Ocean Realm Images Flow – Newsletter 2017

Ocean Realm Images Flow – Newsletter 2017

2017 has been full of ups and downs.  It was personally challenging, with the sudden passing of my father at the end of 2016, but thankfully full of professional highs and amazing animal encounters.

The year started off on a trip that I organised for dear friends, Ned and Anna DeLoach, Wendy Brown and Yann Alfian around southern Australia.  I planned a road trip that included hunting for leafy seadragons and pyjama squids in South Australia, scouring the rich jetties of Melbourne for weedy seadragons and the world’s largest seahorses and hunting the cold temperate muck dives of the Derwent Estuary in Hobart for Critically Endangered spotted handfish.  Lastly, we headed up to Port Stephens for more temperate water muck diving.  We all donned our drysuits for the first time on this trip and had great fun trying to master these contraptions.  It was certainly a learning curve, not helped by many of our dives taking place in just a few metres of water!

Same URL as before, but entirely reimagined.  There is much more detail about trips, pygmies and higher resolution images to peruse.  It’s still a work in progress, but do have a look: www.OceanRealmImages.com

In May, I headed to Tampa University for the third international SyngBio conference, which was a meeting of the world’s seahorse and pipefish researchers.  It was great to meet this fantastic bunch of folk from across the world, and I was honoured to be invited to give the keynote speech ‘Seahorses and Beyond’ at the Tampa Aquarium for donors and attendees of the conference. I shared images and stories of little known and new species that I have been lucky enough to encounter from around the world. 

At the end of the conference, there was also a meeting of the fifteen or so members of the IUCN Seahorse, Pipefish Stickleback Specialist Group that I was invited to join last year.  During this meeting, which was the first for many of us, we began planning a global seahorse and pipefish conservation action plan.  I was appointed head of the subgroup tasked with raising the profile of syngnathid conservation issues along with Drs Helen Scales and Heather Mason-Jones. This is something that will be pressing on in 2018.

Late in 2017, I also was appointed as Global Pygmy Seahorse Expert for iSeahorse.  If you haven’t heard of it, iSeahorse is a fantastic citizen science program that uses data collected by divers and snorkelers about the syngnathids that they have encountered.  Please go and have a look at their website about the information you can collect to help this cause.  The data they have already collected has helped to extend the known range of many species and has given us a much better idea of global seahorse hotspots.  Adding data to iSeahorse, I helped to extend the known range of Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse by 1,000 or so kilometres north to the Izu Islands in the cool waters off Japan which was quite the surprise.  It just shows that there is still lots for us to discover about our oceans and iSeahorse is helping us to discover it.

I have also done some fun public talks this year, in addition to the one at Tampa Aquarium. I spoke at the Zoological Society of London to the London Ocean Group about my pygmy seahorse research in June.  Again, I presented two talks in October at DIVE 2017, the British Dive Show at the NEC Birmingham.  The first was about my forthcoming trip with Dive Worldwide to the Philippines in 2019, and the second about observing and photographing natural history behaviour underwater without disturbing the animals in question.  The latter being a topic very close to my heart and something I always focus on during my group trips.

In Diver Magazine following the dive show, I was hugely honoured to receive a mention in Dr Alex Mustard’s monthly column.  Alex is a photographer that I’ve always looked up to, I’m sure you’ve seen his work, but check out his amazing photography and many accolades here www.amustard.com:

“The best talk I caught was Dr Richard Smith’s ‘How to Capture Reef Life Au Naturel’ extolling the virtues and benefits of photographing marine life on its terms. 
Richard’s argument was that those photographers who attempt to stage marine-life shots, don’t just risk harming the creatures, but also eradicate any chance of observing fascinating and photogenic natural behaviours, a point that Richard lavishly reinforced with his images.”
Dr Alex Mustard, Diver Magazine, December issue 2017.

Our Beloved Seas, the trips that I arrange and lead with Wendy Brown, had another fantastic year in 2017.  We welcomed a full complement of 18 guests on each of our two trips to Triton Bay, West Papua in March/April 2017 aboard Dewi Nusantara.  The first started in Sorong and headed down to Kaimana.  The second started in Kaimana and ended up in Ambon.  These both gave us great access to Triton Bay, whilst also adding some additional crossing sites which gave us chance to explore a bit and see some other highlights, such as the stunning Momon Waterfalls, whale sharks at Triton’s bagans and to see Jamal’s dottyback (Manonichthys jamali), which I’d longed to see for some time.

