Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Twice the Fun

We just returned from two very pleasurable Secret Sea Visions trips; through the Banda Sea to Raja Ampat and then a pure Raja Ampat departure.

Our first group was with friends, part of the old Diving Docs group. The trip began in Ambon where we spent the first day diving Indonesia’s first “critter haven”, the Twilight Zone in Laha Bay. In 1995, while on a trip with Larry Smith, we “discovered” Laha’s amazing, bizarre critter life, but we haven’t dived there recently. On Steve’s, the Diving Doc’s founder, first dive he and his wife Linda literally landed on top of a pair of harlequin shrimp eating a seastar. These animals are rare, but the group saw 5 during our first day of diving. Frogfish were abundant and Phil got a great shot of one yawning. The group saw many pairs of mating pygmy cuttlefish, seahorses, yellow ribbon eels (the rare phase), and countless other oddities. What a way to start!

We spent the next few days zigzagging across the Banda Sea. One of the highlights was our visit to the Banda, or Spice Islands, the fabled islands Columbus was searching for when the Americas got in his way. Everyone’s favorite dive site was Run Island. Never heard of it? Likely not, but this island was part of a trade between the Dutch and the British in 1667. If the British had not traded Run for a similar size island in the Americas, called New Amsterdam (Manhattan) we’d all be speaking Dutch!

Our last stop in the Banda Sea was at Koon Island, at a site Larry Smith named “Too Many Fish”. Even though two decades have passed since Larry named this site, the fish life is still off the scale. The fish biomass was so thick that at times it blocked out the sunlight.

An overnight steam brought us to SE Misool in Raja Ampat, where we spent the rest of the trip. The Docs had been to Raja before, but they all agreed they had never seen Raja like this. One reason may be that we took them to our new favorite sites, many of which we discovered only recently. The Daram and Balbulol sites are not only as pretty as many of the more popular sites, but they have the distinct advantage of being off the well-trodden path of most liveaboards.

On our second charter was comprised mainly of prior clients who had also all been to Raja. The only exception being the Johnston bothers, Jeff and John, plus John’s wife, Pam. Even though they are all very experienced divers, this was their first trip to Indonesia and with us. Did they ever get their eyes opened! They were totally blown away.

The group’s interests were diverse. Jeff and John are keen photographers and very easy keepers. The only question they ever asked was “What lens for the next dive?” Pam, who has a hi-stress job, was on holiday. Although she made most of the dives, she was very into relaxing and taking advantage of Damai’s many amenities. Sally, from NYC, and Judithe, from Paris, France have both worked for environmental organizations and are very knowledgeable and avid divers. Judithe too, is an aspiring photographer. Mickey and Ellen are adopted Texans and very well traveled divers. They’ve been everywhere, numerous times. Mickey is interested in nudibranchs, and Ellen has a passion for Butterfly and Angelfish. Brian, a very distinguished British chap, was up for anything.

They all came with high expectations that were met and surpassed. Since many of the guests were interested in photography, we presented our lecture series, Revealing the Art in the Animal, How to Stop Taking Pictures and Start Creating Images. This multi-part series is designed to help any level photographer improve their image making. Jeff and John, both accomplished photographers, were amazed at their improvement. Judithe, although just getting started, made huge progress as well. Everyone, even the non-photographers enjoyed the shows. Mickey found 7 new (to him) nudibranchs and Ellen recorded more species of butterflyfish than she’d ever counted on a prior trip. Pam unwound and left the boat a very happy camper. Sally enjoyed “the best trip of her life”. And Brian, well, Brian got exactly what he was looking for…a little bit of everything.

Our vessel, the Damai 1, even though it is the same basic size as most of the boats operating in Indonesia, is built for luxury and only holds 8 pampered guests. Damai puts 4 dive guides in the water on virtually every dive. Quickly do the math and you’ll realize that means every buddy team has a guide. Talk about experiencing the reef. Everyone sees everything. It is amazing.

