The top six dive destinations to encounter BIG animals.

The top six dive destinations to encounter BIG animals.

Macro diving is great, but there’s nothing quite like being side by side underwater with some of the biggest animals in the ocean. Being a mere body length away from an inquisitive dolphin, or watching on in awe as a manta ray dances around you is indescribably amazing. From humpback whales to great white sharks, we’ve got you covered for the best places to dive with the biggest creatures to call the ocean home.

Where to go if…

You want to come face to face with a great white shark.

Media worldwide has long portrayed Great White Sharks to be monsters of the deep, but after diving with these sharks you’ll realize this just simply isn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong, your heart will be beating at a hundred miles an hours as the sharks slowly swim past you as they check you out, but it’s impossible to return from a dive with a great white without a new sense of respect for these apex predators.

Mexico is the place to head if you’re up for coming face to face with a great white shark. Choosing an itinerary when it comes to live aboard diving in Mexico is a tough decision, as there are no shortage of fantastic dive sites. For great white shark diving though, you want to book a trip that includes Guadalupe in its itinerary. Dive live aboard’s visiting Mexico, such as Solmar V, are specifically set up for cage diving with great white sharks.

You want to be immersed in a school of hammerhead sharks.

In the Coco’s Islands off Costa Rica hammerhead sharks can be found in the hundreds, and that’s not all you’ll see diving in this iconic and protected area.

The renowned dive destination is a melting pot of underwater biodiversity, and is 550 kilo metres off the coast of Costa Rica so is best explored by live aboard. It seems that the more remote the destination, the more phenomenal the marine life and along with swimming alongside 200 or so scalloped hammerheads divers on a live aboard in Costa Rica can expect to see Pacific manta rays, eagle rays, sea turtles giant schools of pelagic fish and whale sharks. The schools of fish can be so dense that they cover the sun, and all of a sudden it’s as if someone has flicked off the light switch and you’re surrounded by hundreds of hammerhead sharks.

You want to dive with manta rays. In the dark.

Manta rays are often referred to as the ‘ballerinas of the sea’. The completely harmless and unbelievably graceful rays are one of the most beautiful animals to see underwater. But how about a manta ray experience that gets the adrenalin racing even more? Diving with manta rays after dark in Kona, Hawaii is an amazing experience. The rays gather to feed on the plankton in the moonlight, and you simply watch on as the mantas twirl and spin around you. On one night dive onboard the Kona Aggressor II guests were astonished when over 46 manta rays showed up on a single dive.

You want to dive with the largest bony fish in the sea.

Sunfish are the largest, and the most bizarre looking species of fish. These giant fish love to sunbathe, and divers can often see them soaking up some rays on the surface of the ocean (hence the name!) Liveaboard diving in Indonesia is the best way to get yourself next to these enormous fish, and they can often be spotted visiting cleaning stations on shallower reefs.

You fancy babysitting a humpback whale calf.

Imagine being so close to a humpback whale that you can see every groove it it’s skin, every curve of its enormous body. Humpback whales are a migratory species, and when they head to warmer waters to mate and have their young that ocean-enthusiasts are presented with the rare opportunity to swim with them.

There are a handful of places to swim with humpback whales, but without a doubt the Dominican Republic is one of the best. Between January and March every year, the Turks and Caicos Explorer 11 visits Silver Bank and offers itineraries purely focused on getting people up close and personal with humpback whales.

You can’t decide what large animal you most want to encounter.

So why not try for them all on one phenomenal dive trip?

Ask an avid diver what their number one dream live aboard destination is, and no doubt they’ll respond with a live aboard in the Galapagos Islands. This area is so well protected that the marine life feels no need to shy away from divers. Here you can spot schools of hammerheads, whales, marine iguanas, birds with bright blue feet and almost every species of pelagic you can think of.

Had any amazing encounters with BIG marine life? Let us know by leaving a comment.

5 photoshop tricks for saving your underwater photographs.

5 photoshop tricks for saving your underwater photographs.

If you’re interested in underwater photography, one of the best things about booking your next live aboard diving trip is the prospect of being able to spend an entire week underwater snapping away.

