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