The Chuuk Experience.

Chuuk lagoon, which we soon discovered was pronounced more like the small, domesticated fowl (Australian pronunciation), and less like the large automobile, has been on my “Must Dive” list for a very long time now. The worlds greatest aggregation of World War Two wrecks, siting in dive-able, recreational depths and thirty degree water. Why wouldn’t it be?

This is a typical Chuukese taxi rank! With Chuuk being more water than land, almost every one commutes via these small fibreglass taxis. Rush hour on the lagoon is fantastic to watch.

There is something in the lagoon for every one. Personally, I love seeing how the ecosystem copes and recovers after such an apocalyptic event. There were still wrecks that releasing toxic chemicals and oils in to the water 5 years ago (75 years after the cataclysm). For the hard core wreck divers, there are still parts of ships that haven’t been explored, that are starting to be accessible as the superstructure begins to rust out. And for everyone in between, there are planes that are in snorkelling depth, and so many massive schools of fish your breath will be taken away.

Our boat for the week, waiting patiently for us as we sip fresh coconuts and off gas, after a quick snorkel on a plane that barely made it 100 meters of the landing strip.

This place is full of fascinating history, and I could bore you with the whole story, but there are 100 page + books to read if you want to know more (try, “Dive Truk Lagoon” by Rob MacDonald). Needless to say, due to the beautiful natural structures provided by the 100,000 year old volcano, that in its death created the barrier reef, there were five safely navigable passes to enter the lagoon! What a defendable position. The lagoon itself is large enough, that anchorages chosen by the Japanese naval fleet (1939-1944) were safe from bombardment from outside the lagoon.

The Japanese used their incredibly powerful geographical location to wreck havoc on that region of Asia for a few months. Unaware of how large the operation in Truk had become, the Americans flew some reconnaissance missions over the lagoon, early February of 1944. This prompted the larger, more valuable imperial Japanese Navy warships to leave the lagoon, however, there were still tens of vessels, hundreds of planes and thousands of men in the Lagoon. Operation Hailstone began on the 17th of February, 1944, and was insanely efficient at destroying the Japanese Naval base, destroying over 50 ships and 250 planes, and the loss of countless lives.

Our amazing guide, Keeran inspecting the growth on the mast of the Sankisan Maru.

Which left us adventurous divers, an incredible diving play ground. There are ships so big, that when you drop on to them, it felt we weren’t diving on a wreck, more on a reef. It wasn’t until 20 meters and deeper that you started to get the feel for the beast that lay there. Twisted metal, crusted with green algae and soft corals, opening up holes in to the side of the once magnificent ship. Letting us peer in to the lives of those soldiers. The penetrations were beautiful, little glass fish flitting about, in schools with ballet like precision. Huge guns lying on the smashed metal, some still pointing to the sky, ready to fire at a moments notice. Inside the holds are dark, very dark, but the beams of divers torches as silver threads in midnight satin, pierce the gloom to see artefacts of china, sake bottles, or Navy mens shoes.

Soft corals, look dull from a far, but shine your torch on their delicate bodies, and the reds, blues, purples and greens are breath taking. Planes in the hold of a sunken ship, captivate me, the brain struggles to process, planes, in a ship, under the ocean. Big fish surrounding the ancient metal, still standing proud despite the holes in its side. Sunbeams piercing the depths of the ship, sparkling streams on schools of small fish, hiding in history.

Chuuk doesn’t really have a tourist industry, other than the 5,000 divers a year. Minimal tourism has its pros and cons, no hawkers, pristine beaces, typically idyllic tropical paradise. There is no “pick-it-up” culture here though, and the beaches on the main areas do have plastic waste left on them. Palm trees all the way to the beach where you can stroll carefree, staring in to the sunset. Afternoon beer disrupted by a typically tropical rain storm. Perfect surface visibility to the horizon, drops down to 100 meters. The wind chop picking up and the rain pouring down. The Chuukese peak hour slowing to accommodate the reduced visibility. GPS are non-existant here, it is all in everyone’s heads, local landmarks, and natural navigation are the go.

Keeran, our guide who has been diving here since the early 1990’s. Incredible knowledge of where the wrecks are and what one can expect to see!

There is so much to say about these wrecks, and so many photos to share with you. Stay tuned for a photo album, and a little on each of the wrecks we dived in the coming weeks!

Chuuk state number plates… never a truer word was written.

