2017 has been full of ups and downs. It was personally challenging, with the sudden passing of my father at the end of 2016, but thankfully full of professional highs and amazing animal encounters.
AUSSIE ROAD TRIP
The year started off on a trip that I organised for dear friends, Ned and Anna DeLoach, Wendy Brown and Yann Alfian around southern Australia. I planned a road trip that included hunting for leafy seadragons and pyjama squids in South Australia, scouring the rich jetties of Melbourne for weedy seadragons and the world’s largest seahorses and hunting the cold temperate muck dives of the Derwent Estuary in Hobart for Critically Endangered spotted handfish. Lastly, we headed up to Port Stephens for more temperate water muck diving. We all donned our drysuits for the first time on this trip and had great fun trying to master these contraptions. It was certainly a learning curve, not helped by many of our dives taking place in just a few metres of water!
Same URL as before, but entirely reimagined. There is much more detail about trips, pygmies and higher resolution images to peruse. It’s still a work in progress, but do have a look: www.OceanRealmImages.com
In May, I headed to Tampa University for the third international SyngBio conference, which was a meeting of the world’s seahorse and pipefish researchers. It was great to meet this fantastic bunch of folk from across the world, and I was honoured to be invited to give the keynote speech ‘Seahorses and Beyond’ at the Tampa Aquarium for donors and attendees of the conference. I shared images and stories of little known and new species that I have been lucky enough to encounter from around the world.
At the end of the conference, there was also a meeting of the fifteen or so members of the IUCN Seahorse, Pipefish Stickleback Specialist Group that I was invited to join last year. During this meeting, which was the first for many of us, we began planning a global seahorse and pipefish conservation action plan. I was appointed head of the subgroup tasked with raising the profile of syngnathid conservation issues along with Drs Helen Scales and Heather Mason-Jones. This is something that will be pressing on in 2018.
Late in 2017, I also was appointed as Global Pygmy Seahorse Expert for iSeahorse. If you haven’t heard of it, iSeahorse is a fantastic citizen science program that uses data collected by divers and snorkelers about the syngnathids that they have encountered. Please go and have a look at their website about the information you can collect to help this cause. The data they have already collected has helped to extend the known range of many species and has given us a much better idea of global seahorse hotspots. Adding data to iSeahorse, I helped to extend the known range of Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse by 1,000 or so kilometres north to the Izu Islands in the cool waters off Japan which was quite the surprise. It just shows that there is still lots for us to discover about our oceans and iSeahorse is helping us to discover it.
I have also done some fun public talks this year, in addition to the one at Tampa Aquarium. I spoke at the Zoological Society of London to the London Ocean Group about my pygmy seahorse research in June. Again, I presented two talks in October at DIVE 2017, the British Dive Show at the NEC Birmingham. The first was about my forthcoming trip with Dive Worldwide to the Philippines in 2019, and the second about observing and photographing natural history behaviour underwater without disturbing the animals in question. The latter being a topic very close to my heart and something I always focus on during my group trips.
In Diver Magazine following the dive show, I was hugely honoured to receive a mention in Dr Alex Mustard’s monthly column. Alex is a photographer that I’ve always looked up to, I’m sure you’ve seen his work, but check out his amazing photography and many accolades here www.amustard.com:
“The best talk I caught was Dr Richard Smith’s ‘How to Capture Reef Life Au Naturel’ extolling the virtues and benefits of photographing marine life on its terms.
Richard’s argument was that those photographers who attempt to stage marine-life shots, don’t just risk harming the creatures, but also eradicate any chance of observing fascinating and photogenic natural behaviours, a point that Richard lavishly reinforced with his images.”
Dr Alex Mustard, Diver Magazine, December issue 2017.
COMPLETED GROUP TRIPS
Our Beloved Seas, the trips that I arrange and lead with Wendy Brown, had another fantastic year in 2017. We welcomed a full complement of 18 guests on each of our two trips to Triton Bay, West Papua in March/April 2017 aboard Dewi Nusantara. The first started in Sorong and headed down to Kaimana. The second started in Kaimana and ended up in Ambon. These both gave us great access to Triton Bay, whilst also adding some additional crossing sites which gave us chance to explore a bit and see some other highlights, such as the stunning Momon Waterfalls, whale sharks at Triton’s bagans and to see Jamal’s dottyback (Manonichthys jamali), which I’d longed to see for some time.
