REUNITED WITH RAJA AMPAT

I had the great pleasure of working on a liveaboard in Indonesia from 2008-2010 and was lucky enough to dive the hottest areas in the region on a daily basis, including Raja Ampat. To say that I fell in love with Raja would be the greatest understatement of my ocean-loving life. Home to over 1711 species of fish and 600 species of coral, Raja Ampat has been dubbed the global epicenter of marine biodiversity and is arguably the best diving on earth. Both the topside and underwater worlds are so breathtaking, you can’t help but wonder if this is what the world, and ocean, looked like centuries ago.

Raja with photo credit.jpg

When I was planning Fisheye Expedition’s 2018 trip to Raja, I couldn’t help but wonder to myself if I was hyping it up too much in mind. Was I remembering it too fondly after an 8 year absence? Was I over-promising in my declarations of “the best diving on earth” and “jaw-dropping beauty”?! Well I am very pleased to report that it was just the opposite — the diving, which brought tears of joy to my eyes (and other’s on the trip), was better than ever! It was like living every diver’s fantasy dive after dive!

Don’t just take my word for it… please check out this video created by one of our extremely talented guests, Matti Oikarinen, during our recent trip to Raja. It’s magic!

Our group gearing up for a dive on the Indo Siren with all kinds of cameras big and small!!

Our group gearing up for a dive on the Indo Siren with all kinds of cameras big and small!!

This past November, myself and 15 fellow ocean lovers from the US, UK, the Netherlands and Sweden, boarded the lovely Indo Siren for a ten night liveaboard dive adventure. Our trip was scheduled at the perfect time of year, especially because it was silverside season in the south. So when we embarked the Siren in Sorong, Ed (one of the cruise directors) and I conferred about the trip plan and made a great decision to steam straight to Misool to see all the action right away.

The Indo Siren, our floating home for our ten night cruise through Raja Ampat.

The Indo Siren, our floating home for our ten night cruise through Raja Ampat.

And boy was that a great call because the sliversides were putting on a spectacular show! And when I say silversides…I am not just talking about a few groups of them in a creavase or cavern. Oh no…there were sun-eclipsing tornadoes of them almost everywhere you looked. They literally lit up the colorful corals and made the entire reef come to life…as if it was dancing. Then the predatory fish would swoop in with a heart-pumping swooshing sound causing the formations to split and change shape as we all hovered there torn between watching the spectacular show or trying to capture images of this incredible beauty.

A massive school of fish cascading down the reef like a waterfall at Wedding Cake in Misool.

A massive school of fish cascading down the reef like a waterfall at Wedding Cake in Misool.

We spent 5 glorious days in Misool diving all the legendary sites. When you drop in on any given dive you don’t know where to look first — it is like a reef on steroids. And the abundance of fish is just overwhelming. There are a rainbow of colorful soft corals, gorgonian sea fans the size of walls, an amazing diversity of coral and soooooooo many fish of all shapes, sizes and varieties…it just blows the mind. Add in some sharks and mantas…and you have all the elements of a wide angle paradise. It is no wonder how dive sites like Candy Store, Magic Mountain, Andiamo, Love Potion and Gorgonian Passage got their names.

But wait! If you can pry your eyes off the wide angle fish action and look more closely at the reef, you will also find a delightful variety of macro life — including loads of pygmy seahorses…in a variety of species! You can spot some really cool nudibranchs, crustaceans, octopus, and more. So every lens you own should be in your bag, even though it will be hard to pry off your fisheye lens (it was impossible for me!!).

From Misool we steamed north to the island of Batanta for a change of pace and some black sand muck diving — a full day of forced macro with no wide angle distractions:) It was so much fun! We found loads of great critters such as ornate ghostpipefish, cuttlefish, ghost gobies, a crazy variety of nudibranchs and shrimp…and a wonderpus to top it all off!

A pair of ornate ghostpipefish float around the halimeda algae in unison at Algae Patch in Batanta.

A pair of ornate ghostpipefish float around the halimeda algae in unison at Algae Patch in Batanta.

Next we were off to Piaynemo to dive some more world famous sites such as Keruo Channel, My Reef and (my personal favorite) Melissa’s Garden. As you move north you start to see a amazing diversity of hard corals, truly massive schools of fish including fusiliers and barracuda, wobbegongs, black tip sharks and massive as-far-as-the-eye-can-see fields of anthias dancing in staghorn coral.

Anthias dancing in fields of staghorn coral as far as the eye can see at Melissa’s Garden.

Anthias dancing in fields of staghorn coral as far as the eye can see at Melissa’s Garden.

A wobbegong shark sits perfectly posed on a hard coral at Melissa’s Garden.

A wobbegong shark sits perfectly posed on a hard coral at Melissa’s Garden.