In September, we chartered Damai II for back to back explorations around the rarely visited Sangeang volcano, north west of Komodo.  These were the first of our new ‘Muck Magic’ series of trips especially tailored for muck divers, focusing on the critter life of the area.  They were such a huge success, with another full complement at 12 guests per trip, that we have planned Muck Magic III to the Philippines’ Anilao in April 2019.  We had some real highlights on these Sangeang trips, mine being Renny’s Flasher wrasse found only around Komodo and Coleman’s melibe (Melibe colemani), of which I found three.

Again this year, I hosted an ‘Expert Led Trip’ for Dive Worldwide.  This time to Raja Ampat aboard the Indo Siren.  Sixteen of us explored this magical area and did some outstanding dives with some very exciting finds.  My favourite was a tiny tunicate-living amphipod that I found pugnaciously poking his head out of a Polycarpa sea squirt, apparently protecting his young with fearsome thorny appendages. 

Mid-year I headed to Siladen Resort, in the Bunaken National Park off North Sulawesi in Indonesia.  I gave a series of marine life lectures to the guests there, and explored the reefs around Bunaken for the first time.  I had some very interesting finds, perhaps my favourite being a red form of Halimeda ghost pipefish that seems fairly common in the area.  I also found a flame angelfish off an area to the north east of Siladen Resort.  These stunning fish are common around the Central Pacific, but don’t appear to have been recorded from Indonesia before. After Siladen, I spent ten days at the new Dive Into Lembeh, again giving marine life lectures to the resident guests.  Having been to Lembeh Strait many times before, I really enjoyed the space and setting of the resort at the northern end of the strait, plus of course the bountiful creatures I encountered.


Wendy and I have recently added four brand new expeditions to the 2020 roster.  I know this seems terribly far away, but time flies and we will be announcing these trips in the coming months. Our 2018 trips are almost full (just two spots left!) and 2019 is going the same way.  There are more details about our upcoming trips below, or click here.  If you’d like to join us on any of these trips please contact Wendy or myself for more information.

2018 |
23rd July – 1st August 2018 (9 nights) – 1 x female share space available
Our trips are all but sold out for 2018.  We have just one single female share space on each of our two charters of Dewi Nusantara in July/August.  The first of these trips will be exploring Mapia Island, which is 100 nautical miles north of Manokwari on the north coast of Papua into the remote Pacific. 

3-13th August 2018 (10 nights) – 1 x female share space available
Again, with just one female share space remaining, this second charter heads into Cenderawasih Bay in search of the many endemic fishes and to see the fabled whale shark aggregations. 

2019 |
25th March – 5th April 2019 (13 day packages including flights from UK)
Following the success of my Dumaguete Dive Festival as an expert led group tour for Dive Worldwide in 2016, we have planned another for March/April 2019. We are not arranging this one, so for more information please follow the link above or contact Sales@DiveWorldwide.com

ANILAO, PHILIPPINES – ‘MUCK MAGIC III’ | Philippines at Buceo Resort
7 – 14th April 2019 (7 nights) – 3 x Deluxe Rooms available
Anilao is the Philippines answer to Lembeh Strait or Milne Bay, but like every dive area has its own peculiarities.  I have found Anilao to be one of the richest area’s I’ve dived for nudibranchs.  It’s the only place I have ever seen Allen’s Miamira (Miamira alleni, previously Ceratosoma alleni) and an amazing undescribed Thecacera, whilst it also has bountiful other muck critters such as hairy frogfish, mimic octopus, pygmy seahorses and flamboyant cuttlefish.  We have taken the whole of Buceo Resort, which is located towards the tip of the peninsula and closest to the underwater action!

TUBBATAHA REEF, PHILIPPINES | Philippines, aboard Philippine Siren
14 – 22nd April 2019 (8 nights) – 1 x female share space available
I had a charter to Tubbataha in 2014 and have been keen to go back ever since.  Tubbataha really is something very special.  Whilst being at the heart of the Coral Triangle (the area around southeast Asia with the world’s highest marine biodiversity), the abundance of marine megafauna is very high.  On one dive I counted 21 sharks on my last trip, which is unheard of in other areas.  The two atols that make up Tubbataha are World Heritage protected, and unreachable due to their remote location so over six months of the year.  It really is the last megafaunal wilderness of southeast Asia.

