WET PIXEL FULL FRAME Warren Baverstock: Djibouti whale sharks


Along a small stretch of uninhabitable coastline off the coast of Djibouti lies one of natures treasures which up until now, few have been privileged to witness. During the months of October through to February, large aggregations of young whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) visit the Gulf of Tadjoura to feed on the plankton rich waters within the Gulf of Aden. Little is known about where the sharks come from, but local reports from ecotourism operators suggest that during the months of October to February, large aggregations of mostly juvenile male sharks move around a small area of coastline in search of food. Luckily, during this time of year food is plentiful and at certain times of the day, dense blooms of plankton are brought to the surface, which the whale sharks seem to find.

Plankton is made up of small or microscopic organisms such as fish eggs, tiny fish fry, crustaceans, algae and protozoans. Whale sharks are filter feeders that swim through the water with their mouths wide open to feed. As they gulp at the incoming water they use their gill rakers to filter out the microscopic plankton before exhausting the filtered water over their gills for oxygen transfer. In Djibouti, from around 10.30am through to 6pm, sharks rise to the surface and cruise along the shallow shoreline in search of food.

By late morning as the sun becomes higher in the sky, plankton is attracted to the water’s surface. Additionally, as the wind picks up, currents upwell creating plankton hot spots up and down the coast. Once the cruising sharks track down these blooms of plankton, their swimming patterns will change to either ram or vertical feeding. Ram feeding sharks will swim very fast through the water with their mouths wide open trying to filter as much water as possible. As plankton density increases, the sharks will often start to gulp which will invariably slow their swimming speed. If, left undisturbed a gulping whale shark will often stop swimming and instead rotate itself into an almost vertical position where it will continuously gulp stationary in one area until the food source is depleted. Unlike the large aggregation of whale sharks found off the coast of Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico) where visibilities and water color seems perfect for underwater photography, Djibouti offers slightly more challenging conditions which include plenty of cloud cover and green water.


the Wonders of Wakatobi – Scuba Diver Australasia 2012

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I suspect that like me, many serious underwater photographers dread the rigmarole associated with getting their precious, fragile equipment through foreign airports and land transfers. This wasn’t the case, however, during my recent visit to Wakatobi Dive Resort. The resort is located in the remote Tukang Besi island chain on the edge of Indonesia’s Banda Sea. But unlike many other out-of-the-way diving destinations in the region, getting there is easy, because the resort provides direct charter flights from Bali, along with a warm and welcoming staff that is there to help you at every step of the way. As son as I handed my gear over to the Wakatobi team at Bali’s Denpasar International Airport, I felt I was on vacation, even before reaching the island. Arrival and check in at the resort was equally relaxing, and as I prepared for my first dive, the staff once again took care of every detail. Before long, I was finning out over the shallow sea grass beds that lie inside of Wakatobi’s House Reef, catching glimpses of the many tiny creatures that lurk in the shallows. There would be plenty of time to photograph them later, I knew, so I kept swimming toward the edge of the reef. Peering down over the drop off for the first time brought a sense of sheer joy and amazement. The clear water created a panorama of colorful coral gardens populated by lively reef fish. Mesmerized, I followed the reef toward the resort’s jetty, taking in the marine life. When it was finally time to get out of the water, I gazed across the sea towards a small tropical island perched on the horizon, and with the warmth of the setting sun on my face I thought “those blogs were true…Wakatobi is the real deal.” I first learned of Wakatobi by following a link on Facebook. Now, just 12 months later, I felt privileged to be here, walking along the shoreline toward my Villa. I’d just completed one of the most memorable dives of my life, and this was just the first day. With cameras secure and dive equipment taken care of by the dive center, I was free to sit and watch the last rays of light disappear behind the horizon and anticipate what the next day’s adventures would bring.

