I left Dumaguete with fine memories, bagging lots of photos of an amazing critter. On the morning of 29th two jeepneys got us to the airport and, without any troubles or much of the delay, we left the island.

When we landed in Manila few people from our group went to the hotels because the next day they were flying back home. The rest of us met a few chaperones from the Crystal Blue resort. We loaded two vans and headed south, to Anilao, the place of our next adventures. For the first 30 minutes, I was trying to watch passing by the scenery, but the roads were congested and I quickly tired of a monotones driving, so I shut my eyes, reminiscing about amazing animals I’ve seen in Dumaguete. Little did I know that I am just about to enter the “Empire of Nudibranchs”.

Risbecia tryoni

Actually, Mike Bartick, the man who devotes 9 months per year to stay and dive at Crystal Blue, calls this place the “Nudibranch Capital of the World”. And who am I to dispute the validity of his statement if just in 4 days I was able to shoot 50 different species of sea slugs. By the way, due to a brief respiratory sickness I couldn’t get back into the water for a more than a day. So I missed 4 dives and who knows how many species of nudis.

Crystal Blue Resort

Three hours later van’s nose deepened and we skated down to the foot of the steep mountain. Few buildings of the resort seemed tower on top of each other, outlining mountain terrain.

Crystal Blue Resort

I stayed on the top floor and cursed myself each time I forgot something back in the room, there were lots steps to conquer. But everything has its pluses, and as a reward I had a pretty awesome view. Crystal is located on the west side of the island, so each cloudless evening we were treated to a spectacular sunset.

It was clouded evening

Dining area reminded to me a huge open balcony with food-island located right in the middle. All tables are set close to the edges, so everyone could enjoy a beautiful view and scrumptious meal simultaneously. Normally I don’t dwell on such topic as a food. Food, as I understand, is a fuel that gets you diving. But it would be unfair not to mention the quality of the cooking at the resort. In short – food was surprisingly nice. For each lunch and dinner, we had tastefully prepared 3 choices of the main course. Soup, fresh salad and yummy desserts were also part of our daily diet. I’d like to thank all who took such a good care of our taste buds 😉
Also, there is a wi-fi at the restaurant. Connection is not going to set a new speed record, but you’ll be able to get your precious emails.

Dining area

Camera room located below food court and just a few steps from the showers. Each photographer gets his/her station, outfitted with shelves and electrical outlets. It was very convenient to work in such setting. Who ever design this room thought of everything.

Camera room

All related to actual diving is kept at lower landing, just a few steps from the boats. At one site, there are a few separate tubs to wash BCDs, suits, masks, etc. On opposite site – rinsing baths for photo gears.

Camera room

We had to set our gears just once and then we only climb on the boat, where everything was ready to dive. The boat crew worked as a well-oiled machine. Before the dive they helped to don our gears and were careful handling heavy cameras after we jump into the water. After the dive they distributed towels, snacks and warm drinks.

Bangka ready for the next excursion

Here I’d like to say a few words about our dive guide – Herbert. I dove with many guys doing a similar job and they all were just great. But I did not yet see a guy working as hard as Herbert, trying to give us every opportunity to make the best shot. Thank you, Herbert, for being so attentive. I’m planning to get back and I sincerely hope to dive with him again and very soon.

Diving

Once Andy told me an intriguing story about the Philippines. If I’m not mistaken, it was a group of scientists that arrived at Anilao to explore the marine biodiversity of the region. And the gist of the story was how they were pleasantly surprised to discover an enormous amount never seen before nudibranchs. So, my goal was to follow the suit and try to find many sea slugs as possible. I shared my ambition with Herbert and he said that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

Mushroom Coral Pipefish

After 2 morning dives we would return to the hotel for lunch and then we were back on the boat for the afternoon excursion. Night dives were most thrilling, lots of nudibranchs were out to hunt and it was easier to spot moving object.

Hypselodoris emma

I vividly remember as Laura and I dove on the same night as we arrived to the resort. And as we found, in my opinion, the most spectacular sea slug of the whole trip. It looked like a small, yellow, blue and white soft coral that moved quite rapidly in search of its prey.

Marionia sp. 2

Actually, Marionia sp. 2 changed its directions so often that I could only take a few shots before I had to reposition myself. I spent quite some time “dancing” around Marionia trying to get a better picture. But each time I was checking the image it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Marionia had blended too well with the surroundings. I was so frustrated that at some point I was thinking to move the rock with nudibranch and place it against something that could’ve give me a better contrast. But I did not, and it happened to be a wise decision. I noticed as Marionia shut a small cloud of some kind of substance, which instantly dissolved in the water. Then, as I shared my observation with others, Mike told me that Marionia possesses some nasty toxin, which, upon contacting with the skin (even through the glove), can cause a whole week worth of uncomfortable itching.

