I am sitting watching Star Trek re-runs and I get a cryptic message from Mel from Tech Dive HQ asking if I am free in an hour for a phone call - I have to say that did make me a little nervous - ha ha ha ha.
Next thing I know the iPhone is playing "The A-Team" soundtrack (my ringtone) and its flashing "Mel Jeavons" - I had no idea of the life changing opportunity I had lying in wait for me as Mel asked me to open up a website with this huge research vessel bristling with boats and even a Submarine.
I browsed the site wondering what on earth I was looking at this for and Mel said - "Rob, how would you feel about going away on this vessel for a few weeks..?" I actually cant remember what I said but I think I stammered "When ..errr..?"
Mel responded that we were leaving in two weeks. I was overwhelmed with multiple emotions.
But without a second though said "Yep I am in". Mels reply was "Great I will book the tickets now, oh I forgot to mention its in Fiji.." she laughed.
I was almost on the floor and it was obvious, I was going on a mission with the GUE team again.
And if the Blue Creek expeditions were anything to go on I knew I was in for a hell of a ride.
Jamie and I have a very interesting friendship, and it has always been apparent when I make jokes and only he laughs as its only Jamie that gets my at times, extremely obscure movie references.
One example I always return to was when he asked me to get a very specific shot of the Blue Creek expedition team - I was struggling to get a mental image of exactly what he wanted.
Jamie knows me so well that he just said: - "Ok think 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' - Indy is threatening Belloq with an RPG from above.." Without a word of a lie, I was up the bank with the image in my mind with incredible clarity in seconds.
Another humourous example was on the recent adventure...
A group of us talked in Fiji about one of the owners possibly being called "Wayne" - I joked - "Is it possible his first name was Bruce..?" only Jamie laughed, much to my amusement.
Concealed in a dead pan serious conversation my comment would go a miss 9 times out of 10, but Jamie never misses a beat. Clearly understanding my Batman reference.
(None of us knew the owner of the Ad-Vantage as they opted to be anonymous, could be Batman or Batwoman..)
Before I knew what hit me I was at the airport with Mel and Jamie and newly badged GUE instructor Russell "Russ" Hughes. I had no idea just how far Russ had come in his Jedi training until the adventures started.
It was trully an honour to have him at my side and awe inspiring to see him push himself everyday.
GUE doesnt just form bonds - it creates family - and I dont say that lightly.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever meet the guy let alone dive with him.
One thing Todd said during this trip was when somebody said this expedition was: "A trip of a lifetime.." Todd quickly corrected that in style.
Jamie, Russ and Ben (Ben Brodie the Ad-Vantage crew Divemaster) worked furiously to get the gas blending sorted in record time, even before the U.S team had arrived I was seeing some pretty shiny dive gear.
(Those who know me will now be laughing... ha ha ha.)
Lets meet the crew - click L/R to scroll through images.
Ciro was the link with our team and the local officials - and getting permits for diving and exploration was no easy task.
Ciro sorted the permits out in style and he was welcomed with open arms as he smiled and greeted the chiefs.
We also had Amandine Marie one of Ciro's USP team join us for a dive. It was great to see her in action with the science team as well and she even joined us for a dive in the big blue Fijian waters.
Then the man from Atlantis - Brian Walker. Brian is another highly qualified Scientist from the Nova Southeastern University.
Brians ability with his 4k captures made my underwater photography work extremely difficult - ha ha ha - this provided us with some great fun over the duration of the trip. (Side note: Brians gas consumption as a diver was fairly impressive..!)
A good sense of humour is always something I welcome to the party - its essential to have some laughs.
Last but by no means least was Charles G. Messing, Ph.D.Professor from NSU's Departments of Marine and Environmental Sciences - and in his own words - someone who enjoys "Messing with Science" - (Ha ha ha :) )
These three gentlemen were amazing to work with, solid pros, but each of them gave me a good laugh with their wit an humour - Charles especially never missed a beat for a quick quip and Brian wasn't far behind him.