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Next morning, I find myself looking up at the surface from a depth of 15 meters, with more than 40 meters of reef visible to the left and right. With so much color and life surrounding me, the choices for photography are almost overwhelming. But it doesn’t take me long to settle into a routine. I am accompanied by my personal dive guide, Kaz, who not only leads me to the most interesting subjects, but also carried my second housing! Not wanting to miss out on macro opportunities I brought two housings, and diving with a guide allows me to switch between wide and macro subjects with ease. My primary focus will be to capture Wakatobi’s reefs using a compact close focus wide-angle set up, but I also won’t miss out on opportunities to capture reef scenes. Having the support and assistance of a personal guide does come at a price, but it’s well worth the investment as Wakatobi’s guides are very experienced, and there’s a lot of 5-star customer service thrown in for good measure. Exploring the deeper depths of this dive site, I find large numbers of fan corals sitting on ledges next to the drop off. Complementing these delicate towering structures are colorful forests of whip and soft corals surrounded by swarms of newly hatched fry. For most of the dive I was distracted by the magical array of colors, and by the end I fully understand why the region is considered one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems on the planet. When I surface and pass my cameras up to the boat crew, I’m pleased to see that they know just how to handle the equipment. By the time I get onto the boat, both housings are rinsed in freshwater and placed safely under towels. During the surface interval, Kaz and I get to know each other. We will be diving together for the next two weeks, and he wants to learn what I am specifically looking during my stay. With the genuinely friends guides and the boat crew making sure that I have plenty of cake and coffee, we sail gently to our next dive.

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Before I know it, Kaz and I descend down onto our second dive of the day. After another long bottom time (70 minutes plus!) and many more rewarding photo opps, we head for the dive center. With housings safely stowed and batteries charging, I prepare to wash and hang my dive gear, only to find that that our boat crew has already taken care of everything. With these chores handled, I’m soon back at my villa to join my wife, who doesn’t dive, with plenty of time to enjoy the afternoon sun and take a swim. The select villa offers a luxurious sun lounging jetty with a plunge pool overlooking the water. We sit back, enjoy the amazing sunset, and discover another special part of the Wakatobi Experience. On our next morning dive, Kaz already knows the animals I want to photograph, and delivers me to the doorstep of an inquisitive cuttlefish that hovers over a lush area of pink and purple sponges. With no other divers competing for photo opportunities or in the shot, I find myself actually relaxing while taking a series of photos of this patient cephalopod. Gazing up from my subject, I am once more overwhelmed by the pristine topography of the reef; I look for Kaz, who is a few meters ahead pointing at something else he has found. I fin towards him, but am then distracted by a vibrant fan coral surround by fry. Like a candy shop, yellow, pink, purple and orange soft corals compete with each other for space and again I find myself a little confused on which shot I want to take. When I finally catch up with a very patient Kaz, he points at a pair of pygmy seahorses. But the shot is difficult, and with risk of damaging corals we move onwards in search of the other animals on my wish list. Amazingly, in the course of the dive Kaz manages to find the four types of pygmy seahorse native to Wakatobi (H. pontohi, H. severnsi, H. denise and H. bargibanti).There is a lot to be said about not having to share a perfect wilderness with many people. Back on the surface, there is not a single dive boat on the horizon – only the sound of splashing jacks chasing their prey. In such a magnificent setting, you can’t help but be relaxed. Smiling, Kaz says he knows I’ll love the next dive. We enter the water and peer down 18 meters onto an expansive sandy area the size of a football pitch, which is situated on the top of a coral pinnacle. I wonder what he’s been going on about. Touching down on the sandy surface, and feeling a bit like the man on the moon, I can see the reef in the distance. As we approach it, I for the first time feel the pull of a strong current.

baverstock wakatobi 006 Arriving at the edge of the pinnacle, which plateaus off to depth, I am presented with an incredible selection of marine life. The strong moving water obviously provides a healthy source of nutrients. Swirling fluidly like a river around the coral reef and sponges, shoals of apagons and sweepers swim effortlessly keeping a tight formation for safety from predators. It is as if the entire scene were composed by an artist, and perfectly placed in the middle of all of this life is a large sea anemone, within which a pair of clowns kept watch over their kingdom. The best is yet to come. Kaz lures me away, assuring me with his eyes to trust him, I an come back to this spot later. We move on, and I soon find myself kneeling in front of a giant towering sponge, with a tornado of glassfish swirling around it while several grouper sporadically dart into the cloud of movement. Heading to shallower water takes us over a field of hard corals where a large shoal of batfish and snapper cruise. Sadly I’m now low on air, but surprisingly I find I can spend the remaining 5 minutes of my dive along the shallow shoreline, which has changed from coral reef into a lush sea grass environment. It is a nursery for all things small, and I am blown away by the abundance of life in this area. I watch sea snakes weave in and out of the coralline algae-covered coral blocks, searching for easy food. Kaz signals to reminded me that it’s time to go. As I reluctantly fin toward our boat, I muse on how amazing this place is. And with the dive sites being so close to the resort, I find that I also have plenty of time to enjoy lunch without worrying about a tight deadline for the next dive, and never need miss freshly cooked food at dinner due to a late return. Instead I find myself unwinding in the most relaxing restaurant environment that I could possibly wish for on a small island. In all of the dive resorts I have visited, which includes some 5-star islands in the Maldives, I can’t recall ever having such a choice of well-cooked, top-quality cuisine. With over 20 members to the food and beverage team taking great care of each guest’s culinary requirements, I didn’t have a single grumble during my two-week stay – other than a need to get back to the gym when I’m back home.

