By Ignacio Orovio

-You have been photographing the sea for over 20 years. How have the oceans evolved?
I’ve been photographing on land since 1996 – mainly rainforests; but also on safari etc.
I’ve only been taking photographs underwater, which I’m told are better than my land ones, since 2009.
I only took an actual course in 2017! But have been given good tips by brilliant photographer friends along the way.
These are NOT the oceans I once knew.
When I was a child, you could see 20 meters down to the seabed in Sardinia, every strand of seaweed, every rock.
The coral reefs of the Maldives on a trip in 1989, of Australia and the Bahamas in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and elsewhere were MAGNIFICENT – full of colour and life.
At that point, the sea was full of fish, of big fish – and sharks. There were gigantic schools of hammerheads in the Sea of Cortez. Unimaginable quantities of fish.
A 60-year-old friend of mine says he saw schools of manta rays.
One never really saw plastic.
But now, the reefs of the Maldives have suffered bleaching, at least half of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is dead, 90% of the big fish are gone. Everything (up to 90%) is overfished. The rest is fished to the absolute limit.
We have plundered the oceans, fished to unsustainable levels.

The huge schools of hammerheads are largely a thing of the past.
Plastic is everywhere – everywhere I go/have gone, including Egypt, the Philippines, the Bahamas, Portugal, Sardinia, Indonesia...
The equivalent of a dump truck of plastic enters the sea every minute.
Plastic has been found in the deepest and most secluded parts of the ocean. It has been found in the gut of virtually every marine organism. In one study, every single sea turtle assessed had suffered from plastic pollution. You regularly hear of whales with over 10 kilos of plastic in their stomachs – a sperm whale that washed up on the coast of Sardinia a couple of years ago had 22 kilos of plastic in its stomach.
Plastic production is set to quadruple over the coming years.
The number of dead zones in our oceans – places that can’t sustain life due to low oxygen – has increased. A Google search says It has grown to 405 – from 49 in the 1960s.
The populations of some sharks have declined by up to 97% (oceanic whitetip shark) over the past 3-4 decades. Many have declined by 60-89%.
Although I haven’t personally seen much of this (I started diving in 1989 but snorkelling and observing since I was very young indeed) there has been an enormous change in oceans all around the world. From overfishing to plastic, shark finning, temperature rise, acidification and coral bleaching to unprecedented ice melting, biodiversity loss and extinction.
We have lost entire species – like the Vaquita in Mexico, river dolphins in China and so on… Northern Right Whales are down to 400 animals or less.
That’s not to say that species didn’t go extinct in the past; but the extinction rate is said to now be over a thousand times what it once was.

- Do you see it better or worse than when you started diving?
What I have witnessed myself is plastic pollution, hooks in the mouths of up to a third of the sharks I’ve seen (certainly in the Bahamas)… Coral bleaching and a reduction of life over repeat trips to places like the Maldives and Australia, and large amounts of algae growing where it never did - or grew much less - before.
There are happy exceptions like Raja Ampat in Indonesia. Raja Ampat is often referred to as “the last paradise”. Reefs are still healthy there and it remains one of the most biodiverse places on the planet (Papua New Guinea and Indonesia are the most biodiverse places for marine life). There are healthy reefs in the Red Sea, where some friends and I go every year.
Cabo Pulmo in Mexico has experienced a 400% increase in biomass since it became a no-catch reserve just over 20 years ago. Evidence that marine protected areas (MPAs) can do wonders.
As Sylvia Earle says, nature can bounce back. It just needs the time and freedom to do so.
To come back to your question, I have definitely seen a significant decline, particularly with coral reefs and with the increase of plastic.

-Are environmental policies and major agreements (Kyoto, Paris) effective in preserving nature?
Agreements like the Paris and Kyoto talks should be seen as ways for the world to come together around a particular theme -- this time, climate change. The Paris accord is a set of organizing principles, which countries must use to guide and strengthen their commitments every year for stabilizing global temperature at well below 2 degrees celsius. Doing so will ensure a climate-friendly future and preserve our natural world. It is of course a shame when some nations refuse to adhere to common standards and some leaders insist on taking a "business first" approach.

-Is environmentalism left-wing?

Is environmentalism left-wing?

It certainly shouldn’t be!

If it seems that way, it’s a shame.

At this point we’re basically talking about human and planetary survival. The future of our species, of ecosystems and all that inhabits them.

Stephen Hawking thought we might use up all the planet’s resources and that our future was/is in space. That we should leave Earth by the year 2100.
We can only hope he was terribly wrong.

