Name: Burt Jones & Maurine Shimlock
Web Site: http://www.secretseavisions.com
Bio: Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock are award-winning marine life photographers whose assignments have taken them around the world to portray diverse subjects including the world's longest underwater cave in Mexico and nesting sea snakes in Borneo. And, they were pioneers in publicizing the wealth of scuba diving opportunities in Indonesia, especially the Komodo area. Their photographs have been published internationally, and Secret Sea, a collection of their photographs, was honored with the Benjamin Franklin award as the best book printed world wide. Burt and Maurine's lively and informative teaching style and their "Stop Taking Pictures and Start Creating Images" seminar have helped thousands of marine life photographers improve their techniques. Burt and Maurine are renowned "critter spotters" and their images often reveal habits and habitats of creatures many people never see for themselves. Since June 2008 they have been based in Bali while on assignment for Conservation International. Burt and Maurine's long-term project is to explore, photograph and produce guidebooks for the remote and uncharted dive sites around Papua's Bird's Head Peninsula including Raja Ampat and Triton Bay. Their recently published book Diving Indonesia's Raja Ampat is the definitive guide to that area and is available thru Undercurrent's Books.
Posts by Burt & Maurine
Unfulfilled Expectations: Whose Fault?
February 20th, 2013
We recently hosted a dive trip where most of the guests departed the boat extremely unhappy. This is very unusual, and very regrettable to us. It did make me think, however, about why this happened and if any of our customers’ dissatisfaction could have been prevented. No doubt the boat’s mechanical problems were the major factor. But, the guests were able to dive every day, just not every place they thought they might go. The mechanical problems also made one of the most expensive cabins uninhabitable. The guests assigned to that cabin were greatly inconvenienced, but they preferred to sleep in the salon rather than exchanging rooms with us. These folks certainly did not get good value for their money. We have been around this business for a long time and know that boats are boats, and if they can break down, they usually will. Stuff happens, even with the best of intentions and maintenance. Together with the company, we are going to come up with realistic compensation for everyone.
What I don’t really get was the progressively worsening attitude of some guests as the trip proceeded. They were on the boat for the duration. They were diving in a remote and exotic location. They were seeing animals that they had never seen before. They had also paid a lot of money for the trip. Why couldn’t they make the best of it and enjoy what they were experiencing instead of constantly looking for more reasons to be angry? With a few weeks of hindsight, I think the power of unfulfilled expectations caused most of their discontent.
These people had not really done their homework on the area. They expected to dive in consistently clear water in a place not known for great visibility, they wanted drift dives, but refused to dive in currents, and they expected to see animals that don’t live in the region. No wonder they were disappointed! Despite our best efforts at pre-trip education, they still compared where they were to what they had hoped it would be. They did admit to not reading most of the information that was sent out or, for that matter, not reading anything else on the region except “hearing” it was supposed to be great.
As diving tourists you shoulder some of the responsibility for the satisfaction you derive from your trips. Yes, your level of preparedness ranks right up there with the travel agents, tour operators, dive guides, and weather gods. Your responsibility is to be informed. Before you book, read everything about where you plan to go and decide not only if it’s right for your skill level, but also if the area will fulfill what you desire in a dive vacation. If you are a beginning diver with just a few logged open water dives, don’t push your limits by booking a trip to Galapagos. If you want to see schooling hammerheads, why book a trip to Boniare? Likewise, if you don’t like diving in open ocean currents, why book a trip to Cocos?
We believe in striving for maximum value fulfillment in all aspects of life, whether it be personal relationships, work or even vacations. But fulfilling expectations is a two way street. Perhaps only in the movies can a person do the impossible and make a school of hammerheads pass by on command. If I could I’d that I’d be in Hollywood instead of writing this blog.
Not Guilty as Charged
August 17th, 2012
A few weeks ago someone sent us a link to an online article on the UK’s Guardian website.
