$4,000 in specialty underwater camera equipment, and when the sea turtle comes to play, it makes every cent worth it.
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This guy wasn't bothered by our presence at all, it seemed. He was happy to just keep paddling along, occasionally dipping down to find some tasty part of the ocean floor to munch on.
I should mention that none of these photos are cropped: I really was that close to him. He took little note of us, happy to keep swimming along and being a turtle.
What stories of the ocean can you tell us, Mr. Turtle?
I could have spent the next hour doing nothing but taking pictures of this guy, but I was interrupted by the frantic tank banging of some divers a hundred feet off. Because while I was busy with the sea turtle, someone else had come out to play.
Australia, the resident Emon beach Manta ray.
This isn't the first time this specific ray has shown up, people have been seeing it here for years. We've taken to calling it "Australia" on account of the patch on it's belly that's shaped like the continent.
And like the sea turtle, he showed no real concern about our presence, swimming within feet of us . . . and doing somersaults.
I'm not sure why he spent most of his time engaging in underwater aerobatics, but after watching him do the second or third barrel roll in a row . . . I think he was just doing them because it was fun.
The last few weeks, the water in the atoll have been very cloudy, filled with long strings of these plankton-like microorganisms. They get in the way of photography, but they make a delicious Manta snack. He made so many passes back and forth through us, scooping up giant mouthfuls of these delicious things.
He was within arms length of me so many times, that when I'd finally pull my face away from the cameras viewfinder for a second, it was a shock that HOLY SMOKES, there's a giant Manta ray two feet from me. Sometimes so close that even with the 17mm lens I had on the camera, I couldn't completely get him in frame.
It was the best birthday present the ocean could have given me.