Protecting the environment and reducing our impact should no longer be romantic notions, considered daydreams or whims. These should not be backup options or fantasy.

The natural world is not just a luxury and if history has taught us anything it is that our short-sightedness, negligence, greed and general disregard for other living things have been abhorrent and had catastrophic repercussions.

One thing that always seems amazing to me is that we’ve known about all these problems for YEARS. There have been countless warning signs, hundreds of thousands of pages of literature produced, thousands of scientists and biologists and naturalists who have told us to change our ways.

My great uncle worried and warned about environmental ills, human negligence and ignorance – hubris – for decades. He and my great aunt spoke out about deforestation, pollution, waste, animal rights, animal cruelty, whaling, elephants and so on for years. They also ran a highly successful anti-fur campaign.

Nearly everything my great uncle predicted and worried about has come true. An African elephant is killed every 15 minutes, and if the kill rate of 36000 elephants a year doesn’t change elephants may only be around for another 10 years. There has been a resurgence of the use of fur – certainly in Switzerland.

Many whale populations have yet to recover. The same with fish stocks that we have shamelessly, wreckfully depleted.

Basic science about environment, ecology and climate has been around for decades! An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006, Al Gore’s book Earth in the Balance, just before I went to university – in 1992. Yet emissions have peaked over the past 2-3 years. The past decade has seen 8 of the 10 hottest years in history.

We’ve known about overfishing and rampant deforestation for longer than I can remember. Rainforests were a frequent conservation and conversation topic in the late ‘80s. With the Amazon burning, Borneo fires, Australian fires and fires in California, one major bulwark against climate change (tree cover) is fast being depleted.

Environment, climate change, natural resources and other life on earth should not be political – or politicized.

Nature in all its wonder and its gifts should be coveted, protected, and, if anything, restored. The survival of wild places and wildlife ensured.
Our air and water kept clean, oceans plentiful, reefs and rainforests diverse.

I know that all sounds dreamy; but it is how I feel – and how I wish we might collectively think.

We are more than running out of time… and we’ve known this for a long time.
Don’t let any politicians tell you differently.

-Are conservation and economic development antagonistic terms?
If we have to spend more here and there and suffer a tiny bit in the short term in order to do better later then it’s worth it.
Green construction standards such as LEEDS raise costs a little bit in the short term but are offset later with savings on things like energy, insulation etc. – just as seismic-resistant building may seem complicated or expensive to begin with but can save enormous amounts of money in limiting (potential) future loss of life and/or property damage. People’s safety is paramount. In the countries where my family and our development network work, places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan, natural disasters like earthquakes, avalanches and floods are very frequent and engender horrific loss of life, limb and property. One of the only ways to counter the risk is to improve construction standards and safety measures.

In the case of environment and climate, neither of which we can afford to ignore anymore, green building, even green rooves and solar panels, makes eminent sense and should, at the collective level, make a big difference -- reducing or slowing the effects of climate change and limiting our negative effects on the environment.

It used to be thought that alternative/renewable energy was prohibitively expensive and couldn’t possibly become standard. Yet now it is becoming cheaper than fossil fuels and the old ways. What was once thought of as an economic disadvantage has become an advantage.

If you look at tourism, dozens of countries like the Maldives, Kenya and Costa Rica depend a lot on ecotourism. If it can be done right, without overrunning places with high numbers, without harming wildlife and ecosystems while also respecting and taking care of people locally... ecotourism is a wonderful way to generate income and employment.
Mexico, the Philippines, Bahamas and other places I photograph depend heavily on ecotourism.
Even countries like Canada benefit from it.

Interestingly shark tourism is a big industry. Places like the Bahamas and Palau demonstrate well that a live shark is much more profitable than a dead shark. If you sell a shark for its meat you probably make at most 200 dollars (I was told $70 at one point). But you can actually calculate the financial worth of a live shark based on the number of animals, number of divers/tourists and hotel nights … and attribute a numerical value to a shark. In some cases a living shark might be worth millions of dollars. Those sharks, then, are no longer big predatory fish but swimming banks or gold mines!

Those are just a few examples that come to mind.

But of course if one were to eliminate or ignore a large number of environmental regulations and focus solely on building wealth for the present (as a number of countries have been doing to a shocking extent) then more money can be made. But at what cost to the quality of our air, water, wild places, flora and fauna, food supply and, eventually, ourselves? Make money now by damaging future generations and the world around us.

