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Underwater World of Ciovo Island

This summer I did my first underwater photography sessions. The idea was very simple: snorkeling and trying to make some nice images of maritime world. It took some getting used to shooting with a compact camera (after years of using only DSLR cameras, I completely forgot how limiting compact cameras can be :) ), yet, the results are not bad at all. I met some well known sea creatures, but I also encountered couple of unexpected guests….

Technical wise, quality of the images isn’t at it’s best, but, given the camera limitations, fact that I could set only one parameter manually and that on the bottom of the sea I don’t have any time for manual focus – they turned out pretty well. There are soft edges, chromatic aberrations and noise (since the camera optics and sensor simply cannot do any better) but all of the technical flaws can be compensated or even completely removed in post-processing. Also, there was a huge drawback: lack of shooting raw images. Jpegs are so prone to artifacts and color noise if any heavier post processing is done, so I had to be extra careful with that. I didn’t succeed always.

Camera: Pentax Optio W90 compact camera
Depth: from 0,2 to about 5 m (camera can go up to 6 m deep)
Location: Slatine, Ciovo island, Croatia, submarine world in front of my house :)

As soon as I plunged, at depth of only half a meter, rocks were full of small Combtooth blenny fish. On first three images is Paralipophrys trigloides species – so curious they don’t even try to swim away from me or the camera. While I was trying to shoot them, they were getting closer to the camera curiously looking at it. This calm and beautiful, they made a very good subject for macro photography.


They live in small holes in rocks and I could completely close the entrance with my camera – they didn’t mind at all. Even if they hid inside, they would peek out again after a few seconds, trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Cute little creatures.


They are pretty well camouflaged for life on rocks:


Another species of Combtooth blenny fish came to greet me – Salaria pavo. They are much more fearful and hesitant then their cousin, so I had to keep calm and wait for it to approach. It timidly swam back and forth waiting if something will  happen. I patiently waited for the right moment and when it came close enough – I released the shutter. It was trying to tell me something, but I don’t speak fish language yet :)



Once, I was bit by this small fish, when I was trying to catch it. Regardless of it’s size, it has some bite.

The next cutie was also brave and curious as the first one. It is Parablennius incognitus species and it constantly wanted to get as close to camera as possible, studying strange lights which came from macro diodes around the lens. Who knows what it was thinking about my camera, but whatever that was – it surely liked it.


Shallow sea landscape is very colorful because enough sunlight is still reaching it, so it is very interesting to photograph.



Here are the snakelocks anemone (lat. Anemonia viridis) tentacles.  Small suction cups on the top contain poison. It uses them to catch and paralyze small fish, shrimps and crabs.

Since it lives in shallow water often times people step on it, or touch it if they swim too close to rocks where it lives. If any of it’s tentacles get in contact with the skin, it can burn really bad. Not as bad as jelly fish, but it still hurts very much. If that happens to you, rinse them with sea water, not fresh water because it only amplifies the effect. If you don’t have any cream or similar medical product, try simple solution: rubbing in some juice of fresh tomato. It is enough to cut the slice and hold it on the burned area. It works for both jelly fish and anemone, trust me :)



And here is another anemone in company of a yellow crab (lat. Eriphia verrucosa), which lives in rocky areas of shallow sea.


After I went a bit further from the shore, the sea bed landscape began to change. Sand and pebbles replaced rocks, colors shifted to cyan and blue and only camera flash could recover some of the real colors. First animal I encountered was Black Sea Urchin (lat. Arbacia lixula) sometimes called sea hedgehog. Typically, it lives at shallow waters, at depths from 0 to 30 m, in rocky shores. They move slowly, by moving their spines and they almost always carry some small stones, shells or algae, brought on them by sea current.

Since they live in shallow water, many times people step on them, which can bring painful wounds when parts of their spines penetrate under the skin. They have to be removed to avoid infection.


Suddenly, in front of me appeared Common two-banded sea bream (lat. Diplodus vulgaris). By sheer luck I managed to take a photo of it, since they were too fast for my camera.


Here are the remains of a warty venus (lat. Venus verrucosa), a clam which lives mostly in sandy areas of the sea bed. They are very tasteful to eat and very popular in Dalmatian cuisine.