SAUMLAKI TO AMBON ‘SOUTH TO NORTH I’, INDONESIA | Indonesia, aboard Dewi Nusantara
23rd October – 4th November 2019 (11 nights) – 2 Deluxe Cabins, 1 female & 1 male share space available
Indonesia obviously holds a very special place in our hearts, and between us we have many many thousands of dives across the country.  We are always looking for something different and new to offer our guests and are excited to offer these exciting itineraries for 2019.  Starting in the Forgotten Islands, we will sail across the stunning and remote Banda Sea to the Muck Mecca of Ambon.  Think blue water, tiny islets with possible hammerhead schools, the fabled snake island and many other unique creatures.

5th – 15th November 2019 (10 nights) – 1 male share space available
Heading north from Ambon we will visit Ceram (Seram), Pulau Obi and then up to Halmahera.  Halmahera has been on my wish list for years.  It has its own Bird of Paradise, Wallace’s Standardwing, and a new endemic walking shark (Hemiscyllium halmahera) plus many other unique fishes.  This will really be something quite different too, and even very different from the previous trip.  I can’t wait!  Just one male share space is available for this one, so hurry.

2020 | COMING SOON! Please email me if you’d like to join our trip mailing list



Throughout 2017 I wrote many articles for various magazines around the world.  I continued my column ‘Species’ in Sport Diver Magazine in the United States, as well as contributing lots of content for their Bizarre issue.  I also added more ‘Natural History Notes’ to my series on the Bird’s Head Seascape website.  I’ve also written the following stand-alone features, among others:

I am always on the hunt for new and exciting beasties under the sea, so I thought as a final whimsy I would share my top five new finds of 2017.  After 3,500 dives there is still so much to see.  This is why I keep diving and we always make a donation through our trips to help preserve our amazing oceans.

  1. New Zealand Pygmy Pipehorse (New genus and species!) – Northern North Island, New Zealand
  2. Renny’s Flasher Wrasse (Paracheilinus rennyae) – Komodo, Indonesia
  3. Jamal’s Dottyback (Manonichthys jamali) – Triton Bay, Indonesia
  4. Tunicate Amphipod (Leucothoe sp.) – Raja Ampat, Indonesia
  5. Coleman’s Melibe (Melibe colemani) – Komodo, Indonesia

I have some exciting plans in 2018, some of which I can’t yet announce but, trust me, they’re exciting!  I have announcements about public talks in new parts of the world for me, scientific research that I’m looking forward to sharing and of course new group trips for you to join and lots of publications in the pipeline.

I can tell you that I have been invited to join The Underwater Tour. I will be joining three other underwater photographers (Jurgen Freund, Jason Isley and Darren Jew) to tour four Australian state capitals over four days in May.  You can now book tickets, so come along and hear us!

Wednesday 9 May        Brisbane, Queensland Multicultural Centre

Thursday 10 May          Perth, Kim Beazley Lecture Theatre, Murdoch University

Friday 11 May                Melbourne, Kino Cinema, Collins Place, CBD

Saturday 12 May           Sydney, The Guthrie Theatre, University of Technology

2018 also sees the start of my new column in Scuba Diver Magazine: ‘Inside Ocean’.  The first was just published and is all about mouth-brooding cardinalfishes.

In a few weeks we are heading to the Galapagos Islands for sold out back to back charters aboard Galapagos Sky liveaboard.  We’re all really excited about these trips, and something rather different than a Coral Triangle dive trip.

Finally, if you’d like to hear what I’m up to on a more regular basis, I suggest you check out my FaceBook page | www.facebook.com/OceanRealmImages

Richard Attends a Seahorse Biology Conference

Richard Attends a Seahorse Biology Conference

Something that I’ve been looking forward to for almost a year now is the SyngBio conference.  Last week I was at the University of Tampa on the west coast of Florida to attend the meeting, which was the third of its kind.  Researchers, zoo aquarists and other professionals from around the world, who work with syngnathids (Seahorses, pipefishes and their relatives), formed the 100 plus attendees.