While taking photos underwater is rewarding and a great way to show off to all your work colleagues remember the amazing sites you’ve visited, underwater photography presents budding photographers with a whole range of different challenges that you don’t need to worry about on the surface. Visibility, particles in the water, moving subjects, and light are all new issues that will affect how your underwater images turn out.

Sometimes I find myself taking better photos on my smart phone above the water, than on my fancy digital SLR below it. Or I’ll have spent a week on a live aboard only to discover once I’ve returned home and uploaded a shot of a sea turtle that looked epic on the LCD screen, that it’s actually slightly blurry. If you’ve just started taking underwater photo’s, chances are one out of a hundred of your pictures are actually worth keeping (trust me, I’ve been there!) However there a few little tricks that you can use to potentially save that image you were about to send to the trash.

Good photos start before you’re even under the water.

Think about what setting you have your camera on, and what format these images are being stored in. If you want to be able to maximise your potential to digitally improve your images once you’ve finished snapping away in the ocean, make sure you are shooting all your images in RAW format.

RAW files are far larger than JPEG images (which is probably the format your camera is currently on if you haven’t switched to RAW yet), so you won’t be able to store as many photos on your memory card.  The editing freedom that comes with shooting in RAW however far outweighs the downside of the large size of these files. Just make sure you invest in an extra memory card or two before you head off to your next live aboard dive destination.

Buoyancy, buoyancy, buoyancy!

Not only does good buoyancy equal more relaxed and safe diving but drastically improves your underwater photography technique. If you’re constantly inflating and deflating your BCD, flapping about with your hands and knocking the marine life around you’re going to struggle to return from your dive with good photos.

Becoming a good diver takes time, and you should enjoy the learning process. Too many divers want to rush through their courses and spend little time focusing on actually becoming a better scuba diver. Go diving purely to practice your buoyancy and then start dabbling in underwater photography. To learn some more tips about how good buoyancy will help your photography techniques, check out our article. 

Camera Raw Editor.

An underwater image that could use some TLC.
An underwater image that could use some TLC.
The same image after editing in Camera Raw.
The same image after editing in Camera Raw.

This is an average underwater images’ best friend. Time and time again I have relied on Camera Raw Editor to turn a less than perfect image into a keeper. Camera Raw gives you a second chance at creating great underwater images.

Here you can edit the temperature, tint, exposure and contrast of an image. Over exposed image? Bring down the highlights and play around with your image until you’re happy. You can lift the whites and the blacks of the image and bring more clarity to your photo to create an image that really pops with colour and contrast.

One of the best tools in Camera Raw and Photoshop is the spot healing brush, which literally replaces a selected area of the image with another part of the photo. This means with a little time and effort you can remove all those particles or light spots scattered throughout your photo.  Spend some time in Camera Raw and I can assure you your images will go from woeful to wonderful.

The ‘diffuse glow’ filter.

The edited image with Photoshop filter 'diffuse glow' applied.
The edited image with Photoshop filter ‘diffuse glow’ applied.

After you’ve played around in Camera Raw you can either save your image or continue tweaking it in Photoshop. My one go-to filter for images that are less than ideal is the ‘diffuse glow’ filter. This filter really accentuates underwater light breaking through the surface of the ocean, and give underwater photographs an ethereal and magical feel. To find the ‘diffuse glow’ filter in Photoshop, head to ‘Filter Gallery’ under the Filter menu, and you’ll find it in the distort section.

If all else fails, convert to black and white.

Colour can be hard to correct in underwater images. Black and white is far easier to work with, and you can bring the contrast up without changing the colours to garish neon versions of the original hues. An image that you thought was beyond saving can suddenly turn into an artistic impression of the underwater world. Convert your image to black and white, play around with contrast and brightness and watch it transform.

Thinking of doing some Palau diving? Read this first.

Thinking of doing some Palau diving? Read this first.

Most dive destinations have something they’re renowned for.

