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Dive Photo Guide


Going Nudi in Anilao
By Mike Bartick, June 11, 2009 @ 04:03 PM (EST)
I recently had the opportunity to take my Nudibranch obsession on the road. I joined a group of serious branchers on an expedition to The Philippines. In fact this group was not only serious about Nudi’s but they have set the benchmark on finding, describing and introducing new Nudibranch and Opisthobranchs Species. So when the chance arose to join Terry Gosliner (a worldwide leader in the field of research for Opisthobranchs) and Michael Miller host of the weekly internet site Slugsite.com I had to jump on it. The rest of the cast would include research scientists from Canada, Guam and San Francisco.
The Area chosen for the expedition in the Philippines is called Anilao. Anilao, part of the Mabini Province has been the focus of ongoing exploration and discovery since 1992. Infact the area boasts more then 640 described Opisthobranchs. Anilao has been dubbed the center of the center for Marine Diversity or the Apex of the Coral Triangle. Not just for Nudibranchs either, the amount of unusual critters here makes it a Macro Photographers dream.

So what makes this area so unique? Large bodies of water are squeezed through landmasses, tidal flows and currents run along picturesque shorelines bending and curving through the small island archipelagos. Animal larvae and food are carried and deposited along the way, wherever eddies occur or food is available to sustain life. Some of the richest spots have been discovered in narrow channel sites where the currents can run from mild to wild in one dive. Like the current below, the weather above is equally finicky. Welcome to the Philippines.
Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph
Diving in a place like this is best done using guides, “Club-O” is happy to handle booking the boats and dive guides. The guides they use here are locals and have a deep connection to the area.

Peri is the most requested guide and is a wealth of knowledge. He has been listed in countless publications, magazines, ID books and more. His love of the ocean and passion for discovery are very motivating.

The substrate is as varied as anything I have ever seen. Huge dropoffs,  walls, astounding hard corals, rocky reefs, soft coral forests, long rocky shoreline’s and sandy silty bottoms make up the area. In addition there are also many current swept peeks, pinnacles and open ocean reefs that will challenge the most experienced diver.
The muck sites we choose are made up of mixed muck and broken coral. Brown, black and red sandy bottoms typical of muck dive sites with coarse sand that resembles instant coffee grounds.

On our last trip we shot over 125 species of Nudibranch in addition to the other material that we were here for. So I wanted to concentrate on shooting new material this trip. Each dive offered up a buffet of unique behavior and odd critters. Some of the most common critters are still the most compelling.

Our technique for finding our subjects remains much like the one I use at home. Find the food, so that’s what we do. Problem here is, there is so much food, where do we start. In the tropics, the competition for food is intense. Much of the flora and fauna mimic each other raising the old question of which came first, The chicken or the egg. I don’t know if we will ever know the answer to that one but it is amazing how the evolution has occurred.

Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph
Finding a Nudibranch that closely mimics its food source can be impossible without training or a guide. Searching through colonies of the xenia coral can be elusive. The polyps of the xenia pulsate, reaching up into the water column and grabbing food. The Phlyodesmium rhudmani’s cerata do not pulsate. Making it stand out against its host.
Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph 
Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph
The competition for food has forced Mother Nature to become very creative, so much so that solar power has been put to good use. The solar powered Nudibranch consumes algae on the reef and commutes the algae without digesting it to the cerata. The algae are farmed by the host in the cerata and sugar is created through photosynthesis’s. Its an ingenious and symbiotic relation that is good for both, host and the hosted.
Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph
The variety of the Nudibranchs found in this Central Indo-Pacific region is really something to see. The variance of colors and patterns, shapes and textures is stunning and seemingly endless.
Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph 
Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph
Night diving in this entire region is the highlight of our dive day. During the daylight hours the muck sand bottom’s were productive. But as the sun sets the same area comes to life and fills with animals, soft corals, zooids, sea pens, tunicates and algae. Often times swimming away from the boat was hardly necessary due to the intensity of sea life.
Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph
The krill were often attracted by my lights. This guy settled in next to my subject and posed just long enough for a photo.
Some members of the Chromodorid family display a particular behavior that is not only curious but fun to watch and photograph. As they ambulate across rock and substrate.

They flap they’re entire mantle, raising and lifting, moving along then fluttering.
Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph 
 Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph
Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph 
Nudibranch Anilao underwater photograph
The study required special permits from the multi layered government agencies in Manila and Mabini. Terry and several of the other scientists from Cal-Tech met with the authorities a week in advance to make the proper arrangements. Then groups of interested officers from the various agencies would come out and dive, just to see how everything is done.

Diving with these scientists was a really great experience. They were really down to earth, great divers and loads of fun. It also adds to the curiosity that I think we all share of the ocean. I really learned so much on this trip, I should say I got schooled. I realized too at how little we really know about what happens down there.

The trip was deemed a success. Approximately fifty new specy were discovered and about thirty- second and third like species were collected for analysis and description.

Much of what I photographed on this trip was done using a single strobe. I used two strobes at night or when I needed something extra.My trusted workhorse lens was the Nikon Micro 60mm.  I made 51 dives in 12.5 days of diving. Shooting selectively I filled 60gigs of memory.

In addition to the Nudibranchs I also shot many other critters. What makes this areas the most interesting is the abundance of juvenile critters. Palm sized Rhinopias and Ambon Scorpionfish, Blue ring octopi huge amounts of frogfish, including hairy frogfish and so much more.

Going Nudi in Anilao was a blast and I encourage a field trip to this area. But as much as I like it there, I love Going Nudi in California.
Reference: Indo Pacific Nudibranchs. Terrence Gosliner, Dave Behrens and Angel Valdez
Special thanks to:
Michael Miller
Terry Gosliner, Sandra Millen
Club Ocillaris, Boy Venus and Peri Peleracio



Chester L. King
Jun 11, 2009 5:41 PM
Chester L. King wrote:
Excellent article and photos of one of my favorite destinations.
Jeffrey De Guzman
Jun 12, 2009 10:52 PM
Jeffrey De Guzman wrote:
Well done Mike. I wish I could have been there to see you in action. Perhaps next year when you return.
Robin Mcmunn
Jun 16, 2009 3:15 PM
Robin Mcmunn wrote:
Stunning shots Mike. I always enjoy your articles
Jules Terrado
Aug 20, 2010 3:00 AM
Jules Terrado wrote:
Glad to know that you enjoyed your dives in Anilao, your article is very heart warming for a Filipino diver and nudilover like myself.
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