It's strange how opportunity and events shape our lives and provide pathways to the future, who could have imagined on that crucial day in Sydney 30 years ago when I was approached by a representative of ITV television (United Kingdom) to participate in their "Nature Watch" documentary series that it would lay the foundations to 30 years of fantastic discoveries at Loloata Island and Papua New Guinea in general.
The producers were looking for totally dedicated naturalists with a natural enthusiasm for their subjects and a passion for advancing knowledge. The series (and the book) focussed on some of the top amateur and professional naturalists of the times, their lives, their discoveries and their special affinity with nature.
The opportunity for me to visit Loloata Island and take part in what was to me, the most fantastic thing that had ever happened to me and the first global recognition of my work was 'fairy story stuff!' Little did I know that 'NATURE WATCH' would shape the next 25 years of my life.
Working on the sunken wreck of the "GAS 11" 25 years later gave me quite a sense of achievement, as most of my work was done alone and without any grants or support from any organization, apart from the hospitality of Dive Resort managers, owners and staff.( photo: Jorina van der Westhuizen)
Twelve naturalists from all over the world with a range of subjects ranging from sea birds to monkeys, insects to carnivorous plants, birds of prey to rainforests of Papua New Guinea and underwater to the intricacies of animal behaviour, a wonderful cast of champions devoted to understanding nature.
To be in a series with such eminent naturalists as Miriam Rothschild (England), Tom Eisner (USA), Lynn Rogers (USA), Harry Harju (USA), Roy Mackay (Australia), Densey Cline (Australia) and perhaps the most famous of all, Konrad Lorenz (Austria) was to me, a very great honour. The interviewer for the series (Mr Julian Petifer) was a well-known personality photojournalist and TV presenter on British television.
The ITV Television crew at Loloata Island in 1980. Obviously a serious moment in production. However, although there were many serious moments over the course of the "shoot" ( not withstanding my very serious external ear infection) However, the "show' went on and the results turned out, excellent!
In order to create a sincere approach to underwater exploration in 1980 the entire team was flown to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, along with Ron and Valerie Taylor who were to shoot the underwater footage. I was booked in at the Travelodge Hotel in Port Moresby and we commuted each day to Bootless Bay, some 22 kilometres east along the coast and boarded a dive boat run by Bob and Dinah Halstead who owned the only dive shop in Port Moresby.
Bob and Dinah's first Papua New Guinea purpose – built day dive boat "Solatai" was state of the art for Papua New Guinea at the time.
Hardly a liveaboard BUT it certainly worked great for diving Bootless Bay, around Loloata Island and Horseshoe Reef and pioneering the Milne Bay camping trips.
It is still operating out of Bootless Bay, run by the now owners of the Port Moresby Dive shop.
(Photo Neville Coleman)
The diving was carried out at many of the now famous Loloata Island dive sites and the land interviews were done at Loloata Island Resort. At that time, Loloata Island Resort (managed by Dik Knight) was a weekend resort, catering mostly for locals and expats from Port Moresby and the rest of Papua New Guinea, with snorkelling facilities only.
Loloata Island has come a long way from its early beginnings as a chicken farm. Today it maintains an excellent reputation and provides some of the best services in the dive travel business. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
From my very first dive on Horseshoe Reef till the present day that initial excitement of seeing so many species known only from books has never waned. I had learnt most of my fish species from Ian S.R. Munroe's 'The Fishes of New Guinea' as it was the best book of its time. However, most of the illustrations were of drawings or black and white dead specimens and with the images in the back of the 400 page plus book and only page numbers to relate the pictures to the text, learning had been a lengthy process for me.
The second Lacy scorpionfish in the world was a black-green specimen discovered at Horseshoe Reef in Bootless Bay by Dinah Halstead in 1980. Today one of my favourite colour forms is this orange, pink spotted form, just exquisite! ( photo: Neville Coleman)
To see the fish of Papua New Guinea in all their living splendour was a fantastic experience; so many colours and patterns. I was bewildered with so many species.
My first glimpse of the (now named) red-lined sea cucumber Holothuria rubrolineata was mind blowing, like nothing I had ever seen before; it looked like a giant caterpillar.
(Photo Neville Coleman)
The "Nature Watch" series was very successful and went on to be viewed by over 40,000,000 people across the globe. The opportunity to dive outside of Australia and the South Pacific enabled me a glimpse into the rest of the world of water and fired me with even more inspiration for discovery.
I wasn't quite ready for the Madang style of Papua New Guinea's lay back lifestyle. "Watch the Birdi" took on a whole new meaning….and my (very serious) dive courses certainly had their moments.
Bob Halstead and Dik Knight invited me back on many occasions to run marine life identification courses and to help pioneer the awesome potential of Papua New Guinea, exploring Bootless Bay, Madang and Milne Bay.
