A decade of Bloody Bay Wall

Scientists to compare photographers’ reef images taken 11 years apart


More than a decade after creating a
life-sized image of a Bloody Bay Wall site, photographer Jim Hellemn has again
shot the famous Little Cayman coral reef and the result will be displayed in
super high-resolution at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

Last month, he returned to Little
Cayman and re-shot Great Wall West, the same site on Bloody Bay Wall he
photographed in 1999. His 1999 images appeared in National Geographic magazine.

This is not just an exercise in
underwater aesthetics and beautiful photography – the project is also being
used by marine scientists to track changes and environmental impacts on the
reef over the past 11 years.

Those viewing the finished product
on 72 high-resolution monitors will get to see Bloody Bay Wall as never before.
“You can stand in front of the wall of monitors that will be about 10 feet high
and 35 feet wide, in full resolution, with life-size images. You’re standing
there, looking at the reef, life size, in full spectrum light so you can see it
in a way you could never see it in reality because it’s illuminated as though
with full sunlight,” Mr. Hellemn said.


Checking status over past decade

Researchers and scientists with the
Central Caribbean Marine Institute will examine the image made by the
photographer and check it against individual frames from the 1999 image to see
what has happened to the wall over the past decade.

Carrie Manfrino at the institute
described Mr. Hellemn’s image of Bloody Bay Wall as “a gorgeous opportunity for
the public to experience something that is impossible to experience even as a
diver because of the lighting”.

Over the next few months, she and
her students from Kean University in New Jersey plan to complete an analysis of
the series of photos. “We are looking at a 10-year comparison of reef
biological diversity and reef health. In particular, we will examine corals, sponges,
and algae to see whether there are visual changes in the amounts of these
important reef components,” Ms Manfrino said.

She and the students will use an
image analysis programme to quantify the biological diversity and do random
statistical sampling of the images to determine exact quantities of the
different organisms living on the wall.

“We have 10 years of data, so these
photographs are just one more data point that also has an amazing visual
component – Jim’s photo. The images by themselves have little scientific value
without all of the other data that we have collected from the other sites
around the island,” she said.

She added: “Scientific research on
reefs requires multiple study sites and data collection over many years. To
develop a scientific trend requires that collect data from many sites because
the reefs are highly variable from site to site, so, we collect photo transect
data from eight sites, not just one.”

But the image created by Mr.
Hellemn puts what the scientists and researchers have been examining for years
into glorious, visual clarity that is accessible to the public.

She said: “With a photo like the
one that Jim is compiling, we can show the world what we are speaking about…
The image should make a visually compelling story for everyone to
appreciate.  As a scientist, I mostly
generate numbers. This is boring to the general public.”


Photography on display

Mr. Hellemn’s underwater
photography project was filmed by a documentary team and a short film of his
work will be shown at aquaria throughout the world. Intel also filmed the photo
shoot and that film will be shown at Intel sites worldwide.

In July, Mr. Hellemn visited Little
Cayman to test equipment and to be filmed by documentary maker David Conover of
Compass Light Productions. He returned in August to do the main photography,
assisted by Cayman photographer Courtney Platt, and to take images of coral

“It took about six working days to
shoot all of the actual frames that are required to make the Great Wall West
image. We did additional days of documentary filming by Intel and doing the
coral fluorescence photography. We spent three weeks on site, and spent between
30 and 50 hours underwater,” Mr. Hellemn said.

Post-production work on the
photography is under way and will be followed next month by evaluations of the
images on a high-tech, high-resolution display system at the University of
California, San Diego.

“The group at Intel and researchers
will evaluate the image and do some comparisons with the image that was done in
1999 with the image done this year on the highest resolution monitor in the
world,” Mr. Hellemn said.

The display system at the
university comprises 72 high-resolution monitors which are put together in a
matrix that can display 280 megapixel images.

Displays are scheduled for next
year at the Natural History Museum in New York and at the Florida Aquarium.

Among the sponsors of the project
is Little Cayman Beach Resort, which also supported Mr. Hellemn’s 1999 project.
Jason Belport, the general manager of the resort, was part of the project team.
The photographer has an affinity with Little Cayman since he stayed there on
his first visit to Cayman for his honeymoon in 1993. A large print of the 1999
image hangs in the lobby of the resort, and Mr. Hellemn said another print of
the latest image would likely be displayed there also.

Other than that, there are no plans
to exhibit the latest image in Cayman, partly because a large venue would be
needed to display it. A life-size, full resolution display of the image would
be 20 feet high and 70 feet wide.

However, with monitor-wall
technology, smaller spaces could be used as the images pan across the screens
and the entire wall would not have to be displayed in one piece. However, fewer
screens could be used and they could be assembled in any configuration.

“It would be nice to find some
space or venue in Cayman that could be used for some type of exhibit, and
appropriate sponsors,” Mr. Hellemn said.

Mr. Hellemn’s work should be
familiar to many in Cayman. Some of his photographs can currently be seen at
the Ritz Carlton’s gallery and in the 72-foot-tall coral reef mosaic at the
Camana Bay Observation Tower, which features Bloody Bay Wall.


Jim Hellman (right) and Courtney Platt descend at Great Wall West at Little Cayman’s Bloody Bay Marine Park
Photo: Jason Belport


Photographer Jim Hellman with his underwater equipment
Photo: Jeff Caroli

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