Story Behind the Shot – Dynamite Fishing Devastation

Dynamite Fishing

Dynamite Fishing Destruction


This is my second “Story Behind the Shot” that talks about coral reef destruction by illegal fishing methods such as dynamite fishing (my first one is here, an encounter with a bomb that didn’t explode). This photo is of a very large stony coral head that has literally been blow to pieces by a home made bomb thrown by an illegal fishing boat. The practice of “dynamite fishing” is as simple as it sounds; a fisherman creates a “bomb” with the main ingredients of fertilizer and diesel or kerosene and sets it off with some sort of detonater. It may sound like a basic little device but just look at the Oklahoma bombing from a few years ago (that brought down a huge building) using the same method. On this particular shot, we had arrived at our diving spot (an offshore pinnacle) to find a lone local fishing boat anchored to the spot. As the fishermen didn’t look active, and saw us coming, we prepared to jump in on the spot for an early morning dive. Before leaving the main boat I did find something a little strange, several dead fish were floating past the boat on the surface. I pretty much knew that this meant these fishermen had been doing some dynamite fishing but didn’t realize the extent of it before I jumped in. I had a camera with me during the dive set up with a macro lens as the conditions didn’t seem all that great for wide angle and I set about looking for small things along the mini wall. As the dive wore on and I was approaching my shallow safety stop I could see a lot of “white rocks” in the distance that looked a little strange. As I approached these white rocks I started to see a lot of dead fusiliers littering the reef, this gave me a sudden sense of trepidation of what I was looking at in the distance. Sure enough, as I got closer I could see that it was an entire large coral head that had been blown to smithereens by bomb fishing. I was most definitely flabbergasted by the destruction and was lamenting the fact that I had a macro lens on as I wanted to capture images of the immense destruction to show anyone who would pay attention. After taking a few shots of the dead fusiliers I headed to the surface and went back to the main boat to change lenses. Once putting my wide lens on I headed back to the scene of the crime and took a series of shots of the carnage, I believe this photo best captures the widespread damage. However, no one photo could also show the amount of dead fish that were spread all over the bottom, fish that would never be collected by the fishermen as they only scoop up the fish that float to the surface. In other words, I was a witness to a shocking example of what a complete waste of life dynamite fishing is. Not only do the majority of the fish killed by this method go to waste but it completely destroys the environment they live in and creates an area devoid of life. What a waste!

Story Behind the Shot, “The Bomb”

Unexploded Reef Bomb

Unexploded Reef Bomb

This is one of the harder photos I have ever taken!  Back in 2012 we (the Dive Damai) were exploring the Indonesian island chain of Halmahera, an area that is not well known to divers as it’s off the beaten path, lying between Raja Ampat and North Sulawesi.  We were transiting between Raja and Halmahera and stopped at the small island group popularly known as “Pulau Pisang” or “Banana Island” to dive on the pretty reefs that are located in the area.  I had already visited this area several times over the previous few years and looked forward to diving on a site that boasted a large population of fusiliers, surgeonfish, and red tooth triggers that would school in the currents just off the reef.  On this particular trip, we dropped onto the site and enjoyed the schooling fish and bright soft corals that populate the current side of a pair of small islets.  However, as we followed the reef around to the lee side we came upon the site of some freshly destroyed coral heads that could only be the work of illegal dynamite fishermen.  Obviously this upset me quite a bit, so I went about the process of taking photos of the destroyed coral heads while swearing profusely into my regulator.  While I was doing this, one of my fellow divers called me over and pointed out an object that immediately had me exclaiming even louder, an unexploded fish bomb lying on the bottom!  I immediately started to tell the group to surface, as I had no idea if this explosive could still be set off.  Of course I wanted to take photos of this “bomb” but I admit to feeling a rather deep sense of foreboding in doing it and had trouble convincing myself to get close.  I ended up turning off my strobes (didn’t want the electrical circuit to set anything off) and zoomed as far as I could before snapping off a couple of quick shots all the while anticipating the bomb going off with each camera click!

Although the shot is certainly nothing spectacular, it does show how simple these home made “reef bombs” are: a couple of bottles filled with fertilizer and diesel or kerosene plus a wick.  What is scary is that these items are made from pretty easy to get ingredients but pose a huge threat to reefs.

Aquatica D90, f8, 1/30, 10-17mm lens, iso 400