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by Casey Mahaney &
Astrid Witte Mahaney

Operating Blue Kirio Travel and Photography, this photographic team specializes in underwater photography and exotic dive travel and have co-authored 10 books on marine life identification and dive travel, along with a vast number of articles for periodicals. Through the years, they have developed a special interest in exploring marine life habitats and identifying and photographing unusual and uncommon species of fish and invertebrates. While spending several months every year traveling on various assignments, they also specialize in organizing and escorting a limited number of live-aboard dive tours to select remote and exotic destinations around the globe.

Day One

After a 6:00 a.m. wake up call, we begin the tedious task of unpacking our seven cases of camera and dive equipment and carefully assembling the same. Clothes, consisting mostly of bathing suits, T-shirts and shorts, serve merely as a protective packing material for the fragile equipment.

A few difficulties arise during the set up, particularly with the new digital equipment, but by the time Ethan, one of Sam's Tours dive guides (and marine biologists) arrives to pick us up, we have managed to complete the assembly of one housed N90s and the digital Nikon Coolpix 950. Casey is starting out by shooting the digital on natural light utilizing the red filter, I'm armed with a macro 105mm lens, which is just as well, since the weather is not cooperating for wide angle. Ominous black clouds release one tropical rain squall after another and the wind is causing our boat to dance on choppy waves. It doesn't really matter, because once we are below the surface everything is wonderful.

Ethan has chosen Siaes Tunnel for our first
site. This is a stunning, huge cavern that reaches from 60 feet past 140 feet. While located on the outside of the barrier reef, the cavern offers shelter from the current, and its depth invites many unusual species. Several entrances allow light to enter, illuminating the entire cave in a soft blue light. Encrusted with multi-hued sponges and orange cup corals, the ceiling is also draped with an upside down forest of black coral trees. The sandy bottom boasts an unusual species of a pink black coral bush, while all the entrances are elaborately decorated with crimson and golden seafans, and the rare Siphonogoria soft coral, which prefers dark areas, thrives in all colors of the rainbow. The fish life is equally rich: Red Lionfish skim along the cavern's ceiling, while long nosed hawkfish inhabit the numerous black coral trees. Burgess Butterflyfish may be found at the deeper part of the entrance facing the outside wall. Ethan points out a tiny specimen of Notodoris nudibranch, which turns out to be a species yet to be named. In search for dartfish and shrimp gobies along the sandy cavern floor, I accidently startle a group of resting Whitetip Reef Sharks that simultaneously swim off in dismay.

Outside the cavern awaits another surprise: A slender grouper swoops down on a black damsel and tries to gobble it up. I get a couple of shots of both of them struggling, before the damsel manages to wiggle out of the grouper's greedy jaws. Back on the boat, we are welcomed by blue skies and Palau's tropical sun. During lunch, we compare notes on marine life observed and Casey edits his digital images. He is still having occasional trouble with the focus and the lighting is tricky. Utilizing a flashlight for macro subjects tends to burn out the subject and casts an uneven light. He plans to use a strobe tomorrow. However, the white balance feature of the camera did a fabulous job capturing a turtle under low light conditions in murky water on our second dive at Lighthouse Channel.

Our first evening in
Palau consists of uploading our images, setting up additional cameras, recharging batteries, reloading cameras... basically preparing for another full day of adventure!

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3| Day 4 | Day 5

Webcast Sponsor

The Palau Pacific Resort

Considered one of Micronesia's most luxurious resorts, the Palau Pacific Resort features 160 guest rooms and suites nestled within a lush tropical landscape. Located along a beautiful white sand beach, just 25 minutes from the international airport it provides a vast selection of leisure and recreational activities. The 5 Star PADI Dive Center "Splash" offers instructional programs as well as guided scuba and snorkeling tours. "Photo Palau" provides a full-service photo and digital video center, while "The Poolside" is the center for watersports such as windsurfing, kayaking, sailing and snorkeling. The resort also offers a fitness center, outdoor tennis courts, nature trails as well as fine dining at the Meduu Ribtal Restaurant and the alfresco Coconut Terrace Restaurant.

Sam's Tours

Sam Scott has been exploring Palau's vast reef system, hidden waterways and forgotten jungles for more than 18 years and knows the best locations below and above the surface. An endless enthusiasm for showcasing Palau's diversified ecosystem for every visitor and a willingness to go the extra mile have earned Sam a reputation for unique and personalized service. With his first-class team of PADI instructors, marine biologists and trained naturalists, Sam's Tours offers an array of watersports, including diving, kayaking, snorkeling, overnight sailing and environmentally friendly sportfishing tours. In addition, Sam's offers thrilling land tours to towering waterfalls, ancient Palauan monoliths, prehistoric cave paintings and fascinating Yapese stone money disks.

For more information,
go to the website at: