Feb 152015

How many colors can Octopus vulgaris (aka the Common Octopus) wear?  While tones of brown are its usual choice, the common octopus can also change to white, red and even purple.

I took each of these photos of the same octopus within a five minute period.

common octopus

Octopus medium solid brown

Octopus speckled

common octopus

octopus white

The Common Octopus, by the numbers.

3 – number of hearts in its body (I had no idea)

3 – number of oceans in which it lives (Atlantic, Pacific and Indian)

8 – number of tentacles it has (this is pretty obvious)

9 – number of brains it has (What? Wow!)

12-18 – number of months in its average life span (life is short)

22 – its maximum weight, in pounds (10 kg)

24-36 – its average length, in inches (61-91 cm)

While I’ve seen the Common Octopus display many different colors and patterns, I have never seen it turn red. And since red is the color it turns to show anger, that’s OK with me.

Have you seen it turn red, or any other unusual color?

PS – I would never touch, poke, harass, disturb or otherwise harm an animal to obtain a photo, and I would not condone such practices.

Feb 082015

We recently stopped by Bonaire’s Animal Shelter to have a look at the newly completed Cat Palace.

The Cat Palace

The Cat Palace

The Cat Palace is a deluxe compound where the feline residents can eat, sleep, play, climb, scratch and receive attention.  The interior is bright, spacious and immaculately clean.

inside cat palace

shelter cage

cats eating

We were totally impressed, but how did the cats feel about their new abode?  While I don’t have cat whisperer credentials, I think it’s safe to say that they are purrfectly content.

cats playing


cats in palace

Want to see for yourself?  Check out the cat cam to see what the cats are up to.

Want to help the shelter?  Check out this page to find out how.

Maybe you want to adopt a cat or even a puppy?

puppy pen

Jan 252015

Fish portrait photography can be a challenging endeavor.  Some fish are notoriously shy.  Some dart away faster than the blink of an eye.  Others are curious and may swim around you, but will seldom give you a facial shot (the barracuda and the porcupine fish come to mind here).

If you are looking to improve your fish portraits, or even if you are just starting out, below are a few strategies you can employ to maximize your chances of getting the perfect shot.

1.  Get Close to the Subject – This is probably the most important rule.  If you aren’t close to your subject, you have almost no chance of capturing a sharp, compelling image.

2.  Regulate Your Breathing – Try to take slow, deliberate breaths.  Many fish are afraid of the hissing and gurgling noises that you inevitably make underwater.  Not to mention that your bubbles are a visual disturbance.

3.  Approach Slowly- Approach your subject in a slow, cautious and deliberate manner.  You may need to stop and watch before your move in closer.

4.  Maintain Situational Awareness – You may have sighted a rare species, which is naturally an exciting moment.  But this does not mean that you can forget about basic diving skills, your own safety, and your duty to protect the reef and its inhabitants.  Maintain good buoyancy and watch your depth.  Don’t descend too deep in pursuit of a subject.  Likewise, if you spot a fish at a higher depth, beware of ascending too quickly.  These may sound like basic concepts, but I have heard stores of experienced divers incurring serious harm by ascending too quickly in pursuit of a subject.  Also, don’t harm the coral or harass sea life in pursuit of the shot.  And remember that your flash is harmful to the fish’s eyes, so please don’t take 50 flash shots of that frogfish that can’t get out of your way.

5.  Increase Shutter Speed and Shoot Full Manual if Your Camera Supports it (Many lower end compact cameras may not have these features, so feel free to skip ahead if you have a camera that shoots only automatic modes).  – The best way to clearly capture quickly moving subjects is to set your own aperture, ISO and shutter speed.  I typically use a shutter speed of 1/250, an aperture between 4.0 – 5.6 and ISO 100-200 for fish portraits in clear, tropical water.

6.  Background is Important – Whether its a deep blue or black background, or a brightly colored sponge of a contrasting color – your background matters.  It isn’t solely the subject that makes a shot come to life.  If you are shooting RAW, it may be easy to fix some background disturbances or problems. A stray fin from a diver may be easy to remove, excess noise can be reduced, and you can often darken your background while maintaining a nice exposure on the subject.

7.  Study Fish Behavior – Get to know your subject.  Is it skittish?  Does it repeat a certain behavior pattern?  Does it have a mate?  Take time to dive the same sites and become familiar with the critters.

8.  Know Your Camera – Shutter lag time, auto focus lag time, and flash recycle time are important things to know when shooting moving subjects like fish.

9.  Focus on the Eyes- Keep the focus on your subject’s eyes.  Watch your depth of field.  If it’s too shallow, you risk losing focus or clarity on other important features of the fish.