-How to convince the less developed countries of the need for conservation? How to convince them that this is a priority?
-What effects do you think the COVID can have on environmental conservation? Does it take a back seat?
It seems like environment and conservation take a back seat to nearly everything!
COVID and lockdown have been very interesting in terms of wildlife and environment for several reasons.
Air pollution everywhere from China to India to Italy reached record lows, and wildlife seemed to gain confidence, come out of hiding so to speak and
Approach human habitations more. Wild boar were running the streets of Barcelona, there were stories of dolphins in the canals of Venice, animals roaming carless roads, sea turtle hatchling numbers higher than ever, habituated monkeys in Thailand running amok in a city with no tourists there to feed them. And so on.
Unfortunately though, poaching increased tremendously at the same time – as did deforestation in the Amazon.
It would seem that conditions were ideal for people to kill endangered animals and cut down vital trees as no one else was there to police them.
While the Internet was flooded with stories of fauna and flora reclaiming territory and nature bouncing back, it turns out that many of these happy and hopeful stories we kept reading were fake news. There’s a good National Geographic article about it.
Again: nature CAN come back if we give it a break and if enabling conditions are there.
But the pandemic has also shown us that we can live completely differently than we did before. Travel less, stay home more, spend more time with our families, consume and waste less, reduce our emissions, communicate face to face on our computers and so on.
It has shown us that we could change our lifestyles and behaviour completely if we wanted to. We could drastically reduce our impact…
Greta Thunberg has suggested that this pandemic has proven that nations and people can come together and act decisively when the need is urgent and the human race in trouble… and that the way we’ve fought COVID might be repeated and reinforced in our battle against climate change.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we would address climate change just as well?
If we built and reorganized better, more wisely, with forethought, ethics and clear concern for the future.
If we forged ahead with intelligence and hope, innovation and commitment, altruism – and not just to humans.
With strong leadership, which we lack in many countries, continued commitment, consistent reminders of urgency and more repercussions for noncompliant governments, perhaps we could turn a corner!
Climate change is not going away and, if we don’t change our ways and our relationship with wildlife, this might be just the first of the present day pandemics, with many more to come.

-Do you feel that with this work you are collaborating in raising awareness?
Absolutely. It’s one of the primary goals. Without awareness and knowledge we have very little.
People can’t make informed decisions or change behaviours if they don’t have some facts at their disposal and sources of knowledge.
My photographs are, to a certain extent, just a backdrop to engender interest in and fondness of nature, wildlife and diversity … but also to generate discussion about issues and solutions.
One hopes that the images will draw people in, encourage them to find out more, and help people care. We won’t feel a need to protect what we don’t care about.
At every one of my exhibitions and in much of what I publish and share, including on Instagram, you should be able to find facts, statistics and details on issues tied to the wildlife and ecosystems in question. In some cases, you will find the names of top organizations and scientists who work on these issues. Ideas about how you can help.

-What do you feel down there? A mission?
-Passion for risk?
What I find down there is a different world! Peace and quiet – real quiet, calm and reflection – the beauty of colors and shapes, capacity to control your levels of light.
The chance to see things that gripped me as a child that I could only dream of witnessing one day.
Just as you never cross the same river twice and every walk through a forest is different: every dive is different. The animals you do or don’t see, length of the dive, feeling you get, breathing rate...
Sometimes you see nearly nothing. Sometimes you burn through your air. Sometimes what you see is so surprising or fantastic you can’t really describe it in words back on land. Conditions change everything. Current, water temperature, visibility, rough seas, even who you go with. No two dives are ever the same.
I hope I don’t have a passion for risk!
Adrenaline? Yes, at times of course. I dislike going deep, but diving is always exciting to me. The animals and ecosystems are an immense love and joy. It’s a passion, a privilege and exception.
I don’t think it’s about seeking out adrenaline or risk, though one occasionally takes a risk. Some subjects and situations are riskier than others.
What I think has become increasingly obvious, what we now know — all too well — is that much of what we see in the sea today might be gone tomorrow. It causes a sad and sinking feeling — just as you might experience when you see an elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, orangutan or rainforest.
There’s a strong sense of privilege in doing what I do, but a deep sadness and fear at times about what things may come.
Will the two dolphin habitats friends and I visit still be safe and clean in 5-20 years and the dolphins thriving? Will we find a way to limit plastic? Will oceanic white tip sharks still be around? Is it really true that coral reefs will be gone completely in 30-50 years’ time? Will one still be able to find pigmy seahorses and giant octopuses?
Very importantly: will there still be great shoals of edible fish and will the hundreds of millions of people who depend on our oceans still be able to do so?
So to a certain extent: yes about the mission. It feels like these incredible creatures and places – and encounters – should be shared. That they need to be documented and shared widely, and the issues surrounding them brought to light. To raise awareness, inspire passion or instil interest. Particularly, I think, with youth. To inspire protection and change.