Cocos Islands in Costa Rica is famous for its hammerhead action. When you dive the Great Barrier Reef in Australia you know you’ve come to see the, uh, reef. But Palau in Micronesia is one of those dive zones that has a little bit of everything. And one hundred percent of that everything is absolutely amazing. 

So, what is it about Palau that makes it such a popular spot for scuba diving?

For one, there is no ‘season’. Most dive destinations have a certain time of year that is the most suitable for scuba diving. Thanks to very little fluctuation in temperature, the water in Palau is always balmy and tropical. The turquoise water of Palau offers good visibility year round that rarely drops below 15 metres, and can reach up to 40 metres. And we haven’t even started on the huge variety of marine species you can see diving in Palau.

Palau is where three of the oceans currents intersect, and with it comes a dizzying array of marine life. Enormous schools of fish, giant green sea turtles, dolphins and a variety of shark species can be often spotted, along with manta rays and whale sharks. Palau is home to some of the most fantastic and exhilarating drift diving on the planet, along with a sea floor littered with World War I and II wrecks. The Palau archipelago is made up of eight major islands and 250 smaller ones, so with no shortage of dive sites you’ll never do the same dive twice.

As with most remote areas, diving the Palau archipelago is best done by an all inclusive dive live aboard. On here, you can dive all day and see the best this destination has to offer.  Below we’ve listed a few of our favourites to make your holiday decision a little easier.

Ocean Hunter 3

Ocean_Hunter_3 (1)w825h550crwidth825crheight550This luxury vessel was specifically designed with the diver in mind. Ocean Hunter offers 7 and 10 night live aboards, which visit the best sites Palau has to offer. Each day you can jump in for up to 5 dives, making the most of your time in this tropical underwater paradise. Did we mention there’s not one, but two jacuzzis on board?

Palau Siren

Palau_Siren (1)w825h550crwidth825crheight550Part of the popular Siren fleet, this live aboard has all the bells and whistles you could possibly want. Along with a spacious sun deck, the Palau Siren provides divers with a massive shaded diving deck complete with individual stations and personal storage lockers, so you’ll always know where your gear is. All gear hire is complimentary on board this boat, so if luggage space is an issue you can leave your dive gear at home for no extra charge. FYI, we know a few tricks of the trade when it comes to packing for a live aboard. Check them out here.

Palau Aggressor II

This Palau live aboard is offers divers a dream experience. For those who love to dive, dive, dive but don’t want to sacrifice any of the creature comforts this boat has your name written all over it! Spacious decks, air conditioning and private bathrooms and showers in all 9 staterooms will leave you well rested after your action packed day of scuba diving. Like the Palau Siren and Ocean Hunter 3, this vessel gives divers the chance to do up to 5 dives, including some thrilling night dives.

You will never get bored of Palau diving.

When you start your 7 or 11 night live aboard adventure, the days stretch out in front of you. Once you start diving the sites on offer however, you realise there’s no way you could tire of diving this magical area. One dive you’re surrounded by sharks and pelagic fish, the next you’re alongside the skeleton of a WWII ship. With sensational drift diving, a phenomenal amount of life and a lake full to the brim of harmless jellyfish, Palau is one unique must-dive destination.

We’ve only listed a few dive live aboards here available in Micronesia. Visit Liveaboard.com to see a full list of luxury dive live aboards that you can take the trip of a lifetime in Palau.

Jump in with millions of jellyfish in Palau’s Jellyfish Lake.

Jump in with millions of jellyfish in Palau’s Jellyfish Lake.

In a recent article I stated that most dive destinations are renowned for one thing in particular (like humpback whales in the Kingdom of Tonga), but in Palau everything underwater is so diverse and wonderful it’s hard to narrow it down to just one.

I was mistaken.

The Micronesian archipelago of Palau is home to a lake that is full to the brim with completely harmless jellyfish. Jellyfish Lake is a stark (but awe-inspiring) contrast to the breathtaking drift dives and spectacular coral reefs surrounded by year-round tropical water that you can expect of a Palau diving trip.

Jellyfish Lake,
Jellyfish Lake, Eil Malk Island.

