An update is long overdue but I’ve fallen sadly behind on blogs of my travels, publications and exciting marine life finds of late. There’s a lot to catch up on here at Ocean Realm Images!
Since my last blog, I’ve completed several more successful trips as group leader; both alone and with Wendy Brown as ‘Our Beloved Seas’ trips. The trips have included Tubbataha and Dumaguete in the Philippines, Alor, Wetar and Wakatobi in Indonesia and most recently Northern Raja Ampat (follow links above to galleries and trip reports). We saw some amazing marine life living where it shouldn’t (The thinline wobbegong shark (Orectolobus leptolineatus) in Alor and the mimic jawfish (Stalix sp) in Dumaguete) and several firsts for me – including species for which very few sightings have ever occurred (Humann’s fairy wrasse (Cirrhilabrus humanni), new species of flasher wrasse in Alor (Paracheilinus sp.), soft coral pipefish (Siokunichthys breviceps) and harlequin grouper (Cephalopholis polleni)).
Wendy and I are very pleased that so far from our three trips, we’ve been able to pass some of the proceeds to conservation efforts specific to the regions we’ve visited. So far we’ve donated $1500 to help the amazing work of the conservation charities Save Our Seas Foundation and Conservation International. We both think it’s hugely important that we give something back to preserve the oceans that we love so much. We hope you agree!
There are lots of exciting expeditions in the pipeline too. I have a number of charters coming up this year and all the way through to 2017 (I’ve even started plotting 2018!). We can still accommodate a few people on trips this year; including the land portion of a trip to Atlantis Dumaguete Resort in the Philippines and in the Solomons too, so do contact me if you’re interested. Follow the links below for more details or check out my expeditions page here http://oceanrealmimages.com/
I have also started a new and exciting venture with Dive Worldwide, a UK based diving company for whom I will start leading trips as of February 2016. I recently gave a talk about our upcoming Philippines trip at London’s Russell Square Hotel. The talk went very well, and it was apparently the best attendance they’ve had. It was great to meet some of the folk who have already signed up and those who since have. Keep your eyes peeled on my social media (Facebook and Twitter) for details of my next talk with them, which is currently in the planning stage.
Upcoming trips (with spaces):
12-21st September 2015 | Philippines | Land-based stay at Atlantis Dumaguete Resort.
12-22nd December 2015 | Solomon Islands | Live-aboard trip on Bilikiki.
21st February – 2nd March 2016 | Philippines | Trip with Dive Worldwide to Atmosphere Resort, Dumaguete.
18-29th March 2017 | Indonesia | Trip to Triton Bay aboard Dewi Nusantara. Only one cabin remaining.
I’ve been extremely busy writing for various publications around the world. Since my last update, I have begun writing a regular monthly column for Sport Diver magazine in the US, called ‘Species’, which has so far covered: Crinoids, Goliath Groupers, Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Sea Stars and Whale Sharks. I also completed my five part series in British Sport Diver magazine ‘Photographing Behaviour’, and have now begun a new series ‘Critter Hunting’. I’ve also had a series ‘Mini Breaks’ in Sport Diving magazine and a couple of cover shots with them too. In addition to those regular features, I’ve also had pieces in Wild Travel magazine, Action Asia, Depth Magazine, Aquanaut, Silent World, X-Ray magazine, Diver, Dive! I’ve been busy to say the least!
Ocean Realm Images…and Films
Finally, if you like moving images, I have recently started shooting HD video with my D800 SLR camera. The first video that I’ve put together is now up on my YouTube channel ‘Diving The World’s Richest Reefs – Raja Ampat, Indonesia‘. Check out the link and I hope you enjoy it.
In the darkened salon of Dewi Nusantara on the last evening of the trip, Martin and Kelly were sharing their fantastic images taken over the past eleven days. Having this opportunity to see a collection of pictures from the trip gave me a real sense of the amazing diving we’d been lucky enough to experience. Among his pictures, there were many unusual nudibranchs (several of which I’d never seen before), shrimps such as the elusive harlequin and Coleman’s species, pristine reefs and blue-ringed octopuses – to name just a few.
