Archive for January, 2007

Bahamas – Return to Tiger Beach

Posted in travel, video with tags , , , , , , , on January 30, 2007 by shawnheinrichs

After a relatively easy crossing, we woke the next day at a site called First Look. The action kicked up immediately when a huge great hammerhead shark showed up only moments after dropping the first bait crate in the water. The huge dorsal fin slicing the surface was unmistakable…this one was a monster! A few lucky souls caught a glimpse of the hammerhead underwater passing in the distance.

The reef below the boat was swarming with Caribbean reef sharks. Every so often a lone lemon sharked popped up to checks things out. This was the perfect opportunity for some of the new shark divers to cut there teeth and hone their camera skills before the big boys showed up. As a crescendo to the first day of diving, a beautiful 10 foot tiger paid a visit. While ascending to the down line, the tiger made one pass after another, offering incredible photo opportunities in the deep blue water. What a way to kick start a trip!

Day 2 put us at the famed Tiger Beach where sky blue waters lapped on the golden sands of the serene Bahamian islet. One would never suspect what awesome creatures swam below the surface in these waters. We started the day with Lemon Snaps. Forget images of English tea time because these little biscuits have teeth! The trick is to “snap” split shot of a lemon shark, mouth wide open, silhouetted against the rising sun. Sound easy…ask anyone who’s tried it.

By the time we had finished our Lemon Snaps, the water was teaming with lemons and tigers. The crew jumped in and the show began. We had a dozen lemons and four magnificent tigers ranging in size from 6 foot Kimberly and Begonia, to 10 foot Baby Cakes, to queen of the prom Emma measuring in at a massive 14 feet. The visibility was spectacular, the lemons playful, and the tigers well behaved ‘players’. A perfect day on Tiger Beach, what more could you ask for?

As the tides shifted and visibility degraded, we decided to leave the beach and go looking for dolphins up north. Luck wasn’t on our side and we reluctantly turned back. But the day was not over. We stopped for dinner at the Sugar Wreck. After a quick meal, we pulled on wet scuba gear for a night dive. Huge loggerhead turtles, giant barracudas, puffers, squids and various other night creatures were among the treats that night. Unfortunately the winds picked up and we had to head south for cover.

The next day in churning seas, we searched for a dive site that would afford some protection. Ultimately we landed on Carcarius Cut. With storm clouds overhead and tumultuous seas, the visibility was dropping quickly. We braved 2 dives and enjoyed encounters with numerous Caribbean reef sharks, a huge school of barracuda, large groupers, a glass minnow swim through, lion fish and for those lucky enough to spot them, 2 tiger sharks. The weather continued to degrade as we quickly pulled anchor. This time we ran even further south and hid behind Grand Bahama.

The following morning and day 4 we returned to Tiger Beach. The storm had done a number on the visibility. A few of us did a little lemon wrangling to pass time, hoping the shift in tides would clear the water. After several hours, a few eager souls jumped into the murk. We quickly deemed it not such a good idea and abandoned Tiger Beach for the day.

On our way to next dive site, good fortune smiled on us and delivered some spotted dolphins leaping in front of our bow. We all grabbed snorkels and fins and on Jim’s command, leapt into the water. Within seconds 3 dolphins whirled through the group. One pass after another, twisting, turning and spinning, all in deep blue water. Everyone had amazing encounters. We were all grins. Eventually the playful dolphins tired of us and we continued on our way.

We arrived at the dive site of Sherwood Forest. The sun was moments from setting so lights were mandatory. The visibility was nothing to write home about and the water was getting cold. A few Caribbean reef sharks showed up but they too seemed to avoid the cold thermocline…who says sharks aren’t smart;) A few in group put on their “Lembeh” hats and busied themselves with macro critters. We were all stunned by the images of what they uncovered just meters from the anchor.

With seas settling down, the decision was made to journey to “The End of the Map” in search of the great hammerheads. This is the site where it all comes together. True to form, we had exciting and close encounters with Tigers, Bulls, Great Hammers and even a couple of Nurse Sharks. The current was mild and visibility good. Most of the action happened on the bottom at 85 feet, with an occasional sniff by a Tiger on the surface. As the day passed, the wind and waves increased. By nightfall we were running north for shelter.

