The other day Marla and I took a two-tank dive trip with our friends at Kohala Divers in Kawaihae. We hadn’t been diving with them for over a year, and it was really great to spend some time with them again. Their entire crew is always enthusiastic, welcoming, fun, and highly competent. There are a lot of good dive outfits on the Big Island, and we’ve dived with a handful of them, but Kohala Divers remains our favorite of the bunch—which is fortunate because they are also by far the closest to our home. This particular boat trip was a “club dive,” which meant that most of the divers were local fish geeks. We really enjoyed their company.
Kohala Divers uses over a dozen dive sites scattered along the North and South Kohala coasts. On this day we went north, in the direction of Mahukona. Currents were rather strong, and for that reason the crew checked several sites before settling on Black Point for our first dive and a spot called Horseshoe for the second dive. Black Point is an exposed, fairly deep site with black coral, longnose hawkfish (neither of which I got a good look at because I’d neglected to bring a dive light) and abundant, approachable pyramid butterflyfish. Horseshoe offered a Whitley’s boxfish (which I didn’t see, but most of our group did) and had a nice mix of the usual suspects.
I brought my “better” camera setup on this trip—a discontinued Nikon mirrorless J1 with Nikon housing that I picked up for a total of about $200. It’s a lot bulkier than my little Olympus compact, which is why I tend to carry the compact more often, especially for day to day snorkeling, but the Nikon produces better photos and can go deeper than the Olympus. While taking photos with scuba is in many ways easier than shooting under the breath-hold constraints of free diving, it can be frustrating trying to stop for photos when the divemaster is in a hurry, leading the group of paying divers quickly from one spot to another. Both Marla and I prefer a more leisurely pace, allowing time to stop and study the small stuff and to take some shots. Tony, our divemaster on this trip, was very accommodating to our desire for a relaxed pace that allowed for some lingering and a few decent photos. Anyway, here’s some of what we saw (click for a better view):
For me, the best fish of the day were the subadult blacklip butterflyfish. These splendid little fish (also called bluehead, sunburst, or Klein’s butterflyfish) with their gorgeous blue-violet foreheads were present in small numbers at around sixty feet at both dive sites. (A few adult blacklips were present in relatively shallow water at Mahukona in 2014 and 2015, but I’ve not seen them there for at least a year. The blacklips at Mahukona did not seem as pretty as those from the other day, possibly because they were more mature, or possibly because the color looks more vibrant at greater depth.)
Pyramid butterflyfish, always a pleasure to see, were abundant and quite tame at Black Point. The pyramids are always present at Mahukona, but those at Mahukona seem to me to be smaller than those we saw on this dive, and not quite as approachable.
This big ringtail wrasse wandered into my camera’s field of view, providing a very short photo opportunity. I think that the relatively flat, dull coloration of this photo accurately represents the natural lighting down at these depths—approximately sixty feet in this case. All of my photos are taken using natural light, as opposed to the multiple strobes used by many UW photographers. Strobes really make the colors pop, but to me they can lend an unnatural (and expensive!) quality to the photos.
Trumpetfish are ubiquitous in Hawaii. Get a load of that head and mouth! Head shape varies wildly among fish—think Picasso triggerfish relative to this trumpetfish. This variability is a source of endless interest and delight among ichthyologists and evolutionary biologists.
Another trumpetfish. They’re cooperative photo subjects, as they tend to remain very still, and can be quite approachable. I think they look great, too.
Yellowstripe goatfish are almost as ubiquitous as the trumpetfish, and just as rewarding a photo target.