A Week of Scuba Diving in Roatan (Honduras)

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Map Roatan

A looooonger than usual post but jam packed with my underwater photos!

Diving Roatan
How Underwater Photography Compares to Food Photography
Night Diving
Lionfish Invasion
Dive Operator – Reef Gliders
Camera Used for Underwater Photography

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Diving Roatan

Located off the coast of Honduras, Roatan is one of the best dive destinations in the world.

I spent a week diving there in early August. The underwater visibility was very good – about 50-60 feet (15-18 m) on almost every dive. The water temperature was a warm 82°F (27.8°C) and I dove in a 3mm full suit but still got a bit chilled towards the end of our hour-long dives (but that’s just me).

You may have guessed from some of my previous posts on diving in the Seychelles (Praslin and La Digue) and in the Musandam that I’m an avid scuba diver and underwater photographer.

A Very Friendly Nassau Grouper

Actually, I was an avid diver. It’s amazing how time flies and suddenly its not months between dives but YEARS.

I’m convinced that time tends to fly faster as I get older. I expected to be in Dubai for a maximum of two years but I’m now approaching my fourth year. Where did the time go?

Queen Angelfish
Queen Angelfish

Wee Scotch entering my life meant either a hiatus or a slow down of a lot of things that I used to enjoy doing. But that’s as expected when one has a child and I’m thoroughly enjoying motherhood and being a stay-at-home mom.

The whole week I was in Roatan, I missed waking up and seeing his cute little chubby face each morning, and I missed his sweet goodnight hugs and wet baby kisses.

Wee Scotch testing out my new gear
Wee Scotch testing out my new gear

I was lucky to have my mom watch over my already-mischievous son while I went away to catch up with some girl friends and spend a whole week diving in a small but lively Caribbean island.

Yellowhead Jawfish

My last dive was in June 2008 when I dived a wreck called the Neptune off the shore of Dubai. After having been dry for 3 years it was bliss to be back in the water with my fishies.


How Underwater Photography Compares to Food Photography

I’ve always found underwater photography to be more challenging than food photography. The subject is usually a surprise, moves around A LOT…and often hides or disappears completely before I can even focus on it.

Scorpionfish – a master at camouflage

The more I try to chase after a fish, the faster and further it swims away. Chasing after a stingray? Futile.

Sharpnose Puffer
Sharpnose Puffer

Lighting is also a major obstacle. For these photos, I used the built-in flash on my point-and-shoot camera and the range of the flash is minimal underwater so I have to get quite close to my subjects for them to be properly lit and for the colors to be accurate. Otherwise, all the post-processing in the world won’t bring back the colors nor details.

Common Octopus

One day, I would love to upgrade to a casing for my Canon DSLR complete with strobes…that is, one day when I’m diving more often than once every few years.

Green Moray
Green Moray

Just like food photog, the subject doesn’t respond to verbal cues. No matter how much I try to tell my subject, “Turn your head my way, wee fishie; Open your mouth wider green moray; Give me more pout, little trunkfish,” or “Come baaaaack dammit!” not only do they not listen but all my instructions only come out as one long burst of of bubbles emanating from my regulator, which ends up scaring my subjects even more.

Most of the time, I just resort to holding my breath for as long as I can, so as not to exhale any bubbles, and silently praying for the pictures to come out decent.

Smooth Trunkfish
Smooth Trunkfish

I get a lot of blur, a lot of blue, a lot of back-scatter, a lot of fish back sides, and oddly enough, a lot of head-on shots. Now if I was into portraits, a head-on shot wouldn’t be so bad. But fish?

Most fish are flat so a head-on shot just makes for an odd two-dimensional photo, don’t you think? I’ll let you be the judge:

Fish Faces
From left to right: Indigo Hamlet; Juvenile French Angelfish, Gray Angelfish, Whitespotted Filefish

Two in a row of the same Queen Angelfish. Oh, lucky me.

Queen Angelfish
Queen Angelfish

Perhaps I’m approaching this all wrong. Trying to get side photos of fish just results in butt shots. Instead, I should just aim for fish butts to begin with. Maybe reverse psychology will get me somewhere.

Spotted Moray
Spotted Moray

And the most disappointing difference of underwater versus food photog? I can’t eat my subject right after the shoot. Sashimi lover or not.

Not that I don’t often think about how good the Caribbean lobsters would taste after boiling in pot of water and dipped in lemony-pepper sauce. (Hmm…Is it lemony-pepper or peppery-lemon?)

Caribbean Lobsters
Someone’s Dinner? (Left: Caribbean Spiny Lobster; Right: Spotted Spiny Lobster)

I still have a ways to go on the learning curve but I learned a lot in the past few days about how to use Adobe Photoshop CS5 via the editing of my dive photos: Filters for noise (dust and scratches), unsharp mask, layer masks, channel mixers, hue/saturation, levels, curves – Aaaaack – Learning curve overload!

Yellowline Arrow Crab
Yellowline Arrow Crab

Definitely can’t eat this shot:

Wreck Dive of El Aguila
Wreck Dive of El Aguila

Night Diving

Besides a wreck dive, I also did one night dive. I find night dives very relaxing and the underwater photos usually turn out much better than daytime ones since there is only one light source (the camera’s flash) but focusing can sometimes be a problem due to low lighting.

Red Night Shrimp
Red Night Shrimp

The waxing moon was a small sliver that night. Our flashlights were like small spot lights slowly sweeping the reef searching for night creatures that normally stay hidden during the day.

We spotted an octopus, tons of sea urchins “walking” on the coral, lots of lobsters and the nocturnal red night shrimp. Our divemaster even found and took some awesome macro photos of a beautiful circled squat shrimp.

