Here come the lemons!

Lemon sharks are what the Sharklab is most famous for. Our founder Dr Gruber set up the field station 25 years ago to study the Bimini lemon sharks. We at the lab have now worked with 3 generations of these sharks, and have many ongoing projects involving them, so it’s no surprise that we encounter  lemon sharks regularly.

For all of you reading in the UK, our lemon sharks were also featured on BBC’s ‘Shark’, series recently. The BBC team filmed here with the Sharklab in Bimini just over a year ago, and the lemon sharks featured in it could even be some of the ones I myself have worked with and photographed, TV star lemon sharks!

So here we go, Negaprion Brevirostris.

I have plenty of baby or juvenile lemon shark images, but I’ll save those for a later post. I’ve seen adult lemon sharks here much less often than the babies, and only a few of those times I was taking photos. However, I’m pretty pleased with what came out from those times, considering I was leaning half off a boat at night, and trying to work with the light available instead of using my strobes, or in the water will a bit of swell going on, trying to swim out the current but not into the shark.

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This is a female tiger shark of 250cm total length. Caught during one of our monthly shallow water long-lines, at approximately 3am. She was tagged quickly, and then released. It’s possible that she’ll come back in May one year to pup, which would be amazing to see. This image is right up my street, working with the dark, using the water level to show two sides of the story; the researchers working up the shark, whilst she floats just under the water surface. I really enjoy taking these kind of images.

The second lemon shark image I’m going to share is a much more recent image, as I actually photographed my first adult male lemon shark last week. When setting some exploratory shallow water longlines, around 20 miles offshore from Bimini, we managed to successfully capture one shark. And this one shark was a large lemon, again around 250cm total length.

The waves were choppy, and bubbles kept on appearing on my dome port and in the frame – not ideal. But nonetheless still workable conditions, and I managed to take one image I was happy with:

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Likewise, this individual was tagged and released, so that if we ever see him again, we’ll know which shark he is. I tried to take some split shots during this shoot, but the waves weren’t helping my cause, so freedived down for a few seconds, and shot a couple of frames. This one worked best, showing a little more of the shark’s body in the frame, but still focusing on the all important head, eyes, and jaw. There’s also a couple of little Remora fish (Echeneidae), trying to take shelter under the lemon!

In the future, I’ll also share a post I’ve written about our most famous lemon shark project over here – PIT. This project is named after the PIT tag, and over the span of 12 nights we catch around 200 young sharks, tagging any new individuals with this microchip style tag. It’s a pretty intense project!

Side note – I’ve also recently started posting more regularly on my Instagram page, feel free to check it out for more shark images!

https://instagram.com/charlottesamsphotography/

www.charlottesams.com

Marine Conservation Zones – A report

The Photographic Angle & Royal Photographic Society Environmental Awareness Bursary 2014

The Marine Conservation Zones

Project Report

 

This project began from a strong desire to share passion of marine life, and a wish to reach and educate as many people as possible, about the important life that is right on our doorsteps, and so often ignored.

The idea of this project was to travel as many places as possible, and show a variety of marine life, that was either in the process of being awarded the marine conservation zone status, or may have already been awarded it. The label of MaC_Sams_02-1rine Conservation Zone varies from each site, their protection specifics are decided upon through assessment of the habitat and species within it. When this project began, there were already some 27 zones in place, and now, 1 year on, there have been 23 more added to this number. Considering the huge amount of coastline we are privileged to have around England, this number of 50 zones is still fairly low. The decision on the final round of zones is still not confirmed until 2016, and so you could say that this part of the project is still ongoing.

The other main driving force behind an underwater project was not to just highlight the areas that need protection, but also just to engage viewers with the ocean. It’s no secret that in recent years a growing number of children, and adults, C_Sams_05-1are disconnected from nature. Furthermore, it’s arguable that many people are even more disconnected from marine life, and what’s under our seas, purely because it is ‘out of sight, out of mind’. By bringing the marine life out of the water with images, showing the colourful species and habitats, the project aimed to gain viewers interest in interacting with nature, and more specifically the ocean, more. Marine life is so intriguing that if one is only given the opportunity, it is easy to become hooked, to start to become fascinated with this underwater world, to love it, and to care about it.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 09.32.54With these thoughts began the origin of the Marine Conservation Zones project, however the practicalities of it were a little more complex. The huge variety in the designated zones, and the possibilities of documenting so many different sites and the complex life within them is almost overwhelming.

