Saturday, December 15, 2007

View from the field-

station that is! The Conservation International Waiwo field-station on the island of Waigeo. Maurine and I are now in Raja Ampat, Papua, Indonesia. Yes, we're at the end of the earth but also smack-dab in the middle of tropical reef diving's hottest spot! We've been here for almost 3 weeks but quite a few things have transpired since Maurine last wrote from Bali. At that time I was on the private mega-yacht Athena. Showing its owner the finest reefs on the planet. This was Athena's second visit to southern Raja Ampat, to southeast Missol Island to be exact. It was also my third charter as guide aboard this incredible vessel. Along with me were two of the world's leading tropical fish geeks. Dr. Gerry Allen, who if you are a marine life photographer, you'll know from his fish ID books. Gerry is the world's foremost tropical marine ichthyologist and an old friend. ( I did my first dives in Indonesia with Gerry in '92 when I was invited to tag along on the initial survey's of Komodo National Park.) Accompanying us was Dr. Mark Erdmann, who is Conservation International's head of marine programs in Indonesia (hence the reason we are presently at CI's field-station).

Jim, the owner of the Athena, at my suggestion, invited them along on his expedition to photo-document the "world's most beautiful reef". When I showed Jim the Fiabacet reef system in SE Missol last May he felt he had found the last best reef on the planet and wanted to document it for posterity. Problem was he didn't think his 16MP Canon did it justice. So he commisioned, a "rather" expensive, one of a kind housing and port for a 39 MP view camera! What really makes these photos special, besides all that detail, is the four element aspherical dome. It creates an image that is tack sharp edge to edge. He got some amazing imagery and will have a gallery show, of near billboard dimension photos, next year in New York City. While Jim and crew were photographing Mark and Gerry were finding new fish, 5 species to be exact! We had quite a time. Look for an interview with Gerry in an up-coming Fathoms magazine.

After Athena's trip I returned to Bali and Maurine and I went to Yogjakarta on the island of Java to visit the ancient, 8th century, temple complexes of Borobrodur (Budhist) and Prambanan (Hindu). We spent a relaxing 5 days photographing the ruins and shoping for old dance masks in the back streets of Jogja. This was actually our second trip to Jogja. We visited 25 years ago. At that time the temples were out in the country in a very pastoral setting. No longer! They are not only surrounded by the city, they are overrun with vendors selling cheap tourist souveniers. Fortunately the vendors are confined to the parking lot, outside the temple complex. We also discovered that going in the middle of the day was not only insufferably hot but the temples were overrun with irreverent tourists. We decided to return to Borodrodur at dawn and virtually had the place to ourselves. Very peaceful, like the way we remembered it from so long ago.

Two weeks ago, we returned to Sorong, the "lovely" gateway city to Raja Ampat and visited Max Ammer's Sorido resort. Max is Dutch and originally came to the area looking for WWII artifacts. He fell in love with the region, people and diving and decided to spend the rest of his life here. Sorido is his 3rd resort. What a lovely place, with all the ammenites, in the middle of north Raja Ampat's best reefs. If you are not a dedicated live-aboard fanatic and want to dive from a superb land-based resort Sorido is the place! The diving has been a bit disappointing due to visibility issues but the sites are wonderful, with more fish than you can count including a wonderful manta dive too.

So we are now at Waiwo where I started this blog. Even though we are within site of Sorido resort it's a whole world away. We were expecting a step down but had no idea how far down the ladder we were going! Before I tell you about conditions here (pleading for your sympathy) you need to understand two things. This is not a resort, it's a working field station for scientists. It's not built for comfort, no AC for starters, at the moment we are even boiling well water to drink! Secondly, there was a communication error, we were expected for 2 days but were coming for 2 weeks. Unfortunately the first words out of the manager's mouth were, "Did you bring food?". Not a good start, especially since our reply was, "NO". Anyway Maurine and I are diving and exploring for new sites, which is wonderful. We are eating salt or tinned fish and rice with the occasional egg thrown in for variety. No beer either!! Not the diet most of you are enjoying now that the holiday season is upon us/you. We only have 5 days to go and then we will head back to Sorong and the live-aboard MV Seahorse for a Christmas/New Years cruise. Food and accomodations will improve!

We'll post again after the New Year. Until then...

Hugs and Fishes to all (and think about us out here when you are toasting good times with good cheer!)

Burt and Maurine

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Critters, Incense, and a Bad Case of PCO

I'm writing this as I sit in my friend Dave's beautiful open-air living space perched above one of Bali's loveliest rivers. The smell of incense is in the air and around the lotus pond frogs are serenade me and each other. Dave lives just a five minute walk from Ubud's center but this house is a world away from the town's crowded shops and galleries. I'm staying in Bali while Burt is guiding the Yacht Athena through Raja Ampat. I've had two weeks of Bali bliss after our trip to Lembeh Straits where we experience some of the best critter diving in the world. I'll try to catch you up on the last month of diving and wandering through Indonesia.