Jellyfish lake is nestled amongst a vast expanse of forest on Eil Malk Island. Eil Malk is part of the Rock Islands, which is comprised of around 445 mostly uninhabited limestone islands.  After a short hike, you arrive and take in the view of the lake and it’s surrounds. Emerald water, bordered by dense jungle and lined with a blanket of perfect blue from a cloudless sky. From above,  it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about. Sure, the lake and the vegetation surrounding it are beautiful, but it’s not until you enter the water that you truly believe the hype surrounding Jellyfish Lake. 

The Jellyfish Lake is a snorkel-only site, and as you descend beneath the surface on a single breath you are overcome by feelings of serenity and wonder as the millions of jellyfish rise above and below you.The jellyfish that inhabit the lake are giant golden marshmallows, like droplets of soft liquified sunshine floating all around you. The giant jellies that call this marine lake home are either moon or golden jellies, and there are thought to be 10 million of these in Jellyfish Lake.

Jellyfish lake is a marine lake, so when you first dive down you might be surprised by the salty taste of the water.  Once connected to the ocean, the 12 000 year old Jellyfish Lake is now isolated from the rest of the sea creating a mini-ecosystem where the jellyfish is king. While the lake is relatively isolated from the surrounding ocean, it’s  filled with saltwater thanks to a spiderweb of tunnels and fissures through the limestone of an ancient reef. This disconnection from the open ocean has encouraged the evolution of an eco-system lacking in diversity, but abundant with Jellyfish. These jellies no longer require their stingers. With few natural predators they no longer need this characteristic, making snorkelling with the millions that inhabit this bizarre ecosystem a pain free and phenomenal experience.

There are dozens of these marine lakes like Jellyfish Lake throughout the Rock Islands. This particular lake however is unique in the fact that it has an anoxic layer along the bottom, which is one reason why scuba diving is not allowed in Jellyfish Lake. The last 15 meters of the lake contains high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide which can be absorbed through the skin of a diver, leading to death. Jellyfish are also delicate creatures, and air bubbles created from breathing through scuba apparatus can travel through their flimsy bodies, irreversibly damaging them.

Everyday, the resident Golden jellyfish make the arduous migration from one side of the lake to the other, following the movement of the sun. Strangely enough, the Golden jellyfish have a strict schedule they like to adhere to. In the morning they move from the centre of the western basin to the eastern basin, then in the afternoon head to the western side of the lake, finally propelling themselves to the western basin where they spend the night.They migrate in such a way to gain as much exposure to the sun as they possibly can, revolving as they move so each part of their body receives some rays. Golden Jellyfish photosynthesise zooxanthellae living in their tissues and this symbiotic relationship provides them with their food source. Whilst these jellyfish have evolved to lose their stinger, they are still faced with a natural predator quite literally lurking in the shadows. The ethereal Golden Jellyfish avoids shadows not only so it can receive meet its daily dietary requirements, but so it can avoid an attack from an anemone living on the outskirts of the lake.

The Moon jellies don’t have as much of a rigid routine as the Golden Jellyfish, propelling themselves here, there and everywhere. Moon jellies are the opposite of the Golden Jellyfish who seek out and thrive in the sunshine. These jellyfish rise to the surface every night to feed in the light of the moon.

How to get there

How many places in the world can you swim with thousands of harmless jellyfish?

One.

For that reason, most Palau diving live aboards will include a visit to Jellyfish Lake in their itinerary. That way you can not only spent a week diving the myriad of dive sites Palau is known for, but also visit its deservedly famous jellyfish lake.

Scientists have just discovered a glow in the dark sea turtle.

Scientists have just discovered a glow in the dark sea turtle.

This isn’t just a catchy headline.

A team of researchers on a night dive in the Solomon Islands came across a hawksbill sea turtle glowing like a neon sign, and documented the first ever case of biofluorescence in a reptile.

Biofluor-what-now?

Biofluorescence is when an organism absorbs one colour and then reflects it as a completely different colour. Biofluorescence is not to be confused with bioluminescence, where organisms are capable of producing their own light, usually through a chemical reaction. To put it simply, biofluorescent animals can change the colour of existing light, and bioluminescent animals can create their own light.

