Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Our Newest Segment: About a 13 year old JBBW fan!

It all started when Jake Whitlock, a 13 year old ocean-lover from Massachusetts got a writing assignment for school. His task: write about something he would love to do. His finished paper was 3 pages of underwater adventure centering around his desire to go diving with some guy named Jonathan Bird. (Hey, that's me!) He e-mailed it to us--and we loved it. Then we started hatching a plan to make his dream come true. With his parents' permission, we enlisted the assistance of Katherine Apse, a scuba instructor working for United Divers in Somerville, MA. Kat specializes in scuba certification for children and young adults. Because Jake is 13, he can be certified with a full adult certification. Kat and I met up one morning near his house and hiked up the street with Cameraman Tim and Production Manager Julia Cichowski for an "Ed McMahon Moment." Jake's parents knew we were coming, but Jake didn't.

I knocked on the door and Jake answered--and his expression said it all! He was shocked and thrilled! The Blue World film crew was at his front door! I introduced him to Kat and explained that she was his new scuba instructor. You have never seen a 13 year old light up more than to discover he is getting certified to dive, and he will be going diving with someone he watches on TV.

Over the next few weeks, we showed up randomly during his scuba course. We filmed him in the classroom, his first breaths underwater in the training pool, and even his first dives in the ocean. We dove together in some murky water in Nahant, MA on his first open ocean training dive. His certification at this point is almost done, but the adventure is only half over. We plan to take him to a tropical island for his big dives with the JBBW team. But which island? Well, that's a surprise. Can't give everything away just yet.

This will be a fantastic segment for season 3, especially for the younger viewers in our audience when they realize that they too can become scuba divers!


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Blue World Crew Heads to Bonaire!

In search of the elusive coral spawn, Mia, Cameraman Tim and I headed to Bonaire last week during the time of the predicted coral spawn to shoot a segment for season 3 of Jonathan Bird's Blue World. Some of you may recall that we struck out on the coral spawn on Curaçao last year. We were there in October and the big spawn happened in September. The coral typically spawns twice per year, once in Sept about a week after the full moon and again a month later in October. But one of the two is the "big" spawn, with the other one being smaller. You never know which will be the big one. So last year, we got very little on Curaçao. We were lucky to have a couple of backup segment ideas though.

This year on Bonaire, we didn't have a back-up plan, so we surely hoped the coral would spawn! We started our dive trip at the always enjoyable Captain Don's Habitat where we had beautiful, large, well-appointed rooms in bungalows with seriously cold AC. We dove at night off their dock, starting on Monday night. We did two dives per night, starting at about 8 and going until around 11:30, to be sure we wouldn't miss anything. A typical evening would have us in the water by 8 or so, out at 9:30, change tanks, and back in until 11:30. We kept the dives shallow so we could have nice long dives. On each dive, all we did was swim up and down the reef looking for signs of corals getting ready to release eggs. Kinda boring actually!

On Monday we saw nothing. On Tuesday, we saw one coral head spawn and I filmed it but I only caught the end of it. Wednesday was the peak, with about 5% of the reef spawning. That's when we got most of the best shots. But we were still short a few tight close-ups I needed. Fortunately, just one more coral head spawned on Thursday night and we were able to get the much needed last few shots. Whew!

Clearly, we did not have the "big" spawn this year either. Looks like it will happen in October. I'm not sure if we are really unlucky that we missed the big spawning event two years in a row by being there the wrong month, or if we are really lucky that, in spite of that, we got the shots!

We also did some day dives looking for some other critters that will be featured in season 3, such as sea horses, frogfish and cleaning stations. Our divemaster Lutty from Captain Don's found us some great sea horses at a site called "Oil Slick." Thanks Lutty!

Halfway through the week, we moved to the lovely 5 star Harbor Village Luxury Hotel, and wow, what a nice place! Beautiful accommodations, incredible beach (especially for Bonaire, which is not known for beaches) and a fantastic staff. The only downside is that they do not have a house reef like Captain Don's, Buddy Dive, and the other resorts that cater more specifically to divers. So we ended up driving over to Captain Don's house reef for the night dives.

So in a 6 day trip (4 dive days), we did 7 night dives and believe it or not, only 5 daytime dives. (We spent a lot of our days shooting topside stuff). With 90 minute night dives, we managed to stuff a lot of diving into only only 4 diving days! And yes, we pulled off a cool segment that I'll start editing soon. When you watch a 9 minute Blue World segment, you are often watching something that took quite a while to shoot. In this case, it took two trips to the Caribbean over a year to finally get the shots. That's the way nature sometimes works!


Monday, August 9, 2010

Blue World visits Diver Ed in Maine!

