Experiencing the Solomon Islands a Scuba Diving Trip Aboard the Bilikiki

Diving in the Solomon Islands – Guadalcanal

Dive Manager - Csaba

Dive Manager – Csaba

 The morning finds is on our first diving location.  Diving off the Bilikiki is done primarily off the “tinies,” aluminum boats with cylinder holes and a small ladder. Csaba (pronounced Chaba) was in charge of the first dive and after the briefing it was – this way to the South Pacific and Tinie 1, Tinie 1 as the crew moved the diving equipment from the deck to the tinie.  The order was the same each day, diving equipment, cameras then divers.  All you as a diver needed to do was to let the crew members know that you were ready, move your name tag from “on-board” to “diving” and then step aboard your waiting diving chariot.

 The adventure continues…

Experiencing the Solomon Islands a Scuba Diving Trip Aboard the Bilikiki

Beginning in the Solomon’s



Photo by James Burton

Let’s just get this over with at the beginning.  The Bilikiki is an old vessel that is not as well appointed as many other modern live aboard diving and touring vessels.  The dining area has plastic lawn chairs and the tables are simple.  The main salon is not air conditioned and there is no wet head on the dive deck.  But, the crew on this vessel is second to none.  The newest member of the crew has only been on the vessel for two years but spent seven years on the Spirit of the Solomon’s, the sister ship to the Bilikiki.  Most of the remaining crew members have been with the vessel for more than seven to twenty-years.  The on-board diving managers have been here a year and come from extensive ship management in the Red Sea.  Needless to say, they all know how to make your life aboard special!

 Bilikiki CrewEvan, the shore based manager met us at the airport and like the crew on board the boat, Evan has been a part of the operation for a long time (I can attest that he was here in 2006 when we last visited the Bilikki.)  Amazingly, all of our luggage arrived with us and we were promptly taken to the Kitana Medano Hotel to wait for our time to board.  To capitalize on our available time, Ann had arranged for a tour of Honiara and some of the sights that made Guadalcanal such a memorable location in World War II.  There is a beautiful tribute to the men who died in the Pacific defending our freedom and bringing it to others.  This war memorial sits atop a hill above Henderson field and has multiple marble carvings highlighting the battles in this region of the Pacific.  So many men died here that the locals are still finding mess kits and other personal items scattered throughout the jungle.

20130906-_MG_0838The ships scattered on the bottom of Iron Bottom Sound even now contain the remains of American, Australian, British and Japanese sailors.  The majority of these wrecks lie well beyond the range of recreational scuba divers in over 240 feet of water.

Our tour also encompassed Henderson field (we landed here), the river near Red Beach, and a stop at the statue of  Sir Jacob Vouza, the Solomon Islander who alerted the allies to the advancing Japanese troops despite being tortured, stabbed and left for dead.  He survived, was Knighted by the Queen of England and even renamed his village to California so he could tell his friends in America that he was in California.

As our tour ended, our diving adventure was about to begin.  Csaba, on of the on-board boat managers met us at the hotel and transported us to the Honiara Yacht Club – a stuffy name for a simple location with small boats and a nice bar.  Here we joined our luggage which had already been loaded by the crew.  We were met by Daniela, the lively Venezuelan on-board manager.  She is also married to Csaba and no, he is not from Venezuela but rather hails from Hungry and Eastern Europe.


Photo by James Burton

The first day on a live aboard is always busy with everyone scurrying around trying to assemble their dive equipment which is scattered around various bags necessitated by the airline luggage rules.  Only after everything is reassembled, tested and stored is there time to relax.

It was soon after dinner that the boat set sail for the beginning of our ten-day cruise through the Solomon Islands.


