NEW EXPEDITION | SPECIAL PYGMY SEAHORSE CRUISE ABOARD ARENUI | RAJA AMPAT | 5-16th FEBRUARY 2016

NEW EXPEDITION | SPECIAL PYGMY SEAHORSE CRUISE ABOARD ARENUI | RAJA AMPAT | 5-16th FEBRUARY 2016

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.

ITINERARY

Dr Richard Smith Special Pygmy Seahorse CruiseDr Richard Smith Special Pygmy Seahorse CruiseSetting 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!

TRIP DETAILS

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

OUR BELOVED SEAS TRIP REPORT | ALOR TO WAKATOBI, INDONESIA

OUR BELOVED SEAS TRIP REPORT | ALOR TO WAKATOBI, INDONESIA

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.

Wendy Brown and Richard Smith 'Our Beloved Seas'

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.

Humann's fairy wrasse (Cirrhilabrus humanni)MORE ALOR

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.

Kumba volcano, Indonesia eruptingTHE 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.

Poison ocellate octopus (Octopus mototi)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!

The dive guides, Katsuko and David celebrating Paul's 400th dive!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.

OUR BELOVED SEAS TRIP REPORT | ALOR & WETAR, INDONESIA

OUR BELOVED SEAS TRIP REPORT | ALOR & WETAR, INDONESIA

 

We have just returned from the inaugural ‘Our Beloved Seas’ trip aboard the beautiful, Dewi Nusantara.  We were pleased to be joined by so many old friends on this first trip, as well as welcoming several new faces too.  Our eleven night itinerary started in Maumere on the Indonesian island of Flores and took us to dive sites on the islands of Kawula, Pantar and Alor, as well as further east to the rarely visited island of Wetar.

Richard Smith and Wendy Brown together make up 'Our Beloved Seas'OUR BELOVED SEAS

Wendy Brown and myself make up ‘Our Beloved Seas’ and together lead 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’s exhaustive knowledge of Indonesia’s dive sites gets us to the best places to explore the region’s diversity and I give marine life talks so people can learn and appreciate fully the amazing creatures and ecosystems we encounter.  We are both passionate about conserving the world’s seas and for each of our trips we donate a percentage of the proceeds to a different conservation organisation, which we feel are doing great work.

Guests on the inaugural Our Beloved Seas marine life expeditionFor this trip we chose to support the 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.  Definitely a worthy cause in our eyes! If you’re interested learning more about them, you can visit www.SaveOurSeas.com and you can also support them through their ‘donate‘ page.

Stunning reef on an early morning in Pantar Strait, AlorMARINE LIFE LECTURES AND THE SURPRISES OF ALOR

During the trip, I presented marine life lectures every other day (with a few extra-curricula ones in between).  The talks started with ‘The Marine Life of Alor’, focusing on the special creatures we hoped to see, including the two Rhinopias species the Paddle-flap (R. eschmeyeri) and weedy scorpionfish (R. frondosa) and their identification.  The weedy scorpionfish is commonly misidentified as the lacy species (R. aphanes), so I wanted to help our guests with their correct identification for when we inevitably found some on the trip.  You can read my blog about Rhinopias identification here if you need a reminder!

What I enjoy so much about diving around Alor and the eastern Lesser Sunda Islands, is the real surprises you come across on a day-to-day basis.  Whilst amazing and rare as hen’s teeth, Rhinopias aren’t even considered a surprise in these parts.  You can almost guarantee these rare fish around Alor, indeed five were spotted on this trip alone.

Wobbegong shark (Orectolobus sp.) in Alor, IndonesiaThere were several new behaviours and species for me on this trip.  The new behaviour I was most excited about was the parental care exhibited by the spiny chromis (Acanthochromis polyacanthurus) to its fry.  I had never put two and two together when I’d seen little balls of fry around the reef, but now I’ve identified what I’m seeing and these doting parents are everywhere.  There are only three species of damselfishes that care for their young in this manner, which cuts out their pelagic life history stage.  So it’s a treat to see this in action.

