Archive for the Category »SCUBA «

Tickling The Feather Star Open for Critters

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See the Clingfish and its pattern?

Crinoids are what divers know as Feather Stars, sporting feathery arms that sway back and forth towards the centre of the body. One of the easiest subjects to photograph, crinoids are prehistoric animals in the class of echinoderms with male and female species found clinging onto coral reef cliffs often asleep in the day or actively feeding at night. The challenge is to photograph the tenants that the Crinoid itself hosts. It’s important to note that no photograph is worth abusing the animal for so please handle your subjects with care as you would a live animal on land. Crinoids are somewhat sticky and brittle. You wouldn’t want to break any of their arms off in your quest to shoot the shrimp within so keep your buoyancy neutral and coax the star to do a grand opening for you. I will teach you how.

After witnessing so many dive guides using their swizzle sticks to roughly ‘part the arms’ of the Crinoid to show divers what it holds within, I felt compelled to write this article to educate the many of you who might follow the bad habit of disturbing nature for your pictures. I practice a minimal disturbance to no disturbances in all my shots. They are never manipulated, nor had my subjects tossed in mid water to get them flaring, fearful or angry and I implore all of you to nurture good habits. The ability to boast of your shots is in the way you photograph them, not how the shot was obtained with manipulation. When you understand marine animal behaviour, you will get your incredible shots. Having spent the last 17 years teaching and 12 years of photographing underwater, I am moving towards educating the diver of the habits that you should possess to encounter your subjects.

What you need in your gear:-
1) Dive equipment of course.
2) Carabiners/loops/holsters to streamline your dangling hoses (SPG/Octopus/reels/SMBs)
3) LED torch
4) Dive computer to record depth and time you see the animal to relocate it next time.
5) No gloves unless you are diving in 15? waters
6) Hood to keep your hair tucked away from curious octopuses
7) Any camera housed in respective cases
8) Marine life guide books

Pre-dive preparation:-
1) Clean your hands after you use sunblock
2) Secure all gadgets with lanyard in your pockets.
3) Identify the subject you want to shoot.
4) Decide with buddy how much time you want to spend on each subject and if you find your target, be considerate to allow your buddy to take shots as well.

It’s not what camera you have but your knowledge of marine life that would get you nearer to the animal. By knowing what your subject lives on and feeds on, you have already increased your chances of finding it. By knowing your reef, you would have access to the inhabitants if you know what feeds on what and when.

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The Shrimp also took on the colours and pattern of this Crinoid, Oxycomanthus Bennetti.


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Close-up crop of the shrimp.

The basis of not touching anything in your dive education has been the point of contention in dive circles as we see dive guides competing with one another to find elusive critters with their sticks/pointers and completely lifting the animal out of the sand even though it’s meant to be camouflaged. I found it deeply offensive and I usually stop following the guide to find my own interaction with critters when I am not the one guiding the trip. When marine scientists collect specimens for research, they can’t avoid touching. We are not scientists neither are we collecting any specimens but we want to document them and there would be some degree of touching (hence rule number 1 in pre-dive preparation is to have clean hands) but not to the point of harassing the animal.

Not all crinoids have critters within. There are several species that host them. One of my favourites is the Oxycomanthus bennetti. 9 out 10 animals that I find have ‘tenants’ within them! On this particular one, I found 3 different types of critters! They all form a symbiotic relationship with the host and even adapt to its colours and patterns. Two Clingfish, a shrimp and a crab (not displayed) were darting about as I got closer.

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There are 2 Clingfish in the picture and a shrimp. Can you spot them?

How do you get a Feather Star to open up its multiple arms for you? You only need to tap the spine of the arms gently & softly. As you begin tapping, be mindful that your neoprene suit doesn’t touch any of the brittle feathers or you might end up ripping the poor little thing apart. By tapping with your finger pads softly, it will begin to spread out. Your camera settings would have to be ready for the shot as you might only get one or two shots of the critters within. Set your focusing to Spot and metering to Centre-weighted. Crinoid will stay ‘open’ for you if it feels tickled in all its arms as long as you avoid touching the cilia (feathers). I use a drink stirrer with a ball tip to coax the critter (shrimp/crab/clingfish) into view from the opposite side carefully without touching the Crinoid. Once I get about 4 or 5 shots or a video if the subject is actively moving, mission is accomplished & I move on to other subjects on the reef. Minimal touching and absolutely no disturbance to the Crinoid. It will soon curl up to get back to sleep when it senses no threat.

For more on marine life and nature documentation, follow Pummkinography on Facebook or follow Pummkin on her trips!

Onboard Komodo Dancer – Learning Human Behaviour – Day 3 & 4

Dinners were always served in style. Sit down with a glass of wine as the first course is served by Rizal, who tirelessly wait on us. A purpose-built massive wooden table that acts as an emergency exit from the cabins below, had the capacity to fit 16 divers comfortably, 17 divers cosily. Captain Kassim set sail on the 2nd night towards Sumbawa islands & that’s when the real adventure had begun.

