Monday, May 16, 2011

Release Date 5/13/2011

I released this message off of Simberi Island in the Tabar island group.


Kate and I went on a cruise with the good folks at PNG Surfaris on their ship the PNG Explorer. The Explorer is run by a couple Andrew and Jude who are great hosts.


This is really luxury cruising. The main business of the ship is taking surfers to remote surf spots during the surf season November – April, but they are now starting to add diving and fishing charters. The boat is really nice, Kate and I had a private cabin. The food is always amazing, and we were extra lucky because the fishermen were providing constant fresh fish at each stop. Note speargun in background.


The ship also features a spunky lorikeet mascot named Teop. Teop was a holy terror. Kate kept trying to be friends with him, and he would get along with her very nicely unless his owners were nearby. As soon as he saw one of his masters he would go into attack mode and skreetch and bite Kate who had been petting him or playing with him.That just made her want his attention all the more. I think I may learn something from this little bird...


From Kavieng we went to Lihir Island, where we picked-up two guys who flew in from Australia to go fishing, then we went to the Lyra Reef for a couple of days, and finished up in the Tabar island group.

The beautiful and small island of Lihir is off the East Coast of New Ireland about 100KM down the road from Kavieng and 35Kms off the coast. The island is the site of a HUGE gold mine. After an upgrade this year they plan to extract up to 1 Million ounces a year from the Mine. So that would be worth over 1 Billion Dollars a year.


We walked around the town a bit, but it was Saturday when we arrived so most things were closed. I had hoped to buy lots of groceries since the town has a lot of money there is more stuff available. I did managed to get a few things at one place that we got into right before it closed.

We couldn’t go a tour of the mine, but we did drive by in the motor boat to try and get a good look at it. We took some pictures, but we couldn’t get too close.


The photos with the round circle were through Kate’s binoculars.


The island is volcanic, and still slightly active. You can see all the steam vents that are venting the steam from the mine site in the pictures. The miners use this energy to produce some of the electricity for the facility which is pretty cool.


It’s really amazing to see such a large sophisticated complex in a remote place like this tiny island.

After Lihir we went to a huge offshore reef, called the Lyra Reef, that rises up from thousands of feet to within 30ft of the surface. This is very unique because it is about 100KM from Lihir the nearest land, so it is truly out in the ocean. The Explorer at over 60 feet is just barely able to go there safely.

Lyra is basically an extinct volcano that rose up from the floor of the sea, but didn’t form and island. It is arranged as an Atoll about 30 miles across. Kate and I did a number of dives and snorkels on it, and the coral cover and fish life was amazing.


On one dive there were hundreds of fish of all different types swirling around looking at us. They had probably never seen a diver before and just seemed to be curious. Since it is such a remote spot, and it rises up from the deep so it’s the only thing around for many many miles the fishing is very good.

The two other guests on the boat were fishermen, and spent every day trolling for fish. They caught a lot of dogtooth tuna, and Kate and I went out with them once and each caught a fish. The one I got was huge about 60lbs. See the photo. This is definitely the biggest fish I ever caught. We will be eating it for months since we were able to freeze it all. I'd like to say I speared it freediving, but it was rod and reel, and it was a big task to get it back to the boat. My arm was sore for a couple of days.



I’m sure this is most untouched and pristine place that I will ever dive at in my life. I’m really glad I was able to go.


Unfortunately it was pretty rough out there, and it got rougher and rougher as time passed so we had to leave after only 2 days. By that point just about all of us were a bit seasick. It was a shame we couldn’t spend more time diving and exploring.


We did find a couple of old fishing longlines on the bottom, and saw a large fishing boat that was probably laying one out on one day. So even though it is remote it is actively fished by these huge ships. Because it is rock and coral they can only do longline fishing, not net trawling which would be even more destructive.


The longlines can be miles long and we followed one that had been lost and was wrapped around the bottom for hundreds of yards. From the coral growth on it Kate thought it had only been there for 6 months or a year. We cut some of it away, but it was very heavy line, and there was just tons of it.

I estimate that the two guys who were fishing every day caught 1,000 KG of fish over the entire trip. The PNG Explorer crew had borrowed a large industrial freezer for the trip and if we had stayed at Lyra for longer they probably would have filled it all the way to the top. We all took fish home, and we also shared a lot with all the villagers we met at Tabar and Simberi.


When it got too rough we went to a protected anchorage at Tabar Island for a few days of more fishing and diving, and then over to Simberi Island. Like Lihir Simberi has a much smaller gold mine on it.


Last month the Provincial Government brought Kate out to asses the damage done by a Cyanide spill at the mine. Cyanide is used in gold mining the separate the gold from the rock. One of their holding tanks ruptured spilling it right into the water near the surface and it caused a huge fish kill, and extensive damage to the coral.


All of these mines use a system called Deep Sea Talings Disposal. Which basically just means having a giant pipe that dumps the tailings deep into the water. This is also pretty destructive, but the tailings are released at very deep depths so it doesn’t disrupt the coral and shallow water fish. This would never be allowed in the US or Australia, instead the mine would have to process the tailings, but here there are no regulations against it.


At Tabar we saw spinner dolphins jumping out of the water one day. I took a video, but it didn’t come out very well. These are small dolphins that leap up into the air and spin around quickly it looked really cool. They also played around the bow wake of the boat when it was at speed.


The next day we saw a large pod of pilot whales. These are very small whales, not much bigger than dolphins with round bulbous heads. They stayed around the boat, and we were able to get out into the water and snorkel with them which was really interesting. We took some pictures and videos, but it doesn’t do it justice.


At some points the whales would roll over underwater and look up at us. The younger/smaller ones seemed almost as interested in us as we were of them. In a few cases we just saw them come up from deep water and head directly toward us, turning away at the last minute when they reached the boat.


On two of the dives we saw old nets that had been lost from trawlers. These were huge heavy things that we couldn’t remove. At a reef off of Simberi part of the Net and floats formed a huge underwater arch that we could swim through below the surface. This had been there a long time there was hard coral growing around the rope such that it almost completely covered it.


This is my foot in a giant clam shell. The clam is no longer around, just his shell is left:


This is my head in a giant clamshell:


Check out this giant hunk of trawler net. It just went on and on down the slope to over 150ft, we couldn't see the end of it:


One of the most interesting fish we saw was a cuttlefish. These are related to squid, and they are very very good at blending into the background by changing colors quickly. They go from almost white when over sand to a very dark mottled color when on top of a coral backdrop. The video below shows it changing color and swimming away.


All in all it was a great adventure.


Truth: Its hard to remember everywhere you have been.

video video video video video

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