The adventure continues…

ROV Follows an Elusive Oarfish in the Gulf of Mexico

United States servicemen holding a 23-foot (7.0 m) Giant Oarfish, found washed up on the shore near San Diego, California in 1996 (c) US Navy

United States servicemen holding a 23-foot (7.0 m) Giant Oarfish, found washed up on the shore near San Diego, California in 1996 (c) US Navy

Scientists accidentally took a video of the elusive oarfish. This video is the best quality and longest video that has ever been shot of an oarfish in its natural habitat. This video also appears to show a parasitic isopod attached to the fish’s dorsal fin. The mysterious oarfish lives about a mile deep in the ocean and it can grow to be 50ft long. Oarfish look like giant eels, with their head pointing towards the surface and the rest of their body hanging down below. The oarfish is also believed to be the largest bony fish in existence. The one in this video is only eight feet long. This video was shot while researchers were investigating the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A camera was sent down to look at the oil pipes and figure out how to fix them. However, the camera stumbled upon this oarfish.

Scientists were surprised to see the oarfish since it has rarely been seen in its habitat. Another reason why oarfish are rarely seen is because they live far offshore. The video of the oarfish can be viewed below. The best pictures of the fish are about 6 minutes into the video.

Sea Shells – Something to Think About

copyright H. Zell, from Wikipedia

The ocean has always amazed humans and it is well known that it is a crucial part of life on Earth. But one of the most fascinating aspects of the ocean is its key role in facilitating important life sustaining processes and interactions. We can experience this every time we go scuba diving, how the ocean helps balance life sustaining gases, how currents redistribute debris and animals around the world, how it prneudes a habitat for hundreds of thousands of species and many other processes. But there are many interactions that are minute and overlooked, but if you look close enough you’ll begin to realize their occurrences.  

Tides prneude a vital exchange between the ocean and land, in one way that may be unexpected. Marine snails are crucial players in their ecosystems and their shells can often be seen under the waves. But as the ocean redistributes resources, empty shells can end up on land, scattered on beaches. Here, not only are they beautiful finds during a walk on the beach, they are also of ecological importance. Terrestrial hermit crabs use these shells as homes because shells large enough for a hermit crab are hard to come by on land. Hermit crabs inhabit these marine snail shells and burrow into them, thinning out the walls to make more room for themselves as they grow, and making more space to carry eggs in the shell (up to 1,000 eggs!). 

As the crab grows too large for the shell, it must find another, but modifying snail shells takes a lot of effort and crab prefers to use a shell that has been hollowed out already. The really fascinating part of this is that when crabs want to change shells they will gather with other crabs, usually groups of 3 hermit crabs will attract a congregation of dozens of others. The crabs will then form somewhat of a line from largest to smallest and wrench the larger crab from its shell, taking for themself. The largest crab is often left without a shell and must quickly find one. This is an amazing example of the sociality of crabs and the way the ocean helps facilitate this exchange. So the next time you see a marine snail while diving, just think about the long lifecycle the shell could go through!

Trip Report – Live Aboard Scuba Diving in Belize

Belize Adventurers Photo

The group aboard the Belize Sun Dancer

The Belize Sundancer Adventurers are on their way back to Houston, they are all sad to see their week of fun and adventures being replaced by emails and text messages.  (@#$%& Internet).  But despite the return of reality.  the trip was awesome with 26 dives, and over 35 hours of bottom time for all!!!

Looking back on the week there were some fun things and some memorable notes.  Karen loved her new second strobe, Steve loved his new strobe and tey both have the photos tp [rpve it.  Mike promised to have an awesome YouTube video for us of fish and divers including a feeding octopus on one of the night dives. ( You will have to wait for a future post to see this one — video takes a little time to assemble.)

 Zaide once again ran out of socks to lend everyone…thanks Z!!! (Alex will be stocking up on socks so everyone can have a pair.)  Gordon helped the new divers find their way back to the boat so they could lose track of boat “bus” stop and just enjoy the fish while Kris helped refresh Ann’s memory by looking in her logbook to see if they were correct that they had met the Cpatain, Eddy, on a past trip when he was the dive master of the Bay Island Aggressor when it was moved to Belize especially for our group.

