Our planet still has exceptional wildlife. But one must travel far to witness some of the last remaining unspoiled areas. Arriving in Sorong brought back old memories of my last visit and it felt so right.
After our very first day of diving, before setting sail south to Misool, we visited a small beautiful island. A perfect postcard jewel. Setting foot on its long lazy beach towards the end of the afternoon, just as the last jet ski buzzed back to the awful mother ship that spawned it, we found a lonesome man collecting the day’s plastic litter in large bags.
He told us he had moved here to flee the mad buzzings of the city, in search for peace and nature. Now, every day, hundreds of tourists invade the beach of the small island he calls home, shedding plastic litter like the physical manifestations of their stress on vacation. Every evening he collects the plastic to ship it back to the mainland, and every morning the waves of jetski-propelled crowds ebb and flow, so blissfully carefree. This modern Sisyphus was out-posted at the first crossroad of our trip, like a warning to be conscious of our every action, here more than anywhere perhaps. Don’t squander the shores of paradise.
Why am I here? I mean in Raja Ampat, not in the universe. I met legendary marine conservationist Dr. Rod Salm during the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii. Rod is one of the visionary conservationists who initiated the Marine Protected Area program of Raja Ampat, ten years ago. I asked him if he could, from the summit of his outstanding career, say what the missing silver bullet is for conservation to succeed. He laughed and replied: “people don’t even have their sh*t together, how could there be a silver bullet?” What he meant of course is that most of us live with little or no understanding of our daily impact on nature. Carelessly. Mindlessly. Like the jetski tourist sprinkling the shores of paradise with plastic. We are all like that. Not because we’re evil or anything: society is just designed this way. Water, air, nature are all blind spots into which we pour our externalities. How can we become more mindful?
I got a little sidetracked there, but it does tie back into the story of the trip. I told Rod about the project to revisit the places my father had explored half a century ago and to document the changes, and understand the why. He put me in touch with Jos Pet, one of the owners of the Seven Seas liveaboard to explore possible synergies and using their ship as a platform to revisit the South East Asia locations. Jos was very kind to ask me to join this trip, which was leaving in only a few weeks and had one free bed.
Exploring Raja Ampat on the Seven Seas vessel was an amazing adventure. Contemplating the complex landscapes of stone sculpted by time and the elements, bathing for hours in the heart of the coral triangle, dive after dive, the images of luxuriant coral and exuberant fish began to paint the inside of my eyelids, diluting desires, infiltrating dreams. In this heaven, where days blurred together, one creature would occasionally manifest its angelic grace: the oceanic manta ray.
Swiveling between the pillars of the divers’ bubbles, the manta rays come to a stationary hover to clean, casting upon our exhilarated faces and flailing bodies a magnanimous gaze. Later, I become lost in an endless field of corals, the dancing sunlight above raining undulating energy into the chloroplasts of the zooxanthella who feed them. Concentric clouds of fish pulsate around the corals to an imperceptible rhythm, dancing like a membrane between home and the hunt.
Above the water and between every dive, I launch the drone into the sky. Gaining new perspective, higher vantage, it feels like a widening of the mind as well as the field of view. My spirit is transferred to the small flying machine and its tiny camera. I fly at full speed only a few feet above the sea, then leap up to 400 feet to gain the overview.
Scouting each island, I perhaps make the first observation ever of a hidden lake. None of the crew or the captain knew about it. It has probably been found by satellite long ago, but in case not, I baptized it Lake PY. After a quick flyby and identifying the best access route however, I was not permitted to climb the razor-sharp stone cliff that leads to it. Hopefully, this will be the object of a future expedition, and new discoveries!
As we visit areas that have been declared no-take marine protected areas, we encounter fishermen, illegally casting nets and lines from their needle-like vessels. One man who converted from fishing to making coconut oil makes a small fortune selling us his goods. Overall, the coral was amazing. This heart of the coral triangle contains more biodiversity within a football field sized area than the entire Caribbean Sea.
Only a few dive sites had an impressive amount of fish. Frail, scarce, and terrorized sharks could sometimes be seen in the dark depths. Plastic was very present everywhere, mostly floating at the surface. Together with the passengers and crew, we must have collected a dozen kilos of it from the sea during the trip. Because the ship served any fish at all, and because passengers would have it on a near-daily basis, I’ve had to wonder how much of that fish came from or impacted this MPA or another one. I tried to follow Ryan, my bunkmate, into going vegetarian, but rapidly tired of the tempe and tofu. Meat consumption contributes to roughly one third of global greenhouse gas emissions.
By choice or by fate, we are done eating the sea. Every year our taxes subsidize the 30+ billion dollars worldwide overfishing effort, making each one of us an active participant in the devastation of the ocean, regardless of our consumption choices. Fish plays such an important role for the food security of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. It should and could be better managed. Sustainably managing marine resources could trigger societal breakthrough of the magnitude of the invention of agriculture 12,000 years ago.
In Raja Ampat, one of the last remaining coral gardens of the planet, which has now been protected with no-take zones for 10 years, there is still ways to go to provide alternate livelihoods to local populations, and alternate meals and habits to visiting tourists. As fish stocks dwindle worldwide, this heart of the coral triangle needs improved surveillance and enforcement to protect its biological resources from local and international covetousness. Improved zoning and the creation of specific fishing corridors could ensure long-term subsistence fishing while conserving key sites.
