Friday, October 31, 2008

IMAXing - Somebody's got to do it!

Maurine and I are back in Bali after a month at sea filming with Howard and Michele Hall and their stellar IMAX crew. We worked with them, last April in PNG, on the initial shoot for the film and now on the final leg in Indonesia’s Nusa Tenggara region. That area, if you’re geographically challenged, begins, more or less, east of Bali includes Komodo National Park and continues east to Timor and the Banda Sea. We covered over 1000 nautical miles on our journey!

On the first night of the trip Howard showed us a rough “video” cut of the film compiled of footage from the four previous shoots (two in PNG and two in Australia). The film that audiences will see is shot on 70mm film stock with the IMAX 3D camera. (There are only three of these cameras in existence and we had two with us.) Even at that stage the film looked great, but Howard pointed out segments he wanted to strengthen. On the last night of our cruise he showed us a new rough cut. It was absolutely amazing to see how much stronger the film became during our month of filming. To be a part of the evolution of a 3D IMAX movie was a thrill that words can hardly convey (but I’ll try)!

The film titled, Under the Sea - 3D, is due for release in late February ’09. Although we worked very hard capturing images of animals and their behavior (at times the film crew was underwater for 6 hours without a break), for Howard and Michele the grunt work of the film lies ahead. Between now and February they will spend countless hours in dark rooms, writing and rewriting script, editing and reediting the footage, recording music and narration. If you are interested in learning more about the process visit the Hall’s website,; then to find out when the film will be in an IMAX theater near you follow the link to IMAX’s website.

Filming in IMAX, especially 3D IMAX, and specifically underwater 3D IMAX is very difficult. Howard often jokes that there has never been a less friendly, more cumbersome, challenging format invented. Frequently words like idiotic and stupid get tossed in. But Howard has been doing this a long time and seemly has infinite patience. No one does it better. The camera is heavy, add the housing, and it’s much heavier, bulky and awkward. Depth of field is about 4 inches and you have to be within about 3 feet of the subject. There are hundreds of feet of cable, snaking through the water column for powering the surface-supplied movie lights, which must be dealt with. The bulbs explode from time to time, which is always startling to crew and subject. A team of between 4-6 divers is required underwater to operate the camera and keep all the equipment sorted out. Most of the film crew use re-breathers, in lieu of SCUBA, so they can stay down for extended periods and avoid long decompression times. Once everything is set the film rolls…for a whopping 3 minutes! Once those 3 minutes are exposed the camera has to be “recovered” (by another team of divers) hauled to the surface, returned to the mother ship, and winched on board for a film change. Then the camera is re-launched and delivered to the site for another 3 minutes of filming. A film change alone usually takes about an hour. Contending with current is a major factor so for camera delivery and retrieval underwater scooters are employed. All this is taking place while the subject patiently waits for his queue, NOT!

On September 27th we boarded the live-aboard Seven Seas in Benoa Harbor, Bali and headed east. Before I begin the trip log I’d like to say a few words about Seven Seas. Maurine and I have been on quite a few Phinisi vessels in Indonesia and Seven Seas,, is one of the best. Owners Mark Heighs and Jos Pet know what they are doing and it really shows. They built the boat for the comfort of divers and photographers based on their years of experience in the industry. It is very seaworthy, the cabins are spacious and the food is delicious. Most importantly, and anyone who has ever sailed on a Phinisi will know what I’m talking about, Seven Seas deck’s don’t leak! The crew is outstanding! Mark began diving in Indonesia, with his aunt Valerie Taylor, in the early ‘80s. For years Jos worked with TNC and is in large part responsible for the successful marine conservation efforts in Komodo National Park (KNP).

We sailed east for two days stopping first at Sangeang Island just west of KNP. Those two travel days allowed us to get our sea legs and sort out the 7 tons of gear required for filming. The camera weighs several hundred pounds but when it’s placed in the housing it tops the scales at 1300 pounds. Needless to say you don’t chase after the marine life! At Sangeang, an incredibly beautiful volcanic island that towers to nearly 7000 feet, we were after garden eels. I know what your thinking garden eels, everyone has seen garden eels. Well not in 3D they haven’t. The eels will appear to be right in your face, so close you’ll think you can touch them. With the 3D effect, they will tower over and around you. The footage is awesome!