We also went on a fabulous land tour a couple of hours before sunset in Piaynemo. First we climbed up the lookout to see the amazing arial view of the emerald colored islands and get some awesome (although sweaty) photos. Then we boarded the dingies for a tour of the lagoons. Afterwards, we went to lovely quiet beach for a sunset picnic and drinks. And to top it all off…on our way back to the Siren, a pod of dolphins swam around our dingy and jumped through the pink tinged water right at sunset. What a perfect day!!

Our entire group enjoying the spectacular view at the lookout at Piaynemo.

Our entire group enjoying the spectacular view at the lookout at Piaynemo.

The last two days of our trip were spent at the iconic dive sites (some of the first discovered in Raja) in the Dampier Straight. We hit all the classics such as Sardine Reef, Mike’s Point, Mioskon and Cape Kri …and they did not disappoint! The Dampier Straight delivered on diversity (fish, coral, species), an abundance of fish (are you sick of me saying that yet?!), plenty of wobbegongs and great photo opportunities.

Chevron Barracuda are among the many species of schooling fish in Raja Ampat.

Chevron Barracuda are among the many species of schooling fish in Raja Ampat.

Schooling glass fish move in unison around the beautiful hard coral at Mike’s Point.

Schooling glass fish move in unison around the beautiful hard coral at Mike’s Point.

There is really not enough I can say about Raja Ampat …except you can be sure I won’t wait another 8 years to return. In fact, Fisheye Expeditions is planning on making it a rather regular occurrence…and we have just booked our next trip on the Indo Siren for November of 2020! Spaces are going fast!

To join our next trip in Raja, or another one of our exciting adventures, please contact Francesca. And be sure sign up for our newsletter, which will keep you up to date on all of on all of our latest trip offerings.

Best wishes and lots of fishes,

Francesca

Francesca in her happy place at the top of Piaynemo after an epic day of diving:)

Francesca in her happy place at the top of Piaynemo after an epic day of diving:)


And So It Begins...

A new business name, a new logo a new website and blog...and an expanded concept all aimed at serving the needs of underwater photography enthusiasts in Roatan, Honduras.

Let me give you a little background...I first visited Roatan in the fall of 2000 when I was backpacking through Central America. I stopped off for what I believed would be a week...and I stayed five (as the story so often goes on this island). A couple of months later I came back to do my Divemaster and Instructor course. Before you know I was working as an Instructor and happily ensconced in the island lifestyle. I hung around for 3 years and racked up a couple of thousand dives before wondering what else was out there in our big blue planet. 

Francesca Diaco, Owner & Professional Photographer

Francesca Diaco, Owner & Professional Photographer

So off I went...for 10 years...to travel, work and dive my way through loads of awesome places...including Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia and more. I loved seeing new places, dive sites, and marine creatures and I soaked up every experience. In 2005 I picked up an underwater camera and I was hooked. After shooting with a compact camera for a year I quickly upgraded to a DSLR...and soon after my diving career evolved into being a full time underwater photographer. I worked as a photo pro, taught underwater photography and was shooting constantly. Then I started writing and publishing in magazines. All up I spent 8 years and thousands of dives in Southeast Asia and Australia working as a photographer. But in the back of my mind I always thought about Roatan.

Overheat Reef, Roatan

Overheat Reef, Roatan

In 2014, I went back to Roatan for a visit and was hooked once again. Soon after that 2 week visit, I went back for 3 months...and finally moved back. This beautiful little island...and its community, diving culture and lifestyle...is like no place I've ever been (and I have been to quite a few). And the reef and the underwater photography opportunities are just amazing!! Since December, I have have been in Roatan working as an independent underwater photographer shooting, writing, publishing...but mainly focusing on teaching underwater photography which is a true passion of mine. I just love helping people develop their talent and love of underwater photography.  

So then...why the new business name, logo, etc? After spending a year in Roatan, I saw the need to develop a dedicated creative space and resource for underwater photographers.  By offering personalized training programs and a full range of professional services, the needs of underwater photographers of all levels can better be served. Whether you are interested in improving your skills, an underwater photo session, camera rentals, or need help planning a dive trip to Roatan...there's something for you. 

I am passionate about promoting Roatan as an underwater photography destination. Its calm, clear blue waters make Roatan one of the best places to learn underwater photography, hone your skills, tackle a new technique or experiment with new gear. Combine that with its topside charm and easy island lifestyle and you have the recipe for the perfect dive and photography vacation!

Follow the blog to read about the latest news and underwater photography highlights from Roatan such as workshop dates, travel deals, and photo competitions...and what is being spotted underwater.  Regular features will also include great underwater photography tips, equipment advice and behind-the-shot posts and highlight the work of photographers who work and train with us.  Hope to see you real soon!!   - Francesca