Some 4-5 m deep I encountered my old acquaintance european spider crab – interesting crab very common to this area. They are, I learned that day, very good models for photography. When I approached and put a camera in front of it’s face, it just froze in defensive position and waited my next move. Yet, nothing but a flash of light happened :)  It’s latin name is Maja Squinado and it’s obviously having a bad hair day. :))


Not far away, there was another one. Next to it, lied sea cucumber (if I googled well, it’s latin name is Holothuria Edulis). Personally, I find it one of the creepiest sea creatures. They are allegedly very delicious and are cuisine specialties in some countries, but here in Dalmatia nobody eats them. I never gotten myself to even touch it. I can’t explain why.


Dive after dive, wandering through the sea bed, I spotted noble pen shell (lat. Pinna nobilis), large salt water clam which lives in sandy areas and seagrass fields. This marine mollusc is endemic to the Mediterranean. Part of its shell is anchored to the ground by a net of silky filaments. I was glad to see it back, because during past 10-15 years they were completely gone from this area, and I know that because i snorkel here practically my whole life.

When I dived to take a photo of it, a sudden guest appeared – cuttlefish (lat. Sepia officinalis). It camouflaged itself by adjusting skin pattern to match the surroundings, yet I was so close to it I couldn’t not see it. The eye looked at me just long enough to snap a photo of it, then it sprayed black ink and darted into the distance. That was such an unexpected and great photo-catch! :)


When the cuttlefish was gone, I could finally take some photos of the pen shell.


Not far away from this one, I spotted another one young pen shell. They are back alright :)

Pen shells can grow up to 1 m long, and these two I photographed were some 30 cm long (together with the part anchored into sand). When they are still young, they have fragile, teeth-like outgrowths on their shells (you can see them on the photos) which wear out and disappear later in their life.

Unfortunately, the noble pen shells are endangered species. Picking for food, anchoring, trawling, vulnerability to marine pollution and damage to sea-grass meadows vastly decreased their number and they completely disappeared from some areas. Therefore, they are protected and any form of deliberate killing or destroying is prohibited by law. To be honest, I don’t know if any holiday ‘trophy’ is worth extincting any species of plant or animal. My only trophy were two nice photos of these beautiful molluscs and I’m very happy with it. :)

There is one more interesting example of scientists’ efforts to save this giant mussel: As part of the Costa Concordia disaster recovery effort ongoing in Italy since 2012, a group of Pinna nobilis numbering about 200, which were found under the wreck of the capsized cruise ship, was manually relocated to a nearby area, the reason for it being subsequent engineering work that might have caused harm to the species. Here you can watch short video of noble pen shell rescue. Just as I’m writing this, there is an ongoing salvage operation on the Giglio island and the giant cruise liner should be finally pulled upright to be eventually towed away from the site.


Little further from the pen shell, I saw what was probably the biggest anemone I have ever seen. It’s tentacles were almost 15 cm long. A real record-holder.


On my way back I snapped few more photos of nice underwater colors and this small colony of  Mediterranean mussel (lat. Mytilus galloprovincialis) – a species of bivalve, a marine mollusc in the family Mytilidae. Mussels are very popular and tasty dish in Dalmatian cuisine. They grow everywhere, but rarely I see them big enough to be picked for eating. They probably don’t survive to grow long enough…


Next to the colony I found beadlet anemone (lat. Actinia equina) – a common sea anemone found on rocky shores around many coasts. When it’s hungry, it displays up to 192 tentacles, arranged in six circles, with which it paralyses and eats small fish and crabs. When the tentacles are retract, like on this photo, it is just a blob of red jelly.  It can also burn human skin, but you can touch it when it’s closed. It always reminded me of cherries.


Here is the European rock shrimp (lat. Palaemon elegans), tiny semitransparent cousin of shrimps which likes to nibble human skin. If you leave your hand or foot calm for some time, they will gather around and pick pieces of your skin. It feels like slight, tickling sensation. They move backwards by bending their body and they are really fast.


Here is a sea snail (lat. Hexaplex trunculus), or better to say sea snail’s house, now inhabited by Hermit crab, a species which protects it’s body by taking empty snails’ houses and lives in them.


Sooo, I hope you all enjoyed a small tour through some of the species that can be found in the sea world of Ciovo island and Adriatic sea.

Since I’m only snorkeling and I had camera with limited features, I could not explore deeper parts of the sea. Yet, I enjoyed every single second of the underwater photo sessions, partly because of the exploration itself, and partly because I’ve gotten to know better some of the species I know and watch my whole life.

All of the photos were taken in the part of the sea bed I literally know by heart, because all of my childhood summers were spent on that particular area of the Ciovo island, and snorkeling was daily activity. Nevertheless, photography offered me completely new dimension of it and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. :)