Seeing bioluminescence underwater is one of the most breathtaking things you can see night diving. Many small organisms are bioluminesent, and put on a spectacular show for night divers. There is few things more surreal than switching your dive torch off and watching the thousands of tiny fluorescent lights dance around you.

Marine Biologist David Gruber, was in the Solomon Islands to film bioluminescence displayed by coral and small reef sharks. You can imagine his surprise when a hawksbill turtle came swimming into view, glowing a distinct red and green (if you don’t believe us check out the video from National Geographic below!) Until this moment, biofluorescence had never before been seen in any reptile, let alone a sea turtle. The divers swam alongside the brightly glowing animal, filming it using a camera fitted with a yellow filter designed to pick up on fluorescent animals within the frame.

Gruber explained that the red glow on the turtle’s shell may be from algae growth, but that the yellow and green was emitted from the turtle. Animals normally use biofluorescence as a defence mechanism or as a form of communication, but exactly why these mysterious and critically endangered sea turtles glow is a question that is now waiting to be answered.

Want to dive in the Solomon Islands? The Bilikiki liveaboard is one of the best live aboards in the area, and visits the main 3 island groups of Florida Island, Russel Island and Marovo Lagoon which boast and array of incredible and diverse dive sites.

The one site you need to dive on the Great Barrier Reef.

The one site you need to dive on the Great Barrier Reef.
The stunning Great Barrier Reef can be seen from space.
The stunning Great Barrier Reef can be seen from space.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches for thousands of kilometers, and there are over 2, 900 individual reefs that make up this Australian icon. Ideally, we’d all love to dive every last one of those reefs, but for obvious reasons this an option that’s not going to happen anytime soon. When you’re planning your diving live aboard trip to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, it’s important you know which particular part of this area you want to dive. One site that is an absolute must is the Cod Hole in the Ribbon Reefs.

The Ribbon Reefs are ten reefs (that are literally numbered 1 to 10 instead of individual names) that offer divers a wide variety of different sites. There are sheer drop-offs that stretch down hundred of metres, and shallow coral gardens that look like something out of an underwater version of Alice in Wonderland. That’s the great thing about diving the Great Barrier Reef,  the varying topography and marine life mean that there is a dive to suit every level of experience and every diver’s interest.

The Cod Hole is located on the northern end of Ribbon Reef #10, and is a dive with a max depth of around 20 metres, making it perfect for every level of diver. Like the name suggests, it’s where you can dive with potato cod the same size as you. Surrounded by warm, tropical water amongst a coral garden the reef makes the most beautiful backdrop to have such a close interaction with these huge friendly fish. These fish have been fed for the past 20 years. Now, dive operators will only allow Divemasters to feed this enormous fish so that they are not over-fed.  Watching a 150 kg cod use it’s thick lips to suck up the provided food just half a metre from your face is a phenomenal experience. As you continue on your dive, you’ll feel as if someones watching you the whole time as the potato cods follow you around, swimming right up to your face. The intricately patterned Maori Wrasse is also a regular visitor to this site, and you’ll have the chance to see giant clams, sea turtles, feather sea stars and a whole host of brightly coloured reef fish.

Located around 110 km’s off the Ribbon Reefs, Osprey Reef is another must visit dive site located in the Great Barrier Reef. Both the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reefs have great visibility in comparison to sites closer to the Queensland coastline, as they are further away from run off from cities and agriculture. Here, the plunging drop offs and walls plus the abundance of life makes the diving a thrilling  and unforgettable experience.  Huge schools of trevally and a variety of shark species can be spotted amongst the reef, and diving here is a budding underwater photographers dream.

As with most remote dive locations, the best way to get there is on an all inclusive diving live aboard. Australia is a destination with so much to see and do, both above and below the water. If you want to dive these amazing outer reef sites operators such as Spirit of Freedom and Mike Ball’s Spoilsport offer 4 and 5 night trips that visit the Cod hole and Ribbon Reefs. These luxury live aboards also offer longer trips that will see you spending 8 nights out on the stunning Great Barrier Reef.