Although I attended the full four days of lectures and seminars, I was invited as a keynote speaker at the ‘Scientific Storytelling’ evening event that was held at The Florida Aquarium on Monday 15th May.  Besides floating around on a boat in remote Papua, it was probably one of the most amazing places I have ever done a talk.  My podium was directly in front of a huge aquarium window, with sand tiger sharks, huge turtles and moray eels all going about their business behind me.

It has been a few years since I finished my PhD ‘The Biology and Conservation of Gorgonian-associated Pygmy Seahorses’ but the highlight of the SyngBio conference was finally meeting the researchers that I’d cited so many times during my work.  Honestly, I was a little intimated to meet some of them.  Forget those Kardashian folk, these people are real celebrities!  In reality, I have rarely met such an amazing bunch of people.  The collective drive and passion was truly inspiring.  There are sure to be some interesting projects that will come from the meeting, which I know was the motivation for getting the world’s syngnathid researchers together initially.

Apart from my talk, the other main reason for my visit to SyngBio was to attend the first meeting of the IUCN Seahorse and Pipefish Specialist Group, which was formed last year.  This group is part of the Species Survival Commission and, as the global authorities on these fishes, the group’s main aim is to ensure that their wild populations are healthy and well-managed.  I was very honoured to be invited to join this small group of fifteen or so members last year.  We gathered on the fifth day of the conference and worked on putting together a Species Action Plan for these animals.  The fruits of that will become available over the coming months.

I was very kindly sponsored to attend SyngBio by the HW Hoover FoundationProject Seahorse and a donation from
our own Our Beloved Seas (Wendy and I always donate to a conservation organisation from our trips).

Please stay posted for updates via my Facebook page or here.  If you’re a diver and want to help, you can register any of your seahorse sightings around the world through iSeahorse, more here.

Ocean Realm Images FLOW – Newsletter 2015

Ocean Realm Images FLOW – Newsletter 2015

I really don’t know what happened to 2015, but what a great years it’s been! There have been lots of amazing expeditions, creatures and publications to my name.  I hope you’ve all had a brilliant 2015 and looking forward to 2016 and beyond.  Here’s is a little run down of what I’ve been up to over the past 6 months:

Completed Trips

Leopard anemone shrimpApart from some non-group expeditions, in the six months since my last blog I’ve run trips to Atlantis Dumaguete Resort and aboard Atlantis’ Azores liveaboard around Cebu Island in the Philippines.  Most of the guests joined us for the entire 18 days and we saw such amazing creatures as 18 seahorses on one dive, 11 frogfishes on another, thresher sharks, whale sharks, Lembeh seadragons (Kyonemichthys rumengani) plus many more.  As always, we donated some of the proceeds from the trip to a conservation organisation.  In this case we chose the Marine Megafauna Foundation, who strive to protect the world’s biggest marine fishes.

Lynne's pipefishJust recently also I completed a trip aboard the Bilikiki in the Solomon Islands.  I am always blown away by the remoteness of the Solomons. The reefs are pristine and full of life, whilst on land, we went to a village that had never been visited by foreigners in the 60 years since it was founded.  I can’t imagine that’s true of many places in the world these days.  My underwater highlight was certainly Lynne’s pipefish (Festucalex rufus), which I have been looking for for sometime but had never seen before.


Upcoming Trips

I have recently added four brand new expeditions to the 2018 roster.  I know this seems terribly far away, but time flies! Our 2016 is basically full and 2017 is going the same way, so we figured it was time.  There are more details about trips below, alternatively keep an eye on my website, which I keep up to date: OceanRealmImages.com/Expeditions

2016 | I’ve been very fortunate with my trips filling up very quickly and there are only a couple of spots remaining to join my expeditions in 2016.  These last spaces are on the trip I’m leading for Dive Worldwide to Atmosphere Resort, Dumaguete in the Philippines.  To read more about this expert led ‘Dumaguete Dive Festival‘ please follow the link above or contact Reservations@DiveWorldwide.com


2-12th March 2017 (10 nights) | All of Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia.  Indo-Siren Liveaboard. ‘Four Kings Expedition‘ as an expert led group tour for Dive Worldwide.  For more information please follow the link
above or contact Reservations@DiveWorldwide.com

