Big Ball of Bigeye Trevally

Bigeye Trevally

Nothing warms my heart more underwater than seeing an aggregation of fish while diving on a healthy reef. We saw swarms of schooling Trevally (Jacks) on several dives in Tubbataha. Like starling birds, they swirl and undulate and create momentary patterns, swimming with energy and a collective purpose to be at one with a pack of fish – safety in numbers from predators being the reason to be part of a gang.

Being shiny, silvery fish, that are constantly on the move, they can be a bit challenging to photograph, as light from the strobes can easily over-illuminate the Trevally closest to the camera. Shot with an 8 mm fisheye lens in a dome port, as were all of my wide angles on this trip.

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The Scariest Fish in the Sea

Titan Triggerfish

Let me introduce you to the scariest (to me) fish in the sea.

This is a kind of fish that I have nicknamed Bucky (or Buckette – the sex of this fish is not easy to discern by its colouration) – a Titan Triggerfish. Bucky (& Buckette, when she is not nesting) are big, beautiful, and generally benign fish – they grow up to 30 inches in length, and are pretty beefy. Like parrotfish, Titan Triggerfish use their not inconsequential teeth to rip up chunks of coral and crunch spiny urchins as part of their diet.

In this photo, this (non-nesting) Titan Trigger is being groomed by that little black, white & blue striped cleaner wrasse on its side – these little fishes populate the reef and provide cleaning services for many of its denizens. The wrasses eat little parasites off the fishes/turtles/rays/eels/sharks’ etc bodies, and even do dental hygiene duty and clean inside their mouths! The fish being groomed somehow know not to eat them. It’s quite entertaining to camp out for a while near a cleaning station and watch the fish lining up for their turn to be detailed.

But back to Buckette – in her non-nesting state, she is a pretty chill fish. But once she is nesting, she becomes a terrorist. Titan Triggerfish excavate large, shallow pits in sandy areas on the bottom, where their eggs are laid and fertilized, and then it’s open season on any creatures daring to approach the nursery. Titan Triggers are hyper-vigilant, and will chase off any critters (including divers) that come into range. The problem is that they consider their zone of protection to be a large area, flaring out and up from the areas around their nests on the bottom, extending in a wide conical shape, all the way to the surface above – even when it’s 50 or more feet away! Flying overhead, you see them turn, eye you with their deranged eyeballs (which, unlike most fish, can move independently), and then they charge, swimming at hyper-speed as they come straight at you, mouths agape, ready to chomp. And it’s not just for show, they actually will and do bite divers.

On a past trip to Indonesia, Mr G took a hit from one of these big fish on his leg, behind his knee. He didn’t see it coming as we flew over a minefield of occupied nests on a crazy 6+ knot current dive that we were in the process of aborting. We were bailing on the dive because we were concerned that we would be blown a long distance from the boat, in a very remote part of the world. This is how divers get lost at sea.

Anyhoo, the fish grabbed Dave from behind, on the tendon on the back of his knee, and shook his leg ferociously. At first Dave thought it might be a small shark that got him (even though it would be highly unusual for a shark to attack a diver), but turning to wrest the assailant off, he saw that it was one of these maniacal fish. He punched it and the fish let go, leaving him with a couple of puncture wounds (it bit him right through his wetsuit!) and a big bruise. Some of our dive buds are docs and they made sure the wound was cleaned up properly to avoid infection. Another diver on the same trip took a hit to her head!

And on that same crazy current dive, I had one come after me too, and I’m pretty sure I screamed like a 6 year old as I fended it off by turning on my back and whacking at it with my fins. I had a big steel muck stick in my hand too, and if it persisted I wasn’t opposed to shish kebabbing it down the gullet to make it quit. Fortunately it didn’t come down to murder, but if it was me or the fish, I wasn’t going to lose.

