raul boesel

Crystal River by Felix Leander

Three Sisters - Manatees and Noodlers. Image by Manuel Menendez

Just 4.5 hours north of Miami, Crystal River becomes the home to hundreds of manatees during the Florida winters.  Last weekend a group of us ventured up for a quick getaway and interactions with the sea cows.  Raul Boesel Jr., Manuel Menendez and I packed our better halves, children, dogs, and of course equipment to capture what we thought would only be manatees.

There are two ways to dive in Crystal River - guided tours (with a bunch of "noodlers" - people that have never been in the water that use pool noodles to float) or renting your own boat / pontoon, of course we went with the latter.  There are several locations worth visiting - the most popular being Three Sisters.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife has a strong presence there to ensure the manatees are not molested by the noodlers + control the access to the spring.  We were lucky enough that access to the springs was granted as it has been closed for most of the season since there has been such a large gathering of manatees.

Each of us had an idea of what we wanted to capture:

  • Raul testing rear sync flash set-up motion blur (more on that soon)
  • Manuel to get aerial pics with his drone
  • Me - video of manatees / other

And while we did capture what we wanted to - we also found subject matters what we never expected to see such as a school of hundreds of Snook, mangrove snappers, and morning fog.  The results of the trip are below...

Mangrove snappers.  Image by Raul Boesel Jr

Video of Manatees, Snapper, and Snook while freediving in Crystal River, FL using a GoPro.  Video by Felix Leander

Manatee and Lala.  Image by Manuel Menendez

It is definitely worth a trip up and expect great southern hospitality when you go out to eat.

Freediving... by Felix Leander

There is nothing more pure, nothing more beautiful than freediving.  To truly become immersed in the ocean and connect with it, you have to strip yourself of the one thing that makes you comfortable on earth - breathing.  For as long as you are connected to oxygen you are disconnected to the world down below.  Add any marine animal to the mix, be it a dolphin, shark, grouper, or damselfish - and they too will immediately sense the disconnect...

Beyond the athletic aspect of freediving - the mental state takes each freediver to a place within themselves in which they find peace (which will vary for each) and calmness even when working (spearing / photographing / etc).

Freediving and having the privilege to interact with animals, no matter their size is something that cannot be replicated on SCUBA.  Of course that is some work that requires all the pesky gear --- but I would dare to say that a lot of it, particularly photography / videography can be done on your own breath.  Some of the best u/w photographers I know freedive only - some are old and some are young (there is no excuse).

With all the shark material that is being pumped out - there is nothing more beautiful than capturing a moment between sharks and freedivers (no direct interaction even necessary)...

And while you see guys getting more and more complex in what they do on SCUBA...in freediving you think about simplifying everything. 

Freediving with juvenile tiger shark and lemon shark.  Photo by Wolfgang Leander (freediving)

Freediving with juvenile tiger shark and lemon shark.  Photo by Wolfgang Leander (freediving)

Freediving and filming tiger shark.  Photo by Raul Boesel (freediving)

Freediving and filming tiger shark.  Photo by Raul Boesel (freediving)