Revealing the Wonders of Papua New Guinea
Mike Ball's Telita
By Bob Halstead, Sep. 1997
Telita, Papua New Guinea's first specialized live-aboard dive boat, discovered many classic sites. During the 1980s her guests shared the adventure of exploring a virtually untouched underwater paradise. Two main areas with complementary diving were developed. In Milne Bay, which boasts some of the richest and most beautiful reefs in PNG, Telita introduced a new kind of diving, where divers encounter some of the most bizarre critters found underwater. Off Kavieng, the pelagic capital of PNG, Telita delivered mask to nose encounters with Silvertip Sharks, giant groupers and huge schools of Barracuda and Trevally.
Telita's new owner, Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, is continuing the tradition, offering the same sites, expert guides and diving freedom that made Telita famous and a favorite with the world's top underwater photographers. In addition, construction is now underway on a brand new vessel for 1998. The Paradise Sport is a state of the art, fast, elegant, twin hulled vessel with large cabins, nitrox and a deck layout that makes diving and photography easy. The 100 foot Paradise Sport is even fitted with bow thrusters to enable precision piloting on dive sites.
Paradise Sport will operate in Milne Bay part of the year and relocate to Kavieng from May to November. She will also be available for exploratory cruises, where her 16 knot speed will be particularly useful, and special wreck diving expeditions.
PNG, with a coastal population of less than three million people and more than 15,000 square miles of protected reefs, has pristine dive sites. Since it is close to the heart of the Indo-Pacific, which has the world's greatest marine biodiversity, divers see an astounding variety of fish, stunning gorgonians and every imaginable soft and hard coral. Mike Ball makes sure guests experience some of the finest of these reefs and then surprises them with something very different; such as Dinah's Beach.
Deep water off Dinah's Beach requires the Telita to place its anchor on the sand slope and tie the stern to a tree ashore. The sheltered sea is clear and calm and the scenery idyllic. A small village is nestled among the palm trees on a narrow strip of land behind the beach; verdant mountains rise steeply behind it. Sulphur crested cockatoos screech in the tree tops.
A hundred yards or so to the west of the anchorage is a small river. Underwater, the river mouth is a mess of old branches, leaves and rain forest debris. Between the boat and the river mouth, corals are sparse and poorly formed on a bottom of black sand, rubble and silt. This does not sound like an inspiring dive site but divers go crazy here, changing film and refilling their tanks to get as many photos and as much bottom time as possible. Since the best areas are shallower than 30 feet, very long bottom times are both possible and safe.
What makes this dive site so great is the fantastic collection of critters. Large octopus are out in the open, even in daytime, wandering around, feeding or mating. Five different species of lionfish hunt the abundant Anthias and damsels. There are seven species of anemonefish and their host anemones. Shrimp cleaning stations play host to moray eels and Coral Cod. Green Mantis Shrimp skitter around disturbing the juvenile Emperor Angelfish and Barramundi Cod from their coral shelters and causing Blue Ribbon Eels to disappear into their holes. The fish do not fear divers and are easily approached. Hovering above the reef, Cuttlefish are perfectly camouflaged as they drift over sand, green algae, debris and coral. Ghost Pipefish lurk beside black featherstars and demon scorpionfish crawl over the sand patches that house sand anemones and their resident Panda Clownfishes and Porcelain Crabs. Sixty feet down the slope; which eventually reaches depths of several thousand feet; a pair of wonderfully photogenic shrimp hitch a ride on venomous, Technicolor Fire Urchins.
These are the creatures any diver may find. Those with sharper eyes may discover some of the real gems; Sea Moths, seahorses, Violet Leaf Scorpionfish, Cockatoo Waspfish, Mandarinfish, frogfish, Striped Octopus and rare filefish and gobies. My wife, Dinah; after whom the site is named; found an undocumented species of goby in the debris but this is nothing new in Papua New Guinea. On a two week expedition with Dr. Jack Randall and Richard Pyle from the Bishop Museum, Hawaii, more than 30 previously unknown fish were discovered.
Since Skin Diver introduced readers to the remarkable critters found by Telita divers, guests have been bringing wish lists of fish and invertebrates they desire to see on their cruises. Mike Ball encourages this and the crew often adds to the list if it is not long enough for Telita standards! One fish always on the list is the incredible Lacy Scorpionfish, Rhinopias aphanes. This large scorpionfish mimics featherstars and can be many different colors. It is a rare Milne Bay cruise when one or more are not found.
Milne Bay also has its sharks and pelagics and some outstanding wreck dives, including the B17 bomber Blackjack and a perfectly preserved P38 Lightning aircraft, both from World War II. But, those with a yearning for big fish should consider Kavieng, in northern PNG, as their mecca. In 1989, Telita started feeding a family of 11 Silvertip Sharks at Valerie's Reef. These awesome beasts, much larger than reef sharks, are now accustomed to regular visits by divers. The clear water provides superb photographic opportunities along with the special thrill of close encounters with wild, powerful animals. Big Fish Reef and Chapman's Reef offer extraordinary diving with massive schools of Barracuda and Bigeye Trevally, often accompanied by giant groupers and Dog-tooth Tuna. Squadrons of Eagle Rays patrol Eagle Ray Pass, which is carpeted with seafans, whips, soft and black corals.
Bookings for Telita in 1997 and Paradise Sport in 1998 can be made by contacting Carol at (888) MIKE BALL, fax (520) 556 9598 or e-mail OzDive@aol. com. Check out the Mike Ball Web site at http//www.mikeball.com.