Sea of Cortez Trip Report 2021 - Bluewater Dive Travel
Sea of Cortez Trip Report 2021

Sea of Cortez Trip Report 2021

Sea of Cortez Trip Report

Sea of Cortez, Midriff Islands Trip Report – July 24 to August 31, 2021

Words by Nirupam Nigam, photos by Nirupam and guests

Nirupam's camera gear: Underwater photos taken with Canon EOS R5 and Ikelite Housing, topside with Nikon Z6.


The Gulf of California (aka Sea of Cortez) is a story of isolation. Separated from the great Pacific Ocean by the thin sliver of dry land that is the Baja Peninsula, this narrow sea is home to a plethora of unique wildlife that has evolved in seclusion for millennia. The Northern Sea of Cortez and Midriff Islands are the farthest removed from the Pacific Ocean and thus offer the most unique opportunities to view the endemic creatures that have evolved under the hot, Mexican sun. And though it is only a few hours drive from Phoenix, a journey here feels as if you have found a secret desert oasis unbeknownst to civilization, beneath the sea.

Sea of Cortez Sunset

Sunset on the Sea of Cortez


The Vessel and Itinerary

Our Bluewater Travel Underwater Photo Workshop brought us aboard the premiere dive liveaboard in the Sea of Cortez – the Rocio Del Mar. This vessel is renowned for its attentive, engaging, and extremely knowledgeable crew. The divemasters are legendary for finding rare and endemic creatures. Throughout the trip, our chef designed some of the most attractive and delightful food that I have had the pleasure of tasting in Baja. And finally, our captain was extremely knowledgeable of local ocean conditions, saving us from the worst of the brewing storms, ever on the horizon but never above us.

Rocio Del Mar Liveaboard

The Rocio Del Mar at Sea

Rocio Del Mar

Incredible food on the Rocio Del Mar

The Rocio Del Mar was designed and manufactured for diving. The vessel is equipped with stabilizers that keep the ship stable, but during the summer when storms can pop up in the blink of an eye, it’s a good idea to have Dramamine with you. Rooms on the vessel can either fit one or two guests and each room has an ensuite bathroom and shower. Diving from the vessel is like clockwork – we were split into three dive groups so that only one group was on the dive deck or part of a dive site at a time. 

Rocio Del Mar Liveaboard

The Rocio Del Mar at Sea with stabilizers down for smooth sailing

The Midriff offers the most variety of experiences to divers when compared to other dive destinations in the Sea of Cortez, from macro critters displaying enigmatic behaviors to wide-angle reef scenes and playful sea lions. The highlights of this region are a wide variety of nudibranchs, bluespotted jawfish, orangethroat pikeblennies, signal blennies, sea lions, whale sharks, schools of fish, and walls of black coral. Likewise, ocean conditions are extremely variable. Currents, which vary from site to site, mix water and nutrients to produce water temperatures that ranged from 72F to 86F – sometimes on the same dive! The adventure began with calm and easy dive sites in search of macro critters and animal behavior. These sites were “muck” dive sites with visibility averaging about 30ft and greenish-blue water. Traveling south, conditions cleared, the water warmed, and life became abundant. The focus of the second half of the trip was diving along incredible walls, playful sea lions, and finally a swim with the largest fish in the sea – whale sharks.


Sea of Cortez liveaboard itinerary


The Photo Workshop

One of the best ways to improve one’s skills as an underwater photographer is to be surrounded by like-minded people. I find that I always learn something new from leading an underwater photo workshop. The most fulfilling part of my job is watching people with a wide variety of experiences create new ideas and passionately find new ways to capture the beauty of our planet, regardless of the image capturing device. Whether our guests had a GoPro, DSLR, or cinema camera, everyone captured something new and improved their skills. 

Every day around dinner time, I taught an underwater photography topic pertinent to the dives that we were doing – ranging from “macro photography” to “motion blur photography” to “Adobe Lightroom.” I was excited to see the level of enthusiasm despite the long days of diving and was very impressed by the imagery from this group. There was more than one instance where one of our guests captured the best photo of a particular subject that I had ever seen!


The Diving

Days 1 & 2 Isla Angel de La Guarda

We awoke after a relatively calm crossing across the Northern Sea of Cortez at the rugged desert island of Isla Angel de la Guarda. As we dropped into the water for the first time, a quick glance suggested that it would be a normal check-out dive. Yet the beauty of the Midriff Islands lies in the critters in the sand. At first, they remained invisible, but as the sand settled, flashes of color materialized in the form of nuptial bluespotted jawfish and signal blennies looking for mates. Although the water here appeared green and hazy, the limited visibility was, in fact, a result of a massive swarm of krill that was responsible for feeding the robust food web in the region. At night, schools of sardine amassed at the stern of our vessel, feeding on the krill illuminated by the Rocio’s deck lights. Larger predators lurked beneath, swiping at the sardines with bursts of power. A few photographers attempted to capture long exposure photos of these sardines with surprising success! 