After the eels we continued east into KNP. M and I spent many years exploring this region during the early and mid ‘90s. We have over a 1000 dives in the park but we haven’t spent much time there in the last few years. Captain Mark and his crew know it intimately however and many of their sites were new to us. We concentrated our efforts in the north, where the water is warm and clear. The focus was to capture beautiful, vibrantly healthy reef panoramas with swirling, schooling fish life. Northern Komodo has this in spades. The conservation efforts begun there in the mid 90s, initiated by TNC (Jos was head of the field station at the time) have really paid off. Fish bombing is a thing of the past and the fish life is outstanding. Diving is much better now in KNP than when we spent time there a decade ago. If you’ve never been to Komodo or haven’t been lately; definitely GO or go again! It’s a premier, world-class destination. Many of the northern sites not only have masses of schooling reef fish, but there are big fish as well…tunas, mackerel, and GTs (giant trevally). One site has a resident pod of dolphin and sharks are making a strong comeback. Mantas are seen at numerous locations throughout the park and the critter life is the best in Indonesia outside Lembeh.

Another sequence that Howard wanted to film was anemone fish. Komodo is home to an abundance of anemonefish species. Again you might say anemonefish, how common can you get. Well go see the film. You’ll quickly develop a love affair with numerous species of these lovable dancing fish.

After Komodo we continued sailing east past the islands of Flores, Lembata, and Alor; our next destination, Gunung Api (Fire Mountain) in the Banda Sea. Gunung Api is only a speck of land, actually the tip of a volcano. It sits alone in the middle of the Banda Sea and is home to an amazing variety of birds including shearwaters, terns, boobies, frigates and red-tailed tropic birds to mention a few. But we didn’t go all that way for the birds. We came for the snakes, sea snakes! For some reason this island in the middle of nowhere is home to hundreds if not thousands of sea snakes. They are in the cobra family and highly venomous. Fortunately they have very small teeth set far back in their small mouths but more comforting is the fact that they virtually ignore divers. Actually that’s not true. They are curious and swim right for you, especially to your feet for some odd reason. It seems like every time you look down there is a snake or two poking around your fin tips. They also wind around your legs, swim up your back and over your shoulder. It’s a bit unnerving initially; hell it’s unnerving period. But you quickly learn they are treating you as part of their environment and have no malicious intent. Forget “Snakes on a Plane” wait until you see sea snakes in 3D!

By the time we’d spent days filming the snakes, believe it or not, nearly a month had passed so we headed west back to Maurmere on Flores Island where we were scheduled to fly back to Bali. But flights kept getting rescheduled or cancelled. Some of the crew had international flights to catch so Michele chartered a plane and the next stop was where we began, Bali.

M and I have been showing some of the crew the sites of Bali for the last few days. A number of them had never visited this lovely island so instead of leaving immediately they wisely decided to spend a few days of R&R. They’ve been wining and dining, getting massages, shopping, visiting temples and photographing 1000 year old terraced ricefield…shopping. Did I mention shopping? Bali is the handicraft capital of the world. The dollar is strong right now and you just wish you were on one of the crew’s Christmas gift list! Today, Halloween, we attended a massive cremation. The gaudily decorated cremation tower was 4-5 stories tall. It required at least a hundred or more bearers to carry it down the streets of Ubud to the cremation grounds where the body was removed from the tower and placed into a 20 foot tall Bull effigy; then everything was set on fire. It was a grand party and a blazing farewell for the deceased. Not a tear was shed, the kids had a fine time, and what a photo opportunity.

Maurine and I will be home, in Ubud, for the month of November working on the Raja Ampat guidebook, the real reason we are living here. At the beginning of December we will take a short break from Indonesia and visit the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Then in the middle of December we fly back to Papua for another 3 months that will complete the diving portion of the book project. Our home in Papua will be a series of live-aboards and land-based resorts. It’s hard work but somebody’s got to do it!