Wendy and I, who together make up ‘Our Beloved Seas’, had tailored this trip to explore northern Raja Ampat. As with all our trips, we planned to dig a little deeper and get off the beaten path with our voyage. We visited only the northern two ‘Kings’ of Raja Ampat: Batanta and Waigeo Islands. Usually, charters also head far south to visit Misool Island too, so this gave us much more time to visit some sites we’d had on our radar in the north for a while.
The trip was off to a bang in northern Batanta. Our quarry in the small and unassuming bay, which was our first stop, was a very special fish indeed. The picturesque dragonet (Synchiropus picturatus) is, in my opinion, the more beautiful cousin of the mandarinfish. Whilst the ostentatious mandarin is most well known for its coital displays that take place at dusk each day, there was none of this lewdness with our picturesques. These turquoise fish, covered in psychedelic rings, were going about their business on a rubble and coral slope. Although I haven’t seen one in eight years, I must have seen at least a dozen in the hour we spent scouring the slope. We then surfaced to another natural spectacle as dozens, well 140 by our count, of Papuan or Blyth’s hornbills (Aceros plicatus) came to roost on the island adjacent to where we’d been diving. We could hear the characteristic whooshing of these huge birds as they flew overhead in pairs and small groups.
Our next day was spent with equal numbers of special fishes; they were just several orders of magnitude larger than those from the previous day. Wendy had found a new manta cleaning station and we spent two dives cruising between the coral outcrops that accommodated the cleaner wrasses that drew the mantas to the site. It must have been manta rush hour at the site, there was an almost incessant stream coming to be cleaned. At one point I was buzzed by a squadron of five pure black ‘Darth Vadar’ mantas. Whilst the black form isn’t uncommon, I had never seen so many at one time.
Heading further north, we spent a couple of days in the bountiful Dampier Strait area, diving the world’s most biodiverse coral reef (well, that is according to a fish species count undertaken by Dr Gerry Allen a few years ago). We saw white tip, black tip, grey and wobbegong sharks, which is sadly quite an extraordinary species count for anywhere in southeast Asia these days. Turtles and large clouds of fishes complemented the little creatures such as Pontoh’s and Severn’s pygmy seahorses, flamboyant cuttlefish and ghost pipefishes.
Next was Aljui Bay, one of my favourite places to dive in Raja Ampat, if not the world. The topside scenery is extraordinary and the underwater world is equally unexpected. I have seen several unique Denise’s pygmy seahorse associations with the gorgonians here. On this trip we saw Denise living on an Echinogorgi gorgonian in a colour form that I hadn’t seen previously. The pygmy was bright red and white, much like the form of Denise seen more commonly in the south of Raja Ampat. The ever-rewarding night dive at Cendana Dock pearl farm didn’t disappoint. Between us, we had many cephalopods such as white-v octopus, bobtail and bottletail squids, as well as other treasures including toadfish singing and waspfishes.
During the night after leaving Aljui, we passed over the equator into the northern hemisphere on our way up to Wayag. This beautiful island group is the poster child for the whole of Raja Ampat. The view from the top of one of the hills across the islands is stunning, as are the islands at sea level. After three current charged dives, where I saw bigger schools of trevally than I’ve ever seen anywhere before, we went on a little boat trip round the islands. Out of the azure waters burst steep limestone mountains covered in spartan tropical growth.
Several days’ diving and cruising southwards found us finally sitting back in the waters off Batanta Island, with just two muck dives remaining on a site called Algae Patch. Although the currents into the channel between Batanta and Salawati were ripping, we had nice calm conditions for our dives. The list of critters clocked up by the whole group during these two dives was outstanding. Many amazing nudibranchs were firsts for most of our guests, ghost pipefishes and hoards of unusual shrimps made up the roster.
