I really don’t know what happened to 2015, but what a great years it’s been! There have been lots of amazing expeditions, creatures and publications to my name. I hope you’ve all had a brilliant 2015 and looking forward to 2016 and beyond. Here’s is a little run down of what I’ve been up to over the past 6 months:
Apart from some non-group expeditions, in the six months since my last blog I’ve run trips to Atlantis Dumaguete Resort and aboard Atlantis’ Azores liveaboard around Cebu Island in the Philippines. Most of the guests joined us for the entire 18 days and we saw such amazing creatures as 18 seahorses on one dive, 11 frogfishes on another, thresher sharks, whale sharks, Lembeh seadragons (Kyonemichthys rumengani) plus many more. As always, we donated some of the proceeds from the trip to a conservation organisation. In this case we chose the Marine Megafauna Foundation, who strive to protect the world’s biggest marine fishes.
Just recently also I completed a trip aboard the Bilikiki in the Solomon Islands. I am always blown away by the remoteness of the Solomons. The reefs are pristine and full of life, whilst on land, we went to a village that had never been visited by foreigners in the 60 years since it was founded. I can’t imagine that’s true of many places in the world these days. My underwater highlight was certainly Lynne’s pipefish (Festucalex rufus), which I have been looking for for sometime but had never seen before.
I have recently added four brand new expeditions to the 2018 roster. I know this seems terribly far away, but time flies! Our 2016 is basically full and 2017 is going the same way, so we figured it was time. There are more details about trips below, alternatively keep an eye on my website, which I keep up to date: OceanRealmImages.com/Expeditions
2016 | I’ve been very fortunate with my trips filling up very quickly and there are only a couple of spots remaining to join my expeditions in 2016. These last spaces are on the trip I’m leading for Dive Worldwide to Atmosphere Resort, Dumaguete in the Philippines. To read more about this expert led ‘Dumaguete Dive Festival‘ please follow the link above or contact Reservations@DiveWorldwide.com
2-12th March 2017 (10 nights) | All of Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia. Indo-Siren Liveaboard. ‘Four Kings Expedition‘ as an expert led group tour for Dive Worldwide. For more information please follow the link
above or contact Reservations@DiveWorldwide.com
23rd June – 3rd July 2017 (10 nights) | Underwater Photography Workshop at Siladen Resort, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. For more information please follow the link above or contact Ana@Siladen.com
NEW | 22 – 31st August 2017 (9 nights) | Muck Magic Trip 1 – Sangeang Island & Bima Bay aboard Damai II (Labuan Bajo to Bima). This ‘Our Beloved Seas’ trip is a joint trip between Wendy Brown and myself. We have recently added this and the trip directly following it, but the second trip filled in minutes! If you’d like to join us in these exceedingly rich and rarely visited areas for critter hunting please contact Wendy or myself(Richard@OceanRealmImages.com) for more information. We expect space to fill fast.
NEW | Galapagos Islands aboard Galapagos Sky
25th February – 4th March 2018 (7 nights) | Trip 1
4-11th March 2018 (7 nights) | Trip 2
Wendy and I have repeatedly been asked by our guests to plan some trips to destinations outside the Coral Triangle. However, knowing how our regular guests love that area’s warm waters we have planned back to back trips to the Galapagos Islands in February/March when the waters of these mystical and historic islands tends to be warmer and clearer – whilst maintaining their renowned bounty. As always, I’ll be giving talks and this will be the perfect place to share my passion for evolutionary biology, which was the subject of my Master’s degree.
NEW | 23rd July – 1st August 2018 (9 nights) | North Cenderawasih Bay & Mapia Island aboard Dewi Nusantara(Manokwari to Manokwari). This first trip aboard Dewi Nusantara will take us to new ground. Whilst we will start and end the trip in Cenderawasih Bay, we will take this opportunity to visit Mapia and its surrounding islands 100NM north of the bay, and the equator. Here the remote and very rarely visited reefs are bustling with life and ripe to be explored.