A few things I learnt about this amazing place;

1. Bring a powerboard, there are a few powerpoints in the rooms, but if you have cameras, strobes, torches, laptops and phones to charge, you’ll use them all.

2. The internet is woeful (which is actually a good thing). Arrive accepting you wont be able to watch Netflix, YouTube or listen to Spotify, and definitely minimal uploading to Instagram as you imagine. Barely any Facetime (especially if someone else made a call first), but you can get a message through here and there. I reckon, if you stay at home, when the entire resort head out for their dives, it would be better, but why would you want to?

3. There are credit card facilities, but be sure to take enough American Dollars to pay your departure tax, tip your guide and boat driver, and have a snack on the last day after you have paid your bills.

4. Dive Nitrox, make the most of that bottom time, and for the extra $8AUD per dive, it is totally worth it.

5. Take a refernce book and read up on the wreck before you dive her!

6. Relax, and make the most of the Eat, Sleep, Dive, Repeat lifestyle.

Shane Breen

Tasmanian underwater photographer, Shane Breen, joined us for the weekend. Shane spends a lot of time diving the beautiful waters of Tasmania and really appreciated a weekend dedicated to diving Port Arthur.

Shane taking time out from his subject to smile at the camera… He’s not used to being one the other end of the lens!

I have been diving with Shane for a few years now. Shane started diving in Tasmania over thirty years ago, and then took a break. When diving with Shane, you will always find him behind a camera.

Beautiful zoanthids, gently framed by the fascinating featherstars (Comanthus tricoptera) and sponge gardens. Image: Shane Breen
The intricate structures of feather stars like these ones make great photographic subjects. Image: Shane Breen

Shane had a really great weekend and enjoyed diving with a focus on photography. For him, it was really refreshing to be able to take time over a photo and look up and see your buddy doing the same thing and not swimming off into the distance. Out of the water, Shane found the opportunity to discuss equipment and techniques also beneficial. Thanks Shane for joining us over the weekend!

Image: Shane Breen
Shane was lucky enough to find one of these beautiful and rare species, the weedy seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). Aren’t the colors stunning! Image: Shane Breen

Be sure to check out Shane’s other images at: facebook.com/SBreenunderwater or
instagram.com/shanebreenunderwaterphotos/

Andreas Modinger

Find out a bit about one of our Tasmanian Underwater Photography Weekend participants, Andreas Modinger. Andreas travelled to the Tasman Peninsula, all the way from Victoria to join us!

Andreas concentrating on one of his many subjects over the weekend.

Andreas, you’ve been diving for a while now, what got you in to diving?

I had a friend who was a commercial diver who actually got me interested in diving. Originally it was for crayfish and abalone but it quite quickly developed into just for the love of diving. Recently I just became a PADI Instructor because I now want to teach my kids who also want to see the world I keep showing them photos of.

The superb feather hydroid (Gymnangium superbum) is actually an animal! They’re relates to jellyfish, anemones and corals! Image: Andreas Modinger

What is is about underwater photography that you love the most?

The macro world always shows something different than what you see with your eye. This is why I love the closeup view of the aquatic world.

Some of the beautiful sponges that can be found deeper than 18 meters depth around the temperate waters of Tasmania. Image: Andreas Modinger

When asked what he liked most about the weekend, Andreas said he enjoyed having a full weekend to practice different types of shooting.  He also really loved the relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.  I think we can all agree, the second day was fantastic!

Feather stars like these (Comanthus trichoptera), are easily mistaken for a type of plant on Tasmanian reef systems. Image: Andreas Modinger

Andreas shoots these stunning images with an Olympus TG-5 with Ikelite housing and optically connected Olympus strobe. Check out more of Andreas’ awesome shots on his Instagram page: instagram.com/andreas_diving

These yellow zoanthids (Parazoanthus sp.) cover large swathes of rocky overhangs, and are extremely fascinating to watch. Image: Andreas Modinger

Tasmanian Underwater Photography Weekend, 2019

Happy Tasmanian photographers!!

Sometimes, planning diving weekends in Tasmania is a good lesson for over-coming adversity. I have wanted to run an underwater photography weekend in Tasmania for the last year now. To me it sounded like a great opportunity to go diving and spend the evenings talking with like minded people about photography. However, as the weekend loomed closer, the predicted forecast got worse and worse. My lovely day dream of photographing sea caves, sea dragons and deep sponge gardens on the East Coast of the Tasman Peninsula, were slowly being eroded! Fortunately, the best thing about the Peninsula, is that there is almost always a place to dive in everything but the worst conditions. Consequently, as I was heading down to the dive lodge on Friday night, in the driving rain and howling winds, I was trying to think of our plan B.