Although the trip absolutely flew by, I’m pleased to be diving with many of our guests again very soon. The Philippines trip is just round the corner in September, which many are joining. Although the next trip with spaces isn’t until March 2017, when we will be sailing from Sorong to Kaimana taking in the rarely explored highlights of the Fakfak coast and Triton Bay. For more information about our upcoming trips check out my expeditions page, or contact me. For images from this trip, check out my album.
Following the success of my recent trip to the Philippines aboard Atlantis Dive Resort’s ‘Azores’ I am pleased to announce that I will be leading another trip on this lovely vessel from 19-28th September 2015. This time we will circumnavigate the island of Cebu diving with whale sharks, pygmy seahorses and snorkelling with whale sharks! Of course I’ll be giving informative marine life talks about the creatures and life we’re seeing, and will be on hand to talk fish or cameras (check out testimonials from previous guests here). Read more about this trip below, or download the trip flyer at the bottom of the page.
ABOUT THE TRIP
The Philippines is located within the ‘Coral Triangle’, an area with the world’s greatest marine biodiversity. We will join the luxury Azores liveaboard on its Malapascua and Cebu itinerary, an area at the heart of the Coral Triangle. The trip will take in the best diving the Philippines has to offer, and includes rare opportunities to observe elusive thresher sharks, dive with mantas and snorkel with whale sharks. Due to its central location within the Coral Triangle, there is also opportunity to see many of the reef’s unusual critters too, including pygmy seahorses, ghost pipefish, frogfish…the list goes on! Richard will present daily marine life lectures about the area’s reefs and will be on hand to answer any questions, help identify creatures we come across on dives and provide pointers and tips for capturing the shots you want.
The 10 night itinerary takes in some of the best diving that the Philippines have to offer. Departing from Dumaguete Resort, a sister resort of the Azores, the tour will circumnavigate the island of Cebu taking in many great sites over the ten night cruise.
Highlights of the trip include the world famous thresher shark cleaning stations off Malapascua in northern Cebu, where these unique long-tailed sharks are cleansed of unwanted parasites by hoards of hungry fishes. Baitballs and schooling trevally are likely to be spotted at several sites, but Pescador Island off western Cebu is known as the site of the ‘Asian Sardine Run’. Capitancillo is a rarely dived location, due to its distance from any land-based operators, but offers interesting cavern systems providing unique photographic opportunities.
Last but not least, we will be snorkelling within inches of the world’s largest fish: wild whale sharks, which are attracted by fishermen feeding them tiny krill. Why not join Richard on this trip of a lifetime!
Dr Richard Smith is a British born marine biologist and underwater photographer. He has written dozens of articles, published internationally, with a focus on marine life and conservation. In 2011 Richard was awarded the first PhD on the biology of pygmy seahorses. With an undergraduate degree in Zoology and Master’s in Marine Ecology he has a broad knowledge of both terrestrial and marine biology to enrich your trip.
AZORES LIVEABOARD The Azores has set new standards in liveaboard diving for the Philippines. Azores is the perfect place from which to explore some of the best diving in Asia, offering itineraries only possible by liveaboard. Sixteen pampered guests can enjoy modern multimedia equipment, ample space for lounging and even a hot tub for relaxing. Expect creature comforts, great food and a welcoming crew.
– State Room: $4,995.00 (USD)
Payment Policy and Deposit
– $500 per person, non-refundable deposit holds a place, with the remaining fee payable in full 70
days prior to departure
– for bookings and/or with any questions, please contact Richard or Terri:
Email – Richard@OceanRealmImages.com
Telephone – 0208 196 2449 (UK) or 888-266-2209 (USA – Toll Free)
– 10 nights twin share
stateroom accommodation aboard Azores
– All diving (tanks, weights,
boat and guide)
– All meals, soft drinks,
beer & social wine servings
– Marine Park fees (added to
personal bill at the end of the trip)
– Transfers, including domestic flight (current estimate $260)
– Nitrox fills and use of large (15L) tanks if required
Extend your stay at Dumaguete Resort
Dumaguete is the land-based sister resort of the Azores and is the start and end point of our trip on the liveaboard. This makes adding a few days at the resort a very sensible option! Dumaguete has fantastic muck diving, check out my pictures from previous trips to Dumaguete! Contact me for more information on extending!