The potential for covering this project is huge, one that could be documented over many years and still leave much to be explored. To make it more manageable, more accessible, local zones were selected as the photographic sites.

Towards the beginning of this project, many of the areas visited for documentation were deeper, scuba diving sites, accessed via rhib or other dive boat. These habitats are visually different to the shallower shore sites, but often the life within them is found right up to the shoreline, such as the stalked jellyfish, or nudibranch species, which can be found from rock pools, to deep wrecks.

As the project developed however, it felt somewhat contradictory to try encouraging people to visit the sea, and yet be sharing images of depths and places only reachable through boats and scuba equipment.

With the limitations of poor weather, diving access, and this thought, it seemed right to continue investigating the shore based marine conservation zones; those sites which everyone can enjoy, not just the lucky few divers.

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When visiting certain areas for C_Sams_01-1the first time, such as Padstow and the Surrounds MCZ, it was clear the potential for imagery was vast. The natural shapes and colours within this one area were surprising even to myself, and hours could be spent just in the shallows of the coastal rock pools. From being inspired by the beautiful contours of the rock formations, next to the bright colours of the seaweeds, even in the cold of winter, confirmed that there are always surprises and things to see in the ocean, no matter where you go. Even when visiting beaches and rocky sites on moody, rainy, days, the marine life still held its colour and form, affirming my own love for this almost hidden world.

At this point, the project’s direction began to take a more specific path. By selecting more of the coastal zones, and focusing on the patterns and colours available within them, the images for this story began to follow a more distinct style.

Working in shallow water, not only meant a ream of beautiful species available (reefs are more active in the first 10m of water than anywhere else), but also opened up the possibility of experimenting with the light a lot more. The water surface was usually calmer inshore, and therefore acting as a mirror, reflections of the underwater world were something I grew interested in.

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C_Sams_06-1Moreover, I encouraged myself to not get obsessed in finding rare species. Even the common marine life can be complex in its physical form; the regularly viewed species can be showed in a new light when composed properly. The reality of finding rare species when diving/visiting these zones is slim, and the common species are always underestimated, it makes no sense to simply disregard something that is beautiful, because it is common.

I had originally begun to document not only the underwater scenes but also people interacting with them too, surveying, snorkeling and diving. I discovered that though these images were interesting, they weren’t as powerful visually as the more simple compositions, focusing on just the marine life. These images would feature in a larger documentation of the project, but a stronger sequence was formed from being much more specific in location and style.

The choice of a square crop as opposed to the standard rectangular image was for a number of reasons, to simulate a window, a view into the underwater world, and also to try and highlight the focal point of each image, more obvious in the species as opposed to habitat photographs. By constraining the image to the square shape, it highlights the symmetry within various images, and adds simplicity reminiscent of analogue photography to the overall aesthetic.

The aim of this series of images was always to show variety, in shape, colour, and species. I want there to be something for everyone to appreciate in the sequence, to appeal to as many people as possible. Ultimately, the images taken were through my own love and appreciation for these scenes. Through forcing myself to look closer at the marine life I may have gotten used to, I emphasised my C_Sams_07-1own passion for the sea, and can only hope that this is conveyed by the images too.

From here, I hope to eventually develop an exhibition of these images and this story, though I would like to continue to work on this project further. As mentioned before, it is still ongoing, and I believe there is much yet to discover. In the meantime, I will be sharing my stories, images, and knowledge of the story through social media. Photography is a wonderful tool for conservation and education; and just the simple fact of sharing snapshots of what life underwater can look like can encourage more positive thinking towards marine life, and eventually protection for it too. The first step towards protection is creating a reason to care, and that’s what photography can do. You can’t argue with an image, and every image in this sequence is a statement of what is accessible to everyone. Photography can change people’s minds about what may have been unknown before, and by focusing on these simple bright images, the underwater world is made available to everyone.

Square v Standard

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Kelp & blue-rayed limpets (Patella pellucida), accompanied by a sea snail (Gibbula cineraria).
Common British marine life, and a simple composition sometimes makes for pretty strong images. British reefs are fantastic and full of life especially at this time of year! Well worth a visit either snorkeling, freediving, or scuba.

Nauticam housing. Nikon 105mm macro & D800.
1/160 sec; f/10; ISO 400

Cropping can dramatically change an image. It’s good to mix things up sometimes, defy the standard with the square, but also, to keep the flow of the image. Between these two images I honestly couldn’t decide which I preferred for a long time, but my current thoughts is the standard original frame size. I love square cropping, but for this image, the lines and block shapes are much more prominent with the larger image.

