Sixty-three hours after leaving London we arrived on the beach at
Hoga Island, South East Sulawesi, Indonesia.
We were there as part of a group of volunteers to assist Operation
Wallacea gather photographic and scientific data on the reefs around
Hoga Island, part of the Tukangbesi island group known locally as
'Wakatobi'. Operation Wallacea was established in 1995 to map the
wildlife in 7500 km square of remote rainforest and also to survey
the coral and fish in 600km of reefs in this remote and least-visited
province of Indonesia.
The base on Hoga was a large wooden house originally
built by the Japanese, left to decay, then refurbished
and turned into living quarters, a dive centre and laboratory
by Wallacea personnel.
The site was managed by Wallacea staff and local Indonesians
performed the cooking, tank filling, boat handling etc.
The marine scientific work was supervised by marine biologist
Monica Sullivan with support from professional photographer
Adam Powell who processed films and copied slides for
both their and the volunteers databases. Other volunteers,
on longer stays, assisted with the diving and surveying
as part of their dive master training which was an additional
benefit for those wishing to upgrade their PADI qualifications.
We were there for two weeks, giving us ten days diving,
three boat dives a day on the reefs, pinnacles, and ridges
The plan was
to dive with a purpose on two of the dives, then dive the
third as we wished. In practice this was far less formal
because on most dives we were free to photograph as we pleased.
The daily diving was punctuated by informal
lectures on the subjects we were there to photograph and
detail on the log sheets provided. The main thrust of the
work was tunicates (sea squirts), sponges and most fish
with particular emphasis on butterflyfish - luckily my favourite!
We were also keeping an eye out for nudibranches, which
varied in size from 5mm to 150mm in length.
At least one nudibranch found during our
stay was a newly discovered species awaiting verification
at time of writing. We also discovered a starfish which
could not be identified on site.
The lectures were presented by Monica Sullivan,
on secondment from Sligo University, Ireland. Monica had
an infectious enthusiasm for all marine life with a gift
for imparting knowledge. The lectures opened our eyes to
the enormous quantity and variety of creatures (and their
interrelationships) on the reefs, enabling us to identify
a wide variety of subjects for our photography and data
Sea snakes were an occasional surprise to us all. This
poor-sighted creature, or so we were told, had a bite
which would kill - this made us treat their presence with
some care. Sometimes they would appear around your legs
or over your shoulder and make you draw a sharp breath
on your DV as they glided by.
The main reef was a steep wall extending for about a
mile from our base along the side of the island, although
only about a quarter of the reef had been dived to any
extent. Being vertical it was in pristine condition with
hardly a place to put a 'steadying' finger if you wanted
a closer look. Pinnacles and ridges extended from 5 to
40m covered with gorgonians, barrel sponges, massive,
sub-massive and branching corals, with folios and encrusting
corals providing an infinite variety of wide-angle photographic
The weather was not so kind to us, with warm rain every day at
a time when it should have been the dry season. Who said El Nino?
The weather did have some effect on our choice of lenses because
of the lack of sunlight on most dives, but the reefs were packed
with macro subjects and there was always an endless selection
from which to choose.
Adam Powell, the resident photographer, was a delight to dive
with because of his knowledge of the reef creatures to be found
amongst the coral, sponges and tunicates, many of which we had
never seen before. The water temperature was 30 degrees with an
occasional colder upwelling, but a Lycra or a 3 mm neoprene wetsuit
was adequate protection.
of sixteen volunteers was made up from five of our club
members (four photographers and one videographer), with
the balance of divers as data collectors. We all filled
in subject survey forms and provided photos and samples
of selected subjects collected during the day for logging
and scrutiny under the microscope. Live subjects were returned
to the sea on a subsequent dive. Most of the survey work
took about half a dive, leaving us free to carry on taking
pictures for the rest of the dive, but there was no pressure
to surface if you still had air and film left.
The food, accommodation, timing and travel was Indonesian style,
so there was a larger than usual culture shock once we reached
Singapore and faced our first (six hour) flight delay - but that's
half the fun of going a third of the way around the planet to
join the mosquitoes in a strange land!
Go to their web site which is full of information on their worldwide
activities including detailed plans for the current year. There
are also some great pictures and dive site descriptions. www opwall.com