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Tony Wu

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A Search For Sharks Off Papua New Guinea (PHOTOS)

Posted: 01/06/12 07:00 AM ET

Among the many reasons I consider myself one of the most fortunate people in the world is that I get to visit remote, unspoiled places to bask in the splendor of nature.

First on my itinerary this year is a trip to the Eastern Fields of Papua New Guinea, a submerged atoll system in the middle of the Coral Sea about halfway between Port Moresby and Cairns.

The atoll system is enormous, with most of the reef and rock structures hidden from view. This means that boats generally avoid the area, as uncharted reefs are a captain's worst nightmare. There are, in fact, a number of recorded wrecks and groundings in the area and perhaps more that left no trace of their fate behind.

Humans may be rare here, but marine life abounds. Many of the reefs are rich and dense with life beyond description. Large schools of fish, endless walls of unbroken coral and face-to-face encounters with friendly marine life are common.

Sadly, even places as difficult to reach as the Eastern Fields have come under assault in recent years. My friends and I have seen boats fishing on a number of occasions, most likely targeting sharks to supply the seemingly insatiable appetite of the global shark fin trade.

There are still sharks in the area, but certainly a noticeable drop from what I experienced during my first visit to the atoll in 1994. The ones that are left are wary and skittish, not inquisitive like sharks in wild places often are. I assume the survivors have learned to keep their distance from boats and people.

Each time I visit, I'm hopeful that I'll see a large hammerhead, silvertip or other similar big shark. Such encounters used to be fairly common in the Eastern Fields. These days, not so much.

It's in these inaccessible corners of the world that humanity's collective impact on the planet is most apparent.