WHAT’S BOTHERING ME: Observations About Destinations
I just returned home to California from a trip to Raja Ampat in eastern Indonesia, and, without question, the reefs there are among the most pristine I have ever explored during my 30-plus years of diving the world’s most highly regarded destinations. (See ‘Indonesia’s Raja Ampat: Where Biodiversity Rules,’ Dive Training, May 2008.) The four major island groups that make up Raja Ampat define an area marine biologists know well as being among the richest in marine biodiversity. The number of species of invertebrates and fishes is mind-numbing. Perhaps you have never heard of Raja Ampat. If you are just beginning your diving career, that wouldn’t be a big surprise. After all, the Raja Ampat region lies just to the west of West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), a part of Indonesia that until only a few decades ago remained virtually unknown to the modern world. But in the last few years Raja Ampat has become one of the hottest destinations in the diving world, rocketing its way to the top of the list of ‘places I must dive’ for many welltraveled diving veterans. For an underwater photographer like me, who lives to dive in less explored places where photographic opportunities are everywhere, I knew I wanted to dive Raja Ampat as soon as I heard about it. I Can’t Be Bothered In the days before my trip to Raja Ampat I was in Hawaii where I gave a presentation at a diving industry meeting. When I told a few of my U.S. mainland diving friends that I was going to be in Hawaii for a few days before going to Indonesia, several asked me if I was going to ‘bother’ to dive in Hawaii.
The first time I was asked I thought my friend had misspoken. He couldn’t have really meant ‘bother to dive’ could he’ To me it sounded as if he thought I might feel inconvenienced in some way by diving in Hawaii. Surprising to me, in similar tones several of my diving friends asked me whether I was going to dive while I was in Hawaii. It was as if they were suggesting that a diver like me who has logged more than 10,000 dives in destinations scattered all over the globe wouldn’t go to the trouble required to don a wet suit in Hawaii, or any other place that wasn’t the current talk of the diving world. I suppose I could interpret their questions and comments as some kind of compliment, but instead I was puzzled ‘ and a little disappointed. My recent diving experiences in Hawaii illustrate my point. Hawaii is sometimes thought of as a ‘stopover’ on the way to destinations such as Fiji, Yap, Palau, Truk, Malaysia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia where the diving routinely receives high praise. Over the past seven years I have dived in a number of Hawaiian destinations. It would be a mistake for any enthusiastic diver to overlook the fact that about 23 percent of the fishes found in Hawaiian waters can only be seen there. Similar statistics describe the endemic species of mollusks and corals. It might not have the reputation, but Hawaii certainly has the diving and the animals, and that is exactly what I said to my friends.
Diving in Hawaii
It’s no bother at all. Baby Whales Don’t Bother Me, Either During my recent trip to Hawaii I photographed a whitetip reef shark, a green sea turtle, a day octopus strutting its stuff as it made its way across the reef, an endemic bandit angelfish, a school of goatfish swimming in the opening of a lava tube, a dense school of bluestripe snapper, a Commerson’s frogfish that was ‘fishing’ by dangling its lure in front of a school of nearby baitfish, a Whitley’s boxfish, a pair of flameback coral shrimp, and more. And all of this was on the first dive of the day. But I haven’t yet touched on what I considered the highlight of the day. During a quick lunch break between dives my longtime friend Captain Steve Juarez advised us to keep an eye on a humpback whale mother and calf that were frolicking on the surface about 225 feet (69 m) from where we were anchored. The playful calf, a recently born 2008 model, according to Juarez, was busy intermittently trying to breach and slapping its tail on the water. After 10 minutes or so of entertaining us the whales disappeared below the surface. We thought that was the end of the show until Steve suddenly said ‘3 o’- clock gang, right at us!’ Moments later the calf with mother just below passed directly below the boat no more than 10 feet (3 m) below the surface. In Hawaii’s legendary blue water, we got more than just an eyeful. Me, bothered’ Not at all. Baby whales don’t bother me. Checking My Messages After being on the road for almost four weeks it was time to go home and dry out for a while. When I arrived back in California I had lots of messages from friends wanting to know about my dives in Raja Ampat. I told them the diving in Raja Ampat is everything it’s cracked up to be. It’s a magical place, worthy of its name, which means four kings. So was the Pindito, the Indonesian boat I was on, and its crew. But I also went on and on about my Hawaii dives. As I considered what I was saying to my friends, I realized that one of the most valuable things I’ve learned during my diving career is not to overlook any diving destination. The message: I recognize that it’s human nature to rank and rate dive destinations and make judgments of ‘good’ and ‘better’ and ‘best.’ We all have our favorite places we’ve visited, and our wish lists of the places we’d like to visit next. Just don’t get bothered by all the hype or you might miss out on some great diving along the way. Picture captions A day octopus struts its stuff across the reef. Humpback whales are commonly seen in Hawaiian waters during winter months.
Story and Photography by Marty Snyderman