Sumbawa & Komodo islands seem to harbour some monstrous sized reef life and their pelagics are ginormous. Giant Trevallies are gigantic, Titan Triggerfish titanic, gargantuan Gorgonians that can wrap you twice over. The Napoleon Wrasse waltzes into schools declaring itself the emperor of the reef and Giant Groupers (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus) prance the neighbourhood without a trace, giving away its camouflage only when it moved. I was many a time, frightened by one in close proximity when I hovered to take pictures over the colourful terrain. The more vibrant cousin, the Coronation Trout (Variola louti), was more visible as it changes colours upon entering & leaving the reef, the prime reason for my decision to take more videos.

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By this time, everyone except Team Russia (language barrier), was warming up to one another around meal times as food had always been the centrepiece of conversations in Asian communities. Free access to the soda fridge meant I get to be sugar-powered by Coke after a nitrogen-loaded gawking session underwater. Again the swollen moon made everything explode, not sure if they got excited but I sure did when I caught the courtship ritual of the Trumpetfish at Padang Bai. Could it be that we would get to witness the spontaneous spawning of the reef at this time of the year? It’s hard to contain my joy…..

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Anticipating the view of the recently erupted Sangeang volcano that sent a 19km plume of ashcloud into the sky, eager beavers like us (Team China & Team Malaysia) continued to check our location with the map & GPS to see how far off we were & if there was a possibility to get near. The Captain expressed that he was not going to take the risk as molten lava can be seen miles away in the following nights. We were told to get a glimpse of it when we moved closer to Komodo.

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Team Austria had to be the walking pharmacy and most medically-equipped couple ever. On the first few days, they kindly whipped out a magic bottle of eardrops that dry out people’s ears as one member of Team Everything-Is-Wrong had gotten an ear infection. Very soon, Team Austria took out some Voltaren pills for one member of Team USA who had gotten a sprained ankle from an injury before she went onboard. She was also my lovely roommate! Her enthusiasm for muck dives was unquenchable as she voraciously searched the guidebooks after each dive for the things she had found.

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By that time, I was getting to know everyone except one aloof member of Team China who doesn’t speak English & required his diving buddy to interpret dive briefs to him. A man of few words, he was exceptionally expressive underwater, gesticulating to his awesome interpreter buddy who happened to be an incredible photographer. I think I like him already! We can sign language! And so it was that I would speak Cantonese to him & he would speak Mandarin to me……..bliss!

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Onboard Komodo Dancer – Day 1 & 2 in Bali

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It takes an amazing mix of divers with a love of the ocean to traverse across continents to get to Bali and embark on a glorious 10 days of diving. The idea of crossing treacherous seas to dive pristine sites usually out of reach to common folks, MV Ombak Biru or known as Komodo Dancer, was built to be like a Dutch Schooner. Sailing off Tanjung Benoa Port in Bali with her crew of 16, the same number of divers from Switzerland, Austria, Russia, Canada, USA, China & Malaysia went aboard to experience 5 star diving.

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Our Cruise Director, Lea Jorg, the head of dive operations on board, prepared us with a comprehensive dive briefing detailing the zones where we were to assemble, gear up & stow away our personal dive gear after each dive. With the aid of a very experienced team of Divemasters & boat crew, dive sites were plotted with near accuracy, giving divers concise plans to move along even if the snail-paced photographers like me lose sight of the group. The sites map were drawn daily by Gedeh, a local DM with 6 years of experience onboard Komodo Dancer. His knowledge of the dive sites astounded me when the creatures & critters mentioned during dive briefing were actually seen on each of the dives at almost any turn of the corner!

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Expecting something spectacular in the midst of a waning gibbous (transition of a full moon to half moon), our maiden dive was done at Padang Bai, East Bali, under the jetty lined with annoyed anglers sending out invisible daggers at us as we descended with our GoPros, Nauticams, wondercams & whatnots. Being told that it was a muck dive, a few divers who were kitted with macro lenses were surprised to see prolific growth on the structural pillars of the jetty, teeming with sponges, soft corals, tunicates & Gorgonian seafans. The colours that greeted us was such a sight to behold, left me in awe as I scanned every centimetre of the encrusted walls for nudibranchs & invertebrates. Gedeh hijacked us to show us a huge Lacy Rhinopias that he had found, a lifer to many who hadn’t seen the clumsy-looking brightly coloured weedy specie of scorpionfish before. Swirling schools of Fusiliers, suspended Sweetlips & basking devilfish on the sand made the jetty somewhat of an exciting fish underpass for divers! The hazard is, of course, getting hooked by any of the anglers above, which one of the Canadians discovered when she felt the hook tug on her ponytail!

