Journal archives for October 2013

October 02, 2013

I'm off to Fiji

I probably won't have enough internet to post anything to iNat until I'm back home in a couple of weeks. Should be lots of fish pictures, and hopefully some birds & insects too.

Posted on October 02, 2013 00:55 by maractwin maractwin | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 20, 2013

Another Scuba Trip to Fiji

I'm just back from my seventh scuba trip to Fiji. It was a good trip and I continue to see new things. The Nai'a is still my favorite live-aboard dive boat in the world. Once again this was a combined New England Aquarium / Monterey Bay Aquarium expedition, and most of us had been on the Nai'a before. Though we did have two novice divers along, for a fresh perspective.

My friend Heidi and I arrived in Fiji two days early, ahead of most of the people on this trip. That gave us time to recover from the long flights and do some exploring on land before we boarded the boat. We rented a car and drove the "Coral Coast", the southern coast of Viti Levu. We spent a couple of hours hiking at Sigatoka Dunes National Park where we each got some life birds and I saw a number of interesting butterflies. We made it as far east as Pacific Harbor where we visited the Nai'a business office to meet the staff we have talked to on the phone over the years, as well as picking up the latest gossip on the crew of the boat.

The 18 of us were picked up by bus from the three hotels we were staying at near Nadi and taken to the dock at Loutoka. The Nai'a looks so small parked next to other ships, but the 120 foot ship is actually quite roomy for 18 guests and 12 crew. Cabins below each have a private bath, and the solon is spacious and finished with beautiful hardwoods. But a big part of what makes the Nai'a special is not the boat, but the crew. Mostly native Fijians, they have created a village community on the boat that we are lucky enough to visit occasionally. For this trip owner Rob Barrel is aboard, training new cruse directors Joshua and Amanda.

We keep a grueling schedule on the boat: eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, sleep, repeat. If you forget what time it is, touch your head. If your hair is wet, it's time to eat. If your hair is dry, it's time to dive. First breakfast is self-serve cold items; second breakfast is hot. Dinner was usually three courses, with a soup or salad, main and dessert. Each evening we made menu choices for the next day, usually having a meat, fish or vegetarian option for each meal.

This trip we had a few days where there were only three dives offered. Poor weather and anchor problems delayed us a couple of times. Our village visit was a little out of the way, but chosen because fellow guest Bruce sponsored several of the children there to go to school. But most days had four dives, a couple of them five were offered (though I sat out the late afternoon dive when I was planning on doing the night dive, as five in one day is very tiring). Also different from past trips we did several exploratory dives. We went places that none of us had dived before, not even the boat crew. With the help of navigation maps and tide charts, Rob guessed where to go with mixed, but generally good results. A couple of those sites will probably get visited again; others not. Several evenings night dives were offered after dinner. On these dives different fish are active on the reef, and most of the daytime fish are hidden away sleeping.

In typical Fijian fashion, most dives had excellent coral coverage and clouds of fish. Pink, orange, purple, and yellow soft corals adorn walls. Schools of orange and purple anthias float over the reef while groups of streamlined fusiliers pass by. Pairs of colorful butterflyfish swim about. Every table coral has a dozen damselfish in it, every anemone a handful of clownfish. I saw octopuses on four dives. We had white-tipped sharks on many dives. At Nigalli Passage we had many grey reef sharks. Hammerhead sharks were seen on at least three dives. When diving walls facing open water, we often saw tuna and mackerel cruising by. There were plenty of small creatures too: nudibranchs were common, pygmy seahorses were occasionally pointed out by the dive guides.

Some dive sites did show damage from typhoon Evan which hit last December. Several shallow reefs and bommie tops were wiped clean to bare rock. But many of those already had fist-sized corals regrowing, and will likely have full coverage in 3-4 years. It shows the strength of such a storm that a ten-foot table coral that used to sit in 15 feet of water can be broken off and left upside down nearby. The reefs are very resilient when only hit by one stress at a time. It's when storms, pollution and warming combine that they cannot recover.

Besides the diving, we run our own lecture series during the cruise. Steve Webster, does a multi-day series on invertebrate biology. Several other participants talked about their work. Captain Jonathan Smith told us about the project that kept him away from the Nai'a for three years: sailing a traditional sea-going canoe around the Pacific without fossil fuels or technology for navigation. And we all had fun pulling practical jokes on Keith, who enjoyed the attention.

Being big time fish geeks, Heidi and I took opportunities to dive in-shore silty areas as well as pristine reefs, so that we could see other fish that prefer that habitat. I saw 18 new species of fish on this trip. That's part of what keeps me going back to Fiji: even after seven trips, I continue to find things I haven't seen before.

This time I concentrated on taking field guide style photos of as many species of fish as I could; I got about 900 of those. And some art shots as well. A selection of my favorite photos from the trip are online at http://www.flickr.com/photos/14233971@N04/sets/72157636697252445/

Posted on October 20, 2013 04:04 by maractwin maractwin | 1 comment | Leave a comment

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