Sadly, the next 2 days were blown out by wind ranging from 20-30 miles per hour. We busied ourselves editing photos, watching movies and wrangling a few sharks in the shallows. On the evening of our departure, we brought a few lemons in and did our best to capture Lemon Snaps in the setting sun. A final farewell to our shark friends and we headed west to West Palm.

Throughout the week we had periodic reminders of how fragile these great sharks actually are. A hook lodged in the mouth of a tiger shark, a trailing fishing line from a bull shark, and the damaged jaw of a reef shark all pointed to it. Sharks are slow to grow, slow to reproduce and are incredibly vulnerable to over-fishing. Each day they are fished from these waters, and to a much greater degree, from waters around the world. Sadly, even though there numbers are already diminished by greater than 90%, no protection has been afforded them. We wonder when people will finally take notice, finally take action, finally do the right thing.

On every trip Jim tries to increase the awareness of a few more people of the plight of sharks. Perhaps if he reaches enough people with this message, it will finally make the difference.

DiveFilm Podcast – Sharkfin Frontier

Posted in conservation, news, production, video with tags , , , , , on January 13, 2007 by shawnheinrichs

The latest DiveFilm Podcast Video, Episode 37, is now live. “Shark Fin Frontier” by Shawn Heinrichs is a very powerful film that portrays the tragic decimation of sharks and shark populations by humans and the shark fin industry. Beautiful images of lush tropical marine settings are juxtaposed with the all-too-common scene below the surface of dead sharks littering the bottom, their fins cut off to feed an insatiable market for shark fin.

As most here on the video forum are aware, in addition to being a fantastic underwater filmmaker, Shawn is also a conservation forum moderator here at Wetpixel, and a regular contributor to the video forums. Thank you, Shawn, for allowing us to podcast your film and make it available to the growing iTunes Podcast audience. DiveFilm Podcast Videos are among the “Featured Video Podcasts, TV & Film” at the US iTunes Store, and as such gain significant exposure to a more general audience who might not otherwise come across this video. Please consider subscribing to the podcasts through iTunes to help keep these podcasts featured. To learn more about how to subscribe, please visit the Wetpixel podcast info page. DiveFilm Podcast Video is produced in partnership with Wetpixel.

-Mary Lynn

Amazon.com Pulls Shark Fin Products

Posted in conservation, news with tags , , on January 11, 2007 by shawnheinrichs

Victory! Today, Amazon has pulled all shark fin related products from their offering. No official statement has yet been made by the company; however it appears that they have chosen the ecologically responsible path.

Wetpixel brought this issue to the public in a post dated Jan 1 (followed by a front-page post on Jan 4). Within hours, members caused this story to spread like wildfire to many major media outlets around the world. Members pressed on, and after only 10 days of protest, a major corporation has pulled an objectionable product line from their offering. This is an impressive feat—a testament to the power of the internet to inform and drive action. In the uphill battle to save shark populations from extinction, there are some wins. Way to go, folks!

The next step is to impress upon Amazon the importance of taking a public stand against trade of endangered species (in this case sharks). Take a moment to send a communication to Amazon voicing your support for their immediate action and asking them to take this stand (customer service at advantage@amazon.com and investor relations at ir@amazon.com).

*UPDATE*: If you would like to voice your support for Amazon’s decision to remove shark fin products and press them to take a public stand on this issue, please feel free to you use the following text: (continue for full text)…

Shawn Heinrichs Joins Wetpixel Team

Posted in news, tips & technique with tags on January 10, 2007 by shawnheinrichs

Please join me in welcoming Shawn Heinrichs to the Wetpixel moderating team! Shawn will help to promote and lead discussions related to conservation and environmental issues.

About Shawn: Shawn Heinrichs is an independent videographer and filmmaker who specializes in underwater and adventure travel.  His passion and work have taken him to the corners of the planet in pursuit of wild encounters with some of the oceans’ most impressive creatures. Shawn is dedicated to marine conservation and is active in a number of conservation initiatives. His video offers a perfect medium to capture the majesty of the underwater realm and communicate it to the world, in hopes of creating increased public appreciation, understanding, and action.  Shawn shoots in high-definition with a Sony HDV-FX1 in a Light and Motion housing.

Remember, we have other moderators, too!  If you’re interested in seeing the team behind Wetpixel.com, please check out the About Wetpixel page.

