Matt Segal underwater photography - reports

Kimbe, Papua New Guinea 2004

Papua New Guinea soft coralsFor those of you who can't stand long plane flights, third-world countries, or lack of any large indication of current technology...Papua New Guinea is not for you. For those of you that can endure the threat of malaria infection, medical facilities 24hrs from your location, and a plethora of undisturbed and pristine reefs, however, you might think of making Papua New Guinea your next diving destination.

My journey started in Los Angeles, flying direct to Sydney International Airport via Qantas Airlines, departing around 11AM This is a 14 hour flight. Thankfully, the plane was only half full, and each of my friends and I had our own row to lie down in if need be. Do not expect this to be common though. Arriving in Sydney at night, we stepped out of the airport to experience pouring rain, lighting, thunder, and cold winds. Then again, it was winter. We stayed overnight at some random small hotel, didn't unpack anything, and the next morning we went back to the Sydney Airport and flew to Cairns (pronounced "Cans") in around 3 hours. After an hour or two layover, we boarded an Air Niugini (pronounced New Guinea) flight from Cairns to Port Moresby (2 hour flight). In Port Moresby, we boarded a flight (1.5 hour flight) to Hoskins airport (30 person plane), near Kimbe. The Mike Ball dive staff were waiting for us there, they grabbed our luggage and we loaded up into the eurovans they had.

On our way to the boat at Walinidi, we had our first foreshadowing of the trip as not one, but two tires blew out on the van. This was soon fixed, and after near 24 hours of traveling, we arrived at the boat.
Gray shark
The crew went through the usual introductions, safety precautions, waivers, and the like. We all had dinner (which I must mention - the food on the boat over the entire trip was excellent...) and went to bed, ready to begin diving the next day. On Saturday, we woke up to choppy seas (5-foot swell or so), but we decided to try the dive site.

Descending into the blue over the reef, I experienced sensory overload. After my previous dive in California in which I was hard at work looking to subjects to take pictures of, my brain simply could not understand how there could be so many fearless fish in this water, and for the first 5-10 minutes, I took perhaps 5 pictures. After that, I just started shooting all the fish I could see. And there were tens, if not hundreds of fish in the water around me. Simply incredible.

Another thing that I simply couldn't comprehend was the deep blue tint of the water. Clearer with better visibility than I'd ever experienced (except perhaps when I was certified in G. Cayman, but I didn't respect it back then), but just a shade of blue that was absolutely incredible. Additionally, a species that I had no idea was in PNG (I thought it was limited to more of the Fiji area) was the soft coral that I saw on nearly every dive.Coral crab

Now, I was disappointed for a couple reasons. While there was an enormous amount of tropical fish and various coral species, I didn't see any: frogfish, batfish, sea moths, gurnards, pipefish, seahorses, eels, wobbegongs, or rays.

Apparently, there's an explanation for this. The weather was extremely rough during the time we were there (mid/end-June), and we were kept from doing many of the open-ocean pinnacles.

This also precluded us from diving the muck diving spots of Kimbe Bay, where much of these species are found. If you do want large amounts of macro subjects, it was suggested to take the Mike Ball trip out of Milne Bay, where those subjects abound. If I do return to PNG to dive, I'm sure that would be the area you might find me.

Oh, and I know everyone hears warm-water diving and knows you still end up wearing a shorty wetsuit of some sort, but how about 87deg F water temperature? No thermoclines whatsoever, simply constant temperature. It was very comfortable. I suppose I expected there to be many more nudibranchs than I saw, but I guess it fits into the "go to Milne Bay" category...regardless, there were a few lookers... Anemonefish

All incredible trips are not without their losses, and I experienced mine on the very first day of diving. That day, I set up my camera gear and placed it on the camera table in the center of the dive deck that was available for the divers. Seas were calm and the boat rocked much less than some of my local California dive trips. I then went up a deck to eat breakfast. While eating, a sudden swell came up that sent everyone out of their chairs, and tables sliding across the room.

I ran down to check on my camera gear only to find one of the DMs setting it back up on the camera table. I asked him what happened, and he said it fell completely off the camera table to the ground (a good 5ft, no less). It was then that I noticed him holding the DS-125 battery that had previously been snapped onto the back of the DS-125 strobe. I remember thinking I could simply snap it back on, but when I went to do so, I found that the plastic connector edges (on the battery) that pull against the mount on the strobe to seal it had snapped off in the fall. The battery was now useless to me.

