Don Silcock is based in Bali and travels widely in Asia. His website (www.indopacificimages.com) has extensive information & image galleries on diving in Papua New Guinea & other great locations across the Indo-Pacific.
Diving Kimbe Bay
Kimbe Bay offers a special kind of dive experience. I call it “fish-bowl” diving – it’s like being immersed in a fully stocked aquarium, except you never know what is going to come in from the blue. The random factor is particularly prevalent at the seamount dives such as Bradford Shoals. Rising from the abyss to within 20m of the surface, its reef structure is mainly flat plates of hard corals, which are not particularly photogenic save for the numberless iridescent reef fish that swarm there. But it’s what’s above the reef that catches the eye…
Surrounded by deep blue water and quite distant from the nearest reef structure, Bradford acts as a magnet for big fish and pelagics. On any given day you are almost certain to see large schools of barracuda, big-eye trevally, dogtooth tuna, unicorn fish and fusiliers. The there are the meandering but skittish white-tip reef sharks, the cruising gray reef sharks out in the current and sometimes even hammerheads on an occasional foray up from the deep. All with visibility exceeding 40m!
Preserving Kimbe Bay
Agronomists Max and Cecilie Benjamin arrived in New Britain in the late 1960’s on a short-term assignment to modernize the Walindi palm oil planation. They had little knowledge or interest in what was in the water. But by the early 1970’s they had started to scuba dive on weekends and were literally the first people to discover the incredible biodiversity of Kimbe Bay.
By 1983 Max and Cecilie had started Walindi Plantation Dive Resort. Their training as agronomists taught them to take a long term, sustainable approach to their business. Industrial farming, increasing populations and social change were threatening the delicate balance of the Bay, so in 1993 they joined forces with local government and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to develop a long-term conservation strategy.
A Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) revealed the staggering magnitude of the Bay’s marine diversity and by 1997, the Benjamins had established Mahonia Na Dari (Guardians of the Sea), an NGO that runs community led education programs on Kimbe Bay’s unique marine environment. There are now eight locally managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the Bay, which have proved successful in preventing the use of dynamite and other destructive fishing methods.
Papua New Guinea is an incredible country, brimming with minerals and other natural resources. It is amazingly diverse, physically stunning and surrounded by some of the richest waters on earth. But it is not an easy place to work, with a system of governance that provides little support to grassroots projects like Walinidi. All the more reason to acknowledge the perseverance of Max and Cecilie Benjamin in not only sharing the underwater wonders they discovered here, but helping to protect them in perpetuity.