Mission Statement: We at Ocean Realm Images are extremely passionate about protecting the marine environment. The focus of our trips will be to observe and photograph marine life in an environmentally friendly way, without harming or stressing animals. We want everyone to enjoy their diving, but not to the detriment of the reef and its inhabitants.
Attachment: Philippines Marine Life Trip Septmber 2015.pdf
Join Wendy and Richard on an unforgettable journey to the frontiers of the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs on the majestic Dewi Nusantara | 21st January to 1st February 2016.
Focusing on only the southern region of Raja Ampat provides the perfect opportunity to really explore this amazing and unique area. It allows us to visit areas that we wouldn’t ordinarily have time to see during a trip that also includes the northern islands. This 11 night southern itinerary will include a new perspective on Misool and it’s surrounds, starting off with the enchanting island of Batanta en route to Kofiau.
Kofiau is one of Raja Ampat’s least dived areas, but an absolute hidden gem. Raja Ampat’s highest species diversity count was from Kofiau and this diversity is well protected within a Marine Protected Area patrolled by The Nature Conservancy. Due to the dominance of oceanic currents, Kofiau can have excellent visibility but there is also fantatsic muck diving. The island is even home to endemic kingfishers, pythons and butterflies!
As always, Richard will be giving marine life lectures during the trip, so you can get more from your diving and underwater photography.
To see Richard’s images from Raja Ampat please click here.
– $5995 (USD) per person for 11 nights in a Deluxe Stateroom
– $6995 pp in Master Suite
For inclusions and exclusions please refer to the attached flyer below.
For bookings and/or with any questions, please contact Richard or Wendy.
Attachment: Southern Raja and Kofiau Trip January 2016.pdf
I will be joining the boutique liveaboard Arenui in February 2016 (5-16th February) for a special pygmy seahorse cruise that will take in the best of Raja Ampat, Indonesia. This is one of my favourite areas to dive and certainly one of the very best places in the world to see pygmy seahorses. I have seen five of the seven described species here; Bargibant’s, Denise’s, Pontohi’s, Satomi’s and Severn’s. I will be giving marine life talks, which will include my work on pygmies for my PhD research. For more information about this trip, please download the flyer attachment below or CONTACT ME HERE.
Setting sail aboard the Arenui from Sorong in West Papua, Indonesia, over the following twelve days (11 nights), we will explore the dive sites of the mega-diverse Raja Ampat. Northern Raja Ampat has some unique dive sites, where Richard has observed several previously undocumented pygmy seahorse behaviours. The south too has a special red and white colour form of Denise’s pygmy that is typical to this area. Each day brings new adventures and new animals in Raja Ampat. As well as pygmy seahorses, we will encounter many of the endemic fishes of the area, and will of course visit manta cleaning stations. Critters aside, Raja Ampat has some of the most pristine reefs on the planet for us to enjoy!
Diver – $6,640.00 (USD) per person (please see flyer for inclusions and exclusions)
Payment Policy and Deposit – A 30% non-refundable deposit reserves a place, with the remaining fee payable in full 90 days prior to departure.
Bookings – for bookings and/or with any questions, please contact Richard.
Attachment: Southern Raja and Kofiau Trip January 2016.pdf
I’m just back from another fantastic charter aboard Dewi Nusantara, around some of Indonesia’s best dive spots. Like the previous trip, we visited some of our favourite sites in Alor but this time we then headed north to finish up in the Wakatobi chain of islands. I have a long history with Wakatobi and was very excited to be back diving the area’s fantastic reefs.
