Wednesday, May 25, 2011

lake exploration equipment

Lake exploring, in line with most other outdoor adventure activities, requires highly functional, specialised and technical equipment. Needless to say, this equipment has to be extremely versatile, as it must not only be optimal for snorkelling, but also for lake entries through very treacherous terrain, such as climbing over limestone cliffs and carving a path through the jungle. After years of research and development, Becking Inc. is proud to present the ideal outfit that fulfils these highly varied requirements:

  • dive booties, preferentially with sturdy anti-slip soles for these slippery slopes and rocks. However, no sole is infallible, so one needs to have handhold security as well. This is why the next piece of equipment is:
  • gardening gloves. Ideal for climbing on razor-sharp limestone cliffs, but also to grab onto these vines that may just turn out to be snakes, and to be able to confidently hold on to the next tree that is more often than not covered in aggressive ants. Further protection against the creepy-crawlies is provided by one of the most crucial elements of the lake-explorer-equipment:
  • the wetsuit. No mosquito can pierce through this barrier, and the padding ensures that the only consequence of an unfortunate slip is an ugly bruise, and not a deep cut that could rapidly turn into a dreadful infection in tropical environments. Obviously, the wetsuit also provides protection against hypothermia (for these long hours spent in the waters of the lake), against marine stingers (one is never cautious enough when entering unchartered waters) and against sunburn. The wetsuit unfortunately does not yet provide protection against overheating during those strenuous jungle hikes, so one should never forget to bring a water bottle. This will fit into the next piece of equipment:
  • the backpack. Bash-able, wet-able and scratch-resistant, the backpack needs to have a capacity of about 40 to 50 litres, to contain the rest of the snorkelling equipment, all the research equipment, and the photographic documentation equipment. Ideally fitted out with specially adapted fin-attachment devices, one must also be able to somehow attach a floating ring to it, to minimise physical exertion during those long hours spent exploring the waters of the lake.

Many optional add-ons are available, e.g. hats and hoods, machetes and dive knifes, ropes and homemade ladders, as are variations on design and colours. For further information do not hesitate to contact Becking Inc., or consult the illustrated 2011 catalogue (excerpt below).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

mapping out the lakes

The day after the flight we sat down with Max to thoroughly review the aerial pictures together with the video images that Max took of the flights and compare these with the available maps and Google Earth. The flight turned out to be no unnecessary luxury as neither the Indonesian nautical maps, nor the old dutch maps showed any of the complex detail of Panah Panah – the cartographers sufficed with indeterminate blobs that had little correspondence to the actual complexity of the island’s coasts. As for Google Earth, the satellite images available were of low resolution providing little accuracy as well. Luckily with the videos Max was able to draw an estimate of a coastline – so does this mean we may be the only ones who have a truly representative map of Panah Panah?

Taking lake by lake, we made a database of coordinates and access pictures per lake, drawing the optimal entry paths from sea and over land. It took a whole day, but it meant that we have all we need to let the lake hunting commence!

Friday, May 20, 2011

aerial survey

Right after the 9 hour boattrip (see previous entry!) from Kri to Misool I jumped into the bright yellow lightweight water airplane with Max Ammer - still soaked and shivering from the boat, but thrilled to have the chance to fly again in Raja Ampat. This flight was made possible by a generous donation of 2 hours flight time by Conservation International in order for us to survey the Misool area for lakes. We took off right in front of the TNC Misool station in Harapan Jaya village, flew north to the Selat Panah Panah (the Strait of Spears), then made a circle crossing east over the 100s of scattered islands that make up Panah Panah & Wagmab, south to the island of Warakaret, west over the islands of Kalig & Karawob, then back up again to the TNC office. It was a magnificent flight, what a spectacular view! The open airplane gives you a true feeling of being part of it all.

The jutting karst landscape so typical of this part of the world, never ceases to amaze. Every island is a different shape, some just specs of land shaped like mushroom heads appearing to float on the water. This kind of heterogeneous topography with many hills, bays and depressions inland is the ideal place to locate lakes. And indeed we couldn’t believe our luck, the lakes never stopped coming during the flight, Max was continuously pointing them out – it was hard to keep up with the recording. I record the lakes by marking the location on a GPS when we fly over one, then make as many pictures as possible of the lake and particularly of the surroundings, after which I make a picture of the GPS to facilitate the linking of the coordinates with the lakes. The pictures of the surroundings are important in order to figure out the best was to access the lakes by boat and subsequently by land. That will be the job for tomorrow. For now I’m still riding on the high of the flight, the trying boat ride from Kri almost a distant memory.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

the night before...

Plans. Oh plans. You always make them, but a golden rule for fieldwork in Indonesia is that nothing EVER goes as you planned it. This doesn’t mean that things don’t work out, in fact I would even dare say that things often turn out better than expected – just not anywhere near how you planned to expect it. Yet in spite of this rule, one still always plans, you can’t help it, it gives a pleasant sense of security I suppose.

After Yogya we flew to Sorong and headed out to Raja Ampat. Here we met up with Feby, an enthusiastic student from Papua University who has volunteered to help in our project. The initial idea was just to stay a day on the island Kri, where Papua Diving is located, to pick up a boat and figure out logistics. However the forces of nature once again proved stronger than mere human plans. The heavy stormy weather kept us at Kri for four days. Luckily a marine biologist is never bored, so we filled the days by doing surveys of the sponge diversity in the reefs of the area (more about these surveys will come at a later entry!).

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will truly make the long cross over to Misool. This evening after dinner, Max Ammer – the owner of Papua Diving and director of the Raja Ampat Research and Conservation Centre, and without whom this whole expedition would be a meager attempt at a success – asked me into his office to discuss the final logistics for the trip. We had already organized the boat, the food and water for the remote location. The plan is that we will head out first, then Max will catch up with us later in the day with his water airplane to meet us in Misool. The whole trip should take about 4-5 hours. As we were reviewing the maps for a suitable meeting point, it became apparent that none of his boatmen had in fact ever made the trip from Kri to Misool before and as a consequence no one actually knew the way there. “It will be up to you to navigate…” What, really? I have navigated boats to specific research sites in the past, but this is on a completely different scale, i.e. a trip of over 150 km with a large stretch in open sea. That put matters in a rather different perspective! This needed yet more planning….On Google Earth Max indicated the route we should take (see image). From Kri, first to go to the western tip of Batanta (indicated as Route 1 on image) and then head directly in a straight line south to Northern Misool (Route 2) across a stretch of over 80 km of open sea sprinkled with treacherous coral outcrops. Considering the dark cloudy days of late, this is mildly concerning. As we were discussing this, Jams our boatman came in with another Papua Diving staffmember named Romel. It turned out that Romel had worked in a big pearl farming company in Misool for over 12 years. SO the good news is that he knows the specific area well, the bad news is that he couldn’t point it out on a map and has no idea about the long way from Kri to there. Together we decided that we will meet Max at the island Sate, near where Romel used to work.

It was late in the night when all the plans had crystallized, all the coordinates were in the GPS, and we finally could go to bed to catch a few hours sleep before the 4:30AM departure. In all honesty I’m more than a little excited about the trip tomorrow. I guess Papua is, as all the guidebooks indicate, indeed the final frontier of adventure….