23rd June – 3rd July 2017 (10 nights) | Underwater Photography Workshop at Siladen Resort, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. For more information please follow the link above or contact Ana@Siladen.com

Giant clam dottybackNEW | 22 – 31st August 2017 (9 nights) | Muck Magic Trip 1 – Sangeang Island & Bima Bay aboard Damai II (Labuan Bajo to Bima).  This ‘Our Beloved Seas’ trip is a joint trip between Wendy Brown and myself.  We have recently added this and the trip directly following it, but the second trip filled in minutes! If you’d like to join us in these exceedingly rich and rarely visited areas for critter hunting please contact Wendy or myself(Richard@OceanRealmImages.com) for more information. We expect space to fill fast.



Hammerhead sharks in Galapagos IslandsNEW | Galapagos Islands aboard Galapagos Sky

25th February – 4th March 2018 (7 nights) | Trip 1

4-11th March 2018 (7 nights) | Trip 2

Wendy and I have repeatedly been asked by our guests to plan some trips to destinations outside the Coral Triangle. However, knowing how our regular guests love that area’s warm waters we have planned back to back trips to the Galapagos Islands in February/March when the waters of these mystical and historic islands tends to be warmer and clearer – whilst maintaining their renowned bounty.  As always, I’ll be giving talks and this will be the perfect place to share my passion for evolutionary biology, which was the subject of my Master’s degree.

NEW | 23rd July – 1st August 2018 (9 nights) | North Cenderawasih Bay & Mapia Island aboard Dewi Nusantara(Manokwari to Manokwari).  This first trip aboard Dewi Nusantara will take us to new ground.  Whilst we will start and end the trip in Cenderawasih Bay, we will take this opportunity to visit Mapia and its surrounding islands 100NM north of the bay, and the equator.  Here the remote and very rarely visited reefs are bustling with life and ripe to be explored.

NEW | 3 – 13th August 2018 (10 nights) | Classic Cenderawasih Bay aboard Dewi Nusantara (Manokwari to Sorong).  Starting in Manokwari, we will sail to the southern reaches of the bay in search of the area’s world renowned whale sharks.  We plan to spend a couple of mornings face to face with the sharks before continuing our search for other amazing fishes found only in the bay.  It is well know for the high numbers of endemics, which you’ll learn all about in my talks!



Sport Diving coverI haven’t only been underwater since my last update; I’ve been busy writing too.  I’ve continued with my regular series in both American and British Sport Diver Magazines, with ‘Get More from your Diving: Critter Hunting’ and ‘Species’ respectively.  I’ve also written the following stand-alone features:

‘Titillating Twilight – The Lure of North Sulawesi’ – Asian Diver

‘A Japanese Spin on the Night Dive – Hot Ke Night’ – Asian Diver

‘Changing Seas: Evolution in the Ocean’ – Scuba Diver AustralAsia

‘Solomon Islands: Reefs at the Edge of the World’ – Scuba Diver – Ocean Planet

‘Shooting for Science’ – Scuba Diver – Ocean Planet

‘Diving Mini Breaks: Australia’ – Sport Diving

‘Diving Mini Breaks: South Pacific’ – Sport Diving

‘Bird’s Head Natural History Notes part 1: In Appreciation of Damsels’ – Bird’s Head Seascape website. A new series about my adventures in the BHS.

Asian Diver coverI’ve also had a couple of cover shots for Asian Diver and Sport Diving magazines as well as having my shot ‘Whip Gobies and Eggs’ judged as a finalist in the ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year.

Thinking ahead, I will also be speaking at the ADEX dive show in Singapore from 15-17 April 2016, so come along if you can!



Five Favourite Firsts of 2015

– I am always on the hunt for new and exciting beasties under the sea, so I thought as a final whimsy I would share my top five new finds of 2015.  After 3,000 plus dives there’s still so much to see.  This is why I keep diving and we always donate what we can to help preserve the amazing oceans.