-How many bugs have attacked you?
People wouldn’t believe how safe it is underwater in terms of wildlife and threats if you told them!
Just as on land there are certain animals and environments you should steer away from, it is the same with the sea.
Practically nothing attacks you unless provoked, defending their families or territory.
There are things like scorpionfish (or “stonefish”) that are venomous and difficult to see with their camouflage and hiding expertise. If you were to kick one or bump into one by mistake it would hurt very much, cause swelling and probably a high fever (if not worse). A lionfish can hurt you but would never attack. The same is true of sea snakes, which are venomous, and blue-ringed octopus that are very small and HIGHLY venomous (enough to kill 25 adult people!) – but neither would ever hurt you unless you hurt them or really scared them first.
Fire coral in the Caribbean is very easy to bump into or not notice, but it doesn’t do you much harm.
Some of the more aggressive and fearless creatures down there are actually clownfish and damselfish! They could do you no harm whatsoever but clownfish will swim up to you and even bite you sometimes while trying to keep you away from their host anemone – their home. If they have kids in the anemone they’ll be even more aggressive.
I’ve had a clownfish or 2 swim up to 2 meters away from their anemone to scare me away.
Damselfish, which are generally never more than 12 centimetres long – and usually much smaller – have pushed me away from their coral homes a few times.
One time I touched a bristle-worm and my hand hurt in cold water for six months afterwards – but it was my fault for touching it on purpose!
I have definitely bumped into fire coral in the Caribbean and been stung by some corals in the South Pacific. But the latter was because I leaned on some while taking photos.
At one point in the Galapagos I was suddenly pulled backwards and up very hard only to see that it was my buddy pulling me away from a moray eel that was swimming very fast and a little aggressively to my legs.
Keeping in mind that sharks hardly EVER attack people and that we purposefully put blood and dead fish in the water to attract them to us, I did have an oceanic whitetip push me twice in a row during a dive.
Titan triggerfish, big and dominant fish with enormous teeth, occasionally bite people during mating season – to protect their nests – and can be relentless in chasing divers.
I’ve had those go after me once or twice and witnessed one be much more aggressive with a friend. But you easily see titan triggerfish coming from far away and can start to swim in the other direction.
In all honesty some of the “scarier” creatures are harmless and some of the encounters as funny as they are exciting.
A whale in Tonga they call “Crazy George” because he sometimes lifts people out of the water on his head was practically chasing me – for his amusement – in august 2017.
His eye was less than 2 metres from mine for a while and he caught up with me when I tried to swim away 3 different times – and dipped his head down at one point like he wanted to lift me up. Because George is 12 metres long or more I was scared like a 7-year-old girl!
Another whale rushed my guide and me at full speed a year or 2 before. It finally dove down when it was about 5 metres away from us. But humpback whales don’t have teeth and never really try to hurt anyone. The crazy ones are just trying to have fun.
One time I had a pregnant 4-metre tiger shark lean into me with her side; but it was surprisingly unintimidating. She’s a famous, quite docile shark named Emma who has never hurt anyone. She was moving very slowly and did the same thing to other people during the dive.
The funniest thing I ever saw was a mantis shrimp hit my best friend’s camera in Indonesia in 2011. It was funny because I knew what was going to happen, it felt like things were happening in slow motion and mantis shrimp look really silly. Surprisingly enough, though, mantis shrimp are stronger/can hit harder than any other animal their size and can break aquarium glass or cameras.
The above took place over more than 30 years and probably thousands of dives, which should show you how safe life down there actually is!
Photographers are probably more protected than other divers since we can push things away from us with our big cameras and strobes.
The bigger risks with diving are usually your own mistakes – like not being careful with your depth or regularly checking how much air you have left. Occasionally, but very rarely, you might experience an equipment failure. But one never dives alone and your buddy should always be nearby to help if needed.

