Changing Planet

New Caledonia Expedition: Diving With Fish That Haven’t Seen Divers

By Alan Friedlander

Our dives in the Chesterfield Reefs near New Caledonia have been full of surprises. Sometimes it is hard to tell who is more surprised, us or the fish. Every time we jump in the water, we are immediately surrounded by a swarm of curious reef sharks.

Video: Crittercam POV – “Swim” with Gray Reef Sharks

It seems as though they don’t know what to make of these strange creatures and after a few minutes they conclude that we are neither predator nor prey and go about their business. However they always make an occasional drive-by just to let us know they are there and in charge of the reef.

A gray reef shark in New Caledonia.
A gray reef shark in New Caledonia. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

Large groupers, some more than three feet long, come right up to us with very inquisitive looks on their face. In any other part of the world these fish would be extremely weary or on the dinner plate. Everything seems natural and in its proper place and we realize that we are just short-term visitors.

A tall sea anemone and two groupers observed in New Caledonia.
A tall sea anemone and two groupers in New Caledonia. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

This is in stark contrast to what we usually experience when we go diving, where most reefs are missing many of the key components of the ecosystem and seem to lack vitality.

It is inspiring to know that places with abundant life that are dominated by large predators still exist.

A diver surveys the reef in New Caledonia.
A diver surveys the reef in New Caledonia. (Photo by Manu San Félix)

These reefs are like windows into the past, but unfortunately serve as reminders for how much we have lost.

Click here to view all New Caledonia expedition blog posts.

This expedition is led by National Geographic in collaboration with the Institute de Recherche pour le Development (IRD) of New Caledonia and the Waitt Institute.

Thanks to Pristine Seas sponsors Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.

Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.
  • Gabriela

    Hi, that is amazing coral cover, way cool!

    Wish all of you a safe trip,

  • Jelena


  • Ricardo

    Wow This is pretty cool

  • Joseph Katei

    This is amazing!



  • nathalie

    i’m a marine biologist and my dream is to work with you guys! excellent job!

  • Erasta

    Hey guys thanks for the great photos! The sea anemone is actually a soft coral called “Sarcophyton” . Cheers.

  • Geko Dive Bali

    Groupers can be one of the most inquisitive species when they know they are safe. I’ve dived with them in a marine park and dozens of them will come very close just to check you out. In many reefs, they are much more fearful…

  • zoel

    This is very interesting, my basic science is marine studies, and now i’m continuous my master in environmental science, hopefully can join with your team NATIONAL GEOGRAPHY… 🙂 safe dive buddies

  • Tina

    To Boldly Go…. Fascinating!

  • meowmeow55

    if you could incllude the NAME of the tall sea anemone, that would be great. i need the name for my project!

  • james

    great picture

  • asha

    All photo is amazing and viedos all nice…..
    wish all the best and take ur life …..
    safe the trip ……

  • justin montney

    awesome stuff

  • Shanice Jones

    I really find the depth of information crucial to one’s knowing about the ocean.

  • Shanice Jones

    Its disheartening to hear about the constant degradation of the reef!!!!!!

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