Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Beneath the Carteret Islands
Dr. Sanjay Gupta SCUBA dives beneath the Carteret Islands
This week I did something that I will probably never get to do again in my life. In fact, the government of Buka, Papua New Guinea, could not think of anyone who had ever done it before. I went scuba diving on the coral reefs beneath the Carteret Islands. The reason that no one had likely ever done it before is because the islands are extremely remote, even by Papua New Guinea standards. The reason I will never get to do it again is because the islands are sinking and will soon disappear altogether.

To make it happen, we had to get our dive gear from the town of Port Moresby, which is nearly 700 miles away. There were no dive shops that we could find any closer. Still, we did it because it is important to telling the story of the disappearing Carteret Islands. We really wanted to be able to describe what was happening from three points of view. First, from the air where, with the help of a helicopter, we captured some of the very first aerial shots of Carteret. It wasn't an easy trip, given that for most of the journey there was simply no land around and no possibility of an emergency landing. Needless to say, we were a little nervous until the chopper touched down safely. The second dimension was being able to speak firsthand to the people of the Carteret Islands and understand what they had seen and why they believed their land was being swallowed by the sea. Finally, as the destruction and bleaching of coral is such a large component of the story, we needed to dive deep to the ocean floor to see for ourselves.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta SCUBA dives beneath the Carteret Islands
Of course, as is often the case, especially in remote locations, things didn't go exactly as planned. First off, I am an advanced diver and have been diving for almost 20 years. Neil Hallsworth, our photographer, has been certified since 1993, and Heather O'Neill, the producer for this shoot, has been diving for more than a year now. When we surveyed the equipment, we realized that while there were three sets of fins, there were only two tanks and only one BCD (buoyancy control device). Given that we were in the middle of nowhere and had no other options, we decided to improvise. Heather decided to snorkel near the surface and, most importantly, keep shark watch. Given that these particular reefs had never had divers, we weren't quite sure what to expect as far as wildlife goes. Neil and I traded off the BCD and at times literally carried an air tank under our arm while diving at 60 feet below the surface - Jacques Cousteau style! It allowed Neil to film never before obtained pictures of the Carteret reefs, which we will show you in CNN's upcoming documentary Planet in Peril. It allowed me to see firsthand what happened to the island of Carteret from the bottom up.

For me, this was one of the most adventurous shoots I have done in the last six years. So, what about some of your best adventure stories?
Hi Dr Sanjay,
I never knew you were such an excellent diver. I can't wait to see your report, which will make me feel as if I am in the deep ocean beneath the Carteret islands. It would be so exciting for me. Thanks for your in-depth coverage. Take a good rest.
Dear Dr Gupta:

I realize there was a lot on your mind when planning this dive and i'm a novice diver by comparison. That said, it is critical to check on receipt that all diving equipment is working properly (to say nothing of ensuring a full kit!).

Please stay safe for us and assemble and test the tank and regulator and bcd as a complete system before leaving the dive shop for any remote spot!

Warmest regards
I do truly feel sad for the islanders, but would like to point some things out.

First, there are many pictures already (including aerial) out there on this from several years back up to the present.

If this is Global Warming wouldn't all of our coastlines be shifting inland. All oceans are interconnected after all? The beaches at my home are all the same place they were when I was young. Can oceans rise in one area, but not another, when they are interconnected? I do understand tides and how parts of one ocean might be higher when other parts are lower (at a given time), but I am asking about overall.

And finally, as a certified technical diver, I would ask if it is safe to your readers to put your obivous lack concern for dive safety out there in open view. This not only undermines how you are viewed, but also causes you to lose credibility when trying to bring attention the problems you are reporting on.
Dr. Gupta,

Thanks for sharing your adventure. I recently went to Papua New Guinea to help communities protect endangered leatherback sea turtles. PNG is a magical place and deserves all of our protection as one of the last remaining paradises on Earth.

Keep up the good work.

Folks can learn more about the plights of sea turtles at http://www.seaturtles.org.

Your article seems to imply that yours was the first underwater visit to the Carteret area. Consider the following

1) My father (from Iowa) explored the reefs with the natives for 7 months in 1942 and 1943 (he was marooned on the islands during WWII)
2) I and other family members snorkeled the Carteret reefs in 1996
3) most of the reef and lagoon is very shallow and can be reached via snorkel/mask and free dive
4) The natives free dive the reefs extensively on a regular basis and have done so for 100's of years

I look forward to your complete article and show
I've been to the Carteret Islands 3 times in the last 18 months, and I was also confused as to why this place would be more affetcted than other places.

Ocean levels are not entirely consitent around the world. Air pressure being one reason for this. Where air pressures are low, the oceans bulge up. The southern oscillation cycle helps to create higher seas in the western pacific.

Besides that, the Carterets are all small islands made of sand and so are particualry vulnerable to even small changes. There have been no scientific studies of the Carterets so it's hard to say exactly why they are so badly affected. There are studies of long term tide data in various regions of the Western Pacific, (by Australia's CSIRO, for example) and they show that sea levels in this region have indeed risen more than in other parts of the world.

Many other places in the western pacific are also similarly affected, (Tuvalu, Marshall islands, kiribati and also other places in PNG,) so the cause is unlikely to be entirely local.

You can see more pics of the damage and of the islanders on my website.
Hi Dr Gupta,
Recently I've got to know that Carteret Islanders are still seeking funds to relocate in to the mainland Bougainville. Therefore what do you think CNN could do to help them to raise funds.
Hello Dr. Gupta.

I recently did an exposée on this island; and only shortly watch it via Planet in Peril and Thalassa. I have been searching online for ways to help the people of the Cateret Islands, but I have not suceeded to finding a site. Is there anyway you can advice me on what associations are available.
I am positive there are some.
I am currently living in France
Enclosed is my email address in hopes for a response

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