Miss you guys already.
I really had an amazing time with each of these people.
Martin and I talked to the early hours about the Taho projects and cameras, we shared a great deal of ideas and knowledge.
I was fascinated with Martins methodology for making everything he had perfectly neutral in the water.
His big Aquatica housing coupled with the amazing Panasonic GH4 was a dream to use.
Martin was an amazing diver that brough a weath of experience to the table.
It really was awesome to see Shane in action and it was very clear to me why Shane was in the position that he was.
Randy was the same - I start the day at 0630 and by midnight, still see Randy and Barry surrounded by Submarine parts as they check/test/service the sub for the next days mission.
Randy and Barry worked tirelessly - Randy was the pilot that took myself and Russ down on the last day for our Submarine experience - a trully amazing and quite surreal adventure that was.
Amanda had clear vison from day one as to what she wanted and so did I - the great thing about that was that we shared the same vision (and in reality that is very often not the case - as most people rarely share the same creative ideas.)
I was very happy to work beside Amanda and provide her with as many images each day as we felt necessary to document the entire trip. This involved a lot of hours for us and Amanda and I would be the last to shut down our PC's pretty much every day as we edited video and images.
Between us we managed to pretty much stay ahead of our work on a daily basis - we shared ideas and we worked really well as a team - and continue to do so...!
Kristie was tasked with uploading and checking all the data from the cameras and video taken from the primary dive team.
(The primary dive team was Jamie Obern, Martin McClellan, Mel Jeavons and Todd Kincaid).
Ginny provided us with all kinds of hilarity - often making some very tired divers smile (no easy task right..!!).
I dont know how many different faces and sounds she asked me to make - I could manage a few of them but I simply could not open and close my nostrils as well as she could. Really good fun..!
Todd was everything I had imagined and quite a lot that I hadn't. As most of you reading this will know I am very conservation focused and Todd is pretty much the 'Conservation' wing of GUE - which was very exciting for me as the head of Ghostfishing New Zealand. Todd had dive plan everyday - we met at 0830 and he wanted us off the boat in like 22mins...!!!!
Sometimes we made it sometimes we didn't - but we always made it work.
One of the coolest things I have heard was something that Todd said on a recording that I had overheard from the Sub dive that he was on where we rendevoued with him and Ciro in the sub.
Todd gestured to myself and Russ outside the sub as I manouvered to get the shot of the sub and told the Sub team.
"Look at these two -
I have never met either of them before... and I would dive with them anywhere.."
This is one of the most amazing things about GUE - the training is of such a high standard and gear configuration is identical - it gives us the flexibility to literaly turn up anywhere in the world and jump straight in and work/dive to high standard.
To hear this even in passing was very cool...!
Todd is a professional diver in every sense and his experience and skills shone daily - the guy was totally unflappable.
And as a side note for our Freediving GFNZ team Todd is a hell of a Freediver..!.
It was a pleasure to dive with them all - and to see Ginnie on a DPV for the first time was amazing - its very clear to me that she will be following in the famous GUE footsteps.
Why..?? because they all make the machine work - without the Sub Pilots the Sub goes nowhere - without the crew functioning the boat stays in port. Each person is an ingergral cog in a goal focused mechanism - one cog fails the system and the machines perfomance slows or even stops.
Without the divers and planning and scientists we get no data - the list is obvious and goes on.
Every person on this list I have mentioned so far worked every single day to make this project work. It was an absolute testiment to the sheer professionalism of the Ad-Vantage team and GUE team skills and dynamics.
So let me now introduce who made this whole mission possible - Jamie Obern and Mel Jeavons of Tech Dive NZ.
I have known Mel since pretty much 2009 and although I havent dived often with her I can assure you the dives I have done were nothing short of amazing - I am still astounded she managed to get me into one of the cave systems in the south island as far as she did. I swore blind I would not go past the 6m habitat... Then I saw the Siren like beckoning finger as we descened a lot deeper into the Resurgence than that - but thats another story.