Maurine and I were very happy as well. Not only did we get some new images for the new book, but we also found an excellent new night dive site. The most gratifying thing we received, however, was thanks from our guests for “their best trip ever”. What more can we possibly wish for?

Join us on a Secret Sea Vision charter soon and let us take you on your "best trip ever"!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cenderawasih Bay & Whale Sharks

We just returned from our initial survey of Cenderawasih Bay and we know that many of you are very interested in what we found. Most of our diving, other than on Manokwari’s excellent WWII wrecks, was within Cenderawasih Bay National Park, Indonesia’s largest. This park is huge, half again larger than Raja Ampat; our 16-day survey barely scratched the “surface” of this underwater wilderness.

Cenderawasih, along with Raja Ampat and Triton Bay, makes up the Bird’s Head Seascape. Its reefs look nothing like Raja’s colorful, fish-filled reefs, nor are they similar to Triton Bay’s soft coral wonderland. Pristine and vast, the bay’s reef tops comprise some of healthiest hard coral gardens we have ever seen. Dramatic vertical walls with prolific sponge life abound on the outlying atolls. We found schooling fish along the reef points and ridges.

Cenderawasih also has a few unique features in Indonesia’s pantheon of rich reefs. The bay was geologically isolated until recently, and if you look at a map you’ll see that it is still somewhat confined. This means that less current moves through Cenderawasih’s waters, and therefore there’s less recruitment of marine larvae than in a place like Raja. This isolation has blessed Cenderawasih with a number of very colorful endemic species. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that many normally deep-dwelling fish species are found here in relatively shallow water. This topsy-turvy reefscape, along with the presence of the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, prompted Dr. Gerald Allen to call Cenderawasih “ the Galapagos of Indonesia’s Reefs”.

Our team included Drs. Mark Erdmann and Gerald Allen who were documenting fish and collecting new species. Mark is head of the Bird’s Head Marine Programs for Conservation International (http://www.conservation.org/). Gerry is the world’s leading tropical marine ichthyologist and the author of numerous popular books on reef fish identification. Also onboard were Titus, a national park ranger with a very enlightened attitude and invaluable local knowledge; Ruland, a UNIPA (University of Papua) graduate assisted Dr. Crissy Huffard, a cephalopod expert and Conservation International staff member, with a mollusk (tridacna clam) genetic study project spearheaded by the non-diving member of our team, Pak Hamed, a UNIPA professor. Maurine and I surveyed the reefs in order to suggest itineraries for liveaboards visiting the area in the future. The detailed results of our survey will be included in the new Bird’s Head Seascape dive guide to be published late next year. Grand Komodo’s excellent crew onboard the Temukira, especially Weka, their dive master extraordinaire, contributed to the success of our trip (http://www.komodoalordive.com/).

Most of the dives Maurine and I completed were short in terms of time, but long in terms of distance covered. We surveyed the reefs on scooters in order to locate potential sweet spots; ten minutes of scootering equals about an hour’s swim for most divers. We dived a few times without scooters to look for potential critter sites, and we did find a nice variety, including, seahorses (not just pygmies!) frogfish, unusual nudibranchs, several ornate ghost pipefish, a number of interesting cephalopods, and tiger shrimp. Mark and Gerry discovered at least 5 new species of fish, including a new dottyback and garden eel. They also increased the species count of Cenderawasih from 884 species to 955. The Bird’s Head fish species count is at 1596 at the moment!

The absolute highlight of our survey was our whale shark experience. The bay’s resident whale sharks have learned that the bagans, floating fishing platforms, throw their dead fish overboard. This is a bonanza of protein enrichment for the normally plankton-eating sharks. The bagan fishermen encourage whale shark visits because the enormous fish are considered good luck. We felt like the lucky ones! The sharks seemed interested only in their free breakfast (all of the action takes place at dawn), and ignore snorkelers and divers. We spent several magical hours with these magnificent creatures and were able to photograph them in quite decent viz. Clear water, unusual fish behavior and cooperative mega-fauna…Gerry might be right. Cenderawasih may well be “the Galapagos of Indonesia’s Reefs”

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cendrawasih, here we come!

