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Dive Review of The Conflict Islands in
Papua New Guinea/The Conflict Islands

The Conflict Islands: "Amazing diving in the Conflict Islands, PNG", Sep, 2019,

by Terry Smith, VIC, AU ( 1 report with 2 Helpful votes). Report 11286 has 2 Helpful votes.

Photos Submitted with this Report

Click on an image to see an enlarged version and captions

The Conflict Islands Panasesa Global location Beluga Corals Coral Garden Drop off
Diver on Coral Garden Barracuda at Irai point The Undersea Explorer Resort Bungalow
Baby Turtles

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving 5 stars
Snorkeling 5 stars
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 5 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments The diving around the Conflict Islands, Louisiade Archipelago, Papua New Guinea is AMAZING!

Located in the pristine waters of The Coral Sea, the Conflict Islands comprise of 21 untouched islands, boasting the most extensive biodiversity & coral reef in the world. With a third of the world’s species of marine fish, the Conflict Islands are home to everything from the tiny ghost pipefish to huge manta rays & tiger sharks. Among the group of islands that surround a spectacular lagoon is Irai Island. This island was found "second-best coral in the world" with the greatest number of species noted in a single dive. This has led to the consideration for a World Heritage Marine Site!

The steppingstone to the Conflict Islands and the Milne Bay area is Alotau. This bustling township is around 1.15hr flight from Port Moresby. The flight takes you up & over a mountain range so can be susceptible to bouts of bad weather, so delays are possible. Upon arrival into Alotau, the airport is small but clean with an area for taxis and transporters. If you're staying at a hotel on the first night, make sure you have let them know what flight you're arriving on so they can meet you. Each hotel has a free transfer service. I visited several hotels when I was in Alotau and I must recommend the Masurina Lodge. Its located up on the hill but the rooms are clean and modern with great security. There is the Alotau International Hotel located on the waterfront but at the time of my visit, it was looking a little dated.

(They have been instances of security in this area over the past few months (2019). This was not the case when I was there. The “Rascals” as they are called have been chased away by a police task force. Each resort and dive operation have their own security. The local community is fed up with these “rascals” and is working against them as well. Staying in the hotel or onboard a liveaboard there is no issue.)

From the airport, we were transferred by a taxi van to the Undersea Explorer departure point at the marina. (The infrastructure does need work in this area so expect to take around 30 minutes from the airport to the marina or hotel).
For those that have been in the diving community for several years, you may remember the Undersea Explorer Dive Liveaboard. Built-in the 1990’s she served her time as a marine exploration/ research liveaboard out of Port Douglas. She has since been brought and re-located to the Conflict Islands. Although primarily as a supply vessel servicing the Conflict Islands she has been excellently maintained and recently refitted in Cairns.

After a 19-hour steam, we awoke to the arrival at Panasesa Island, which at 16Ha is the second largest of the Conflict Islands, where the resort is located. We transferred over to the island and meet the managers Ed Cardwell & Hayley Versace. Both are avid scuba divers and been in the industry for several years. The resort is well-appointed with bungalows located on the waterfront & its own dive shop. There is a communal dining area upstairs in the main building and an air-conditioned lounge area to relax. A beautiful setting. (At the time of writing this is a private resort only open to those invited by the custodian).

We were lucky in the sense that the custodian of the islands was also present - Mr Ian Gowie-Smith, an Australian based in the UK who grew up in Australia. Mr Gowie-Smith & his family are part of an elaborate plan to create a legacy of protected wilderness’ around the world. With internationally renowned success as a global entrepreneur, Mr Ian Gowrie-Smith is passionately dedicated to ensuring the centuries’ long protection of the Conflict Islands.

Over the course of two weeks, we visited many sites each as spectacular as each other. They were never any “bad” diving with only one dive with less visibility as the water was running out of the lagoon. The visibility dropped to about 15m in this instance with average visibility on every dive with over 30m. The water was a mild 26 degrees but with dives up to an hour, it started to get a little chilly at the end.