There were two exciting new fish for me on this trip too: the harlequin grouper (Cephalopholis polleni), which I spotted on a dive in northern Pantar, and a wobbegong shark in Alor, which was particularly exciting.  I have seen the tasselled wobbegong (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon) in Raja Ampat many times, but the shark we saw in Alor clearly belonged to the closely related genus Orectolobus.  Alor is well outside the known geographic range of any described wobbegong shark.  The thinline wobegong (Orectolobus leptolineatus) is known as far east as Lombok and the northern wobbegong’s (Orectolobus wardi) only Indonesian record is from the Aru Islands to the west.  Fortuitously, several of my friends are experts on wobbegong sharks, so I hope to be able to get some more information on the identification of this unusual carpet shark over the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Juvenile Cross's Demselfish (Neoglyphidodon crossi)RETURN TO WETAR

During this trip we returned to Wetar Island, which is a remote and rarely visited island in the very eastern Lesser Sundas.  I actually dived the very same site in April when I was aboard Dewi with Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach.  During the dive, I passed a rock where I remember having seen my first ever juvenile Cross’s damsel (Neoglyphidodon crossi), a species which is known only from the eastern half of Indonesia.  I though ‘why not’ and had a look to see if it was still there.  Sure enough there it was, slightly larger and having lost some of the bright orange and blue that had attracted my attention three month before.  I was really chuffed to have seen it again and to see how it had developed.

We also shared several special experiences above water as well as below.  In Wetar we visited a couple of small villages and I met my first ever crocodile whisperer (I don’t imagine many people can make such a claim!).  The villagers were so friendly and welcoming to us and happily showed us around their schools and churches, although sadly no crocs were sighted.  Returning to Dewi after one village adventure, we all convened on the bow to watch an absolutely stunning sunset.  Suddenly someone spotted something breaking the surface a hundred metres away, which turned out to be a mother humpback whale with her calf!  It was truly a moment I will never forget.  The pair repeatedly and serenely broke the surface to breathe, the sound of which was clearly carried to us in the calm air.  The surface water was on fire with the reflection of the sunset, making an outstanding and memorable moment.

Harlequin grouper (Cephalopholis polleni) in Pantar, IndonesiaSadly, the final day of the trip was quickly upon, which meant it was time for our fun photo competition.  It’s just a bit of fun so we can share images taken from the trip.  However, the popular vote decided the grand prize winner.  The crowd’s cheers helped us whittle the forty images down to three, with David taking the grand prize with his displaying flasher wrasse.  Dena and Katsuko were close runners up with their jawfish with eggs and seahare shots respectively.

The evening was perfectly rounded off with an amazing video presentation of muck dive macro critters by Mary Jane.  We’d also been treated to stunning megafauna videos from George, of whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay and bull sharks in Fiji earlier in the week, so we’d seen plenty of National Geographic quality footage from just two of our guests during the week!  Hopefully they’ll have a compilation to share from this trip sometime!

To see some of my images from the trip, please follow this link to my Alor and Wetar | August 2014 album.

If you would like to learn more about any of our upcoming trips, feel free to check out my website’s expeditions page | here

You can also follow me on facebook | www.facebook.com/OceanRealmImages

Both Wendy and I are also on twitter | rich_underwater | OurBelovedSeas

 

 

 

DEWI NUSANTARA TRIP REPORT: ALOR, INDONESIA – MAY 2014

DEWI NUSANTARA TRIP REPORT: ALOR, INDONESIA – MAY 2014

A few days after another fantastic trip as resident naturalist on the stunning Dewi Nusantara, I am ruminating over our adventures from a somewhat contrasting setting in England’s rolling Cotswold Hills.  Despite the Cotswold’s inherent splendour, being designated nationally as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the untouched wilderness we explored aboard Dewi around Alor is incomparable.  England has been manipulated and moulded by man for thousands of years, but the forested islands and untouched reefs of Alor remain largely as they always have been.  Indeed, during our trip we even witnessed active volcanoes creating fresh new lands for nature to claim afresh.

Myself with Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach on Dewi NusantaraThis trip, the second hosted by well-known authors of the fish ID and behaviour books Ned and Anna DeLoach and Paul Humann, began and ended in Maumere on the island of Flores.  From here we explored the islands of Alor, Pantar and Lembata.  This area hasn’t been explored to such an extent as others in Indonesia, but it experiences some unique oceanographic conditions that make it very different from all other parts of the world.

 

Humanni Eye

Humann's fairy wrasse (Cirrhilabrus humanni) male displayingOn our previous trip which took us across the Banda Sea, we had chance to stop briefly in Alor and I found a single male Humann’s fairy wrasse, Cirrhilabrus humanni.  Sadly, it was at the end of the dive and only Anna got chance to see and film it (have a look at the first ever video taken of this species when she first discovered it in 2010, click this link).  I hoped to find more on this trip and share this rare and beautiful fish with more people.  Luckily, I have managed to develop the eye for Humanni, and my brain now knows how to pick them out from a crowd of very similarly coloured Javan fairy wrasses.  Over the course of the trip, we found several males and their hareems at one site in Alor, only a couple of miles from the place Anna first discovered the species.