Sea of Cortez diving 

Sardine moving quickly to catch prey at night by Romona Robbins Reynolds

scuba diving Sea of Cortez

A Orange Throat Pike Blenny Captured by Helen Brierley 


Our second day at the island brought us in contact with a surprising number of nudibranchs, from flabellinas to mating tiger nudibranchs.


diving Sea of Cortez

Flabellina Nudibranch Captured with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite housing

Sea of Cortez

A lizard triplefin hides among the vibrant textures of a local sea star


Day 3: Incredible Marine Life Behavior at Salsipuedes & Animas

nudibranch Sea of Cortez

We found many Spanish shawl nudibranchs enjoying the current

Sea of Cortez scuba diving

A male signal blenny defends its turf

Sea of Cortez Baja California

A colorful signal blenny by Bob Bailey


During our third day of diving, we continued our macro journey in the current-filled waters of Animas. The currents brought a wide range of water temperatures and visibility – with one dive varying in temperature by 13F! And with the current came some incredible underwater critters feeding and looking for mates. Male bluespotted jawfish darted in and out of their holes to impress females. A lucky few divers got to witness the golden beauty of the juveniles. Signal blennies made colorful and quick appearances, lifting their dorsal fins high above their heads to fend off competition and woo mates. Orange throat pike blennies danced in the current with large vibrant throats. And finally, a few lucky divers got to witness a true giant jawfish aerating its eggs in the cold water. 

Sea of Cortez Mexico

A giant jawfish aerating eggs by Helen Brierley

Sea of Cortez diving

A jawfish by Lisa Perla


A jawfish by Tim Johnson


Days 4 & 5 Sea Lion Fun at San Pedro Martir

Our fourth day at sea brought us to a small, isolated island with dramatic cliff faces falling into the sea. Curious and fearless birds boarded the deck of our ship and sea lion barks echoed in the morning air. As we got into the water, they came to greet us with fierce curiosity. Many females swam close to us and played with our fins and bubbles as the larger bulls watched their harem carefully. Sea turtles would keep their distance as those that ventured too close would be harassed by the sea lions. I saw one sea turtle that was flipped over twice by the same sea lion! It seemed almost resigned to its fate.

sea lion

A playful sea lion by Romona Robbins Reynolds

sea lions mexico

A curious sea lion by Linda Zath

scuba diving mexico

A turtle and sea lion all in one photo by Taylor Foster


The cliffs that adorn this island follow the same topography underwater. This created incredible drama in the diving that was perfect for wide-angle photography. The sheer faces of the cliffs were surrounded by massive schools of sardines that became so thick that at times they blocked the sun. Huge stands of black coral created a lime-green underwater forest where colorful angelfish dipped in and out of hiding. Many of the divers in our group were lucky enough to find an elusive seahorse on the last dive of the fifth day. 

mexico diving scuba diving baja california

L: A black coral forest and sea star with a diver from our group in the background | R: Schools of sardines were everywhere!


Day 6 Whale Sharks at Bahia de Los Angeles

Bahia de Los Angeles is normally a calm, pristine bay on a remote shore of the Baja Peninsula. Yet on our sixth day, a storm loomed on the horizon. The day began with an easy macro dive at the entrance of the bay. After that, we ventured into smaller skiffs in search of whale sharks. Winds from the storm stirred up the water and at first, we thought that we may miss seeing the whale sharks this year. Fortunately, the weather cleared and the whale sharks came with the better weather. What followed for the next three hours was the most incredible whale shark experience I had the pleasure of witnessing. A whale shark swam slowly alongside our skiff in search of food. At times it would stop in the water column and feed at the surface, allowing photographers to get close and take as many photos as they wished. Swimming along such huge animals – as relaxed as they were – was an unforgettable experience.

whale shark

A whale shark feeding at the surface 


As soon as we got back to our vessel, the wind started to pick up again, as if by clockwork. We pulled anchor and got ahead of the impending storm, sailing for home. 

group photo

The Group


Join our next trip:

Sea of Cortez Photo Workshop August 2023

Read about our Socorro 2021 trip here.


Sign up for the mailing list today