One of my favorite things to do on a tropical island is go snorkeling to see all of the amazing corals and colorful fish. So when we began planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii I knew we had to set some time aside underwater adventures. Anytime there were a couple of hours free we headed to a beach to see what was swimming below and was never disappointed. Our very first morning in Kona we walked to a nearby beach and saw yellow tangs swimming everywhere. Within a few minutes I had to go back to the hotel and get snorkeling gear to get a better view of these fish.
A short time later we were in the water swimming among these beautiful fish watching as they dart back and forth finding food and swimming with the motion of the waves as they came barreling towards shore. It becomes so easy to lose track of time when you enter this amazing underwater world. So much of the land world slips away down here. Well, until you find something from land that has made its way into the ocean such as a tire or plastic bottle. Some of it from careless people while other pieces make their way here by accident from either the wind or a larger wave. I ended up losing a key card at one point adding to this foreign debris. Fortunately it was found again and I was able to keep this little piece of trash out of the ocean.
During a few of our last snorkeling adventures we were fortunate enough to come across sea turtles swimming along the reef. One of them kept swimming closer and closer to a point I needed to swim away trying to keep a safe distance from it for its protection. It was so much fun to see these large turtles up close as they scour rocks and swim around the sea. They move in such a lazy fashion like they really have no worries at all and just go with the tide. Even though I was able to get in the water on four different occasion for a couple of hours each, I could have spent so much more time in the water exploring the different beaches and bays around Kona. It was a great time that I hope to be able to repeat sometime in the future.
Snorkeling has been a great hobby ever since I first tried it in the Cayman Islands in 2001. Ever since then I’ve wanted to capture the beautiful underwater landscapes but the cost to do so has prevented me from using equipment that would provide great photos. Fortunately things have changed over the past 15 years making it more affordable to capture those underwater memories.
Above is a picture taken in 2015 on the beaches of Cozumel using a GoPro Hero 4. It’s not a great shot but one that makes me laugh because the larger fish is a Barracuda and you don’t see a lot of fish in front of it but there are several behind it. When I first started taking underwater photographs I was resigned to using the disposable camera for water. This image below is one of the better shots as most are made up of varying shades of blue making it difficult to see what you are taking the picture of.
After getting tire of so many poor pictures and the challenge in trying to use one of these disposable underwater cameras I decided it was time to get a waterproof case for a digital camera. The results are better, however I’m using cameras purchased in 2004 so the quality is still less than I would like, but given how often I snorkel, purchasing better gear isn’t justified. Below is an image of coral using the older digital camera in a case made specifically for it.
Many of the images from this older digital camera are a little blurry but at least there are more pictures where you can tell what the picture actually is about and colors are more representative of what you actually see. In addition, there isn’t as much of a limitation on the number of photos you can take because they’re digital instead of a roll of film so go ahead and shoot away. Because of this I was able to photograph this school of fish in the picture below and somewhat see what I was photographing through the screen on the back.
All of the following images were captured using the GoPro. These are definitely better – sharper, more accurate colors, and increased detail on larger images. I just set the camera to take a picture every second or two and swim around with the camera. No more trying to set up a shot only to have a wave come by and push me into a different position. The unfortunate side to this is I don’t know what the photographs look like until I get back to my computer because I don’t have an LCD screen on the GoPro Hero 4 as most of the time my smart phone is the screen but that doesn’t seem to like being in the water.
The end result is better underwater photographs, which for the most part, I’m happy with. For such a small camera it really does a good job. Since I don’t live around an ocean I would like to try it in fresh water in lakes and rivers around my house to see how those turn out. Most likely not as colorful as ocean pictures but could be fun and interesting all the same in the right places.
Above is a school of fish taking refuge among the reef. Below is one of the many urchins hiding in the rocks. The little orange specs near the urchin are small fish. These action cameras like the GoPro are definitely fun cameras to use in ways other cameras can’t without expensive add-ons without sacrificing a lot of quality.
That just doesn’t seem like a good idea. Way to cold. Hypothermia could be a huge problem right? Not if you’re adequately equipment for snorkeling during the summer with water temps around 50 degrees F. We’ve been snorkeling in the Caribbean several times along with Hawaii and loved it so when the opportunity to snorkel in Alaska came up, we took it. Sure, being cold while doing this was a concern but full wetsuits were provided and I’ve been swimming in water that cold before and survived. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for our entire family to compare snorkeling in Alaska to the Caribbean. We did this through Snorkel Alaska in Ketchikan. Our adventure began just after six in the morning. As you can see in the photo below, the sun was close to the horizon as the day was beginning.
First off, protection against the cold water is required and 7mm thick wetsuits were provided. They work by trapping a thin layer of water between you and the wetsuit and that water is warmed by your body. In order for this to happen cold water from the water you are swimming in needs to enter the wetsuit. My expectation was to have a cold water shock for a short time. What actually happened was feeling cool water for a second or two before it warmed to body temp and remained warm for the duration of the snorkeling experience.