We can NOT be stopped from diving!

Saturday morning and the divers start to arrive. After a few jokes about the weather, a coffee or three and the suggestion of breakfast, we got our equipment ready, cameras set up, and in to our dry suits (or wet suits for the not so faint hearted). We had made a decision on our dive location. Port Arthur. This south facing, deep water port is a treasure trove of colonial Australian history and surprisingly enough, great dive sites! It is also reasonably protected from the terrifying, 4 meter easterly swell that, at the time, was lashing our usual dive sites.

Some of the beautifully colored sponges found on Tasmanian rocky reef systems.

Even though the conditions were less than favorable, we explored two new shallow dive sites on the eastern shore of the port. The dive at Surveyors Cove gave the divers the opportunity to work on strobe placement. The boulders in between the sand patches were covered in Caulerpa species (a type of green algae that has many different physical forms, but all are captivating) giving the impression of a nicely mown lawn. There were few fish, but lots of abalone, feather stars and sponges to try for nice composition shots!

The second dive for the day was at Denmans Creek. Here, the macro photographers were having a field day. Lots of magnificent biscuit stars (Tosia magnifica), in interesting positions, with their delicate tube feet slowly propelling them along the reef surface. Ascidians crowned the highly colored, rock faces, and big brown kelp species topped off the canopy.

Just a couple of cameras chillin’ in the wash bin.

After returning to the lodge and doing the usual wash down, pack up and warm up, we closed the evening with a very Tasmanian barbecue, sitting out side in the frigid, early spring air until we all decided it was too cold and had to head in side.

I love the sponge diversity found past 18 meters in Tasmania!

Day two was much kinder to us. The sun even came out, and the wind had dropped to nothing over night. We still were diving in Port Arthur, however we were able to head to one of the deeper sites, near the heads of the port itself, The Gardens. This site was named so, due to the stunning sponge gardens found around 18-30 meters depth. Despite the sizeable swell still rolling just outside the heads, we managed to get a fantastic 15 meters visibility. The five of us descended through schools of butterfly perch (Caesioperca lepidoptera) and straight in to 25 meters depth, spread out and started shooting. Due to the drastic reduction of light at these depths, various invertebrates such as sponges, feather stars, soft corals and anemones, as well as coraline algae species now dominate the system. And the color show they put on, is absolutely spectacular! I don’t think anyone wanted to return to the boat… but you have to change tank at some point!

Surface interval on day two at the historic Port Arthur Penitentiary site. Some pretty happy divers after our morning dive.

Our last dive for the weekend, was a lovely cruisey dive under the Port Arthur Golf Club. This site is a hidden little gem, weedy seadragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus), friendly draughtboard sharks (Cephaloscyllium laticeps) and lots of cow fish (Aracana aurita)! This was a beautiful way to finish a fantastic weekend. Stay tuned for the next couple of blogs where I introduce all the photographers who joined us for the weekend.

Waves crashing in to the 40 meter high sea cliffs near the area we normally dive!! Good thing we chose beautiful Port Arthur.

Diving in to Bicheno – Combined Dive Clubs Weekend, 2019

For a lot of Tasmanian divers, there is one event that is always on the calendar, Tasmanian Combined Dive Clubs Weekend (CCW). It is held every year, in the sleepy, East Coast town of Bicheno on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, for the last 15 years.

Beautiful sunsets of Bicheno get me every time.

For me, it always starts the same way, finish work, pack the car faster than light speed, then drive 2.5-3 hours in the dark, along the windy, coastal highway, attempting to avoid the suicidal native wildlife. The car, the company and all the dive gear have managed to make it every year, for the last 5 years, thankfully.

Arriving in Bicheno, and our first stop is the local fish shop down at the boat ramp. Yarns are told, new and old divers alike are greeted and a few rough dive plans mooted for the next morning. We stroll along the road, back to our accommodation, being serenaded by the nesting penguins.

We awake to a beautiful, crisp Bicheno winters morning. The sun is shining, wind is barely a whisper and the sea is calm. A couple of the hard-core interstaters were at the ramp at 6am for a dawn dive, return with tales of 15 meters + visibility! Its going to be a good one.