OUR BELOVED SEAS
If you missed my last trip report, I ran this and the previous charter as part of a new venture alongside Wendy Brown. Together, Wendy and I make up ‘Our Beloved Seas’, leading scuba diving expeditions for divers interested in learning more about marine life and exploring some of the best dives the oceans have to offer. Wendy has spent the last decade diving around Indonesia, firstly with Wakatobi Dive Resort and then as cruise director of Dewi Nusantara. With unrivalled knowledge of the country’s dive sites, she gets us to the best places to explore the region’s diversity. Meanwhile, I give marine life talks so our guests can learn about the amazing creatures and ecosystems we encounter along the way whilst also hunting for rare, strange and endemic fishes (those on my previous trips will know how much I love an endemic, or indigenous creature). Together our knowledge and experiences place our guests in the best locations to experience some of the world’s best diving.
Wendy and I are both passionate conservationists, and for each of our trips we donate a percentage of the proceeds to a different conservation organisation. For these two trips we chose to support ‘Save our Seas Foundation’, who do fantastic work through the funding of conservation, education and research projects around the world. In the Coral Triangle region they fund projects that work to reduce destructive fishing techniques, as well as the protection of marine megafauna such as sharks, turtles and mantas. More specifically, around Indonesia they have a major project conserving and researching the magnificent manta ray and the fisheries targeting them in Bali, Komodo and Raja Ampat. If you’re interested learning more about them, please visit www.SaveOurSeas.com.
After an all too long hiatus from diving in Alor, which until this year I hadn’t visited since 2008, I was pleased to be back for the fourth time in six months! I’m a firm believer that the more you dive a site, atoll, island or country the more you get out of it and the more you ultimately see. Even after so many repeated visits to Alor, we still saw plenty of new critters and behaviours to get excited about on this fourth trip.
My favourite fish from the Alor area is definitely the stunning Humann’s fairy wrasse (Cirrhilabrus humanni). Despite an exhaustive search, and being blessed with the humanni eye, I couldn’t find this little beauty on the previous trip. Thankfully, within two minutes of descending on a dive in the Pantar Strait, I spotted a displaying male. These fish are one of the most challenging to photograph that I’ve ever encountered. Unlike many other male fairy wrasses, the Humann’s doesn’t display only in the water column above his small harem. Instead, he dashes around the reef, swimming many metres from one female to another in a matter of seconds. Reaching a maximum length of 7 cm only compounds the difficulty in spotting and photographing the elusive fish. My technique to point him out to the guests was call and grunt my signature noise as loudly as I could and continually point at him as he sped around. I couldn’t take my eyes off him for even one second for fear of loosing him amongst the throngs of Javanese fairy and various flasher wrasses. Several people did manage to pick him out from the crowd, but his similarity to the more abundant Javanese fairy wrasses wasn’t helpful.
As the rest of the group headed off in search of Rhinopias, I spent the rest of the dive attempting the photograph the Humann’s. After half an hour I’d finally figured out that my best bet was to stalk the cleaning station that he visited every ten minutes or so and hope to capture an image there. After a couple of frustrating missed shots, I waited another twenty minutes and got the shot I was after during one of his ablution stops. I was very happy with the shot, although sad to have missed the Rhinopias that the others found.
THE VOLCANO’S ROAR
After a few days around Alor it was time to begin our journey north towards Wakatobi. However, we were first due a stop at the volcano of Kumba, which was located perfectly en route. Every one of the four visits I’ve made to the volcano has been different. Some have had more boom, others were smokier, but this time there was much more lava than previously. We arrived at the remote volcano just as a great cloud of smoke bellowed from the top of the island. As the sun set, ambient light gave way to a glow from the crater. Every fifteen to twenty minutes glowing embers of lava were sent flying from within, followed by an ear splitting resonant boom. Some lava was sent so high it cleared the crater and started a fire on a hill the other side. This must be relatively frequent an occurrence, since a clearly defined tree line was visible where nothing but dead trunks remained.
The last eruption before we went on our way, gave the greatest show. Being pitch dark by this point we could hardly make out the plumes of smoke, but couldn’t miss the noise of the eruption. This was easily the most dazzling eruption I’ve seen so far. Glowing lava covered the slopes behind the crater and rivers of smouldering boulders tumbled down the hill towards the ocean. When they eventually reached the water in an enormous splash, you could hear the crack of cool water being vaporised by the intense heat of the rocks.
