Filming the Palau Dugong. The rarest of the rare.

Filming Palau’s rarest wildlife

When it comes to filming wildlife in Palau there has been one species that has been on my bucket list for many years. Estimates suggest that there are only about 200 animals left in the population and they are spread over a huge range. It is large but extremely enigmatic. It has been hunted close to extinction and is now extremely wary of anyone approaching. I am of course referring to the Palau Dugong.

Palau Dugong natural history

The Dugong is one of only two extant vegetarian marine mammals. The other is the Manatee.  The Palau Dugong’s ancestors most likely made the journey across the Philippine Sea from South east Asia possibly tens of thousands of years ago. They found Palau’s sheltered lagoons and huge seagrass beds perfect for living. However once humans settled in Palau their peaceful existence came under threat.

Due to Palau’s large distance from other populations of Dugong the Palauan population is extremely isolated. This is bad for a number of reasons. Firstly  it is extremely unlikely that Dugongs from other Asian or Australasian populations will make the similar crossing to add to the Palau population. This means that the population will not increase due to migration from outside. It is isolated.

It is quite likely that Palau’s population could be descended from a single pregnant female that somehow made the crossing.

Love thy neighbor

Secondly the genetic bottlenecking that results from a population growing from a very limited number of individuals can result in a distinct lack of genetic diversity. This can cause such things as birth defects, low birth rate, higher infant mortality as well as raised incidence of sterility.

Dugong Palau
A small group of Dugong rest in shallow water

So given all those factors, it’s a wonder that there are any Dugongs in Palau at all. The chances of making it this far are stacked against them, yet they have survived. Dugong were traditionally hunted in Palau but the meat was reserved for only the  highest chiefs. Due to declining numbers they have been given protected status and taking of Dugong is now illegal.

So you can see now why being able to film this extremely rare geographically isolated enigmatic creature is a real draw.

Filming the Palau Dugong

I have long been planning on using Drone technology to accomplish something like this. I wrote about using the technology here, but due to the rarity and highly protected status of Palau’s Dugong it was very hard to locate them. That is until a local NGO contacted me about a population in the north of Palau. I leapt at the opportunity of course and we headed out to the area and set about searching.

Dugong have very good hearing and the sound of a boat engine or even the slapping of kayak paddles will have them heading in the opposite direction.

Using drones for conservation filmmaking

By  keeping a large distance between what we suspected was an animal and the boat and flying the gap between, we managed to position the drone over a herd of 15. This sort of number in one area at one time is almost unheard of in contemporary Palau. It gave us valuable insight into a possible local population size and age make-up. The use of a light, reasonably quiet drone allows us to observe these animals relatively closely without disturbing them. This is extremely important in the study of animal behavior. Any disturbance can change the animal’s natural behavior. The gyro stabilized High Resolution cameras available now are perfect for recording footage or taking photos at distances well over 1km from the pilot.

Dugong
The group of 15 included a Mother with a young calf, juveniles and a mature bull.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geographic distribution and behavior

It became apparent that the areas we were sighting them in were predominantly sea grass beds. These areas are only however submerged in less than 1.5 meters of water at high tide. The Dugongs could only access this important feeding area during high tide. As the tide turned and started to recede the Dugong began to swim for deeper water.

It was possible to fly the drone at a low altitude without apparently disturbing the animals. Skin markings and scarring could be seen and enabled individuals to be identified on subsequent surveys. Mothers with their babies, boystrous juveniles and large Bulls could all be seen.

Palau Dugong
This adult bull Dugong can be identified from the white markings on his back
And then they vanished.

Day after day we went out and found no sign. Aerial surveys found other animals like Turtles, mating Stingrays, even the extremely rare Ornate Eagleray, but no Dugong…..

Where had they gone?

Dugong are still being hunted in Palau

A week or so later we hear reports that one has been killed. Parts of it’s body had been hung up far to the south for people to see. It was like a huge macabre shout of “laws don’t apply to us!”

We don’t know where this animal came from. There are other populations that frequent other areas of Palau. Koror and Malakal harbor having one of the highest densities.

It was still a huge blow.

This act however doesn’t go unnoticed. Those responsible are known to the community and like previous occasions of poaching, the culprits will eventually be found out, prosecuted and publicly shamed.

