A Portrait of the Western Pacific Ocean - Industrial Fishing and Natural History.

What follows is a monster blog post, a random potpourri of photos that I took in the Western Pacific with Greenpeace late last year, but have been too busy to upload until now. The broad aim of the trip on was to gather data on, and images of, the destructive industrial fishing methods used by international fishing corporations. A particular focus was on the insidious use of 'Fish Aggregating Devices', or FADs.  Also documented was a pristine coral reef in Palau. The below images are placed in the rough chronological order that I took them.

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These pictures are from a hair-raising dive I did INSIDE a purse seine net that was targeting tuna fish, as the net closed in around me.

The photos above were taken as the net drew in tight. The pictures below were taken when the net was still 500m wide, showing the skipjack tuna still schooling. The visibility was not so good due to the plankton the fish were chasing.

Fishermen on board the purse seine fishing vessel scour the sea's surface for signs of schooling tuna. They look for birds feeding on the fish as well as frothy water.

A helicopter pilot takes a break from spotting schools of tuna from the air.

Fluorescent green dye is deployed to scare the tuna from escaping through the open side of the net as it is being set.

For the same reason, fishermen make crazy circles in high speed craft with powerful outboard motors to scare and confuse the tuna from escaping.

After the net is set around the tuna, workers winch it back on board.

This action closes the net around the fish.

This is what industrial fishing looks like.

The fish don't have a chance.

Tons and tons of tuna are hauled on board.

This is where canned tuna comes from.

The Pacific Ocean as seen from the air is beautiful place.

On board a Taiwanese fishing boat. It seems new regulations in Taiwan now mean that the whole body of a shark must be landed with its fins.

Some progress at least, but still, the freezer of this fishing boat was over half filled with shark, mostly oceanic white tip, even though they were supposed to be targeting tuna.

A fin whale as seen from a helicopter.

A Chinese long-line fishing boat with its 'end-of-the-line' buoy and radio beacon.

The same Chinese boat being paid a visit by a pilot whale.

'Sik fan' time for the workers.

Bycatch is a big problem.

Especially for this ray.

The national flag of the People's Republic of China.

The captain and crew.

A silky shark in deep trouble.

It would have been finned for sure if I hadn't been taking pictures.

The Chinese employ cheap labour from the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

Sailing into a storm.

A log makes a natural fish aggregating device (FAD), which teams with marine life.

Easy instructions on how to make a Taiwanese FAD. Get a broken plastic chair, some old fishing nets, ropes, a few plastic bags, some canvas rice bags, three or four bamboo sticks, and any other random junk you can lay your hands on. Then cobble it all together any which way you can. Finally chuck it overboard to attract tuna, sharks, turtles, and any other kind of marine life you can imagine. Easy!

Floating steel industrial FADs attract bird life. This is a gannet, or boobie, as the Americans like to call them, took flight as I approached to get this shot.

Right under the FAD, marine life puts on an extraordinary show. Silky sharks chase schools of fish.

FADs pose an extraordinary danger to the marine environment, and, quite rightly so, Greenpeace are seeking a total ban on their use by the fishing industry.

So from the deep, to the air. A pirate fishing operation is seen from 3,000 feet high.

An illegal purse seiner from the Philippines loads skipjack tuna onto an illegal cold storage vessel from Indonesia.

Neither boat were permitted to be fishing in international waters, but were doing so in broad daylight, and with impunity.

Greenpeace deployed a couple of rigid inflatable boats to go and paint the word 'PIRATE?' on the side of the hull of the illegal boats.

A waste of fish.

Turtle on a FAD.

Another hair-raising dive. This time in two knots of current in a storm. Hanging on to a rope for dear life, I shot this Greenpeace diver removing a FAD.

The strobe switched off makes the picture look more 'Ninja'-style!

The FAD was illegally positioned in international waters, so its owner has no recourse for legal action against Greenpeace whatsoever!

Arrival in Palau, passing thorugh a narrow channel in the treacherous reef.

Time to go diving on the Ngemelis reef.

Schooling jacks in bad weather.

Clown fish.

Then it was back to the blue. This time on a joint patrol in Palau territorial waters with the marine enforcement division of the Palau police.

Here's an illegal Philippine 'mother ship' outrigger, fishing illegally in Palau waters.

Luckily for them, they got away as a far juicier target appeared on the horizon.

A Taiwanese long-liner shark finning in Palau waters, in defiance of Palau's status since 2009 as a global 'shark sanctuary'.

A GPS unit duly recorded the position of the criminal vessel.

I recorded the incriminating evidence with a Canon 300mm f2.8 lense.

Spot the bag of shark fin, the finned shark body in the background, and the panicked look of guilt on the workers faces.

But soon it was business as usual, this time hauling a beautiful sailfish on board and hacking it to death. Sailfish doesn't even taste that good.

But my photos were good enough evidence for the Palau police to arrest the Taiwanese boat and its crew.

The boat was eventually impounded back in the port of Palau, and in February the owner was hit with a fine.

A successful example of an environmental NGO operating with a 'big stick'!

Then it was back to Palau again to continue documenting the pristine Ngemelis coral reef.

Manta ray.

A feathertail ray.

Manta ray.

Schooling jacks.

A red snapper and manta ray.

A school of red snapper.

Schooling jacks.

Schooling jacks and feathertail ray.

A manta ray with a sea cucumber.

A trevally tries his luck with a school of jacks.

White tip reef sharks.

Schooling jacks.

Reef sharks.

A really tiny mandarin fish.

A sponge.

A shallow coral reef.

Trumpet fish.

Yellowtail blue snapper and sergeant majors.

Giant clams.

Large bivalve.

I don't remember successfully ID-ing these fish. If anyone knows what species they are, I'd love to know!

I concluded my trip at the delightfully esoteric Ongeim'l Tketau, or 'jellyfish lake'.

Around the edge of the lake was equally enchanting, with its wide array of brightly-coloured soft corals and sponges.

The delicate beauty of a floating seed pod...

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PACIFIC GREENPEACE PHOTOGRAPHER

All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011