by Solomon Baksh
“When do we leave?” was my immediate answer to Wayne B. Brown’s invitation to join him for a week of diving aboard the Jardines Aggressor I. The Aggressor’s CEO was heading to Cuba for a week of diving to the southern side of Cuba to an enormous archipelago, called or Gardens of the Queen.
Over a decade ago, I dived off the most southeastern tip of Cuba in a town called Sigua, several miles from Cuba’s second largest city of Santiago de Cuba. While the visibility there, was beyond anything that I have ever seen, there was a lack of marine life, almost non-existent, so I was a bit skeptical as to what I would see in Jardines de la Reina.
We were joined by 17 other guests who were all there legally, through the Oceans For Youth People-to-People Program. The Oceans for Youth Foundation, is a non-profit foundation, started in 1999, designed to actively promote underwater education, marine protection and an appreciation and respect for the oceans. It is the foundation’s belief that educating people to the wonders of the oceans, they will become much more environmentally aware, and practice lifelong attitudes of ocean conservation, preservation and protection.
We spent two nights at the very posh Iberostar Parque Central Hotel. World-renowned scientist Dr. Julio A. Baisre, gave a presentation on “A Brief Introduction to Cuban Marine Ecosystems.” The hour-long lecture was highly informative and delved into the history of Cuba’s fishing industry and the impact on the economy as well as the effect on the reefs, specifically in the Jardines de la Reina archipelago.
“There are probably more vintage cars in Cuba than all of the world,” boasted Andreas Jimenes Castillo. “Too many Americans are asking the locals to sell them the cars and for a lot of money too,” said the marine biologist who works on the Jardines Aggressor I. There was every make and model of American-made cars dating back to the 50s.
Story and Photos by Lynn Funkhouser
Tubbataha is the premier dive destination in the Philippines. Located in the middle of the Sulu Sea, it is one of richest marine ecosystems in the entire world as it is situated in the Coral Triangle, the world’s center of marine biodiversity. Encompassing 239,000 acres (968.24 sq. km), Tubbataha National Park is so extraordinary it was declared a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Marine Park Site in December 1993, which means it has “Outstanding Universal Value.” It is the only purely marine World Heritage Site in Southeast Asia.
The reefs comprise two atolls—North Atoll and South Atoll, plus Jessie Beazley Reef, an emergent coral cay, which lies in the middle of the Sulu Sea. It is surrounded by open sea with an average depth of 2,500 feet (750 meters). Tubbataha is noted for its beautiful pristine coral reefs, large number and diverse species, including pelagics like mantas, whale sharks, fourteen species of sharks and twelve species of cetaceans. The added bonus is great visibility to enjoy it all.
The name Tubbataha means “a long reef exposed at low tide,” derived from two Samal words. It is uninhabited except for the ranger station on the southernmost tip of Tubbataha’s North Atoll, which is home to a combined team of ten to twelve men from the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, Municipality of Cagayancillo and the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO). Stationed for 2 months at a time, 130 kilometers from the nearest inhabited islands, their job is to protect the park from illegal activities 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
Papua New Guinea (PNG)
Story and Photos by Diane Henderson
When I travel around the world, it’s a delight not only to find the best dive sites but there’s the added benefit of experiencing different cultures, and the flora and fauna of a countries. Our trip to Papua New Guinea was certainly no exception.
New Guinea, the second largest island in the world, is located just north of Australia. The eastern half, along with several smaller outer islands that include New Britain, create Papua New Guinea (PNG). Within the mainland of PNG highlands, mountain peaks of over 14,000 feet, dominate the interior, while tropical waters wash the coasts.
Although our trip was all about diving the pristine waters of Kimbe Bay, off the coast of New Britain, we could not resist visiting the Southern Highlands to experience the exotic culture of the Huli Clans and a chance to see some of the fascinating and beautiful birds of paradise. Upon our arrival in the capital city of Port Moresby, we stayed at the very modern Airways Hotel before flying out the next morning to Tari Gap. Ambua Lodge, at an elevation of 7000 feet, is beautiful with spectacular views from individual huts and many opportunities to join guided tours for either birding or visits to Huli villages.
The Huli Clans, the largest ethnic group in the Southern Highlands, have kept their culture intact and photographing their elaborately decorated wigs, made of human hair and feathers from the birds of paradise, enables taking lots of colorful photos!We visited both the men’s as well as the women’s villages. In the Huli culture, men and women do not live together. We truly felt honored to have met these fascinating people and learn about their unique and relatively strange traditions. Four days and hundreds of photos later, we flew to New Britain where we were ready to “get wet.”
The Backyard Photo Studio
by Steve Miller
Photography is an expression of one’s creativity. Photographers follow their own personal path, while trying to create visual expressions of their ideas and experiences. The depth and complexity of today’s imaging tools makes this a lifetime learning process. I have yet to meet a photographer that is confident of his/her understanding of every aspect, from capture to print. Most will specialize in a particular “work flow” that suits their desires and their opportunities.
Opportunity for photographers specializing in underwater work is often the big challenge, particularly for those of us who are landlocked. For the first 20 years of my journey, shooting underwater could happen once, sometimes twice a year because that is as often as I could go on a dive trip. There is plenty of water where I live in Ohio, but the clarity in our local lakes and rivers, is measured in inches at best and most often…zero.
The first time I saw an image of a natural swimming pool, I was captivated…there was clarity! This was a swimming pool…with life in it! I would be able to shoot any day or night, so building one was a no-brainer.
Essentially, these pools gather the rainwater from you roof’s gutters into a pool with a liner that has gravel laid on top of it. Submerged walls isolate the swim zone from the regeneration beds. The swim zone is deep and has a lined bottom with nothing on it, just like a pool- and the regeneration beds are planted with native plants. Since these plants are trying to grow in clean gravel, they have to pull their nutrients from the water thus clarifying the visibility. It can be more complicated with filtration and aeration if you like- and this step is necessary if you want to have any fish in it.
The ability to capture images in my backyard, took me down a long route, with a lot of dead ends but each provided lessons learned. I began by using supplementary slave-triggered flashes to create lighting effects that would be impractical in the field. Triggering these is pretty straightforward. I use a boom and counterweight to position these lights, expect to use low power for this, if you are using an underwater flash; they are powerful.