Here is the tagline above the slideshow of images: A new book, Reef Fishes of the East Indies, is the culmination of a combined 60 years’ work to document the biodiversity of the hugely diverse coastal waters of the region. The three-volume publication features the 2,631 known reef fishes of the Indian subcontinent, including 25 species new to science. Here is a selection of images from the book.
Below is the first image in the series. Judging by placement only, it is the one the Guardian considered to be the most important shot.
We were very happy to receive that link, knowing that Dr. Gerry Allen’s and Dr. Mark Erdmann’s work is receiving international attention. We contributed many images to the book, and have worked with both authors for years. The image in question was shot on our 2010 survey to Cenderawasih Bay. All of us believed that it was a good image, which showed the scientists working underwater. We were not prepared for the deluge of negative, accusatory emails that followed.
Despite the caption, many folks believed that the image showed Burt and me photographing. Most of those emails said things like, “congratulations for destroying the reef”; “how could you do such a thing?”; “this is a great example of how NOT to take pictures”; “a great example of how not to do science”; “you call yourselves conservationists while blatantly destroying reefs”; “you are two-faced and liars”; etc., etc.
We weren’t too worried about the first few messages, but when many more arrived and we began to be vilified on Facebook, we could no longer ignore our accusers. So, for this blog, I’m using Undercurrent as my soapbox. (Remember I’m the person who wrote “The Ugly Side of Underwater Photography” and I am especially sensitive to people destroying coral or chasing marine life just to take an image.)
Firstly, we are the photographers, not the people in the picture. Sort of hard to do both at the same time and neither of us is bald! Yes, there were parts of Erdmann and Allen’s equipment touching the reef. Yes, parts of them are touching the substrate, too. But take a good look at the substrate. Most of it is not healthy coral, and the scientists have placed their equipment where it does the least harm.
Dr. Erdmann’s answer to the angry hoards:
Thank you for your email of concern about the image of Dr. Gerry Allen and I photographing a new species in Cendrawasih Bay. I very much respect your concern, and I have no desire to create a polemic, but I do feel it may be of use for me to quickly clarify this photograph. Firstly, I note that Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock should be absolved of any responsibility or blame; they were accompanying a scientific expedition (biodiversity survey) to Cendrawasih Bay with my organization (Conservation International) and were simply documenting the scientific process. As for the scientific equipment that is seen laying on the substrate in the photograph, this is indeed a real-life situation after I had just collected a new species of cryptic dottyback fish from 70m depth and we were taking specimen shots to document the live coloration of the fish for the purposes of the scientific description of the new species. I can imagine that this photograph may look as if there was significant coral crushing going on, but I can only assure you that:
a) the scientific equipment was carefully placed on the reef in a manner so as to not break any coral;
b) though Dr. Allen and I are indeed very close to the substrate to get the shot required for the description of the fish, both of us have well over 10,000 dives under our respective belts and most definitely are not “laying on the coral” and crushing it.
c) though the process of collecting and documenting new species may seem objectionable to some (and I certainly respect that opinion), it is in fact a “necessary evil” if new species are to be described and our global biodiversity heritage cataloged properly. I note that our efforts to describe patterns of biodiversity across the East Indies (and especially to highlight areas like Cendrawasih Bay that have high numbers of endemic species found nowhere else in the world) have helped governments in the region to prioritize where they invest conservation dollars and has led to the gazetting of millions of hectares of new marine parks - including the 1.5 million hectare park that now protects the marine biodiversity of Cendrawasih Bay.
Finally, as I think is made clear above, there was no attempt to “alter the habitat to get the shot” - I had brought up a cryptic new species from 70m depth that would be impossible to photograph in situ due to its behavior of living deep within the reef interstices, and we were simply photographing the anaesthetized animal to document its living coloration for the purposes of the new species description.
Again, I have no desire to quarrel and I very much respect your concern for diver/photographer behavior on reefs. I only note that the activity documented in this image is an important part of the scientific process that documents new species and directs governmental attention for conservation efforts, and I can assure you that we actively strive to minimize any damage to the reefs from our surveys. Thank you for your concern on behalf of the world’s reefs - I can only affirm that we also share this concern. Thanks for your understanding.
