Return to Kanton Atoll, filming expedition.

The odds of being asked to go on a filming expedition twice in six months are low. The odds of being asked to go to a location as isolated as Kanton Atoll in Kiribati must be even lower. But that is exactly what I was asked to do in November.

As filming projects go, this expedition was an extremely short notice affair. Less than a month from first client email to jumping on the plane. Thankfully it was only 5 months since my last filming expedition so everything went right back into the packing cases much as it had before. The big difference this time was that instead of sailing to our destination we were flying in a light aircraft and weight was a major issue.

The dilemma that existed was to be prepared for camera failures etc but still pack light enough. Underwater filming is extremely equipment intensive…..

Pack lighter

Our flight to Kanton was to be in a Beachcraft King Air, Twin Engine. Much like the one we used here in Palau to spot illegal fishing vessels.

Beechcraft King Air
We boarded our charter plane to Kanton from Christmas island

My client this time was Economist films. We had worked together previously on a project in Palau and so it was good to catch up with their Producer Samuel Hunt again. Samuel and I were joined by Freelancer Sam Farmar who bought with him buckets of experience in documentary filmmaking.

We were on our way out to document Dr Greg Stone as he continues to study the near pristine reefs of the Phoenix Islands. Greg has in the last couple of months predicted the likely occurrence of a new El Nino warming event. The Phoenix islands lie right in the path of it. It was a race against time to get there and install temperature measuring equipment.

Touchdown on Kanton

We landed and were greeted by the residents of Kanton, who I had only said goodbye to in June. It was great to see them again especially the surprise on their faces as they weren’t expecting me at all.

After our reunion we were shown to our accommodations, simple beach huts, and set about preparing for filming. It was then that we had our second, not particularly pleasant news delivered…

The first had been that almost half of our bags had not arrived in Christmas island from Honolulu via Air Fiji….thanks guys…We were down camera equipment, clothes…. all sorts of things.

The second bit of news was that the tank compressor that had been flown in from Tarawa only a few days previously would only pump our dive tanks to 50 bar….Hardly the best news for a dive expedition filming project.

tank compressor kanton
The 24 year old compressor had seen better days and would only pump the tanks to 50 bar.

Pump up the jam

The compressor started easily enough but the main belt started slipping as soon as any load was put on it. We set about trying to get the thing working. In the end taking a hacksaw to the chassis and pulling the small Honda engine away from the compressor to put some tension in the connecting belt.

We had to also fashion a snorkel out of pvc piping to get the intake away from the exhaust…..

Any certified diver will tell you, it’s normal for a full tank to be at 200 bar and that you should be exiting the water at 50 bar…Instead, we were STARTING our dive with 50 bar…. Still…50 bar is 50 bar…

Needless to say our plans to install temperature loggers at 100 feet were shelved. A shallower goal was more prudent. It wasn’t even as if we had a huge number of tanks all at 50 bar, we literally had 5 tanks between 3 of us and a compressor that took 45 minutes to do a pitiful job with one of them. wtf

Stiff Upper Lip and all that

So whilst it wasn’t quite going to plan, all was not lost. We still had some air, we still had some cameras. So we really had almost everything vital we needed to be able to pull this off, and we set about doing just that. We dived and filmed the placement of 11 temperature loggers both inside and outside the lagoon. Interviews were conducted with the Kanton residents. Aerial scenics were filmed by me with the drone (a nice new Mavic 2 Pro). Greg was able to deliver to camera his knowledge of why this expedition was so vital to help understand the impacts of warming events on coral reefs.

One very cool thing about chartering a plane is that we were able to extend our stay on Kanton by an extra day.

Pristine Reefs

Underwater Kanton reef
The reefs were so beautiful.
Underwater Kanton reef
The coral reef communities that may or may not suffer from the incoming El Nino event.
The “Coral Castles” of the inner lagoon are huge but incredibly delicate.
The entrance to Kanton Lagoon is the final resting place of the SS President Taylor wreck. This presumably is one of its anchors, another lies on the opposite side of the channel.
Dr Greg Stone after securing one of the 11 temperature loggers, Kanton.
Underwater Kanton reef
Our tender driven by Kanton resident and long time PIPA advocate “Tuake” was welcome site upon surfacing.

The reefs within the atoll and close to the entrance are predominantly made up of table coral forms. One of the benefits of having so little air was that I had to stay shallow, which of course ensured better colours in the footage.

The glass is half full right!

Homeward bound

After 4 days filming on Kanton, we had to be heading back to Christmas island and the only flight out of there that week. It was a shame to be leaving. There is still so much to film around Kanton, we barely scratched the surface again.

I only hope that the same fate that took me there twice this year, will enable me to document the beauty of this incredible place in more depth another time.

Many thanks to Greg Stone, Sam Hunt, Sam Farmar, Christine Greene.  Peter Rive, Val Serna, Pilots George and Dave and all the residents of Kanton that welcomed us so warmly.

The film from this expedition is due to be Premiered in March. Watch this space for details.

For more insights on working as an underwater cameraman see here.

Cheers

Richard