Early on our recent trip to the Tubbataha reefs in the Philippines, we noticed some Titan Triggers building nests and doing some courtship dances. Ruh Roh we thought, and sure enough, within days the females were nesting and becoming belligerent. I kept a good eye out for nests and took great care to avoid any I saw, but one late afternoon dive, drifting in current in the darkening blue above the reef, I saw nests – several of them – and then… the dreaded charge. Muck sticks are not permitted in Tubbataha Marine Park, and so I felt somewhat defenceless. The guides had advised whacking your fins in the fish’s face if under attack, and I did, which thankfully eventually discouraged it.

Non-divers fear sharks. In my experience, having dove with thousands of them over the years, I’ve never felt threatened by a single one. But these maniacal (when nesting) fish? These are worthy of your fear…

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Into the Deep…

Tubbataha Reef Wall

How deep was that anyway?

The other evening we were sharing some of the highlights of our really memorable recent trip to the Tubbataha reefs in the Philippines with some non-diving buds, over beers at the local pub. The first question from an inquisitive friend was ‘How deep did you go?’. I teased him for not asking about what we saw/what made the diving so special/etc, but I get that non-divers are intrigued about what it’s like in the depths, and worry about how risky going deep might be. For me, I only go as deep as I need to try to capture a shot. (I’m not going to ‘fess up about a really deep {planned} dive, well below recreational limits – which is 130 ft – that I did with a bunch o’ adventurous divers in Cozumel quite a few years ago 😉). Generally, I’ll choose to max out at about 90 feet, unless there is a compelling reason to dive deeper, which is rare. Slow ascent and a long safety stop, as well as diving enhanced oxygen Nitrox instead of straight air, all contribute to keeping this pretty safe to do, even when doing multiple dives per day.

I captured this shot on the recent trip in the Philippines at about 90 feet, and it was the deepest I dove. I went down to try to capture the magic of a waterfall of these surgeonfish, which cascaded from the flat reef above – which itself was at about 50 feet. I like the moody blues, especially evocative on an early morning dive, before the sun is fully overhead. My photo can only hint at the awesome sight of hundreds of fish pouring off the reef above to dive into the depths, which, off the edge of the fringing reefs of the Tubbataha atolls, is thousands of feet deep! Truly, the abyss…

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Raja Ampat, The Last Diving Paradise?

We recently returned from a truly wonderful dive trip to Indonesia. After the stress-inducing O-ring debacle of the diving portion of our first adventure post-Covid, in Egypt‘s Red Sea, this was relaxing, exhilarating, and breathtakingly beautiful diving. (Note: You’ll need to scroll waaaaaay down to read about our fubar diving in my Egypt trip report ;^).

On this trip, most of the gang (comprised of the usual suspects) spent a few days – before setting sail on a 10 day live aboard trip – doing some nice land based diving out of a resort in northern Misool, a remote area located in the far eastern reaches of the sprawling island nation of Indonesia.

To get to this part of Indonesia it’s for sure an adventure – for us, a long haul flight from the west coast of Canada, then a quick connection in Singapore to a flight to Jakarta, and then a red eye 4.5 hour flight from Jakarta to Sorong (aka So Wrong ;^) – we called it that because on a previous flight out of this non-touristy place, the ancient 737 that we were on barely made before the end of the quite short runway – I swear it must have been skimming its wheels across the wave tops as it struggled to get airborne. Hot, heavy, and humid were the conditions that day – all perils in flying. The flight was crammed to the max with sweaty bodies – every seat was taken, the overhead bins were stuffed to overflowing, as no doubt was the luggage compartment in the belly of the beast. I won’t even get into the malfunctioning loos in the rear of the plane which permeated the cabin with an incredibly foul miasma of septic gases for the duration. It was definitely a ‘suck it up buttercup’ kind of situation. Still, the diving in the area was so good that, despite the sketchy Indonesian-operated flights required to get there, there we went again. (Here’s a link to my previous trip report on Raja Ampat, from 2010).

Where in the World Were We?

I’ll write more about the land-based resort we visited in a future post, and a bit as well about the superb live aboard that we all greatly enjoyed (seriously, we all loved it so much that we are already looking to book a future trip).

But for now, I thought I’d start by sharing some images from the trip in some short photo blogs. I have already shared the following images on my social media (Judy G Diver on both Facebook & Instagram), but thought I’d drop them in here too.