Thinking about Half Moon Wall I found it even more beautiful than I remembered it from my last dive here in 2003.  Sofie arrived with only 6 dives and became an Advanced Open Water Diver on the trip!! Congratulations Sofie!!!  Steve completed his 100th  dive and Bill his 300th dive.  And speaking of Bill, he & Debbie learned to really like their new full face masks.  Bill was even hear to comment that Debbie did not talk as much as he thought she would but he was happy for the communications device when the shark went by; Bill didn’t miss it while he was taking photos of blennies.

Barbara and Barney were first in the water on all of the  dives save for one and met their goal of photographing spotted eagle rays.  Rich was awarded the best buddy for a photographer and he and Steve prompted Ann to offer a Marine Life Id course while on board.

Two cylinder man, John, and Sharkbait Karen were able to finish Ann’s fish-id check list on one dive, at 30 feet under the boat without mneung more than two feet.  Great Lion Fish Hunter Jess assisted by Mike suggessfully removed 35 lionfish from the reefs.  Steve commented that there were more little fish this year and less lion fish.  An autompsy of the lionfish showed why….their favorite meals were sergeant majors, juvineele runners, and gobies.

Chef Jerry feed us wonderful local Belzian dishes, fresh fish or stuffed pork chops, peanut butter chocolate chips bars, fluffy rich cheese cake, and even turkey dinner.  Karim, John Eddie and Jerry lead the dives, photographed the fish and the guests, and waited at the ladder for up to an hour for each guest to get out of the water after leading dives just to help take off our fins and hand up equipment.  Waiting at the “bus stop” for the hang bar to swing was almost as much fun the ride the bar for the safety stop.

The comment after tubing sums up the week: “Where are we going next year?”   This says it all…great time, good friends, aweomse crew, memorable vacation.

My only comment is why wait until next year?

Eric Keibler is in the News

cayman newspaperEric Keibler and Oceanic Ventures made the newspaper in Grand Cayman this morning!

The Cayman Compass publised Eric’s photograph and a note about the upcoming Rebreather Scuba Diving Event in Houston on March 29-April 1, 2012.

See the post here.

We hope everyone in the Houston area will join us for a unique evnt which featuers rebreather trials in the pool, presentations by Leon Scamahorn, CEO of Inner Space Systems and dinner with Leon on Saturday evening.

Form more information, please email Eric.

Jules Verne

Underwater explorers like me owe a lot to the novelist Jules Verne, who was born 183 years ago. Google honored him with one of their “doodles,” but in that doodle is a clue to Verne’s greatness – it’s an image that reminds you of the electric submarine, the Nautilus, from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

google verne 300x117 Jules Verne

When Verne’s words were published in 1869, electric submarines didn’t exist – they were just something out of his imagination. As National Geographic wrote, Verne also predicted that news wouldn’t just come from newspapers, but would be “spoken to subscribers,” in the way that radio and television news happens today. He thought of that in a story that was published nearly thirty years before the first radio broadcast.

The Verne list of firsts goes on. In 1865, in From the Earth the Moon, he thought there could be such a thing as a solar-powered spacecraft, and of course he wrote about traveling to the moon long before the first astronaut got there. He even thought of skywriting, videoconferencing, the Taser, and landing a spaceship in the ocean for a “splashdown.”

The mention of water brings us back to the ocean, and the visionary thoughts of Verne make it possible for me to do what I do today – explore the hidden depths and the distant lands that I want to share with you. Verne didn’t have any engineering training at all, just a lot of imagination. That’s all you need to come along on an adventure with me. My polar bear expedition to the high arctic has an April 17 departure and there are just two spaces left. Will you join me?

[If you would like to Join Amos on one of his Big Animal adventures, you can send Dive Mom a note or contact Amos directly.  Be sure to tell him that you read about his trips here.]

Preplanning a Scuba Diving Silhouette Photograph

Photograph by Eric Keibler - PenetrationPenetration

© Eric V. Keibler

Here is a natural light photograph taken in a cargo hold in Truk Lagoon.  While the shot may look completely natural, it was set-up prior to getting in the water.  Todd Emons and I decided to go in the water together to take some photographs of one another in various locations on the ship.  

