While looking at some amazing photographs that Photographer Andrew Jalbert captured while diving Key Largo last year, (all pics in this article were taken by him while diving off the Sea Dweller III), I realized that we are seeing a few good signs these days for our reefs. While certainly the coral reefs continue to face struggles in the Florida Keys as well as around the world, (much more on that in future posts), we are happy to report that the Marine life on our reefs is doing pretty darn well! In 2016, we were happy to report that our staff and our divers saw plenty of the usual suspects that the Key Largo reefs are known for; smaller tropicals and schooling fishes…and all as healthy and abundant as it’s been for decades! We attribute much of this to the conservationist muscle of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary! But there’s more…
Several years ago we started seeing something more frequently while scuba diving the Key Largo Reefs…Reef Sharks! This trend has continued we’re happy to say, and it’s not uncommon for our scuba divers to see up to 5-6 reef sharks on a single dive! Not only is this good for our scuba diving, but according to most Marine Biologists, this is generally considered a good sign for the coral reef ecology. According to the “Coral Reef Alliance”…
These remarkable animals are incredibly important for overall ocean health and, in particular, for coral reefs. Sharks are often “apex” or top predators, helping to regulate species abundance and diversity while maintaining balance throughout an ecosystem. – Coral Reef Alliance
This is also an area we are happy to report seems to be doing well on the Key Largo dive sites, according to what we are seeing from our divers. Divers and snorkelers have been seeing turtles with some regularity, not as frequently as the Reef Sharks are appearing, but several times weekly at this point. Loggerheads and Hawksbills are the main species we see here. And who doesn’t like scuba diving with Turtles?
And finally, we wanted to add this in..the Reef Squid! This is a guy that has always been around our Key Largo reefs, but many of us just miss them while we’re scuba diving because they’re not easy to see. Are our scuba divers seeing more of them now? Honestly I have no idea. But underwater photographer Andrew Jalbert got this shot of one while diving off the Sea Dweller III and we just HAD to publish it here…isn’t it one of the most amazing shots you’ve ever seen of a Reef Squid?
We feel that most reef species have done quite well for abundance and diversity over the last couple decades, from what we can simply observe from diving Key Largo every day for a couple decades. We know there are some good signs as well as bad signs for our reefs here in Key Largo, as well as for reefs around the world. And while it is very important to talk about the bad things, we thought it would be good to take a little break and talk about some of the good things we’re seeing and experiencing while diving Key largo reefs & wrecks. We believe the Marine Life is one of the good stories!
Special thanks to Professional Photographer Andrew Jalbert for letting us use these amazing photographs he captured while scuba diving Key Largo off the Sea Dweller III last Fall! Check out his website for more beautiful photos of the Florida keys and the Caribbean! jalbertproductions.com
While “surfing” the web for Florida Keys info and news, I came across a very nice article from “The Daily Meal” website titled “12 Ways the Florida Keys Are Unlike Anywhere Else on Earth”. Its a cool article, and a cool website for foodies by the way, please check it out when you can.
It got me thinking about our islands down here, the Florida Keys, and how unique they really are to the North American Continent. The Florida Keys is the only area on the North American continent that exhibits traits of a “Tropical” environment by definition, (although technically just north of the official tropical zone boundary). The rest of South Florida and parts of Texas and Mexico have sub-tropical conditions.
The Florida Keys have been referred to as America’s Caribbean” for a myriad of reasons, starting with the “tropical” environment listed above. But they are also home to the only living coral barrier reef in North America. Obviously as many know, this makes it the go-to spot for scuba diving for most Americans. No passport required!
When you are in the Keys, doesn’t it just feel like you are in the “tropics”? Meaning everything that we simply think of when talking “tropics”! Lots of sunshine, (the most sunny days in North America), palm trees, beautiful blue water surrounding you at every turn….seafood shacks, great fishing, great Key Largo scuba diving, (oh, I already mentioned that didn’t I?). You get the picture?
