Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Beneath the Carteret Islands
Dr. Sanjay Gupta SCUBA dives beneath the Carteret IslandsThis 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 IslandsOf 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?
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