Mel and Jamie have been like family to me since day one - love you guys..!!
This picture for sure has to be one of my favorite images of the trip - as a photographer to capture an image that tells a story its an amazing feat - to capture an image that screams a story is a whole different thing.
This for me is one of those images, hydration for serious dives is absolutely imperitive. The dives that Jamie and the team were doing on a daily basis at depth for up to 4 hours at a time in the heat both above and below the surface required proper hydration. Jamie pictured here was tanking up the water to ensure proper hydration and nice circulation.
If anybody knew me better than I knew myself it would be Jamie. I have trained under Jamie regularly since 2009 and only last year decided to undergo my Tech 1 - which again exploited my weaknesses and strengths - again building me as a stronger diver.
Jamies patience and leadership has inspired me greatly - and I will never know how the hell he knows what cards I am holding when I am playing poker..!!!
I look forward to many more adventures boss...
Whos name I regularly butchered - "Russ-cules" (When lifting the CCRs or some object too heavy for me) - "Russ-O-Lini" - "Rusticles" - or some other variation.
I hadnt actually done much diving with Russ prior to Fiji so I was keen to get in and see his new found GUE instructor skills as every cheeky Jedi Padawan wants to.
And I was far from disappointed as "Russ-O-Lini" was absolutely on top of his game. Russ was an amazing diver to have on side as I photgraphed and videoed everything that was thrown at me - especially when the conditions went a bit wild and we ended up drifting for over a mile - Russ as you can see in this image I shot on that dive was still as cool as a Cucumber.
Russ busted his back every day and always gave us all a good laugh with his jokes and general banter.
He actually started this expedition with a very bad Flu and battled it in relative silence for a great deal of the first part of the trip - later to also damage his knee and still continued to work as hard as ever.
I have an immense amount of respect for Russ - for sure another GUE brother from another mother.
Russ you rocked it man.
The Project team was us GUE Technical divers and Marine biologists from Fiji's USP (University of the South Pacific) and Florida based NSU (Nova Southeastern University).
Coupled with the Ad-Vanatge team and armed with a Triton 1000m rated Submarine we were going in strong.
The Sub was focusing on the Mesophotic/Mesopelagic Corals that live below 90m the Sub is capable of 1000m depth but below that Bathypelagic depth we were not to venture in the Triton - beyond 1000m is where light will never penetrate from the surface. The area beyond that is Abyssal by name and nature... deeper than that you are heading for places named after Hades itself. - I believe without certain Military permission you may not decend below 1000m anyway...
Myself a few of the team met with the Turaga Ni Koro of the village of Solevu on Malolo and the villages of Tavuki and Dravuni in Kadavu, as well as several of the villagers from each including the Chief and 17 school children from Darvuni. All were invited aboard m/y Ad-Vantage and provided with tours of the ship and the sub, as well as an overview of our mission and its relevance to sustaining their historical and continued cultural relationship with the sea. We also met with and described our mission to municipality leaders in Vunisea and representatives of Fiji’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.
An amazing experience for sure.
What happens to the data? - All the data and imagery our teams assimilate will be directly added to GUE's growing Project Baseline database, which is aimed at establishing baselines for underwater ecosystems worldwide.
And all of the data is available to the public on Project baseline's Online database.
Did we achieve what we went to do? - Absolutely - and possibly more - we gathered all the data we needed,our Sub team possibly discovered some new deep sea species. We raised awareness and mad the local people much more aware of what was going on in their local ecosystem. We did some amazing dives - photographed some inceedible reef.
And got to meet some amazing people on the way.
Whats next? - We do it all again in order to create the Baseline which we will now monitor we must continue to observe the future changes from the data we already have - thus begins the Baseline.
Also we will be travelling to new locations and starting new Baseline projects.
SVS, Benthic and the big Aquatica housed GH4.