Colour mutation male bicolour anthias (Pseudanthias bicolor)

The Curious Case of the Monotone Bicolour

After a couple of days in the Pantar Strait between Alor and Pantar Islands we headed south to one of my favourite spots, Beangabang Bay.  This bay never disappoints and is different every time, concealing many treasures for the observant to find (luckily, we had a gaggle of eagle-eyed guides on hand to fulfil this roll).  There is an outstanding muck dive on the black sand in front of the village, but on this visit my most memorable dive was on the nearby reefs.  On one particularly large bommie, Yann called us over to show us a very striking fish.

At first glance it closely resembled a goldfish, which would obviously have been rather out of place on a saltwater reef, but after looking more closely at my pictures I identified the red and white fish as a bicolour anthias (Pseudanthias bicolor).  The fish appears to carry a genetic colour mutation affecting pink or lavender pigments, somewhat like an albino but only influencing certain pigments.  In this case, the belly of the fish was pure white, rather than pink as expected.  Although quite eye catching, the kaleidoscope of colour that is a coral reef, must have been adequate to conceal the fish.  Perhaps it will even reach maturity and pass
on its genes to future generations.

Weedy scorpionfish (Rhinopias frondosa) in AlorRhino what, Rhino Who?

Alor is renowned for being one of the best places in the world to see the wonderful Rhinopias scorpionfish.  The ‘Holy Grail of the Underwater Photographer’ is rare at best and often found very deep, but in Alor they can be common and shallow.  On the first trip we saw three individuals during our brief visit to the region, but with more time on this trip we saw a total of five: three red and two yellow weedy.

There is always considerable confusion regarding the identification of Rhinopias species.  People commonly want to call particularly filamentous examples of the weedy species (Rhinopias frondosa) the lacy species (Rhinopias aphanes).  Their specific identification, however, is largely a matter of geography.  The lacy is found only in (and endemic to) the Coral Sea region including the Great Barrier Reef, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.  The weedy is much wider ranging and found all the way from east Africa to the Pacific islands.  As such, you can come across weedies in PNG, but not lacies in Indonesia.  Apart from geography you can also look at the pattern.  Roughly speaking, weedies always have a pattern containing circles, whereas lacies have lines.  I am so very passionate about the identification of Rhinopias that I even wrote a blog about it, so you can read more about Rhinopias ID by clicking this link.

Mount Kumba volcano erupting, Flores, IndonesiaIt’s Gonna Blow….

Again this trip we were lucky enough to witness the volcano of Kumba erupting.  It had always been an ambition of mine to see an active volcano and with Kumba exploding every ten to fifteen minutes I certainly got my chance.  Dewi floated a safe distance from the volcano as smoke billowed from the caldera and occasional molten rocks and lava were flung aloft and rolled down the scree slope all the way to the ocean.  The sound from both the eruptions and the vaporised water as rocks hit the cold sea could easily be heard, and felt, from our safe haven aboard Dewi.

Forthcoming Attractions

Thanks to the eagle eyes of the dive team, Andre, Ben, Risko and Yann as well as Cruise Director, Wendy, we saw many underwater treasures on the trip. I’m always sad to leave Dewi Nusantara and her fantastic crew, but this time I know I’ll be returning in only a few months.

I will be back on Dewi for two charters in August/September this year, that I am co-hosting with Wendy under the banner ‘Our Beloved Sea’.  I have known Wendy for almost ten years and it is our shared love of Indonesia’s amazing marine life and a sense of exploration that made us decide to lead expeditions together.  Our trips will have a similar, but slightly different, itinerary to this one.  Both will include the very best of Alor, Pantar and Lembata as well as the volcano of Kumba, but the first will also include the rarely visited island of Wetar and the second will include the Wakatobi chain.  On the first trip we have a deluxe cabin available and, due to a recent cancellation, the Master Cabin has also recently become available. This rarely happens and is likely to be snapped up quickly so let us know as quickly as possible if you’d like join us in the ultimate lap of luxury!

