The view from Cocotinos Manado is straight out of a postcard © Loren Mariani

COCOTINOS above and below

Lembeh, North Sulawesi, Manado. You often hear about these places especially if you are following a few of the underwater photography pages on social media or looking through the latest diving magazine. The reason these places create such a buzz for divers and underwater photographers is the diverse range of sought-after critters that are quite abundant to this region.

The views are spectacular at Cocotinos Lembeh . ©Loren Mariani

This trip was a year in planning and was organised by Ken Thongpila from Macro Mode. Ken had the task of selecting 10 Australian underwater photographers and videographers to participate, all with their unique style and skills, and in doing so created the 2019 Australia U/W Photography Master Class which was hosted by the beautiful Cocotinos Hotels and Resorts Indonesia.

Some of the main focus points of this trip was about learning, sharing knowledge and experiences while also showing the world how amazing this place truly is.  The Masterclass would enable the photography team to provide daily presentations on their speciality subjects with each presentation being unique in their own way by providing a different point of view on a variety of subjects.

Daily presentations a favourite among the photographers and guest. ©Loren Mariani

Cocotinos was always going to be the perfect choice to host this type of event. Cocotinos boasts boutique dive resorts in Lembeh, Monado and also in Sekotong, Lombok. We had the pleasure of experiencing two of the three amazing destinations, staying at both Lembeh and Manado.

The photography team ready for some fantastic diving. ©Loren Mariani

Cocotinos resorts also have the added benefit of an in-house dive operator, Odyssea Divers . With multiple dives planned for each day, Odyssea Divers easily catered to our large group. They were able to prepare our scuba gear while carefully handling camera equipment and also providing warm towels and refreshments after each dives.

Odyssea Divers preparing equipment for the dives. ©Loren Mariani

Most of the dive sites at Cocotinos Lembeh & Manado are located within just a short boat ride away from the resorts. So whether you are pulling up to a secluded beach or anchoring out the front of small village it always gave you that feeling that you are somewhere special.

Cuttlefish eggs about to hatch. ©Loren Mariani

With anticipation building, we were not disappointed as we slowly descended through the warm clear waters of the Lembeh Straight. Once at depth our dive guides directing us to a mass of flamboyant Cuttlefish eggs that just happened to be starting to hatch. To watch something so small and extravagant enter the world was a real treat. This proved to be just one of the many highlights of the trip.

What a great way to start a diving trip and to explain just how diverse this area is, on the same day we also spotted Phyllodesmium longicirrum (solar powered nudibranchs), Hairy Frog Fish, Mimic Octopus and another favourite Coleman shrimp. Over the next few days we encountered one critter to the next by following the sound of our experienced dive guides lightly tapping their tanks to alert us to the next discovery.

Adding a bit of colour  with light to a pair of Coleman shrimps . ©Andy Wingate

We would follow this pattern of diving and tick off the majority of subjects on our bucket lists, critters such as Wonderpus and Blue – Ringed Octopus, Pygmy and Pohonti seahorses, Boxer crabs, Harlequin and Bumble Bee shrimp, Hairy shrimp, Butterfly nudibranchs and the list goes on.

We had the privilege to try out some of the latest underwater photography equipment supplied by Weefine and Macro Mode such as close-up lenses, with the +23 proving popular by enabling us to capture the finest details from the smallest of critters such as the Lembeh Seadragon.

Back lighting with a bit of colour to a Hairy shrimp ©Andy Wingate

We also had access to the range of Weefine Smart Focus lights and constant light snoots. This was a great way to test out products and equipment in a real time scenario. As a added bonus Weefine also gifted each of the participant a dive torch engraved with their names which added a nice personal touch.

Weefine lights ready for blackwater and bonfire diving.

The night dives were amazing. We were given a couple options including Blackwater and Bonfire dives. With many of us not having tried blackwater/bonfire diving it seemed to be everyone’s favourite choice and rightly so, with the experience of the dive crew they were able to find the perfect spot to see the array of weird and wonderful creatures that would come from the depths of the ocean attracted by our lights. We were also lucky enough to do some great night dives on the nearby reefs.

