The Underwater Photographer

An inside look how serious enthusiasts and pros endure the most arduous of conditions just to take that perfect underwater shot. Poisonous marine life, sweeping currents, unpredictable water visibility, limited bottom time juxtaposed high risk to expensive photo gear & self are just some of the variables which make underwater photography one of the most difficult yet highly rewarding branches of photography.

Photos and Video by Jun Lao.

I joined my first underwater photo competition last week. There were a total of 82 participants from the Philippines and beyond and it was a literal breath-taking experience. I did a total of 5 dives over the weeek end, two spent in San Agapito Reef with some of the strongest currents experienced by man. It was so strong, we had to abort one dive because we got swept away into the blue.

Mostly Everything

Saving Secret Bay

Baby cuttlefish (1 inch in total length) shot in Secret Bay, Anilao November 15 2010 3.34pm

Lembeh Strait in Indonesia is famed for being the best — if not one of the best sites for muck diving globally. No corals, no reef fish, no plants. Instead divers are rewarded with the most bizarre creatures in muck sites: mimic octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, garden eels, flounders … it’s the weirdest of the weird.

Although shot in 3 locations, most of this footage was taken in Secret Bay.

Foreigners who dive Secret Bay in Anilao say that it rivals Lembeh for the best muck diving experience.

I dove Secret Bay countless times. It probably ranks as the number one site I’ve frequented in my two years of diving so I got to see some of the best it has to offer. In addition to this, Secret Bay is home to several hot spring nodes that can burn your hand underwater. Above ground, the springs are used to boil eggs for surface interval time between dives.

I recall sometime in the middle of last year one trip we made to the area. After going down to about 40 ft I noticed that the water was silted up and not just in one area but across a whole stretch. We went deeper to 70ft and still didn’t see anything — it was as if the entire area was fished out. Bad dive. We didn’t see anything save for dozens of flying gurnards which were common to the area and patches of anemone with their respective clownfish residents.

After 50 minutes of bottom time and our 3 minute safety stop we made our way up. Getting on the boat, we noticed a small argument ensuing by the shore. There were men with very wide rakes tied to ropes. We found out from our boatman on that the man was another diver reprimanding the locals for raking up the ocean floor for fish entangling everything as by-catch. It was horrid. And tense. No wonder the bottom was all silted up.

A flounder’s “one half” hiding in the sand. Taken in Secret Bay November 15 2010 3:26PM.

Maybe I’m coming from a jaded perspective as a diver who comes once in a while to enjoy the dive weekend. Maybe I can’t relate to the fishermen who need to survive their day to day. But I also cannot ignore the fact that Anilao, which more emphatic divers call AniLOVE is struggling to stay beautiful. The newly constructed Korean resort fronting Secret Bay SHOULD protect the area (and the adjacent site called Toro Point) and turn it into a marine sanctuary. Sayang.

The truth is, Anilao charges a daily PHP 100.00 dive pass for recreational divers. The pass serves as a tax for the conservation efforts.

Where does this money go to?

Diving Secret Bay (starts at 1:39) in January 2010. This was the only sighting I’ve had of a rare baby flamboyant cuttlefish.


Last year, I was thrilled to have been chosen by Coca-Cola to become part of their Live Positively campaign for their Energy Management & Climate Protection program. After getting my open water SCUBA certification in 2009 I went all the way to disclose the beauty that lies beneath the Philippines. I have since then become a volunteer for the WWF for their coral triangle projects and now for Coca Cola. The Live Positively campaign is really more of a permanent movement that is engraved into the company’s mission more than anything.

If you would like to learn more about Coca-Cola’s Live Positively Campaign, check out their Facebook page +) .

Mostly Everything

Balai Weekend: Koala, Secret Bay and Twin Rocks

Dove Koala, Secret Bay and Twin Rocks, once during the day and at night. This was a no-rush dive weekend spent with Wowie, Ilyong, Marie and Chie. Chie got to try out Wowie’s iDive 300 iPod casing and Wowie served as default barista for the two days spent in Balai making the frothiest cappuccino. Great times!

Dive highlights include the school of yellowtails and jacks at Twin Rocks, a black tip shark that only Marie saw, the bubbling ocean floor at Secret Bay and a Spanish Dancer that did not want to dance.

This was also the first time I was able to road test the effects of putting two packs of dessicant into a digital camera casing. Since I don’t have an aluminum case, the heat expedited by the JVC recorder creates a lot of moisture inside the acrylic case. Dessicant, found in all medicine bottles and gadget packaging is really useful for absorbing the moisture.