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We redescended after a hot breakfast served ala carte when we couldn’t get enough of this peculiar marine refuge equipped with glass domes on our ports to get our fill. The Captain sailed as soon as everyone returned to a spread of tropical fruits & Indonesian buffet lunch!

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Category: SCUBA  3 Comments

Taking Your Smartphone Underwater

Spending in access of RM1,000 for your smartphone, warrants a smarter solution to protect it especially if you are going out to sea. How often have you been caught in a situation where you wished your phone (which has doubled up as your camera) was waterproof or robust? Salt water is especially corrosive & keeping it inside a big dry bag with all your other stuff may cause you to miss precious moments around you so how do you protect your phone from accidental slips into the sea or splashes that might short-circuit it?

I got a chance to take my Galaxy Note underwater (before acquiring the Sony Xperia Z1) & I tested the Dicapac DCP-WP-C2 casing that allowed me to operate the touchscreen whilst in the water. My favourite online camera shop, Shashinki, sells it for only RM80 & delivered right to your doorstep! There’s a selection of Green, White, Blue, Yellow & Pink casing & it’s no brainer which one I picked! So I decided to take it skin-diving with me!

I snorkelled to where the reefs sloped to about 8 metres deep & all the while, I can operated the touchscreen through the thick bubble atmosphere the casing created when I locked the zip-lock top. The air pocket created space between the screen & the casing. On the surface, I could still touch the ‘shutter button’ on the screen but once I nose-dived down to 8 metres depth, the pressure flattened the air space & I couldn’t ‘touch’ the screen again. The casing is rated to 10 metres, which to most users, is more than enough waterproofing. Not a problem as I could turn it to video & take screenshots later. Little did I know that I had filmed the video upside down because I was inverted! Here are some shots taken with the smartphone in the Dicapac casing in the water below the surface & at 8 metres.

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Just adjusted the levels of the picture, no other edits.

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Birds eye view from below the surface.

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The house reef in Tenggol!

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See my fins beneath the surface?

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At the drop-off, I managed to take a picture….

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Yours truly staring at the phone…..

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With the supplied lanyard, I never have to worry about misplacing my phone on the boat & if you drop it in the sea, it floats!

P.S. – Also good for situations where you run the risk of getting sprayed by water cannons…… 😉

Check out their range of Dicapac casings that fit your smartphone!

If You Missed Reef Rescuers, Fret Not!

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Did you get to watch it? Wasn’t that a great documentary about the clean-up at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park organised by Astro Kasih? Organising a clean-up of the ocean is a monumental task as I recall the number of clean-up projects I’ve been involved with in the past. Check out my introduction about Astro Kasih’s Reef Rescuers here: http://pitch.pummkin.net/?p=3675. Oceans get littered with unwanted debris, many become mistaken for food by birds, turtles & other sea life causing premature deaths from choking. A plastic bag can be mistaken as jellyfish, one of turtles’ favourite foods. Apart from being a hazard to sea creatures, plastic bags & other debris an choke reefs by blocking sunlight that facilitates photosynthesis in the symbiotic algae living in the corals.

Really, you should make it a point to catch this documentary to be better informed marine-enthusiast & contribute to a better world. The record-breaking effort will be shown at these times below:

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Repeats on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551)

Friday 31st May at 1pm

Sunday 2nd June at 5pm

Tuesday 4th June at 7pm

Wednesday 5th June 12am

Wednesday 5th June 1pm

Repeats on Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571)

Friday 31st May at 1pm

Sunday 2nd June at 5pm

Remember, if you have any ideas or suggestions for the Astro Kasih team, share your thoughts on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/astrokasihmalaysia.

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Congratulations to everyone who is enjoying a new GoPro camera courtesy of Astro Kasih!

Don’t Miss Reef Rescuers’ Airing Times

Are you looking forward to the screening of Reef Rescuers tomorrow? I have! Have you been participating in the Astro Kasih Reef Rescuers ‘7 Days of Sharing’ Facebook quiz? Congratulations to the lucky participants who got their hands on a GoPro camera, you can express your creativity in shooting terrestrial & underwater life now! If you still haven’t got yourself one yet, there’s still time to participate today and tomorrow! I’ve been telling everyone about the fantastic effort by Astro Kasih to clean up unwanted debris in the sea and how you can share in the excitement. It’s all HERE!

Having planned my viewing party for tomorrow’s Premiere of Reef Rescuers on Thursday, 30th May at 7pm, I want my students to know how their activities can impact the environment as it’s a perfect documentary to show new divers how to take up stewardship of the ocean wherever they dive. Debris can choke the reefs and the reef is a home to many species of life with each of them depending on another for survival.