When I did simply slide it onto the back, I noticed that the strobe (and aiming light) still worked perfectly. Additionally, in checking the housing, it suffered no apparent damage. Ikelite is definitely the most durable of products that I've used. This made me immensely happy, as I could keep using the strobe during the trip.Dameselfish and cleaner wrasse

While at our second dive site (still the first day of diving), a diver and I inadvertently strayed into the territory of a nesting female Titan Triggerfish (which the DMs conveniently forgot to mention to us), in this case a nearly 3ft by 1.5ft fish that did not like this whatsoever. After ramming the both of us in the head (which felt like having someone come right down on top of you with a tank), the fish proceeded to snap at everything we both had. It bit at my fins, my tank, and finally saw my photo gear, which it snapped at a couple times. It was during one of those snaps that the fish was able to get a hold of, and bite into, the sync cord coming out of the manual controller, leaving two deep puncture marks on each side. At first I thought the integrity had held up, but prior to the next dive at that site, when testing the setup, I merely heard error beeps from the strobe on every setting of the manual controller. It was then that I noticed salt crystals at the points of the bite on the cord.

I pulled the manual controller out of the setup, ran the normal sync cord from the housing to the strobe, and worked with 4 power settings the rest of the trip. It is nearly impossible to take a picture of this, but the damage consists of two small puncture marks on each side of the sync cord, space approximately 1" apart. Ikelite has mentioned that these will not be a problem whatsoever to fix, and I once again commend a truly reputable company.

It was only the first day, and already I was down nearly $300 in equipment, and basically had to relearn everything regarding strobe use. Thankfully, I was still learning anyway, so not too much changed, and by the third day of diving, I can easily say I was taking some of the best pictures of my u/w photography hobby career. Soft coral wide angle

The boat was a catamaran design, and it was extremely spacious. The majority of the areas one spent time in were either air-conditioned (inside), or shaded from sun (outside), excepting the sundeck on the 3rd level. The basic room (what a friend and I stayed in) had two beds, 1 full bathroom (shower/sink/toilet),and plenty of space (a full dresser was provided for clothes). One might be able to check the actual sizing in ft/m on the Mike Ball site, but they were plenty spacious for the purposes. 120v outlets were provided in the room (2), and I was glad I had brought a power strip to power everything.

Each site seemed to have it's own specialty, whether it was anemone fish (in anemones of course), soft corals, sharks, or a random selection of everything. Like mentioned before, the majority of the fish were not afraid of people whatsoever, hardly having any exposure to them.

All in all, I took nearly 2,500 photos in 6 days of diving. All photos were taken in RAW, and then processed with Adobe CS. I would consider myself at this point in time (July 14th) approximately 1/3 done going through and selecting, and maybe 2/3 done with the first cut of images. Obviously, this means there is more work ahead of me, but I don't truly consider sharing the wondrous colors of the underwater world to others work.Anemonefish charge

At one dive site (remembering names of the dive sites, one strangely enough was named "The Craic" pronounced "The Crack"...odd Aussies), the dive crew decided to attract a number of sharks by placing freshly cut tuna in a bait box suspended to a rope...and sharks did come. A count by a few divemasters guesstimated nearly 30 sharks in the water around us at any one time. Species ranged from whitetips to blacktips to grays, and of course the accompanying fish. Supposedly I had a small remora attached to one of my black fins for the majority of the dive...unbeknownst to me as I was always taking pictures.

At the end of the second dive at the site (and after running into an approximately 6ft Great Barracuda that was hovering under the boat (that I have nearly 80 photos of...yet to peruse all those, scary looking s.o.b.)), the divemasters decided to open the box of tuna and let the sharks at it. This was a mistake. The sharks went into something of a frenzy and started hitting everything in within 100ft of the reef became targets, including the fusiliers that were always following the sharks looking for scraps.

In 10min, the fish population was reduced, and the sharks cruised around, still searching. Really quite incredible to watch the whole display. Lionfish were a new species for me on this trip, but, sadly, I never did see any truly free-swimming examples. Most were small, no larger than a foot, seen on night dives.

Papua New Guinea as a whole was an incredible country, one that in a few years I would not mind returning to, but to explore different dive areas. Variety is always a plus.

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