This could have been something beautiful, something so rare it almost defies odds by even existing. It has been killed before it had a chance. Greed and distrust are perpetuated by a few selfish individuals of our species for the sake of a tradition that can no longer be justified. Dugongs are a valuable tourism commodity in other parts of the world. If only those selfish individuals in Palau could realize that.

Further threats to Dugong in Palau

In addition the sea grass feeding area frequented by this population has been proposed as a site for sand dredging. This critical habitat for a huge number of species was actually going to be destroyed so that sand could be acquired to build the airport expansion in Palau. The Environmental Quality Protection Board (EQPB) assessed the site and according to the boat driver on the day they saw 7 Dugong. This is where we came in to document these animals and raise awareness to the potential habitat destruction.

Destruction of habitat used by protected species is prohibited by law in Palau. We await to see what will happen and hope that public conscience is greater than a few individuals greed.

This species hang on to existence. It would be a ecological disaster to loose such an iconic species in Palau and a terrible waste of beautiful animals.

For further information on previous work done to protect the Palau Dugong see here.

For a really good report on the Dugong status in Palau see here.

Film Palau 2018 Show Reel

Why Film Palau?

Are you a production company looking to film Palau? The Republic of Palau continues to provide great opportunities for Underwater and Aerial Media Production.

As an introduction to the many opportunities available for filming in Palau, I would like to take this opportunity to show you what Lightning Strike Productions has been doing over the course of the last year.

Lastly our show reel will share some of the highlights and our hopes for the future.

New media techniques and projects in Palau

Over the last 12 months we have continued to diversify our filming techniques.

Aerial filming in Palau

Aerial filming with Drones and Aircraft mounted action cams have provided great footage for our clients.

Aerial filming in PalauFor this particular project we used a host of external and internally mounted action cams. Each aimed to catch the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Surveillance plane as it hunted for illegal fishing in Palau’s EEZ.

 

Underwater Time-lapse for Cinematic Documentary

Exciting 6K B-roll from Time-lapse techniques have also added to production value of a number of projects over the years.

Chasing corals. Filming Palau
Chasing corals movie poster

Of particular note is the underwater time-lapse work we shot for the Netflix original documentary Chasing Corals. This involved returning to the same locations 6 times over the course of a few months. Each time positioning the camera with the aid of multiple references in exactly the same place as before.

 

 

360 VR filming in Palau

We have embraced 360 VR and continue to develop this new and exciting form of media. Mosaic panoramas provide a new and artistic form in addition to producing very high resolution images for printing. The beginning of the year saw us filming for a VR project here in Palau which ran in conjunction with a second project by the Economist magazine.

Drone filming Palau
Kayangel Atoll Aerial Panorama
Underwater filming in Palau

Underwater filming in Palau is still incredible. New behaviors and environments were documented in greater detail this past year. Spawning aggregations of species previously undocumented in Palau as well as insights into the migrations of Manta Rays and Shark species were gained.

Our underwater cameras can output 4K Raw footage. This means we get the very best colors possible through post production techniques using the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of programs.

Wildlife and conservation in Palau

Wildlife and conservation topics are still very close to our hearts. A large project on migratory shorebirds was completed in the Autumn. This milestone project commissioned by Palau Conservation Society raised local awareness for the need to protect certain coastal environments in Palau. It appears to have reached it’s desired audience and the proposed developments have thankfully been halted.

Plastic Pollution has become an incredibly damaging aspect of our world in this century. This film was our first venture into raising awareness of this issue. Plastic use continues to be one of the biggest problems facing us today and into the future.  We take every opportunity to reduce our usage and impact in this regard.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support into 2018 as we venture to new horizons. We have 2 filming expeditions planned. One to the remote South West Islands of Palau, and one with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. This second trip takes us to the even more remote Phoenix Islands of Kiribati.

Together we can make Lightning Strike Productions grow further. We aim to provide more innovative and educational media for Palau, Micronesia and the world.

Here’s to a productive and imaginative 2018!

For more information find us here

Thank you and Enjoy!

film palau underwater film palau aerial film palau nature film palau film palau

 

Aerial 360 VR in Palau

As the weather finally cleared it gave me the opportunity to continue with my 360 VR project.