NEW | 3 – 13th August 2018 (10 nights) | Classic Cenderawasih Bay aboard Dewi Nusantara (Manokwari to Sorong). Starting in Manokwari, we will sail to the southern reaches of the bay in search of the area’s world renowned whale sharks. We plan to spend a couple of mornings face to face with the sharks before continuing our search for other amazing fishes found only in the bay. It is well know for the high numbers of endemics, which you’ll learn all about in my talks!
I haven’t only been underwater since my last update; I’ve been busy writing too. I’ve continued with my regular series in both American and British Sport Diver Magazines, with ‘Get More from your Diving: Critter Hunting’ and ‘Species’ respectively. I’ve also written the following stand-alone features:
‘Titillating Twilight – The Lure of North Sulawesi’ – Asian Diver
‘A Japanese Spin on the Night Dive – Hot Ke Night’ – Asian Diver
‘Changing Seas: Evolution in the Ocean’ – Scuba Diver AustralAsia
‘Solomon Islands: Reefs at the Edge of the World’ – Scuba Diver – Ocean Planet
‘Shooting for Science’ – Scuba Diver – Ocean Planet
‘Diving Mini Breaks: Australia’ – Sport Diving
‘Diving Mini Breaks: South Pacific’ – Sport Diving
‘Bird’s Head Natural History Notes part 1: In Appreciation of Damsels’ – Bird’s Head Seascape website. A new series about my adventures in the BHS.
I’ve also had a couple of cover shots for Asian Diver and Sport Diving magazines as well as having my shot ‘Whip Gobies and Eggs’ judged as a finalist in the ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year.
Thinking ahead, I will also be speaking at the ADEX dive show in Singapore from 15-17 April 2016, so come along if you can!
Five Favourite Firsts of 2015
– I am always on the hunt for new and exciting beasties under the sea, so I thought as a final whimsy I would share my top five new finds of 2015. After 3,000 plus dives there’s still so much to see. This is why I keep diving and we always donate what we can to help preserve the amazing oceans.
1. Leopard Anemone Shrimp (Izucaris masudai) – Raja Ampat
2. Giant Clam Shrimps (Anchistus demani and Conchodytes tridacnae) – Wakatobi Dive Resort & Raja Ampat
3. Lynne’s Pipefish (Festucalex rufus) – Solomon Islands
4. Red Sea Longnose Filefish (Oxymonacanthus halli) – Egyptian Red Sea
5. John Dory (Zeus faber) – Izu Peninsula, Japan
Finally, if you’d like to hear what I’m up to on a more regular basis, I suggest you check out my FaceBook page | www.facebook.com/OceanRealmImages
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.
My scientific publication on the habitat specialisation and population structure of gorgonian-associated pygmy seahorses has just been published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series (Link to the MEPS page):
Smith RE, Grutter AS & Tibbetts IR (2012). Extreme habitat specialisation and population structure of two gorgonian-associated pygmy seahorses. Marine Ecology Progress Series 444: 195-206
The study was conducted on the two species of pygmy seahorse, Bargibant’s (Hippocampus bargibanti) and Denise’s species (H. denise), which require a living gorgonian coral for their survival. The main findings of my study are below in the paper’s abstract but I’ve also written some of the study’s important findings below.
– Bargibant’s (Hippocampus bargibanti) and Denise’s pygmy seahorses (H. denise) have some of the lowest densities of any unexploited seahorse populations studied thus far.
– Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse is an extreme habitat specialist, being found exclusively in association with a single genus of gorgonian coral, Muricella spp.
– Denise’s pygmy is a relative generalist as it is found in association with at least eight genera of gorgonian corals.
– It is possible to distinguish between male and female pygmy seahorses by examining the area at the base of the abdomen where males have a small slit-like opening to the brood pouch (figure b) and females have a raised, circular urinogential pore (figure a) (see image).
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.
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