Best Fishes,
Burt and Maurine

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Discovering Raja Ampat (again)

Maurine and I are back in Bali after a month’s voyage aboard Grand Komodo Tour’s live-aboard Putri Papua. As most of you know we are working jointly with Conservation International to produce a dive guide to Raja Ampat (R4). During the past 25 days we logged nearly 150 dives (each) surveying areas of R4 seldom, if ever, dived by the live-aboards which operate in this amazing dive destination off the western tip of Indonesian New Guinea (West Papua).

Our mission was to find new divesites in order to relieve pressure on the most popular sites and give the live-aboards more options and flexibility when creating their itineraries. Because September is early in the dive season we concentrated our efforts in the North where the south-easterlies, that blow this time of the year, have less affect. We found over 30 wonderful new sites many of which will certainly be on live-aboard itineraries in the coming years. R4 is noted for its diversity; it contains more reef species than any other place on the planet. Visiting divers are awed by its stunningly beautiful coral reef panoramas with clouds of reef fish. Our findings confirmed that the area still has something new to show returning visitors. We were also committed to finding new “critter” sites and we found a few of those as well. On one site we photographed ornate, robust and halameda ghost pipefish. We also found flamboyant cuttlefish and wonderpuss (the octopus)!

We’ve never dived some much in such a short period of time. On many days we hardly got out of our wetsuits. Typically we would do 20-30 minute dives to see if a site merited being included in the book. We had submersible scooters, so in 30 minutes we could cover a distance much greater than the average diver would in an hour dive. Often the four of us (Maurine, myself, and Putri Papua’s two excellent dive guides, Weka and Jhonny) would drop in at four different spots in order to cover more territory. This way we could get a pretty good feel for any given region fairly quickly. We would often be surprised when 3 of us would come up reporting disappointing dives and we’d consider the area a write-off but then the 4th would surface having discovered a real keeper. A “keeper” being a dive we would want to do again…and again. It was fun but exhausting work! Especially considering we only had 3 days out of 25 when it didn’t rain part of the day!

We will be returning to R4 in December to continue the quest. We are scheduled to dive with the following live-aboards who have graciously donated time to complete the project; Archipelago, Arenui (a new live-aboard about to begin operations) Cheng-Ho (Kararu Dive Voyages), the Pindito (owned by the original explorer of R4, Edi Fromenviller) and Seven Seas. We will also be staying with Max Ammer, another R4 pioneer, at one of his two resorts in Northern Raja and hope to do some aerial photography in his new ultra-light aircraft. Plans are to also stay at the new Misool Eco Resort, which opens next month and is located in SE Misool. We’ll get a chance to thank all these fine operators in the book but we’d like to thank them here as well.

You might wonder what we’ll be doing between now and December. In 2 days we board Seven Seas with Howard and Michele Hall to continue work on their newest IMAX film, “Under the Sea 3D”. We worked on the first segment of the project in PNG and are excited to be helping them again on this, the last leg on their filming schedule. We will be at sea for another month. We leave from Bali and head East to the Banda Sea where we hope to get footage of feeding sea snakes at Gunung Api. On our way to the Banda we’ll be stopping for a couple of weeks to film in our old stomping grounds, Komodo National Park. (BTW, Komodo has been protected for 15 years and the diving is better now than when Maurine and I originally began diving there in the early “90s.) The Hall’s movie is due in IMAX theaters in April ’09. We know the team has captured many incredible sequences and the film promises to be their best yet! Don’t miss it.

During November we will be working in the office getting all the back-story information prepared for the Raja book and the first week of December we will fulfill a life-long dream and visit the ruins of Angor Wat in what is presently Cambodia.

We’ll get back with you around Halloween.

Until then…

Best Fishes,
Burt and Maurine

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Raja Soon

Raja Soon

Even though we don’t have much in the way of “news” to report we thought it would be a good idea to let you know what we’ve been doing since our last entry, and before we leave Bali for the next two months.

