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Mandarin Magic in the Philippines

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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The Mandarin fish has to be one of the most exquisite fish in existence. It has a simply wonderful colouration, pattern and delicacy that makes it a real treat to find and photograph. We have done several dives dedicated to finding these delightful fish that hide amongst both dead and living hard corals and yet have never really had that “wow” moment … until our recent dive with Magic Island Dive Resort in the Philippines.

We had arrived in the early hours of the morning and had grabbed a quick snooze to recover from the long journey, but wanted to get diving and pack in as much as we could on our short stay, so we chose an afternoon house-reef dive and a shallow dive to see mandarin fish mating at dusk. The afternoon dive ensured that all our equipment was working and we were hoping that the dusk dive was going to set the tone for this whole trip. Whilst, in the past, we have seen the male dart around looking for the smaller females in the coral, we really wanted to capture the moment these gorgeous fish rise up, out of the coral, to mate.

It is a challenge for underwater photographers for many reasons. We were asked not to use any lights (not even those with red as an option), as this can make the fish shy and less likely to perform. We were wondering how our cameras would focus in the diminishing light. Our guide, Jason, said that he would use his torch, mostly covered by his hand, to illuminate the fish using a small beam of light, from between his fingers, when the moment was right. So, we hovered over the coral, letting our eyes adjust to the gloom and waited.

We were rewarded with a spectacle like we have never previously witnessed. Rather than just the usual toing and froing of the mandarin fish in the reef that we have seem so many times in the past, the pairs rose up in a beautiful dance above the coral and then in a flash (releasing their eggs and sperm) they were gone. The male performs his courtship dance to a handful of females that gather in the same area, and so we were treated to several of these rituals on a single dive. We were the only divers in the water and, with the dive site only a short swim from the dive centre, and in only 6 or 7 meters of water, we had plenty of time to take in this incredible display.

What an incredible start to our time with Magic Island Dive Resort! Elated, we finished the dive, hung up our gear and headed to join the other guests staying at the resort for dinner. We shared tales of our diving day whilst all sitting together for a wonderful meal, a few drinks and some great scuba stories. A perfect start to our trip.

For more information about Magic Island Dive Resort, visit their website by clicking here.

For more information about the Philippines click here.

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Introducing Thresher Shark Indonesia

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Thresher Shark Indonesia was founded in 2018. Their work aims to protect endangered pelagic thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus) in Alor Island, Indonesia through investigating the critical habitat, socio-economic importance of the species for the community and conservation outreach to local schools. They combine research and community engagement to inform policy decision for local protection of the species.

Thresher Shark Indonesia first documented thresher shark sighting around Alor diving sites, they began collecting movement information through satellite tagging studies, and also gained the perceptions about the fisheries dependency of thresher shark fishing. Thresher shark fishing in Alor was previously unknown to local government institutions. Their outreach activities have successfully been delivered to more than 500 Alor communities through radio, community events, and other engagements. This has shifted the perception of the local communities to the importance of conserving thresher sharks and valuing them as a local tourism asset in Alor.

Over the coming weeks we will look into the current projects of Thresher Shark Indonesia in more detail.

To learn more right now, visit their website by clicking here

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Black Water Diving with Magic Resorts

Magic Resorts Philippines

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Floating, weightless surrounded by the blackness of the ocean at night time, that eery sensation of not knowing what lies beyond the glow of your flash light, that’s the first feeling I got on my very first Black Water Dive.

For many, I am sure Black Water Diving is a new term in the diving world, or maybe even something you have never heard of before, so what is it? Well, you head off into the middle of the ocean, where it’s deep. Really deep. At least 300m deep, and deeper seems to be better, of course its “Black Water” so this is at night time.

Diving out in the middle of the ocean at night has its concerns. The main one is the depth, you wouldn’t want anyone sinking down to the bottom. The second, is losing a diver. You’re out in the middle of nowhere and it’s dark. On the first attempts at Magic Island, we had the divers tethered to the boat via a 20m rope with a weight on the bottom and a carabiner clip attaching them to it. This allowed them to slide up-and-down the rope, but they couldn’t slide of the end due to the weight. The issue here is movement. The boat drifts along at a different speed and sometimes direction to the diver, depending on the current and the wind. This results in the divers been pulled along and unable to look at any creatures. In short; it doesn’t work and the freedom you get from diving is gone.

The fix to our issues was somewhat simple and a little scary, at first. After asking around to a few friends (thank you) we discovered you only need one line attached to a small buoy, not the boat, with a weight on the end. Then you need lots of lights and some strobes. The strobes are attached to the buoy, so the boat crew can easily keep watch. The flash lights are attached to the line at certain depths, we chose 7m, 14m and 21m which is the end of the line. Then you jump in and dive around the line. This helps with having a reference and more light to see stuff. And the stuff… that’s why you’re really here at this point, at this time of day.

That eery feeling, been lost at sea, sinking to the bottom of the ocean, all of these concerns soon go to the back of your mind as you become memorised by creatures you never imagined existed. Everywhere you look there’s something to see, the ocean out here is absolutely full of life. Jellyfish, siphonophores and comb jellies are a certain, and they all have their own beautiful display, from neon lights to strange flamboyant dances, or both. Cephalopods are also a common sight, especially small squid that dart around leaving jets of ink in the water as they get spooked. Less common is the paper nautilus, a pea sized animal that clings to debris drifting through the water column. I could fill the rest of the blog with all the critters you can see, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

The best way I can explain the feeling you get from black water dives, is to imagine mixing the nervous excitement you had when you took your first breaths underwater, and the sense of wonder and awe after completing your most amazing muck/critter dive. If your looking for the next adventure in the scuba world, make sure to visit Magic Island and book on a black water dive.

For more information about Magic Resorts visit their website by clicking here.

Written by: Jamie Gladwin – dive center manager and PADI Course Director at Magic Island Dive Resort.

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