360 VR by Drone

The above image shows both Koror and Nikko Bay in the center with the port of Malakal to the left and lighthouse channel on the right.

46 images stitched together in PTGui to create this equirectangular 360 Panorama.

 Tips for good VR production

-The above image was created by rotating the aircraft . Make sure you overlap the photos enough (by about 30%) for the software to find adequate control points

-Set the camera to manual exposure

-Avoid using a circular polarizer as this changes the exposure in parts of the image depending on the cameras orientation.

See other uses for drones in Palau here

To find out more about PTGUI software go here. 

The software is both powerful and intuitive.

 

Watch this space for more VR content.

 

Cheers

New film project started today in Kayangel

Film Palau

There is one place that I would like to film more than anywhere in Palau.

This is the northern reefs and atolls of Kayangel.

And I just got back from filming up there and wanted to share this with you:

Film PalauThis image is created from 7 photographs stitched together and was shot via a drone during our lunch break on the 2nd closest island. Great conditions prevailed after a stormy night but we went up to Kayangel to do some pre-production scouting and subject tests for a new project based on these northern reefs and islands of Palau.

I could not have asked for a better start.

Watch this space to see how this project develops and this initial film from our discoveries there.

If you’d like to find out more about the work being done by the Ebiil Society see this link

Cheers

Richard

Palau diving with the best

Promoting the best

Over the last few months I’ve been diving with Dari Dive Palau. Together we are planning on showing all the cool fish, sharks and mantas at new locations they know. As well as showing the best in Palau diving, they asked me to put together a short film of the regular features such as the spawning dives, aggregations, Blue Corner, Blue Holes, German Channel etc to begin with, which you can see here:

I have found Dari Divers to be particularly good. Apart from offering Nitrox, great lunches and taking small groups to the best sites, I’m finding that they have a deep understanding of the timing of natural events. This rich knowledge enables them to put their divers in the water at exactly the right time on the right day to witness nature at it’s best.

See another film I produced on another trip with them here.

Palau diving with the best

After diving at a professional level for close to 20 years, in a wide variety of locations and shops around the world, I hope I can say that I have a reasonable amount of experience in the business of recreational diving. Many shops are very busy always running at 150% (great for business/bad for customer satisfaction). Some cut corners and the customers are left with substandard guides, poor rental equipment, boats that break down etc. It’s a fine blend of personal attention and the excitement of discovery and adventure that for me makes Dari Divers stand out for a great diving experience in Palau.

Palau Diving
Side-mount diving Palau

 

Making the film

All the underwater stuff is shot on the Canon 5D3 running Magic Lantern  capable of outputting 4K Raw footage. For more info on this set up see this post

Aerials were shot using the DJI Inspire 1, hand launched and caught from the bow of the boat during the surface intervals.

For the editing I looked at a different aspect ratio this time. 2.35:1 instead of the usual 16:9. This trial is to see how it holds up over time and initially I like the look. To me it makes the screen bigger even though it’s actually smaller…..go figure. It’s a trend that’s becoming more prevalent lately.

Let me know in the comments section below what you think to the film and whether or not the 2.35:1 ratio works for this sort of thing.

Watch out for new media coming from this new collaboration as well as views from new as yet undisclosed sites around Palau.

See Dari Dive website here

 

Cheers

Richard

 

Documenting the marine lakes of Palau using a drone

Palau has a huge number of Marine Lakes locked within it’s limestone islands and I’ve wanted to explore them since I’ve been here but they are very hard to get to, usually surrounded by thick jungle growing out of razor sharp rocks. The world famous Jellyfish lake of Palau is one of them.

Because of this few people have managed to explore them so I thought I would use a drone to take a look and see them from a new perspective. Aircraft such as planes and helicopters have of course flown over them but I don’t think anyone has actually descended into one before.

So I used Google Earth to locate a few that were 1 mile or less from a suitable take off point and set to flying over and into them.

Some are impressive like the one in the video above, others no more than a depression with some shallow water in that dries quickly without rain.

What are Marine Lakes?

Marine lakes form in limestone islands  where certain areas of the limestone erode away quicker than their surroundings. This erosion can create a depression or bowl and if that bowl is close enough to the ocean it may fill with sea water percolating through the porous limestone.

