The moments earlier than a dive are sometimes awkward. I waddle throughout the strict of the boat, laden with heavy gear, my ft silly with rubbery fins. A swell threatens to topple me. A lone eagle, in search of amusement, soars throughout from the jungled volcanic shore of New Britain, one in all Papua New Guinea’s outlying islands. Then I step out in direction of the ocean.
The transformation is quick and electrifying: all sense of blundering clumsiness is banished – nicely, most of it not less than. I can see fish under and an edge to the coral, past which all is darkness. Most of all I’m respiration, and proceed to take action as I sink gently in direction of that reef, by way of a shoal of barracuda, a scattering of swish angelfish and stern-faced large trevallies. After which I hover, a metre above the unbelievable array of color and life: knobbly gaping blue sponges as large as Ali Baba’s jars, huge skeletal types of Gorgonian followers, a clown triggerfish with bee-stung yellow lips and harlequin ornament. No expertise obtainable to people is kind of like this. You enter a realm by which you don’t have any place, a realm extra extraordinary, I think, than something in outer area.
The concept of swimming for prolonged durations under the floor might have turn into normalised, however it’s a current phenomenon, and largely took place by way of the efforts of 1 man: Jacques-Yves Cousteau. From the 1940s, he co-developed the aqualung, pioneered underwater images, kick-started underwater archaeology, found hundreds of treasured sub-sea websites and witnessed scenes no human being ever had1. Most of all, he impressed a love of the oceanic world in tens of millions of individuals, and a need to see that world protected. He was a titan. If he had sprouted wings and found flight, he couldn’t have finished extra to open up a brand new dimension to humanity. Now a brand new movie, The Odyssey, launched on 18 August within the UK, will inform the story of the person’s astonishing life.
Underwater, Cousteau stated, man turns into an archangel. Eighteen metres under the waves, I’m not precisely feeling angelic, however I’m in a state of bliss. I observe my dive buddy Willy throughout the coral floor to the sting, the place it abruptly disappears into the blue depths. Down there sharks often loom. That is Inglis Shoal, a huge plug of coral rising from the ground of the Bismarck Sea, dwelling to tons of of creatures, many unknown to science. It was in these waters that Cousteau, then in his 80s, took his final dive.
We drop down the aspect of the mount, mesmerised by the array of life. On this world even the slug is a beautiful show-off, a Royal Ascot darling in silky purple and yellow. Close by, beneath a spreading shade of coral, two sharp-suited shadows cruise lazy circles – a pair of child reef sharks, oozing miniature menace. I flip and spot an grownup effortlessly rising from the gloom under. Mom? We go away them in peace.
That afternoon, again on land, I meet Max Benjamin, an Australian agriculturalist who got here to New Britain in 1966 to handle a brand new palm oil plantation. “I quickly realised that the reefs within the bay have been fairly particular,” he says, “I went diving within the Purple Sea, which was touted because the world’s finest diving in these days, and thought, ‘Kimbe Bay has received far more’.”
His response was to arrange Walindi Plantation Resort and word-of-mouth suggestions within the diving group introduced guests, amongst them Cousteau. “The Calypso, Cousteau’s legendary ship, anchored proper right here in 1987.”
It was the beginning of a course of that led to recognition of Kimbe as an important central factor within the Coral Triangle, an space bounded by Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, and the world’s main marine biodiversity hotspot. “Cousteau was an outdated man by then,” says Benjamin, “however he impressed me to arrange a analysis institute, Mahonia Na Dari.”
That institute has turn into a powerhouse for worldwide marine biology, but in addition for educating and provoking native folks to know and worth the marine world. A keep at Walindi, I uncover, affords possibilities to satisfy all types of attention-grabbing folks: doctorate college students discovering how reefs work, photographers, and Professor Peter Buston from Boston College, who holds me spellbound with tales of the brutal, fantastical world of the clownfish. “As larvae they’ll detect the odor of a sure tree leaf, one which grows on coral islands, and so they swim for as much as 10 days repeatedly till they discover that island.”
Peter and different researchers have proven how clownfish stay in strict hierarchies, every sustaining the suitable body weight and intercourse for his or her grade. High gun is the dominant feminine, who evicts any insubordinate underlings – and eviction means sure demise.
The way forward for this advanced atmosphere is much-debated now: with rising sea temperatures come bleaching and reef demise. Two PhD college students clarify to me: “Lately El Niño has brought on giant lots of hotter water to maneuver throughout the Pacific in direction of New Guinea, however to date they’ve been deflected south and hit the Barrier Reef.” They’re researching how some fish survive such occasions, others not. Like many right here, they point out Cousteau as an inspiration.
On the perimeter of this group of biologists there’s a quiet native man, Joseph. Is he a diver? He chuckles. “I used to be,” he says, “however I received cooked.” That seems to be diver jargon for the dreaded bends. It had occurred a few years in the past, however introduced his diving profession to an finish. With that got here a brand new departure. “I’d all the time been keen on birds so I started taking folks out. Need to go?”
“It’s night time.”
Joseph grins. “I can present you a really uncommon chook.”
Twenty minutes later we’re cruising the grassy lanes that mark boundaries contained in the palm oil plantation. The crop vilified by western environmentalists is fashionable right here. “We are able to get 5 crops a yr,” says Joseph, “Plus jobs, plus the biomass turbines produce energy.”
Not solely that: the controversial monoculture additionally harbours an avian rarity. We cease to admire a pair of bushes which might be lit up by fireflies, all blinking in unison like a set of Christmas lights. “It was right here we discovered it,” says Joseph. “Sitting on that submit. Nobody had seen one because the 1980s and other people have been pondering it was extinct.”
We drive on, however our rarity doesn’t seem. Solely once we hit the asphalt highway once more does Joseph screech to a halt. “He’s there – up in that tree.”