If you can’t get your fellow divers to watch with you, send them an invite through the Reef Rescuers Facebook Events page at https://www.facebook.com/events/320722658059225/. And if you can’t make it tomorrow night, do not fret for there are several repeats as scheduled below:

Repeats on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551)

  • Friday 31st May at 1pm
  • Sunday 2nd June at 5pm
  • Tuesday 4th June at 7pm
  • Wednesday 5th June 12am
  • Wednesday 5th June 1pm

Repeats on Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571)

  • Friday 31st May at 1pm
  • Sunday 2nd June at 5pm

Till next time, I’m off to stock up on Pretzels & Nuts for my viewing party at my sister’s place. Enjoy the show tomorrow!

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Astro Kasih’s Beautiful Malaysia – Reef Rescuers Programme

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Divers surfacing after a round of cleaning up underwater.

Ever wondered what’s it like to have a little underwater camera that produces megapixels of high definition videos? Beginning on 24 May 2013, you can have a go at the Astro Kasih Reef Rescuers ‘7 Days of Sharing’ Facebook quiz that runs until 30 May 2013 to get selected for a GoPro camera giveaway & there’s one given away daily! In bringing you the longest underwater clean up, held at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park off the shores of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Astro Kasih team organised a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ attempt from 6th – 13th April 2013 – a total of 7 days or 168 hours – the same length of time that the quiz will run! The initiative was started to create greater awareness on marine conservation – with the help of 134 volunteer divers from Malaysia and across the world, working at 14 dives sites around the park, in an epic, non-stop 168-hour, seven-day underwater clean-up mission.

Astro Kasih’s Beautiful Malaysia programme is a volunteer initiative undertaken by Astro employees for the betterment and advancement of the community that we live in. Being one of Astro’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives under its environment pillar its main focus is to raise awareness on preserving the environment with community engagement for environmental activities. You can give your comments & suggestions as they welcome ideas on the Astro Kasih Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/astrokasihmalaysia.

Astro Kasih Beautiful Malaysia includes a coral transplanting project in 2011 at Ribbon Reef in Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Sabah – an effort that achieved certification by the Malaysia Book of Records with 777 corals transplanted. To learn more, just surf over to www.astrokasih.org/beautifulmalaysia. The purpose of Astro Kasih’s initiative is to help the many underprivileged villages and children in Sabah since 2009. Their activities include building and repairing amenities and infrastructure and contributing to the improvement of educational resources for the kids.

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Volunteer divers posing with their haul.

You may not have been aware of this record-breaking attempt, hence, a 30-minute television special showing an insider perspective of what it takes to plan and execute such a huge marine conservation project will be aired on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551) and Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571) on Thursday 30th May at 7pm. This is a collaborative effort by Astro with Discovery Network to produce Reef Rescuers. Watching it will not only get you into the charms of the purpose of Astro Kasih but to get you involved in this upcoming premiere of Reef Rescuers, through a special quiz!

In that duration each morning you will be given a chance to a multiple choice question that you must answer by 7pm on the same day. You only need to submit your real name, email address and phone number for authentication purposes should they need to call you about the giveaway. Last but not least, you’re needed to spread the word on the Reef Rescuers programme and quiz through a Facebook status update that says “I just took the Reef Rescuers quiz about the world’s longest underwater clean-up in Sabah, Malaysia. Take the quiz today and get selected for a GoPro! Catch the 30-minute documentary on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551) and Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571), premieres 30 May, Thursday, 7pm.” If your sharing can help educate someone about the ocean’s reefs, imagine how much destruction you can help prevent! Share away & save a reef! After that, check back on the Astro Kasih Facebook page after 10am the next day to know if you’ll be getting your hands on a GoPro camera courtesy of Astro Kasih. It is easier to receive notifications if you click ‘Like’ on the page.

If you are a diver, don’t stop there! Watch it with your fellow divers to see if you get ideas from the Reef Rescuers to safeguard your patch of reef! Connect & invite them on the Reef Rescuers Facebook Events page at https://www.facebook.com/events/320722658059225/. Remember to use the Red Button on your Astro remote control during viewing to get more info, chat on Twitter, see an info feed, or check out their other giveaways.

After you surf over to join the quiz, you can also look around for ways to keep Malaysia green or engage in sustainable living. If you prefer to check out the best places for scuba diving or cool places to travel to, have a look at the conversations on the Discovery Southeast Asia Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DiscoverySEAsia. There’s always something cool to discover every day!

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The Astro Kasih’s team and the divers commemorating their extraordinary achievement with a group photo. Amongst them is my NAUI Course Director, Michael Tong!

Seashell Underwater Housing for Your iPhone & Camera

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Imagine being able to take your camera with you no matter what the weather is like. On days when you want to take snapshots of your trip to the beach or the waterfalls, you no longer need to worry about getting wet or destroying your gadget. You can even protect your camera when you go cycling, jungle trekking, kayaking or while attending wet festivals such as Songkran in Thailand and La Tomatina in Spain! Now there’s a manufacturer who has come out with a universal underwater housing for your compact camera as well as a dedicated housing for iPhone users. If you have brands of compact cameras like Nikon, Samsung, Sony, Canon, Panasonic, Olympic, Fujifilm, Leica, Casio, Sanyo, Ricoh, Pentax, Kodak, BenQ, Haier, Polaroid, Rollei, Yashica, GE then you would most definitely have your camera housed.