Dear Divers,

We just returned from a great trip to Komodo. The park was fab as always. Damai (www.dive-damai.com) is a wonderful home base and their excellent service and numerous divemasters made this a special trip.

We began in Bima on the island of Sumbawa. Just outside the harbor, in the mouth of Bima Bay, we dived a couple of outstanding critter sites. The usual suspects, including bizarre scorpionfish, ghost pipefish, pygmy cuttlefish, a couple of mimic octopus, myriad nudis, and numerous fire urchins were seen and photographed. The fire urchins were enormous, about the size of a basketball cut in half. It seemed like each one was more beautiful than the next and almost everyone had some variety of commensal. Zebra crabs, almost big enough to eat, were the most prevalent and many of them were carrying eggs. Surprisingly quite a few urchins had squat lobsters, and Maurine found one with a crab we’ve never seen before. The Bima sites are excellent critter hunts.

Most of the divers with us on this trip, however, were new to the South Pacific and were expecting excellent viz and great reefs. At Sangean they saw the reefs they had anticipated. The next stop was Banta where we dived a couple of new (to us) sites on Banta’s west side. The most spectacular feature is a lovely, extensive hard coral garden with the most anthias we have ever encountered. Fish completely filled the water column. Additionally, we found a terminal phase “yellow” blue ribbon eel, and Ariel Cohn saw the trip’s first manta! On an outstanding night dive at “Small World” everyone saw their first stargazer.

The next day we finally made it to the park proper. We spent our first day in a bay (Batu Monco) on the NW corner of Komodo and everyone really enjoyed the clear water and easy drifts along the wall and bommie-covered slopes. The following morning we anchored off Gili Lawat Laut where, for the next two days, we dived some of the fishiest sites in Komodo, if not in all of Indonesia. “Crystal Bommie”, which we still call “Easy to Find Rock”, and “Castle Rock”, known to us old-timers as “Hard to Find Rock” were phenomenal. Huge schools of fish and the giant trevallies feeding on them; quite a few sharks, mostly whitetips, cruised the bommie; and a two-meter-long grey reef shark with several blue runners in attendance passed by me a few times. Never close enough for a good photo, of course. The “Fish Bowl” was magical, as always. Zillions of fish and lovely glassfish-covered bommies are the features of this site, along with the mantas that are usually seen at the end of the dive (we did). A nice surprise was a male jawfish with its mouth full of eggs. By this time, Gladys Howard, owner of Pirates Point Resort on Little Cayman Island (www.piratespointresort.com) was duly impressed. Her only disappointment of the entire trip was not getting to dive with her “son”, the late Larry Smith.

Since the SE trades were still blowing to beat the band, we spent the rest of our time in the park diving the better sites in the north like the two “Tatawas”, Batu Bolong, and Pantai Mera (Pink Beach). On the next to last day, however, we got a radio call from Mark Heighs, the cruise director and co-owner of Seven Seas (www.thesevenseas.net). Mark was in South Komodo. He said the winds had calmed and the mantas were abundant, so we sailed down there for our last full diving day. The mantas were indeed there, and on the second dive of the morning a cold (69 degree), clear (100 foot+) current bathed the cleaning station. The resulting photos are the best we’ve ever taken of mantas in the park. It was a wonderful way to end the diving portion of our trip.

The next day we went to Loh Buaya on Rinca Island for a walk to see Komodo dragons. We saw over a dozen dragons, including recently nested females guarding the next generation. All of our guests greatly enjoyed the walk, and it was an excellent way to end the cruise.

