Marc Shargel: Off The Familiar Path

  • Marc Shargel (2019-04)

By: Marc Shargel & Alan Throop

[All photos: © Marc Shargel /, except where noted.]

At our April 4 General Meeting, Marc Shargel presented a program that included some beautiful images, and good stories, from areas ranging from Cuba’s largest marine reserve, to Big Sur and local waters, to British Columbia, Iceland, and to the solar eclipse of 2017.

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Bluefish cove, Point Lobos, February 2017.

Marc earned a degree in biology from Stanford and spent a summer as a student at Hopkins Marine Station where he learned to dive in 1978.  He worked for Apple in the early 80s, and is now a free-lance code developer and teacher of meditation who lives in Felton. But his passion is photography and marine conservation. In 2000 he participated in founding two marine conservation organizations along our central coast, and in 2004-2006 was an alternate member of the state-appointed panel that mapped out the Marine Protected Areas. He views his photography as a way to communicate the changes that he had observed over several decades, and runs a commercial photography and multimedia business, Living Sea Images.

Given his strong conservation beliefs and work, Marc asked us to spill the beans about one of the best stories he told. That was the one about how he got the big bruise on his lip two days before our meeting. He told of a pulse-quickening encounter with a great big bull Sea Lion, who shouldered Marc’s camera into his face. Marc writes, “Everything I said in my talk was true, except for one Big Lie. To my knowledge, no diver at the Breakwater or anywhere else in Monterey has ever been injured, bumped, or even charged aggressively by a sea lion. Not a 1500-lb bull or any sea lion. That story I told about how my lip got injured and swollen was entertaining, wasn’t it? That’s why I made it up. It was 100% false, a total fabrication. I had you going, didn’t I? The truth is that I was playing driveway basketball against my much-taller, much-faster son and managed to tip the ball away from him, a rare success. As I raced after the ball it caromed off the trailer of my dive boat and right toward my feet. I went down hard on the concrete driveway. I am lucky to still have all my teeth and an unbroken nose! So while diving had something very remotely to do with my injury, no sea lion was involved in any way and I hope the reputation of no animal was harmed by my Big Lie. Be nice to sea lions when you visit them at the Breakwater, they’ve always been nice to me.” So in addition to being a long-time diver and photographer, Marc has learned to tell tall tales, too.

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Photo by Marc Shargel.

The “first set” in Marc’s program took us on his recent adventure to dive the Jardines de la Reina Marine Reserve (JRMR, or in English, the “Gardens of the Queen”, named for Queen Isabella) that was established about 23 years agoin1996 The JRMR is one of about a half-dozen such reserves that were instituted by via a political process in Cuba much like the one California went through from 2004-2012. How much Fidel Castro’s early experience diving in JRMR (Castro was a diver!) and his meeting with Jacque Cousteau planted the seed for Cuba’s marine conservation program is not clear. Marc noted and illustrated the beautiful old classic US cars that are still driven there, the enthusiasm for baseball, and the friendly people that he encountered on the his trip.

The Jardines de la Reina Marine Reserve is an archipelago of mangrove-covered sand cays, located about 50 miles off southern Cuba. It has a healthy ecosystem that reflects nearly a quarter-century without industrial pollution or the fishing pressure that has stressed and damaged other Caribbean dive sites. He showed the beautiful huge barrel sponges; big animals such as sharks, turtles, large groupers, schools of tarpon, etc.

One of the unique encounters of the JRMR is the American crocodiles that live in the shallow waters of the many Cays. They are predators of course, but the dive operation has developed a relationship with one of the more-mellow large crocs. He comes when called and waits patiently for divers to interact with him without any aggressive behavior. The boat then rewards him with some food. Marc got some impressive photos of him.

The invasive Lionfish have penetrated to this area, but the Dive Masters spear them and feed them to the abundant Caribbean reef sharks. There is still hope that that sharks will begin to hunt them, but there is, disappointingly, no evidence of that so far.

Marc’s “second set” took us to Big Sur, Carmel Pinnacles, and other areas around Monterey.  In June, Truth Aquatics’ Vision liveaboard dives the area north of Morro Bay, sometime as far up as Carmel, and it’s a great opportunity to comfortably explore this area. He showed images of some of the beautiful hydrocoral – some over 100 years old – that lie in relatively un-dived regions of Big Sur, along with other beautiful and prolific marine life that live in this area. He then showed a short video of diving in Carmel Bay, where we were treated to some top-side views of dolphins and Orcas, along with some great UW clips of groups of Molas that sometimes visit this area, and multiple octopus hunting during the daytime.

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Yankee Point, South of Carmel, February 2017.

Marc showed some photos and talked about the problem of sea star wasting disease and purple-urchin barrens that have plagued the West Coast for the past several years, along with some of the large patches of brittle stars that have appeared. He noted that such wasting cycles have been recorded before. Encouragingly, he has seen the return of some sea stars, including giant-spined stars and bat stars. He mentioned some of the work now being permitted by the Department of Fish & Game to remove large quantities of the purple urchins in NorCal and, this year, to remove them from Tankers Reef just East of  the Monterey Harbor. To volunteer in that effort, email Keith Rootsaert at or visit

Marc continued by showing some interesting and beautiful images from the total solar eclipse that he photographed on August 21, 2017 in Oregon. He was fortunate to have clear skies for the eclipse and showed his setup to capture the event. With only about 2 minutes of totality, Marc had carefully choreographed the steps he had to take to capture multiple images, changing exposures and filters as the amount of light varied so dramatically.  He was able to capture a beautiful image of the totality that required 5 layers in Photoshop to reproduce the full range of intensity and color that occurred.  Solar prominences over 30,000 miles high could be seen in the image… a truly beautiful sight.

He also digitally combined a montage of multiple phases of the eclipse with a photo of Mt Hood to create another stunning image.


Finally, Marc showed some beautiful photos from a recent trip to Iceland where he captured some great topside images of wildlife and natural vistas.

We thank Marc for sharing his travels, stories, and beautiful images with us, as well as for the work on marine conservation that he has done for the diving community and marine environment over the years.

Marc had many of his books, photographs, and picture postcards available at the meeting. He has a series of three beautiful coffee-table books entitled “Wonders of the Sea” that have artistic images of our local marine life in Central and Northern California. He has also authored an interesting softcover book about the History of the Monterey Bay and it’s marine life, told through his writing as well as historical and contemporary photos. Marc’s books are always available at his website at If you didn’t get a chance to see his program with us, check out the images on his website.