10.  Minimize Direct Eye Contact with the Fish – Some fish (and many other animals) feel threatened by direct eye contact and will take defensive measures.  Your goal is to make the fish comfortable with your presence, while not interfering with its natural behaviors.  Keep your eyes on the camera’s viewfinder or display screen.

Here are a few of our recent fish portraits from Bonaire.

The Odd Shaped Swimmers

balloonfish yellow sub S


scorpionfish bari reef S


 The Angels

French Angel Yellow Sub M

Juvenile French Angelfish

french angelfish salt pier M

French Angelfish

 The Eels

goldentail moray bari reef S

Goldentail Moray Eel

lone garden eel invisibles m

Garden Eel

Do you have any tips for successful fish portraits?  If so, please share.  I’d love to know what works for you.

Related Links

Underwater Photography Etiquette

Snorkeling Photography – Moving Beyond the Basics

Guide to Photographing Fish

Jan 192015

Bonaire’s sister island of Klein Bonaire is known for its powdery white sand beaches and its healthy and abundant reefs.  This tiny islet (of almost 2.5 square miles/6 km sq) was under private ownership until 1999, when it was purchased by the government of Bonaire.  Management of Klein Bonaire is now the responsibility of STINAPA.

No Name Beach on Klein Bonaire

No Name Beach on Klein Bonaire

In the 1800’s and early 1900’s, Klein Bonaire’s once abundant vegetation took a major hit.  Large and durable trees like the Brazil wood were harvested to produce furniture, boat parts, charcoal and other goods. Goats, which were kept on the island for export, also contributed to the island’s deforestation.

In 2006, STINAPA initiated a reforestation project, with the goal of restoring the island’s once-dense flora.  Led by Elsmarie Beukenboom, STINAPA’s dedicated project director, this project continues today at full speed.

On the final day of 2014, Steve and I went to the island with Elsmarie, her daughter and a group of volunteers to assist with the project.

After a short hike to the base camp, Elsmarie briefed us on the project history and the tasks at hand.  Our mission would be watering the young trees which had recently been planted.

The Base Camp

The Base Camp

Recycled 2-liter bottles are used to water each plant

Recycled 2-liter bottles are used to water each plant

At this point you may be wondering where the water comes from, since Klein Bonaire has no infrastructure or inhabitants.  Early last year, Elsmarie discovered a fresh water well on the island – the discovery sparked by a chance encounter with a feral cat.  Since the discovery of the well, the fresh water is no longer laboriously brought in by boat.

Children playing in the freshwater well.  These children volunteered their time to help the project.

Children playing in the freshwater well. These children volunteered their time to help the project.

The freshwater is pumped from the well and stored in two large cisterns.

Elsmarie's daughter (purple hat) Naomi cheerfully fills bottles from a cistern.  Elsmarie, in green, fills bottles from the second cistern.

Elsmarie’s daughter Naomi (in purple) cheerfully fills bottles from a cistern. Elsmarie (in green) fills bottles from the second cistern.

Filled bottles are carted to each individual plant via a wheelbarrow.

water bottles full

Steve collects empty bottles from the field

Elsmarie (left) and my sister-in-law Suzanne with empty bottles

Elsmarie (left) and my sister-in-law Suzanne with empty bottles

My brother-in-law Bob collects empty bottles at the project site

My brother-in-law Bob collects empty bottles at the project site

Elsmarie works tirelessly to ensure the success of this project.  She’s a hands-on leader who is passionate about the environment of her native Bonaire.  And while she’s the driving force behind the reforestation project, an army of volunteers provide the assistance necessary for a project of this magnitude.

Elsmarie at Klein Base Camp

If you are on Bonaire, please consider volunteering your time for this worthy cause.  Please contact Elsmarie at Ebeukenboom@hotmail.com or send her a private message via Facebook at Elsmarie Beukenboom.

More about Klein Bonaire and the reforestation project-

After the Ax, by Patrick Holian


Jan 162015

Steve shot this beautiful Lettuce Sea Slug (Elysia crispata) at The Cliff dive site on Bonaire recently.  This shell-less snail wears a kaleidoscope of colors and moves gracefully across the reef.  Its ruffled skin, which resembles a curly lettuce leaf, serves to increase the surface area by which it can absorb oxygen.

This species may be easily mistaken for a nudibranch, however, unlike the nudibranch, it has no external gills (a characteristic that gives the nudibranch its name).

lettuce sea slug

More about the Lettuce Leaf Slug-

Phyllum – Mollusca

Class – Gastropoda

Order – Sacoglossa – Sapsucking Slugs

Family – Elysiidae

Color – Variable, often shades of green

Range – western Atlantic and Caribbean, common

Size – Average 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm), max 4 inches (the specimen in the photo was at least 3.5 inches)

Feeds on – Algae

Have you seen this creature on the reef?  Did you think it was a nudibranch?  I did, until this photo prompted me to do more research.