Todd works on the Odyssey so he is very familiar with the wrecks and had some ideas of what shots might look good in this wreck. This type of local knowledge helps you to capture photographs that you might otherwise miss.  Of course, you still have to do everything to take the image but setting up the shot can make things easier.  You need to discuss the general sight and then make a plan with your dive buddy.  It is easier to discuss what you want to do on the surface rather than underwater.  Working with a model can be quite challenging underwater and having a plan before you go in makes it much simplier.

To take this shot, I swam to the lower portion of the cargo hold.  While getting in position, it was important not to kick up the bottom or dislodge too much debris from the ceiling because the debris would ruin the shot.  I set the camera on manual and set the camera to properly capture the blue light throwing everything else into shadows.  After everything was set, I signaled Todd who was perched at the lip of the hold and he began to swim toward the camera being careful not to shine his light in the direction of the camera.  You can see just a small beam coming from the light but because the hold was so large, and the backlight so strong, his light had little effect in the final image.

Also notice that while Todd is the subject of the shot, he is not in the center of the image but rather is in the top third of the picture.  In general, it is more pleasing to the eye if the subject is not centered but rather offset into another quadrant.  We call this division the rule of thirds which is a compositional tool.  Look for a better discussion of this “Rule” in another post on composition.

Remember, when taking silhouette shots, it is important to make sure that you keep the meter reading set for the backlight and not let the camera adjust to the target swimming towards you. 

Camera Specifications: Canon 5D, fitted with a 17mm-40mm lens at 20mm, f4.0 at 1/25 sec, ISO 640

Between Scuba Dives – Tips for Flower Photography

Start early in the day – Before the sun heats up the land there is usually far less wind, causing blur. Also, there is often dew on the flowers (or frost in winter), which can add another dimension to your pictures.

Photographs in the Sun - Flowers look great in the sun with the naked eye, but neither film nor digital can cope with the increased contrast. Overcast conditions are usually best, colors then saturate and your pictures will still look really bright, but even more colorful. There are exceptions to this though – for example, sunlight can create dark shadows behind your sunlit subject, creating an excellent non-distracting background.  If you are going to take flower pictures in sunlight, try using a polarizing filter to reduce glare and enhance the colors. For best color results, shoot blue or violet flowers early in the morning, yellows in mid-morning or mid-afternoon and reds in late afternoon.   – Place a diffusion screen between the flower you are photographing and the sun. You can completely block the sun and put your flower in shade, then redirect some light back on the flower with a reflector. This reflector can be a commercially made reflector or just something reflective like a white T-shirt or a piece of foam core (also try gold or silver reflectors). Another photographic technique would be to use fill flash.  If your camera has an automatic fill flash function then give it a try.  Experiment with the lighting ratio if your camera will let you change the flash output.  Having the flowers backlit by either the sun or an off-camera flash will brighten and highlight flower petals. 

Use Lower ISO settings on your Digital Camera - To get the lowest noise, (similar to grain in film) most digital cameras work best at ISO 200, so use this setting and a tripod for best results.

Control your depth of field – If you are photographing a single flower with a busy background then use a wide aperture to selectively focus on the flower and blur out the background. Conversely, if you are photographing a field of flowers the use a smaller aperture setting to bring most, if not all the flowers into focus.  If your camera has a depth of field preview then this is the time to use it.  To blur your backgrounds, use a large aperture (small number like f5.6) to avoid distracting backgrounds. Using your camera’s depth of field preview feature is the best way to ensure that you’ve blurred the background – and still got enough of the flower in focus

Spot focus - The normal focus mode of most digital cameras is some sort of average focus mode.  That means that the camera will try to look at an area and base the focus on an area of what it sees.  It’s better for close up photography to put the camera into spot focus mode, this will allow you to see exactly what the camera will be focusing on.