-How much of our fear of sharks comes from the movies?
Because their mortality rates are so low...
One of the most terrible things!
The only thing more terrible than a film like Sharknado, the 47 Meters Down sequel, Snow Sharks and Sharktopus (these films actually exist! I have watched – and own – many of them) or the JAWS films is how much we vilify sharks – have always vilified them and continue to do so – even though they only kill 6-8 people around the entire world every year.
In the meantime we are killing them at a rate of 100-273 million animals every single year.
We are terribly afraid of sharks and hate sharks while more people are killed by lightning strikes and even falling off furniture every year. Thousands
And thousands more people are killed by dogs and mosquitoes every year than they are by sharks.
Of the more than 400 species of shark in our oceans, over 90% of species have never hurt a single human being. Only a handful of sharks could be considered “dangerous” at all.
A large number of shark species live deep down, lie on the ocean floor and never come up to the surface – where swimmers are – at all. Many live in environments that are completely inhospitable to us. They come in every shape and size – from only a few inches long (the dwarf lantern shark) to 13 meters long (the whale shark). Some, like the tasselled wobbegong, look like carpets. Some, like angel sharks, are quite flat and look similar to rays, their close relatives. One species of cartilaginous fish, the guitarfish, looks just like a guitar!
Friends and I have been on dozens of shark dives on purpose – with everything from tiger sharks to bull sharks, oceanic whitetips, great hammerheads, scalloped hammerheads, whale sharks and more...
Countless other dives you’ll see a shark or more by chance.
Every time I’ve been on a tiger shark dive, a great hammerhead dive or an oceanic whitetip dive in the Bahamas (dives I do repeatedly – certainly every year) or a reef shark dive in Micronesia, we have had blood and dead fish in the water to draw the sharks in. On many of these dives we’ve had a considerable number of these “dangerous sharks” (9 oceanic whitetips on one dive, 5 tiger sharks on another, 6 great hammerheads on one and so on) and yet they never attack you! A shark has only significantly scared me about five times over all these years. Twice it was small silky sharks who couldn’t have done much damage at all but came to my camera or me very fast.

-In some of your photos we see what looks like "love" from the mother whale to a child. Would it be insulting to say that it looks like "human behaviour"?
Yes. If you saw how amazing a mother whale is to her calf you would become angry with your own mother for not being as good to you!
Many mammals, including whales, dolphins and great apes, seem exceptionally caring and kind to – and protective of – their young.
Dolphin mothers and their calves stay together for 3-4 years. Whale mothers and calves for one year.
The bond between a mother whale and her calf is nearly indescribable, one of the most touching things you will ever see.
In fact, if there were a single thing I’ve witnessed that I wish everybody could see, it would be that. To experience the interaction between a whale calf and its mother.
The mothers we see in Tonga are always with their calves, incredibly loving and very protective.
Some mothers might be a little more hands off than others, trusting their young more or giving them more space.
A few of the calves are quite adventurous, their mothers permissive.
Sometimes a mother will just be hovering under the surface or near her calf and not seem to mind people in the water or near her calf at all.
Other mothers are more protective or nervous (some of these might be first-time mothers) and tend to pull their calves away from the group or make a point of putting themselves between you and their offspring.

We’re told to always keep a distance from the whales. But sometimes, for reasons that include current and, also, the whales approaching you, you breach that distance.
One time I got closer to her calf than she wanted, a mother immediately came to her calf’s side and whisked it away from me at great speed.
She came so fast and so close that it was a bit intimidating in fact.
The mothers are always there and always watching. Sometimes you forget how attentive or watchful they are.
The love between a mother and its calf is absolutely unmistakable when you see it – and unforgettable.

-What animal do you like best?
I TRY not to have favourites, but my repeat trips every year are for Atlantic spotted dolphins in the Bahamas, spinner dolphins in Egypt, humpback whales in Tonga, and two trips a year, sometimes more, to the Bahamas. In the Bahamas I tend to focus on sharks – oceanic white tips, tiger sharks, great hammerheads, silky sharks and the ever-present absolutely harmless (as are over 90% of sharks) nurse sharks. There we also run into turtles quite regularly – most often green turtles and, frequently, hawksbill turtles.
I think I’m drawn to
• marine mammals, which are fascinating, endearing, entertaining and intelligent – and have real social interactions and tend to live in family or social units. Sea lions are wonderful – playful and mischievous, interactive. Dolphins and whales are great.
• Sharks, which are immensely diverse (over 400 species!), ancient (probably 420 million years old. As old as dinosaurs and much older than dolphins and whales), beautiful, and generally not aggressive
• Turtles – with 6 out of 7 species endangered now L Beautiful, wise-looking animals that, it turns out, don’t live for 100 years in the sea. They apparently live 40-60 years depending on the species
I also love
• Manta rays, probably the most intelligent fish – certainly in terms of proportional brain size. The most graceful things in the world.
• Cephalopods – particularly cuttlefish and octopus. They are extremely intelligent, adaptive with their capacity to match their background, alter both their skin colour and texture. Their ability to squirt ink to confuse predators while they escape and their unique swimming method are incredible as well.
• Nudibranchs – the most colourful things in the sea – little jewels. Their bright colours signal their toxicity to predators.
• Angelfish – particularly colourful and elegant. And they have three distinct colour phases during their lives – juvenile, intermediate and adult.
• Triggerfish, which are also very diverse and attractive and also live mainly in the tropics.
• Some species of coral, such as anchor coral … and reefs
But generally I’m happy to see nearly anything in the sea, a forest etc.
While we still have diversity, some healthy populations and ecosystems around us.