We arrived in Manado on the green, volcano-strewn island of Sulawesi in mid-October. Our first stop was the incredible Minahasa Lagoon Resort, about 45 minutes away from the center of Manado. I hate to say it, but this resort is almost too nice for divers. The service was superb and the food incredible. Of course we were there for the diving and it also surpassed our expectations. The walls of Bunaken National Park were as lush and filled with fish as promised, but our group wanted to hunt critters, in anticipation of Lembeh. With Minahasa's expert guides we saw and photographed animals as diverse as Flamboyant Cuttlefish and Pegasus Sea Moths. On one dive a tiny Painted Frogfish landed on top of a white Scorpion Leaf Fish!

But the main act was waiting for us at the Lembeh Resort on Lembeh island. Long famed for it's wealth of unusual marine animals, Lembeh did not disappoint. Although Burt and I had spent several months diving the straits with Larry Smith a decade ago, we were thrilled to learn that Lembeh is one place that is better than it was when we first dived it...something you can't say about may reefs in the world!

Highlights were sightings of Blue Ring Octopus on four different occasions. We photographed a total of eight octopus species including the Motote, a small relative of the Blue Ring we had never seen before. When we arrived in Lembeh,Kat and Johan the very capable dive ops managers at Lembeh Resort asked us to list the animals we wanted to see. They teamed us with Ronald, an expert guide and friend of many years. For two weeks Ronald was in a zone and even found the very elusive Hairy Octopus! Our portfolio now includes the cockatoo flounder, a mantis shrimp with eggs that posed for several minutes, numerous sightings of the mimic and wonderpus octopus, a pregnant warty frogfish, and the utterly beautiful Tiger Shrimp.

Divers become addicted to Lembeh, There's no place else where finding and photographing elusive animals is so easy. One of our photography week participants, Tony Kressic from Chicago, said it was absolutely the best trip he'd ever been on. Tony's photography skills improved so much during the week, he may have gotten the best Blue Ring shot of us all! Jack and Nancy Malo, veteran divers and photographers from Minnesota, were thrilled with the ease of diving Lembeh and came down with a bad case of PCO, or progressive critter overload, as our friend and Lembeh pioneer, Larry Smith used to say.

When Burt returns from Raja Ampat we'll take a short break and travel to Java for a few days of photographing temples and checking out some of Indonesia's best crafts in Yogjakarta. We'll return to Bali and prepare for a month in Papua where we'll dive the best sights in Triton Bay and Raja Ampat.

Friday, September 28, 2007

First Step

Maurine and I, gypsy life-stylists we are, are in the final stages of packing up our belongings and moving everything to a storage locker in preparation for an extended five month adventure to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. We'll start with a week in Bali. Bali is a great place to begin and also recover from jet lag. Hotels are reasonable, food is good and cheap and Bali happens to be home to Pak Ketut, owner of Bodyworks in Ubud, our massage therapist. There's nothing like a deep tissue therapy massage for getting jet lag kinks out and preparing for an adventure.

We begin our diving journey by flying to Manado (Sulawesi Island). From Manado's Minahasa Resort we'll dive the walls and reefs of Bunaken National Park with our long time friends The Diving Docs. A week later everyone will drive across the pennisula and we'll be spending another week hunting & photographing "critters" at Lembeh Island Resort. After the Docs depart M and I will host a Secret Sea Seminar week at the resort. Our seminar series "Revealing the Art in the Animal" or "How to Stop Taking Pictures and Start Creating Images" offers instruction and entertainment to anyone with an interest in the marine environment and under water photography.

Next we'll head to Sorong, Papua, formerly Irian Jaya, for a couple of weeks aboard the private mega-yacht Athena. (If you are interested in knowing more about this incredible vessel just Google "Yacht Athena".) We are guiding the owner around Raja Ampat and down to Triton Bay. Mark Erdmann, head of marine programs in Indonesia for Conservation International, and Gerry Allen, the world's leading tropical marine ichthyologist, will be joining us. One of our goals is finding new species and also documenting the reefs for a future gallery show in New York. BTW, David Doubilet, National Geographic's principal reef photographer, is expected to join us for part of the journey.

After we leave Athena, Maurine and I will be going back to Triton Bay to work on various projects in association with Conservation International. Operations will be based out of CI's new field station located in the heart of the world's richest reefs! We'll be at the station at least a month. We'll have a white Christmas on one of the most beautiful (white) sandy beaches we've ever seen!

Then just after the New Year we'll head to the other side of the island of New Guinea to Papua New Guinea's New Britain Island. There we'll be assisting Howard Hall Productions who are filming the follow up to their award winning DEEP SEA 3D Imax film. Long time friends Howard and Michele want us there not just for our photography skills but more for our "critter-hunting" abilities. Of course we'll have cameras in hand but mainly we'll be scouting subjects for the 3D Imax camera.

We'll be back in the states, if our plans don't change though they often do, sometime in mid-February. We'll be making BLOG postings along the way, so stay tuned for Step Two!

Best Fishes,