Mostly we have continued to study the national language, Bahasa Indonesia. It’s relatively easy to learn if you speak the “street” version, but to speak proper, grammatically correct Bahasa the learning curve is quite steep. Basically the language consists of root words that morph into additional words with various meanings by the addition of prefixes and suffixes or a combination of both. A
single root word can be a verb, adjective, noun, or adverb depending on what combination of prefix or suffix is applied. For instance the root “study”, with various additions, becomes “learn” or “teach”, “teacher” or “student”, the “teaching” or “course of study”. Verbs change states, transitive to intransitive, passive to active all with the addition of a letter or two. For our “old” brains it’s been an uphill battle. Even though it’s challenging we are good students happily doing the homework assigned by our guru.

We are about to put what we’ve learned into practice. On August 25 we head to Raja Ampat(R4) to begin a month long private charter to document and discover new
dive sites. Since most of the crew will speak about as much English as we speak Bahasa we’ll need all we’ve learned and a whole lot more. By the time we write again we should be able to function without asking for the toilet when what we really need is a beer.

We are very excited that our “real” job is finally about to begin. Conservation
International has hired us to create a guidebook for R4, which has become “the” hot-spot diving destination within the last few years. More operators are moving into the area and one of our goals is to find new dive sites so that theliveaboards can spread out and also relieve pressure on the most popular sites . Our mission is to find as many new sites as possible during the next month.

We will return to Bali in late September but will only spend three nights here before boarding another boat, the Seven Seas, to assist Howard and Michele Hall with
their new 3DIMAX movie, Under the Sea 3D. It’s the sequel to their award winning Deep Sea 3D. Look for it at IMAX theaters in the late spring of ’09. We worked on the first shoot in PNG and will now work on the last, here in Indonesia. The plan is to head east from Bali. We’ll first stop in Komodo National Park before heading further east through the Alor region and on into the Banda Sea where Howard hopes to capture images of sea snakes. It will be another adventure we are sure.

We return to Bali in late October and at that time we will update the blog. It will be a long time without hearing from us, but rest assured we will have many stories to entertain you when we return.

Best Fishes,
Burt and Maurine

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Jam Kerat-Rubber Time

Yes, we have arrived in Bali and I apologize for taking so long to write this first report from our new home. As the title "Jam Kerat" implies, however, nothing happens fast around here. Mostly that's a good thing. We obviously love living in countries with a "manana" attitude and certainly Indonesia falls into that category.

The island of Bali is Hindu even though it is surrounded by Islamic Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation on the planet. Every Balinese home has a temple, every town has at least three! Offerings are made to various deities at auspicious locations five times a day and there is always a ceremony taking place somewhere. Therefore, when someone tells you something will happen tomorrow or next week, it's only an estimate. More than likely there will be a ceremony the day that the person making the promise forgot to tell you about so your request will have to wait. Likewise the Balinese are hesitant to ever commit themselves. So again everything comes with a "flexibility" clause.

Another endearing quality is that the Balinese seldom, if ever, use the word "BAD". Nothing is really ever bad, things might not be good right now but things always change. Also the Indonesian word for bad,Jelek, means ugly and the Balinese don't like ugly!

I should mention the Indonesian language since we are taking lessons. Bahasa Indonesia or Bahasa is a trade language (a language of convenience) created after WWII when the over 18,000 islands of the archipelago were consolidated into one
nation. As you might have guessed all these islands had various and numerous languages. So in order for everyone to speak or trade with each other a common language was needed. Theoretically Bahasa was created to be a simple language and easy to learn. It has no tenses, plurals are created by just repeating a word, etc. Sounds easy! On the surface "common" Bahasa is indeed simple, but for westerners like us who've only spoken a Latin or Germanic-based languages it gets a bit more complicated. Few Bahasa words have a recognizable root so you have to memorize every single word, which is not so simple, at least not for our "old" brains. Additionally we have quickly learned that in order to be able to read a newspaper or speak formally the language is anything but simple. Most foreigners just learn common Bahasa but we are trying to integrate ourselves into the culture so we want to speak the more "formal" form of Bahasa. Yesterday we learned that most of the verbs have additional prefixes and suffixes, in many cases multiple ones, that enhance their meanings. This gets very, VERY complicated indeed; not so easy!