As I mentioned earlier, and in our last blog, our next stop is Cendrawasih Bay. We will be surveying Cendrawasih so that it can be included in the next edition of our Raja Ampat guidebook. This book will be expanded to include two destinations in addition to Raja. I imagine the new title will be something like Diving Indonesia’s Birds Head Seascape. We hope to see nesting Leatherback turtles, WWII wrecks, pristine reefs, and oh yes; the resident population of whale sharks. Yes, you are reading “resident”; this population of whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, appears to be permanently located in southern Cendrawasih Bay. Read about the initial results of this survey in our next blog (late September) and a full report in the new book, which should be published in the fall of 2011.

Until September,

Burt and Maurine

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Time Slipping Away

Hello fellow divers,

I had hoped to give you a rundown on everything we have been doing since the last blog, but we, and Secret Sea, have been so busy; the time just keeps slipping away. Plus we just spent a fun week with our house guests, Kerri Bingham and Hergen Spalink, managers of Lembeh Divers, www.lembehresort.com. Check out Kerri and Herg’s personal website, www.gotmuck.com. While here Herg helped me set up a Facebook page. Thanks, Herg! Actually, I’m not sure I should be thanking him. Our internet connection is so slow that it takes almost 10 minutes for me to accept someone as a friend.

Tomorrow, we are off to Komodo for a Secret Sea charter. We’ll be on one of our favorite boats, Damai, www.dive-damai.com, for an 11 night itinerary. We are very excited about this trip. One of our guests is Gladys Howard, owner of Pirate’s Point resort on Little Cayman Island, www.piratespointresort.com. Gladys has been a friend for years, but she was our dear departed friend Larry Smith’s “second mother”. Larry found the resort for Gladys 1986 and worked there for a number of years before coming to Indonesia. Sadly, Gladys never dived in Indonesia with Larry. We feel honored she has chosen us to show her around one of Larry’s favorite places, Komodo National Park. After our trip she is off to visit another place Larry made famous, the Lembeh Straits.

We return to Bali on August 27 and, 10 days later, we'll fly to Sorong. We will be heading to Cendrawashi Bay (CB). CB is on the backside of the Bird’s Head peninsula of Papua. CB, along with Triton Bay and Raja Ampat, comprise the area known as the Bird’s Head Seascape (BHS). Some of you have probably visited Triton Bay, and more of you have been to Raja Ampat; but few of you, including us, have ever been to CB. This trip is actually a survey, and part of our job as consultants for Conservation International, www.conservation.org. The results of this survey, along with information from Triton Bay, will be included in the revised edition of our guidebook, Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat. The new guidebook, will encompass the entire BHS, and it should be in print late next year or early 2012.

Another purpose of this survey is to create a new itinerary for liveaboards. CB has great promise, including WWII wrecks, resident populations of whale sharks and dugongs, vibrant pristine reefs, and some of the best topside scenery in all of Indonesia. We have reports of endless white sand beaches and, located just west of CB, are largest leatherback turtle nesting beaches in the South Pacific. Sounds like a place I want to dive! Look for a full report on our return.

Until then...Best Fishes,

Burt and Maurine

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Raja Reloaded

We are back in Bali after 6 fabulous weeks in Raja. Maurine and I left Bali in mid-February and I returned at the beginning of April. This was not a typical trip for us.

We spent our first 2 weeks aboard one of our favorite liveaboards, “Seven Seas” (www.thesevenseas.net). We were to be on board assisting a private client, OPS, the Oceanic Preservation Society (www.opsociety.org). They were returning to Raja to continue work on a photo project they started a couple of years ago. BTW, OPS is the group that produced The Cove, an excellent documentary about dolphin slaughter in Japan. Three days before the charter was scheduled to depart The Cove was nominated for an Academy Award. The movie went on to win for Best Documentary. We just saw The Cove and it is an engaging, real adventure. For those of you who haven’t yet seen it, don’t fear that it is too bloody or depressing. The movie is very James Bond-ish. Most of it deals with the back-story regarding the issues surrounding the crew’s incredible ordeal to film scenes of an event that the Japanese government was attempting to cover up. The actual footage of the slaughter, although graphically disturbing, only comprises a few minutes of the overall film.