Divers floating mid water during a blackwater dive. ©Loren Mariani
Amazing critters photographed during  blackwater diving. ©Andy Wingate
Amazing critters photographed during  blackwater diving. ©Andy Wingate


  • Both resorts have large dry rooms for setting up camera equipment.
  • Nitrox is available on request
  • Boats have large covered dry areas, toilets and safety gear.
  • Water is a warm 27-29 degrees
  • Sea is calm most of the year
  • Blackwater/Bonfire diving is available on request


COCOTINOS MANADO is a boutique dive resort and spa located in the heart of Kim Bajo a fishing village overlooking the Bunaken national marine park. World famous for its outstanding wall and macro scuba diving. The resort has 20 semi detached rooms and two suites. Besides scuba diving guest can also enjoy crab fishing at a nearby River mouth and visit local villages where they can experience the culture of everyday village life. For those who wish to venture further the resort organisers tours to Manado city Lake Tondano  a volcanic Crater Lake in the Tangkoko National Park.

The view from the day spa at Cocotinos Manado. ©Loren Mariani

COCOTINOS LEMBEH is a boutique dive lodge located in Makawidey village besides the Lembah straight. With 12 beautifully appointed rooms perfect for underwater photographers looking for unique critters which are abundant on the black sand sea bed, or just sit back and relax and enjoy the local or international cuisine from the Wild Mango restaurant and bar besides the infinity pool overlooking the scenic Lembeh straight.

The view of the pool at Cocotinos Lembeh. ©Loren Mariani


Special thanks to

Ken Thongpila from Macro Mode

Martinus Wawanda and all the staff at Cocotinos Hotels and Resort Indonesia

Odyssea Divers 


The Australia U/W Photography Master Class participants

Weefine Smart Housing

What do you think is the most common type of camera that is used day to day  around the world and almost everybody has one?  Well you guessed right it is the smartphone. In this day and age the majority of phone cameras are capable of producing high definition videos and pictures and in some cases are used to make production style cinematic movies. So it only make sense that you would want to take your phone to capture all your underwater adventures. 

This is where the Weefine Smart Housing comes into its own. Waterproof phone casings are not a new concept however the Weefine Smart Housing is very different from most. It is a high-quality underwater housing with a built in vacuum system compatible with most of smart phones on the market today, regardless of IOS or Android operating system.

As a videographer I often use my phone along with other camera systems to capture video footage for projects. I find phone cameras have a place in what I do and are also quite versatile. Some of the reason I use them is that they are compact and non intrusive, perfect for shooting on cramped dive boats or in other crowded areas.  

So when Ken Thongpilla owner of Macro Mode handed me a Weefine Smart Housing to use on a recent project I jumped at the chance to try it. Over the next few weeks I put the housing through its paces below and above the water.

To get started the first thing you must do is download the Dive+ App.  The Dive+ App is really popular with over 100,000 people using it worldwide.  The app on its own is perfect for editing photos/videos as well as recording your dive logs and sharing all your underwater adventures on social media. The app also links your phone and smart housing together through bluetooth allowing you full control of your phone camera via the Weefine Housing.


Setting up is easy to do just scan the QR code inside the housing and the phone and housing will pair. Insert the phone (I was using a spare Samsung S8 that I had laying around) and close the housing. The next step is what makes the Weefine Smart Housing unique and worry free. By using the small hand pump, you create a vacuum inside the housing creating a secure seal. This is indicated by a green light displayed on the housing.

Once underwater the first thing that I notice is the large screen on the back that the phone and housing provides, something that I truly miss when using a GoPro. The larger screen allows you to easily compose your shots and adjust camera settings.

In regard to the ergonomics of the housing it fits perfectly in your hand with easy access to all the buttons and trigger. The size of the housing is perfect. Not to big so you can clip onto or put into a BCD pocket and not to small that you struggle to operate the camera when wearing dive gloves or people with larger hands.

I also tested the Weefine Smart Housing with a Weefine tray and arm system. This allowed me to hold my shots much steadier and also the option to add various lights and other accessories. (Stay tuned for future reviews) 

Auto or manual mode? What suits you best?

With most types of photography you really do get the best results when shooting in manual mode, so I was excited to find access to manual setting such as exposure compensation, iso, shutter speed etc. A must if you want to produce high-quality footage and photos.

However in saying that the auto mode worked great and allows you to focus on what you are doing. Combined with the Dive+ app editing tool I was really amazed at how my videos and photos turned out.



The Weefine Smart Housing will absolutely have a place in my bag. With the ability to capture high quality imagery along with all the available accessories such as macro and fisheye wet lenses, remote triggers, lights and arm systems the possibility to be creative is endless.

