by Dimana Trankova; photography by Lyubomir Klissurov

Lyubomir Klissurov on Black Sea pollution and the best places for scuba diving

underwater photography.jpg

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Lyubomir Klissurov definitely has a lot to say – but he would be unable to because he is usually under water. He took his first underwater photographs of the Black Sea in 1973. Since then, he's collected so much material that he claims to have the world's largest collection of underwater shots featuring Black Sea flora and fauna.

Klissurov has already displayed some of these images in 11 solo exhibitions. This summer 248 of them were published in The Black Sea Underwater, the first comprehensive album of underwater photography in Bulgaria. The book is available in Bulgarian and English.

Surprisingly, the sea-loving Klissurov was not born on the coast, but in landlocked Sofia in 1943. After he graduated from the Mining and Geological University, he began work at the Institute for Oceanology in Varna. Several decades later, he holds the highest scuba-diving instructor's rank in Bulgaria and gives lessons in underwater photography.

Lyubomir Klissurov

What is the hardest part of underwater photography?

The fact that everything is always moving. The objects you're photographing don't wait for you to set up the shot. They come and go in a second. The aquatic environment forces you to take photos from as close as possible to get clear and focused subjects. You definitely need a flash to bring out the warm colours from the sunlight which the water swallows up. Of course, you have to be an experienced free and scuba diver.

What should an underwater photographer do to avoid frightening the animals he's shooting?

He needs to respect them. If you behave correctly, you'll find that sea creatures are exceptionally good natured, curious and trusting.

Why underwater photography?

It's the noblest way to get to know an environment so foreign to man. I believe that my photographs are a way for other people to see how beautiful and valuable Black Sea life is and to understand why we should do everything we can to protect it. The Black Sea Underwater was published to meet his goal.

Have you noticed changes in the Black Sea?

I first put on a diving mask and explored the Black Sea 50 years ago. Since then the situation has become continually worse because of active – if indirect – interference by people. Rivers are bringing progressively more pollution from all over Europe. Building along the shoreline has overloaded coastal reefs with construction and consumer waste. Uncontrolled fishing and trawling, which went on for years, destroyed the normal food chain in our sea... The Black Sea is trying to recover naturally, but people and their actions hinder the process.

underwater photography

Have you come across sunken ships?

I've run across the remains of shipwrecks. But they don't interest me as a photographer. Besides, a good picture of a sunken object requires a person in the picture – either as a silhouette or a close-up. I'm usually alone when I take underwater photographs.

Describe an exciting underwater encounter.

I shoot at night. Perhaps my best photos have been taken at night, when many fish are sleeping and I can get close enough for portrait shots. But some species also hunt nocturnally. On dark autumn evenings during the height of the bonito fishing season, I've had dramatic encounters with fishing boats. I've startled fishermen who thought I was some kind of unknown monster – some have been just seconds away from firing at me with their flare guns.

What is the biggest danger under water?

Recklessness! You always have to remember you're in a foreign environment. You need to foresee and sense every impending change in it – changes in the strength of the waves, the appearance of a strong unexpected wind, turbulence, or a tide that could carry you out to sea.

What parts of the Black Sea would you recommend to people wanting to observe underwater life?

In the spring, when sea life begins to reawaken, I would recommend the coastline north of Cape Kaliakra. In the autumn the best spots are the bays to the south of the Ropotamo River, from Cape Maslen all the way to the Rezovska River. They're my favourite places for photography. Construction and fences on that part of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, especially along steep rocky stretches of shore, have made many of my favourite places for diving unreachable.

What three parts of the Black Sea do you not recommend?

The bays of big port cities like Varna and Burgas and the big resort complexes.

What other sea would you like to photograph?

I've already taken underwater photos in the Red, Caribbean, Mediterranean and Aegean seas, as well as in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives. I would like to go to the coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean, particularly the Great Barrier Reef.

You can purchase The Black Sea Underwater at

Hidden Picture

underwater photography

A late 18th or early 19th Century four-pointed anchor lies on the seafloor north of Primorsko

Less than 10,000 years ago the Black Sea was a lake. This fact explains why now its waters are far less salty than those of the Mediterranean and also why you shouldn't expect its underwater life to compare to that of a coral reef. But it doesn't mean the Black Sea is a dull place to visit. It is enough to just poke no deeper than 20 m, or 66 ft, in the thick seaweed that grows on the coastal underwater cliffs (above) – for example, around the Silistar beach near Sinemorets. Among the forest-like leaves you'll find fascinating creatures, such as stone crabs and the bright red triple fin fish.

Changing World

In the years which Klisurov spent exploring Black Sea's underwater world he did more than just stockpiling pretty pictures. He made discoveries.

underwater photography

Pleurobrachia pileus

n 2005 he was the first man to photograph Pleurobrachia pileus in the Black Sea. These tiny phosphorescent comb jellies – some 10 mm in diameter – can be seen in nearshore waters in spring, when the water is still cold. The small nematocytes at the fringes are constantly moving and diffract the light in a way as to suggest that you are observing an extraterrestrial being.

underwater photography

European hermit crab

In 2005 and 2006 Klisurov made another discovery. Some of the European hermit crabs characteristic for the Black Sea, such as Clibanarius erythropus – they make their "home" of any object that looks inviting – had found new housing. For hundreds of thousands of years they had lived in the shells of small periwinkles. Now they had migrated, finding abode in empty veined rapa whelk shells. There they grew until they were strong enough to carry them. The veined rapa whelks are immigrants too. In the mid-20th Century they arrived from the Sea of Japan along with ships' wastewater. Finding themselves in an environment free of their natural enemies, these predators proliferated, endangering the Mytilus galloprovincialis mussel population.

Sunken Ship near Tyulenovo

In 1942 the village of Kalıç köy, located to the south of Shabla, changed its name to Tyulenovo, and with a good reason: on the nearby cliffs flourished a colony of Black Sea tyuleni-monasi, or monk seals.

Sunken Ship near Tyulenovo

Yet now it's very rare to spot seals in the waters near the village, and this has apparently to do with the fact that in 1951 the first oil on Bulgarian territory was discovered there. The small shrimp are very curious once you've won their trust.

Unexpected Encounters

Since mass tourism has taken over Sozopol, some Bulgarian tourists have found a new refuge in the village of Lozenets near Burgas. But few of the holiday makers who trip over each other on the village's tiny overcrowded beach know what's hidden in the nearby waters.

Aidablennius sphinx

Aidablennius sphinx

When Lyubomir Klisurov dove in the area, he faced a field covered with cannonballs.You can find further surprises just by exploring the rocks near the coast. There you'll see a colourful fish small enough for you to hold in the palm of your hand. Its Latin name is Aidablennius sphinx, but Bulgarians call it morska kuchka, or sea bitch. The reason is that after the female has laid her eggs in a hole, the male stands guard over the spot until the little ones hatch. Despite his minuscule size, the proud papa defends the nest with a ferocity that has won him this moniker.


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