This past weekend the Blue World team headed up to Bar Harbor, Maine to shoot a segment about "Diver Ed"--a Bar Harbor celebrity. Ed and his wife Edna ("Captain Evil") run a charter boat called the Starfish Enterprise, on which they conduct a program called the Dive-In Theatre. It's a little like a combination of a guided underwater tour and a hands-on touch tank experience. Ed goes underwater with his camera tethered to the surface so people can watch him point out underwater marine life on a 60" flat panel TV on the boat, while Edna narrates from the surface. Then Ed comes back with a bag full of critters for the kids to touch. He explains (in hilarious ways) how animals like sea stars, lobsters and sea cucumbers eat, walk and yes, poop. People of all ages love his show. He also uses a little plastic side-kick called Mini Ed to give scale to objects underwater. Mini Ed often has run ins with lobsters that don't end too well. It's all in good fun, and people always learn quite a bit.

I have known Ed for a few years and even bumped into him once in the Bahamas. We started talking about doing a segment about him. Julia Cichowski, production manager extraordinaire, finally scheduled the whole thing and got us in the same place at the same time. We dragged along "Cameraman Tim" Geers, my wife and Executive Producer Christine Bird, and even my kids, for a weekend of fun with Diver Ed.

When we arrived and started setting up, Ed and Edna presented me with my own Mini Jonathan, complete with Force Fins and a camera. Later on the dive with Ed, I was able to use Mini Jonathan to "film" Mini Ed being attacked by a Lobster. Luckily, both minis survived!

It was a hilarious and enjoyable shoot, complete with a cookout on the boat. I can't wait to start editing this fun segment. And if you are planning a vacation in the Bar Harbor area this summer, you just have to go out with Diver Ed...he is the best!


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Diving Southern Queensland: The Gold Coast!

A little over ten years ago while visiting the Caribbean island of Dominica, I met Jules Morton and Glen Holmes, the divemasters at Castaways Hotel and Dive Center. We became friends and talked about diving in various places in the world that we loved. A few months later, Jules and Glen came up and visited Christine and I in Massachusetts for a few weeks. We did some New England diving, showed them our favorite dive sites in Eastport, Maine, and had a great time sharing dive stories. Glen told me that some day I needed to go to Australia to dive the Gold Coast—his favorite diving. Ten years later, to the exact day, Glen took me, Julia and Kerry diving in the Gold Coast area. Glen promised some of the best diving ever. Well, we were not disappointed! We went out diving with Herb Ilic from Palm Beach Dive on his boat Evolution on a private charter with Glen as our divemaster. We were looking for some Wobbegong sharks for a segment on benthic sharks (sharks that live on the bottom), and boy did we find them. Dozens upon dozens of Wobbegongs of two species covered the sea floor at dive sites filled with clouds of silvery baitfish. The sharks have obviously been gorging themselves on the baitfish, and they were bloated from all the food.

At a site called Windara Banks, we dropped into crystal clear water, about 70 degrees and descended to 75 feet where we found the top of a seamount. It was a deep dive. At 120 feet I found a solitary Sand Tiger shark (they call them Grey Nurse sharks in Australia). Although the dive was visually stunning, we were not seeing as many sharks as we liked, so we switched to another site called Julian Rocks. I have never seen so many Wobbegongs anywhere in one place! And as we dropped deeper, there were about 10 Grey Nurse sharks cruising in the gulleys between the rocks.

The diving around Gold Coast is unusual because it blends critters found in more northerly tropical waters with the critters found in the temperate waters to the south. For example, you see temperate algae and Wobbegongs living alongside tropical crinoids, soft coral and Eagle rays. Very interesting diversity!

This exciting diving, although a little chilly, was a wonderful way to wrap up a magnificent trip diving around Queensland! We shot several segments for Blue World and explored a region that none of us had ever seen before. We would like to extend a grateful thanks to Tourism Queensland for their assistance in putting this trip together and helping us pull it off. Kerry and I can hardly wait to get home and start editing the video into some new, exciting segments for season 3 of Jonathan Bird’s Blue World!


Monday, June 14, 2010

Blue World Team entry #2 from Queensland, Australia – June 15, 2010

Well the JBBW team is back in Cairns having just returned from four days aboard the Spoilsport, the 100’ well appointed dive boat belonging to Mike Ball Dive Expeditions. Although it didn’t turn out exactly as we’d planned, our liveaboard experience was wonderful and we have several hours of footage to add to the Blue World segment library.

We boarded the Spoilsport on the evening of Thursday, June 10th where we were welcomed with champagne cocktails and snacks by our crew of 12. We got our cabin assignments, unpacked our dive gear and settled in for the night and our short crossing to the Ribbon Reef.

Each day onboard had generally the same schedule which began at 6:45 AM with a cheerful call of ‘Wakey, wakey” from Trip Director Kerrin. This was followed by a light breakfast and an early 7:15 AM dive. Then came the full breakfast, open dive deck which usually meant two dives, lunch, two more dives, a night dive and finally dinner. All in all you can get in 4-5 dives a day. The crew is outstanding and run an open dive deck, meaning you can get in an out of the water at will (following all the safe and proper diving procedures of course). Diving is done directly from the dive deck and the crew set up ample ropes to guide divers to and from the various sites.