For the SVS transect you start by selecting a starting point on the bottom (benthos) and laying down a 10 meter / 33-foot line. At the end of this line we attached a 50-meter fiberglass tape measure. The reason for the 10-meter gap is because this SVS video is trying to capture “fish density” in their natural habitat and if we were to start filming right away, all our activity (tying in line, setting up SVS camera system, synchronizing the cameras, etc.) would startle the fish. So the scientists have us set-up, swim the 10 meters and then begin filming the 50-meter SVS video transect while the other diver lays out the tape measure “following behind” the camera diver. Now simply swimming along, quiet with our rebreathers, just like another fish in the ocean, the cameras pointing forward capture an undisturbed fish video. Once we get to the end of the first 50 meter SVS video, the diver managing the tape measure lets out a series of “Whoop, Whoop, Whoop” which the camera operator can hear and the first transect ends. At this point we then attach another 10-meter line, swim it, attach another 50-meter tape measure while following the camera person until we get to the end of the second tape. At this point, the fish diversity SVS transect is complete and we are 120 meters away from our starting point.
Now, if you think about it, we are 120 meters / 400 feet away from our starting point. Now what? A benthic (bottom) study begins. The camera operator points the cameras down and video tapes the bottom of the seabed from a 30 centimeter / 1-foot distance. This whole process takes about 30 minutes and we do this process twice at each depth; 90m/300f, 60m/200f, 30m/100f and 15m/45f. The team provides the scientists with two videos, process them with computer software and create a high quality 3D video allowing them to study and count the fish species we have captured on the SVS video cameras. - Martin McClellan (Baseline primary dive team.)
(That was a double barreled sci-fi geek reference.)
One of the first times I picked up anything that was not Non-Fiction was Tintin - I failed to see the point of reading something tha wasnt true as a boy.
However the art and the adventure and humour of the Tintin series captured me, and I know for a fact one of the reasons I became a diver was a direct result of "The Secret of the Unicorn" and "Red Rackhams Treasure" - these tomes inspired me to venture beneath the waves in search of adventure and of course sunken treasure.
I know another very well known and extremely passionate enviromentalist GUE diver Laura James from Seattle also mentioned that Tintin was a major influence to her becoming the amazing diver she is today.
When I was in the further reaches of the Fijian Islands we went ashore to do a brief interview with one of the local dive operators - during this excursion I was asked by Todd to go and have a quick run around with the camera to get photos of the area where some of the team had stayed while they were ashore.While I was running about taking pics of the Fijian equivalent of a Maori "Hangi" I saw a statue that visually sang to me - sure it wasnt exactly the same but it without question stirred memories that had been undisturbed for many years.
I was diving with some of the most amazing divers - I was on board an incredible vessel bound for virgin reefs - I was getting up close and personal with a multi million dollar submarine - and some of the coolest Scientists and crew I had met.
And I did it all, I dove on these virgin Coral reefs, I traversed the ocean in the Ad-vantage and not only did I get to dive with the Triton Submarine - I got to dive in the Submarine..!!
The second dive was a nice gentle scooter down to the Sub which was nicely resting in a mid water hover as Todd interviewed Ciro Rico from USP - I videoed the interview from outside the sub then Russ and I were a bit cheeky and grabbed a few pics of each other hovering outside the Sub.
The first dive however was a fairly challenging dive as the surface conditions were very very poor and the Fijian squall was hitting us full on, it was rain and wind and waves. Russ and I geared up in fairly exciting conditions and dropped into the maelstrom to get the pic we needed - and we did.
The adventure didnt stop there - here is an exert from my FB diary of the day:
I had a look through some of the pictures I fired off as we floated in the current under the Fijian squall above us yesterday - made me think how lucky I am to dive with guys/and girls with skills like Russell Hughes and I could clearly see the GUE instructor in him yesterday as he just clicked into auto pilot on the deco - I was getting a fair bit stressed at the thought of the surface the conditions were concerning - and also that we had no ''Tow-fish'' like the primary dive team working on sub operations deep below us - so essentially the surface boats will be following the primary team and not us in the very poor visibility and rain.