Configuration is quite simple but needs a little understanding of the structure of your camera & how it will fit inside your Seashell SS1 or SS2 housing. Generally, if you have a compact camera that has a protruding zoom lens, then go for the SS1. If your camera has a flat lens & a shutter closure, then get the SS2 housing. I needed a fuss-free option where I can keep a camera on me, so that I won’t have to miss any whaleshark sightings should I be conducting the Advanced Scuba Diver course or any other courses except entry level dive courses (which is prohibited in the standards to carry a camera). This housing fits snugly into my dive shorts pocket. I secure the lanyard to a carabiner which is clipped inside my pocket’s D-ring. The Pentax Optio RS1500 that I had won in the My Selangor Story 2011 blogging competition was a perfect candidate for this pretty housing. Since I have different cameras for different purposes, I use this as my back up underwater system.

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The fitting of the fishtails (silicon pads) was a bit tricky even with the supplied template that you are suppose to measure your camera against. I basically gauged which fishtail should cushion the bottom & applied some guesswork to which goes onto the side wall slots. Put them all into a ziplock bag to prevent losing them over time. They can be used again if you change cameras & need a re-fitting. After placing my camera inside, I took the sponge frame to fit over the display panel of the camera with the sticky side facing up before gently closing the door. Once it caught on, I pressed the sponge into place & voila! My casing is ready to go into the water!

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Here are some point & shoot pictures taken with it.

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During a night dive where my torch was my primary light that doubled up as my subject finder!

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A lionfish or two, lurking on the reef.


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A Chromodoris reticulata (nudibranch) at Sri Nakhoda, Tenggol.

Seashell is the world first Universal Water Proof Camera Case. Seashell can be configured to fit hundreds of different compact digital camera models. e.g. GE, Nikon, Sony, Canon, Panasonic, Olympic, Fujifilm, Leica, Casio, Sanyo, Ricoh, Pentax, Kodak, Samsung, BenQ, Haier, Polaroid, Rollei, Yashica and many more. You can now safely bring your camera to the beach, waterfalls, water themed parks & river cruise or lakes for swimming, and even to water festivals and not get it wet.
        

        Comes with the configuration kit.
        40m water-proof.
        Operate down to -10 degrees Celsius.
        1M Shock Proof.
        IP6X Dust Proof.
        Hard case design, provide better protection against shocks, dust and sand.
        Fashionable design with multiple colour options.

If you are interested to get one, please contact me via email at iam (at) pummkin (dot) net. Price for SS1 & SS2 is RM635.00 and for the SSi (iPhone4) is RM 575.00. Delivery within Klang Valley is RM10 only.

Shark & Yolanda Reef in Egypt

One of the most exhilarating dives I’ve had was in the Red Sea when I was in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Visibility exceeded 30m & water temperature was around 20 – 21 degrees Celsius, prompting me to wear a 5mm farmer jane wetsuit for protection. The initial shock as I entered the cold waters set all my senses into alert. My heartbeat fluttered for awhile but as soon as I saw how clear the water was, that apprehension turned to excitement. Wolfgang was my buddy & we went down to Shark & Yolanda Reef at Ras Mohamed National Park, which sat at approximately 15m – 30m of water. The wreck sits at 145m – 200m further below after the drop off & what’s left on the shallower bed is the cargo of bathtubs & water closets strewn all over.

The corals in the surrounding reef was amazing. Sunlight penetrated to more than 20m depth & with the help of strobes, I brought out the colours of the soft corals as we inched along towards the sunken cargo.

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There wasn’t a shark in sight. I was hoping to encounter at least a reef shark & was geared to film my first oceanic shark but they just didn’t appear when I was there. I could even get close to a Sea Perch without it flinching while I pressed the shutter button.

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Sea Perch.

The sight of bathtubs stacked together was quite nostalgic as my mind wandered to how I’d been raised taking herbal baths for all my ailments but to me, it was a time to frolic! Toilets & pipes were all over the place too, albeit encrusted with corals.

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It was interesting to see what we sit on with our bottoms at the bottom of the ocean & this WC having great growth prospects gave me a new sense of respect for them!

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An inverted WC!

This part of the cargo below has turned into a reef. Can you see the pipes & bathtub?

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Visibility was near perfect!

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Flying to Egypt was quite an experience. I flew UAE & had a stopover in Dubai. I will be planning another trip really soon as I’ve yet to see the SS Thistlegorm, sunk during World War Two. If you are planning a trip to the Red Sea, you can check out holidays to Egypt & request to dive with Diving & Discovery, awarded as the best dive centre in Sharm El-Sheikh!