Each site was memorable, but several did stand out. One of these was Nicky’s Fan Club. A drift Dive which saw use drifting into the lagoon between Panaboal Island & Ginara Island. It wasn’t very deep with a maximum of just over 26 meters, but what’s was spectacular was the size & colour of the Gorgonian Sea Fans, each swaying, collecting nutrients from the currents. Such an array of colours & shapes was just such a joy to cruise over, you could hide behind one, then just stare in awe of this site. Truly amazing!

Beluga, off Irai Island, was another amazing site. With a ledge at around 18 meters and then sloping down into the depths it had fish life & colourful soft corals. You could swim up through cracks & around large boulders covered in corals & blankets of Sea Grapes. One such crack had a massive Gorgonian Sea Fan over 6 meters in size touching from side to side. Tuna visited us, as did Turtles.
Ian’s Arch was another site located near Panasesa Island itself, with an arch swim through in shallower water. The clownfish & life in the shallow reef areas were so abundant. I sat and stared at several colonies of clownfish for what felt like hours… (I heard a whale shark visited this site two months after our visit).

But the site which left such an impression on me was the site off Panasesa Island. You follow the wall along to the end of the island reef then come up on to a ledge area which extends around the island itself. You had tuna & barracuda in the depths, then you come up & over onto the ledge, which has coral covering in “lawns”. Soft corals, hard corals all healthy and thriving. It’s such a pleasure to dive here. Turtles swim past (some fly past as they are not used to divers & get scared), all different sizes, with Green Turtles & Hawksbill the most common. They use the Panasesa Island & the surrounding islands to lay their eggs in the season from November through to late February.

To help the turtles, the Conflict Islands has set up the Conflict Island Turtle Conservation Initiative (CICI).[ link] They employ local rangers who go out at night to keep an eye on the nesting turtles. Turtle is still eaten in these islands & although protected they are still taken when nesting, as it’s the easiest time to catch them. The rangers ensure their safety & keep a note of where the nests are dug. They mark & monitor them to ensure that they hatch. If they are in an area susceptible to wash out from the sea, the eggs are relocated to Panasesa Island into special nest areas and closely monitored. When the eggs hatch, they are guided to the water. It any are injured or deformed on birth they are taken to the nursery which is a facility on the island which cares for them until a suitable size, then they are released into the open ocean. This initiative is doing fantastic work!

Get out to Milne Bay, the Louisiades & the Conflict Islands, it's in pristine condition with absolutely, amazing diving. Visiting this area will create the awareness it needs to protect the area for the future.

Visit the Pelagic Dive Travel site [ link] as they are offering special departures from Alotau into the Conflict Islands onboard the Underwater Explorer. [ link] This area should not be missed by any diver and must be added to any bucket list!

[ link]
Websites The Conflict Islands   The Conflict Islands

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience Over 1000 dives
Where else diving Egypt, French Polynesia, Thailand, Australia, Tahiti, PNG
Closest Airport Alotau Getting There By direct flight from the International Airport of Port Moresby

Dive Conditions

Weather windy Seas choppy
Water Temp 24-27°C / 75-81°F Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 15-40 M / 49-131 Ft

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions Diving within your certificating agency limits
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? no

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 5 stars Tropical Fish 5 stars
Small Critters 5 stars Large Fish 4 stars
Large Pelagics 4 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities 5 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 5 stars Shore Facilities 5 stars
UW Photo Comments If using the Undersea Explorer as a base there is ample space for camera equipment. With freshwater rinse tanks on the back-dive deck and an area inside for uploading & charging, underwater photographers are well catered for. Onshore at the resort, the dive shop has freshwater rinse tanks and areas for loading. In the resort and on the Underwater Explorer vessel, the Australia 240v three-prong plugs are used. However, there is limited wi-fi connection available. Due to the remoteness, you can only connect from the main building at the resort.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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