Justin will be giving a talk at the David Hart Gallery in Hastings St, Noosa Heads on Friday the 27th of March about the processes involved to capture successful underwater photographs. If you are interested to attend this event, please RSVP the Gallery by the 26th March on (07) 54492100
Turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests after the sun goes down and instinctively make their way towards the light over the sea. They calibrate their inbuilt GPS system to orientate themselves with the earth’s magnetic field so that the survivors can find their way back to the same beach in 30 years time to breed. Mon Repos Conservation Park on Qld’s central coast supports loggerhead turtle nesting every year between November and March. Approx 50% of all loggerhead turtles in the South Pacific region come to this 1.5km stretch of beach to nest. The baby hatchlings are little bundles of energy as they emerge from the nest and I was hopeful that at least one of these vulnerable little turtles would survive. Most of them will get eaten by predators not long after they hit the water and only 1 in 1000 of the hatchlings will survive 30 years out in the open ocean dodging predators, poachers, marine debris and fishing nets to make it back to Mon Repos Conservation Park to reproduce and begin the life cycle all over again. The loggerhead turtle is on the IUCN endangered species list.
Harry the green sea turtle has made quite a celebrity of himself by making it to the front cover of the winter edition of ‘Salt’ magazine, a very classy Sunshine Coast publication put together by Kate Johns and her team. Pure Underwater Imaging has also contributed images to the grey nurse shark article that does a great job of creating awareness to readers about this critically endangered shark species that can be seen all year round at Wolf Rock which is one of my favorite dive sites and less than a 2 hour drive from the Sunshine Coast.
Manta rays are the largest rays in the world, with the oceanic species growing up to a massive 9m from one wing tip to the other! Mantas are amazing creatures to dive with and I was completely mesmerised by the beautiful black female that was leading two males around a coral bommie in a mating ritual off Lady Elliot Island in the image below. These graceful giants are heavily targeted for fisheries in various parts of the world, particularly south-east Asia. This has led to significant population declines in many regions which is having a huge impact on the numbers of these beautiful creatures. Both Manta alfredi and Manta birostris are now listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species. The Australian Marine Conservation Society has partnered with Project Manta at the University of Queensland, a national research initiative that studies the biology and conservation of both manta ray species around Australia. Oceanic Manta Rays are protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in Australia and through further research, hopefully the Reef Manta Rays will also receive protection within our waters.
An amazing encounter off Lady Elliot Island and a moment in time that I will never forget. A mother humpback whale and her calf on their way back down to feed in the plankton rich waters of Antarctica after spending winter in the warmer tropical waters off the north east coast of Australia to mate and give birth. I was snorkelling out in front of the lighthouse at Lady Elliot Island on a day where the ocean was calm and the sun was shining. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I turned to see a mother humpback whale staring straight at me! I was not expecting this and so after recovering from my initial shock, I managed to remember to capture some images as well as take time to be grateful for such an amazing experience. There were thought to be less than 500 humpbacks left when they were being hunted in Australian waters back in the early 1960’s. The good news is that recent estimates of humpback whale numbers are in excess of 20 000 animals roaming our seas.
Although hanging a print of a shark on the wall is not everyone’s cup of tea, I really enjoy diving with sharks and from a conservation perspective, they are in a lot of trouble. With approximately 70 million sharks killed every year, predominantly for their fins, it’s no wonder that the IUCN has assessed that one-third of all open ocean shark species are threatened with extinction. Sharks are considered ‘keystone species’, which means that as apex predators, they are very important in maintaining the balance in our marine ecosystems. Removing too many sharks from an eco-system can lead to a massive shift in the balance throughout the food chain. With all the destruction of shark species going on around the globe it’s good to dive with operators like Aquatrek in Fiji where marine reserves have been formed to protect sharks and other marine life through agreements made with local dive operators, the Fijian government and the local Fijian villagers. It is an exhilarating feeling to be in the water with so many of these top predators and it has given me an appreciation and an understanding of these magnificent creatures. The images below of bull and lemon sharks were captured at a dive site called ‘The Bistro’ in Beqa Lagoon where I had up to 30 big sharks swimming in and out of view during the dive. Many of the sharks are carrying fishing hooks and wire traces around with them where they have been caught on baited long lines and been lucky enough to escape.
Jacques Cousteau once placed the Poor Knights Islands among the world’s top 10 dive locations and I can see why with underwater archways, tunnels, caves, and rocky cliffs providing endless opportunities for viewing many species of subtropical fish in the warm currents that sweep down from the Coral Sea. I saw soft coral, sponge gardens, gorgonian fields, forests of kelp and copious amounts of snapper, yellow tail kingfish and schools of trevally. As I swam away from my dive buddy to get the classic ‘diver in the arch’ shot, I saw a flash of silver out of the corner of my eye in deep water on the other side of the arch. I swam down to investigate and was rewarded with this 3m Bronze Whaler that left the school of trevally that he was tormenting to come and check me out. This brought my heart rate up a few beats and gave me one of the most exciting and memorable underwater moments of my life. These magnificent sharks are on the IUCN red list of threatened species.