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Los Rocques, Venezuela

by Robert Pickett

Reproduced from in focus 70 (February 2001)

Venezuela

I thought at first that I should introduce myself as I am a newcomer to BSoUP, and also I am quite a newcomer to underwater photography, but I am certainly no newcomer to land photography. I have been working cis a wildlife photographer, plus commercial photography for the last fifteen years. In the last f ive years I have run a photo agency called Papilio.

I thought I would mention all this to place you in the picture of why I ended up in Los Roques! After making many land based photographic trips my partner, Justine, got me into diving and it was a natural progression to continue to take photos. Only the one thing about this is that they had to be as good as the work I do on land, or at least good enough for me!

We started out underwater photography about two years ago in the Red Sea, where I used a housed camera doing mainly macro work, trying to learn and build up a portfolio of work.

In the following season I had a trip planned to go to Venezuela to photograph butterflies and other insects etc., and this lead me to the idea that Los Roques was close and perhaps we could make a dive trip there as well. It was also suggest that we could dive around the islands of Margarita.

All my experiences of the opportunities at Los Roques and Margarita are based on my own experiences. This is certainly not to say that other people experienced the same, this is just my impression of the place. I had not heard about diving around the island of Margarita but there was a bit more information about Los Roques but it did not seem a very well known dive destination. But with the wonders of the web more information was available.

I'll deal with Margarita first, we made shortstop here to make a few dives off this island. What is apparent about this place is the visibility is affected dramatically by the flow of the Orinoco on the mainland. Unfortunately the time we went, which was June 1999 the Orinoco had recently flooded and had taken with it lots of silt which meant that anything other than close up photography was really not feasible. There are certainly some interesting Caribbean species to be seen, off the beaten track. There were lots of Arrow Crabs, Shrimps, but due to the conditions there was nothing very easy.

We decided to move quickly on to the Islands of Los Poques, our first impressions was that it was very unspoilt, not at all touristy and very beautiful. I genuinely think that this impression stayed with me till the end of our trip.

At the time there was only one dive shop/operation on the main inhabited island. I suppose that in fairness we were a little out of season and their main dive boat was out for repair. This didn't matter too much are reached by the smaller local boats, however this did make it a bit more tough when using cameras and getting kitted up etc., as I'm sure you all know. But I also think that this added to its ruggedness and untameness!

So now to the diving and the photography - the first reef which we dived there was Boca cle Cote - this was quite spectacular it had an amazing array of fish live and coral with some very huge green moray eels, a few nurse sharks and turtles. However more than this and as I've said before it was rugged and untamed and we were the only divers there!! In fact throughout the Los Roques National Park there were no other diverd! I do know that the 'Antares' fleet run trips there but they were not there whilst we were there and anyway we diving daily from the mainland and not on a liveaboard that passes through.

I won't go through all the dive sites that we went to but will only highlight some of them. Having a keen interest in the biology of the natural world I am always looking for behavioural things to see and to photograph, but sadly more times than not I can't! (I must try harder).

One of the best sites was Grouper Rock, I thought I'd mention there are some pretty strange currents around the islands again adding to the wildness of the place, which we dived during the day and night. The fish end invertebrate life was again outstanding here lots of large morays, scorpion fish, and massive groupers!! One of the spectacular sites here was witnessing a moray eel dramatically taking a fish end biting it clean in half.

Another site worth mentioning was Cayo Sal, this reef was on the edge of the Park with nothing left in one direction except the open blue Caribbean Sectfl I have to say at first that photography here was not successful, for reasons, which will become apparent. Being on a small boot was dif ficult getting kitted up together and this meant that you had to get in the water and wait for the last diver. Although this didn't take long, as soon as you got in the water you realised that the dive masters suggestion of hanging onto the buoy line was not something to be missed because the current was unbelievable. The idect of the dive was to go with the current and to go into some caves along the wall and hopefully see some large pelagic species.

Well all the four of us had been in currents before but this was one of the quickest I'd experienced. We made our decent and went with the current and missed the first cove totally!! We managed to slip neatly into the second cave end watched the blue sea go by!! We watched the large gorgonians bending and feeding and all the other plankton feeders have their fill but sadly no pelagic species.

In conclusion to all of this I would recommend Los Roques for two reasons, one being that you are able to visit Venezuela if you con end secondly for the wildness of the erect, in that sense it was spectacular. However from a photographic point of view it was a baptism by fire and not at all easy!! So my next trip will be a millpond somewhere!!


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