Now the Balinese have their own languages. Because most of the population living in Bali is Hindu, a class system exits. Each one of the three classes within Balinese society has its own distinct language, not dialect, LANGUAGE! Few foreigners ever attempt Balinese. We won't be going there either!

We have rented a one bedroom "villa" in a very small village just outside the tourist mecca of Ubud. We live in Nyuh Kuning, which is south of and adjacent to Ubud's Monkey Forest. NK is quiet with very few signs of tourism. For us it's ideal. A five
minute walk through the Monkey Forest takes us to the hustle and bustle of Ubud with all its restaurants and shopping opportunities. Five minutes back and it's almost like the "old" Bali, no hawkers and no one asking if you need "transport"!

Initially we thought would look for a house to rent for the next couple of years, but our work means that we travel most of the time and we decided that we didn't want the responsibility of a house and staff. Over here a house needs security, really two "somebodies" one for day and one for night, plus a maid, plus a gardener, plus a pool guy, plus you have to pay bills, etc. It goes on and on. Once we realized that we would have to maintain a small village of people as well as trust them to watch our "stuff" while we are away, we quickly decided to look for something within a
compound. Villa Kerti Yasa , our new home, comes with a pool and the required small village of maintenance personnel.

We rented a motorcycle the first week here to just get around the area. I know I've made Ubud sound like a metropolis, and compared to NK it is, but Ubud itself is small. It only has three main streets, but it's big enough that you do need some form of transport . Motorcycles are the transport of the masses in Bali. They are everywhere all the time. I'm not fond of and have never driven a motorcycle. Maurine, with just cause, is deathly afraid of them. She rides behind me and I have scars on my shoulder from her grabbing me every time she feels threatened, which is, again justifiably, often. We ride down the street in a motorcycle bubble. It seems like they are not only on each side of us, in front and behind, but above and below as well. It's madness and it's scary. Of course by the second week here I was beginning to feel confident. (Beware that feeling, Burt.) I ran into a wall, just scraped it actually. It hardly hurt, but I was wearing shorts and by the time I got back to the villa my leg was a mess. It's healing well, thanks, but I'll have a scar to remind me to beware of that "confident" feeling next time it comes around.

We are very close to signing a contract with Conservation International to produce a dive/travel guide to Raja Ampat. In case you don't know, the Raja Ampat islands, located off the western tip of the island of (Indonesian) New Guinea, are diving's
hottest spot with good reason. They are remote, over 1500 miles from Bali, and the marine life is abundant. So abundant that researchers from CI as well as WWF and TNC believe the area contains the world's highest concentration of marine species. We aren't scientists, but to our well-dived eyes there is no doubt that RA's reefs are the best we've ever seen. We have little doubt we'll ever see better.

Even though remote, these reefs are under numerous threats. Increased tourism is one way that may help preserve them. Our mission is to not only produce a guide but to explore the area and "discover" new sites. Reducing pressure on the premier sites means that the numerous live-aboard dive boats operating in RA can spread out. You might think that overcrowded dive sites would ever be a problem in such a remote area. But consider a place like Cozumel, Sipadan or Thailand. At one point whether it be the 70s, 80s or 90s you probably would have been quite alone at any of these destinations. Go now and you basically have to queue to dive the most popular sites. RA already has 10-15 liveaboards in the region and more are on the way. Don't stress, one of the wonderful things about RA is that it is vast. Even now, seeing another boat is unusual. Still, go sooner rather than later.

We will be in Bali struggling to learn the language until the first of September when we will start diving in RA. Although the weather for diving is best there from October through April, we are going in September. Jam Kerat remember! We can't wait, but will. Once we get ourselves sorted out we'll make a schedule for upcoming Secret Sea Dive trips not only to RA but to many other superb Indonesian dive areas. Plan to join us. Stay tuned for more.