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The days begin to merge into a pleasant blur of diving, dining and relaxing. My first week has provided me with some incredible photographic opportunities and memorable vacation experiences. One day, as I watched Kaz draw another of his detailed maps of the next dive site, I am momentarily distracted by thoughts of how many days I have left in Wakatobi. This thought soon passes, and I am quickly drawn back into the moment, and as usual, am excited at what’s in store for the next dive. Upon entering the water, I’m greeted with a magical but now very familiar scene, as morning sun’s rays shimmer over the soft corals that blanket the shallow reef. I can understand why so many snorkelers also visit Wakatobi. As shoals of surgeons, wrasse and butterflies chase each other over the shallow reef, I watch as snorkeling couples follow them effortlessly in the mild current. The profile of this dive site is considerate towards the newcomers that had just arrived on the island, but no less spectacular than some of the deeper sites. At 10 meters, the light creates incredible visibility, and as Kaz explores nearby, searching for large crocodile fish, I find myself composing perfect portraits of clownfish with the lush coral environment as a backdrop. As we navigate the reef, I recognize the familiar behavior of a small shoal of Convict blennies in the distance. I had seen many during my stay but as I approach this group, the behavior of the shoal evolves into something much bigger. Quadrupling in size, and hovering like a swarm of bees over the reef, the shoal begins to morph its shape, changing from a beehive into a teardrop, then a magnificent tornado. With no other photographers waiting eagerly their turn for an image, I capture 20 minutes of this incredible behavior before a large trevally dives into the shoal disbursing them into the safe confines of the coral reef. Back on the boat, there is a buzz of excitement from the snorkelers who have had their first taste of the Wakatobi experience. baverstock wakatobi 005

Approaching the end of my second week, I have put many of Wakatobi’s best sites into my logbook, but there is one that I have yet to experience. I had seen the more distance sections of the house reef from the surface on the day that I had arrived, and during daily departures and returns, but had yet to experience it from below. Taking into consideration I had witnessed some pretty incredible marine environments in the past days, I’m unsure if this closer-to-home dive experience will match my expectations. Stepping off the jetty onto the dive boat, our group kits up, and within five minutes we arrive at the entry point. With a fairly strong current, this drift dive on the house reef proves to be one of the best experiences of the trip. Incredibly, the house reef is in great condition, offering large shoals of fish and turtles, topped off by fabulous coral coverage. Prior to entering the water, Kaz and I had agreed that I should get at least a few pygmy seahorses photographs. Knowing the sites extremely well, he’s assured me he’ll have no problem finding a pair of Bargibanti seahorses in an area that will not be difficult to photograph. As always, Kaz did not disappoint, and a few minutes later, with a nice male and female photograph under my belt, we continue with our dive. Incredibly, it just seems to get better and as we approach the resort, the abundance of fish continues to increase. Like all of my dives, the safety stop at five meters offers some special photographic encounters, and a chance to recall all of the wonderful moments I’ve just experienced and captured in photos. It is a fitting finale to an incredible and productive two weeks of diving at a place that truly deserves to be called “a diver’s paradise.”

The Wakatobi Experience…..the first verstodigital photographs…

Well i’m finally back from my Wakatobi experience and what an adventure it was. At present I have only just started to work my way through the many photographs I took during my two week stay but progress is good and results are extremely pleasing. I am going to be writing an article about it very soon but meanwhile…here are a few quotes accompanied some images….

stunning colourful soft corals are a common sight at wakatobi…

“As an underwater photographer, Wakatobi exceeded my expectations on so many fronts. From the trouble free check in of my heavy camera gear on Wakatobi’s transfer from Bali through to the provision of a highly knowledgable personal dive site guide, my two week stay was hugely productive and extremely enjoyable.”

gentle slopes covered with hard and soft corals that are buzzing with marine life…

