23 March 2013

I really believe in saying “it’s better late than never”. Well, this post is almost a year late but nonetheless, the experience is still fresh in my mind like it happened yesterday.  As we get ready to leave tomorrow for our next brand new expedition to Fiji, I thought it best to finish 1 back-log entry and start fresh for the Great Sea Reefs of Fiji – and today being Earth Hour to boot!

In mid April 2012, we were finally able to return to Indonesia and accomplish our last unfinished business for WWF – that of making the long journey to Cenderawasih Bay where the giant fish waited for us. Cenderawasih Bay or bird of paradise bay is a massive body of water of three provinces – West Papua, Papua & New Guinea all belonging to Indonesia. This bay has special underwater visitors who almost never want to leave. When WWF Indonesia’s marine programme communicator Dewi Satriani told us about Cenderawasih Bay in 2009, we gave her the look of disbelief – that whale sharks are guaranteed to be seen here, hanging around and not leaving. Our Coral Triangle photo expedition was packed for 18 months and we couldn’t find the time to make this new destination part of our journey. We knew we had to return and it was going to be on our own steam, on another time and another year.

Gurano Bintang (whale shark) WWF Indonesia's education and floating ranger station.

Gurano Bintang (whale shark) WWF Indonesia’s education and floating ranger station.

But it was meant to be. It was in February 2012 that WWF Indonesia launched their Floating Ranger Station called Gurano Bintang. This beautiful boat has the admirable job of aiming to improve the quality of life of the local communities living within Cenderawasih Bay National Park through educational projects of sustainable development and health services. Dewi organised to join us along with project leader Beny & a surprise hitchhiker, our old friend Hafiz! Oh but it was fun. We went from village to village and had school children come on board for some educational activities and a visit to the mangrove area nearby.

Vero animately talks about marine life to Local Papuan kids onboard Gurano Bintang.

Vero animately talks about marine life to Local Papuan kids onboard Gurano Bintang.

Then Vero talks about the importance of the mangrove environment to the students from Kwatisore Village.

Then Vero talks about the importance of the mangrove environment to the students from Kwatisore Village.

Whale sharks are attracted to the presence of lift net Bagan platforms that target scads and mackerel as well as anchovies.

Bagans are large stationary anchored ourigger boats that have a net spanning from outrigger to outrigger.

Bagans are large stationary anchored ourigger boats that have a net spanning from outrigger to outrigger.

 

At night these nets are lowered to some 15 m or so and strong electric lights are switched on to attract anchovies and scads.

At night these nets are lowered to some 15 m or so and strong electric lights are switched on to attract anchovies and scads.

After a few hours the lights are switched off and the nets lifted with the fish trapped inside.

After a few hours the lights are switched off and the nets lifted with the fish trapped inside.

The whale sharks are in turn attracted by the unused fish that is discarded in the morning.  The sharks, considered good luck by the fishermen, are given excess fish of anchovies as a reward for their good catch from their night’s work. And because of this, the biggest fish in the world are almost a guaranteed sighting.

A whale shark attracted by Stella's splashing!

A whale shark attracted by Stella’s splashing!

WWF Indonesia started a monitoring programme to assess the distribution of the animal. They evaluate what potential threats there are to the species and also develop ecotourism management programmes with tourism operators in the Cendrawasih Bay Marine Prorected Area.

WWF Monitoring team leader Tika reviews fisherman's notebook that contains daily whale shark observations.

WWF Monitoring team leader Tika reviews fisherman’s notebook that contains daily whale shark observations.

And so, we had the most incredible whale shark interactions in the waters of this beautifully named Bay of Cenderawasih!

Whale shark, bagan and the tiny human snorkeler!

Whale shark, bagan and the tiny human snorkeler!

Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) with diver Beny Ahadian Noor, the project leader of the WWF Indonesia Cenderawasih Bay Project.

Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) with diver Beny Ahadian Noor, the project leader of the WWF Indonesia Cenderawasih Bay Project.

 

Hafiz Adyas, WWF Indonesia's Bycatch Officer took off from work to be with us and the biggest fish in the world.

Hafiz Adyas, WWF Indonesia’s Bycatch Officer took off from work to be with us and the biggest fish in the world.

And so we end with a group picture on the bow of the beautifully painted Gurano Bintang!

The Freunds with WWF Indonesia Cenderawasih Bay staff on Gurano Bintang educational boat!

The Freunds with WWF Indonesia Cenderawasih Bay staff on Gurano Bintang educational boat!