If you’re on a budget, and want to do an even shorter trip than the ones offered on board Spirit of Freedom and Spoilsport, the ScubaPro vessels are 3 nights, meaning you can head out to see the reef and still have time on your trip to see what else Oz has to offer.

Been to the Cod Hole or Ribbon Reefs? We want to hear about it! Leave a comment for us below.

5 reasons why live aboard diving is the best way to scuba dive.

5 reasons why live aboard diving is the best way to scuba dive.

I’m a lazy diver. I’m also an incredibly keen diver. Whilst I love diving, lugging tanks around in the hot sun when I’m on holiday just isn’t my thing. The ease and comfort that comes along with diving from a boat, be it a day trip or an overnight dive live aboard is far more enjoyable for me than shore diving. If you’re travelling with non-divers then maybe a live aboard dive boat isn’t the best holiday option for you, but if you want to dive as much as you possibly can, and see the best sites the destination has to offer then live aboard diving is the only way to spend your hard earned cash.

Your dive time is maximised, and set up time is minimised

Dive live aboards are designed for well, diving. Plenty of vessels are set up specifically for diving, with spacious dive decks, multiple tenders and extra amenities designed with the diver in mind. When you resort dive, or do a day boat dive, half the day is filled with getting to and from the site. Live aboard diving means you can cram in 3 or 4 quality dives every day, or simply soak up the sun onboard and dive again in a few hours. If you want to dive at night, doing so on a live aboard is easy as you more than likely have dived the site in the day, and will have your gear ready to go. That means less time setting up and more time for sipping cocktails after you’ve wrapped up your diving for the day.

You’ll visit the most remote sites

Imagine waking up to watch the sunrise over the sea in one of the best dive destinations in the world, with no other boats in site. Just you, your freshly made cup of coffee and the vibrant oranges and reds of the sun rising over the ocean. Liveaboard diving is often the only way you can get off the beaten track dive wise and see the most remote areas. Diving in the GalapagosDiving in the Cocos Islands, Costa Rica and even diving the outer reaches of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia can only be done by a live aboard as they are so far from mainland. When you do a lot of diving you want to have the best dive experiences the ocean can offer, and usually diving on a live aboard is one way to ensure you do.

Everything is included

Once you’ve decided where you want to go, booked and paid for it your all done! All there is left to do is set your screen saver at work to an image of the destination your going to make the count down to your holiday go quicker and boom, you’re ready for the trip of a life time. Live aboard diving means all the hard work is done for you, and the price is all inclusive. There’s no fussing about which hotel to book, and if the photos online are what the place really looks like. There’s professional chefs onboard who make the most of the local fresh produce to create masterpiece meals for you, and the best thing is you’ve already paid for them. Sometimes when your paying $7000 or so for a luxury liveaboard it can sound like a lot, but in reality you’re paying for ten days of action packed diving in phenomenal destinations, all your meals and a big comfy bed to exhaustedly fall into at the end of each day.

There’s no lugging heavy gear around

There’s nothing worse than donning a wetsuit, a BCD and a heavy tank and walking to a hard to reach dive site in the tropical sun. Live aboards have personalised lockers for you to store your dive gear, and spacious dive decks so when it’s time to jump in all you have to do is pull on your wetsuit, strap yourself into your BCD and either giant stride into the turquoise water or make your way to the private tender to be taken on an incredible dive.

 Dive, dive, dive

This is the greatest aspect of live aboard diving. You can dive until your heart’s content, and do all the dives on offer each day if you so desire. If scuba diving is your passion, then the only way to holiday is on a diving live aboard. Not only will you be able to dive as much as possible, but you’ll be surrounded by like-minded folk who love diving just as much as you.  If you’re a budding underwater photographer (most divers are once they’ve dived for a while) the fellow guests on board and staff are usually more than happy to give you some tips to improve your photography.

Ready to look for your next dive live aboard adventure? Liveaboard.com has the widest range of destinations, with a trip to suit every diver and their budget.

Like resort diving more than live aboard diving? Tell us why in the comments!