Jürgen Freund is a wildlife and nature photographer based in Cairns, Far North Queensland, Australia. Together with his wife Stella he specializes in marine and terrestrial nature from the Austral-Asian Region and beyond. Jürgen and Stellas photo stories appear in many international magazines and books. They also work very closely with WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature). Jürgen and Stella undertook for WWF a 18 months photographic expedition from 2009 to 2010 through the Coral Triangle which is shared by the countries: Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
16 December 2013 – Great Sea Reef
Before our Great Sea Reef expedition started, we were asked by Patricia Mallam of WWF South Pacific what we wanted to photograph. #1 on our list was the most complicated, and I thought, better blurt it out now and hope for the best. I told Patricia we wanted to do aerials. In fact, I told her we must do aerials to be able to see what the Southern Hemisphere’s third longest barrier reef looks like. That was in March 2013. Fast forward to December 2013 – aerial funding secured, we were back in Fiji.
Having just arrived in Nadi early morning Dec 16 after a red-eye flight from Australia, we had to do our aerials that very day as the week’s weather forecast was not looking good. Patricia and our young Kiwi pilot were ready for us and off we went on our six hour helicopter blitz through the Great Sea Reef in a Robinson 44 – without the back doors of course, for best photography. Slightly jet-lagged with hardly any sleep, we thought: “OK, let’s do it!”
For six hours my hair was painfully all over the place. For the first time ever, I envied Yogi’s bald head…
Oh but what a sight! The Fijian Islands of the South Pacific did not disappoint. It was, in fact, totally spectacular from beginning to end. We took nothing for granted. We knew it was a special privilege to do this aerial – to be one of the few people to see the GSR from the air.
Here’s a glimpse of the Southern Hemisphere’s third longest barrier reef from the air.
And what are the chances we’d see coral spawning slick from the air???!
Every year, coral spawning in Fiji occurs during the full moon night in November or December. The date of this aerial, Dec 16, was the day before full moon and we’re making an educated guess the corals spawned 2 nights before the December full moon. We only saw the slick where there were corals nearby. The coral spawn slick was metres wide and kilometres upon kilometres long along the Yasawa Group of Islands.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef coral spawning occurs 4-5 days after the full moon. Here below is a picture of the night we dived the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns at 9pm on the 4th of November 2012. I’d love to have seen coral spawning underwater in Fiji’s Great Sea Reef but seeing the slick from the air was pretty awesome enough! An unexpected treat!
Before we started our flight, with a map at the ready, Patricia identified the ideal flight path to determine which areas of the Great Sea Reef we must pass and photograph. Among the list of “must see” is this elongated, slightly sunken reef that is rumoured to exist past the northern tip of the Yasawa. This phantom reef has never been seen before or even detected by the amazing satellite images of Google Earth. Like a treasure hunt, or more looking for a needle in a hay stack, our pilot persevered and found it!
And it was a jewel to behold.
After the newfound reef, we headed for Yadua Island. It was so beautiful from the air! To think exactly on this same day the year before, a category 5 Cyclone Evan devastated Yadua Village. It is hard to imagine this catastrophe when the sun is shining, the calm waters are turquoise blue and the island is looking magnificent!
We had to refuel in Savusavu and flew across some stunning mountain ranges of Vanua Levu. But here and there, the scars of progress jarred the senses like this mining or logging road to some bauxite hill or another.
At some point our pilot went head on in the clouds towards this steep mountain wall that made me exclaim “mountains ahoy!”
After refuelling, we headed straight up north to Kavewa Island. Seeing a familiar island brought back memories of our time experiencing Village Life in Kavewa Island. Then the white sandy beaches of Katawaqa Island also reminds of our turtle adventures with Emosi Time.
One of our favourite images is this one of Kia Island surrounded by the Great Sea Reef with the bursting clouds! Here’s a flashback blog entry on Kia – The Remote Island Paradise of the GSR.
We needed to refuel again in Savusavu to make it back to Nadi. The finale that awaited us was just magnificent! Here’s how the rest of our flight back to base went.
By about 5pm, I was exhausted. I fell asleep with the wind still blowing on my face, hair and everywhere. Our pilot said it’s a first for him to have a client fall asleep on a flight – especially with open doors!
I’m not sure if it’s obvious but here’s a stunning picture of the open sea with the sun low in the horizon reflecting water ripples. A fishing boat is zipping below like a tiny spec of dirt.
Finally near Nadi as I feel our hotel’s bed beckon me to sleep, a last pretty picture of the mangroves of the Ba Province, Western Division Viti Levu.
