2011 Features
Visualization vs. realization
How to get the image you really want by Scott Kinyon and Lynn Costenaro
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Got the gear but still not getting the image you want?
Do you understand all functions of your DSLR and how to get the most out of the technology?

Overhead the surface shimmers in the afternoon sun.  Beneath you the vibrant corals host a multitude of living creatures that hide in the shadows and dart to and fro between the outcroppings.  You hold the camera in your hands, weightless, waiting for that perfect moment.

The past week has yielded photos of fish, coral, and eels, but you’re still waiting for an unforgettable shot.  Then you see it.  A Spotted Eagle Ray glides in front of your vision in clear water with the sun above.  This is it.  Eagerly you begin taking pictures.  Back on the boat you and your dive buddies are excited by the sighting, happy to have had such a wonderful encounter.

Later as you review your shots from the week you are again impressed by the majestic creature, and yet…these images do not quite capture the fullness of the moment.  Something is missing.  You have been diving a long time and worked hard to invest in a top quality camera and equipment, but you still struggle to produce images that truly capture and express the rich experience you had under the waves.

Mauricio Handler   If you can relate to this feeling, you are not alone.  Many of us have a passion for underwater photography, but recognize that achieving the desired level of aesthetic quality can be difficult.  This is why we at Sea Saba have partnered with renowned underwater photographer Mauricio Handler by hosting several of his exceptional Underwater Photography Workshops over the past few years. Mauricio has decades of photography experience and worked for many years as part of National Geographic Magazine’s premier underwater photography team.  Mauricio has also led many expeditions and workshops through which he shares his passion, helping others acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to perform at the peak of their artistic abilities.  In addition to our respect and admiration for Mauricio as a photographer, he is also a longtime friend of Sea Saba’s owners, John and Lynn, from their days diving in the British Virgin Islands.

In early December 2011, we welcomed Mauricio back to Saba for another week-long in-depth workshop.  Under the direction and instruction of Handler, participants sought to master the various facets of the intricate art of underwater photography.  During their stay the small group of divers studied everything from the equipment mechanics of housings and strobes to the creative aspects of composition, lighting, and visual story-telling. As you see in the images, participants worked with creative backlighting, highlighting fine detail around the rim or edge of the subject.

Other lighting techniques are to front and side light subjects to create depth and texture. Composition is not something easily taught but where the artistry of the individual photographer comes in to play. Part of being a good wildlife photographer is understanding your subject--realizing where to find it, how it will move, and what motivates it. With patiece and forethought, an environmentally conscious shooter can capture intimate intimate images without stressing the animval and causing a posed look. By using the basic rule of thirds, you can better compose and frame a subject best utilizing negative space.
With composition being the main stay of any photograph, improving these techniques will make your subject "jump" at you. When you learn to combine any two or three of these techniques is when you will create very strong imagey.

So ask yourself...are you ready to raise the bar from just taking a picture to instead creating a dramatic statement? Consider working hands on with a professional to increase your knowledge and skill in order to faithfully portray the beauty and splendor of the ocean we know and love--and proudly share it with others. Handler Photo not only holds workshops but works one-on-one with you to select and purchase the right equipment, provide post purchase advice and sponsors photographic expedtions. www.handlerphoto.com for full information and fantastic imagery.

Wassup With the Weed?
by Briar Smith
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  What is all that brown stuff in Saba’s waters this summer?
It's Sargassum Weed. Seeing it around Saba has never been considered abnormal...seeing it this regularly and this quantity is the phenomenon. 

Sargassum seaweed is a genus of brown (class Phaeophyceae) macroalgae (seaweed). It has a rough sticky texture, which together with a robust but flexible body helps it to withstand strong water currents. It has berrylike gas-filled bladders which help keep the algae afloat to promote photosynthesis.

Sargasso Sea Map
The thick masses of Sargassum provide an environment for a distinctive and specialized group of marine animals and plants, many of which are not found elsewhere.