Trip One:

Alor, Pantar, Lembata and Wetar | 13-24th August 2014 (One Deluxe Cabin and the Master Cabin Available)

Trip Two:

Alor, Pantar, Lembata and Wakatobi | 25th August – 5th September 2014 (One female share available)

 

You can read much more about these trips, and download a flyer, on my expeditions page click this link.

Images | I have created a gallery of images from the trip, which you can view by following this link.

Also, click through to read my report from the first trip as well as images from it.

To keep up to date with my Expeditions, Images and Publications you can follow me on facebooktwitter or sign up for blog updates by entering your email address in the box just to the right.

DEWI NUSANTARA TRIP REPORT: BANDA SEA, INDONESIA – APRIL 2014

DEWI NUSANTARA TRIP REPORT: BANDA SEA, INDONESIA – APRIL 2014

After almost a year away from the beautiful Dewi Nusantara, I am really excited to be back for another two trips sailing the megadiverse Indonesian seas as resident naturalist.  I am even more excited as the trips are being hosted by Ned & Anna DeLoach and Paul Humann, the well-known authors of many fish ID and behaviour books and the founders of REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation).

Juvenile Cross's DamselfishI have really enjoyed the buzz surrounding the dives on this trip, with one or all of our eminent guests coming up from virtually every dive buzzing about a creature or behaviour they haven’t seen before.  It is fantastic to see such passion, even after tens of thousands of cumulative dives, and it is certainly infectious.  Myself, Paul and Ned have given talks in the evenings and it has been an amazing experience to learn from these extraordinarily experienced natural historians, their insight into the reefs’ goings on is outstanding.

This trip, the first of two, has taken us from Ambon to the island of Flores, just east of Komodo.  This is quite some distance to cover in 14 days (around 850 miles or almost 1400 kilometres), but it has given us rare access to some very remote, fascinating and historic locations across the Banda Sea.  We followed an arc of tiny islets on the eastern side of the sea visiting the volcanic islands of Banda and Manuk, the coral atoll of Dusborgh and the limestone islands of Terbang and Romang.

The Banda islands are steeped in history, being the centre of the global nutmeg trade in the 1800’s.  We enjoyed a couple of days diving in the area, packed with interesting critters, as well as a tour of the historic fort and town before heading further south.  Manuk was our next stop and like its better-known cousin, Gunung Api, is renowned for its large population of sea kraits.

Sea kraits aren’t quite as well adapted to life in the oceans as the true sea snakes, one of which we saw later in the trip in Maumere harbour.  Sea snakes, among other adaptations for life in the ocean, give birth to live young at sea and have nostril valves to keep the water out.  Sea kraits on the other hand are more akin to terrestrial snakes and are more tightly tied to the land; most significantly they must come ashore to lay their eggs.

Juvenile masked grouperAs well as the kraits, a highlight for all of us at Manuk, and the next couple of islands on our journey, was a very rare juvenile fish indeed.  After the first dive at Manuk several of us surfaced asking the same question: “What was that pink and red fish?”  It turns out we had all been seeing the juvenile colour form of the Masked grouper (Gracilia albomarginata).  Surprisingly, despite having seen the adult many times, this was the first time any of us had come across the striking juvenile.  Over the next couple of days as we sailed southwards, we saw juveniles ranging in size from tiny (very cute) individuals to larger intermediate or transitional forms.  The adults were all over the reef, but it was the juveniles that became an utter obsession, for me at least.

After hopping our way along these relatively small islands we met the eastern end of the Nusa Tenggara chain at Wetar Island. Here, we fitted in a day of diving on the north west corner of the island around Reong Island, where I found other juvenile fishes that I hadn’t seen before, including the stunning Cross’s damsel, several hogfishes and several of the green, black and white striped bird wrasse babies.  Despite having crossed the Banda Sea, we still had another long journey to reach the Pantar straight between the islands of Alor and Pantar, which would be the location of our next day’s diving.

Displaying male Javan Fairy wrasseWe were all very excited about our first dive in this area, as we would be diving the site that, on her last trip to the area several years previously, Anna had discovered a brand new species of fairy wrasse.  In 2012, the stunning fish was named in honour of Paul Humann, who was also aboard and out in search of his namesake.  We were briefed by Anna about the habitat in which she had found the fish and off we went to search for it.  There was a roaring current around the site, but a small area was protected and full of fairy and flasher although sadly Cirrhilabrus humanni was not among them.  It was, however, a great moment for photographing yellowfin and filamented flashers, as well as Solor, Javanese and the yellow back form of Lubbock’s fairy wrasses.