RETURN TO WAKATOBI
I have a long history with the Wakatobi region. I initially visited the area in 1998, on my first ever trip to Indonesia, where I spent four months volunteering for a conservation organisation cataloguing the nudibranch (sea slug) species diversity. Ten years on and I spent six months at Wakatobi Dive Resort for much of the fieldwork for my PhD research on the biology and conservation of pygmy seahorses. With additional dive trips in between I’ve spent almost a year exploring this biologically rich region and was very excited to be heading back again.
I always find that each area I visit has certain characteristic creatures that are unusually common or memorable. There are several of these around Wakatobi (apart from the pygmies obviously) and one of my favourites is the halimeda ghost pipefish. On arrival in the Wakatobi region our first stop was at Binongko Island, which I had never visited before. After my initial shock at the 24˚C water, I was quickly distracted by a pair of these lime green syngnathids that I had found living in a patch of algae. The male looked to have recently settled from its planktonic stage, still possessing long filaments on the dorsal fin. Both the male and female however were covered in the lovely red filaments that make these fish so photogenic.
BUTON MUCK DIVING
Over the coming days we revisited the favourite reefs of myself, Wendy and Yann around Wakatobi Dive Resort. After this we headed to our final destination of the trip, the large bay around Pasarwajo on the island of Buton, just off the southeastern Sulawesi mainland. This area is well known for its muck diving and we were all excited to be back on the typical sandy slopes of this kind of diving. We visited the famous sites of Cheeky Beach, Asphalt Pier, New Pier and Mandarin Pier with outstanding sightings.
Cheeky Beach in particular was absolutely on fire. The list of treasures from all the guests, Wendy, the four guides and myself was amazing, and definitely rivalled Lembeh Strait in richness. The most unexpected find was a stunning little paddle-flap scorpionfish (Rhinopias eschmeyeri) hidden amongst the orange algae. In addition, we had many wish-list critters including blue-ring and poison ocellate octopus, Coleman shrimp, various ghost pipefishes, seahorses, seamoths and a Spanish dancer nudibranch. This list isn’t even doing the amazing biodiversity full justice. It was fantastic to finish the Our Beloved Seas trips on such a high note!
A HAPPY ENDING
The last night is always a double-edged sword, having the fun photo share but also the ominous spectre of packing. We had an exceedingly high calibre of submissions in the photo share on this trip, and I was really pleased to see so many behaviour shots. Behaviour shots are always my favourite, which is why one of my talks is dedicated to them. The popular vote was again very tight, but ultimately it was a full house for David Dempsey who again took home the prize for the best shot. He had a stunning image of a scorpionfish eating a shrimp taken at night in Beangabang Bay (I’m still kicking myself for missing that dive, I should have known better!).
The first ever Our Beloved Seas trips were a fantastic success. Thanks to everyone for making them so brilliant. Both Wendy and I are very excited for the trips we have planned over the next couple of years. Our upcoming trips are filling extremely quickly, with just a single male share cabin remaining until 2016! If you’d like to see some of the expeditions available in the future, check out my website’s expeditions page | www.OceanRealmImages.com/expeditions
You can also follow me on facebook | www.facebook.com/OceanRealmImages
Both Wendy and I are also on twitter | rich_underwater | OurBelovedSeas
To see some of my images from the trip, please follow this link to my Alor to Wakatobi | August 2014 album.
FOLLOW UP FROM MY LAST TRIP REPORT | In my previous blog, I posted a shot of the wobbegong shark we found and were unable to identify. I contacted a friend who specialises in wobbegongs and who’s described a couple of southeast Asian species himself. He believes our shark from Alor is Orectolobus leptolineatus, which he described in 2010, and if so, it is one of only a few live examples ever seen and photographed. We seem to have made a habit of seeing super-rare creatures on our trip. This was certainly the aim of the ‘Our Beloved Seas’ union and long may it continue through working together, in addition to conserving these amazing oceans of ours.