Perfect for all types of water activities, from scuba diving, snorkelling, surf photography to boating jet skiing. Less complicated to set up then similar brands on the market and the price is within most people’s budget. With the ability to use with most types of smartphones with most people having a second older phone camera available

Built-in depth sensor

Depth sensors can detect real-time diving depth and temperature and the depth and temperature data can be recorded on photos or videos.

Built-in vacuum system

Vacuum system lets you clearly know if the housing is sealed before diving. This is important to keep your devices safe.

Phone clamp is adjustable

The adjustable phone clamp enables the case to fit different sizes of smartphones on the market today.

Depth rating

80 metres

Ergonomic lock system

The lock system is simple and comfortable. Just simply rotate the knob CW. or CCW. to unlock or lock the case. It’s convenient and safe.

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Quiksiver Pro Gold Coast

With the Quiksilver & Roxy Pro wrapped up for another year we were lucky to receive a descent size swell which hung around until the very last day of competition. The weather gods were not as kind with only a hand full of sunny days with the last being a wet one which made it a bit tricky for the photographers keen to photograph the action. However this didn’t deter the crowds with arguably the biggest turn up I have seen over the past few years. The competition surfing was first class as per usual and the free surfing before the heats was just as good. To top off the week local girl Stephanie Gilmore took out the Roxy Pro and crowd favourite Owen Wright putting in a winning performance to seal the win. All images © C Level Media

The Reluctant Model


One of the many problems underwater photographers encounter is a little-known phenomenon called the reluctant model. Now when I’m mention the word model this could be referring to anyone such as your dive buddy, dive guide or even a complete stranger. Many times while diving I have approached someone swimming alongside a marine animal, gone to take a shot only to have the diver pose with a confused look on their face or disappear behind a large rock or coral head.

It’s all about showing scale. © C Level Media

So lets look into a few reasons why underwater photographers like to include people in their photos.
One of the main reason that I feel is it brings scale to an image. When photographing underwater compared to that of above land it’s harder for the human mind to reference and judge the size, height and weight of  a given subject.  Also another factor is when shooting with a wide lens it can distort the perspective even more by making the main subject look smaller than it really is. Take for instance a medium size marine animal such as a Loggerhead turtle. Without having something to reference its size against such as a diver the turtle may appear smaller than its original size. The same can go for reefs, wrecks, other divers, fan corals, caves ect.

Diver shows the true size of a Fan Coral. © C Level Media

Next up is all about the perfect image. There is nothing more inviting then seeing a picture of someone swimming around with an assortment of marine life and colourful coral in crystal clear water just as you would see in a travel brochure or holiday advertisement. The fact is that we all like to imagine ourselves doing just that.

Finally with social media taking control of our lives, people like to see themselves in photos. How else would your friends know you have just dived with Great White Sharks or swam with a pack of albino Dolphins. At the time you might not have enjoyed posing for the shot, however after the dive people seem to have a greater appreciation for the image in which they appear in.

This could be you. © C Level Media

So what would be the some of the main problems working with a reluctant model?

Here are a just a few that I have come across.

  • The model is a new diver and wants to concentrate on making it back to the surface alive
  • There is no model so you end up doing selfies for the whole dive
  • There are too many models and you end up with people photobombing your shots
  • The model doesn’t understand your hand signals. Come to think of it either do you
  • The Model wants to be in every shot and will hunt you down the whole dive
  • And the number one problem is……. the model will not get close enough to the subject (especially sharks, stingrays, Irukandjii jellyfish)
Sometimes you may have to many models. © C Level Media

Next we find out ………..What are some of the things a person can do to perhaps become a better underwater model?

When people ask us scuba divers on the Gold Coast why we carry knives the first thing that comes to their mind is protection against marine life such as sharks, eels, stingrays ect. Well the truth is probably more frightening. Underneath our waterways lay kilometres of discarded fishing lines, hooks, ropes and whatever else fisherman use as part of their recreational activities. Most dives taken around the Gold Coast Seaway entails releasing marine life (if they are lucky enough to be still alive) and removing the endless amount of fishing line that seems to be growing day by day.


 Divers to search entire Gold Coast to count all the sea slugs they can

Nicholas McElroy, Gold Coast Bulletin

September 22, 2016

SNORKELLERS, divers and even swimmers are being called on to pull on their sluggos and join the hunt to count the number of sea slugs in Gold Coast waterways.

