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|Newsletter February 2012|
Howard Hall Trip Report: Raja Ampat, January 9 - February 7
In 2008 Michele and I spent 5 weeks aboard Seven Sea capturing 70mm film sequences for our IMAX film, Under the Sea 3D. This expedition was confined largely to the Komodo National Park with a short sojourn into the Banda Sea. The trip was wonderful and provided climactic scenes for our film. Since then we have longed to return to Indonesia to explore the famed Raja Ampat Islands and to visit our friends aboard Seven Seas.
As I write this, we are returning to Sorong at the end of our four-week Seven Seas expedition into the wilderness maze of islands and islets that is Raja Ampat. The trip was wonderful. I was prepared for spectacular diving and I was not disappointed. Our trip leader, Stewart Esposito, led us to one amazing dive site after another. What I was not prepared for was the verdant beauty of the islands themselves. The islands of Raja might be compared to the iconic images of Palau with its myriad mushroom-shaped islets. Raja is like that but on a far more expansive scale. Underwater, Raja is drop-dead gorgeous. Above water Raja is almost unbelievable.
During our trip, diving conditions varied almost as much as surface conditions. Most of our diving was under sunny skies. Some of it was beneath dark rain clouds. Because Raja is a maze of island and islets, the waters are very protected from wind and swell. Seven Seas sat rock steady during our entire trip almost as if she were in dry dock. Underwater visibility was occasionally murky. But though Raja Ampat is not known for crystal-clear water, we had many days when visibility was excellent. On days when the water was murky, I concentrated on shooting macro subjects with my RED One camera. In Aljui Bay, Stew and Tommy pointed out five different species of pygmy seahorses while I had my camera set up with the macro lens and a solid tripod. These critters can be frustratingly small, but some are large enough to be good subjects for my camera system. Michele, Douglas Seifert, and several other members of our group captured amazing still images of pygmies. Near South Batanta Island at a site called Algae Patch #2, we indulged our macro lenses until our cameras all but melted (actually parts of my RED camera did melt!). We saw cuttlefish, blue-ring octopus, and countless other camouflaged denizens.
When the water was clear I concentrated on seascapes that featured a dazzling variety of soft corals and colorful sea fans. These images were made more interesting by the variety of reef fish that swam into the frames. On the reefs near Misool Island, I captured some of the most beautiful reefscapes in my library. The soft corals almost seemed to fluoresce with color. At a site called Nudi Rock, the soft corals were absolutely kaleidoscopic.
In the Dampier Strait, Michele celebrated her 2,500th dive. And soon afterward we dropped down on a spectacular school of lined-sweetlips at a site called Otdima. Here the sweetlips were clustered in a school so dense you could not see water between them. We made several dives here photographing this school. Then later, at a site called My Reef in Aljui Bay we found a school that was even more photogenic. These schools of sweetlips are here all the time and photographing them could not be easier. But we did simply get lucky with some subjects. At the Andiamo Islets near Daram we found spectacular sea fans and soft corals set against the background of a dense thundercloud of small fish. The dashing schools with the colorful fans and corals made for some of the most beautiful images I have ever captured.
But the climax of the trip must be the mantas. We saw manta rays at several sites. At Manta Ridge and Manta Sandy near Gam Island, we watched as a dozen mantas cycled through cleaning stations. The rays repeatedly passed within touching distance allowing us to film as butterflyfish and wrasses cleaned parasites from giant open maws.
Then on our last day of the expedition we went to a site called Blue Magic. This was another cleaning station where a dozen manta rays predictably passed over colorful coral bommies. But the mantas at Blue Magic were gigantic. Many were fifteen feet across. It was a majestic end to a memorable Seven Seas expedition.
This movie discusses "Shifting Baselines" with Diving Hall Of Fame guests on the Seven Seas, during a cruise in Komodo. A young diver sees the reefs for the first time and is blown away by them. The Golden Oldies in the dive group reflect on how the young diver does not realize how much better it all once was, and how the natural World has degraded without us REALLY noticing since it happens over time spans that are at least as long as a full diving career. One of the main characters in this movie is Ron Taylor. Unfortunately Ron has not been well recently and is very sick at the moment.
The movie shows how Ron with some of the most famous "Diving Hall Of Fame" friends visiting a marine national park in indonesia in 2009. Guests included Bob and Dinah Halstead, Stan and Suzie Waterman, Wendy Benchly, Annie Doubilet and others, including some of the younger generation professionals such as Douglas Seifert and George Waterman. And then there is one young and inexperienced diver, who inspires the discussion on the "shifting baselines".
This May 2009 expedition may have been the last time that this incredible group of underwater film makers, photographers and passionate ocean activists all went on a dive trip together, and discussed issues of marine conservation. These people, and especially Ron, have seen with their own eyes how the World's reefs have been destroyed, oceans are being polluted, and shark and fish populations have gone down, since they started their pioneer dives and photography. Ron throughout his career has worked enormously hard to show the world the beauty of the underwater world, the interesting behaviors and individual personalities of reef fish and other marine wildlife.
Shifting Baselines - Video (18:08)
In this movie we see a different part of Ron, not the cameraman, but the observer of the "shifting baselines". Here he sits in front of the camera, next to his beautiful Valerie, with her gorgeously pink wetsuit and blond pony tail, whom he followed with his lens for 50 years. Valerie has always spoken so clearly about her great concern for the ocean and its marine life. Now it is Ron, who in his typical quiet way, tells us how he is worried that people today cannot experience anymore what has been there before. How we may think all is pretty and peaceful down there, when we jump in the water today, but how he has seen it all change so drastically. How our baseline today has shifted and reflects only little of what a healthy reef ecosystem is supposed to look like. This is a real concern, and we all need to be aware of what is happening in front of our eyes. The youngest generation of divers may be fooled to think that what they see is pristine, whereas in fact it is only a fraction of what it should be.
Ron was never the outspoken one in his partnership with Valerie, he was always behind the camera focusing his lens on all the underwater beauty and mystery. His work shows his love for the ocean and respect for everything in it. But with this film he also shares with us the important message that we should not forget what it really once was and therewith he makes it very clear to all of us how much work there is to be done to get it back - if we still can. The only alternative will otherwise be to watch stock footage of the people who were there in time to record it.
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Having it all online will make it so much easier to share with your friends.
Cabin available on Banda Charter
Long term Seven Seas friend David Forbes just informed us that a cabin has become available on his private charter to the Banda Islands April 12-24. This cruise will start and end in Ambon. Send us an email if you are interested and we'll put you in touch.
Last Minute Discount Offer March RAJA AMPAT
Several cabins are available with last minute discount March 2-16 and March 18-27!!
The Seven Seas - Grahalia Tiying Gading 18, Suite 1 - Jl Tukad Pancoran
Panjer Denpasar 80225 - Bali - Indonesia