Mar 22, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 6

March 22, 2012  •  Leave a Comment
Photo of the Week
Divers enjoying a manta ray show.
Maldives 2008©
Just a Few Words First
      My top Top 10 Dives of all time countdown continues in this weeks blog. At number 6, I have chosen a specific dive from one of my trips to the Micronesian island nation of Palau in 2003. The dive was German Channel. Famed photographer, Doug Sloss has helped out this week and contributed some of his wonderful images to the blog. Thanks Doug! Scroll down and find out why this dive stands out.
     Beneath the Sea Dive Expo in New Jersey is days away and I have a busy weekend ahead of me with presentations and a workshop. Visit my the events section on my Facebook page, Evolution Underwater Imaging (by Mike Gerken) for a complete schedule.
     Olympus Dive Center has been reporting unbelievable dive conditions already this year. Last week they had 62 degree water temps and 50 foot of visibility on the inshore wrecks in 60 feet of water. That is impressive indeed. Pretty soon, the vessel I captain out of Olympus, the Midnight Express will be running and I will have first hand accounts of the conditions and excitement from North Carolina. Stay tuned!
     Shooting black and white images is the Photo Tip of the Week. Scroll down to the bottom and learn when you should shoot in black and white and the effects you will obtain by doing so. 
Happy diving!
-Mike Gerken
No. 6
German Channel - Palau
     I would be remiss if I did not select at least one dive, out of many, from my excursions to Palau. The one dive that stands out above the rest was my dive on German Channel.
Green sea turtle of Palau.
(Photo courtesy of Doug Sloss©)
     In 2003, I had been vacationing from Truk Lagoon on board the liveaboard dive vessel, Palau Aggressor that was, at the time, captained by my close friend, Ryan Tennant. Unfortunately, this dive trip was before I began shooting underwater photography so I do not have any of my own photos to share. However, my friend Doug Sloss, who was also working on the boat alongside his future wife, Lorenza Sloss was kind enough to donate some of his amazing images for this blog issue. Thanks a million Doug!
     I should point out first, my dive on German Channel wasn't actually on SCUBA. At the time, I was an avid free-diver or breath hold diver and I decided that I would opt for my long fins, mask and snorkel over a cumbersome dive tank. Since the max depth was only around 60-80 feet, making short trips to the bottom on a single breath of air was possible. Lucky for me though, some of the best action on this dive was near the surface anyway.
     Many who enjoy the sport of free-diving will tell you that the feeling of being underwater without the use of modern technology is liberating and peaceful. It is also beneficial to getting closer to marine life that otherwise would be skittish around scuba divers and their noisy open circuit regulators.
     German Channel was a man made channel and is the only one in Palau that funnels incoming and outgoing tides from the inner lagoon. It is probable that this flushing action of the lagoon and the stiff currents that are prevalent here is the cause for the plethora of marine life such as manta rays, sharks, turtles and numerous tropical fish species.
Captain Ryan Tennant at the helm of the Palau Aggressor.
Palau 2003.
     Before our group was to set out from the mother ship on board the skiff, we were thoroughly briefed on the dive by Captain Ryan. He indicated that our main objective was to see manta rays at the feeding station inside the channel and under no circumstances were we to touch the manta's.
     My plan was to simply snorkel on the surface while watching the divers below and to make as many short breath hold dives to the bottom as I could. I have little recollection of where we were during this dive, since I was merely content on following the group. During the first half of the dive we were inundated with large schools of scad, jacks, grunts, groupers, a sea turtle or two and a handful of sharks circling about the perimeter inspecting the action.  
Ringling Brothers© can't hold a candle to the show
these manta rays put on a German Channel.
Palau, Micronesia.
(Photo courtesy of Doug Sloss©)
     It was very late in the afternoon and by this time of the day the water within German Channel becomes thick with plankton and algae. It was this nutrient rich water that brought so many fish in to such a small area. We watched the fish open and close their mouths filtering the tiny morsels through their gills continuously.  It was quite a spectacle.
     After maybe 20 or 30 minutes I could see Ryan point excitedly ahead of him deep below me as I lay on the surface resting. I strained my eyes to make out what he was pointing to. Off in the distance I could make out a large black and white winged shape creature dodging in and out of the hazy water. Manta Rays! It had to be. 
     I closed my eyes for a few seconds, took a few long deep breaths and dipped below the water. With long steady fin kicks I began my descent down to get a closer look. As I made it past the forty foot mark I could now clearly make out a manta ray about 30 feet away from me.  Getting excited while breath hold diving is a major no-no. Any adrenaline released in to the body merely uses up the precious supply of oxygen within your lungs. I had to keep my cool while observing these stunning, graceful and beautiful creatures.