- At February 1, 2014
- By Stella Chiu-Freund
- In Coral Triangle, Dive Tourism, Indonesia, Magazine publication, Malaysia, Marine, Nature Photography, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Photography, Publications, Published in the web, Science, Scuba Diving, Solomon Islands, South East Asia, Timor Leste, Underwater Photography
A little late but nonetheless always relevant! Our big photo story on The Coral Triangle came out in German GEO Magazine last August 2013 and correspondingly, an iPad app with this slideshow below. With so many stories to choose from, our writer Dr. Andreas Weber wrote mainly about the Tubbataha Rangers and the amazing work they do monitoring and protecting the Philippine’s World Heritage Site Tubbataha Reef, a coral atoll in the middle of the Sulu Sea.
Sometime mid-October, we received a series of urgent text messages from our Wednesday gardener/landscaper Kelvin: “the rainbow bee-eaters are digging a nesting hole in the sand 5 meters away from your parked Troopy by the empty lot beside the apartment!” he wrote. Kelvin explained where the hole was and to make it fool-proof to find, he placed a flowerpot, a metal stick and a flag to mark the spot, also to make sure no vehicle ran over it! We saw Kelvin the next day beside our Troopy and had a long chat about the birds and their latest escapades. The birds were busy, still digging the hole in the sand and flying about. Then something amazing happened – I saw them copulate, perched high on a branch!! I shouted “they’re mating!” and both Kelvin & Yogi stopped talking, looked up and saw the tail end of their loving. Certainly, no camera was at the ready!
By the end of October, we set up the camera to capture the hard work of the two beautiful bee-eaters. Perched on their favourite branch or on the rooftop antennae, they flew with top speed to catch their prey, so much like fighter planes doing fast manoeuvres. Then with a prey in its beak would start chirping and whacking the poor insect to bits. Again like a fighter plane, they’d swoop down, hovering over the hole (constantly chirping) and entering to feed their babies. This went on for the whole month of November. Sometimes, they were really busy, catching insects, whacking and feeding. And in some days there would be no activity for long intervals — and then a token feed. This certainly did not go unnoticed by other birds in the area. One time, a kookaburra stood in front of the hole for a long while and one of the bee-eaters dive-bombed to chase the bully away! Oh what drama.
The bee-eaters’ chirping was distinct and when we heard it, we knew one of them would enter the hole with food. A variety of insects were on the daily menu — there would be butterflies, grasshoppers, dragonflies but mostly bees!
Then on Wednesday the 5th of December, we were again chatting with Kelvin, telling him what amazing parents the bee-eaters were. Towards the end of November, we observed how the feeding got quicker and really frequent and the hole in the sand was getting bigger as well. We felt it in our gut the chicks would soon fly the coop. By the 1st of December, the feeding got less frequent but the calling more urgent and often, like the parents saying, “you want to eat, you have to come out and get it!” Then Kelvin and I looked up, as we heard the chirping get louder and louder. What we saw fly in were not two bee-eaters, but four!!! The chicks were flying and their parents were showing them the ways of their world!
Even as local Cairns residents living by the beach of Yorkeys Knob, we too were solar eclipse chasers. We snubbed our beach and decided to go far far away. We booked our campground in Cape Tribulation for Monday and Tuesday and practised waking up at 4am Tuesday to get our body clocks ready for eclipse morning Wednesday. Upon reaching our secret destination in some beautiful but unpopulated beach, the tide was incredibly high and the wind howling, sending constant salt sprays onto every bit of our camera gear! “Abort, abort!” cried Yogi and we packed up and headed back to Cairns for Plan B but still checking out many other locations in Daintree along the way!
Plan B was the bedroom verandah of our friend Chris’ house at the hillside of Smithfield overlooking the City of Cairns. Eclipse Day 14 November 2012, our alarm went off at 4:30am and Yogi was all set up in half an hour – prior tinkering and steady preparations the afternoon before with two camera set-ups both fitted with eclipse filters.
But the clouds loomed over the horizon. It got thicker and thicker as Chris’ eclipse guests started arriving! By 6am, the kitchen verandah was busy with people having all sorts of doomsday predictions that the clouds will not dissipate. Our friend Robert exclaimed, “Why did you buy THIS house, Chris?!”
With early morning daylight and thick clouds covering the sun, the surrounding ambient light very slowly dimmed and the cockatoos started squawking. From such a high elevation, we could see the beams of sunlight illuminating the sea lessen in intensity and everywhere else was slowly darkening all around us. At the eleventh hour, holes in the clouds opened and teased a glimpse of the eclipse, fully revealing itself on total solar eclipse – a dramatic grand entrance! Like magic, all illumination disappeared, the sky miraculously cleared, everything turned dark and the black moon had this wonderful halo with hints of red flares all around it! I know it’s all very scientific with chromospheres and such but my God, it was simply mind blowing. It was an experience we can replay in our minds forever. No wonder eclipse chasers become addicted! It was phenomenal!
