BURT JONES

Scuba Diver Ocean Planet - - Through The Lens -

From map­ping caves to writ­ing quin­tes­sen­tial nat­u­ral his­tory books, Burt Jones, to­gether with his wife, Mau­rine Shim­lock, have been pi­o­neer­ing un­der­wa­ter im­agery for the bet­ter part of four decades

Burt Jones is one of the many unsung he­roes of un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phy. Since the 1970s, Burt has been ded­i­cated to ex­plor­ing both dive sites around the world as well as his own artis­tic ex­pres­sion. Div­ing Mex­ico’s Yu­catán Penin­sula long be­fore it was a world-renowned dive desti­na­tion, Burt and his wife were later in­stru­men­tal in putting In­done­sia’s in­cred­i­ble un­der­wa­ter world on the map with their pi­o­neer­ing books, Se­cret Sea, Div­ing In­done­sia’s Raja Am­pat, and Div­ing In­done­sia’s Bird’s Head Seascape. For those that are un­fa­mil­iar with Burt and Mau­rine’s lengthy and im­pres­sive ten­ure in the field, read on and con­sider your­self schooled.

ON CANCÚN, MEX­ICO, BACK IN THE DAY

I grew up in a small town north of Austin, Texas, and be­came a cer­ti­fied diver in 1969. But it was the early 1970s, dur­ing breaks while at­tend­ing col­lege in cen­tral Mex­ico, that I be­gan ex­plor­ing the Yu­catán coast. At the time I was into breath-hold spearfish­ing and Mayan ru­ins. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, a buddy and I opened the first dive shop on the coast, in a lit­tle town named Puerto More­los. At that time, Cancún was just an idea; Cozumel div­ing was in its in­fancy; Playa del Car­men was home to three fam­i­lies of fish­er­men; and it would be decades be­fore the bait­balls and whale sharks off Isla Mu­jeres were dis­cov­ered. Hav­ing the coast vir­tu­ally to our­selves, Mau­rine and I lived an idyl­lic, stress-free life of ad­ven­ture. By the early 1980s, the coast­line was be­gin­ning to be de­vel­oped, so we con­structed a small bed and break­fast and opened a se­cond dive shop. As Cancún’s de­vel­op­ment im­pacted the en­tire coast, we stopped spearfish­ing and started pho­tograph­ing. Fi­nally, in 1987, frus­trated with the changes in our par­adise, we sold up and headed to the Solomon Is­lands, an un­de­vel­oped place where we could teach our­selves un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phy while in­dulging our pas­sion as “ad­ven­ture junkies”.

ON MAP­PING YU­CATÁN’S CENOTES

Weather, es­pe­cially strong winds, dur­ing the prime tourist (win­ter) months, caused our Mex­ico dive busi­ness to suf­fer, so we be­gan div­ing in the cenotes. You can­not imag­ine what it was like in those days. It lit­er­ally was a new world, undis­cov­ered, com­pletely un­touched and mag­i­cal. But, un­like to­day, get­ting to the cenotes was not easy. We had to hack our way through the jun­gle, car­ry­ing our heavy gear. We quickly hooked up with divers like Mike Madden, who was se­ri­ous about cave ex­plo­ration. As our pho­to­graphic skills im­proved, Mike asked us to be the “pho­tog­ra­phers of record” on the map­ping and ex­plo­ration of the No­hoch Nah Chich sys­tem (now a part of Dos Ojos), which was named the “world’s long­est un­der­wa­ter cave” by the Guin­ness Book of Records.

ON DIS­COV­ER­ING NEW DES­TI­NA­TIONS

Al­though at the time, the term never oc­curred to us, we were be­gin­ning to de­velop the skill set to be­come, as we now re­fer to our­selves, “desti­na­tion de­vel­op­ers”. We got a job help­ing to re­fit and even­tu­ally man­age the first live­aboard in the Solomons, the Bi­likiki, which is still in busi­ness to­day. We “dis­cov­ered” most the sites the boat still dives. This is where our pho­tog­ra­phy de­vel­oped in earnest and we be­gan to doc­u­ment the in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of the reef as we started to dis­cover the small stuff. What we were es­sen­tially do­ing was “crit­ter div­ing”, but that term wasn’t coined un­til Larry Smith pop­u­larised it in the mid-90s. Af­ter the pos­i­tive re­cep­tion of our first pub­lished piece on the Solomons, we re­alised the quick­est path to get­ting pub­lished was re­port­ing on places no one had ever dived. Our first stop was Si­padan Is­land. We ar­rived on New Year’s day 1990. What a place! A 3,000-foot drop-off was lit­er­ally a few fin-kicks from shore and the marine life was off the scale. We were some of the first pho­to­jour­nal­ists to re­port on Si­padan.

ON NAM­ING CAN­NI­BAL ROCK

In 1992, Dr Kal Muller, a travel writer who was re­search­ing the first book about div­ing in In­done­sia, in­vited us to ac­com­pany him on an ex­ploratory trip to Ko­modo Na­tional Park to de­ter­mine if it was worth de­vel­op­ing as a dive desti­na­tion. On ar­rival, we saw a dragon on the beach and rushed ashore with our cam­eras. The dragon ran along the beach and be­gan climb­ing a 100 foot-high rock. (This was be­fore any­one had ever been to Rinca and the dragons were still fear­ful of hu­mans.) We cau­tiously fol­lowed, and at the top we saw the dragon swal­low­ing a ju­ve­nile. We im­me­di­ately named him Han­ni­bal! While tak­ing shots, we no­ticed a piece of reef pro­trud­ing into the bay from the base of the rock. We de­cided to dive it, and found a place like noth­ing any of us had seen. We knew this site alone would put Ko­modo div­ing on the map. Nam­ing the site was easy. Han­ni­bal had done it for us: Can­ni­bal Rock.

