The Sea-gram
September, 2009
Grey Angel
               Gray Angel Fish Photo (c) By Paul Mila, Cozumel Mexico  
Paul working on the beach
 Welcome to the September issue of the Sea-gram, the monthly newsletter for ocean lovers and divers, from 
The inaugural August issue of Sea-gram was well received. Based on your enthusiastic comments it looks like we're in for a long sail together. So, all you legal-age imbibers can break out a cold bottle of coconut rum or mix your favorite margarita (on the rocks with salt for me, please), relax, and read on!
 Every Sea-gram contains photo tips, interesting stories behind unique photos, articles about world-wide dive adventures that I or other dive buddies have enjoyed, and issues concerning diving and ocean conservation.
This issue's Story Behind The Photo section features Frank Kaufman's very intimate encounter with a Nassau grouper, while diving in Little Cayman.
Conservation Corner concerns an animal that divers love seeing on their dives: sea turtles.
If you have a good photo with an interesting story, or would like to share a good dive yarn, let me know and I'll be happy to include your story in a future issue. 
And of course, all Sea-gram comments, suggestions and criticism are welcome. E-mail
If you know someone who would enjoy reading Sea-gram, perhaps a friend needing a good dive "fix", Please click the "Forward email" link at the end of the newsletter to send a copy to your buddy.
 I hope you enjoy Sea-gram !
 Paul J. Mila
The Story Behind The Photo . . .
A Cayman Islands encounter with a friendly Nassau Grouper, 
            By Frank Kaufman;  Carmel, New York
Frank's GrouperWe were diving in Little Cayman, at a well known site called Mixing Bowl or 3 Fathoms. 
The weather was sunny every day, with little wind, very calm seas, and also very warm water (84 degrees at 100 feet), according to my computer. The conditions were perfect for diving.

The depth of my grouper encounter was about 30 feet, toward the end of our dive. We were returning to the boat and I saw a Nassau Grouper at a cleaning station with its mouth wide open, waiting for service.  I approached the grouper and it accepted my presence. Then, it let me do whatever I wanted.  I was just amazed how calm, accepting, and trusting this fish was with me. Perhaps it thought I was a giant cleaner fish?
I was able to rub and pet the grouper for ten long minutes. I rubbed and scratched its back, underneath its neck, both in and around its mouth, and around its gills, which it opened up.
After I decided to move on, the fish proceeded to follow me and bump me to get my attention again, which it did. I rubbed it some more, like it was a cat or dog, and was able to hold it in my arms. It even lay across my chest. It was just unbelievable and I will never forget this occurrence. The other divers were so surprised that this grouper let me do this! It actually wanted and seemed to enjoy all of this touching, rubbing, and scratching. Any diver would have loved this!

I was able to get much better pictures on this trip, since I positioned my strobe perfectly. Also, I found that in clear water on a sunny day, it is sometimes better to turn your flash off.  At least my experience was to get better pictures, but only in 50 feet of water or less.
For this grouper photo I turned the strobe on, set at low level, and set to fire with every snap. I also had my SeaLife DC800 camera set on the "mountain" icon, distance setting, which is great for action pictures. Actually, Paul Mila suggested this in one of his articles on underwater photography. In addition, I had the camera set for "auto external flash". Available manual ISO settings were 100, 200, 400, or 800, but I set it for "Auto" and let the camera decide the correct setting.
I took pictures before, during, and when I was moving on from my encounter. The grouper did not mind the camera and actually came to me. It is important to have patience and not spook the fishes. Then they will approach you and trust that you are not a threat. Consequently, I was able to be inches, not feet, from the grouper! Numerous times we were in direct contact with each other, and the grouper initiated the contact.
It was just incredible, a once in a lifetime event for this diver. I have 642 dives, and this was my 640th dive, one that will always stand out for me. I really think you have to be a diver and love being under the water to appreciate just how I felt throughout and after this unique experience.
                                    By Frank Kaufman
 * * * * *
1. When very close to your subject, within two feet, or near a white sandy bottom, turn down flash power to avoid over-exposure. Use a flash diffuser if you have one, to soften the shot and obtain richer colors.
2. To get as close as Frank did, stop, relax and let the fish approach you. If you approach, do so very slowly; no rapid breathing, fast swimming or flailing arms.
Sea Turtles In Trouble!
All species threatened or endangered . . . here's why
Cozumel HawksbillSea turtles have been called "Ambassadors of the oceans" because these world-wide travelers migrate thousands of miles during their long, estimated 80-year, lifespans. Since they cross both coastal and deep sea environments on their journeys, they are an important indicator of the ocean's health. Females return to the same beach on which they themselves began their perilous life, to lay their eggs. Odds of reaching sexual maturity are against them: only about 1 in 1000 will survive to breed. 

