All at Once - Anilao, Philippines

Chromodoris kunei, Anilao, PhilippinesI recently had the opportunity to visit Beautiful Anilao, Philippines.

The jumping off point for us was to be Club Ocillaris or otherwise known as "Club O". "Club O" is carved into the bush just outside of the seaside village of Anilao. The owner and operator "Jose Salon Boy Venus", or "Boy" for short is a gracious host that always put service and our interests first.Bumblebee Shrimp, Anilao, Philippines

The resort is family owned and since the early 90's they have allowed small groups of photographers a comfortable place to stay. Now geared towards the underwater photographer the service is impeccable. Lured to the area by the promise of nudibranchs and sea life that would rival the best macro destinations we began to make plans.

Three of us made up our photo team: myself Mike Bartick, Scott Gietler and Kevin Lee. We have dived extensively together and have been photographing the oceans anomalies for years. Armed with the knowledge of the area our next task was a guide. Peri Paleracio turned up to be our insisted choice.

Hypsolodoris krakatoa, Anilao, PhilippinesWe arrived at "Club O" on a Saturday afternoon and quickly put together our gear. After some brief words with Peri we were off to our first muck dive site. One of our goals was to photograph a feeding Bobbit worm, but first we would have to find one. This was the first of 46 dives that we were to complete before departure.

A rigorous and ambitious schedule that is hard on diver and crew alike. Boy's well trained crew handled our special requests and late evening dive trips with grace and enthusiasm. Every morning we spent our breakfast time discussing our daily plans, our critter list was checked against locations and sites were determined. Rhinopia frondosa, Anilao, Philippines

Much to my surprise, the Anilao area's outside reefs are stunning and wonderful for wide angle work. Sticking to our primary goal of critters was easy though as there proved to never be a shortage of things to photograph. The items of interest for me centered mainly on animal behavior, predation, mating, camouflage and defense with some specifics that would be a real bonus.

On one particular evening our guide Peri called us over, waving his light across the sand we spotted a creature. It was bobbing up and down everytime the light ran across it. Instantly I knew what it was, a Bobbit worm. After several Indo trips without any luck we finally managed to find one. Nearby sat several goatfish and the Bobbit Worm seemed to bob up and down sniffing the water.

Bobbit Worm,  Anilao, Philippines

At one point the carnivorous Polychaete actually extended itself several feet out of its layer and back with lightning fast speed checking out its nearby visitor's. The goatfish continued to draw closer, the Bobbit reacted swiftly and down went a goatfish. All at once there was a flurry of flashes from all three of us, followed by stunned disbelief. I don't believe my eyes, what just happened, did I get the shot? Was my focus locked, oh my god!!!...After we surfaced we checked our screens and bingo… A full sequence of a Bobbit worms feeding behavior. Unreal…. This was cause for celebration and cheeseburgers were the spoils.

Bobbit Worm,  Anilao, Philippines

Bobbit Worm,  Anilao, Philippines

A brooding cardinalfish, Anilao, PhilippinesMany mornings were spent exploring the outside reefs shooting wide angle. The substrate was a make up of drop-offs, walls, pinnacles and bommies, congregations of thousand's of fish would cloud the water with an explosion of infused colors. Soft and hard corals would create a hardscape of textures and everything surrounded by cobalt blue.

Frogfish, Anilao, PhilippinesWow, what a treat this is to see such beauty, thousands of years in the making. Every morning we checked off our critter list and began to "add and scratch" things as we found them. We labeled many of the area's as TRE's "Target rich environments" and would return to them nightly. A few of the sought after critters include many of the Scorpeanidae's like Rhinopia eschemyeri and frondosa, Ambon and Shortfin, assorted frogfish, which are my favorite, six varieties of pipefish and seahorses ranging in sizes and types from eight inches to the miniscule. In total we were in the Philippines 13 days, 11 days of 4-6 tank dives.

Our dives Frogfish, Anilao, Philippines were approximately 70-90 minutes in duration. That's more than 50 hours underwater I shot 90 gigs of memory, Scotty shot well over 100 gigs and Kevin shot about the same. Technical Gear included: Nikon D300's and 200 for most macro work Nikon D80 for Wide angle Sea and Sea Housings and strobes or Ds125 strobes Lens selections were mainly Tokina 10-17mm and Nikon 60mm.

Much of the nudibranch work was shot with a 1.4 teleconverter attached to the 60mm lens as well. In reflection the trip was surreal, the diving was fantastic. "Club O" is as good as it gets and the crew was fabulous. Special thanks to Boy and Anilao's best guide Peri, we can't wait to return! We could not have done it without your support.

Pristine reefs with Barrel Sponges,  Anilao, PhilippinesSquat Lobster,  Anilao, Philippines

Cheers! Mike Bartick -