The Florida Keys are simply, “one of a kind”. Probably not a secret to many of you, and why you keep coming down to visit us year after year! We hope that continues, and we think it will if the last few years are any indication…Key Largo and the Florida Keys have been busier than ever! Come on down, the sun, seafood, palm tress and great scuba diving are here waiting for you!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center Staff –
Here at Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo, we know how we feel about scuba diving! You could say we kind of like it…a lot actually, and we’re going to assume you more or less feel the same way. So we are all scuba divers, we love the underwater world, we love the marine life, corals, beautiful blue water…all the things that go with our sport. There are different skill levels, depending on how much diving we’ve done, what training we’ve received, etc. But there are some “universal truths” for scuba diving that we all can appreciate and hopefully follow. These were supplied to us from Dive.in, a great site I hope you check it out!
Here in Key Largo, Florida Keys, the diving is known to be some of the best in North America, for various reasons like abundant marine life, temperate conditions, island life, etc. Certainly the points listed below can help maximize your Key Largo scuba diving experience while at the same time helping to preserve it for future generations!
Thanks again to Dive.in for this cool and useful article!
Your Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo Staff!
The scuba diving in Key Largo was particularly good this year in Key Largo we’re happy to announce! There are several reasons for that, and we thought we’d go over some of the things that have impacted the diving world this year, at least from the perspective of Key Largo and the Florida Keys. It’s not all good news, as some of the things that have caused the excellent conditions for diving has also caused a bad thing to return for the first time in many years; coral bleaching.
2015 brought calm, warm, clear water scuba diving…and a lot of it! I can’t remember this many good days of diving quite frankly, and there were only a handful of days with bad diving conditions. El Nino is partly responsible for these conditions, as this Pacific Ocean phenomenon generally causes hotter than normal waters in the Atlantic, and generally less wind. We certainly saw that this year! But, it’s a good news-bad news thing…as unfortunately, the warmer than normal water temps brought some bleaching, which we haven’t seen to any great extent in many years. It appears that the Keys were affected less than other areas, like Hawaii for example, but any bleaching is significant. Not all the news is bad on this front, as the Coral Restoration Foundation are making huge strides in “actively restoring our reefs” by harvesting, growing and transplanting corals. Now they are even using data they’ve obtained through operations to harvest and transplant more bleach-resistant strains of corals! Amazing stuff, and hope for the future! (The CRF operates on donations, so for scuba divers who want to help preserve our reefs this is the place to start.)
As many divers already know, Key Largo diving always means marine life. But quite possibly the best in the Caribbean! As many islands throughout the Caribbean struggle with marine life conservation, the Florida Keys has some of the strongest conservation enforcement capabilities in the world. The implementation of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has been a windfall for marine conservation here. So all the “no-take” zones, additional rules and enforcement resources have had an effect, as can be seen in the abundance and diversity of the marine life on our reefs and wrecks. Scuba Divers are seeing things that had become almost non-existant…like Goliath Groupers, Spadefish, and Reef Sharks. A very good sign for the reef system here, and of course the strong marine life continues to make Key Largo a world-class dive destination!
Your staff here at Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo wants to thank everyone for a great 2015, a special year of scuba diving! We appreciate your patronage, and hope to see you diving with us again soon!
This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of Key Largo’s most iconic scuba diving sites. Popular with both Scuba divers and snorkelers it has been attracting visitors to Key Largo since it was sunk on Aug 25th 1965. The Statue of Christ of the Deep, or more accurately, “Christ of the Abyss”, sits in fairly shallow water in what is now the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Plans to protect the coral reefs off Key Largo started in the early 1930’s, but opposition from property owners as well as the Monroe County Commissioners stopped the plan. It wasn’t until the editor of the Miami Herald, John Pennekamp, led the fight to protect the reefs for scuba divers and snorkelers that action happened. President Eisenhower proclaimed the reefs as the Key Largo Coral Reef preserve. This name was changed in 1963 to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State park. The Statue was sunk in 1965 onto a concrete pad constructed by Park rangers after the Underwater Society of America had donated it to the park.