After the film was nominated, director and producers decided they had to stay in the US to promote it during the run up to the Oscar voting. Since the director and a couple of the producers are the principals of OPS, they had to cancel their charter on “Seven Seas”. Everyone was totally bummed out, but at least they received an Academy Award as a consolation.

The boat was paid for, stocked and ready to go. Our non-refundable tickets were issued so the show “went on”. Actually it turned out to be both a fun and a working trip. Seven Seas owners decided to hop on board and brought a couple of Balinese expat friends. We called a good friend in Australia, the infamous, marine life photographer Roger Steene. Roger had to jump through hoops, but two days later he managed to show up in Sorong with the rest of the group. We hadn’t seen Roger in a couple of years so it was a real treat. (BTW, for those of you who have had the pleasure to meet but, like us, haven’t seen Roger in a while; he’s still as crusty as ever!) So off we went exploring. What a wonderful scenario, an excellent boat at our disposal and no real agenda.

We turned the trip into a working holiday, however. We spent the first few days in the Dampier Strait photographing around the new capitol city of Waisai, on a project for our “real job” at Conservation International (CI). We are producing an educational program that will be used aboard the Kalabia, the floating schoolroom sponsored by CI and TNC (see our recently released dive guide Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat, for more about the Kalabia.) It was so helpful to have Seven Seas as our base. In only a couple of days we were able to document a number of topics that would have taken us a week or more otherwise. FYI, even though Raja is remote and the epicenter of marine biodiversity, there is still much to be done to protect and preserve this fragile region.

After a few days of photographing issues related to the dark side of Raja, like uncontrolled erosion due to the construction of roads and the dredging of the new port facilities, rampant growth issues, etc., we were off to one of our favorite areas, southeast Misool. We have been exploring a remote area in the extreme eastern section off Misool around a group of islands called Daram. A few stellar sites in this area (Andiamo and The Candy Store) are included in our book, but our goal is to create a multiple day itinerary in the area. We found two more incredible sites, so now the boats can spend at least an entire day diving Daram with their guests.

BTW, Roger had never visited the Blue Water Mangroves, off northwest Misool, so we visited that area toward the end of the trip. Some of you may recall that there was a croc attack on a diver there last year. Many of the liveaboards have now chosen to take the BWM off their itinerary. We were a bit apprehensive, but we spent an entire day diving there without incident. The BWM were beautiful as ever. We are NOT necessarily recommending that boats return to this region. Just reporting that we spent a day there without incident. Putting the BWM on a route is up to the specific operator, crew and the guests.

After dropping off our guests in Sorong, we were transported to Raja’s newest land-based resort, Raja Ampat Dive Lodge (RADL). This lovely, little resort is owned by our oldest Indonesian friends, Reno and Nyoman Kirtya, of Grand Komodo Tours. GKT runs a fleet of liveaboards throughout the archipelago, but this is their first land-based operation. RADL is located on Mansuar Island, very near the manta aggregation sites in the Dampier Strait. The lodge is simple, but the rooms are large with air conditioning and private baths. The food is plentiful and good, mostly Indonesian. The diving is superb and RADL is conveniently located with access to many of our favorite sites in north central Raja (see www.komodoalordive.com for more about GKT and RADL).

The resort is new and for most of our two-week stay we were the only guests. That meant we were able to do one of our favorite things: GO EXPLORING! We found three outstanding new spots with big fish like mackerel, dog-tooth tuna, and Giant Trevally (GTs). Two of the sites had large schools of big eye trevally and barracuda. One of these sites also had a large school of a smallish (12-15in.) tuna and, to top it off, a manta cleaning station. We were in heaven, and dived each site numerous times.

We are so lucky to have found a place like Raja where more and more sites just keep popping up. We know that many of you have already visited Raja. What you should know is that if you chose to return and dive there with us you will dive numerous new sites!