Malaysia Becomes ISOs First Asian Country Venue Host!

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Here we are again, the ISO Standards Meeting. This time, with my other Malaysian delegates, Syed Abdul Rahman, Lawrence Lee, Michael & William Tong & Khatijah Hashim!

Returning from shooting in the jungle, I had to set my gear in motion for the bi-annual ISO Standards meeting on 28 & 29 June 2011, the one that the Ministry of Tourism sent me to Orlando for in October 2009. That trip gave me a chance to visit my all-time fantasy land of Magic Kingdom where all dreams do come true & to meet my family in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was decided then, that Egypt being the first to bid, would get to host first, thus, the Ministry sent me to Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt last December of 2010 & finally got to be the first Asian country to host a Working Group meeting!

I met up with Wolfgang, Martin, Mark, Steffen, Julie & Trond the night before the meeting to let them savour the best of Malaysian’s hawker fare at Lot 10. They tried our authentic Hokkien Mee, Cantonese Fried Kuey Teow, Pork Satay, Herbal Drinks, Yong Tow Foo & some other stuff but I was too busy trying to take panorama pictures to note what other stuff they had ordered.

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The panorama feature is in the Scene mode of the Samsung NX100!

In their invitation card for the welcoming dinner, the dress code specified was either Formal or Batik so I brought them batik-shopping in Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle! They were ever so enthusiastic to own a piece of our cultural heritage & the shopkeeper was so happy that he gave me silk handkerchief for bringing them there!

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Martin Denison tries on a silk batik while Trond & Steffen deliberate in the background.

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The gentlemen with their various try-outs!

In the day, for two consecutive days, the meeting proceeded as usual. Though not all the delegates were present, notably Deric Ellerby, my BSAC National Instructor who certified me as one in 1998.

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We convened at Renaissance Hotel.

Everyone got very excited as dinner time approached. Here we are, garbed in our batik!

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From left:- Steffen of Wales, Trond of Norway, Wolfgang of Italy, Mark of UK, yours truly, Peter of MSDA, Martin of Austria.

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Group photo before dinner.

All ready, we walked across from the hotel to Saloma Bistro right opposite, to the beating drumbeat of the kompang!

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The Ministry of Tourism put together an ensemble of cultural dances & the delegates had a great time participating on stage!

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Taken together with the Deputy Secretary General, Acting Director General, Director of the Industry Development Division of the Tourism Ministry.

The night ended with all smiles as the delegates prepared to return to their countries the following day. A few stayed on for the seminar at the dive expo & also for diving in our warm waters! Until the next meeting in December, I will continue to work with both Ministries for the development of the ISO Standards in Malaysia! 🙂

A Secret Wonder – Coral Bay, Western Australia

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Coral Bay is 155km south of Exmouth & one glance at the azure sea would tell you that this pristine marine park has more to offer than what meets the eye. Famed for its caravan parks & a handful of resorts in this little suburb by the sea, Coral Bay holds the world’s best kept secret in hosting the most diverse structures of coral colonies in the region! Who would have known that this sleepy suburb is the base to reach pristine dive sites? Colonies of corals that built mazes & fish condominiums, tiered mounts that mould into exotic framework piling into the foundations of the sea, this must be one of the best dives I’ve done (and I have done in excess of 2,500 dives in my life all over South East Asia) & truly, I am torn as to whether I should disclose the location or let it remain a secret & maintaining its pristine conditions by reducing human impact on the area.

Every diver in our presence was floored by the awesome structures that formed the maze leading out to a gigantic creek with sandy bottom. The only thing that possibly frustrated me was that the light wasn’t where it was supposed to shine & casted shadows in places where I needed corals to be lit. It was a challenging time for photography (though nothing could beat my Rottnest experience!) & to find the right angle just so that I can show you the majestic formation but alas, these pictures were all I managed as the sun was setting.

Presenting you a dot in the ocean, a speckle in the map but a world of beauty beyond what you & I can ever envision!

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Bearing in mind that corals are actually animals with male & female reproductive organs, the reef is made up of millions of colonies that build structures as they grow. To have a magnificent ecosystem that looks equally astounding is something that only God can create.

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We were taken to a sparsely populated reef before getting into the thick of things. It’s an absolute wonder that the marine life thrives in every reef due to the protected status! There are absolute fearless fish to contend with!

Harlequin Sweetlips at the cleaning station!

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Mantle of a Giant Clam

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Looks can be deceiving. This reef even has a Picasso Triggerfish!

Completing two dives on a day out was exhilarating to say the least. The awesome wonder took my breath away, both underwater & above. Visit Australia if you are planning your journey!

P.S. This blogpost will appear on Amazing Journey with a flash gallery of more photos than what’s posted here. Pummkin’s Pitch has a mixture of my personal journey & adventures but Amazing Journey categorises my travels by destination & product reviews with an occasional sponsored post or two.

