I won’t say that it’s one of my favourite dive sites, because I pretty much love them all. It is however a fascinating blend of history and nature that teases the imagination, above and below the water.
The American B-25 sits in shallow waters just off Wongat Island. She was shot down during the Second World War by the Japanese, when they held northern Papua New Guinea and had one of their major bases just a few miles down the road. The story of her six crew is not a happy one. Although just one crewman died in the crash itself, the other five were captured and, in retaliation for recent bombing raids carried out by the Americans, executed. The aircraft sits in almost perfect condition as a lasting, living memorial beneath the waters.
It’s only even been murky when I’ve dived the B-25, so I have yet to get a good shot of the wreck as it lies. It’s at a considerable angle, with one wingtip at about twelve metres’ depth, the other down around twenty-eight. The wings and tail-plane are still intact, and even remnants of the undercarriage can be spotted. The deeper right wing has the propellor fixed to the engine, bent back by the crash-landing but still recognizable where it sticks vertically out of the sand.
One of the favourite features of the aircraft are undoubtedly its machine-guns, still mounted in the wreck. There are four guns protruding from the nose housing, two inset in each wing, a tail gun, and the B-25’s distinctive gun-turret mounted atop the fuselage towards the rear of the aircraft.
Divers can drop into the roofless cockpit and sit in the pilot’s seat, the steering-wheel still mounted in the control board. This is my boss. I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to have that second stage between his teeth…
Over time, as with everything discarded in the sea, nature has claimed the craft, which has now become a naturalised reef. A giant barrel-sponge sits on the up-slope wingtip, a distinctive marker during the descent and now growing so big that there are concerns it could snap the wing off altogether. Coral and sponges and algaes and all sorts of other undersea flora have colonized the surfaces. Fish spawn in the hundreds inside the relative safety provided by the abandoned fuselage. Others graze the vegetation under the wings and around the tail mount.
There are regulars here. A White Leaf Scorpionfish lives among thorny corals at the back of the left-hand wing, elusive and hard to spot even on a clear day. The bottom shot shows him in natural light rather than flash-lit, and you can see why he’s not that easy to find. He’s about four inches long. Check out that beautiful eye.
I’ve seen these guys a couple of times when I’ve been down there. I can never tell whether they’re False Moorish Idols, Three-Stripe Angelfish, or some other form of Bannerfish, all of which look pretty similar. They are beautiful- though a tad skittish and hard to get close to, hence the murky shot.
Ribbon eels live in the sand beneath the downslope wing and are predictably easy to find, worming their way half out of their holes like Cobras swaying to a snake-charmer’s pipe.
Yesterday, there was some giant lobster living under the wing. I haven’t seen him before, I just noticed his antennae and the front knuckles of his long spindly legs dancing out from underneath the wing. I didn’t get too close. He must have been nearly a metre in size, when all the protrusions and probiscuses were taken into account. He was a little shy and slipped back into the silt before I could get a photo.
The other resident we came across yesterday was the polar opposite, both in terms of size and body complexity. This little nudibranch was spotted by Bec, who managed to prove to me (as has been proved to me time and again) that I suck at finding nudibranchs. I do, however, love a bit of nudi action when I can get it.
My favourite family of Anemonefish lives on the right wing of the bomber. They’re just back a little ways from the cockpit in a big writhing blob of anemone, predictable and easy to find. Unlike Lionfish or Sweetlips, the Anemonefish tend to be a little camera-shy, and as soon as you point the thing at them, they’re dancing like they’ve got ants in their pectorals. In fact they’re some of the most highly territorial little fish in the sea, and even though relative to them I am the size of an Enterprise-class aircraft carrier, they still try and see me off from their patch. As a result, getting an in-focus photo of one is no mean feat. I resort to the age-old practice of firing off as many pictures as I can take and hoping that by sheer dumb luck, at least one will turn out right.
It works occasionally.
The shot below shows the difference between shooting flash and shooting natural light (this one using natural light).
After spending half an hour on the wreck, we come back up for a safety-stop on the chain holding the marker bouy.
It’s hard to avoid celebrating the diversity of life, even on something as incongruous as a war wreck. I find the triumph of creation as one of the great beautiful mysteries of this world. Left to itself, we find the force of life manifesting in almost every circumstance, even one where death previously triumphed. As if the natural world is telling us with one loud voice, everything can be redeemed.