Even though most people visit Key Largo Dry rocks to see the statue, most are amazed at the amount of fish that live in the area. As part of a Special Preservation Area, all of the corals, shells and fish life in the area have been strictly protected for over 50 years!
Join Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo as we celebrate 50 years of diving this world famous dive site. Throughout the month of August, we will be featuring special dive trips to the Christ Statue. More information on diving the Statue will be posted as it becomes available.
Thanks to All!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo
In the last “Underwater Photography Series”, Part 4, we covered some of the basics about shooting using available light. In this post, we’ll be talking about how using a flash changes the equation. We will also cover some of the basics of using a strobe, like positioning the strobes to produce the best picture. Photography while scuba diving cannot realize it’s ultimate potential unless we master the Strobe!
The primary advantage of using a strobe is that it adds back the light spectrum that was lost as we scuba dive into deeper water. That enables us to capture all of the magnificent color that is difficult to get as we go deeper. As this picture of Capt Scott diving on the Wreck of the Duane off Key Largo shows, it’s difficult to believe the beautiful color in all of the coral at 100ft. But, strobes bring with them their own set of issues.
The first is that the power of the strobe to light the subject falls off very quickly. In fact, to be technical, the power of the light is inversely proportionally to the square of the distance. Probably it’s easier to understand looking at a diagram.
2 ft away, the light has 1/4 of the power it had at 1ft and at a distance of 3ft it only has 1/9th of the power! So if you are using a strobe, the golden rule of underwater photography is even more important. What’s that I hear you ask?
Rule 1 – Get close to your subject
Rule 2 – If you think you are close – get closer!
The next issue that comes with using a strobe is that the light doesn’t only illuminate the subject that you are interested in, it can also light up the small particles in the water. This is called backscatter and is the bane of the underwater photographer. This is caused by improper positioning of the strobe. I wish I could say that I had to look hard to find a good example in my library, but, if I did, it’s only because I threw out several hundred pictures that had that problem.
In a future post I will talk about ways to overcome backscatter and tricks for shooting in bad visibility. I’ll even show you ways to take it out of a picture by using the magic of Photoshop.
If the strobe is pointing directly at the subject as shown in the left hand diagram, all of the particles between the lens and the subject are being lit as well. If however, the strobe is further away from the lens and aimed so that the flash doesn’t light the area between the lens and the subject, then less of the backscatter will be lit and it won’t show up in the picture. That is one of the reasons that people use extension arms to move the strobes away from the lens and allow them to be aimed away from the subject.
Strobes produce areas of strong light in the middle of their beam. These are called “Hot spots”. When you position your strobes, you need to pay attention that any hot spots are not coming through into the picture. You can generally do this by making sure that the strobes are positioned behind the plane of the port.
Flash Diffusers are commonly used to increase the beam angle of the light. This helps in getting good light coverage when taking wide angle photographs. It also “softens” the light and avoids some of the harsh shadows that can otherwise occur. An additional reason to use a diffuser is to reduce the glare from a highly reflective surface , like this shiny Barracuda. But, like all of the other things we’ve talked about, diffusers can sometimes be a disadvantage. If there are a lot of particles in the water, then they can add to the backscatter problems we talked about earlier. If you’re lucky enough to be diving in the clear waters of Key Largo, this isn’t usually a problem, and you can put the diffusers on and forget about them.
The next question is how many strobes do you need? The answer to this is fairly subjective. A lot of photographers, even though they may have two strobes attached to their camera, often only use one of them. The purpose of the strobes is not to blast the subject with light, but as I said earlier, to add color spectrum.
If you hit the subject with too much light from every direction, all the shadows will be eliminated. This leads to a flat, uninteresting picture. A second strobe can be used for a variety of purposes. It can be used to fill in light to avoid harsh shadow in a macro photograph where the strobe is very close to the subject. It can increase the area of coverage in a wide angle picture, and it can be used to achieve interesting lighting effects.
The second strobe is often referred to as a “fill” light and can be smaller than the primary strobe. Having said that I would recommend that, if you are using 2 strobes, use 2 from the same manufacturer. This can avoid some of the connection problems that are sometimes encountered when trying to mix strobes from 2 manufacturers on one sync cord. As you can see from this photograph of 2 Butterfly Fish taken while scuba diving Key Largo, 2 strobes can create the perfect “blend” of light.