I get out the automobile and simply have time to identify a flicker of motion, then a yellowish chook, barn-owl dimension, flits away.
“Golden masked owl,” says Joseph, beaming proudly. “A New Britain endemic. Now rediscovered.”
Subsequent day the analysis institute close to my cabin is busy with a bunch of main faculty academics on a coaching course. There are additionally common programs for native college students and an outreach programme that will get to about 7,00zero kids yearly, spreading the message of marine conservation. That prompts me to note an absence – of individuals promoting shells on the resort gate – one thing all too predictable elsewhere. In 1987, when Cousteau visited, his marine organisation, the Cousteau Society, famous the potential threats to Kimbe Bay: boat harm to reefs, spearfishing, over-fishing, shell-collecting, and dynamiting of the reef. Already in proof, they said, was some sediment harm from forest clearance.
Luckily, these threats haven’t materialised, partly as a result of diving tourism has introduced a supply of wealth to this distant outpost – all of the divemasters and boat captains I met have been native – and supplied a compelling argument for conservation. A then unexpected hazard, nevertheless, now fills many individuals round Kimbe Bay with dread: rising sea temperatures. Up to now the realm has escaped any penalties, however its reefs, dwelling to half the coral species present in the whole Indo-Pacific area, are undoubtedly weak.
On my final dive we head out throughout the bay, then lower in near shore beneath the volcano. Oscar, the boatswain, checks the GPS fastidiously after which we roll overboard.
I’ve finished a number of dives now and the clumsy actions are virtually gone. We start our descent and virtually instantly a form seems under, that of a fighter aircraft, a Japanese Zero from the second world conflict. It has a single propeller whose rotors aren’t twisted, an indication that it was now not spinning when the plane hit the water. I drop instantly on to the wreck’s tail fin and start to work my manner up the fuselage. Some delicate sponges, yellow with purple lips, adorn the aluminium. Willy gestures for me to hitch him at one wing tip. He factors beneath. There’s a gigantic lobster there, evident.
Kimbe Bay, like a number of Papua New Guinea, has its share of second world conflict litter. Fierce battles scattered wreckage and air pollution throughout the islands, seashores and oceans. Within the jungle near Walindi Resort is a well-preserved B-25 bomber, and different planes and ships are dotted round. The Zero fighter had been ditched by the pilot who escaped and swam ashore. Little doubt it spewed kerosene and was a localised air pollution catastrophe however now, after I transfer as much as the cockpit, I discover it filled with tiny fish and corals. A superb blue wrasse explodes previous me. On the again of the cockpit, a beautiful pale pink anenome waves silkily within the present. In its smooth folds a small world of clownfish has taken root. I watch fastidiously, remembering what Peter Buston had advised me. They are going to be right here, as people, for as much as 30 years, by no means various centimetres from dwelling, every ready patiently for a promotion up the hierarchy.
The weapon of conflict and air pollution hotspot has, I see, turn into a clownfish base. It’s a outcome that fills me with hope. Cousteau himself stated that people had made the ocean a rubbish can, however he remained optimistic that we might surmount the issues we’ve created: “If we have been logical, the longer term can be bleak, certainly. However we’re greater than logical. We’re human beings, and we’ve religion, and we’ve hope, and we will work.” Let’s hope he’s proper.
Strategy to go
The journey was supplied by the Papua New Guinea tourist board. Dive Worldwide has tailored diving journeys to Papua New Guinea: a 20-day journey in two centres, Kimbe Bay and Tufi, is £5,595, together with all flights, meals and dives. Philippine Airlines flies to Port Moresby from Heathrow from £751 return, together with free stopover lodging in Manila. Essentially the most helpful reef information I discovered in Walindi’s spectacular library was Indo-Pacific Coral Reef field guide by Allen and Steene; it appears to be out of print however Abebooks ought to find it. Birds of New Guinea is an effective current information on the topic.
JACQUES COUSTEAU’S TOP DIVE SITES
Cousteau used this island, off the east coast of Sabah, in his 1989 documentary movie The Ghost of the Sea Turtle and declared, “We’ve got discovered an untouched piece of artwork.” Turtles abound and there are greater than three,00zero marine species in what’s a residing coral colony rising on prime of a volcanic cone. Currents are sturdy and expertise needed. There’s additionally a Foreign Office warning to contemplate.
Aliwal Shoals, South Africa
Three miles offshore and vulnerable to some large swells, Aliwal shouldn’t be for the weak of abdomen. Nonetheless, the rewards are nice, particularly in the course of the sardine migration between July and November when hordes of tuna, dolphin, whales and sharks go by way of. It’s significantly famous for ragged tooth and tiger sharks.
Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Some Cousteau discoveries – Richelieu Rock in Thailand, for instance – aren’t what they as soon as have been. The very fact is that diving have to be finished sensitively: inexperienced divers can break coral, fish are scared away, anchors could cause mayhem. One Cousteau favorite that’s nonetheless a superlative website is the Sea of Cortez with its whale sharks, manta rays, bottlenose dolphins and, throughout February to April, gray whales.
Sha’b Rumi, Sudan
South of the well-known Sinai dive websites, Sudan has glorious, unexplored diving. Cousteau selected this spot for his experiments into underwater residing that featured in his 1964 movie, World With out Solar. Sharp currents carry big portions of fish, together with sharks, together with hammerheads and silkies.
Coron Bay, Philippines
Cousteau declared the north Palawan islands “the final nice wilderness” and used it for a late movie, The Final Refuge (1992). The star attraction is Coron Bay, the place a whole Japanese fleet was sunk by devastating US air assaults in 1944. A very good base is Sangat, a spectacular uninhabited island with a dive resort near all of the basic wreck dives.