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/

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.

Tasmania’s Inaugural Women’s Dive Day, 2019

About five years ago, PADI created the PADI Women’s Dive Day. This event was created to provide a day where divers could get together and talk about diving, go diving, and support other women who might be intimidated by the rather male dominated sport. Since its inception, it has grown to massive proportions, and it is possible we are seeing the effects in sports diving. The ratio of female to male divers has increased from 35:65 to 40:60 over the last five years. This year, there were more than 770 events, across 83 countries, and our event in Tasmania was one of those!

The beautiful Tasman Peninsula, home to some of the best diving in Australia, and most likely the world

We arrived on a beautiful, crisp, winters morning, at the dive lodge on the Tasman Peninsula. As every one began to arrive, the mood in the room began to relax as people got to know each other, and start talking about all the fantastic diving things they had done, or hoped to do. It is one of the many things I love about diving. People from many different backgrounds can find a common interest in a fascinating and beautiful sport. Life long friendships form, based solely on two peoples love of diving!

Our dive for the day was at Safety Cove, in Port Arthur. This nice shore dive is a great place for people to get back in to diving, as it is a reasonably easy shore entry, with a gently sloping bottom, and plenty of reef life to watch. We found colorful rock lobsters, schools of juvenile fish, even a pretty nudibranch. We were also lucky with the visibility, around 15 meters on some parts of the reef!

All those happy faces!!! Image: Ryan Hasson

After the dive, we headed back to the lodge for a barbecue, and a hilariously difficult quiz (I think we learnt never to ask me to write quizzes). I could tell by the end of the day, we had motivated these women to dive more, and get more of their friends in to diving. I have had a few people ask me, “why do we need a specific, Women’s Dive Day?” My answer always is the same. We need as many ocean stewards as we can possibly create. To do this, we need to have any way possible to encourage divers in the water, regardless of gender, race or disability. I know, because of this one day, there are at least eight more extremely motivated divers out there, fighting for the preservation of the ocean. Which is what we need!

Needless to say, I am already planning our event for Women’s Dive Day, 2020. Hopefully we will make it even bigger and better! If there is something you would like to do for next years event, please leave a comment below, or contact me directly!

A successful PADI Women’s Dive Day, 2019. Image: Aaron Colles

2017 – Diving Adelaide for the first time!