Mandarin Fish

My last dive here in the Philippines was a mandarin fish dive, which is a very specific hunt for tiny, elusive, colourful fish that live in dead corals and only show themselves in little darting moments, at dusk.

mandarin 3

It was my last opportunity, and no one else felt like that particular dive — it’s a lot of staying steady in about 10m of water, as night is falling, so rather chilly and single-focused.


I have been using an old camera and housing that belonged to Finch for photos on this trip. For photos at depth, you have to have a camera that is decent at low light, with a really good housing. Most people who don’t use DSLRs (which are huge with the housing) use something like a Canon Powershot S series, because the housings and strobes are really good for those. The old Sony I’ve been using is a very basic camera, with no strobe, and a very delayed shutter speed. On this trip, something has also been revealed as amiss with the batteries, since I’ve found no set of batteries lasts longer than about 1.5 dives.

I didn’t replace the batteries before the mandarin fish dive, though it was the second round of diving on that set, and the camera was infuriating to use with the fast little fish. I’d set up a shot, just find the perfect moment, and I’d get the little battery indicator that shut down the camera. Over and over.

Mandarin fish wait for no one.

fish 2

I was frustrated with the camera, but I also had this moment of lying in this rubble of dead coral, at the bottom of the sea, at peace with the dive gear, with a kind, gentle divemaster who can find anything you request, and had a full wave of peace and privilege. I was on my own, with a very trustworthy guide, under the sea, photographing beautiful fish. One of the things I’ve learned from my time with Finch is how possible it is to have very special experiences, intimate ones, by finding the local people who know what’s underneath all of the layers. The world is full of utterly amazing things, above and below and in. Being with this man really showed me how to find those, how to delight in them, that there is an endless list of habitats to wander and encounter. And for that I’m deeply grateful.


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