“The Deep Blue” by Meeda Khalifa

The curiosity of the deep sea takes me back to when I was a young boy.  Having always been traveling to the Red sea from Cairo with my family, one day I decided to ask my dad  “Why is it called the red sea even though it is blue?”  

My dad’s response was everlasting….”It is because of the amazing colors below the surface and the many grades of red that one can see”.  

From that day on my dad’s words impressed upon me a deep curiosity for “The Deep Blue”.

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When the visibility is bad, keeping notice of silhouettes can be rewarding. Isla de la Juventud, Cuba.

The idea of exploring this underwater world had always fascinated me and continues to do so even today.

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Manta spotting is a daily routine in Komodo islands, Indonesia.

While I was on the road heading to the Red Sea from Cairo to start my open water diver course, I was beyond excited for the fact that I will finally be able to see these bright colors of the red sea that I have always heard of from my dad, and only glimpsing from a distance that snorkelling allows.

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Cave entrance of the shark observatory shore dive in Res Mohammad, Egypt.
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Swimming along the SS Thistlegorm’s starboard. The 128 meter long wreck  was sunk by two German Heinkel He 111 planes in September 1941. The ship had to go around the coast of South Africa into the red sea as the Mediterranean was under German control.

The romance of deep sea diving as a sport made me giddy & nervous yet super exciting all at the same time.  The euphoria over takes your senses when imagining possible new adventures.

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The underwater paradise of Puerto Valeria, the Philippines.

Learning to dive for me wasn’t all romance though in reality it was damn hard work.  By the time I got my head under the water and started this very uncomfortable routine of breathing through the regulator, I felt like this is actually quite awkward.  I recall my early failures such as not managing to equalize my ears in order to compensate for the pressure difference on the first several dives.  These experiences of failure often lead me down a path of self doubt.  It built up so much that I thought I would not be able to dive any further and was almost ready to give up.  ALMOST but not quite ready to give it all up just yet.

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Somewhere around the Gili islands of Indonesia.

So 11 years later and not only am I comfortable diving but being able to adopt diving as part of my overall personal identity or personae.  During that time it took me quite some time to get used to this alien world under the ocean waters.  I always had the nagging urge to share it with people who may not get the same opportunities as myself to witness this amazing alien world in the deep blue.  I needed an underwater camera system however I faced a big challenge in that underwater camera systems cost a considerate amount of money to acquire.  Which proves to be a giganteus amount of money for me to pay to this day, let alone back then when I was a student.

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The lion fish of the Red Sea do not get very big, owing to the fact that their natural predators exist in the Red Sea’s eco system. In places like Cuba however, they are an invasive species with no natural predators around. Therefore they get massive in size.

One day my wife being a diver herself had ordered a large piece of diving gear that was delivered to our elder friend and neighbour.  They were nice enough to receive packages on our behalf when we are not at home, saving us the ordeal of having to go to the post office at a time convenient only for the post office.  The friendly elder friend noticed that the package this time was diving related, he presented my wife with a camera saying that he bought it in the 80s when he considered taking up diving but never got the hang of it and just stored it.  At first I did not even bother holding the camera, having noticed the funky orange color on the front and back side of it.  But then, I held it and I needed to find out more about this Nikons.  The next moment I was on a computer googling what a “Nikons” was.  To my absolute astonishment, it is the creation of one of my absolute role models.  The man who made diving my identity possible… Jacques-Yves Cousteau.  The timing couldn’t be any better since we have just booked our first ever diving trip outside of the Red Sea, to the Philippines.

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A strobe is not even necessary in such natural lighting. Inside the long canyon of Marsa Alam.

When I lived in Cairo, I had the privilege of diving at least a few dives a month.  The Red Sea was less than five hours drive from where I lived.  In 2008 I moved to Germany, where for obvious reasons my diving trips became very scarce.  It is not a student budget friendly activity, but to my luck a full time job allows me now to go diving in places that I never imagined to have the privilege to explore.  The few photos shown here are a summary of the dives I have done over the last 3 years in Egypt, the Philippines, Cuba and Indonesia.

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A split second before takeoff. The house reef of Marsa Shagara camp in Marsa Alam.

 

It is not an easy task to describe how diving makes me feel.  

Perhaps as challenging as it is for a religious person to describe their feeling when they feel god.  Diving is not just about what you see, it is the sensation as if one is performing a prayer.  It feels as if one had just been cleansed.  Adding to that effect is the ritualistic manner one prepares for a dive.  The gear loading, tank changing, camera preparation, briefing and then finally stepping into the water.

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The very haunting Bells to Blue hole drift dive in Dahab, Egypt.
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The SS Thistlegorm propeller. Close to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

Having a camera adds an entirely new dimension to the experience.  You learn to notice things which can be easily unnoticed.  Rarely can there be such a thing as a boring dive. Even If a dive site is not known for having large marine animals which are interesting subjects or particularly interesting background terrains, shooting macro scale introduces you to a beautiful micro-universe of patterns and details.

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The Philippines was a starfish heaven. Puerto Galera.
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Despite their menacing look, Moray Eels are more than peaceful. I find them to be some of the most photogenic creatures of the sea. Marsa Alam, Egypt.

