The PLAN B engines rumble to a halt as we arrive at our first dive site. We are on the equator under the hot Indonesian sun, surrounded by lush green mountains. PLAN B’s hydraulic crane strains to lift the 5 ton skiff over the side and gently into the sea. The water is blue, turquoise, warm and clear.
Brian Skerry, Mark Erdman, Alan Dynner and I load the skiff with SCUBA tanks, dive gear, underwater scooters, cameras, sampling equipment and, after a short run from the PLAN B mother ship, are soon rolling over the side into the magical underwater world of Raja Ampat.
These are among the most spectacular reefs in the world, containing within them the worlds highest shallow water biodiversity in terms of number of fish species, coral and other invertebrates. I am in total awe as a wall of trevally shimmers past me, yellow and purple crinoids wave in the current and adorn the reef below. I see a few blacktip sharks, but not as many as I would like, off the edge of the reef into the blue open water. A turtle noses by as if curious and swims alongside Alan Dynner for a minute or two.
After several days in the Bird’s Head seascape, it seems like the scenes of coral reefs and deep sea life will never end. A myriad of coral animals dazzle our eyes on each SCUBA dive down as deep as about 100 feet. Dr. Mark Erdmann, the CI Bird’s Head Seascape regional coordinator and ocean expert for this region, collects new-to-science fish species and takes us on a tour de force of marine life.
Brian, one of the world’s greatest underwater photographers and journalist, fires his cameras and strobes as he makes a series of pictures that will illustrate a National Geographic article he and I are doing. At the same time, the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV-an underwater robot) is diving down up to 900 feet seeing deep-oceanscapes that have never been viewed or visited by people. A squirrel and angel fish, likely new to science, hover in front of the ROV’s bright lights and cameras against a background that looks like the surface of the moon, bleak, dark and pock marked. A chambered nautilus, one of the most primitive animals in the ocean, zig zags by and we are all glued to the screen watching.
Yesterday we visited the marine protected area in Wayag Marine Protected Area (MPA) region. I toured CI’s Wayag MPA field station, a remote outpost with 15-20 patrol team members; this group includes CI’s permanent MPA staff, community patrols and Indonesian policy officers. I was totally impressed to see the on-the-ground spirit, capability and commitment of this team in looking after, monitoring and enforcing this important MPA; protecting the marine resources here for the benefit of humanity; this is just one of the 10 MPAs in the Bird’s Head seascape. It is an uninhabited cluster of islands that look like giant bee hives with spectacular coral reefs and animals all around them.
But the real prize and objective of this trip is to locate and study new undiscovered seamounts and the new and unique biodiversity they may contain. I am very pleased to be conducting this work in collaboration with the Waitt Institute, the National Geographic Society, the New England Aquarium and our many wonderful and amazing CI staff in the region. Stay tuned as our search continues.
Read other blogs from the boat on the NEAq Global Explorers blog.