Rush hour at Boo Rock, Raja Ampat, Indonesia, April 2023.

That’s Amy D going 👀 to 👀 with a massive Bumphead Parrotfish – one of about a dozen there that day. We saw schools of these big beauties on several other sites as well. This sighting was particularly lively as they hung around in the swirling current, audibly chomping on the beautiful reef.

Rush Hour in Raja Ampat Part 2. This is a school of silvery Jacks – just one of many species of schooling fish that we spotted on the trip.

It warmed my heart so much to see abundant, healthy and diverse fish populations and reefs in this part of Indonesia – no doubt due to an established marine protection zone, which appears to be working quite well.

Heart Lagoon, Raja Ampat.

A fairly short, very sweaty, steep sketchy wooden-stepped hike to this viewpoint of a gorgeous 💙 shaped lagoon. This was the only time we went on land during our 10 day live aboard trip.

More pix and stories to come…

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Yalla Yalla Habibi!

Adventures in Egypt

I’ll admit that I was never super interested in ancient history; I think my last whack at it was in the early years of high school. Egyptians, Romans, Greeks? They were bygones to me – more mythology than history in my hazy lazy memory. What had always interested me more was modern times — 19th and 20th century. To me, these were the events that formed our modern world, and I have usually sought out museums and experiences that feed into this silo of interest. 

But during a planned group dive trip with a bunch of the buds to the Red Sea, with an option to add on a week touring in Egypt, I found that I really started to groove on the ancient, and became increasingly fascinated with the incredible architecture (how the heck did they do that?!), and pictorial language. Hieroglyphics tell the story of who the ancient Egyptians were, what they believed in, and how a civilization of people lived thousands of years ago.

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Touched By A Shark

Massive tiger sharks. Big beefy bull sharks. Marauding reef sharks. Thick clouds of thousands of fish. Dive masters swimming up into this chaotic melee to dump fish guts in murky mid-water, in an effort to attract the big ‘uns. Twenty-six divers lined up behind a low berm, just feet away from the bait buckets. What could possibly go wrong?

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The Sun Also Sets

Yesterday was the much-anticipated solar eclipse. And although we live a bit north of the ‘zone of totality’, it was still a noteworthy happening. And amazingly, it was a clear sunny day for this extraordinary event.

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Diving In The Front Yard

Red Flabellina (Flabellina triophina) Nudibranch 

It had been over a year since we last donned the drysuits and waddled into the water. It’s totally awesome to be shore diving in the front yard, but the bods are not getting any younger, and contorting into the cold water gear and heavy weight harnesses, shuffling down a bumpy beach, wallowing around in shallow water to get the fins on, and finally swimming out to drop down are really not for the weak of heart.

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Pic of the Day – Doto Nudibranch

From the Bali files. This is the front end of a teensy Doto nudibranch, feasting on a hydroid.

There are thousands of species of nudibranchs (aka sea slugs), and they come in a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns. Big nudis can be up to a foot long. This little beauty (Doto greenamyeri for all you nudi geeks out there) was about 1/3 of an inch in length. Those horn things (rhinosphores) are how they smell/sense. Shot with a 60 macro lens and a +10 diopter, plus a whole lotta cursing .

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Pic of the Day – Pen Shell Shrimp

pontonia mexicana

This is a fairly unusual critter – so much so that it is not in my (older version) Humann & Deloach Caribbean Reef Creature ID book. It is a Pen Shell Shrimp (Pontonia mexicana), about half an inch in length, which I photographed in March in the Caribbean muck diving mecca that is St Vincent. I was pretty astonished at how many new (to me) critters we saw on that trip. More to come…

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Pic of the Day – Pederson Shrimp on Corkscrew Anemone

Pederson shrimp on a corkscrew anemone. Photographed in St. Vincent.

St Vincent is known for coughing up some pretty weird and wonderful species, some of which are seen no where else in the Caribbean. I initially thought this might have been something pretty unusual for the Caribbean, but stand corrected by those with better ID ability than me .