Hugs and Fishes,
Burt and Maurine

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Texas, No mas!

Our intentions were good but unforeseen events conspired and intent turned into so much wishful thinking. Finally I've found the time to make another entry. We've been back in Austin since mid-February and events have not gone exactly according to plan. I'll make a very long story as short as possible.

A week after our arrival my 95 year old mother became seriously ill. She consequently had 3 surgeries during a 2 week period. We thought it was likely the end of her incredible life but we underestimated her strength and will to live. After 5 weeks in the hospital we took her home last weekend. She doing miraculously well and we'd like to thank all our friends for their love and support during this difficult time.

When we last wrote we were about to leave Bali on the way to PNG to work on Howard and Michele Hall's new 3D IMAX movie. After a short stop over in Singapore, where we indulged ourselves dining in what we consider the best food city in the world, we flew into Port Moresby. Our plan was to fly west the next morning to Rabaul on the island of New Britain to meet the Stardancer (live-aboard), the base of operations for the film project. That plan promptly changed! The volcano that all but destroyed Rabaul in the mid-90s was throwing out so much ash the airport had to be closed. Instead we flew into Hoskins and met the ship at its home port, Max Benjamin's Walindi Plantation. We hadn't visited this lovely resort in nearly a decade. Although we didn't dive, the resort was better than ever and all the diving guests raved about their dives.

The IMAX crew all eventually arrived and a couple of days later we headed out for the south coast of New Britain to begin filming. We passed Rabaul on the way around the island and witnessed the volcano's actions. Fortunately one of the sequences Howard wanted to film was an active volcano which he thought he'd have to travel to Hawaii to film. The volcano performed brilliantly so happily and unexpectedly we got the film's first sequence in the can without getting wet. The volcano did, however, rain an incredible amount of ash on to the Stardancer. Within minutes the entire ship was totally blackened by ash, what a mess! Certainly we were glad the airline didn't try to land in those conditions.

We had a marvelous experience working with the Halls and their incredible crew on the movie, tentatively titled, "Under the Sea 3D". It's basically the sequel to their award winning "Deep Sea-3D". The film is about animal behavior and we were there for our critter finding skills. So Maurine and I spent the days, and a few nights, exploring Linden Harbor locating subjects for Howard's camera. That camera and its housing, by the way, weigh 1300 lbs. Although neutrally buoyant in water it is massive and creates plenty of resistance especially if a current is running. The crew often had to use a team of underwater scooters to manoeuvre it to the film site. We learned a great deal about movie making in general and specifically what makes for good 3D imagery. To achieve the 3D effect there needs to be content in the foreground, mid-ground (usually where the primary subject is located) and in the background. Another interesting fact is that the run-time on the film is only 3 minutes. Then the whole thing has to go to the surface for a film change. The turn around process takes about an hour. Getting wild animals to cooperate and "do there thing" in a 3 minute window is an extreme challenge. We spent a lot of time "baby sitting" the subject so that Howard could pick up where he left off filming. Even though this was the first of seven charters, and primarily a shakedown cruise for the camera and crew, Howard managed to film a number of behavioral sequences. The subjects included cuttlefish, "wonderpus" octopus, ghost pipefish, garden eels, frogfish, and a new species of lionfish. All in all a very good beginning. The crew is presently on their second charter filming in Mine Bay. Good luck to them. Look for the film to be released early next year.

While we were still in Indonesia, Mark Erdmann, who is in charge of Conservation International's marine programs for Indonesia, asked us if we'd be willing to work with him on a couple of projects. Specifically Mark wants to produce a dive guide for the Raja Ampat region which is located off the western tip of Indonesian New Guinea Island. One of CI's goals is to properly manage and promote tourism to this region. The job description as Mark explained it is for them to charter us a boat, for us to explore and chart new dive sites, and then produce a guidebook for the area. This is something we have been training to do for our entire career. We couldn't have scripted it better.