British marine life

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The images that didn’t quite make the cut for my MCZ selection. I love these though, the colours, and the lighting, however they didn’t quite fit into my series, and ultimately the images have to always work as a set.

The stalked jellyfish (top) is probably one of my favourites in this more fine art style of photography. Despite the fact it’s probably just out of focus, I absolutely love blurring and the backscatter here. The sand particles with this narrow DOF look like snowflakes, and I’ve mentioned this before with another image, how I think it really works and only compliments the ethereal scenes you come across underwater.

The second image is a female black faced blenny, and I was happy to achieve this image without any major editing; the spotlighting created from the strobes, and the black background from the aperture. Simple, and effective.

I like these two as a pair, the colours do reflect eachother, and fit with my common theme of black, darker images. The square crop turned out much better than anticipated too, in my next post I’ll try and share a comparison of the crops.

Back to blogging, (my life is now sharks).

Good morning world, I’m writing this from a cafe in Cornwall, drinking my fourth or fifth coffee of the day, just outside Falmouth where I lived up until recently.

I’m currently on a break from my new job & home, and am trying to use this time to catch up on all things that I’ve let slide whilst I’ve been working, such as writing, drawing, etc. I now live in South Bimini, the Bahamas, a tiny island only 50 miles from Miami, and very far away from the rest of the Bahamas, and also anything I’ve been used to.

I recently started working at the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation, AKA the Sharklab, as their Media Manager, and it’s been a massive learning curve so far. (The reason I’m telling you all this is not to boast, but just to introduce what I’m currently doing, so that the Shark related posts that will inevitably follow, don’t seem too random and out of place.)

Anyway, back to Bimini. The Sharklab is a world renowned field station, now in it’s 25th year. There’s a number of permanent staff, and a rotation of volunteers, and we all live and work in very close quarters within the same building.

We work long hours, we get few days off, have minimal personal space, and we live on an island where there’s only 2 restaurant/bars, one very small store, and an airport. But, we get to work with sharks.
I’ve never been shark obsessed; I make no secret in the fact that I love all kinds of marine life, and could never choose a favourite, but since working at the lab, I love sharks a hell of a lot more. My experience with sharks was minimal before working here, I’d dived with them a few times, and thought they were pretty cool, but in all honesty I didn’t know much about them. Now I’m lucky enough to live surrounded by scientists, conducting numerous research projects on a range of the species we get around Bimini. I’m happy to say I’m learning a lot more biology, and loving being around active science and being involved in projects that ultimately contribute to marine conservation.

My role is varied, and I won’t go into the details of that too much, but a part of it includes generating media content, and documenting the work we do, i.e. a fair amount of photography. And this is what I’ll be focusing on in the coming weeks in this blog, sharing one or two images of a specific species, with a little about the story behind the image(s).

Shark numero uno…

The first shark I encountered in Bimini was a juvenile tiger shark.

I was lucky enough to arrive around the time of our monthly longline set. And before you panic, this isn’t the usual kind of longlining that you may have heard as being awful, this is shallow water, very small scale longlines, that are checked every few hours. You can read more about it on the lab’s website here (http://www.biminisharklab.com/research/researchtechniques).

Tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, are fairly common around here, and as a species worldwide they are listed as near threatened by the IUCN. We encounter juvenile, semi adult, and mature tigers, unlike some of the other species we work with around here.

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That’s my first ever tiger shark image, and definitely not one of my best, but it sets the scene for you. (It’s not always that calm and sunny out there as well!).

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This is my favourite juvenile tiger shark image to date, which is in fact a screenshot from a clip, filming the release of this individual after a work-up whilst one of our college field courses were visiting. A work-up varies on details, but involves taking data for each individual shark; measurements, DNA & isotope samples. Also, we tag our sharks with PIT tags, an ID tag like a microchip. They sometimes are implanted with acoustic transmitters, meaning we can pick up their movements on receivers we have around the island. I love the patterns on juvenile tigers, look at those spots on the tail! Seriously beautiful.

Since living in Bimini, I’ve worked with adult tiger sharks too, but honestly I don’t have anywhere near as many photos of these yet. This is something I’m hoping to improve upon in my future at the lab, and safe to say I’m excited to see what this adventure brings!

Part of my job is to run the social media pages of the lab – if you’d like to see more photos of sharks and learn more about what we get up to there do follow the following links:

https://www.facebook.com/biminisharklab

https://twitter.com/BiminiSharkLab

http://www.instagram.com/biminisharklab/

Thanks for reading! Lemon sharks will be featured next!

www.charlottesams.com

This isn’t a photo post – let’s talk about waste.