After RADL, Maurine had to return to Bali to deal with the “fun” part of our job, the office work. I, however, got to stay on for another 2 weeks, again aboard Seven Seas. This time around I was guest cruise director for another private client’s charter. Werner and Myra Kurn, owners of Ocean Enterprises (www.oceanenterprises.com) in San Diego had chartered Seven Seas for their first Indonesian liveaboard experience. It was great diving with them and their clients. Werner is such a hoot; everyone had a great time. Of course, we showed them some of the new sites, but since they had never visited Raja every site was their “the best site ever”! Raja IS that special.

We will both be in Bali for the next 6 weeks, and we’re busy finishing the educational program for CI, and processing and editing all the digital image files we took in Raja, nearly 10.000 new images. Fortunately all our scheduled 2010 trips are full, so we are working on charters for late 2011 and 2012. Check out the travel section of this site soon.

Thanks for checking in with us and reading the blog. Don’t miss Maurine’s ongoing blog for Undercurrent (www.undercurrent.org). Apparently she chooses her subjects well because she is the highest rated blogger.

We are returning to the US for a short visit in late May and early June. Then we’ll be back in Indonesia on a new contract with CI for at least another year. Please stay in touch with us through this blog or by emailing.

Best Fishes,

Burt and Maurine

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Life is Too Short

I guess I’m going to have to face the fact that life is just too short to blog as often as I promised. Again, it’s been a few months since our last posting, and I know I vowed to do better, but time just seems to slip away. When we started diving and photographing PCs were not a personal possession/obsession, cameras used a product referred to as film, the internet hadn’t been invented, and I assure you nobody had even thought about blogging! Now it seems everyone is Twittering or Face Painting or whatever it is that cyber-people seem to have endless time for these days. It’s becoming obvious that we aren’t natural born bloggers! We got into this business to be outside, to actively participate with Nature. What can I say? Life is short, eat desert first!

Let’s see where were we…last September, at Lembeh Resort (www.lembehresort.com), we co-hosted, along with Fred Dion, a group of divers and friends. Many of you know Fred, former owner of Underwater Photo-Tech and presently a partner at Backscatter, (www.backscatter.com). Fred is an old friend and one of the dive industry’s good guys. Believe it or not, Fred had never been to Lembeh. We finally convinced him to come, but he was worried that many of his guests were concerned about a whole week of nothing but critter diving. Fred loved it, and more importantly his guests did too. Now he plans to make a trip to Lembeh an annual affair.

Lembeh Resort is lovely, has one of the best camera rooms on the planet, the divesites are only minutes away, and the new dive-ops managers, our good friends Kerri and Hergen, are the best. And, oh yes…the dive guides. Most of them have over 10,000 dives each in the Strait. They spot tiny cryptic animals from meters away and are very adept at helping photographers get “the shot”. In our opinion, Lembeh is one of the few destinations where a diver is better off land-based.

Of course the real stars at Lembeh are the critters. We had them in spades! If memory serves we saw 5 Rhinopias scorpionfish, one was a juvenile barely an inch long; countless frogfish and nudibranchs; at least 4 sightings of Blue-ringed octopus; plus a virtual cornucopia of other various sundry critters for which Lembeh is famous.

All the guests really enjoyed our photo seminar, Revealing the Art in the Animal: How to Stop Taking Pictures and Start Creating Images. We approach photography and structure our course, in a non-traditional manner. We learned by trial and error and have distilled our workflow into a course that is very user friendly. Virtually every guest said they learned something valuable from our lectures. (They weren’t just trying to make us feel good because we could see how much their photography improved!)

After the group left, Maurine and I did a short exploratory trip a couple of hours down the Sulawesi coast to Buyat Bay. Danny Charlton, who owns the dive operation at Lembeh Resort, is pioneering this new dive region. We had lousy conditions due to unseasonably high winds and were not able to dive all the sites, but the area is very promising. The hard coral gardens are some of the healthiest and most extensive we’ve ever seen. The critter sites were inaccessible, but that is not such a bad thing since now we get to go back!