Mark hints at the primary issue here: differentiating between sport diving and scientific research. We’ve all been educated; no one thinks that the hundreds of thousands of certified sport divers should be allowed to crush coral, spear fish, dump their gear on the reef, or harass marine life. But, we also need to realize that the few marine biologists working in the field who may, in the course of their research, inflict some damage to the environment they love and have devoted their lives to, do so with the utmost caution and respect. Those of us who have learned about the marine world through their invaluable work understand that there is a conundrum operating here. (You could apply this same conundrum to not using a computer because you oppose gold mining, not using paper because you oppose cutting trees; not driving a car because you oppose drilling for oil.) Gaining knowledge and experience often requires a few sacrifices. One of the women who dives often with us is a research PhD with MD Anderson Cancer Center. In the course of her work she has had to sacrifice thousands of mice, searching for a way to prevent cancer. She told me that in her office she has made a small shrine to honor those mice. I think that’s pretty cool!
Burt and I do our utmost to leave a reef looking like it did before we dived it. We encourage those who travel with us to do the same. We are often discouraged by reports of reef damage, unhealthy seas, vanishing marine life and so on. The research done by scientists like Dr. Erdmann and Dr. Allen, whose intent is to conserve and protect the environment for all to enjoy, is one of our most promising prospects for maintaining healthy reefs far into the future. Let’s all get back to work.
June 19th, 2012
Our dear friend, the webmaster for Undercurrent has been complaining about his empty blog queue. Burt and I have been busy with personal stuff rather than the scuba world because we just moved across the US to a new home. But, I haven’t written a blog in months, so I thought I would write about something personal. Here’s the story.
We’re decorating our new home. It’s been like Christmas for the past week as we unpacked cartons of things not seen for nearly a decade. The last few boxes moved into our storage locker directly from our first Mexico incarnation, when we lived south of Cancun from the early 1970s through the late 1980s. One of the largest boxes contained quite a few non-PC items in today’s world: two hawksbill turtle shells, an impressive shark’s jaw (probably grey reef), two green turtle skulls, one with the lower jaw intact, two meter-plus-long bills from saw tooth sharks, numerous other marine-related vertebra, and one dolphin skull with upper bill. We found most of the parts while beach combing or snorkeling, and I have little remorse about having kept them. But we did buy the shark’s jaw and saw tooth bills from fishermen back in the ’70s. We thought they were very cool and displayed them on our living room wall. From my 2012 perspective these remnants of endangered species make me very sad and have no place in our home.
Around 1978 or so, a group of shark fishers moved into our little village, which was located a few kilometers south of Cancun. Before dawn they took small skiffs out beyond the reef to recover the night’s catch and reset their long lines. For about six months they pulled in almost every species of shark that existed in the Caribbean, the prize being half a dozen or so saw tooth sharks. Most mornings we’d take a walk along the beach and strike up a friendly conversation with the returning fishermen. Just about everyone in the village would be out too, mainly because, like us, they wanted to know how many sharks had been killed the night before. To see all of those sharks lying on the sand was an education itself. I remember the first time I touched their rough skin, felt the sharp teeth, admired their sleek lines. But I do not remember me or anyone in the village feeling sad about the dead sharks.
Back then we spearfished on snorkel and had a healthy respect and a bit of fear of sharks. More than once we’d given up our catch to a shark that spooked us after a kill. Even though we lived with the ocean at our doorstep, neither we nor anyone in our village understood how it all worked, especially how vulnerable its integrated habitats were once a major predator had been wiped out. Apparently neither did the shark fishermen. In less than a year they had moved on. I’m not sure if or where they found more sharks, but they certainly decimated them in our area. We didn’t know exactly why our reef system collapsed over the next decade, there were many possibilities: A red tide followed several massive hurricanes, mangroves up and down the coast were drained for resort development, and commercial fishing wiped out vulnerable reef species like snapper and grouper, trying to meet the demands of the growing tourism industry. Shark sightings became increasingly rare.