I don’t think it matters that I’ve been off blogging for a while. There’s so many social media outlets and it fluctuates as to which I use.

As it says above, this is not a photo post today, but more of an online thought diary. I don’t want to appear like I’m preaching or anything, I’ve just gotten fired up about something different today so had to share it. This month I’m trying to cut down plastic consumption. This is a major problem with our society at the moment and it’s something we are all guilty of giving into!  But, I am ever optimistic, and reading about zero waste lifestyles has inspired me to make some changes.

 

Cutting down plastic consumption is similar to zero waste lifestyle as most other materials and packing is recyclable. Food waste is something that already makes me seethe so I don’t do that, but I am guilty of buying foods wrapped in plastic, and this is where I need to change.
It’s going to require more planning; timing food shopping when the greengrocer is open, possibly in my lunch break from work, and also beginning bulk buying. I’m really keen to set up a food collective in the local area, as we have no stores nearby where loose foods are sold. Maybe I should set one up…

Anyway back to the plastic. I feel guilty when I think about what I’ve contributed to plastic pollution and landfill. I’ve seen first hand how plastic pollution in the ocean kills marine life, and have spent dives hacking at masses of fishing line tangled around masses of starfish and mussels, some which can’t be helped.  In other places within the green turtle’s range, I’ve watched plastic bags float along gently masquerading as jellyfish, and though I can pick up any I see, I know there will always be more. It’s probably a weekly basis now that I read something about more marine life that is being killed to do plastic floating about in gyres in the ocean, of whales with stomachs full of rubbish, and of course not forgetting Chris Jordan’s striking film work, ‘Midway’. (if you haven’t seen this yet, seriously do watch it). I don’t think I need to list any more reasons why we all need to cut down plastic really.

 

DSC_1094(Plastic bag floating in the red sea, Marsa Shagra, 2013.)

 

It’s a bit of a wake up call. And I’d forgotten about it. But I will try remember, and steer clear from the unnecessary packaging where possible. It’s a challenge yes, but I’m looking forward to trying to break away from this habit. The more I research about these things the more I feel guilty and thats my personal way of changing my lifestyle to one I’m happier with. Learning about how animals were farmed stopped me from eating them, and discovering more about the fishing industry, and that fish are full of plastic, helped me cut that out, so immersing myself in plastic pollution research I’m going to try and use the same technique to reduce my own plastic waste.

 

There’s a few moral dilemmas, I’m still debating about local vs organic vs no plastic. It appears that you can’t get all three in many cases, so I need to do some research on that one this week. I’m going to attempt to make my own toothpaste as soon as my current tube has run out, likewise with shampoo. Its worth a try and will also save money! I’m pretty sceptical about making my own effective deodorant, and I’m a pretty active person, so I would like to have one that worked.. Again, this is just something I’ll have to look into further and experiment with.

 

Reducing is the first stage before eliminating, if that is going to be possible. It’s all small steps! This is important to remember.

 

I must add, that this current venture is inspired by my sister, who also set up this Facebook event here, and if anyone else is keen to get involved please do join and share your thoughts! There’s already a few people getting involved which is great! But the more the merrier, it’s always worth trying🙂

 

Here’s some links to people and posts that inspired me recently..

 

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-16168/i-havent-made-any-trash-in-2-years-heres-what-my-life-is-like.html

http://www.zerowastehome.com

http://www.mnn.com/leaderboard/stories/plastic-bank-how-to-solve-the-plastic-pollution-problem-and-poverty-at-the-same

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/responsible-living/photos/16-simple-ways-to-reduce-plastic-waste/plastic-problem

 

 

 

Thanks for reading!

 

MCZ update

The MCZ project has now got twitter, Facebook and tumblr pages!
If you’re on any of these please do support the project and give us a follow or like.

https://www.facebook.com/MarineConservationZoneProject

https://twitter.com/MCZproject

http://mcz-project.tumblr.com

 

I’ve recently been on my first shoot for the project, which was a seasearch survey dive in Mounts bay. There’s now a blog post on the new tumblr page with more information and images from this shoot, but here’s a couple of images as a bit of a taster…

_DSC2311 (St Michael’s Mount, Penzance, this was the topside view of our dive site)

_DSC2351(Female cuckoo wrasse, and spiny starfish in the bottom of the frame too)

 

Thanks to everyone for all the support for the project so far, I really do appreciate it!