These wee beauties (max about an inch in length) typically live in what is called a commensal relationship with their host anemone. It’s considered commensal when one species (in this case the shrimp) benefits from the other (in this case the toxins from the anemone, which coat it and protect it from predation), while the host neither benefits, nor is harmed, by its presence. So it is different than a mutualistic relationship (ie an anemone fish and its host anemone, like I wrote about last week), in which both creatures derive benefits from the other. And that is in turn different than a parasitic relationship, in which one species (ie a copepod) benefits, while its host suffers. There is a photo earlier in my Instagram feed that shows a little red/pink bottom dwelling fish with ‘a party hat’ on its head. That thing on its head is actually a nasty parasite.

It’s a complicated world down there, eh?

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Pic of the Day – Stunning Sunset

Sunsets are always beautiful, fleeting things, but every now and then they transcend into the truly spectacular. This was one of those sunsets. Taken from the stern of a live aboard dive boat, in eastern Indonesia, with a yummy rum punch in one hand, and a camera in the other, surrounded by (oohing and aahing) great buds.

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Pic of The Day – Spinecheek Anemone Fish

My diving buds know that I am a bit nuts about anemone fish. I just can’t swim past an anemone inhabited by these cute and colourful little fish without trying my luck at getting a pleasing shot. They are frustrating to photograph though, as they are in perpetual motion. They scoot all around and burrow into their host anemones, especially when divers or other perceived predators approach. Patience is required 😉.

Anemone fish and their host anemones enjoy a fairly complex symbiotic relationship – among other mutual benefits, the anemone fish aerates the anemone with its constant motion, and possibly attracts prey to the anemone (which is a carnivorous, stationary animal, with a mouth). The little fish rub themselves frequently on the anemone to coat themselves in the anemone’s toxins, to which they are immune, and which protects them from predators. Quite often there will be a mated pair, and sometimes a family with little ones, living on a single anemone.

This Spinecheek Anemone fish (a cousin of Nemo) was alone in his little bubble anemone, so probably a juvenile just starting to live independently. If there had been a female Spinecheek with him, she would have been larger, and a darker, duskier red. All anemone fish start out as males. They undergo sex change to female based on social order, so this little guy very well could be a mama soon.

Image captured in Alor, Indonesia.

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Pic of the Day – Alor, Indonesia Old School Fisherman

And now for something a little different. This fellow peering down at me as I took pictures from under his canoe is a local fisherman in the Alor area of Indonesia. These guys hand make bamboo fish traps, and place them on the reef. Then they paddle their side rigger dug out canoes to the traps, and use their hand made goggles to look down and keep an eye on them. They also free dive to spear fish.

The hardest part about getting a shot like this is holding your breath for long enough that you don’t get your exhaled bubbles in the shot.

One of these days, I really should do a write up for this trip. The diving was wonderful – an excellent combination of muck and gorgeous reefs. Topside was interesting as well – some very pretty sunsets, lovely mountain  islands dotted with rural villages, and behemoth blue whales, spotted several times!

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Pic of the Day – Thread Fin Hawkfish

I have a scary number of underwater images in the hopper – three trips’ worth, truth be told. I have been sharing a few on Facebook and Instagram (you can find me there – Judy G Diver), but I have been slow to mirror the images here on the blog.

So here is one to get the ball rolling (again)…

This is a little thread fin hawkfish, perched on pretty in pink soft coral. These skittish little fish (read: very frustrating to photograph) grow to a maximum of 3 inches in length. I captured this image at a depth of about 90 feet, on a muck site, in the Alor area of Indonesia.

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New Zealand – You Beach!

It’s been a bit of a whirl of travel over the past few months. In addition to some regularly scheduled dive and Berlin biz trips this year, a couple of other opportunities have arisen – one – in absence of any kids who could join us for Christmas this year, Mr G and I decided to make a hop over to the Philippines, to enjoy some (more) of the great diving there. We dove both Puerto Galera, and Anilao on this trip – which are both quite easy to reach from Manila, and don’t require a domestic flight, as the linked trip above to Dumaguete did. For the most part, it was (great) muck diving, but I did do a couple of dives with the wide angle on, to try to capture some reef scenics. There was some pretty big excitement on Dec 26th, when we found ourselves in the direct path of a very destructive typhoon! It was a bit scary, but we were fortunate to be in a safe location, from which we could watch the crazy weather happen. And amazingly, we were back diving the following day!