Multiple photographs – Set up your first shot to include the whole flower then concentrate on the details of the flower that attract your eye. Focus on the color or small details of the flower.  Photograph your flowers from different angles. Shoot straight down, from the side, from the underneath, just change it up a little.  Shoot horizontal and vertical.  Position yourself low to the ground to give the perspective of the flowers.  If you kneel or lie down on the same level as the subject, the flowers will appear larger in the photograph, and they will fill up more of the frame. The low perspective also keeps you from shooting the tops of your subjects’ heads and making the flowers look small in the photos.


Use a tripod - getting close increases the chance of camera shake, so it’s best to use a tripod whenever possible. It also slows down the picture-taking process, which means you have more time to concentrate on the composition
Shoot RAW format files - If you have a camera that will allow you this option. You can only get the most from your pictures by shooting RAW – the highest quality.  For Cameras without RAW File Option, use the highest quality JPEG that your camera allows you to choose. You can usually find this setting somewhere in the menu screens. If your camera has a screen with a histogram (the histogram is the little graph looking thing on the menu screen), always view the screen after your first shot and at the beginning of every series of shots with the same subject. The most computerized matrix meters can’t always get the correct exposure. One of the major advantages with shooting digital: you can see what you have right on the site, and, you can see exactly if you have obtained all of the information available simply by looking at the histogram. A good histogram will have the whole curve within the confines of the box, and not have most of the data up on one side or the other of the box. Especially avoid going over the edge of the right side of the box. That means you have lost the data in the lighter parts of your subject and you can never get it back.

DIGITAL Storage Cards ‘FILM’ – This consists of CF (CompactFlash) or the smaller SD (Secure Digital) cards. These can be used over and over again indefinitely. After you upload your full card to your computer you should ‘Reformat’ the card INSIDE the camera for the next batch as opposed to just deleting the files. Reformatting leads to less storage errors in the future.  CompactFlash cards are basically faster and larger capacity than SD cards.  If you have a choice in your camera, choose CompactFlash. They are priced based on write speed, the faster the more expensive. Write speed isn’t all that important for flower photography. Use multiple cards, because you don’t want all of your eggs in one basket, right? 200 full RAW images per card is a good standard to use.

Scuba Diving from the Dumaguete Pier in the Philippines

Topside, this was the most unimpressive dive site I’d ever seen, with docked cargo ships and unpleasant noises and smells of industrial activity. Descending to the sand at about 20 feet did not prneude much inspiration as we were greeted by some rusted cans and a baby’s diaper (used, apparently).  I was left wondering why the boatload of experienced divers and divemasters was so keen on this site.

Dumaguete is on the Bohol Sea in Negros Oriental, Philippines, approximately 30 hours from Houston via Honolulu, Guam and an overnight in Manila. It is an absolutely fabulous dive location, at the northern portion of the “Coral Triangle”, the region of the greatest coral reef biodiversity in the world, and therefore well worth the arduous trip from Texas.

False Cleaner FishThe pier at Dumagute was no exception; it turned out to be the richest site of photo opportunities and encounters with weird and wonderful creatures in Negros Oriental. In this photo I was lucky to capture some very interesting behavior between 2 similar looking fish species, and equally fortunate to have Marco Inocencio from Atlantis Dive Resort interpret the activities. According to Marco, the larger fish in the hole is a false cleanerfish (Aspidontus taeniatus), while the two smaller fishes that are shown in full view are cleaner wrasses (Labroides dimidiatus). The larger fish is a mimic; it’s actually a member the blenny family who is posing as a cleanerfish in order to take bites of skin and flesh from other fishes looking for a cleaning. The false cleanerfish is distinguished from the cleaner wrasses by its head, which ends in a “nose” with its mouth slightly under and behind it while the heads of the cleaner wrasses terminate with their mouths. If you look closely enough you’ll see the characteristic pouty lips of the false cleanerfish, presumably because she isn’t much appreciated for her clever disguise and food-gathering methods!