Fast forward to 2012. Some 35 years on and we have done our homework. We’ve dived across the globe and borne witness to the world’s failing shark populations. Since 2008 we have been sustainable marine tourism consultants for Conservation International in Raja Ampat. The entire 18,000 square miles of Raja Ampat was declared a shark sanctuary late in 2010. But as early as 2006, up in the Kawe MPA, a remote and uninhabited area of northern Raja, traditional leaders supported by CI staff took even stronger action. Fed up with fish poachers and reef bombers from other regions coming to their traditional fishing grounds and destroying their reefs, the folks who are in charge of Kawe decided to declare a near 100% no take zone, the largest within the multi-nation Coral Triangle. Six years later their fish populations, including sharks, were recovering very nicely. Then in May, a serious shark finning operation set up in one of the most far-flung corners of the Kawe MPA. Within a day, community patrol members contacted CI’s Raja Ampat office. Enforcements, including an Indonesian naval officer, set out for the MPA. They accosted seven shark fishing vessels and 40 crewmembers. All of the illegal long line gear, catch, documents, compressors, etc. were seized. Unfortunately the poachers escaped in their boats; seven conservationists and a lone military officer in a small speedboat were simply outnumbered.
The point here is that local people fought to preserve what they consider to be theirs. The shark poachers targeted the Kawe MPA because the villagers’ efforts had been successful. In other words, if there hadn’t been quite a few sharks around, there would not have been a reason for the poachers to be in Kawe. In the words of Brahm Goram, CI’s outreach and engagement coordinator for the Bird’s Head Seascape, “the Kawe MPA is 100 percent managed by well-trained and highly capable local villagers… For six years, the communities have carefully guarded this area, working with local police to regularly run joint patrols… And they were starting to see results. Previously bombed reefs were recovering with new coral growth, and my friends from the Kawe MPA field station boasted about the abundance of baby sharks swimming in front of their dock. The people of the Kawe tribe had set aside this area for the benefit of their children. They guard it with passion because it is theirs…”
One huge difference between our Mexican village and the people who set aside the Kawe MPA is that stewardship of the land and ocean are a big part of the Melanesian culture. Another, of course, is the enlightenment that 35 years has brought to our understanding of the interconnectedness of all things. Baselines shift, and now conservation organizations worldwide have recognized that local communities must be empowered if their resources are to be protected. Our Mexican reef has been declared a national park and no fishing is allowed. I have heard that the marine life has recovered somewhat, but even after two decades, very few sharks patrol the reefs.
Out in the Kawe MPA the villagers remember life without sharks and without healthy reefs. They don’t want to go there again and will use every resource they can muster to protect their MPA. Their challenge is to secure long term funding for reinforced patrols. The good news is that an understanding of sharks’ importance to the overall health of reefs, and ultimately how important healthy, thriving reefs are to our planet has been incorporated into our collective psyches.
By the way, we plan to donate all of the marine life remains to a local school, hoping to inspire the next generation to become worthy stewards of the marine world.
Who Owns You?
December 19th, 2011
True story: A couple has a great time on a liveaboard trip due mainly to the considerate and knowledgeable guidance of the cruise director. The couple wants to remain in contact with the cruise director so they exchange email addresses. After finishing his contract, the cruise director decides to begin his own travel program. He sends out a trip announcement for a trip on another liveaboard (same country), and the couple that knew him from the original liveaboard joins this trip. They have a fantastic trip. But the ex-cruise director just made two enemies: his former employers and the original booking agent, who both who accuse him of “stealing” their clients.
Times are hard everywhere. It’s an especially tough market for dive travel when disposable income for things like vacations is not flowing like it did back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This is a niche market with small profit margins and an even smaller population of divers worldwide who can afford the higher end dive trips.
There is a lot of competition for clients, and it’s getting a bit ugly. People like that former cruise director and even people like Burt and I wear a few different hats just to make ends meet. So the other day, when a friend called and asked us to work as a guide for a private client who had chartered a local liveaboard and was bringing a group of friends to Indonesia, we were delighted. That is until the owner of the boat said he didn’t want us there. He was afraid we’d steal his clients.