What makes Palau’s Marine Lakes special is that sometimes in a few places certain organisms such as Jellyfish have flowed in and remained there.

Some have nothing living in them but maybe frogs, others can have millions of Jellyfish. I’m looking forward to the day I spot one of Palau’s Saltwater Crocodiles……

After months of recon flights over one particular lake, I decided to find a way to film what was inside it. A little local know how told me a route and one day I set off to film there. See this film here for my findings……

The Marine Lake environment is extremely fragile but incredibly interesting. For further reading consider this article.

Welcome to Behind the Scenes

Filming and media production in Palau

Welcome to Behind the Scenes. Here we have a collection of posts that look behind the cameras of Lightning Strike Productions. We film underwater, in the air with drones and from aircraft, we edit and produce educational films. We tackle everything media production related in Palau. Most of our films and media are environment based and we take pride in all our media production projects. We are media production Palau.

As this blog grows we will be covering a range of subjects but they will mostly be grouped into the following subjects:

 

Underwater Cameraman Palau. Media production
Underwater filmmaking needs you!

Underwater filming and photography

Drone filming and photography

Time-lapse shooting

Conservation

Expeditions and Travel

360 VR

 

Enjoy these sporadic writings. There is no schedule… Please feel free to leave a comment or ask  questions regarding any elements of our productions. Keep coming back for the regular updates .

See our company website for more information.

Media Production Palau

We are available for Underwater filming, underwater photography, underwater camera rental, aerial filming, drone pilot hire, location scouting, fixer work, Film production in Palau, permits, accommodation in Palau, dive boat charters, aircraft charters, stock footage or just advice on where to dive.

The latest media production in Palau and beyond

For a comprehensive run down of everything we got up to in 2017 check out this post. It highlights all the progress we’ve made as well as the major projects we have undertaking over the year. New camera and filming techniques with many examples of the films we shot for our clients, it also includes a show reel of our favorite footage from the year, so have a look!

Cheers

Richard

 

10 things I’ve learnt from 10 years of Media Production in Palau

Media Production Palau

I’ve been a Media Producer in various guises in Palau for 10 years now, initially as an underwater cameraman with a little bit of topside work thrown in, then diversifying into Time-lapse, run n’ gun, aerials (drone and aircraft), interviews etc.

Palau has changed a lot in those 10 years and this has made me change with it.

Here are 10 things (actually 11) I’ve learned about Media Production in that time:

So many cameras
  1. Now more than ever people have cameras, as a dedicated cameraman I’m being squeezed by the ready availability of cameras. Everyone over the age of 5 seems to have one (gross over generalization, I know). So now more than ever I have to be inventive with my imaging, flexibility and the old cliche of thinking outside the box are more important than ever before. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques, think about a sequence or image you want to acquire, no matter how crazy or impossible it first appears to be, then work out how to do it. Dare to be different.
aerial media production palau
Go Pro sticky pads are very sticky….I’m in the cabin with a WiFi feed to my iPad directing the pilot for good framing…..
Underwater Time-lapse. Underwater camera, underwater media production, underwater photography.
Underwater Time-lapse of Coral Bleaching using a firmware hack to provide my Canon with an intervalometer, repeat visits over a 4 month period.

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Aerial drone filming in Palau. 5 Big uses

Aerial Drone filming in Palau

Drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are one of the biggest growth industries of the early 21st Century. Their rise has been stratospheric. Development of flight, navigation, imaging, and automation systems are continuous. Manufacturers are bringing out new models that take huge leaps forward every 6 months. That is why we moved so fast to start aerial drone filming in Palau.

I started flying drones about two years ago with a 450 class model and was commissioned almost immediately for work. Since then I’ve upgraded to an Inspire 1 for it’s longer flight times, image quality and stability in wind. Lightning Strike Media now provides a range of aerial imaging services and flies almost daily.

The technology is so innovative it has opened up a range of opportunities in Palau:

Aerial Drone filming Palau
This aerial shot of a burning illegal fishing boat, is not possible by any other method than by Drone.

Continue reading “Aerial drone filming in Palau. 5 Big uses”