After Buyat we returned to Bali and formally launched the book we produced for Conservation International (CI), “Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat” (“DIRA”) at the prestigious Ubud Reader’s and Writer’s Festival. Although “DIRA” is only a guidebook, we had a large, appreciative audience who were WOW-ed by the show. If you want to know more about the book check out Alex Mustard’s review on Wetpixel’s forum (http://wetpixel.com/i.php/full/book-review-diving-indonesias-raja-ampat/). To know more about Raja Ampat, visit CI’s web page (www.conservation.org) or their dedicated Raja Ampat webpage, (www.diverajaampat.org).

In late October we returned to the states for a visit (our first in a year and a half) and to officially launch “DIRA” at the dive industry’s annual trade show DEMA. Although our trip was a whirlwind of activity and travel, it was wonderful to see everyone. We started the trip by celebrating my mother’s 97th birthday. (She still lives alone at her home in Texas!) We then visited Maurine’s sister in Connecticut, attended DEMA in Florida, and returned to Texas to log some quality time with friends and family. On our way back to Indonesia we spent a well-deserved quiet week of R&R with our second family in California. We celebrated Thanksgiving there--Dungeness crab, wild salmon, and a plethora of outstanding regional wines-- before catching the flight to Bali.

It is hard to believe we’ve been back in Indonesia for almost two months. We spent our third Christmas and New Year in a row at sea off the west coast of Papua. This, however, was not just another trip to Raja; we spent most of our time further south along the coast, in Triton Bay. The diving was superb from our spacious comfortable home, the liveaboard Damai (www.dive-damai.com). And since we were the only boat in the area, we had the place all to ourselves. The only negative was on the second trip when we had reduced visibility due to an abundance of rain. So, we spent a lot of dives looking for critters. And did we ever find them! We found two new spots where we encountered multiple Wonderpus octopus. This was a real bonus since we were initially looking for flasher wrasse. (We found the wrasse, too.) I have been to Triton on 6 trips and had never photographed a frogfish. This time we saw 4 different species! And the seapens, a variety of soft coral that look like feathers sticking up out of soft bottoms, were hosting an unprecedented variety of marine invertebrates, from allied cowries to Tozeuma shrimp. Both groups of divers never wanted to leave and are already planning their return.

The last trip ended in Sorong, Raja Ampat’s gateway, so we did do a little Raja diving at the end of the second trip. Mainly, we spent time at some of the new sites we had discovered during the making of “DIRA”. The Daram islands continue to amaze. They offer some of the loveliest dive sites in all of Raja. Daram’s sites are located beyond the “standard” itineraries of most Raja liveaboards so, again, we had the place to ourselves. Many of our divers had visited Raja before, but none had dived Daram or the adjacent area we call Northern Lights. Everyone agreed that these two regions are as good as, or better, than anywhere they had previously dived.

We’ll be in Bali for nearly a month. We’ve got heaps of images to edit, and a gardening project to complete before preparing for our next trip. We’ll be assisting the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) film crew (www.opsociety.org) who have charted Seven Seas for a Raja Ampat trip. They are riding the wave of their award winning documentary, The Cove, (www.thecovemovie.com). If you haven’t seen this movie yet, do so, and tell your friends to see it. It’s important.

Thanks to many of you, all of our 2010 Secret Sea Visions (www.secretseavisions.com) trips have sold out. Some of you have asked us to secure additional charters. Despite the world’s economic woes, surprisingly all of our preferred liveaboards are completely booked out for 2010. However, due to a cancellation we did manage to book space for early 2011 on one of our favorites, The 7 Seas (www.thesevenseas.net). Dates for this trip are April 2-13, 2011. We have planned a special itinerary that combines the best of the Banda Sea with our personal favorite sites in Raja. Don’t miss this trip. It’s one of a kind and spaces are filling fast! Visit the website for details.

Sampai jumpa lagi (until next time),
Burt and Maurine