Roughing It At Rottnest

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I am here in Perth, Western Australia, courtesy of Tourism Australia & Tourism Western Australia & the main event I was covering was called PUPS – Perth Underwater Photo Shootout, which was held at Rottnest Island on the 12 March 2011. This is the biggest underwater photo shootout in Western Australia with 35 divers contesting to get top spots for the prizes of a dive trip in exotic locations in Indonesia & Malaysia amongst the other sponsored goodies that attracted this large number of participants. Leaving in the morning on a fully equipped dive boat with Perth Diving Academy, everyone had assembled their photographic setup to be ready for the first dive the moment the boat stops.

Despite the perfect weather, the sea condition wasn’t particularly good with 2 – 3m swells & 3 – 5m visibility but what we faced underwater on the first dive was even more daunting. Being thrown forward & backwards, wedged into crevices almost mounted on the ceiling before being thrusted by the next surge of motion only to crash into a mini mount. The sea was throwing a tantrum that day & as Humpty Dumpty was clad & layered in a 5mm Farmer Jane suit, having to offset my buoyancy with a 12kilo weight belt didn’t help. I can’t even begin to tell you how many mounts I have come to ‘know’ & little caves that I find myself in. You get the drift???

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The varied types of seagrass & seaweeds in Rottnest Island.

Dave Baxter, the extraordinary underwater photographer who had put together this feat of an event, was my buddy for the day. I can imagine how much laugh he would have had watching Humpty Dumpty sauntering & gasping, having to turn back & see if I’m stuck somewhere beneath the mounts. I couldn’t take a single decent shot on the first dive let alone nice pictures but after reviewing them on my Mac, I was able to show you what a wild time I had by these ‘super artistic’ (fluke) shots generated by the motion of the ocean!

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Put in a collage for fun…..

As one of the appointed judges, I was not running in the competition but I got one of my prized ‘catch’ on the second dive. A friendly & curious wrasse followed me around, watching me up close & wondering why I was turned turtle (ahem…it was a balancing issue with the ultra-buoyant wetsuit & 12kg weights on my belt). The wrasse often came right up to my mask (Dave took pictures) & would even allow me to stroke its tail! It had no problems whatsoever with trusting (clumsy) giants in neoprene & has the curiosity of a cat! Here’s one shot of it while it was staring at my mask:-

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Presenting – Le Amigo D’ Wrasse! Unedited, uncropped, unadulterated. Even speckles are left for posterity!

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When it stared at my camera…..

Perth Diving Academy provided the diving services on their big boat & the day ended with a barbecue at the yacht club. Judging has been postponed to 29 March. Next on the itinerary would be my journey to Exmouth & Coral Bay!

NOSS – Building The Malaysians Skill Standards

The Tourism Ministry’s collaboration with the Department Of Skill Development (JPK in Malay) under the Ministry of Human Resources had brought about a workshop to review the NOSS (National Occupational Skill Standards) for Scuba Diving in Malaysia in a stressful 5-full day (20 – 24th February 2011) meetings held in a hotel in Tanjung Kling, Melaka. This is for the working manual for any individuals looking to pursue a career in diving in Malaysia with JPK (Jabatan Pembangunan Kemahiran) but lack the skillset required to lead effectively & conduct dives for divers. In a fixed set of guidelines to how the ‘Duties’ are to be listed & described, the few of us who were an integral part of the team during the formation of the standards back in 1998, had to be present to revise the entire set of Duties, Tasks & Steps & Knowledge. And we scratched our heads too. Who on earth came up with such a difficult standard to follow??? 😛

Though the meeting room was spacious, we felt terribly confined to the preset verbs & adjectives that we were allowed to use in each of the description that we dished out. Not only were our experiences as instructors, trainers, resort owners/directors & dive agencies were harnessed, our minds were pitched against the varied knowledge of each individual who contributed to the revision. According to the invigilator, shouts & tempers flares were quite common in all the other NOSS’ workshops. Some throw a tantrum, walk out & never come back too, so our banter & lobbing of verbal cannon balls were considered quite mild, owing to the fact that each one of the professionals present had known each other in excess of a decade, save a few new faces to the industry.

I was given the task of correcting grammar & my grey matter was working overtime to the point where another cup of tea & a snack wouldn’t do the job of firing the synapses needed to churn out another skill description. What with the launching of fireballs across the tables & constant jibing at each other in the most provocative manner, the meeting was lively & stimulating. Even then, it had a mentally exhausting effect that left all of us deflated at the end of the day. I never thought writing a manual for the industry was this draining.

I must say, I learnt a lot from the workshop & how great minds put aside competition to come together & contribute to the good of the dive industry. To this, I say to all present, “Well done!”