Humann's fairy wrasse (Cirrhilabrus humanni)We subsequently decided to move across the straight for a few dives in Kalabahi Bay, where we dived Mucky Mosque.  This site is always productive with unusual and unique critters.  Again, it did not disappoint and one of our guests, Brad, kindly found a stunning red paddleflap scorpionfish (Rhinopias eschmeyeri) at the site.  Very excitingly, on our last afternoon dive, I spotted a fish that I didn’t recognise.  I managed a few images and followed it round for ten minutes or so to gather clues as to its identification.  I still wasn’t sure, so I found Anna and showed her my picture.  It was indeed the Humann’s fairy wrasse that we’d all been looking for! She managed to get some video of the lone male, which is some of the only footage ever to be captured of this rare fish.

Over the next couple of days we continued our journey along the north coast of the Nusa Tenggara island chain, which had some excellent muck dive offerings.  Again, Yann found us a Rhinopias, a lovely red weedy, and we saw six giant frogfishes, plus a svelte male velvet ghost pipefish.

Weedy scorpionfish (Rhinopias frondosa) in AlorOur last hurrah, before heading to our final destination of Maumere on the island of Flores, was to visit the active volcano of Kumba.  Indonesia is extremely geologically active, straddling several tectonic plates and as a result has several active volcanoes.  Kumba erupts every fifteen minutes or so and is especially breath-taking at night when plumes of glowing red lava spew from the caldera and scarlet red rocks roll down the scree slope.  This was certainly a sight not to be missed and a highlight of the trip.  The next day we woke in Maumere Bay and fitted in a dive at Pomana Kecil Island with 24 hours to spare before our guests would disembark the next morning.  Many of our guests were doing fish counts and ID throughout the trip for REEF, and Pomana actually provided the highest fish count of any site we’d dived on the whole trip.

We have another exciting trip planned with Ned, Anna and Paul, which will leave Maumere in a couple of days.  We will be focused on the greater Alor region and have our sights set on some very exciting areas and animals, as you’d expect from this group!  Stay tuned for my next blog update, but in the meantime you can view some of my images from the trip by following this link.

Finally, feel free to follow my page Richard Smith – Ocean Realm Images on Facebook and my twitter feed for updates from the next trip as it happens!

First Quarter Review 2014

First Quarter Review 2014

We are already more than a quarter of the way through 2014…. how did that happen?! It’s been a busy few months here at Ocean Realm Images with group trips to Socorro Island, Mexico and the Philippines, plenty of published articles and exciting new ventures in TV and film.

Diver and big eye trevally schoolGroup Expeditions

Socorro :: January 2014 | The year kicked off to a great start in January with my group trip to Socorro Island, Mexico aboard Solmar V.  We spent eight days diving this remote island group 250 miles from the Mexican mainland. It truly lived up to the name ‘Manta Capital of the World’, but there were many more creatures than just mantas with amazing shark, dolphin and interesting endemic fish encounters. I’ve posted some images from the trip here.

Some of the group at the end of our Dumaguete stayPhilippines :: March 2014 | I have just finished an amazing trip, with a brilliant group of people to the Philippines.  Sixteen of us spent a week at the remote Tubbataha Reef in the middle of the Sulu Sea, followed by 5-8 days (some people chose to extend) at Dumaguete Resort.  Dumaguete offered a perfect contrast to the pristine reefs of Tubbataha, with amazing muck diving where we saw all the top wishlist critters you could possibly hope for! For shots from the trip check out my Tubbataha and Dumaguete galleries.

I am really blessed to travel with such great folk on my group trips.  We have shared so many laughs and amazing experiences, but I am most pleased to see such enthusiasm for the marine life and a passion to preserve and interact respectfully with them. Here are just a few testimonials from recent trip participants:

“AMAZING! Richard is able to make scientific talks hugely entertaining.  I learnt so much, and every dive after the talks I found myself on the hunt for the new critters I had just learnt all about.  Brilliant!” Madeleine, Australia.

“The talks enchance the diving experience and encourage new interest outside the obviously spectacular! Friendly, approachable organisation” Martin, UK.

“We joined Richard’s group tour in Fiji and found the whole experience to be enjoyable and very informative.  We can highly recommend any future tours.” Maurice, Australia.