Re-discovering the ship-littered harbor that’s Sorong after ten days at sea, Karen, one of the passengers, exclaimed: “wow. so much metal”. In this small harbor, handfuls of fortunate souls board wooden sailboats with eyes and minds wide open to absorb every instant. Those who disembark on the pier struggle to retain the precious images of untamed nature in their minds amidst the assaults of advertising announcements and screaming screens.
For more blogs from Pierre-Yves Cousteau, visit cousteaudivers.wordpress.com.
Book Review: Erebus – The story of a ship (2019)
In a title of six words, Erebus: The story of a ship, Michael Palin tells us precisely what his book is all about. Through a comprehensive analysis of the Ship’s Logs and crew reports, personal letters, private and naval journals, books, papers and newspaper articles he documents the life of the ship and its crews. He traces their histories from the launch of the ship at Pembroke dock in 1826, via unremarkable Mediterranean patrols, lengthy voyages to Australia to bone chilling Antarctic and Arctic expeditions. They culminate in the last crew abandoning the ship, trapped in Arctic pack ice, in 1848.
However, Erebus: The story of a ship is more than a mere chronology of dates, actions and events. Michael Palin tells us a complex story. It’s an evolving story of the interpersonal relationships of those men serving on the ship; relationships that blossom and those that deteriorate. It includes accounts of influential men and women who shaped the voyages and crew selection. It also notes the impact of sponsors and suppliers who may have contributed to the final tragedy. It’s a story illustrated by Victorian photographs, other colour photographs and paintings, sonar images, maps and sketches. They all serve to provide a picture of the life and death of those on board HMS Erebus.
In 1846, during the heroic but ill-fated Franklin Expedition, HMS Erebus, her companion ship HMS Terror, captained by Francis Crozier, and a total of 129 men, “vanished off the face of the earth whilst trying to find a way through the Northwest Passage” (ppxii – xiii). This was the prized northern route to China and India via Arctic waters. HMS Erebus wasn’t seen again until one hundred and sixty-nine years later under thirty-six feet of Arctic water. Divers found the wreck remarkably intact as their description and photographs reveal.
Palin describes how the search for Erebus and her crew extended over decades – often suggesting missed opportunities as well as shocking findings. His summary account of the last desperate months and weeks of their survival, as the expedition disintegrated, is poignant in the extreme.
It’s tempting to describe the book as a slow burn that builds into an inferno – but words like ‘burn’ and ‘inferno’ are at odds with Palin’s descriptive account of the mind numbing cold of Arctic winters and a ship entombed in pack ice for years. Certainly, the pace of the early chapters appear relatively slow when compared to the final crescendo – but they provide an invaluable background to an understanding of the unfolding drama.
You don’t have to be a historian or a marine archaeologist, a sailor or traveller to marvel at the story of HMS Erebus and her crews. You don’t have to be a sentimentalist to read: ‘The one comfort from the whole unmitigated disaster was the news that bodies had been discovered far enough south to prove that Crozier had led his doomed men to the last link in the chain of marine connections that made up to Northwest Passage’ (p. 261).
Erebus: The story of a ship (2019)
- By Michael Palin
- London: Arrow Books
- ISBN 9781 784 758578
- 334 pp
Michael Palin has written and starred in numerous TV programmes; perhaps Monty Python is one of the most famous. He has made several acclaimed travel documentaries to the North and South Pole as well as the Sahara desert and the Himalayas. His books include Hemingway’s Chair (1998) and The Truth (2013). Between 2009 and 2012 he was President of the Royal Geographical Society. Michael Palin was knighted in 2019 and lives in London.
Find out more about Professor Fred Lockwood, who is also a published author, at www.fredlockwood.co.uk.
SSI introduces new SSI Decompression Diving Specialty Program
SSI has announced the latest addition to their Recreational Diving program, the SSI Decompression Diving Specialty.
SSI developed this innovative new specialty to bridge the gap between recreational diving and their Extended Range (XR) programs. The SSI Decompression Diving Specialty is the perfect opportunity for recreational divers to get a small taste of what more advanced diving is like without having to commit to going entirely technical right off the bat.
Often, the difference between recreational equipment and a more technical set-up seems intimidating and overwhelming to the standard dive customer. However, if you are looking to market your technical diving program, the new Decompression Diving Specialty is the perfect way to slowly introduce your dive customers to the excitement and adventure offered by the Extended Range (XR) programs.
The Decompression Diving Specialty provides SSI divers the training necessary to independently plan and conduct decompression dives using either traditional recreational equipment or introducing them to using a sidemount system. This program will take divers to a maximum depth of 40 meters with a maximum accumulated decompression time of 15 minutes.
If you are a current SSI Extended Range Nitrox, SSI CCR Extended Range, or SSI SCR Extended Range Instructor or higher and interested in teaching this exciting new program, simply sign-up online for a FREE online upgrade. If you are currently an SSI Instructor in any other discipline, contact your affiliated Training Center for more information on becoming an SSI Decompression Diving Instructor and learn how to start introducing divers to the world of decompression diving today!
Find out more at www.divessi.com.
WIN an XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask!!!
For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with our good friends at Nautilus Diving to give away an XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask! The XDEEP...
WIN a Bigblue Expandable Tray!!!
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WIN a Beuchat Air Light Bag!!!
For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with our good friends at Beuchat to give away an Air Light Bag! The Air...
Win a Waterproof BODY 2X Power Stretch Hollow Fiber Undergarment!!!
For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with our good friends at CPS Partnership to give away a Waterproof BODY 2X...
Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue. With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after.
Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life. The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.
£1475 per person based on double occupancy. Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available. Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp. Flights and transfers are included. See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.
This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place. Come Dive with Us!
Call 020 3515 9955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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