I often forgot that we were in cold Alaskan waters because almost everything was covered by the full wetsuit or the mask and snorkel. There was a small section of my face exposed to the water and that is the only way I cold compare the ocean water temp to my wetsuit temp and I had to concentrate a few times in order to feel the cold water. Otherwise I didn’t even notice. The most difficult part about snorkeling in Alaska is putting on the wetsuit. Imagine putting on a pair of leather pants about two sizes too small and you’ll get the idea.
Once in the water there were amazing kelp beds and sea stars of varying shapes, sizes, and colors all around. After the entire group was swimming comfortably our dive instructors began bringing up animals from the bottom and providing interesting information about each one. Most of them ended up in our hands for a minute or two before being put back where they were found. It was nice to be able to see these because the water clarity was not great on this day and it was mostly cloudy so not as much light was available to penetrate deeper into the water. We were able to see about 10 feet under the surface before losing visibility.
These dive instructors were the best I’ve been with. Always helping and showing us different highlights with great enthusiasm and energy. What was even more impressive about these instructors is this was the last few days of August and they had been doing this same adventure all summer. Most people seem to tire of giving the same tour day in and day out over several months. If these instructors were tired of this excursion, they didn’t let it show.
During our time in the water two Bald Eagles joined us and watched as we moved around in the water. That really added to the overall experience. I’ve never been observed by an Eagle at such close distances before. Soon it was time to get out of the water and head back to our cruise ship. I was amazed just how short this time seemed. It felt like we were in the water for less than 30 minutes. We used a GoPro camera to record the event and when I went back over the video we were actually in the water for over an hour. Unfortunately the camera direction was adjusted during the swim by a nearby fin so the video doesn’t really show much. I could have used another hour just to continue exploring these Alaskan waters.
Out in the middle of this designated swimming/snorkeling area a stingray came flying above the surface and splashed down back into the water. I’ve read about this and heard about it but never actually saw it myself. Now the decision to stay dry didn’t seem as important. There was the possibility of swimming with stingrays again. After a few minutes of conversation and thought it was decided that we came all this way, we have the gear with us, let’s use it and warm up later. It’s not like the water was cold enough to produce hyperthermia … was it? So off to the car to fetch our equipment and change into swimming attire.
After getting set up to go into the water we got to the waters edge and then the cold hit. Motivation was waning. Another step in and stop to acclimate. Another step. And then another. Now I was in water almost to my waist and I wasn’t sure I could go any further. It had taken about 10 minutes just to get this far into the water. Knowing the afternoon was speeding by and time to leave would come faster than we wanted I was trying to push on and acclimate a little faster but my shivering was increasing in intensity pushing me to get out of the water. Finally I took another step into deeper water and stood there for a a minute or two more. The water kept moving higher on me taking my breath away with each wave. After deciding enough time had been wasted by slowly moving into the water along knowing there were sights under water that I was missing I took the plunge and dived in. It was painful and I couldn’t get above the surface fast enough to take in the warmth of the sun. Standing again for a minute or two I dove in again and this time took off swimming while looking for creatures of the deep (or at least underwater).
At first there were several small fish without much color but not a lot to view as had been mentioned other snorkelers. Swimming further out from shore I came upon a huge drop-off where the ground gave away and I could barely see a bottom. This caught me by surprise as a drop-off of this magnitude was not expected this close to shore. I couldn’t bring myself to go over the edge of this underwater wall because I couldn’t see the bottom. What if another stingray made its’ way to the surface and smacked into me? Or worse, what if something scared the stingray to the surface and that was still down there? No, I’m definitely staying where I can see what’s going on.
Continue on to the next post to read about the most spectacular experience of this afternoon….
This was the first time I’ve seen a live conch scooting across the bottom. The intense red foot was surprising and amazing. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good photograph of that.
The color and variety of fish in the ocean is incredible. I love all the patterns on this fish. How do these patterns and colors benefit this species of fish? In the right location it becomes easier to figure out but no so much in this picture.
They are a little hard to see but there are several squid watching you. There are a couple of yellow stripes in the center of this photo. That is a squid. There are at least two more, one on each side of the most colorful one. Can you find them? I was surprised by these. At first I saw one swimming in front of me and all of a sudden I noticed a school of them. Once I stopped close enough and they stopped I realized what they were as they would move what appeared to be backwards.
A piece of the moat wall of Fort Jefferson which has fallen into the water. It is surrounded by fish and coral.
A specimen piece of coral. I could have spent a lot of time observing and photographing these corals. Unfortunately time was short.
Another larger seafan.
There is a lot going on around this rock. There are a number of smaller fish searching for food and/or shelter among some smaller corals and algae.
Brain coral with feather dusters emerged.
A red sea star or starfish sifting through the sand.
A large purple seafan moving with the ocean currents. Surrounded by a number of other corals together creating a beautiful underwater landscape.