Scuba Diver’s photography columnist Alex Mustard recently logged his 5,000th dive, so we chatted to him about passing this milestone
Photographs by Alex Mustard
Congratulations on the landmark, Alex, and equally so for keeping going with a logbook. What has kept you diving and logging?
A: The answer to both is photography. As a photographer there is always another subject to see, an image to improve on, so you are always motivated to get in the water. And the main reason I have kept a paper logbook is simply it allows me to trace any photo back to the site it was taken on. In fact, I only log the dives I make with a camera, which is most of them, of course. Keeping a log really helps me remember where I have dived, spots that really suit photography and times of day that suit them.
Since I spend lots of my time running photography workshops, both of those are really valuable because the local guides will always know where the best dive sites are, but won’t have that photography specific knowledge. I think that the other reason I have kept it up is that my original dive log was a simple one – location, date, depth and time – so every single one of my dives is logged in the same format. The books take up about a foot of my bookshelf. I only take the latest one away with me.
Tell us about some of your landmark dives. When and where was your 5,000th and the main landmarks before that.
A: I didn’t know the answers to these questions from memory, so it was fun to dive into my logbooks and relive them. I started diving in 1989 and I made Dive 100 in 1993 at a site called Grunt in Antigua. I remember it had tons of spiny lobster, but not a lot else now. It probably didn’t have any grunts, naming a dive site after a species usually means that species will never be seen there again!
It took me another 11 years to reach Dive 1,000, which was in 2004 at Ras Mohammed in Egypt. I knew it was my 1,000th dive, so I purposely spent the entire dive swimming inside a huge school of bohar snapper. By this point I was diving very regularly, and Dive 2,000 came up in 2008 at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas. Tiger Beach dives are shallow and sometimes short, if we are rotating photographers during the peak action, but they are without a doubt some of the most memorable you can do – lemon sharks, tiger sharks and much more.
I passed Dive 3,000 in 2012, it was less dramatic, a shore dive at Sunset House in the Cayman Islands. I was diving with my wife and we spent 100+ minutes photographing hamlet fish spawning at dusk.
By dive 4,000 I was a dad, and the next 1,000 took five years. I passed this landmark in 2017 at Los Isoltes, a sealion colony near La Paz, Mexico. This is such an enjoyable dive every time, especially in the autumn, where there are loads of playful sealion pups.
Which brings us to dive 5,000 in December 2022, at Tank Rock in Misool, Raja Ampat, Indonesia. This is a small rock, with a larger reef below the surface in the Boo-Fiabacet chain of islands, arguably the best coral reef diving in Raja Ampat, or in other words, anywhere in the world.
Did you make any of those dives naked? And are there any dives you regret logging?
A: I’ve dived with a group of nudist divers in the Cayman Islands. It was just them and me on the boat. To explain how they did it, they went in the water in loose-fitting swimming costumes and they took them off once they were under. I wasn’t tempted to copy or to photograph them. You will be, of course, imagining them as models on their day off. In reality, nudists seem often to be more advanced in both years and waistlines!
I have done many dives in just shorts – it is actually really nice to dive like that in warm waters. Although I once had a stick of fire coral go up the leg of said shorts, which was a good reminder never to dive naked. The only dive I wish I hadn’t logged was also in the Cayman Islands, when Stinky the Dolphin fell in love with me. It is funny to look back on, but was actually quite scary at the time, as dolphins are pure power and don’t take no for an answer. Almost as bad as the encounter was the fact that I had a macro lens on, so I wasn’t even able to get a photo!
That said, being a photographer, diving with photography friends, the event didn’t go unrecorded. My friend Michael kept my surname out of the video, but my ‘blue movie’ has more than two million views on YouTube!
This article was originally published in Scuba Diver UK #72.