Russ fired the SMB away to the surface as we rode out the decompression - we waited as the minutes clicked down for our safe ascent to the surface - the sounds of the Submarines engines were long gone as the Sub descended well out of our depth range with the main team - the silence was deafening, no Sub and no boat engines above - we sent up another SMB just to increase our location chances.
Russ I am sure could see the concern in my eyes as I looked about for any sign or sound of our vessel - nothing - but Russ was super chilled and secure - having someone on side that is totally chilled out makes all the difference as we rode out the ascents.
The final 5 mins of our stops and I heard the familiar 'Clunk' of a motor going into gear above us and it was an amazing sound - I totally felt like an astronaut who had just come out from behind the dark side of the Moon and was back in radio communication.
The Ad-Vantage team clearly had the whole thing totally in control as I saw the flotilla of vessels holding position.. amazing team work - it had been an amazing experience.
Thanks to Randal and Ben Brodie from the Ad-Vantage crew for their awesome surface support and thanks to Brian Walker and Ciro Rico for assisting us as we got all or kit ready in the poor conditions - we needed to do this as fast as possible to RV with the Submarine and the Rebreather team at depth.
I think that paints a fairly clear picture of just one of the adventures right there.
The coolest sensation I found was on descent as the bright sky is engulfed in pristine bubbling blue water, and then water envelops the 6 inch thick acrylic sphere we are sitting in.Gradually we go forward with the whine of the quad magnetic props.(Side note: the sub from a divers perspective was clearly heard at a substantial distance. (Pun intended).
Russ and I had a blast down on the ridge of the reef with Randy at the helm - we had some great laughs.
Randy showing me that the hatch was easy to open at depth was hilarious - the external pressure on the outside of the sub is so great that the hatch lock at depth is obsolete - so rotates freely..!
Perfectly safe as there is no way you could open the hatch against that pressure..
I wasnt so sure - ha ha ha ha...
It was there and we found fishing lines and even the remains of Longlines strewn across the reef.
Mel Jeavons removed the most fishing line - almost every day she had fishing line in her Santi drysuit pocket.
The fishing line seemed to be a lot more evident at depth.
One thing that was evident to all of us was the lack of any sizeable fish for pretty much our entire time in Fiji.
The biggest creatures I saw were the typical Reef Greys and White tip Sharks - and they were very skittish and afraid.
Jamie on the RB on their biggest dive saw a +4m Tiger Shark which would have been pretty amazing.
Every time I head anywhere with GUE I walk away with new knowledge and skills.
Thank you to everybody that has been a part of this expedition.
Regards Rob Wilson GUE NZ - Ghostfishing NZ.
www.gue.com - Global Underwater Explorers - Education/Conservation/Exploration.
www.ghostfishing.co.nz - Ghostfishing New Zealand.
www.techdivenz.com/ - Jamie and Mel - NZs Tech training facility.
www.projectbaseline.org - Project Baseline International.
www.globalsubdive.com - Randy and Shane.
www.santidiving.com - Santi drysuits international.
www.halcyon.net/ - Always providing the best dive equipment.
www.ghostfishing.org - Team Ghostfishing international.
nmde.org/ - Martin McClellan's page.
www.usp.ac.fj/marine - Professor Ciro Rico
cnso.nova.edu/overview/faculty-staff-profiles/charles_messing.html - Professor Charles Messing.
cnso.nova.edu/overview/faculty-staff-profiles/brian_walker.html - Research Scientist Brian Walker.
www.divesigns.com/ - Best diver signage around - made my SMB stand out in the Fijian squall for sure.
yacht-vantage.com/ - Ad-Vantage crew and vessels.
www.inspiredtodive.com - Always inspired by GUE divers Ali and Cam's work.
www.facebook.com/S.C.Drysuits/ - Rob Edward South Coast Drysuits - best service around by far.