Although the process of shooting analog underwater can sometimes be excruciatingly disappointing, the moment a frame comes out exactly as imagined is another high I cannot describe, however this endorphine related feeling lasts for at least a week.

When confronted by a marine animal three times one’s size, or drifting by an 800 meters drop-off in Dahab, the feeling of how little and insignificant one is can be overwhelming. Again, like being in the presence of god.  It is the kind of high that makes us divers what we truly are….. nitrogen addicts.

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At the Manta point dive in Komodo Islands, it is not at all surprising to see a dozen Manta rays in one dive.
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Diver’s bubbles are a nice subject on dives with almost no fish at all. Dahab, Egypt.
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A small unknown wreck at the very beginning of shark point dive site in Gili, Indonesia.

I don’t think I can ever rank or list my favorite dives.  To me that is like ranking my favourite (vinyl) albums.  Each has something different to offer and each can have very different feeling depending on how I feel at the point in time when I am doing the dive. But if I have to choose from my recent trips, Komodo Islands in Indonesia and Marsa Alam in the red sea would top that list.

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As mentioned before, Morays Eels are very photogenic. Dahab, Egypt.

Having a camera adds an entirely new dimension to the experience.

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When shooting macro, you switch to an entirely different shooting mode. You see patterns in everything. Isla de la Juventud, Cuba.
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Drifting out of the bells, the dive goes south towards the blue hole. The blue hole  of Dahab is an opening of about 80 meters in diameter in the roof of the barrier reef. It goes as deep as 120 meters, therefore it is a haven for free diving courses. Over 40 scuba divers have died in this blue hole attempting to reach an opening at around 58 meters depth that leads out into the blue. Out there, the depth reaches over 1000 meters.
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The Bells in Dahab is a rather unique dive where we dive head first through a 28 meters deep chimney that only fits one person at a time. The tanks hit the sides of the chimney causing the bells sound. the end of the chimney is a swim out into the deepest closest point to shore on the planet. a drop-off of 800 meters. The scuba diving world record for the deepest dive was recorded here.

Komodo’s strong currents, along with the great work by the conservation community over there are the two main factors to why marine life is so vibrant and abundant there. Unlike most places I have dived, Komodo’s reefs are healthy.  Seeing a Manta ray at this dive was frequent, almost a daily delight, one which never gets boring.

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One of the anti-aircraft guns onboard the SS Thistlegorm wreck. Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
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BSA M 20 motorbikes on board the SS Thistlegorm wreck. Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

As for Marsa Alam, it simply restored my faith in the Red sea. Although the northern part of the red sea is still one of the most beautiful places I have ever dived, it is nothing like what it used to be. Sadly the unregulated practices in the area before the realization of the environmental impacts led to a great decrease in large marine life.  Places that have the word “sharks” in them have not been seen in almost 10 years.  Marsa Alam however is different.  Perhaps owing to how much further south it is which made it commercially unviable for the local fisheries added the increased environmental awareness to potential impact it could experience.  Even the house reefs there are the liveliest I have ever seen.  Twenty meters off the campsite a pod of dolphins came to greet us on our way out of an early morning dive.  And the Elphinstone’s oceanic white tip sharks are the most gracious creatures I have ever seen.

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A member of the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) on their research project on Manta rays. Komodo Islands, Indonesia.
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Scorpion fish are one of the species that have mastered disguise. Often misidentified as stonefish, which are yet another species to have mastered the art of disguise. Dahab, Egypt.
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In spite of the numerous times I have taken shots of clown fish (known to popular culture as Nemo), I can never bring myself to save frames and end up shooting a few of those beauties. Res Mohammad, Egypt.
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The most intelligent invertebrates on the planet. Dahab, Egypt.

Sadly, my camera had flooded on one of the first dive on this trip. A Nikons user amateur mistake that could have been prevented in the process of learning how to use this beast of a camera.  Already plans are set in motion to hit the same spot next year with a new and revamped Nikonos set. Hopefully I will manage to get a few shots worthy of sharing…

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A Moray Eel that made a home out of the SS Thistelgorm wreck. Shark El Sheikh, Egypt.
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A shot from an entire dive in Isla de la Juventud in Cuba exclusively for Clams.
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The head of a sea cucumber in Komodo Islands, Indonesia.
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Suspended in void. Marsa Alam, Egypt.

About Meeda

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It is only mandatory to include my biggest dive inspiration and my beautiful wife Mariam, my partner in crime both on land and underwater.

Meeda Khalifa is 31 years old (at the time of this article release) & born in Egypt.  After living in Egypt til the age of 22, he is now a German national & has lived in Germany since 2008.  Meeda is currently a full-time Aerospace Engineer in Hamburg.  But his  passion for diving kept him going through diving certifications until he reached the PADI Divemaster level in 2009.

Meeda’s plan for the future is simple, keep diving and keep shooting.  He also hopes to keep being able to show the analog photography universe the wonders of the alien underwater world.

All the photos were shot using a Nikonos V camera with a single SB-105 strobe.  For color shots mostly Kodak Portra 160 and 400 with a few exceptions of Kodak Ultramax. Black and white shots are with Ilford HP5 400 and Ilford PF4 160.

https://www.instagram.com/meeedaman/

Contributor: All images used with permission for AFPS.blog by Meeda Khalifa