Sargassum seaweed originates from the Sargasso Sea, which is a region in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by ocean currents and no shores.(See image 2 below) The 2 million-sq.-mi. body of water in the middle of the Atlantic is defined by two features: the ocean currents forming the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, which creates the boundaries of the sea, and Sargassum, the free-floating golden-brown seaweed. The Sargassum can be found scattered throughout the sea, sometimes entwined in vast waterborne mats. The oceanographer Sylvia Earle calls the Sargassum "the golden rain forest of the sea," as it is a base for scores of juvenile creatures, a floating nursery in a sea that was long believed to be a watery desert. The current seaweed influx being experienced in Saba this hurricane season is also being experienced by many of the Caribbean Islands, from Barbados to the Florida Keys. The phenomenon is a direct result of more than usual intense tropical storm activity in the Sargasso Sea, which is pushing some of the seaweed further a field using the sea currents.

If you take the time to look closely while you’re diving or snorkeling around this seaweed, you can have the chance to look for baby turtles and small fish that swim with the Sargassum weed for protection. The most common fish is the Planehead Filefish. This awesome Sargassum Frogfish photo was taken by John Magor of Sea Saba. There's also Sargassum Pipefish and Nudibranchs. Look closely and you might also find sea slugs, about 4 cm’s in length. According to Dr. Earle, if you look even closer you could see pink filaments of coral spawn, coral eggs and sperm together — "a starter kit for a new coral reef."     Sargassum Frogfish

Not only is seaweed important for the ocean and its marine life, but like many other brown seaweeds Sargassum seaweed is used in many products and for medicinal purposes. Brown seaweed provides sodium. Sargassum seaweed can be used as a vegetable, i.e. it can be eaten in a stir-fry. It is rich in minerals such as iodine which helps promote healthy thyroid function. It is low in calories -- a 1-oz. serving has only 12 calories, and is fat and sugar-free. Sargassum can help reduce the amount of water in the body, reducing adema, and/or swelling.

Sargassum seaweed won’t be around all year so take the time to enjoy its life-giving properties while it’s in abundance.

Saba Officials Go Diving!
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Cherub Fish @ Tent Reef

  Saba’s Island Government is very supportive of the National Marine Park, shown for example by the swift response to the recent lionfish invasion in 2010, allowing trained dive staff to utilize specialized gear to remove specimen from Saban waters. Up to now the lionfish invasion has not reached the proportions of other islands, where it has gotten out of control.

So far less than 30 lionfish have been spotted and caught around Saba, while the population around Curacao, where the invasion just started a few months earlier, is now estimated at 1.2 million. It is assumed that healthy predator populations, including large groupers, still existing around Saba, help to slow down or even minimize the impacts caused by the destructive species. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence that local predators are getting used to prey on exotic lionfish larvae and juveniles still needs to be scientifically confirmed. Adult lionfish don't have any natural enemies.

To get a first hand view and understand the complex issues affecting the marine environment, the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), in charge of managing the National Marine Park, encompassing the entire island to a depth of 60 meters, has been asked to set up a regular dive schedule with members of the Executive Council. One of the objectives is to dive and assess the important underwater habitats around the island. Commissioner Chris Johnson, with the portfolio for the environment and a marine biologist by trade, accompanied by Island Secretary Menno van den Velde, a trained dive instructor, have not just been diving Saba’s famous dive sites, but also explored reefs which are not usually visited. The most recent trip on July 14th, 2011, brought the group to the reefs around Flat Point, close to the airport, where rough seas are prevalent. The divers were amazed by the healthy state of the marine habitat, abundant coral and fish life. The second dive that day was conducted around Green Island, where there are clear signs of good recovery of the Elkhorn coral  (Acropora palmata), which suffered tremendously throughout the Caribbean, especially in 2005 during a massive bleaching event, caused by abnormally high water temperatures. The Elkhorn coral has since been included on the IUCN Red List of critically endangered species.  

During the debriefing, the possible placement of a wreck, a decommissioned Dutch navy vessel was deliberated, as well as sustainable fishing practices within the National Marine Park. Commissioner Johnson asserted that he would continue the regular dive inspections and discussions with the various stakeholders of the park.

Queen of New York Hearts Honeymoon Special
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The island of Saba has been considered liberal since the 1600's...an unusual Caribbean island without beaches, plantations or a real slave population easily transcended to inter-racial marriage, welcoming outsiders to become residents and a general acceptance of others-- no matter the color, creed or sexual preference. Saba and Sea Saba have hosted gay and lesbian travelers for decades--long before the buzz word 'gay friendly' came in to vogue.