1. Leopard Anemone Shrimp (Izucaris masudai) – Raja Ampat

2. Giant Clam Shrimps (Anchistus demani and Conchodytes tridacnae) – Wakatobi Dive Resort & Raja Ampat

3. Lynne’s Pipefish (Festucalex rufus) – Solomon Islands

Red Sea Longnose Filefish4. Red Sea Longnose Filefish (Oxymonacanthus halli) – Egyptian Red Sea

5. John Dory (Zeus faber) – Izu Peninsula, Japan

Finally, if you’d like to hear what I’m up to on a more regular basis, I suggest you check out my FaceBook page | www.facebook.com/OceanRealmImages







I have just arrived in Okinawa, Japan for the 9th quadrennial Indo-Pacific Fish Conference.  I presented at the last meeting four years ago in Freemantle with my talk ‘First field studies of the obligate gorgonian-associated pygmy seahorses, Hippocampus bargibanti and H. denise‘.  This time round I decided to do a poster presentation for a change, on another aspect of my PhD research.

If you happen to be attending, my poster session is on Thursday afternoon so come and say ‘hi’.  The poster is about the polygamy that I observed in Denise’s pygmy seahorses.  There is a downloadable version of my poster below and the abstract for the poster is as follows:

A wide range of mating systems have been recorded in syngnathids; however, despite some social promiscuity and mate switching, all studies of seahorse reproduction to date have revealed ubiquitous genetic monogamy.  Denise’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus denise) is among the smallest (maximum standard length 24 mm) and most habitat-specific of all seahorses, with individuals spending their entire adult life isolated in small groups on a single gorgonian coral host.   We investigated whether the reproductive strategies and social interactions of this species align with those of its congeners. During 217 thirty-minute observation periods we recorded the reproductive and social behaviour of 18 adult H. denise in four groups of differing sex ratio in a wild population of seahorses in southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.  We found social polygamy and sequential polyandry to feature in the species’ reproductive strategies, although monogamy was dominant.  Social and reproductive behaviours were described for the first time and characterised by daily interactions between reproductively active partners at dawn and dusk conducted in a core area. The use of core areas, a term used for protected regions of the gorgonian host shared for the most part by reproductively active individuals, may have been pivotal in enabling a stable polyandry to develop.  Conventional sex roles were observed, with males competing for access to females.  The ecology of H. denise appears to have favoured the evolution of mating system plasticity and the maximisation of reproductive output, which may be explained by the species’ small size, skewed sex ratios and density of individuals sharing a single host.

Attachment: Richard.Smith_IPFC2013_Poster.pdf

ODEX Seminar – The Private Life of Pygmy Seahorses

ODEX Seminar – The Private Life of Pygmy Seahorses

The Oceania Dive Expo will be in Brisbane, Australia between Friday 7th and Sunday 9th October 2011 and I am booked to present!  My seminar, which is on Saturday 8th October between 4.10 and 4.40pm, is entitled ‘The Private Life of Pygmy Seahorses’.  I’ll be talking about my research on pygmy seahorses and some of the fascinating aspects of their biology that I discovered during my PhD.  Check out the website for more information at www.OceaniaDiveExpo.com

Topic Title: The Private Life of Pygmy Seahorses

Topic Overview:

Pygmy seahorses are well known to the SCUBA diving community, however very little is known about the biology of these tiny fish.  I have spent the past four years observing and recording the intimate social interactions of Denise’s pygmy seahorses (Hippocampus denise) as part of my PhD studies.  I have been lucky enough to be one of the few people (or maybe even the only person) to see fighting, mating and even birth on such a miniature scale.  Through my research I have found that these diminutive seahorses do not live up to the strict standards of monogamy set by their larger cousins.

Two of the seven species of pygmy seahorse spend their entire adult lives on a single gorgonian coral.  This specific habitat requirement, small populations and adoration from SCUBA divers put them at risk.  Sadly, without great care it is easy to damage these delicate fish.  However, my research has highlighted certain diver behaviours that can easily be avoided when observing pygmies.  Despite reaching less than 2.5 cm in length, pygmy seahorses have proven to be a fascinating and rewarding study subject.  However, this first study of their biology has raised as many questions as it has answered.

Bullet Point Summary of Talk

• Introducing pygmy seahorses and their kin

• Getting to know pygmies intimately

• From birth to death: a pygmy seahorse soap opera

• Divers and pygmy seahorses

• The future for pygmies