In the next chapter, we will be talking about how to take advantage of the best of the available light and blend it with your strobe light to create your optimum image by using them in combination. We will focus on the creative alternatives available to the scuba diver/underwater photographer to produce an image that conveys the feeling as well of the detail of the photograph.
See you for the next installment, and happy scuba diving to all!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center Instructor Dave Jefferiss
You may be asking yourself what’s all the fuss about? I know how to use a camera – I’ve been taking pictures for years without any problems. Well, yes, but several things make underwater photography especially challenging. Light levels in the underwater water world are much lower than we are used to at the surface. There are several reasons for this.
First of all, clouds or haze can reduce the amount of light hitting the surface of the ocean. So, on a cloudy day, things will appear much darker underwater than on a sunny one.
Not all of the light that does strike the surface of the water actually goes into it. If the sun is low in the sky, the light will be reflected back into the sky and not go underwater. On the surface, you normally just have to think about the effect of shadows when shooting in daylight. Underwater, time of day has a far greater effect on the amount of natural light available underwater.
Another thing that will impact the amount of light entering into the water is the amount of wave action. Even if the sun is relatively high in the sky, if the surface of the sea is very rough, then light will be reflected away making it much darker down below. If the conditions are flat and calm, most of the light will go into the water. Even once the light has entered the water it becomes dissipated. Some of the light energy is absorbed by the water as heat. The remaining light can be scattered by sediment, plant and animal life floating in the water column.
The next big difference for scuba diving and photography is the fact that water acts like a giant filter. This color calibration chart on the left was photographed in only 20ft of water, but you can see that most of the red and orange has disappeared. In fact, red starts being absorbed in as little as 10ft of water. By the time a scuba diver gets to 80 ft, only the blues are left as shown in this photo taken in 100ft of water.
Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo
There are many places you can go on a scuba diving vacation, right? So, “why Key Largo diving?”…some might ask. Well maybe you think us Conchs hanging out way down south in the Florida Keys are pretty isolated…but we do hear things…as the ‘ol saying goes. And here are top 3 answers for that simple question above.
According to the REEF Foundation, there are 2 dive sites in the Florida Keys diving rated in the Top 20 dive sites with the greatest abundance and diversity of marine life in the entire Carribbean. Molasses Reef and French Reef. That’s a lot of awesome dive sites, so we’re pretty proud of that! About 30 years ago, Rick Freshee, a world-renowned Underwater Photographer and good friend of my father, made the comment…”Key Largo is one of the top spots in the world for schooling fishes”… and Rick would certainly know. Before he passed at a too-young age, he traveled the world for decades to diving destinations far and wide. So this comment is pretty signifigant, and Key Largo IS still known for the schooling fish for those that know. But scuba divers know that the Florida Keys are also one of the top areas in the Caribbean for bigger fish like Grouper and Snapper whose numbers have unfortunately continued to drop in many islands in the Caribbean due to over-fishing. It’s really a shame, but it’s true…the marine life in many places in the caribbean are in decline. Thanks to the efforts of many divers and Dive Centers in the Florida Keys, along with the implementation of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the marine life here is NOT in decline today on our reefs we’re happy to report!
It’s simple really. You can drive here, and you do not need a passport to visit & dive. We do not charge you an entry or exit fee like many islands do… (what ARE those about anyway and who really gets the dough???) We speak your language, and as much as I hate to say this… we do not hate you. (Note this only applies to a few dive destinations in exotic places, but it is an emerging reality in the world we live in).
Hemingway, Buffet, Rum Runners, Key Lime Pie & fish sandwiches. Pretty cool, huh? Oh, and lots of sunshine and great scuba diving. Now why the heck wouldn’t you want to come on down and do some Key largo Diving?
Let us know if you have any other reasons…
PS – thanks to Jim Matyszyk and Bob Haff for the Schooling fish photographs!