Queen’s Gardens Resort and Sea Saba tip its Caribbean crown to New York’s new marriage equality law with the Queen of New York Hearts honeymoon special for all wedded couples from the state. Newlyweds can present a valid marriage certificate from New York, now the largest U.S. state to legalize gay marriage, to receive one night free, one complimentary breakfast in bed, one free afternoon dive and 10% off on an underwater camera rental now through December 15, 2011.
  Queen's Gardens Honeymoon

Certificates must be dated July 24th (when new marriage law goes into effect) or after. Minimum four-night stay, 3 days of diving (6 dives) is required.

For LGBT couples who’ve waited patiently to marry, for heterosexual couples who refused to wed until everyone could – and all in between – Queen’s Gardens Resort celebrates New York love with its Queen of New York
  Hearts honeymoon special. Check our Liberal Minded page on this site for more information on annual group gay trips.

Don't Just Dive Make a Difference!
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With each new scuba diver, we hope that new diver is also the next advocate to use what power he/she has to protect this newly discovered realm:  the coral, the fish, the reef, the ocean, the planet. 

Where you live, who you vote for, how you deal with your garbage—it all has an effect on our oceans.  The opportunities to make an impact are endless.  As divers, the simplest thing you can do right now is to be a discerning diner.  Maybe you’re not quite ready to become a vegan but if you enjoy seafood, you can simply eat sustainable seafoodThe more we can all learn about what is sustainable in the way of populations and catch methods, the better it is not just for the marine life, but also for fishermen and their families.    

In November of 2010, Saba took a first step when Kai Wulf, manager of the Saba Conservation Foundation, sent out a letter to all restaurants requesting voluntary cooperation to simply stop serving Grouper.  Saba is fortunate to be one of the few remaining islands in the Caribbean that has a variety of Grouper species on our deep and shallow dives.  Black, Nassau, Yellowfin and Tiger Grouper are seen in Saban waters.  Nonetheless, their populations are less than in the past and considered endangered on Saba and critically endangered around the world.  As of mid-February, many restaurants no longer serve grouper and agree to also only serve sustainable seafood.  Progress!

The Saba restaurants that are supporting this movement are, in alphabetical order:  Bistro del Mare (at Shearwater Resort), Brigadoon, Deep End Bar and Grill, Queen's Gardens Resort restaurant, Rainforest Restaurant (at The Ecolodge), Restaurant Eden, Tropics Café (at Juliana’s Hotel).
Grouper have an important role on the reef.  This seemingly placid fish is an aggressive though opportunistic predator who can swallow fish whole…sucking them in from a distance and use its heavy crushing toothplates to start the digestive process.  Perhaps the grouper’s lack of need to chew its prey is a reason it is one of few fish know to eat invasive Lionfish in Caribbean waters.  Scientists are just beginning to understand more about the long-term effects of Lionfish in the Caribbean but many feel those areas that have not “fished out” the large predatory fish like Grouper, stand a much better chance to keep the reef in balance.

The study of the reproduction of Grouper is one key to fisheries management.  Grouper are protogynous hermaphrodites, i.e., the young are predominantly female, but transform into males as they grow larger. They grow about a kilogram per year. Generally, they are adolescent until they reach three kilograms, when they become female. At about 10 to 12 kg, they turn to male. Usually, males have a "harem" of three to fifteen females in the broader region. If no male is available, the largest female turns male. 

Seafood Watch logo

Furthermore, because fishermen often know where and when these spawning aggregations occur, the fish are usually subject to the greatest fishing pressure at these times. In many instances, entire regional stocks have been wiped out due to intense fishing pressure where overzealous fisherman only looked at short term profits.  Stocks may take several decades to recover from such intense exploitation. Or not.  Data also suggests that Grouper may only successfully spawn when there is a large aggregation.

Dolphin Safe Label
What can you do at home before your next dive trip?  Plenty!  The Monterey Bay Aquarium publishes Seafood Watch—a website, an advocacy program and the go-to list for what seafood is sustainable where.  The actual list that can be shipped to you in a card form, downloaded from their website or even purchased as an app for your phone—and, of course, they’re on Facebook. 

