Award-winning dive pioneer — and inventor of the term “muck diving” — Bob Halstead passed away in December 2018. Halstead, 74, was a prolific author and underwater photographer and much-loved character. He led many divers on trips to his beloved Papua New Guinea over the years.
Halstead’s many articles, books and underwater photographs have helped position Papua New Guinea as one of the world’s top diving destinations. An early innovator in the development of dive tourism, he was also a pioneer in the dive-liveaboard industry and an influential dive-industry commentator.
Halstead’s diving career
Halstead’s diving career began in 1968. Inspired by diving legends Hans and Lotte Hass, he departed his home in England and headed for the Bahamas, where he became a NAUI diving instructor in 1970. In a recent interview with another dive-industry stalwart; David Strike, he recalled;
“I dived the deep drop-offs near Nassau, where I saw my first hammerhead shark. It was then that I realized that I wanted to devote my life to diving.”
In 1973, Bob moved to Papua New Guinea and started exploring its reefs and wrecks with his first wife Dinah. Next, he formed PNG’s first full-time recreational-diving business in Port Moresby, running ‘Camp and Dive Safaris’ in Milne Bay Province from their dive boat Solatai.
Halstead’s “Coral Sea Reef Guide” is the most comprehensive guide to this region. The book offers divers a beautifully illustrated reference to most of the fish and invertebrates that they’re likely to encounter in the Great Barrier Reef, PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
The “Coral Sea Reef Guide” appeared as an app for iPhone, iPad and Android in 2014. With more than 850 marine species and over 2,000 photographs, it provides the easiest and most interesting way for reef-lovers to identify the fish life of the Coral Sea area and beyond.
Halstead also discovered several marine species. Two of his discoveries bear his name: a sand diver fish, Trichonotus halstead, and a species of razorfish, Novaculops halsteadi.
He is also known fondly as the inventor of “muck diving.”
He coined the phrase to describe dives less-attractive environments, such as muddy, rubbly seabeds, searching for exotic creatures.
In 2017, after a long courtship, Bob married concert violinist Kirtley Leigh. They worked together underwater as photographer and model, their collaboration producing images that graced some 20 international magazine covers.
Chatting with David Strike, Halstead shared the aspects of diving that have given him the most personal joy and pleasure.
“I love exploration diving, and leading divers on exploratory cruises. I have been fortunate enough to be able to dive many sites that no one has been to before. Discovering a fish or critter that we haven’t seen before is incredibly satisfying — and if we can also get a picture of it then we’re in heaven.”
… and what he hoped, above all, was his greatest contribution:
“I hope I have brought adventure into people’s lives by enabling them to discover for themselves some of the most fabulous underwater sites and creatures to be found on this planet.”