“As a non-diver I enjoyed the talks so much and learnt a lot.  Thank you so much Richard.” Kaye, Australia.

“A great experience to share our diving with Dr Richard – an inspiration, who gave another perspective to my view of the ocean realm” John, UK.

“Rich’s talks were an added bonus to the trip. Very clear, informative and although I have been diving for years I learnt new information. Encouraged lots of discussions within the group and made one more aware of reef creature’s behaviours.” Mary, UK.

Upcoming Expeditions

Whale Shark on the Philippines 2015 tripMy expeditions aren’t the ordinary run-of-the-mill dive trips.  I aim to share the wonder of the marine environment by diving the world’s best locations with daily marine life presentations to help you get more from your diving.  Learn about reef behaviour, critter hunting tips and more from beneath the waves. Please click the links below for info on these upcoming trips, contact me through my contact page or email me directly Richard@OceanRealmImages.com

 

• Indonesia – Dewi Nusantara (liveaboard)

Trip 1 – Flores, Alor & Wetar – 13-24th August 2014 (last two cabins remain)

Trip 2 – Flores & Alor to Wakatobi – 25th August – 5th September 2014 (LAST SPOT: female share)

 

• Philippines – Azores (liveaboard)

Cebu and Malapascua itinerary including thresher and whale sharks! – 19-28th September 2015

Starting and ending right in front of Atlantis Resort Dumaguete, this is the perfect place to sneak in a few additional days of amazing muck at the beginning or end of your trip!

 

• Indonesia – Arenui (liveaboard)

Special Pygmy Seahorse Cruise, Raja Ampat – 5-16th February 2016

 

DIVE magazine pygmy seahorse cover Richard SmithPublications

I have been busy as ever writing articles for various publications around the world, four continents so far this year! I’m very excited about my new series ‘Get more from your Underwater Photography’, which started in the March Underwater Photography section of Sport Diver UK.  I was also pleased to see my picture of the Japanese pygmy seahorse ‘Japapigu’ gracing the cover of DIVE magazine.  I had a slight change of pace for my article in Asian Geographic, which was an oceanography piece about the Coriolis Effect and its influence on polar seas.  Online, I also had the website of the week with the British Society of Underwater Photographer’s (BSOUP) and a featured album and blog for Wakatobi Dive Resort about my work on pygmy seahorses.

Asian Diver – ‘On the Sea Shores – A Diver’s Guide to Tides’ (Issue 1, 2014)

Asian Geographic – ‘Considering Coriolis’ (Issue 1, 2014)

Depth Magazine – ‘Exploring Australia’s Southern Seas’ (March/April 2014)

DIVE – ‘The Mysterious and Intimate World of Pygmy Seahorses’ article and cover shot (March 2014)

Sport Diver Photographing Behaviour articleSport Diver UK – ‘Get More from your Underwater Photography’ (March 2014) which was about me and the origins of my marine life passion, and ‘Get More from your Underwater Photography: Photographing Behaviour – Where to Start ‘ (May 2014)

Underwater Journal – ‘The Mysterious Pygmy Seahorse’ (Issue 31)

BSOUP (British Society of Underwater Photographers) website of the week

Wakatobi Dive Resort Facebook album and blog post

 

TV and Film Work

Still from 'Natural History Museum Alive'Over the past year or so I have worked on various TV and Natural History films along side 3D timelapse specialist Robert Hollingworth.  Many of these projects came to fruition at the start of this year and the tail end of last with ‘David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive’ (Sky), ‘Mysteries of the Unseen World’ (National Geographic 3D Imax film) and ‘Jimmy Doherty’s: Food Prices the Shocking Truth’ (Channel 4 – UK) all showing recently.

These projects took me from studios in the Cotswolds to chicken hatcheries in Holland and allowed me unprecedented access to explore the deserted halls of London’s Natural History Museum through the dead of night (which, I’m not going to lie, was absolutely terrifying).

2014 Marches On!

There will be lots of adventures over the coming months.  I am about to head to Indonesia where I will be joining fish gurus Paul Humann, Ned and Anna DeLoach on their two trips aboard Dewi Nusantara.  We start in Ambon and will sail through the Banda Sea to explore the southern islands of Flores, Alor and Wetar.  It will be these islands that we visit during my own trips in August, so we’ll know all the best places to take you!

If you’d like to get more up to date info from myself and my adventures over the coming months, head over to Facebook and ‘Like’ my page Richard Smith – Ocean Realm Images!