The city’s first sea slug census will cover from the Tweed to the Seaway, with organiser Deb Aston saying it was not just a frivolous search for the tiny, colorful creatures.

Join the great Gold Coast sea slug census! A local diver with a Spanish Dancer. Image C Level Media

Data collected from the two-day survey next weekend will be used by researchers, some of them

looking into the colours of sea slugs and trying to find toxins that could be used in the fight against cancer.

But she said the main aim of the census was to identify new species and see if there were any seaslugs in Glitter Strip waterways that shouldn’t be.

“The discovery of new species in areas where they shouldn’t be can help track global warming,” Ms Aston said.

Join the great Gold Coast sea slug census! A bubble shell sea slug. Image C Level Media

“There are a lot of questions to be answered.”

Ms Aston said anyone with sluggos and a snorkel could take part in the initiative with Southern Cross University.

So far about 50 people have signed up to collect information, which includes underwater photos, size and where the creatures are found.

Join the great Gold Coast sea slug census! A nNudibranch being checkout by a sea horse. Image © C Level Media

“You don’t even have to swim – people can look under the rocks at Burleigh for them,” said the avid Brisbane diver, who has photographed 155 species of sea slug in the Seaway since 2011.

“You can find them in any rocky areas really,” she said.

Join the great Gold Coast sea slug census! A pink nudibranch. Image C Level Media

Southern Cross University’s Professor Steve Smith said the images taken next weekend were an important expansion in similar NSW research.

“The results have highlighted the ability of citizen scientists to provide important data, some of which has now been published in international scientific journals,” Prof Smith said.

For information on how to sign up, search Gold Coast Seaslug Census on Facebook.

TAKEN – from your local dive site

Just a few of the spectacular creatures that call the seaway home. © C Level Media

What would your reaction be if you headed down to your local park, waterhole or nature reserve to enjoy some interaction with the local wildlife and then happen to notice people trapping and catching birds, reptiles and whatever else they can get their hands on? I bet you wouldn’t like it. Well that’s is what is happening right here at our local dive sites.

A aquarium collector ready to take marine life out of the Gold Coast seaway. © C Level Media

They go under the name of aquarium collectors and can be seen at all times of the day/night taking the marine life from away from our local dive sites.

Having dived much of the South Pacific and the east coast of Australia I am constantly amazed by the diversity and range at my local dive spot, which is the Gold Coast seaway. This site extends from the east points of the seaway walls back to Wavebreak Island and down to SeaWorld.

These containers will be filled with marine life by the end of the day. © C Level Media

While the majority of the dive community including myself pay good money and travel 1000’s of kilometres for the chance to see rare and beautiful underwater marine life, it still astounds me that right at my door step, and accessible to everyone is a place that also is home to many of these fascinating creatures we seek to find.  During my many dives around the Gold Coast seaway I have encountered just to name a few, Ornate Ghost and Robust Pipefish, Angler Fish, Mantis Shrimp, Seahorses, Angel/Emperor fish. Many of these marine creatures are on the top of divers list of subjects to see and photograph.

Capture 4
Web shot of what is available from local aquarium shops

However there is a dark side to having this diversity and something that quickly needs to be changed to conserve and protect this unique area, allowing it to grow without the constant threat and destruction from marine collectors.

Many a time I have spent diving the seaway and come across creatures such as seahorses, Anemone fish and Pineapple fish, to name a few, only to have these marine creature taken by fish collectors to be sold to what is an outdated and obsolete aquarium industry. These marine creatures should be for everyone to enjoy in their natural environment and not be taken to be sold just to fill peoples back pockets.

Facebook page selling unwanted marine life
Another FB page. Not much room in a tank to live

For instance most of these species are not prolific breeders and tend to live in pairs for the majority of their lives.  So taking just one species can set back breeding for years. Most of the marine life that are taken from the wild have a slim chance of survival in the aquariums anyway as most need to live in their natural ecosystem that is suited to them. This also applies to the marine habitat such as anemone, soft coral and sponges etc that most of the marine life call home and need to survive. They are also an important part of a delicate ecosystem and should be protected at all cost.

Capture 2
Web shot from a aquarium shop showing a lonely Lion fish to live out its life in a fish tank

So next time you see a lonely Anemone fish or Banded shrimp stuck in a small fish tank at the back of somebody’s lounge room or a hotel foyer just remember they most likely have been TAKEN from your local dive site

Video captured at the Gold Coast seaway where divers and snorkelers enter the water to dive with the marine life

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