Our three days of diving offered us 14 dives that covered the Great Barrier Reef from Steve’s Bommie on Ribbon Reef #3, to Stepping Stones on Ribbon Reef #10. The currents were light and our visibility averaged about 40’. Our trip was to have included a crossing out to Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea, but unfortunately this had to be cancelled due to 30 knot winds and 15’ seas.

On all of our dives on the Great Barrier Reef we saw massive ‘bommies’ (coral heads), beautiful reef topography, a wide variety of reef fish and had plenty of marine life to interact with. One of our highlights was at Lighthouse Bommie where we first encountered Olive Sea Snakes. We met some of the most cooperative sea snakes possible all destined for a job in television. Jonathan shot some fascinating footage of these snakes hunting in and around coral heads and rocks and got to interact quite closely with them.

Another highlight were the Giant Potato Cods at Cod Hole. At one point in time, the cod here were fed regularly by all the dive boats. This practice has recently been generally curtailed, but divers still benefit from how familiar the cod are with divers. The cod will generally swim right over as soon as they see you and indeed Jonathan and one of the largest Potato Cod became quite close. If it were possible, Jonathan’s children would now have a new, 6 foot long, pet cod. By the way, the cod are called ‘Potato Cod’ due to their uncanny resemblance to large gray potatoes. They are actually large groupers.

Other highlights included large schools of Big Eye Jacks and Yellow Striped Snapper, truly giant clams, very personable Green Turtles, white tipped and gray reef sharks and a surprising encounter with Tawny Reef Sharks which showed up one night while we were moored just outside of Lizard Island. Jonathan managed to get some good shots of these by dropping his camera over the side of the dive deck.

The only disappointment for us was that we didn’t get any personal encounters with Minke Whales. Minkes were high on our shot list and although several other divers onboard did get to see at least one or two, however briefly, we didn’t get a glimpse. We are here at the very beginning of the season, so advice to those of you that have high hopes of Minke encounters, you may want to wait until the season is in full swing in July and August. Thankfully the sea snakes, cod, and large schools of fish rounded out our shot list nicely.

The last night onboard was spent moored just off of Lizard Island. The crew threw a lovely Australian barbeque and a great time was had by all. The next day delivered quite a treat as our return trip to Cairns was via a low flying, single prop airplane from Lizard Island. This is part of the standard 4-day dive package for Mike Ball Dive expeditions. The flight took us over long strips of the Great Barrier Reef and we got to appreciate the vastness and beauty of it all. We were able to get some good shots of the reef during the flight.

Next we go back to Brisbane to dive the Gold Coast. We can’t wait to see what we’ll find there.

~ Julia

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Blue World Team lands in Australia!

After a 32 hour series of flights from Boston, the Blue World film crew (this time consisting of me, Kerry Hurd and Julia Cichowski) arrived in Cairns, Australia. Our assignment: shooting segments featuring the amazing underwater experiences to be had in Queensland. We’ll be here for 2 weeks documenting marine life from the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns, to the Coral Sea, all the way down to the sharks in the waters off Brisbane.

Our first two days were spent working at the Great Barrier Reef with a company called Sunlover Reef Cruises. They have a massive platform they call a “pontoon” anchored right next to a beautiful section of reef. It takes about 90 minutes to reach the pontoon by boat. Passengers board a 100 foot long catamaran for the ride out. However, our first day we were flown on a helicopter out to the pontoon so we could shoot some aerials of the Great Barrier Reef. In a helicopter, it’s a 20 minute flight. After we arrived and flew around for a few nice shots of the pontoon anchored near the reef, we flew up the reef a little and shot some impressive looking stuff of the reef. Then we landed on the helipad about 100 yards from the pontoon. Since they sell helicopter flights as part of the tourism operation, people get shuttled back and forth to the helipad by boat all day long to get their 10 minute aerial tour of the reef.

Once we got to the pontoon, I was impressed with not only how immense this floating activity center was, but all the things you can do! They have an underwater viewing room with windows on the reef, a semi-sub and glass-bottomed boat for tours of the reef, snorkeling, scuba diving, scuba instruction and even a program called Seawalkers (which the dive instructors playfully call the “bucket head program.” More on this later.)

