Places - June 20, 2020 | 05:28 am PT

Oceanic hues permeate work of Saigon photographer

Photographer Nguyen Ngoc Thien depicts the beauty of coral reefs, fish and wrecks at popular diving spots throughout Vietnam.

Low tide exposes shallow coral reefs on Hon Yen Island in Phu Yen Province, a popular tourist destination in central Vietnam. Nguyen Ngoc Thien created the image during a 2-3 minute free dive.

Hon Yen is home to beautiful, easily destroyed coral reefs, all under strict government protection. Tourists, including photographers, are required to avoid trampling on the coral, Thien said.

Swimmers admire the variety of submerged coral east of Hon Yen in a deep, dark stretch of the ocean, amid cold and swirling currents.

Here, divers are encouraged to venture out in groups of at least two and pay close attention to water conditions, making sure to avoid small jellyfish that may cause red spots or burning if in contact with skin.

To the east of Hon Yen lies cylindrical basalt pillars stacked on top of each other like honeycomb, the result of geological activity millions of years ago, when volcanic lava met cold sea water to ultimately freeze and crack.

Hon Rom (Madonna Rock) in Nha Trang, a famous beach town in the central province of Khanh Hoa, is well known for diving activities. Diving season in Vietnam occurs from March to October.

Vietnam has many famous scuba diving sites, including at Phu Quoc, Nam Du and Hai Tac islands in Kien Giang Province, Con Dao Island in Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province (in the south), Phu Quy and Cu Lao Cau islands in Binh Thuan Province, Hon Yen in Phu Yen Province, Ly Son Island in Quang Ngai Province and Cu Lao Cham in Quang Nam Province (the central region).

Hon Rom in Nha Trang features underwater caves located at different depths, some up to 30 m deep. This is the habitat of eels and if lucky, you could spot a thorn grouper weighing from 40 to 45 kg.

Nha Trang has many focused diving locations, underpinning a growing industry. Thien, a professional diver, recommended enthusiasts invest in both diving equipment and skills, two of the most important factors in photographing under water.

Lionfish join a group of yellow-tailed barracuda at Nha Trang’s Hon Mun Marine Reserve, famous for its 350 species of coral and diverse fish, including barracuda, clownfish, lionfish, trumpet and butterflyfish.

Diving instructor Nguyen Ha Minh Tri regularly explores coral reefs and schools of fish at Hon Rom, Hon Mun, and other Nha Trang diving sites.

Visitors should note that while sightseeing and scuba diving, they must refrain from throwing plastic into the ocean, and avoid diving in rainy, stormy and rough seas, which greatly reduces visibility.

A "mermaid" on the colorful coral reef of Son Dung diving site in Van Phong Bay, located between Van Ninh District and Ninh Hoa Town in Khanh Hoa, about 80 km north of Nha Trang.

A school of fish swarm a wrecked ship in Dam Mon, also a popular diving site in Van Phong Bay.

Thien explores the wrecked ship left after Typhoon Damrey hit Dam Mon waters in 2017. Due to strict conservation, this wreck has become a habitat for various fish and other marine life.

Rays of sunlight hit the reef at Nam Du Island, a hidden gem in Kien Giang Province.

In addition to Nam Du Island, visitors can dive in An Thoi Archipelago, Hon Kho Island, Turtle Island and Nudibranch Gardens in Phu Quoc District, Kien Giang Province.

Currently, some dive sites allow snorkeling as well as scuba diving. Worldwide, coral reefs have come under growing stress as a result of rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change and other human-induced pressures including overfishing, pollution and tourism.

Story by Hoang Phong, Huynh Phuong

Photos by Nguyen Ngoc Thien