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Found 4 results

  1. I have the good fortune to be the partner of someone who has been seconded to work on the island of St Maarten in the Caribbean. Much though I loved our Amsterdam home, the thought of tropical sunshine in the Caribbean with a COVID winter approaching was a blessing. We’ve been here three months now. I’ve logged almost 2000 dives all over the world: UK to Australia, Philippines, Indonesia (including running a dive operation in the Lembeh Straits), lots of Caribbean islands, the Red Sea, the US, Bonaire loads of times. St Maarten, or St Martin on the French side, is turning out to be a delightful dive surprise. Diving here is boat-based. If you are staying on the south (Dutch) side of the island dive sites are usually about a 15 minute fast ride. Conditions can be slightly choppy but nothing that would bother the majority of Wetpixelers. Current and surge are occasional but not common. Site depths are usually in the 14-20m (45’-60’) range so perfect photo depths. Many sites have fish in abundance. Reef sharks and stingrays are on most dives; turtles on many. Water temperature so far is usually about 28-29C (82-84F); air temperature about 30-32C (86-90F). Slightly colder in December I'm told. Dive sites drop nicely into either the macro or wide-angle category. For macro, sandy/gravelly bottoms and low coral outcrops with Pedersen and Spotted cleaner shrimp, Flamingo tongues, jawfish, yellowline arrow crabs (brilliant snoot country). Wide-angle with many small wrecks, coral encrusted with schools of hanging fish and colourful hard corals. Some very interesting and varied reef topography with swim-throughs, passageways and gullies. Reef cracks with life in them. A very broad range of Caribbean reef species. It is way better than many of the island I have visited including, gasp, Bonaire. As for dive operators, I’ve been diving with Ocean Explorers [https://stmaartendiving.com]. Long established on the island, run by a husband and wife (Jef and Lu). Hugely friendly, accommodating and, with Jef a photographer himself, definitely photographer-friendly. He’ll do his best to pick the site for your lens choice and will critter-spot. He will also let you do your own thing on the sites without chivvying or chasing. Nitrox is available. 6 divers on the boat for a morning 2-tank dive. In the busier seasons, afternoon too. Take your time, take your pics, relax and enjoy. I can recommend Jef and Lu heartily - two of the nicest dive owners I have met. As for the non-diver on the island: given that it’s half-French and half-Dutch, there is really nice cultural diversity complete with historical sites of interest. Great beaches, easy on-island travel with rental cars, friendly, helpful people. Cheap gas. If you want baguettes, French cuisine, great wines, pain au chocolat, it’s on the French side; if you want bitterballen and drop (Dutch liquorice), Heineken, you can get that too on the Dutch side which arguably caters more to American tastes. Don’t get me going on local rums. Excellent supermarkets (Carrefour and Super U). Loads of restaurants are open - very many with outdoor seating - and are very good at a huge price range. So lots for the diver and non-diver. On the Dutch half everyone speaks English and the US Dollar is king. On the French side, on parle français, English is widely understood, and it’s the Euro. Power is 110v on the Dutch side with US-style plug sockets. Social distancing is practised and, there is a relatively low level of CV19 cases. Everyone wears a mask in shops and indoor settings. Hand shakes are a thing of the past. But other than that, and a PCR test before you board the aircraft (which you need to upload to a St Maarten government website before arrival), life is relatively normal or maybe better than what now passes for new normal. Although you will see plenty of evidence of the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma in 2017 especially on the French side, If you feel in need of a dive break, “escape” from COVID, some warm sunshine and you can get on Air France, KLM, American Airlines, Jet Blue, United, Spirit or Delta, St Maarten is open for business and I can heartily recommend it. And no, I’m not getting paid or anything to promote St Martin. But I am deeply grateful to my lovely partner for bringing me here. And for modelling on my wide-angle shots :-)
  2. Took a first trip to Cozumel recently with Aldora Divers. Here are highlights from 30 dives. Comments and critiques are welcome!