So it's "Texas, No mas!" Maurine and I are in the process of moving again. On arriving here in February we took all our household goods out of storage and set up living quarters. Now, at the end of May, we'll be putting it all away and moving to Bali. The plan, which if you know us predictably changes, is to base there for at least a couple of years. We are very excited as we will not only be doing our favorite thing, exploring and then sharing new dive sites, but we'll be learning a new language and living in a new culture. Since we've been traveling to that part of the world for 15 years the move is not unexpected and we are somewhat prepared but it will be a challenge; something that we enthusiastically embrace.

Stay tuned for more!

Best Fishes,
Burt and Maurine

Saturday, January 12, 2008

New Year, New Horizons

We hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are on track for a memorable New Year. We celebrated Christmas and New Year's aboard the Seahorse ( The Seahorse is a traditional "Pinisi"-style vessel built for diving. Most of Indonesia's liveaboards begin their lives as Pinisi schooners, the traditional Dutch-Bugis hybrids that have been used for the last few centuries as inter-island trade vessels. The Seahorse was conceived as a dive vessel and many dive-friendly features were built into the design so it is one of the better Pinisis we have sailed on.

We had excellent diving both in the northern and southern regions of Raja Ampat. We found a few new sites, a couple of which were world-class, and visited some of our favorites. Maurine hadn't really gotten to know the Fiabacet to Boo area of SE Missol that well, so she was very excited to be able to spend a few days in the area. That one stretch of reef is truly extraordinary, actually worthy of its own book. I could go on and on about the details of the place but words will never do it justice. Come diving with us and see it for yourself.

Currently the only way to visit the region is on a liveaboard, but soon all you who prefer land-based will have a way to see these reefs. Missol Eco-Resort is about 8-12 months away from being a reality. (They have a website but I'm not sure what it is, just google the resort by name and you'll find it.) The owners are doing an incredible job. They've done their homework with the locals and are building the resort out of driftwood they scavenge from the beaches. The facility is lovely, and the location is drop-dead gorgeous! The bungalows are on stilts over the bay, so every room not only has a view but a hammock over open water. A research center is under construction for scientists to study the region's fauna and a local "village" is being built to house the workers. This resort will be state-of-the art and an "eco-resort" in the truest sense of the word. Their biggest challenge will be accessibility, but then the best places are often the most remote. We wish them the best and will be monitoring their progress over the coming months.

After our tour of Raja we returned to Bali for a few days and then flew west, to Singapore, in order to arrive in PNG, only a few hundred miles east of where we had been for the last month. It is truly a case of "you can't get there from here" as it is impossible to fly from Papua, the Indo province, to Papua New Guinea. We are now on New Britain Island (PNG) at Walindi Resort (more lovely than we remembered) waiting on the tons of gear to arrive that are required for our next adventure: advising Howard and Michele Hall on their latest film project, the sequel to their acclaimed "Deep Sea 3D" IMAX film. Before you get the wrong idea rest assured that Maurine and I haven't given up the still cameras, we are here for our "critter-wrangling" abilities. We are looking for content; Howard and crew will do the filming.

We are very excited about the region where we are slated to film. Alan Raabe, owner of Febrina and Star Dancer, has visited the south coast of New Britain over the years but the area we are going has never been on either ship's normal itinerary. From what Alan says, however, we might be in for a real treat. We have to steam half-way round New Britian to get to the site which is only 30 miles as the crow, or should I say the bird-of paradise, flies from Walindi. We will be diving off black sand beaches with cool water upwellings, freshwater inlets and an occasional village thrown in for additional organic input to complete the mix. It sounds like lot like Lembeh! They've seen frogfish, rhinopias and odd octopi on previous trips so we are primed for exploring what we hope will be the newest hot-spot.

Stay tuned for the report. You'll likely have to wait until we are back in the states, however, since we won't have internet access until the trip is over. That will be in February. Stay tuned...

Happy New Year,

Burt and Maurine