arms for locomotion, sliding one arm at a time in a kind of walking motion. As it moved across the bottom, it used several of its arms to form an unrecognizable mass above the shell, apparently attempting to mask or camouflage its presence.

The octopus continued its navigation across the sand for about twenty feet and then suddenly stopped. It withdrew its “walking” arms and allowed the shell to settle on the sand. We watched with amazement as it deliberately lined up the edges of the shell-halves and pulled its top cover back down as if on a hinge, withdrawing back into the confines of its portable shelter.







Sea Kraits

The banded Sea Krait, Laticauda colubrina, is a species of sea snake that inhabits coral reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific region. They are usually found off the shore of small islands and they often hide in small crevices or under rocks. They are generally nocturnal hunters, but they are often found out during the day.

Sea Krait

Banded sea kraits are also called yellow-lipped sea kraits because of a characteristic yellow upper lip. Their heads are mostly black with a yellow band extending along the lip, underneath each eye. Their tails have a U-shaped yellow marking along the edge that borders a broad black band. They have a smooth, scaled body with a blue or gray base color. Twenty to sixty-five black bands form rings around the body. They frequently reach lengths of 1.5 meters or more.

Sea Krait

They spend much of their lives in the ocean, but also spend a great deal of time on rocky islets in order to court, mate, lay eggs, digest food, and shed their skins. They are air breathers, but they have many special adaptations for diving including a saccular lung allowing them to dive to depths up to 60 m in search of food.

Sea Krait

Sea kraits are oviparous and return to land to lay their eggs. They also digest their food on land, and they can actually climb trees. However, they hunt and catch prey in the ocean. They reportedly feed primarily on smaller eels that inhabit shallow water. The females are typically larger than the males and feed on larger species of eels that inhabit deeper water to eels.

DID YOU KNOW THAT female sea kraits rarely show any overt response during the courtship process, however when they are feeling “frisky,” they may signal potential males by waving their tails when they are ready to copulate.

Sea Krait

Cozumel – FPMC Turtle Protection Program

We were here in Cozumel finishing up research and images for the new eBook, Dive Cozumel. This green turtle hatchling was one of 88 baby turtles that we removed from one nest site. We were thrilled to see them all make it safely into the ocean to begin their lives. This is a terrific program conducted by the FPMC, Foundation for Parks and Museums of ‪‎Cozumel‬.

Video of Cozumel Turtle Release

During our research visit to Cozumel, we also took video. Here is a 60 second clip of our visit including the release of the 88 turtles. The volunteer groups invest a tremendous amount of time and deserve our thanks.