Marionia sp. 2

Halgerda batangas

After downloading and sifting through all my pictures, I counted 28 Marionia shots, but found none I would be happy with. Oh well, another reason to come back to Crystal Blue 😉 Almost all our dives were “muck-dives” and not too far from the shore. I had a foot long metal stick and often it would completely disappeared into thick layer of sediment. So we had to be very careful not to agitate the bottom.

The few times we wandered to the smaller islands to explore local reefs. One called Sombrero and the other – Caban. Some advised to use a wide lens, but I kept my macro. The reefs were nice, plenty of marine life bustling about healthy corals. In some areas, corals were thickly covered with yellow sea cucumbers (Colochirus robustus). We went down to about 85 feet and found the pygmy seahorse, perfectly resembling the large sea fan it was attached to.

Pygmy seahorse

Our group was so small, just 5 divers, that we had one dive guide. Nevertheless, it wasn’t such a bad arrangement, we all had an ample time to get a good shot. Water was calm, warm, about 82’F, and mostly clear enough for wide photography. And we always had fun before, during and after the dive.

Conclusion

Of course, there were lots of other small animals besides nudibranchs; pygmy cuttlefish, ornate ghost pipefish, lots of imperial shrimps, noodle pipefish, squids, shrimps, octopus, rhinopia (I did not see one myself yet), cool looking lion fish and… lots and lots of animals with the word “”undescribed” attached to their generic name.

 Ornate ghost pipefish

I ended up photographing about 50 different species of nudis. I spotted only 3 on my own, the rest of ‘em… well, you can guess. I am definitely planning to come back to the world’s capital of the nudibranchs, so I can dramatically expand my growing photo library of its dwellers. (I was seriously thinking to leave my wetsuit at Crystal Blue)

Peacock shrimp

First of all I’d like to thank Andrew Martinez for putting together such a great trip. Andy, it was well organized (as always) and you picked an awesome destinations. Also I wish to express my deep appreciation to each employee at Crystal Dive resort for taking such a good care of us. A special thanks to the boat crew and to Herbert for helping finding all kinds of sea creatures. And Mike, thank you for sharing with me some of your extensive photo skills and helping us to identify our findings.

Photo Gears

Camera – Canon 5D Mark III.
I am very pleased with the results. Solid, reliable performance, long lasting battery.
But pictures taking by its direct competitor – Nikon D800 will give you a better dynamic range. Plus D800 records images at 36 megapixels per shot, versus 5D’s 22, so you to crop more and zoom closer.

Underwater housing – Ikelite.
It is my second Ikelite housing and all I can say that I do no regret picking this particular manufacturer. Genius is simplicity.
It is very reliable, lightweight and incredibly durable unit.
The housing can be assembled and ready for a submersion in minutes.
Almost all buttons on a housing are at the location as on a camera. (Since it is made of transparent material you can see and read all labels)
Integrated TTL with plus and minus buttons on a back of the housing. (Awesome features. Will help you quickly adjust light output)
And again thanks to the special polycarbonate material you can see if o-ring is sealed. Also you can monitor whole camera during the dive.

Substrobes – 2 Ikelite DS – 161 with NiMH Battery Pack.
I travel with four battery packs and two smart chargers. Even batteries are charged to full capacity in few hours, often there is not enough time between dives. So after two boat dives I swap batteries and I’m ready to go.
Very quick recycle time.
I picked DS-161 because these strobes have built in video light and I was thinking to use it as a spotlight. But in reality it does not work. For such purpose, there must be a separate unit.
But video light can be used as backup light during night or cave diving.
(BTW, Ikelite now offers Li-ion Battery packs with twice as much number of shots per charge)

Spotlight – Sola 1200.
If you want problem-free focusing, then don’t dive without spotlight.
My unit a bit funky when it comes to charging it. Sometimes after an hour of diving it shows solid green (fully charged) as soon as I plug it in.
Otherwise, it works like a charm.
It also has the red light. Very useful during night dives.
Also can be used as backup light for night, cave or Saguenay diving 😉

Lenses – Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM for my macro shots and Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM for wide photography.
So far I am very happy with both.

SubSee Magnifier.
I use +5 magnifier and corresponding adapter.
If you like macro photography then you’ll love having it. Every time I use macro lens I attach SubSea +5 to the port.
Construction of the adapter leaves a lot to be desired. I had to modify my adapter so I could actually use it.

Medium size storage bin with the lid.
It was an idea of Matt Wills and I can’t stress enough multipurpose and indispensability of a such seemingly unimportant bagatelles.
I wrap wide port with my t-shirts and pack it into the bin (it fits perfectly inside the luggage). Its walls provide extra security.
On the boat it keeps everything in one place – assembled housing, flashes, stick, flashlight, water cup etc.

Safe diving and lots of new, exciting discoveries to all.