One of my dear friends and photography idols is Tony Wu. He is a pleasant individual who is sometimes fun to be around. We have done a number of trips together over the past decade, most of which he works hard to forget. Anyway, years ago I saw some of his brilliant images of the red snapper spawning aggregation in Palau which inspired my own desire to photograph schools of fish having sex during my 2019 visit. The spawning only takes place a few days each month in the early morning hours the few days before the full moon. I planned my trip to coincide with these dates. Because the diving was going to happen before sunrise, I knew that it was going to be quite dark underwater. I was going to need my bulky underwater strobes and get as close as possible to the action. As I dove into the dark water and descended to the bottom, there were probably 8000 fish balled up together. I knew my air supply was going to get used up fast based on the depth I was diving to and my need to swim as fast as possible whenever they rocketed back to the surface to spawn. Needless to say, I did not have a very long dive, but was fortunate to come away with this fantastic image of an inspiring wildlife spectacle.
For many years, one of my dreams was to snorkel with the stingless golden jellyfish in Palau‘s famous Jellyfish Lake. In December 2019, I was able to experience this unbelievable underwater photography destination during my visit to this tiny island nation. Jellyfish Lake is connected to the ocean through fissures and tunnels in the limestone, but the jellyfish have been isolated for so long that they have lost their stinging tentacles compared to their ocean cousins. Millions of jellies migrate around the lake each day chasing the sunlight so that the symbiotic algae that live in their tissues can produce nutrition to sustain them.
Most tourists only visit the lake for an hour during a day-long boating tour. I knew this would be an inadequate amount of time for me to create an image that I would be proud of. In order to optimize my photographic opportunities, my buddy and I camped for 4 nights on a tiny island that was only 2 miles from the lake so that we could kayak back and forth at our leisure. I spent up to 4 hours at a time blissfully swimming among the jellies and learned where they liked to congregate at certain times of day based on the position of the sun. One of their favorite hangout spots was in the late afternoon as some trees on the side of the cliff began to cast long shadows into the water. They treated the shade like a fence by bunching up against the darker water on the sunny side. I also found the shade created a mysterious background to my photos as they all clumped together. This is one of my favorite images. I especially like how their bells are backlit and the closest ones are pulsating in the same direction.
In December 2019, I went on an adventure to another one of the destinations that I had a life-long desire to visit. The Republic of Palau is an isolated island nation located in the South Pacific north of New Guinea and to the east of the Philippines. During World War II, the United States captured Palau from Japan after the costly Battle of Peleliu in 1944. Today, it is renowned for its stunning scenery, epic scuba diving, and lakes filled with stingless jellyfish. I was fortunate to be able to spend several weeks photographing all of these amazing subjects. At the top of my list was an aerial photo of the famous Ngerukewid which is a series of uninhabited limestone islands surrounded by coral reefs and sandy shallows. This is one of my favorite images from my trip. I love how the tiny tropical islands look like a jumble of puzzle pieces poking above the the surface of the brilliant turquoise and blue ocean.