N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
All around us were beer bottles, crates, tyres, 44 gallon drums and steel beams, a smorgasbord of junk. On land this rubbish would look unsightly, but underwater this junk has been transformed – coloured by corals and home to a great variety of marine species. We were diving Tufi Jetty and we were having a ball exploring this underwater junk pile.
Tufi is one of the most interesting dive destinations in Papua New Guinea. Located in Oro Province, Tufi sits on the edge of a fjord, one of eighty carved by ancient glaciers that are today fringed by coral reefs. During the Second World War, Tufi was an American PT (patrol torpedo boat) Base, the deep water of the fjord forming a great harbour from which to launch patrols. With an airstrip and jetty it was an important base and the PT boats stationed here were credited with sinking eighteen Japanese armoured barges and a submarine. Today Tufi is the base for a resort and the airstrip is still used by Airlines PNG to bring guests to this wonderful spot.
Tufi Resort opened over twenty years ago, and recently had a make over, and caters for divers and anyone looking for a little adventure. Guests can bushwalk, fish, snorkel, bird watch, canoe the fjords, visit local villages or just relax at the resort, which has 23 comfortable bungalows with views of the picturesque fjords.
Divers are drawn to Tufi to explore the rich coral reefs in the area. During our stay we explored these wonderful offshore reefs and encountered reef sharks, masses of reef fish, pelagic fish, cuttlefish and even a few hammerhead sharks. However, one of Tufi’s best dive sites is located in the fjord, right below the resort, in fact right below the dive shop, under Tufi Jetty.
Entering the green water at the jetty for the first time was not very inviting. We could barely see our hands, what were we doing here we thought! But once under the green surface layer the visibility improved dramatically and we could see a silty rubble bottom sloping into the bay. Within seconds of reaching the bottom, amongst the scattered rubbish, we had seen pipefish, clown anemonefish and several colourful nudibranchs. This looked like it was going to be interesting.
Exploring the reef, rock and rubbish we encountered a fascinating variety of marine life; shrimps sharing holes with gobies, moray eels, octopus, cuttlefish and a surprising amount of juvenile reef fish. This type of diving is commonly called ‘muck diving’ where you see unusual marine life on soft sandy/silty bottom environments. Some of the more unusual critters we encountered included bizarre-looking mantis shrimps, cute twin-spot gobies that dancing across the silt, sap sucker slugs, amazingly camouflaged crocodilefish, scorpionfish, lionfish, upside down jellyfish and a tiny anglerfish.
We enjoyed dives under and around Tufi Jetty each afternoon, and were always eager to see what new surprises we would find. But we did two very special dives here that we will remember for a while.
The first was a twilight dive to see one very beautiful fish, the Mandarinfish. These tiny multi-coloured fish hide amongst the coral and rocks during the day, but each evening they emerge to feed and mate. Our dive guides told us where the Mandarinfish would most likely be, but searching for them without a torch (they don’t like bright lights) was a little difficult. But suddenly we saw one of these spectacular fish creeping between the rocks. We got a few photos of the fish as it fed, but didn’t wait to watch the mating performance, giving the fish a little privacy.
The other memorable dive was right in the centre of the junk pile. During the war a lot of rubbish was dumped in the bay and now litters the bottom. Following our dive guide Glen we swam 60m from the jetty to a mooring and then descended into history. Reaching the bottom at 46m, we could see dozens of 44 gallon drums and other debris. But then Glen showed us some more interesting objects - a machine gun and a torpedo.
These were the remains of two PT boats, lost during the war when a fire engulfed the boats and jetty. The timber hulls have disappeared, but it was fascinating to see the machine gun still mounted at the bow and a bit worrying to see a still live torpedo. With limited bottom time we didn’t get a lot of time to study these relics from the war and were soon following Glen back towards the jetty. We passed another torpedo and then saw a very strange piece of junk at 38m, a Landrover. Now home to lionfish and a school of cardinalfish, there are a number of colourful stories of how this vehicle ended up on the bottom, but you will have to ask the dive staff to tell you.
Our next stop was at 20m, where beams from an old jetty rest that are now coloured by sponges and coral. At this depth were also tyres and crates of (empty) beer bottles. Some of these beer bottles may possibly date from the war, but most looked similar to a brew still popular at the Tufi Resort bar. Although a little unsightly, these beer bottles are covered in small corals and home to reef fish and octopus.
We ended this entertaining dive under the jetty, admiring all the wonderful fish and invertebrates that have adapted to thrive in our junk.
A quick note, the dive guides from Tufi Resort regularly clean out the more harmful rubbish, such as plastics and fishing line, leaving only the junk that marine life have claimed as a home.
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