You can also go the next level and sign up to be an advocate so you can keep others informed.  Voice your seafood choices when you dine out or visit your local grocery store.  Don’t underestimate the power of the collective, individual voice.  Remember the 80’s boycott of canned tuna…it resulted in changing the fishing industry’s approach and instituting the “Dolphin Safe” label reducing incidental dolphin kill by an estimated 97%.  But there are still countries that do not adhere to this standard—again, you can question the source of your fish whether canned or fresh.

as we say on Saba..."save the island, eat a goat!"

Name That Fish!
Cherub Fish @ Tent Reef
the uncommon Cherub fish @ Tent Reef; © courtesy Kat DeStefano
  Do you know that divers encounter 65 different species of Caribbean reef fish on the average dive done in the Saba Marine Park?  That’s a lot of fish— testimonial to both the health of our reefs but also to the observation skills of our guides. 
In December of 2010, Sea Saba invited Lisa Mitchell back to Saba to specifically work with the Sea Saba Team to update their knowledge of Caribbean reef fish with REEF’s Fish Identification program.

Fish Expert (or “geek” as she calls herself), Lisa, has lived and dived in the Caribbean for 20+ years.  Her experience varies from dive shop owner (BVI) to Training Director at SSI to Executive Director of REEF, to dive magazine ad rep to boat captain training for Universal.  Her enthusiasm for diving has never waned; in fact, the REEF program has inspired Lisa and others.   
R.E.E.F.  (“Reef Environmental Education Foundation”) REEF is making a worldwide difference with its fish monitoring programs and surveys.  Their mission is to conserve marine ecosystems for their recreational, commercial, and intrinsic value by educating and enabling divers and marine enthusiasts to become active stewards.  REEF links the diving community with scientists and conservationists through marine-life data collection and related activities.  Through REEF’s efforts, marine citizen scientists impact an ethic of stewardship to current and future generations. 

The program is separated into two categories based on experience level:  Novice and Expert.  The oceans of the world are divided in to species specific regions and each region has its own experience levels.  Experience levels are determined by both the number of surveys completed and examination scores based on fish known.
REEF has 5 levels of experience for fish watchers and all members of the Sea Saba dive crew were trained by Lisa to Advance Surveyor, Level 3.  With over 500 species of Caribbean reef fish (269 of which have been sighted in Saba), Level 3 requires participants to know name and family of approximately 200 of the more commonly seen species.  Students achieve Level 3 by passing the common Fishes Quiz with 80% and conducting 25 underwater surveys.  The Sea Saba crew regularly participates in fish surveys and submits their data online through the REEF website.  You can check out the statistics for specific dive sites and see the recent surveys from Saba at: http://www.reef.org/db/reports/geo/TWA/71040005.  From surveys online, you can tell we’ve sighted the elusive Cherubfish (a less common member of the Angelfish family) on 5% of surveyed dives at one of our most popular sites, Tent Reef.  Whereas, we’ve also sighted Foureye Butterfly fish and Sergeant Majors on 92% of dives at the same site.  Come dive on Saba and conduct a survey yourself—we’re happy to help you see what you can find!

So what does this mean to you as a diver?   For starters, you will see more!  Sea Saba’s guides are dedicated to reef awareness and sharing their knowledge and experience with you. If we’re looking and noticing more, you will find it’s contagious.  With a more enthusiastic dive team, you will want to dive with the guide to be sure you don’t miss something special. 
Working with the REEF program is just one way our guides continue to improve their knowledge base. Whether your dive experience can be described as quite experienced with hundreds of dives in various oceans or a brand new diver, we’re making a concerted effort to ensure a great dive experience is had by all our visitors. Sure, you want to know that the suntanned, forever smiling, can that be real natural highlights-haired guy who is happy to receive half his pay in sunshine is actually capable of rescuing you…but are you more concerned that this instructor is a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer or is it more important to you that he/she is a great guide?  We think our diving guests want our crew to actually know the reef; know where a certain critter can be found; know why it’s there at a certain time of year; and know why that orange fish appears to be flirting with the green fish.   
Want an intense one-week course of fish id’g and surveying?  Join in on the action, when REEF comes to Saba March 19-26 2011.  There’s one spot left!  Fish guru and Level 5 Surveyor, Heather George, will be the expert supervising the field surveys on the trip.  For more information, go to:  http://www.reef.org/node/4081