Being a long weekend, boats, big and small are everywhere! However, it is a big coast, and most fishermen head offshore, and away from the marine reserve, where we prefer to dive. Dolphins playfully join us as we leave the boat ramp, heading towards the marine reserve. We kill the boat motors and the dolphins do laps around the boat, showing off their lithe and skillful manoeuvres.

Down at 30 meters, just outside there reserve sat this stunning sea whip completely encrusted in pink jewel anemones (Corynactis viridis)!

The 45 minutes in the blue never quite seems to give us enough time to explore the great diversity of dive sites the East coast of Tasmania, and in particular, Bicheno, have to offer. Once we are past 20 meters depth, the kelp beds begin to thin out, making space for the beautiful and complex variety of sponges, sea whips and other incredible invertebrate species. And the colors. I’m eternally in wonder with the colors the deeper sites of Tasmania have to offer. The massive, room sized boulders give the appearance of huge sea monsters, covered in sea whips, long, white and gently swaying with any remnant surge.

Hundreds of pink butterfly perch, move in synchronicity and are more interested than afraid of the two ridiculous, neoprene and steel shapes moving through them. They flit and turn together, collecting little morsels from the water column. In the Governor Island Marine Reserve, the large rock lobsters know they’re safe, and the vibrant, large red and yellow animals stroll across the boulder littered sea floor with very few cares in the world.

If you look closely, you can even see one or two of the parazooanthids wiping their tentacles across their “mouth”.

Heading back to the surface, we come to the region that is dominated by golden parazooanthids. Weird, tubelike creatures, that end in delicate tentacles. these beautiful colonial animals cover swathes of rock bommies, leading to the aptly named dive site, Golden Bommies. The butterfly perch follow and watch us, still eating in their peculiar little way.

Slightly shallower again, the kelp begins to return, as do swathes of bryozoans (colonial animals that look like plants), yellow sponges, and my all time favorites, sea spiders and nudibranchs. A macro photographers heaven. It’s a good thing our bottom time is considerable longer at this depth, I easily spend 10 minutes harassing one particularly photogenic nudibranch or a group of sea spiders huddling together.

One of my favorite “little things” to see on a dive, a sea spider. This one has a stash of eggs on its underside!

Our time is almost up, but there is one last favorite bit of diving in Bicheno. That 5 minutes between deploying the surface marker buoy (smb) and breaking the surface is not to be ignored. It is the chance to have a candid view in to this underwater playground. The wrasse play hide-and-seek in the surge and kelp, leather jackets, who look like they’ve had a little too much to drink, try to defend their territory from other, faster fish, and the pike school hurriedly through the melee to rush off as one. A rock lobster, surveys his little hidey hole, and shuffles a little further in to the open.

We break the surface, and chill on the surface like the nearby seal, sunning its self. The boat comes and picks us up, and we quite literally sail in to the most stunning, pastel hued sunset. The sky is still highly colored an hour later as we sit on our balcony drinking a quiet beer.

We wash down, pack up, eat cheese, tell a yarn and listen to the evening presentations. The latest research on the invasive urchin (Centrostephanus rodgersii), scientific and cave diving talks as well as a stunning video from the Our World Underwater Scholar from 2018. The weekend is finished with Dr Harry (Thai cave rescue, not the vet…) giving an incredible, down to earth talk about his experiences.

The winding road, rain slicked windows, and some tunes carry us gently home. Mother nature smiled on us, this time round, sun, no wind, no rain, and 15-25 meter visibility. Bring on winter diving!!!

Underwater Tribe Photo Week at NAD Lembeh

The thing I most want to do at the end of a cold winter in Tasmania, is head to some beautiful tropical island and go diving for a week!  The next best thing, is undertake a photography course.  Well, I was lucky enough to do both of these, in Lembeh, Sulawesi.

I stumbled across the Underwater Tribe website as I was looking for some lightroom tutorials to edit some of my diving photographs at the start of the year.  I still hadn’t planned my Tasmanian winter getaway by this stage, so I scrolled through their website.  The Photo week looked like too good an opportunity to pass up, three fantastic photographers, Mike Veitch, Luca Vaime and Doug Sloss, in a beautiful resort, NAD Lembeh.