Spiny Sea Urchin
Scary-looking Sea Urchin next to a Red Night Shrimp

At one point, our divemaster had us turn off all our flashlights so that we could see the bioluminescence in the water caused by single-cell organisms called dinoflagellates. Moving my hands and fingers back and forth in the water caused little twinkly lights to appear and trail my movements.

It’s pretty cool but what’s even better is staying absolutely still and observing the bioluminescence “light up” everyone else moving around me.

And as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I also began to see little lights forming in the distance, slowly appearing, almost equally spaced, one on top of the other like the beginnings of a small constellation.  These “strings of pearls,” as they are called, are caused by microscopic pelagic shrimp that come up from deep water at night and leave trails of phosphorescence.

I love night dives :).

Lionfish Invasion

In 2008, I was very excited to see my first ever lionfish when I dove in the Musandam, there were also many to be seen in the Seychelles and when I was snorkeling in the Maldives. Little did I know that these fish, native to the Indo-Pacific, were already rapidly invading the waters of the Caribbean.

Lionfish at Roatan

Lionfish are an invasive species in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean and have no natural predators. Possibly introduced into the Atlantic as early as 1992 when Hurricane Andrew caused a crack in an oceanside aquarium.

Lionfish reproduce quickly and according to studies on small coral reefs in the Bahamas, a single lionfish per reef reduced young juvenile fish populations by 79 percent in only a five-week period.

Lionfish at Roatan

In order to save the reefs, efforts are being made in Roatan to control their population. When I was diving, I witnessed the “removal” of a few lionfish via speargun.

It’s a shame that such a fate is bestowed upon these beautiful creatures but it’s a necessary measure if the reefs are to survive.

Save The Reef - Eat a Lionfish

The coral in Roatan seemed quite healthy but the fish population wasn’t as abundant as I’ve seen when I dove in Curacao or Bonaire. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the lionfish invasion or maybe the time of year that I was there.

Regardless, the diving was still incredible, lots of wonderful dive sites like “Spooky Channel” and “Texas” sticking out in my mind.

View from "Spooky Channel"
View from “Spooky Channel”

At Texas (my last day of diving), two lucky divers saw a 6-7 foot hammerhead shark and a 9-10 foot nurse shark. Lucky them.

Sargassum Triggerfish
Sargassum Triggerfish @ “Texas”

Dive Operator – Reef Gliders

I dove with Reef Gliders in West End. The owners, Barb and John, were very friendly and welcoming and so were the rest of the staff that I met. They run three dives a day (9am, 11:30am, and 2:30pm) except for Sundays when only two dives are offered.

Each diver in Roatan contributes a small fee to the Roatan Marine Park (RMP) which allows the organization to actively protect Roatan’s natural resources, including patrols and infrastructure, education, conservation and public awareness. Mooring buoys are used at each dive site to protect the reefs.

In the week I was with Reef Gliders, I met divers from different parts of the world – both tourists and locals – many of which were repeat customers. As I was diving two to three dives a day, the dive shop quickly became a second home.

Even more so when there’s a bar on-site. I spent many hours at that bar, C Level, filling out my scuba log book and imbibing with the post-dive Barena. Thanks to Joe, Christine, and Mandy for the cold drinks and the delicious lunches!

Reef Gliders Dive Shop
Reef Gliders Dive Shop

Wait a second.

Why don’t I have photos of the bar??? 

¡Ay Caramba!

(*shakes head at self in disappointment*)

Dive Boat
Dive Boat

Big thanks to Mags for the refresher course, to Alex for fixing my BC’s inflator button (definitely time for a new BC), and to Mickey, the most awesome divemaster of all.

Diving professionally for more than 10 years, Mickey really knows his reefs and reef fish ID.  I love to identify the fish on my dives and Mickey was always able to help with that. He was always quick to help me with all my many dive issues that week – devising a new weight belt system ;), scrubbing a new mask, and fixing a twisted fin strap.

Also, his passion for diving and talent for underwater photography, especially macro, was apparent on each dive. If only we had found and photographed a pea (juvie trunkfish) or seahorse that week!

Divemaster Mickey
Divemaster Mickey

Camera Used for Underwater Photography

My set-up was a point-and-shoot Canon Powershot SD700 IS paired with the Canon WP-DC5 underwater casing. I shot in full auto mode with the flash always on.

The camera also takes video and it’s great for when I can’t get a good focus on a subject or want to capture movement like in this octopus video:

Next up…food photos from Roatan!

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  1. I know this was old but I it came up when I was looking for the name of a fish I saw in Roatan (Porkfish), and I found it helpful and very entertaining writing – thank you!

  2. roatan looks nice, what was the visibility like?

    i always shudder at how hideous octopi are. they are the ugliest things i have ever seen. my theory is that aesthetics and tastiness are inversely related when it comes to sea life, ie. eels, uni, squid, cuttlefish, octopus.

    1. Viz was 50-60 feet. Will update that in my post.

      So you don't want to see my octopus video then? Have yet to post that as well as the turtle one.

  3. I went on a summer abroad to Australia a few years back for ecological research and we spent the whole time snorkeling and duck diving. It's amazing how many of the fish names I still remember looking at these pictures!

  4. Hi Ginger,

    What an awesome collection of underwater photos! I love the one of yellowline arrow crab. It looks like it's on a nest of cotton or berries.

    How exciting it looks to scuba dive although I would be scared to try it myself since I've never learned how to swim. I've never got out of my fear of water and I know I'm missing so much. But it's so nice to see others enjoying themselves and having so much fun.

    Have a nice day!

    1. Hi Vikki,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      And you must give diving a try if you can! all you need to do is 2 pool sessions + e-learning in your home area (takes 2 days or evenings) and then 4 dives at your vacation destination. At Roatan, dives were only $30 each – one of the best bargains in diving!