In September, we chartered Damai II for back to back explorations around the rarely visited Sangeang volcano, north west of Komodo. These were the first of our new ‘Muck Magic’ series of trips especially tailored for muck divers, focusing on the critter life of the area. They were such a huge success, with another full complement at 12 guests per trip, that we have planned Muck Magic III to the Philippines’ Anilao in April 2019. We had some real highlights on these Sangeang trips, mine being Renny’s Flasher wrasse found only around Komodo and Coleman’s melibe (Melibe colemani), of which I found three.
Again this year, I hosted an ‘Expert Led Trip’ for Dive Worldwide. This time to Raja Ampat aboard the Indo Siren. Sixteen of us explored this magical area and did some outstanding dives with some very exciting finds. My favourite was a tiny tunicate-living amphipod that I found pugnaciously poking his head out of a Polycarpa sea squirt, apparently protecting his young with fearsome thorny appendages.
Mid-year I headed to Siladen Resort, in the Bunaken National Park off North Sulawesi in Indonesia. I gave a series of marine life lectures to the guests there, and explored the reefs around Bunaken for the first time. I had some very interesting finds, perhaps my favourite being a red form of Halimeda ghost pipefish that seems fairly common in the area. I also found a flame angelfish off an area to the north east of Siladen Resort. These stunning fish are common around the Central Pacific, but don’t appear to have been recorded from Indonesia before. After Siladen, I spent ten days at the new Dive Into Lembeh, again giving marine life lectures to the resident guests. Having been to Lembeh Strait many times before, I really enjoyed the space and setting of the resort at the northern end of the strait, plus of course the bountiful creatures I encountered.
Wendy and I have recently added four brand new expeditions to the 2020 roster. I know this seems terribly far away, but time flies and we will be announcing these trips in the coming months. Our 2018 trips are almost full (just two spots left!) and 2019 is going the same way. There are more details about our upcoming trips below, or click here. If you’d like to join us on any of these trips please contact Wendy or myself for more information.
MAPIA ISLAND, NORTH WEST PAPUA | Dewi Nusantara
23rd July – 1st August 2018 (9 nights) – 1 x female share space available
Our trips are all but sold out for 2018. We have just one single female share space on each of our two charters of Dewi Nusantara in July/August. The first of these trips will be exploring Mapia Island, which is 100 nautical miles north of Manokwari on the north coast of Papua into the remote Pacific.
CENDERAWASIH BAY, NORTH WEST PAPUA | Dewi Nusantara
3-13th August 2018 (10 nights) – 1 x female share space available
Again, with just one female share space remaining, this second charter heads into Cenderawasih Bay in search of the many endemic fishes and to see the fabled whale shark aggregations.
DUMAGUETE, PHILIPPINES – ‘DUMAGUETE DIVE FESTIVAL II’ | Philippines at Atmosphere Resort
25th March – 5th April 2019 (13 day packages including flights from UK)
Following the success of my Dumaguete Dive Festival as an expert led group tour for Dive Worldwide in 2016, we have planned another for March/April 2019. We are not arranging this one, so for more information please follow the link above or contact Sales@DiveWorldwide.com
ANILAO, PHILIPPINES – ‘MUCK MAGIC III’ | Philippines at Buceo Resort
7 – 14th April 2019 (7 nights) – 3 x Deluxe Rooms available
Anilao is the Philippines answer to Lembeh Strait or Milne Bay, but like every dive area has its own peculiarities. I have found Anilao to be one of the richest area’s I’ve dived for nudibranchs. It’s the only place I have ever seen Allen’s Miamira (Miamira alleni, previously Ceratosoma alleni) and an amazing undescribed Thecacera, whilst it also has bountiful other muck critters such as hairy frogfish, mimic octopus, pygmy seahorses and flamboyant cuttlefish. We have taken the whole of Buceo Resort, which is located towards the tip of the peninsula and closest to the underwater action!