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Standing from left: , Manap (Tioman Marine Park), Michael Tong (Regional Director of NAUI Pacific RIm), Johnny Chew (Regional Manager of PADI Asia), Lawrence Lee (NAUI Course Director, Layang Layang Resort),
Sitting from left: Khairullah (JPK officer), Pamela Lim (ISO Stds TC228/WG1 Tech Committee), Bahrinah Baharim (Associate Director of Marine Parks Malaysia), Ivin Mercy (Ministry of Tourism), Liza (Tourist Guide Association), Ummi Haslinda (Reef Check Malaysia), Mohd Asri (JPK Invigilator)

Tioman Rediscovery!

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The start of the dive season saw a new & uncharted discovery of two submerged reefs in Tioman. Virtually unknown by dive operators due to the hit & miss factor of such locations, Gary, my dive buddy & I, went to locate the reefs with the help of a local. Almost hitting decompression as it was a constant 27 – 28m dive, one of the accompanying instructors beckoned me to go over to where he was & showed me the very marvel that people pay tens of thousands of dollars to visit the remotes of Indonesia to see…..the elusive SEA APPLE! (Pseudocolochirus sp.)

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Having bartered with fishing boats for their by-catch, I’ve traded Coca Cola with fishermen for these beautiful sea cucumbers to place them in Tenggol waters in hope that they will breed but they all seem to disappear from the bay in preference of cooler waters. Now that we have them at our doorstep, it will certainly be a joy & wonder to show divers this jewel of a sea cucumber! The one pictured above is sleeping. When they are awake & feeding, colourful fern-like branches would stem from the top to trap food! The Malays call it Gamat Bulat, a name befitting its roundish/spherical posture when tensed.

At this reef, we saw many critters & fish, a refreshing change from the usual dive sites of Tioman.

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The sea fans are exceptionally big, covering the whole of Gary as he posed as my model underwater! Here’s what it looks like, minus the Gary…..

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I will be conducting an exploratory dive trip to make more discoveries & hopefully document other critters. Send me an email if you are interested to join the trip!

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Making our way to the village of Genting towards the southern part of the island, I must say, eating at the pak cik’s cafe was awesome. The spice was just right & we had dollops of chilli paste that came with our grilled fish. The guys at Samudra Divers were excellent cooks too! They brought the whole kitchen & whipped up a storm on the last night of our stay! I’m definitely returning with my students!

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Scientific Solution for Atolls in The Indian Ocean

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Whisking pass the city on the KLIA Express is one of the least stressful part of the travel……when you are not rushing. Realising too late that my 24” luggage handle was broken by the airport handlers on my trip back from Egypt, I had to physically push it on wheels, amongst the crowd & my other bags. I spent the last fortnight in the most expensive resort island in the Indian Ocean where rates start from US$1000 per night to US$6,700 per night. Celebrities, royalties & anyone with cash to burn deserve to have unprecedented privacy.

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Managing the underwater work in a scientific project for the resort, we went out even in rough seas. The wind caused the boat to rock 45 degrees side to side. Internet connection here is via satellite transmission & with 600+ staff in the village, there was no way I could upload any videos of my previous work. I spent my time assisting the team of scientists in getting the job done on land as most of my work is in the ocean. Going out is a challenge & so is coming out of the water. There were moments where we decided not to climb back onto the ladder-less cruiser & swim 300m back to shore with the surf instead. By the time we return to base, I had become so exhausted. Imagine going out like this twice a day.

What’s good though, is the people I get to work with on this island with 200 villas. I got to see plenty of what I don’t normally see, such as the Manta Ray passing overhead while I was working at the bottom! I was too stunned to take a picture but I did shoot everything else in my line of sight though! Got a Honeycomb Moray while he was being cleaned. This picture was taken up close.

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Sneaking in a leisure dive or two yielded pretty good results as I got my chance to come very close to the most fearsome Titan Triggerfish & filmed it! The coral reefs are teeming with life & pelagics will occasionally swim overhead.

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Look at his teeth!!!

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Chancing upon a Cleaning Station, all these fishes congregate here to have parasites removed from their bodies. It’s like our car wash queue! God’s design for the reef is so beautiful & marvelous!

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That brings me to this observation. A typical female’s 5C’s are Cash, Condo, Car, Carat & Credit Card but the picture above contains MY 5Cs……can you guess what they are??? Clam, Crab, Christmas Tree Worm, Coral & Crevices! These are stuff that I live for! Even if only one of you appreciates my work & pursuits in obtaining the most bizarre footages in what I call a NatGeo phenomenon/encounter, it would be worth my while to keep producing them for you. I have achieved all that I’ve set out to achieve & nothing makes me happier than to find these & discover new things in my oceanic adventures. If you have nothing to live for, you have lived for nothing.

As we were bound by the contract, I can’t really say where I am but from my title, I’m sure you can guess where I’ve been for the last 2 weeks & pray that I get to return home for Chinese New Year! What a way to end January 2011!