Raja Ampat – Misool Eco Resort

Posted in conservation, photography, production, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2007 by shawnheinrichs

Trip update & photos: Justin Ebert

In early December, Shawn, Taro, and I had the opportunity to visit the site of the future Eco Misool Resort and meet with Andrew Miners.  Many of the infrastructural items that will make transport and resort living realistic are not yet in place.  Nonetheless it was very important to get a first view of the work being done to put things in place.  Our 2 primary goals were to review the land site and the diving.

We traveled from Singapore and eventually arrived in Sorong, West Papua.  Currently, there is no high speed transport to the island from the “mainland”.  Andrew is in the process of reworking a fast rescue boat that may be used for transport, but until that is in place, getting to the island takes around 14 hours or more.  In our case we were offered spots on a wooden ship that had been rented by Conservation International (CI).  CI has a strong presence in the area and is actively researching environmental programs (marine sanctuaries, etc.).  Helen (of CI)  had rented this boat to travel around Raja Ampat for a week and meet with villages to discuss future environmental programs.  Due to this important work, our journey actually took closer to 24 hours.  During this time we had the opportunity to meet with children in the villages and show them underwater videos on a laptop and educate them about the wonders in the ocean all around them.  Many Indonesians do not swim and have never seen the beauty of their reefs.  If we expect them to protect and steward their seas then they need to become emotionally connected and proud.  We received an amazing, excited response from everybody we met.  We decided this was something we would like to invest more in, perhaps having a small mobile theater and bringing snorkels and masks to villages to educate the children.

Upon arriving at the island, we took a brief tour.  Andrew has set up a temporary camp for the 15 local workers and 4 or so foreign workers who are currently building the resort and conservation center.  They are currently focused on the construction of the dive center and a beautiful stone path up and over the island.  Their goal is 25 year quality construction.  The dive center is a centerpiece of the resort – large natural construction with wide open views of the central bay.  The view from the oversized deck is simply stunning.  They are designing the building very artistically to merge with the natural rock of the island to form the back wall.  I am confident it will be of excellent quality.

The central bay is the primary focus of the resort.  It contains the dive center, restaurant, and all the rental cottages.  The premium investor cottages are located both out on the point of the bay (for better view, breeze, and privacy) as well as on the south beach (take the stone path to hike to the other side of the island).  They will be built over the water, right next to the wall of the front house reef.  This will give “roll out of bed and fall in” access to fantastic snorkeling and diving.

Now, for the diving!  The water in Raja Ampat is very warm and for the most part quite clear and blue.  Occasionally (as we experienced for 2 days in the middle of the trip) this rich plankton filled water can grow murky.  Without a doubt all of us experienced reef structures, color, and density we had only dreamed of.  The vibrancy of the coral is difficult to communicate – it’s a bit like a bright carnival of colors.  I only hope that the photos with this report can give you a rough idea.  Raja Ampat is exploding with soft and hard corals, but additionally we saw some of the largest schools of fish any of us had experienced.  Shawn best described the school sizes by comparing it to Galapagos, a world class site with typically low visibility and chillier water.  Andrew had just received his compressor and we were some of the first divers from the island.   The region is huge and stunningly unexplored.  Many of the boat dives we took were in location no-one had ever dived before.  We even went in search of (and located) and old WWII Japanese boat based on village rumors Andy had gathered over the years.  Unfortunately, although we found it, it had mostly been eaten by the sea.

As we all know, a major component of Eco Misool is centered on conservation.  In addition to the diving we had the opportunity to visit some turtle nesting beaches around Batbitim.  These nests have been under stress in the past as turtle eggs have been taken and sold on the market.  Now, with help from Andrew and Eco Misool these areas are being patrolled and protected.  In fact, Andrew has leased a turtle nesting island as a special turtle conservation area.  When we were diving we saw quite a few beautiful turtles underwater.  Hopefully with proper protection this number will grow dramatically.  The villagers say that a long time ago this region had so many turtles that you could walk on the backs of them across the ocean.  That would be a wonderful goal to restore.

Based on the diving we did, I am most excited by the miles and miles of untouched, unexplored islands and reef all around the resort.  Almost all of it is more impressive than anything I have seen to date.  The seas were almost perfectly calm.  Dolphins swim past every day.  There are schools of Tuna almost continuously feeding on the surface of the water.  What a paradise!

Images by Justin Ebert