‘The Great Barrier Reef Feels Like An Old Friend’

Photographer David Doubilet on his most unforgettable underwater experiences.  

You have been diving all over the world taking photographs. Where have some of your most memorable trips taken you? My most challenging and rewarding expeditions have taken me into the delicate and dangerous waters of Africa’s Okavango Delta, the sculptural iceberg fields of Antarctica (left) and the beating heart of the Coral Triangle—the Raja Ampat Archipelago that lies between Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. The diversity and abundance of life on the reefs here is dreamlike. The seas of our planet are vast collections of underwater countries and my goal is to open the world’s eyes and minds to the ocean, a place that is both fragile and finite.

Speaking of fragile, I have heard that you are particularly enamoured by Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef. Is this true? Nothing compares to descending down the side of a glistening iceberg several storeys high. An iceberg is the perfect metaphor for the ocean: most of it, similar to the world’s seas, remains hidden from our view. Working on coral reefs is like photographing cities under the sea. I have spent much of my career exploring the many layers of life that define coral reefs. I have made so many expeditions to the Great Barrier Reef system that it now feels like an old friend.

Where has your most recent trip taken you? In May, I went to the coral-covered seamounts of Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea. These reefs rise out of extremely deep waters and are surrounded by swirling schools of barracuda and other pelagic sea life. My team and I carried 16 bags of camera gear. We were presented with situations that ranged from camera fires and equipment lost to the depths to monsoons and malaria. So this expedition was exceptional and resulted in pictures that are both full of memory and emotion.

Besides your camera, is there another piece of equipment that’s important to your work? I depend on my Rolex Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Sea-Dweller for every dive I make. There was a moment in Kimbe Bay when my watch marked my time at a depth where my dive computers failed. In my profession, tracking time spent underwater is critical; my life depends on it. 

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