ON THE BIRTH OF “MUCK DIV­ING”

In 1995, we joined Larry Smith for a jour­ney through the Banda Sea. Start­ing in Am­bon, we worked our way east, then south, div­ing spots that Larry knew and ex­plor­ing new sites. Dur­ing the trip Larry kept men­tion­ing a fish he had seen while work­ing un­der the ship where it moored in Am­bon. He had no idea what it was, but de­scribed it as look­ing like some­thing the “cat coughed up”. Even though we had never seen one ei­ther, his de­scrip­tion sounded like a Rhinopias scor­pi­onfish. To­gether we made a de­ci­sion to re­turn to port early so we could dive the pier.

What a gold mine! We found two Rhinopias, ev­ery pier pil­ing seemed to har­bour a frog­fish, and the mucky bot­tom was cov­ered with other bizarre species. We all saw our first flam­boy­ant cut­tle­fish – even though we didn’t know what it was – and our first fire urchin with com­men­sal ze­bra crabs and Cole­man shrimp. Need­less to say this was the birth of “muck div­ing” in In­done­sia. Af­ter the Banda trip, in 1996, our first book, Se­cret Sea, was pub­lished. It re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards, in­clud­ing the Ben­jamin Franklin prize for “best book” pub­lished that year. Mean­while, Larry’s live­aboard op­er­a­tion was floun­der­ing and he re­lo­cated to a re­sort in a then un­heard of back­wa­ter – Lem­beh Strait. As soon as he had the op­er­a­tion rolling we vis­ited, and the dis­cov­er­ies fol­lowed. We showed Larry his first pygmy sea­horse, which we had first seen in Ko­modo, and we found a lot of other Lem­beh “firsts”, like two species of Rhinopias, the Am­bon scor­pi­onfish, an­other flam­boy­ant cut­tle­fish, not to men­tion about a zil­lion nudi­branchs. By this time we were full-on muck fa­nat­ics.

ON CHART­ING THE BIRD’S HEAD PENIN­SULA

In 2007, Larry Smith in­tro­duced us to a man who has be­come a con­stant in our lives, our “boss” Dr Mark Erdmann. At the time, Mark was se­nior ad­vi­sor for Con­ser­va­tion In­ter­na­tional-In­done­sia’s Marine Pro­gram. In 2008, he hired us for the “dream job”. We were given a bud­get and the sup­port to dive, ex­plore and cre­ate con­tent to pro­mote sus­tain­able tourism ini­tia­tives in, first, Raja Am­pat and now, the en­tire Bird’s Head Seascape. Mark knew that the only way to pro­tect the area’s un­prece­dented marine re­sources was to en­gage the lo­cals. One method was to build a sus­tain­able tourism in­fra­struc­ture that of­fered di­rect ben­e­fits to the na­tives in lieu of their over­fish­ing the reefs, clear­ing their forests, or min­ing. In or­der to build this in­fra­struc­ture Mark knew he had to spread tourism through­out the en­tire re­gion. More dive sites had to be found and pro­moted so that live­aboards would branch out and dive be­yond what was known at the time. Our book Div­ing In­done­sia’s Raja Am­pat was re­leased in 2009. Tourism in­creased by 20 per­cent in

Raja the year af­ter the guide­book was re­leased, and the num­bers are still in­creas­ing. Even though Raja Am­pat is the epi­cen­tre of marine bio­di­ver­sity and the heart of the Co­ral Tri­an­gle, it is only part of the much larger Bird’s Head Seascape. So Mark and Con­ser­va­tion In­ter­na­tional com­mis­sioned us to pro­duce a more com­pre­hen­sive up­date. In 2011 we re­leased Div­ing In­done­sia’s Bird’s Head Seascape, which in­cludes much bet­ter maps and many more sites. We fi­nally re­alised that print­ing a book ev­ery few years is un­sus­tain­able, so we set about cre­at­ing a web­site for the Bird’s Head, www.bird­shead­seascape.com. As well as be­ing a guide for divers, the site con­tains a li­brary and a re­search data­base for all the sci­en­tific and con­ser­va­tion work ever done in the re­gion. The idea is for the site to be the “go to” place be­fore get­ting on a plane or for any­one do­ing re­search on the area. SDOP

1. “Daram”, Misool, Raja Am­pat, In­done­sia: Clouds of dam­selfish and snap­pers pass over a beau­ti­ful ta­ble co­ral Set­tings: f/11, 1/125s, ISO 200 Im­age © Jones/Shim­lock–Se­cret Sea Vi­sions

IN­TER­VIEW WITH A PRO

2. “Mioskan”, Dampier Strait, Raja Am­pat, In­done­sia: Wobbe­gong sharks are com­mon through­out Raja Am­pat but rarely seen on other In­done­sian reefs Set­tings: f/6.3, 1/80s, ISO 100 Im­age © Jones/Shim­lock–Se­cret Sea Vi­sions 3. Tri­ton Bay, West Pa­pua,...

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