The 4th Underwater Festival - 2010 The Christmas Island Experience
Contributed by Tim Hochgrebe
Return to Christmas
It had been a few years since we
had been to Christmas
This time, arriving on the island wasn’t as dramatic as previously when
we had clear blue skies showing the absolutely stunning birds eye view
of this ‘rock’ in the middle of the blue Indian Ocean.
We descended through heavy clouds, however, we knew exactly what was
hiding down there: drop offs to thousands of meters, pristine corals,
endless kilometres of spectacular wall diving, untouched dive sites,
undersea caves, hundreds of species of tropical fish, dolphins,
whalesharks, and warm clear water. And in addition, above water the
island is covered in tropical rainforest with habitats for almost 40
species of birds some of them unique to the island and of course the
crabs! More than 63% of the island is part of the Christmas Island
We had arrived early for some last organisational efforts for the
festival and fortunately, after a few days the weather cleared up and
sunshine and flat seas invited to start some serious underwater photo-
Underwater Festival 2010
After the first three Underwater Festivals had been held in our
hometown of Byron Bay on the east coast of the Australian mainland, we
decided that varying the festival location in future events would give
regular participants a chance of new experiences and challenges and
give other divers the opportunity to join in.
In this spirit, the 2010 Underwater Festival was co-organised with
Christmas Island Tourism Association. Linda Cash, staff members and
local volunteers put in a fantastic effort and succeeded gloriously in
providing a welcoming atmosphere, great food and social events and a
seamless festival for all 34 participants.
The timing of this year’s Underwater Festival coincided with the end
the wet season on the island and the tail end of the Whaleshark season
and expectations of the visiting divers were high.
As in previous years, all participants had the opportunity to attend
Underwater Photography Workshops with esteemed Singapore photographer
Mathieu Meur, attend Marine Wildlife presentations and try out Sealife
cameras, aunoc torches and Frog dive gear
Once the fly-ins had arrived on Saturday a welcome BBQ was held
at Flying Fish Cove. Besides great food, Underwater Festival regulars
knew there was of course a range of beautiful MadFish Wines available
for all participants. Other sponsors and prizes were showcased during a
welcome presentation. All participants received their big Festival
Packs, which contained a well designed combo pack of Dive Junkie
T-shirts, the official 2010 Underwater Festival T-shirt and Underwater
Festival cap by Ocean Guardians as well as a $100 Scubapix voucher,
dive magazines, a book and some other goodies.
The next day it was straight in to diving with Wet ‘n Dry Adventures
and Christmas Island Divers who were taking people out on double boat
dives in the mornings. People could then choose to do an afternoon dive
or a night dive in Flying Fish Cove.
The excellent diving and snorkelling right of the beach in Flying Fish
Cove amazed everybody. You only needed to swim out a few meters to see
a huge variety of fish and corals. Rather quickly the depth increases
and the bottom, despite 20 – 30 meters visibility, disappears. Not a
place to drop anything of value!
During a quick snorkel we saw probably 5 different species of
triggerfish and for me unusual species of butterfly fish each, a large
mottled moray swimming around and a chunky White-tip Reefshark. Huge
table corals with diameters of at least a couple of meters were
plentiful. Plenty of other fish and a school of small trevally greeted
me in only a couple of meters of water as I returned to shore.
Over the next 5 days we encountered Whalesharks and Manta Rays and
almost all participating divers were treated to a number of encounters
with Scalloped Hammerheadsharks. We swam with Spinner Dolphins,
barracudas, schools of Giant Trevally, Dog-tooth Tuna and an array of
surgeon and butterflyfish all of which extended the feeling that the
festival spirit extended to well down below.
On Sunday and Monday night Mathieu Meur presented underwater
photography clinics for beginners and advanced underwater photographers
covering topics such as basic composition and shooting techniques and
how to select and process your images for competitions.
Tuesday night anybody who was interested could attend festival
presentations for free. Mathieu Meur presented a talk on the Art of
Composition in Underwater Photography and there were talks by Jacqui
Foster from WA Fisheries on community education as well as by Jean-Paul
Hobbs from James Cook University on the fish life of Christmas Island.
On Wednesday night a special mid-week screening at the island’s Open
Air cinema presented the awesome movie ‘Deep Blue’ under starry night
After all the diving was done and photos submitted on Thursday early
evening it was time for the legendary Underwater Festival Party. An
outstanding selection of finger food and plenty of MadFish Wines were
being served to excellent live music. The night was long and there are
some hazy memory fragments of festival participants jumping of the
jetty … and not all of them were fully clothed.
The next day, Friday, was the last day of the Underwater Festival.
Breakfast of bacon, eggs and baked beans was served from 8 am at Tai
Jin house overlooking Flying Fish Cove. After a relaxed meal everybody
was anxious to see the presentation of the winning images, videos and
artworks. For the local non-divers who came along, this was a great
time to get a snap-shot of what everybody had seen in the last week.
For the divers and participants it was reliving the experience of a
Both locals and fly-ins lined up for prizes and the judges were
particularly impressed with the high standard in the Novice category.
The winning video was again won by Gold Cost local Kieren Curry who
walked a way with a $4,500 video light from Light & Motion
sponsored by Scubapix in Cairns. A Byron Bay local, Lynton Burger, won
the SLR category and with that a trip to Bali by Aquamarine Diving. The
best festival portfolio went to Christmas Island local Rob Reynolds who
walked away with a full set of Beuchat Scuba gear from Australian
distributor ZSports in Brisbane. In the compact category, fly-in Matt
Timbrell took out the Ikelite prize with a great manta ray shot.
Another local, Kirsty Faulkner took out the best Novice shot and
continues her photography career with a brand new Sealife DC1200 camera.
It was indeed interesting to see that in the portfolio category a
novice and a compact camera user took out some prizes, which
traditionally had been more of an SLR territory. As Mathieu pointed out
a good camera does not guarantee the best pictures.
This year the Underwater Festival Art Competition ‘Marine Visions
took a lesser spot in the limelight compared to the last three last
years as there were obviously logistical problems getting artworks to
the island. There were many fantastic entries nevertheless. The first
prize winner of a FROG BCD was James Livingstone who entered his photo
in advance. Next year this part of the Underwater Festival promises to
be more extensive and exciting than ever before.
All prize winners and their winning images and videos are presented in
full on the Underwater Festival website www.underwaterfestival.com.au
The Underwater Festival Organisers and participants are thankful for
the generosity of all sponsors
and supporters of this annual event.
Underwater Festival 2011
The 2010 Festival is now over … we
hope to see everybody that loves
diving in Australasia for our 5th annual Underwater Festival in 2011.
With the tagline ‘The Australasia Challenge’ it will incorporate an
Australasia-wide simultaneous photo and video shootout competition like
no other with over $100,000 in prizes including $10,000 in cash. More
info at http://www.underwaterfestival.org