Tropical paradise at my fingertips. Here are two of the four dive boats that NAD Lembeh undertake all their dives off. Really well set up run by an extremely helpful boating crew

Flights, and workshop booked, I dragged myself through a mild Tasmanian winter, with the sweet optimism of a week long, tropical holiday at the end of it.  After 22 hours in airports and planes, 2 hours across Northern Sulawesi’s roads and 15 minutes by boat, I arrived at NAD Lembeh.  Over afternoon tea we were introduced to NAD Lembeh’s manager, Sonja, the three instructors, Mike, Luca and Doug, and Stenli, our dive guide.

This boat felt like my home by the end of the trip. It is named after the Wonderpus, a very fast little octopus that I was not quick enough to get a good shot of all week.

A typical day from that point consisted of an eat, dive, eat, dive, nap, eat, dive, eat, workshop, eat, sleep.  Honestly, a SCUBA crazy ladies perfect holiday.   The diving, oh the diving was paradise!  It is not like your typical tropical holiday, coral reefs, lots of fish etc, instead it is more like a permanent treasure hunt.  The black sands of Lembeh Strait had so many critters hiding I lost count of what I had and hadn’t seen by day two.  Tiny nudibranchs half the size of your little finger nail, various species of frogfish pretending not to be there, as well as octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish and seahorses, just to name a few.  I did a blackwater dive and a night dive over two nights (as three dives a day just wasn’t enough), and was amazed by the animals that came out.  I think one of the most memorable and scariest things I saw on these dives however was a hunting bobbit worm.  The voracity with which this terrifying creature consumed its prey was chilling, even if it was only a couple of centimeters across.

The afternoon workshops were fascinating.  Personally, I got the most out of Doug Sloss’ workshops about editing images in Lightroom, but the other instructors also ran workshops on composition, lighting techniques and more advanced techniques including snooting (maybe next time) and bokeh.  Thankfully, we were gifted with copies of all the workshops, there was so much to learn I am still sifting through the information.

If I wasn’t sleeping or diving, I was in here, NAD Lembeh’s fully equipped camera room. Every diver had their own station, with a global power boardto charge batteries.

Having a dive guide who could basically take you straight to an interesting subject, and then instructors who would assist you in taking the shot in situ, massively improved my photography over the week.  I was sad to leave the island, and all the funny little critters, but I am fairly certain I’ll be back again  soon.  If you want to mix having a tropical dive holiday with learning A LOT about underwater macro photography, book in for 2019’s photo week.

Leaving NAD Lembeh was pretty sad, You can even see Sonja waving from the end of the jetty!

Dive Site Review – Blackmans Bay South, Tasmania

Dive site map of Blackmans Bay South

Fifteen minutes south of Hobart CBD (Tasmania) is a fantastic little shore dive, located at the south end of Blackmans Bay beach.  If you love sea horses, stingarees and draughtboard sharks and giant kelp, then this site has to be on your Tasmanian dive bucket list.  Due to its shallow depth it is easy to spend an hour or more exploring this beautiful dive site.

Lots of these seahorses can be found in the shallows of the dive site at Blackmans Bay South.

Entry is off the end of Ocean Esplanade.  There is easy parking with a grass area for you to set up your dive gear.  Once set up, there are two entry options (see the map).  Entry #1 is a short 150 meter walk down on to the beach.  This will give you plenty of time in the water to get set up as
the depth is quite shallow for about 200 meters from this point (~2-3m), but, keep your eyes open, this is where you’re most likely to find the pot-bellied seahorses (Hippocampus bleekeri).  Entry #2 is a longer 350 meter walk along the Boronia Beach Track, and then a short scrabble along the sandstone rocks.  I advise caution when using this entry, as the rocks can sometimes be quite slippery.  However, this is a great entry if you are interested in getting past the eastern point and around in to the giant kelp forest.  The jutting walls on the east point of the dive site are

Biscuit star and jewel anemones that can be found on the walls of the eastern end of Blackmans Bay, Tasmania

encrusted in stunning jewel anemones, and there are always a fair few draughtboard sharks (Cephaloscyllium laticeps) sleeping in cracks or under some weed.

Even in average visibility, this site can be a photographers dream, with plenty of fish and sharks to keep a diver happy for well over an hour!

Parking: 90 degree parking at the end of Ocean Esplanade

Amenities: Public toilet about 700m north of the dive site, on Ocean Esplanade

Depth range: max 10 meters

Visibility: As this site is in the Derwent, it can vary from 2-10 meters

2017 – Diving Adelaide for the first time!