By Joseph Tepper
Diving, like so many other past times, goes through its phases. There’s always a hot new destination or piece of equipment. In the world of underwater photography hot new destinations can seem like they are a million miles away—on some fringing reef in an Island chain not discovered by the western world until only a few decades ago.
Such may seem the case of Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape—an 180,000-square-mile area off of West Papua. In recent years, news and images from Raja Ampat and Triton Bay’s coral reefs, and Cenderawasih Bay’s whale sharks have made these destinations some of the most desired for underwater photographers.
But as Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock explain in their new guidebook “Diving Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape,” the importance of this region far exceeds its remoteness.
Marine Biodiversity and Conservation
Jones and Shimlock are no strangers to documenting remote dive destinations through photography. Beginning in 1992, they began recording the entire Indonesian archipelago and have produced more than 20 magazine cover stories on the subject. In 2002, the team traveled to the Bird’s Head Seascape for the first time and pioneered many of Raja Ampat’s now-world-famous wide-angle dive sites.
In 2010, Jones and Shimlock put out “Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat” to a fantastic reception. Given the chance to go back and explore the area even more, “(they) discovered many electrifying dive sites in Triton Bay and Cenderawasih Bay…Endowed with abundant habitats, nourishing currents, and a fortuitous path through geological time.”
“Diving Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape” is much more than a dive guide. Yes, there are detailed wildlife and dive guides to 200 dive sites, which provide exact GPS locations, topography and marine life, but where the book really shines is capturing the importance of the area to photographers and the future of marine conservation.
They write adroitly, “Today this region symbolizes both the potential of one of nature’s most extravagant creations and the peril of irreplaceable ecosystem loss.” In a book of such fantastic images, the writing like the sample above makes this a great read as well as a visual accumulation of years of photography.
In fact, the first 30 pages of the book focus on an accurate portrayal of the area: Its marine diversity, endemic species, marine conservation, the locals, and even the impact of tourism. One section especially useful to photographers and critter hunters is the “Endemic Marine Species of the Bird’s Head Seascape.” Marine and Shimlock describe the area as not only the epicenter for biodiversity, but also a “species factory.”
There are as many as 35 coral reef species, 40 coral species, and 8 mantis shrimp endemic to the area. Critter photographers looking to take home rare shots of species only found in one remote location will love this section full of rarities like the Papuan Garden eel, Cenderawasih Mantis Shrimp, and the Triton Bay Walking Shark. Even the cover of the book features an ornate endemic fish: the Nursalim’s Flasher Wrasse.
More than Just a Guide…
In addition to the practicalities of diving the region – entrance tags, diving conditions, when to dive and dive safety – the authors make sure to impart onto the reader how proper diving etiquette can truly help preserve such a wonder. This is an element missing from so many dive guidebooks today. Here are some of my favorites in the “Bird’s Head Seascape Codes of Conduct” section:
- “Practice good buoyancy control and do not dive with dangling gauges.”
- “All divers, but especially photographers, should avoid touching, standing on, or otherwise harming coral.”
- “To ensure diver safety, no one should be within a meter of the whale shark’s head or a meter and a half of the tail.”
I have always believed that a great dive guide book should not just tell you what to expect from a destination, but make you want to pack your bags and buy an airplane ticket right away—and I almost packed my bags after reading “Diving Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape.” The quality of images exceeds that of a standard guide or identification book: from the tiniest Tozeuma Shrimp to bus-sized whale sharks.
As an underwater photographer the images in this book do not only push you to travel across the world, but to push the quality of your own imaging. Photography insets on “Weird and Wonderful” creatures, selection of Nudibranchs, even “BHS Above the Waves” cram more great images into an already packed guide.
Practical Information and Planning Your Trip
Certainly this book is a must have if you plan on physically traveling to West Papua, or even just going there in your dreams. Its detail on covering all of the documented sites in the area, rare endemic species and information on local culture will have you well prepared for all of your underwater photography explorations of the area.
For as far-flung as Raja Ampat, Cenderawasih Bay, and Triton Bay may seem to be, reading Jones and Shrimlock “Diving Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape” will make you feel like you’re just one giant stride away.
“Diving Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape” is available in paperback from New World Publication for $35.
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