We started our day with a dive on the reef. The tide had turned and the viz was down a bit to maybe 50 feet. A little murky by tropical diving standards, but it didn’t inhibit our enthusiasm because the reef was gorgeous and the marine life is so used to divers that they have absolutely no fear. (In truth this is also because they are fed to bring them over to the divers and snorkelers). We watched a sea turtle that would follow a divemaster like a puppy. A huge Maori wrasse decided I was his best friend and followed me for 20 minutes, looking at my hands for food and peering with wonder into my camera lens. They use small 72 cu ft tanks and we milked ours for the most bottom time possible! Fortunately Julia had her Ikelite G11 still camera rig and shot some great pics of the action while Kerry was filming for the show. When Kerry finally ran out of air, I had just a few minutes left with no cameraman. The wrasse was so close that I turned my camera around and was able to film a self-portrait with the fish. That’s close!

On our second day on the Sunlover pontoon, we rode out on the boat, did some various topside shots and standups around the pontoon, then of course did another dive, where we encountered the friendliest sea turtle in the ocean. After lunch we participated in the Seawalker program. This is a program for people who want to get underwater without scuba. It looks a little hokey, but we thought it would be hilarious in the segment, so Julia and I geared up to try it while Kerry filmed. Basically, they put an 80 pound helmet on your head, with a huge plexiglass window in the front. They pump air into the helmet so you have a constant flow of fresh air to breathe. It bubbles out the back. Underwater the helmet weighs about 8 pounds. You walk down a ladder and onto a nice flat platform, where they bring some fish over. My assessment? It’s an absolute riot! It was probably the most fun I have had underwater in ages! Wait until you see the segment. (We rigged an audio recorder in my helmet so I could do standups underwater on camera. Very cool stuff). Julia shot some funny pics.

After the bucket-head experience, we boarded the boat for the ride back to Cairns, had some food and did more shots on the boat. We have wrapped our first Queensland segment. Today we are boarding the Mike Ball live-aboard boat to Osprey Reef for 5 days. It should be awesome!


Sunday, May 23, 2010

JBBW takes home the Emmy!

Last night was pretty exciting! The entire Blue World team attended the 2010 New England Emmy Awards because we were nominated for 3 categories. (Best Children's Program, Best Cinematography and Best Segment.) Of course we wanted to win all three :-) but we were thrilled to take home the Emmy Award for best segment! This is an adult category, proving that Jonathan Bird's Blue World is fun for the whole family! Check out a video of the acceptance speech.

Picture Captions:
1: The sign outside the event hall.

2: Julia, Jonathan and Christine before the reception.

3: Pierre with his ticket.

4: Our entire team at the table (except Jonathan, holding the camera, as usual!) Clockwise from left: Candice Geers, Tim Geers, Mia Peluso, Linda Hurd, Kerry Hurd, Art Cohen, Pierre Séguin, Julia Cichowski, Christine Bird.

5: The team posing with their Emmys!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New webisode posted: Mangroves!

Mangroves might not seem like an exciting subject, like sharks or sea turtles, but they perform an important function in the ocean. Learn all about the importance of mangroves and the interesting ways these plants live half-submerged in sea water in this fun segment from season 2!


Friday, April 30, 2010

We return from the Bahamas...again!

After our trip to the northern Bahamas by live-aboard earlier in the month in search of hammerheads, we set out last week on a shoot to the Bahamian island of Andros, further south, in search of Blue Holes and Silky sharks at the AUTEC Buoy. The U.S. Navy's Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) maintains several buoys anchored in 6,000+ feet of water in an area called the "Tongue of the Ocean" where they test sonar. These buoys, being isolated structures in a vast empty open ocean, almost always have fish around them. Sometimes sharks. Sport fishermen know these buoys as hot spots for Marlin, Wahoo, Mahi and tuna. They also know that sometimes it's hard to get a hooked fish to the boat because the sharks eat them. These particular sharks are Silky sharks--creatures of the open ocean. We wanted to do a segment on the AUTEC buoys and the marine life around them. Unfortunately, there were very few fish and no sharks at all on both days we had scheduled for the shoot. In technical terms, we were "skunked." (You can read a story about my adventures in the past at the AUTEC buoy here.)

Fortunately for us, the blue holes don't move like the sharks at the AUTEC Buoy, so they make pretty reliable subjects. Blue holes are ancient holes eroded into the limestone that look like craters. Some are above water and some were formed when the sea levels were lower (during the last ice age) and are now underwater. They are often openings to huge cave systems. We dove and explored a couple blue holes and their caves. The result will be a fantastic segment on the geology and chemistry of these amazing formations. And yes, they are super cool to dive! We had a blast with the filming!

We would like to offer a special thanks to Small Hope Bay Lodge for hosting us! What a wonderful place to visit. We left feeling like family. If you ever get a chance to go diving there, you will not regret it!

Captions for images:
1: "Cameraman Tim" using the old trash bag trick for shooting in the rain.
2: Jonathan on one of the AUTEC buoys.
3: Tim shooting
4: The Guardian blue hole from the surface.
5: The crew at the end of the shoot: Mia Peluso (Production manager), Tim Geers, and Jonathan.