“The daily dive routine was faultless with quite frankly the best organized dive operation I have ever experienced. With nothing being too much trouble for the extremely friendly and sociable boat crew, gearing up for every dive was pleasurable and easy. All you had to do was just be on the boat…Wakatobi’s dive operation took care of everything else.”

from gentle slopes to dramatic drop off.’s…wakatobi has it all…

“from gentle slopes to dramatic drop off.’s…wakatobi has it all…“With hard and soft corals competing for space on the reefs surrounding Wakatobi, you can understand why the team work so hard with the local fishing community to preserve it’s condition. Dropping down on to any of Wakatobi’s dive sites and you are treated to an array of beautiful marine life on a coral backdrop that is simply stunning.”

with critters of all shapes and sizes…wakatobi has an unforgettable surprise on every dive…
“With many different critters on every dive site, Wakatobi lives up to its claims to being an underwater photographers paradise. Shooting mostly wide angle I was blown away by large colorful fan corals, towering sponges and incredibly densely covered coral slopes. When I did shoot macro, pygmy seahorses were plentiful and literally every site offered at least one of the five pygmy’s found in the region.”

with coral so healthy and in such an abundance, competing for space, is a common sight…
“With 5 star food consistent in quality every day and the perfect comfort found in Wakatobi’s new luxurious select villa, I found myself wanting very little other than more hours in the day for diving.”

you can’t help but be taken back by the incredible density of marine life…
“Wakatobi is quite simply a 5 star, luxurious eco dive resort, with some world class diving thown in for good measure.”

the jetty and longhouse…
“With 5 star food consistent in quality every day and the perfect comfort found in Wakatobi’s new luxurious select villa, I found myself wanting very little other than more hours in the day for diving.”

my last sunset at wakatobi…

“Would i return to Wakatobi….i certainly will and am already looking forward to experiencing Wakatobi all over again.”
RSS this blog and keep an eye for more underwater and topside photographs of Wakatobi…

Wakatobi….here I come….

the following photographs are © protected by Wakatobi Dive Resort – www.wakatobi.comSeveral months ago I accidently clicked an advert on facebook, while not paying attention to what I was doing – chatting to my wife on the phone. While talking and deciding about what I wanted for supper, I became distracted by what I was seeing on my mac. Of course my wife would say, “nothing new there then”, but that’s not true, I always listen to what she is says…..I can multi task.  Anyway, back to the mac and with a new web browser window opened, I slowly watched as stunning aerial images of a perfect reef environment uploaded onto the screen. Scrolling down and there were photographs of beautiful corals as far as the eye could see with flocks of color hovering just above them in perfect visibility. It looked idyllic, it looked perfect….

It was around this time I was looking for the next special dive destination. Fed up with the Maldives and the real lack of love for solo underwater photographers, I had recently discovered Indonesia and with two seasons of critter photography under my belt at the very special Kungkungan Bay Resort in Manado, I was finding myself wanting more of the critters but with a bit of reef and nice visibility thrown in for good measure. The other thing that I was increasingly aware of was being an annual vacation; it was paramount that I kept my wife happy (unhappy wife means no camera upgrades so its all about give and take). With this in mind I had already been advised during our second trip to KBR that next time, it would be advisable if I searched for something a little bit more 5 star for the non-diving partner. Of course there is nothing wrong with KBR, but my wife deserves the best and so I recognized that I really had to come up with something special if I was going to get to this neck of the woods again. That’s when I came up with Raja Amput and the Misool Eco Resort. It looked idyllic and I had heard so many good things about the diving.

Well, that was until I bumped into this unknown paradise. Hanging up the phone I was able to divert the rest of my attention to what was unfolding/uploading in front of my eyes, the resorts name – Wakatobi. I had previously heard about this place before but had put it out of my mind as being a slightly expensive place to get to from Dubai (but hey, when you see a set of photographs like I was seeing, well it really put things into perspective). Navigating around the resorts website and I really got the feeling that this place was the real thing, with endorsements from the likes of Berkley White of Backscatter, a great feedback section finished off with a great slideshow of the resorts best photographs, I was convinced…this is where I wanted to go and see in 2011…Wakatobi Dive Resort..
Funnily, when mentioning Wakatobi to my wife, she seemed quite interested. With the temptation of a stop in Bali before hand she had pretty much given me the green light although there were conditions. Agreeing to no corners being cut with the accommodation at Wakatobi, I found myself paying the deposit on one of the resorts new Select Villa’s (Villa no.1). Of course you can get cheaper rooms at Wakatobi, but with my wife islandlocked while I was doing three to four dives a day, it made perfect sense that she was catered for in every way. The resorts web description is as follows: The closest villa to the heart of the resort (restaurant and longhouse). With it’s own corner of the Northern Beach complete with its own Bale or “love shack”. This villa offers secluded privacy in an intimate setting. Enjoy a relaxing massage in your beachfront Bale. I mean who wouldn’t be sold by that….with the deposit paid, it was time to start saving.