Several species of sharks are common site at German
Channel including these Black Tips. Palau, Micronesia.
     After maybe 90 seconds it was time to head back up to the surface for another breath of air. With long dolphin kicks it took only a moment or two before my head broke the surface. Once again, trying not to become excited, I rested and took long deep slow breaths. After three cycles of breathing I took one last deep breath and slid back down to where the manta was. As I got closer, I could now make out three mantas performing barrel rolls with their mouths agape feeding on the tiny crustaceans. 
     I have seen Manta Rays before, but it makes no difference. Every time you see them, it is a thrill like few other encounters in the ocean. After a another minute, I had to head back to the surface once again through the numerous streams of bubbles venting from the excited divers below. 
    Once back to the surface, I now had a birds eye view of all the action going on below me and to add more icing to this already sugary desert, more manta's arrived for their afternoon feed and were now closer to the surface where the lion share of the plankton were accumulated.  I lay there on the surface, relaxing and enjoying the show happening all around me.  It was like having front row seats right behind first base at Yankee stadium. 

     Pretty soon the manta rays were coming within only a few feet of me performing front rolls, back flips, barrel rolls and many other moves that would make any ballerina envious. It was an awe inspiring event to witness.  The other divers seeing what was going on above them slowly made their way to the shallows to partake in the manta show.

What's not to love about manta rays.
Palau, Micronesia.
(Photo courtesy of Doug Sloss©)
     It was about this point where one of the manta rays swam on a direct course right for me! While holding my breath at about 15 feet, all I could do was hope this enormous fish would veer off. The manta swam up, stopped and stared right at me only two feet away! A moment later, he turned off and bumped right in to me. I then looked at Ryan and shrugged my shoulders in a show of protest. "It was not my fault", said my facial expression and body language. "I did not break the rule. The Manta touched me!", I protested like a spoiled child.  I'm not sure if this argument would have held up in court, but I only received a single sneer from the captain and that was all. Nothing more came of it. 
     After a few more minutes the 5 or 6 manta rays that had performed their ballet act, now disappeared off in to the fading light in the bluish green water. The divers began to ascend to the surface and await the skiff to pick them up. I floated there feeling very satisfied and watched the setting sun.  The rays reflected an intense menagerie of red and orange light off the surface. This surreal sunset was a most fitting way to end what was, for myself, a top diving experience. I didn't know how the other divers felt, but I think I had a pretty good idea based on the beamy smiles emanating from below their masks.

Doug's wife, Lorenza Sloss is an accomplished photographer, dive instructor,
mother, business woman and the best underwater model I have ever seen.
Photo taken at Jelly Fish Lake, Palau, Micronesia.
(Photo courtesy of Doug Sloss©)
About Doug & Lorenza Sloss
Step by step post processing tips
for Lightroom 3. Also available for
Adobe Photoshop.
     Underwater photographers Doug and Lorenza Sloss have taught hundreds of people how to dive and shoot photography. Their passion for teaching translated into the creation of a successful series of DVD tutorials that help underwater and topside shooters of all levels to effectively and professionally post-process their images.
     Doug’s photography and writing has appeared in Sport Diver, Scuba Diving, Scuba Diver Australasia, Islands, Asia Diver and many other magazines and books worldwide. He is also a Field Editor and regular columnist for Asia’s Scuba Diver Australasia magazine.     In his spare time, Doug teaches seminars and photo workshops, both above and below the waterline.

     If you want to perfect your digital editing skills for your underwater shots, look no further, their DVDs are what you need. And if you want to venture into HDR photography, stay tuned for their next DVD release!

In many regions of the world, manta rays are being hunted at alarming numbers and in many cases for the use of there gill rakers only! It is falsely claimed that they are useful as herbal remedies in asian medicine, but there is no basis for this. Click here to learn more about this abuse of ocean resources and to learn how you can help stop it.

The fishing of manta rays is unsustainable. Help stop the slaughter!
(Photo courtesy of Shark Savers Manta Ray of Hope Project.)


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