I have been sharing a few pix from this trip on my Instagram and Facebook, and I hope to find some time to do a bit of a trip report which I will post here. You can follow me on both sites – Judy G Diver – if you would like to see more of the photos.

I also added a trip to New Zealand to visit one of our kids who is on a prolonged stay there. It was my first time in Kiwiland (I don’t count a flight connection in Auckland on a previous trip to Australia, as we never left the airport). And what a place it is. We did a two week driving tour through some of the prettiest scenery I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I was pretty gobsmacked by the beautiful wild beaches, the pointy volcanoes, the boiling mud, the millions (!!!) of wooly sheep dotting golden hillsides, the cobalt blue lakes, the twisty scenic highways. And don’t even get me started on Milford Sound. Epically beautiful – and we lucked out and got a bluebird day to tour it. Again, I hope to do some sort of trip report, much like the one I did for our brief driving holiday on the west coast of Ireland. As always, it is not about showing off my photography, but instead, it is a desire to share information and experience with others…

So I’ll say ciao for now. More soon.

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Getting Mucky With It

Zebra Crab on a fire urchin. These little crabs are about half an inch across the top of their shell.

My apologies for my long absence from the blog. I don’t know where life goes – but it seems to be whizzing by. Lots of travel and other events are keeping me hopping.

Since I last blogged, I’ve been diving in Indonesia (Bali and Alor), and in the Philippines (Puerto Galera and Anilao). I do have lots of photos and info to share from these adventures. When life slows down a bit, I will commit to making more regular posts here.

In the meantime, if you are on Facebook, you can follow me if you’d like, and see my more frequent postings, including photo shares, here – Judy G Diver.  Select the “follow” button, and my stuff will show up in your feed. You can also follow me on Instagram if you search with the same name (Judy G Diver).

It’s also been a while since I had a gallery published by Scuba Diving Magazine. Here is one about dirty diving, which was recently added:

Getting Mucky With It

I’ll be back soon…

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Pic of the Day – Flamboyant Critters

After the deluge of posts about a trip to India, and then the rant about BC real estate, I’ve taken a little down time to take care of some stuff on the home front. But as I am now on deadline for my next photo essay for Scuba Diving Magazine, I once again find myself diving into the archives to cull out images.

This month I will be writing about Muck Diving – and trying to explain why, despite its descriptive name, many underwater photogs go nuts for it.  I’ll also be sharing some images of the very weird and wonderful critters that tend to live in the muck.

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Hitting the G Spot


Today, I am feeling a tad crabby.

A few years ago, Mr G and I went on a search for a property where we hoped to have a weekend cottage. Our criteria were pretty firm –  relatively easy water access for water activities (and ideally, shore diving), not too far from Vancouver, lots of light. We got lucky and found our little piece of heaven, including the shore dive, right before the axe fell.

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A Passage in India (& Nepal) – Part 7 – Wrapping the Trip in Khatmandu

The Himalayas, which divide India from Nepal.

To go back to the beginning of this 7 chapter travelogue, follow this link:

Chapter 1 – Just Say No to Delhi Belly

After the hell, fire and brimstone of an evening in Varanasi (and then the redeeming beautiful morning after), we packed up our bags yet again, and headed for Khatmandu.

Since the devastating earthquake of April 2015, tourism has hugely suffered in Nepal. Direct flights from Varanasi are currently cancelled, and the only way to get there from Varanasi was to fly back to Delhi, and then connect there for the Khatmandu leg. So it was a bit of a roundabout journey, but fortunately Delhi International Airport is quite new and modern. Bonnie once again demonstrated her fantastic organizational skills in keeping us wrangled and ticketed, and so other than the usurious price for a beer at the airport bar, it was all good.

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