I wont go into how special the island is now as I have not actually been there yet but you can find out more on www.wakatobi.com. Of course later on I will be blogging and writing an article about my 13-day adventure at the Wakatobi Dive Resort and just what it is about Wakatobi that makes them an award winning luxury eco resort that boasts a world-class reef on its doorstep. For the time being though, you can check out other people’s feedback from Trip Advisor.

Manta Chaos in Hanifaru

In 2009 at the Arabian Seas Whale Shark Symposium in Fujairah, I was lucky enough to listen to Guy Steven’s do a presentation about his research of manta rays found in a small bay called Hanifaru located in Baa Atoll of the Maldives.  I had previously heard many things about this special place and how, if lucky, you could witness a natural phenomena where up to two hundred mantas could be found feeding together in a bay no bigger than a football pitch.  Information on where to stay, site access, transportation and times of the year to visit were not freely available and so as I watched guy’s presentation I waited with great anticipation for anything in his presentation that would give me a better understanding of when and where to go.  The presentation was extremely informative and by the time it was over I had learnt that the best time to go was during the South West monsoon period (May to November) and that numbers were especially high during the months of August and September.  Catching up with Guy after his presentation, he told me about the best places to stay, which were fairly close to the bay, and that I would be welcome to join him and learn more about his research.  Six months later, I had booked my stay at the Reethi Beach Island Resort in Baa Atoll and my visit dates were to co-inside with the new moon of August. Continue reading

My Trip to Dive Malaysia with the EDA – Redang! Redang! Redang!

Standing in my hallway looking at my luggage all packed and I know that at that moment that the rest of the EDA team are well and truly on their way to Malaysia.  On my way to the airport four hours earlier I received an urgent call reporting a problem that needed my immediate attention.  With no other choice I had to turn around, put plans on hold and take care of the problem that I was faced with.  Three hours later and with the problem resolved, I called the EDA team to find them checking in and only minutes away from boarding the plane.  I had been watching the clock as my problem had slowly resolved itself, but by the time I had made this last call to the team, I had resigned myself to the fact that there was no way I was getting on a plane and flying to Malaysia.  With confirmation that the flight had been especially arranged for this trip and that there was no way that it could be extended I picked up my luggage and headed upstairs to unpack.  Minutes later and unexpectedly my phone rang and upon answering I was pleasantly surprised when Mr “A” from Malaysia airlines introduced himself informing me that he could help me.  Hanging up after a brief conversation I started to smile – “be at the airport for 3.30pm tomorrow with all of your documentation and I will see if we can’t get you on that flight”. Continue reading

Diving Aqaba – Gardens Of Light

In 2008, I was asked if I would be interested in going to Aqaba to photograph the marine life for a book about Jordan’s underwater world.  I had previously heard many good things about Aqaba’s diving and its special marine life, but more important to me the promise of crystal clear waters and relatively easy diving.  It didn’t take much to convince me that I could capture the material for the book within the two and a half week schedule, and so one month later my buddy JAK and I found ourselves standing on the edge of a dive boat platform looking down into the turquoise waters of Aqaba.

Descending down over the hard corals of ‘Japanese Gardens’ and I was filled with joy of finally having 30+ metres visibility.  Equipped with two cameras, one wide and the other macro, I continue to descend in search of something interesting to photograph.  It didn’t take long; a mass of various zooplankton taking refuge within a sand jellyfish, a blue spotted stingray and a group of peppered morays with cleaner shrimps all within 20 minutes.  Realising that the dive should soon come to an end I look up the rich coral slope and while watching a silhouetted hawksbill turtle swimming in the shallows, I thought to myself “I’m going to like it here”. Continue reading

Experiencing Muck Diving in North Sulawesi

About 12 years ago, just after I became a PADI Open Water Diver, I was introduced to the concept of Muck Diving in North Sulawesi with promises of spectacular marine life.  I was at the annual Dive Show in Birmingham and as I watched an amazing slideshow all about the weird exotic marine life found in this region, I pledged to myself that one day I would go and see it for myself. Continue reading