THE THREAT: Sea turtles do face natural predators: They are menu favorites for tiger sharks, and hatchlings are devoured by sea-birds as they scamper across the beach seeking safety in the waves. But their most significant threat is from earth's number one apex predator: humans. Coastal development destroys nesting and foraging habitats. Shore lighting confuses turtles' navigation ability, since they rely on moonlight and starlight.  Commercial fishing gear (gillnets, baited longlines, trawl nets, etc.), kill thousands of turtles every year as waisted "bycatch." Finally, tens of thousands are taken directly by humans annually for eggs, meat, and decorative jewelry.
For more about threats to sea turtles, visit this link:

As divers, we feel privileged to visit these magnificent creatures in their home environment. Check out this short YouTube video and watch a friendly hawksbill spend a few moments with our lucky dive group in Cozumel.
WHAT CAN WE DO? Don't purchase jewelry made from sea-turtle shell, or eat food products from sea turtles. Contact U.S. Government officials and urge strong support and enforcement of the ESA (Endangered Species Act).
 Visit numerous websites supporting sea turtle conservation efforts (you can find them on Google), and join or donate to their cause.
Two good web sites with great information on how to help:

About is your home for exciting dive adventure novels, YouTube videos featuring ocean creature encounters, and more.
1. Local Author Book Signing at Westbury Public Library, Sunday October 4th, 2-4pm. Stop by & pick up a signed copy of Dangerous Waters, Whales' Angels or Fireworks.
2. Video Presentation & Discussion: Humpbacks, from Long Island to Tonga, at Freeport Public Library, Tuesday evening, October 13th, 7:30pm, sponsored by South Shore Audubon Society.
The most recent addition is our Basic Underwater Photography manual, designed for divers who want to take good dive pictures, such as the photos in Sea-gram, without spending their dives fiddling with their camera's manual settings and controls. Available on our website, either as an online version or hard-copy.
Two new books are in progress: 1. a third sequel, book #4, still untitled, in the fictional dive adventures of Cozumel dive operator Terry Hunter and her husband, ex-NYPD detective Joe Manetta, and, 2. a non-fiction book called Bubbles Up! which I'm co-authoring with writer, diver, and underwater photographer, Judy Hemenway (details in a future Sea-gram issue).
Thanks, and we'll see you next month!
Paul J. Mila 
 Paul working on sea-gram
75 Titus Avenue
Carle Place, New York 11514
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In This Issue
The Story Behind The Photo: A diver's encounter with a friendly Nassau Grouper
Conservation Corner: Sea Turtles In Trouble!
Featured Article in this month's  Conservation Corner:
Sea Turtles In Trouble! 
This French angel fish's concerned expression, as if asking his turtle friend, "Are you okay, buddy?", seems to echo our fears for his lunch companion, a hawksbill sea turtle.
Unfortunately, the answer is "NO!" 
All sea turtle species (green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, leatherback, loggerghead, and olive ridley) are officially classified as either "threatened" or "endangered."
Read why, and how we can help, in our featured article; lower left column. 
Hawksbill & French Angel

One of the many benefits sea turtles provide for other reef residents is food. This 30 second YouTube clip I shot in Cozumel shows these two buddies enjoying a sponge lunch together. 
As the turtle chews a chunk of sponge, one of its favorite foods, the angel fish snaps up the floating crumbs.
Sea turtle resting
Hi There! To find out why turtles like me are in trouble, and how you can help us, please read the featured article below, lower left column.
Quick Links:
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