Taken aback we declined the offer, but since this idea of “stealing” a client that “belonged” to someone else had cropped up again it made me wonder how someone who goes on a dive trip belonged to the agent who booked him on the trip or even to the person who owned the dive operation? What about all the different places someone has dived? What about the probable multiple dive travel agents that he has dealt with? Did they each own a piece of him? Hell, what about freedom of choice?
We often team up with other people to teach photography courses during their trips, and we occasionally guide private clients. We do not actively solicit email addresses while working with someone else. If we happen to be on a boat or at a resort that we have been invited to without our own group, or when we are working with other trip leaders we will direct people to our web site if asked about our own travel programs.
I wonder if you, the diving public, are aware of what goes on behind the scenes in this very competitive market. Do you feel wedded to the agent who booked your trip or the boat or resort you visited? What about cruise directors and group leaders?
I am not particularly comfortable with the direction that all of this competition may be driving us, and hope that it does not become a trend. (In all fairness, there are many agents and dive operators who do not feel like they “own” their clients.) While I understand that traveling divers are always on the lookout for the next new thing and that destinations rise and fall like tidal changes, I also believe that “clients” should be recognized and treated as valued “guests” who come and go of their own free will.
May 25th, 2011
The weather has been in the news lately. Between earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, fires, tornadoes and so forth, everyone has been affected by the unpredictable nature of the planet’s weather. I can’t remember whether it is supposed to be a La Niña or El Niño year, but out here in Indonesia the weather has been very erratic, except in its unwavering atrociousness.
The water along the southern coast of the archipelago has been so unseasonably cold that several boats just blew off diving some of the better critter spots near Pantar Island. In Papua, it has rained steadily throughout the “dry” season. Visibility was off everywhere due to surge, waves, and storms. In early April we were supposed to meet our liveaboard in Ambon, and then cross the Banda Sea to Raja Ampat. But things were so bad out there that we had to reroute and only dive in Raja Ampat, which has decent protection in just about any weather. When you hear about waves several meters high and winds blowing a gale, you don’t second guess the captain. You just go with his judgment even if it means that you’ll disappoint a few clients, miss a few dives. There are things we can do something about, and there are things that we can’t fix. Weather, water temperature, and visibility come to mind.
We weren’t the only people trying to cross the Banda Sea a few weeks ago. There was a small boat with just six guests that was trying to move southeast between Banda and Alor. Even though the captain was instructed not to leave harbor, the guests raised such a fuss about not being able to dive where they had planned, that the crew chanced it. This boat ended up drifting far from its intended arrival port and finally had to make port in another country. We heard that the everyone including the guests on board were imprisoned because they did not have the proper entry papers, nor did they have documentation from their embarkation port.
If the weather does not cooperate during a dive trip everyone suffers. The crew works exceedingly hard to make things comfortable and to offer as many dives as possible. Think about the cooks (the toughest job on any boat) who have to spend hours in a boiling hot galley, preparing meals that no one is likely to eat if the seas are really rough. The group leaders will probably be out a bit of profit because they bought several rounds of drinks to soothe their unhappy clients. The guests are mostly miserable because this is their vacation, they paid a lot of money to dive, and their expectations have not been met. If this trend (climate change, anyone?) continues, we might need an “unseasonable weather” clause on future release forms.
Under the most adverse conditions, most crews and guests pull together and cooperate as best they can. A blown out trip can result in a good group bonding experience, but not always. There was the time we were on a liveaboard in Vanuatu. Two days out of Port Vila a cyclone moved in and we were forced to seek shelter in the nearest, safest bay. For two days the storm rampaged through the islands while the guests and crew argued among themselves. The cruise directors made their nasty marital problems all too public, two of the most outspoken guests declared undying hatred toward each other, and we ran out of beer and videos within 48 hours. By the middle of the third day, Burt and I were so fed up we put on tanks and pulled ourselves down the anchor chain. There we rested in blessed solitude, hearing only the sounds of our own breathing while the storm continued to rage overhead.