TUBBATAHA REEF, PHILIPPINES | Philippines, aboard Philippine Siren
14 – 22nd April 2019 (8 nights) – 1 x female share space available
I had a charter to Tubbataha in 2014 and have been keen to go back ever since. Tubbataha really is something very special. Whilst being at the heart of the Coral Triangle (the area around southeast Asia with the world’s highest marine biodiversity), the abundance of marine megafauna is very high. On one dive I counted 21 sharks on my last trip, which is unheard of in other areas. The two atols that make up Tubbataha are World Heritage protected, and unreachable due to their remote location so over six months of the year. It really is the last megafaunal wilderness of southeast Asia.
SAUMLAKI TO AMBON ‘SOUTH TO NORTH I’, INDONESIA | Indonesia, aboard Dewi Nusantara
23rd October – 4th November 2019 (11 nights) – 2 Deluxe Cabins, 1 female & 1 male share space available
Indonesia obviously holds a very special place in our hearts, and between us we have many many thousands of dives across the country. We are always looking for something different and new to offer our guests and are excited to offer these exciting itineraries for 2019. Starting in the Forgotten Islands, we will sail across the stunning and remote Banda Sea to the Muck Mecca of Ambon. Think blue water, tiny islets with possible hammerhead schools, the fabled snake island and many other unique creatures.
AMBON TO TERNATE,HALMAHERA ‘SOUTH TO NORTH II’, INDONISIA | Indonesia, aboard Dewi Nusantara
5th – 15th November 2019 (10 nights) – 1 male share space available
Heading north from Ambon we will visit Ceram (Seram), Pulau Obi and then up to Halmahera. Halmahera has been on my wish list for years. It has its own Bird of Paradise, Wallace’s Standardwing, and a new endemic walking shark (Hemiscyllium halmahera) plus many other unique fishes. This will really be something quite different too, and even very different from the previous trip. I can’t wait! Just one male share space is available for this one, so hurry.
2020 | COMING SOON! Please email me if you’d like to join our trip mailing list
Throughout 2017 I wrote many articles for various magazines around the world. I continued my column ‘Species’ in Sport Diver Magazine in the United States, as well as contributing lots of content for their Bizarre issue. I also added more ‘Natural History Notes’ to my series on the Bird’s Head Seascape website. I’ve also written the following stand-alone features, among others:
FIVE FAVOURITE FIRSTS OF 2017
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 2017. After 3,500 dives there is still so much to see. This is why I keep diving and we always make a donation through our trips to help preserve our amazing oceans.
- New Zealand Pygmy Pipehorse (New genus and species!) – Northern North Island, New Zealand
- Renny’s Flasher Wrasse (Paracheilinus rennyae) – Komodo, Indonesia
- Jamal’s Dottyback (Manonichthys jamali) – Triton Bay, Indonesia
- Tunicate Amphipod (Leucothoe sp.) – Raja Ampat, Indonesia
- Coleman’s Melibe (Melibe colemani) – Komodo, Indonesia
LOOKING AHEAD IN 2018
I have some exciting plans in 2018, some of which I can’t yet announce but, trust me, they’re exciting! I have announcements about public talks in new parts of the world for me, scientific research that I’m looking forward to sharing and of course new group trips for you to join and lots of publications in the pipeline.
I can tell you that I have been invited to join The Underwater Tour. I will be joining three other underwater photographers (Jurgen Freund, Jason Isley and Darren Jew) to tour four Australian state capitals over four days in May. You can now book tickets, so come along and hear us!
Wednesday 9 May Brisbane, Queensland Multicultural Centre
Thursday 10 May Perth, Kim Beazley Lecture Theatre, Murdoch University
Friday 11 May Melbourne, Kino Cinema, Collins Place, CBD
Saturday 12 May Sydney, The Guthrie Theatre, University of Technology
2018 also sees the start of my new column in Scuba Diver Magazine: ‘Inside Ocean’. The first was just published and is all about mouth-brooding cardinalfishes.
In a few weeks we are heading to the Galapagos Islands for sold out back to back charters aboard Galapagos Sky liveaboard. We’re all really excited about these trips, and something rather different than a Coral Triangle dive trip.
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