-Do you have a favourite picture?
I sometimes take over 500 photographs on a single dive! If it’s a rare animal, amazing conditions or light,
The animal is inquisitive, comfortable/not retiring… the ecosystem or animal(s) particularly conducive to good photographs (or to my own joy) then I keep shooting. Like some of my friends I can take 16000 pictures on a trip. If it’s been a longer trip or one that includes multiple stops (three or more islands in a chain) or with a variety of rare or beautiful species, I might take many more.
Obviously, it’s nice to be selective and pick very specific moments to photograph, but it would be a shame to come back from a trip to a highly regulated place like the Galapagos or Isla del Coco, somewhere you travelled 14 hours or more for (Tonga, Indonesia etc.) and only have 150 photographs! Or to have encountered a very rare creature or had, for example, a whale calf come into your group and bump you as it passes by, and not have enough material – or enough good material.
Thankfully, I have help. Two great people who make objective selections and manage things with me.
It’s very hard to pick favourites among so very many photographs. We tend to always go back to the same images (the sort of best of the best). Some frames I have exhibited at more than four shows or published (Instagram, books etc.) as many or more times.
I have a few “iconic” images of dolphins, whales, sharks, turtles and sea lions (including a dolphin which is on the cover of my book, Diving Into Wildlife) -- and a few, if less so, of other subjects.
Generally I like images that tell a story. That document an incredible/unforgettable encounter (playing with a sea lion pup; being bumped by a whale calf; swimming 2 meters away or less from a turtle; A remora without a host who stayed with my dive group for minutes, going from person to person; a grouper in Sardinia just 2 weeks ago who stayed by my side or behind me for the entirety of a 52-minute and a 54-minute dive) or that show a rare behaviour (for example, I have a picture of a stingray on the back of a turtle in the Bahamas). Very rare animals are an incredible treat – a delight to encounter and photograph.
Other images you become fond of – or immediately like – because they were difficult to take, you had to confront fear or the conditions were terrible.
I might be happy that something nice came out of a shark that came too close for comfort or was particularly impressive. A photograph that was taken quite deep or in rough seas.
There’s an image of a marine iguana in the Galapagos that comes to mind particularly because it’s possibly the only good split level (or “over under”) image I’ve ever taken. Those are difficult, possibly more so for me, and tend to require strength and very good balance.
Other difficulties that might make some photographs more special to you are things like strong currents, serious exercise or air deficiency!
I’m not good at free diving at all — so anything I take while holding my breath seems more valuable to me. Some dolphin pictures from Egypt, and one in particular (of my book cover), stand out because of that.
Another set of images I’m very fond of is of the enormous school of jacks in Cabo Pulmo in Mexico. They don’t move extremely fast but they’re moving all the time. You have to keep up with them... and while I hadn’t tried that hard on my first trip, I swam like mad to stay with them and photograph them better on my last trip. I went through my tank in 20-23 minutes just staying with them, moving in and out of the shoal, zig zagging around and hovering above them. At a relatively shallow depth where, in normal conditions and moving slowly, my tank might last 45-55 minutes. One of the jack dives I swam from the back of the shoal all the way to the front and my legs were burning the whole time.
Current is difficult to swim in and — probably more so — to photograph in. So any image from a dive in strong current might please.
Ironically one of the photographs people consider my best, of a lionfish in the lights of a pontoon at night in Malaysia in 2007, I find a little insignificant since I wasn’t even in the water but sitting on the dock with my best friend Zeph and having a coffee when I took it! I just lazily took a few shots of the fish under the pontoon lights. Zero calories burned, zero effort or difficulty level. Just a beautiful animal in nice light!