  3. Incredible reefs at Eastpoint. It has been a Caribbean island's best kept secret for years - maybe you've heard some stories but not too many people have found a way to actually get there. Curaçao 's incredible east point diving has been talked about for years - no, call it: bragged about for years as the best diving site of the region. An area the size of St. Martin (St. Maarten) on the south-east tip of this island has been in private hand by the Maal family for centuries. Despite the fact that they would like to develop it for tourism purposes they have continuously been blocked doing so by the Curaçao government. What stayed is a huge wilderness area and supposedly almost unspoiled coral reefs, a rarity in this part of the world. Since the area is private property and outside access is rarely allowed by the family, the only way to get here is by boat. Niels Jorissen from DiveCharterCuracao has been the first to do so on a commercial basis, bringing small groups of 7-8 divers by Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB). Since conditions have to be good for diving the east (rough seas are the main spoiler) he also does trips to more common destinations like the famous Mushroom Forest and Wata Mula, always in small groups in order to maintain a good diving experience. But as he says "the best is east". It's mid-December as I join Niels from Caracasbaai, a famous and very popular area among tourists and permanent residents. Dark clouds gather in the distance, but according to Niels we'll be floating in sunshine in less than an hour; "what falls now, won't fall later at open sea". Once his RIB is in the water, we check our belongings, gear up and set everything up at the boat. With 7 divers things are tight but comfortable. The power handle is opened, the warm breeze floats across my face and I close my eyes in anticipation and excitement. After plenty times of diving with Niels the past years I finally make it to the Eastpoint, on a glorious day as well! Roughly half an hour later we are ready to go, it turns out there is hardly any current, a bit of a rarity. Good for us! The dive plan is simple: Love Cave to Tarpon Bridge, the first aptly named after a couple of mating Nurse sharks found here a few years ago, the latter after a massive underwater bridge frequented by schools of Tarpon. "Take it easy if you see them, let them come to you and you'll be almost within touching distance if lucky" Niels says before we finally enter the water. Unfortunately there are no Nurse sharks to be found in the cave, but it is still a wonderful sight to see, nicely overgrown with soft corals in the front. Just lying still to enjoy the view is the best way to experience it, even when diving with 7 others. Once the group has left I just silently enjoy it a little more. 24 hours ago I was stuck in an airplane for eleven hours, now I am totally zoned out on beauty. The Love Cave. Corals in abundance. Tarpon Bridge without the tarpons. Because of rougher conditions, hard corals are much rarer to find here, but soft corals are plentiful. Since nobody has the means of killing off Lionfish in this area they seem to be around in huge numbers. Funny enough: so seem the schools of small fish. I guess they mostly prey on the species that are close to the corals, the huge number of Damselfish seem to be able to escape the slaughter taking place all over the Caribbean. After arriving at the Tarpon bridge it turns out to be an amazing sight as well. However, lucking out again: no Tarpons to be seen. I guess they're out with the Nurse sharks. Time to end the dive and relax a little. Relaxation is literally around the corner where a very shallow lagoon protects us from the (small) waves, it's time for lunch and drinks and to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the East. The Maal family may call it rubbish-bush in need of development, we kind of think the opposite. Perhaps it is a good idea to leave it like it is, there are plenty of hotels already and the pristine nature and reefs could do with the current low-key attention. Underneath our boat some huge Starfish seem to have gathered "it's the only place on the island where you find these in numbers" we are told. It certainly makes for a great photo-opp and our surface interval turns out mostly submerged. Surface interval. Loads of big starfish. Since there are only so much sandwiches you can eat, it is time to head out "we've kept the best till last, that's why we named it Best Reef" Niels tries to add to our excitement. And as soon as we enter the water we understand why. "Shark!" is called before we're even ready to descent. A massive 7 feet Nurse shark is lying at 30 feet, totally relaxed and we all manage to take a photo turn by turn without the animal even raising a fin. I've never been able to get close to one that was full out in the water so this one makes up for all the times I've tried and failed miserably. I'm literally lying next to it, dwarfed at least by a full foot. What a stunning creature. The reef itself is even more mind-blowing: row after row of soft corals in perfect condition. It seems to be a never ending field of softly waving jungle out here. No matter how far we try to look ahead: it's just corals, corals and more corals. With the light coming in from the right angle it is hard not to burst out in tears or shout your enjoyment. This is what you dive for, this is what want to see. This is truly Curacao at its best! Hello Nurse shark! Corals, and more corals. Best reef diving on the island, no doubt about it! © 2012 Rudgr.com (Facebook, Instagram) Equipment used: Canon 5D (mkI) Canon 15mm f2.8 fish-eye lens UK-Germany housing 2x Inon Z240 Strobes
  4. Hey, Could anyone ID this little lovely for me? From Bequia, St Vincent & the Grenadines. Depth 13m on sandy channel between reef and turtle grass.
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