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Underwater Sunlight at Ilot Kouare New Caledonia
New Caledonia

The small scattered coral islands of New Caledonia's World Heritage Site Lagoon are surrounded by two levels of beauty, a glistening white sand beach and a fringing coral reef that can be spectacularly colourful. The fringing coral reef at Ilot Kouare drops from nearly awash at low tide right down to 7 or 8 metres deep, the slope a tangle of corals of a seemingly endless variety, from tiny little one polyp corals to massive coral colonies, some of which are probably over a thousand years old.

It's really fun to snorkel along the fringing reef, awash in sunlight and clear lagoon water, being surprised and delighted with each unfolding underwater vista. But it isn't easy to capture the beauty of the experience on a camera. The sea water, even when very clear, is a hazy blue filter and clouds the colours and details that the human eye can see.

That was my birthday challenge - could a 73 year old photographer create a memory bubble that will allow you to experience the panoramic underwater seascape - and the glittering island - all at once, just as I saw it.

First we found the "right spot" - it had to be close enough to the island so the island would not be tiny in the distance. We cruised along the coral reef in our dinghy where the reef is closest to Kouare and looked for a place where there would be something to seaward, off the edge of the reef. In most parts of the reef a sphere image would only show reef on one side and a featureless blue on the offshore side - not very interesting but more importantly without something solid in every image in all directions it would be impossible to stitch the segments together.

We found this marvelous collection of gigantic coral heads rising up from 7 meters almost to the surface, with a smaller coral head right in the middle of them. I took the sphere image with my little GoPro Hero3 camera while Freddy explored and took close ups with her camera. I waited until she dove down next to one of the massive Porites heads to give you some idea of how big they are. In the image Freddy is about 5 meters (16 feet) deep.

Magnificent.

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New Caledonia is the closest South Pacific Island to Australia and New Zealand. It is a French Territory and although the official language is French the culture is a blend of Melanesian, European, Polynesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian, and more. There is one large mountainous island called Grande Terre and 6 smaller islands - the three Loyalty Islands, Belep and the Isle of Pines.The islands are remarkably unpopulated and there are vast areas of wilderness. There are hundreds of kilometers of walking treks, camp grounds, more than 42 parks and reserves, and crystal clear rivers with sparkling waterfalls. Almost one third of the population is located in the capital city of Noumea. Nickel mining is the primary industry and is the major contributor to the high standard of living in the country. Grande Terre is surrounded by the second largest barrier reef in the world and the protected lagoon created by this barrier reef is the largest in the world. Listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008, the lagoon is 24,000 square kilometers and supports a diverse and luxuriant fauna of fish and invertebrates.The vibrant, clear and rich colors are one of the first things that visitors notice when they arrive. Noumea has a complete range of hotels, resorts, restaurants, and activities to welcome visitors.