Dive Boat "Dilo 2" leaving the jetty at Loloata Island with a comfortable eight divers. Two Dive Boats (Dilo 1) and (Dilo 2) are maintained; together they are capable of transporting up to 24 divers to over 20 dive sites.
With the most recent November 2005 expedition completed at Loloata Island Resort, a wealth of species captured on video and a new era in visual communication ahead I reviewed the results of those early days.
JoeY preparing her 1st video system for our first venture into video in 2005. She now has a state of the art system and her results are excellent and we have now produced " DISCOVER LOLOATA ISLAND" DVD video for everyone to share in the discoveries and the magic of Loloata Island.
In just over 1000 dives in Papua New Guinea I had managed to compile over 35,000 images of around 3500 species of aquatic wildlife. In the process over 400 new records were added to the fauna listings and some 263 new species of sea life discovered.
We were lucky to get a glimpse of the very rare short-spined sea urchin Chondrocidaris brevispina, only recorded once before by myself in 1996. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Over 2500 individual images have been published with the location data as Papua New Guinea in over 20 books including Discover Loloata Island - Marine Life Guide to Papua New Guinea (1998) Regular dive travel articles and marine life articles and pictures have appeared in 160 dive magazines and newspapers.
With many expeditions to Milne Bay, Walindi (Kimbe Bay), Loloata Island and Madang it has been a wonderful adventure and one I will continue to explore as long as possible.
Another first for me was this spectacular version of the superb brittle star Opholepis superba. Although a form was published in Sea Stars – Echinoderms of the Asia/Pacific – Pacific, this one really is superb!
(Photo Neville Coleman)
Although the November 2005 expeditiNn to Loloata Island concentrated on video production promotions we still managed to fall over at least one new species of nudibranch and a number of new records for the fauna lists.
One of the most critical and time consuming part of discovering new species anywhere, is that each specimen must be collected, preserved, and cross-referenced with the images to maintain the integrity of the scientific process. ( photo: Jorina van der Westhuizen)
All in all, three weeks of near perfect conditions with doldrums and 20 metre visibility wore me out but it's the type of exhaustion, which brings out the smiles and that far away look of satisfaction that realises another job well done.
A new nudibranch is exciting at any time. This one was unlike anything I had ever seen before, just exquisite. Scribbled Paradoris Paradoris sp.
(Photo Neville Coleman)
However, we now know with the publication of NUDIBRANCHS ENCYCLOPEDIA (2008) that this species ( although undescribed) has also been found in other areas. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Over the last few years we have managed to record and update the Loloata Island Marine Faunal lists to around 2,250 species including over 15 animals new to science.
Dive staff at Loloata Island. From the left back row: Dik Knight, Walo, Miga. Front row: Yoshi, Franco, Melisa, Philip.
Dive guides, boat skippers and staff maintain an outstanding service; from delivering batteries out to the dive site for divers who had left their spares back at the resort, to finding all those species that photographers demand every day, and looking after everybody without cutting corners (narrow minded, unthinking customers often demand totally unrealistic things to suit themselves, ignoring that there is a schedule to maintain and other divers on board) Not forgetting the rescues performed as part of a day's work. From towing divers around who really have no idea how to use their fins, to chasing after the compass expert who didn't really need a guide and only missed the boat by 50 metres?
I would like to, once again, thank Mr Dik Knight and the resort staff for their courtesy and hospitality on yet another successful expedition. Many thanks to the dive staff, Yoshi, Franco, Walo, Melisa, Philip and Miga, it was brilliant! It was JoeY's first experience in PNG and her enthusiasm and dedication to the video side of the expedition did her proud, and I would like to thank her for driving me Digital, the possibilities of which, are mind blowing.
Discover Loloata Island DVD
Neville Coleman's diving expeditions, fauna surveys, photographic fauna surveys and marine life identification courses include every major group of marine life.
Neville Coleman's expertise in marine life identification extends to the identification of Algae, Sea Grass, Forams, Sponges, Stony Corals, Soft Corals, Sea Anemones, Sea Jellies, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, Black Corals, Flatworms, Segmented Worms, Crustaceans, Barnacles, Shrimps, Rock Lobsters, Hermit Crabs, Squat Lobsters, Molluscs, Chitons, Univalves, Bivalves, Cephalopods, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Squid, Opisthobranchs, Nudibranchs, Sea Slugs, Bryozoans, Sea Mosses, Echinoderms, Sea Stars, Feather Stars, Brittle Stars, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, Ascidians/Sea Squirts, Marine Fish, Sharks, Marine Reptiles, and Marine Mammals, all found in the waters around Loloata Island, Bootless Bay and Papua New Guinea.
( Copyright Neville Coleman)