YouTube link to our experience of the eclipse!
In the past five years, we have had two super strong category 5 cyclones visit our part of the world in Far North Queensland, Australia – Cyclone Larry in March 2006 and Cyclone Yasi in February 2011. The incredibly strong winds stripped our dense forest foliage naked and as a result, full sunshine caused wild tobacco to grow from the forest floor. Fruit bats normally found foraging in tree canopies were on the ground feasting on tobacco leaves. Here lived paralytic ticks which attacked a huge population of fruit bats causing deaths in the humungous thousands leaving behind 400 orphan babies and 800 adults in the care of the Tolga Bat Hospital. We first visited Tolga Bat Hospital in Atherton sometime January 2007 and photographed the busy volunteers and the tireless Jenny Maclean work non-stop. We didn’t do anything with our photo story as other projects and an expedition to Asia/Pacific took over our lives for a few years. We re-visited Jenny after Cyclone Yasi and finally, we have the Tolga Bat Hospital story in the German children’s magazine GEOlino issued last month, July 2012.
Last April, we had a truly charming feature in Germany’s GEO Magazine on the Coral Triangle’s colourful and cryptic marine creatures – a sure sign of biodiversity in this ecoregion. Soon it will also come out in GEO International magazines all over the world in around 16 countries!
We have been working hard to promote the Coral Triangle through our pictures. The images we accumulated during our epic 18 month WWF Coral Triangle Photographic Expedition is slowly getting its proper exposure in the world. For starters, here’s a beautiful portfolio last March in BBC Wildlife Magazine.
GEO October 2011 – Lake Eyre Story
Our 2.5 month winter expedition this year to outback Australia’s Lake Eyre Basin is now out in the German GEO Magazine!
Tauchen Magazine – West Australia 2008
FLASHBACK – October 2008
We were boarding the fabulous diveboat MV Febrina on Yogi’s birthday in 2008 when a fellow guest from Germany chased Yogi with a magazine upon finding out he was Jürgen Freund. The newest issue of Tauchen Magazine had our West Australia story in it and the cover was Yogi’s! Here’s a chance to show it off for the first time in 3 years!
Rolex Laureates Collaborating – Jürgen Freund on Assignment for Rolex in Ningaloo 2008
FLASHBACK – May 2008
Rory Wilson and Brad Norman - two Rolex Award for Enterprise Laureates joined forces to study whale sharks of Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Yogi was given this “difficult” assignment of spending luxurious time onboard the boat of retired NBA basketball player Luc Longley to photograph these two scientists. First thing he told me about the boat was that it was custom built for Luc who towers 7’2″ and Yogi’s feet were dangling when he sat on the toilet!
With the many Rolex press releases that came out about this collaboration, one particular article from Qatar Airways’ inflight magazine Oryx led to Yogi winning the 2010 PATA Gold Award for Travel Photographer! Search for the winning picture in the December 2009 issue of Oryx Magazine!
The Census of Marine Life (CoML) is a grand global project with an objective to survey and analyze changes from past to present in marine life biodiversity, distribution and abundance, and to compile the resultant data into a comprehensive database called the “Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS),” to be used in forecasting the future of marine life. We are so fortunate to have been a part of this mammoth marine research project, which recently won the International Cosmos Prize 2011 in Japan. Congratulations to the Scientific Steering Committee of CoML.
With our rich and varied collection of images from the Great Barrier Reef, an big article called Great Barrier Reef: Das blaue Mysterium came out August 2010 in GEO Magazine. See the GEO Fotogalerie of the GBR story here.
GEO Snake Expedition – Australia 2008
FLASHBACK – February 2008
Way back December 2007, Yogi was asked by the GEO photo editors to do a photographic snake expedition with scientist Dr. Guido Westhoff. The assignment required them to go to the Queensland outback for land snakes and Weipa for sea snakes. This expedition marked our first big collaboration with GEO Magazine and I was so happy for Yogi. It finally happened. For those who are not familiar, GEO is Germany’s most prestigious science, nature and geographical magazine, which also come out in 16 other countries worldwide. Simply put – it is an fantastic publication! See Yogi’s GEO Portfolio here.
Now I was (pre-expedition) petrified of snakes. The mere mention of the S-word was enough to turn my knees into jelly and make my stomach turn. But it was either stay home alone for a month or bite the bullet and go with the team to look for snakes and photograph them. EEEEEEK! So, not wishing to be left behind, I joined the team comprised of the GEO writer Hania Luczak, Guido Westhoff and his wife, Katja. It was awesome.