Journal archives for April 2018

April 09, 2018

Diving in the Solomon Islands

I haven’t done one of these trip reports in a while, but I’ve certainly been diving. I’ve been to Fiji four times in the last two years. But now I’m back from the Solomon Islands. I travelled with my friend Heidi from California, via Los Angeles to Fiji, where we stayed overnight, then continued on to Honiara in the Solomon Islands. The roads are horrendous in Honiara, so that it took an hour to drive the short distance from the airport to the yacht club in the center of the town where we waited a little until the boat was ready for us. They took us in a skiff from the dock to the ship out in the harbor.

We then boarded the Bilikiki for an eleven day cruise. This is the same boat I was on four years ago (when the airlines lost my camera on the way there) and this time I arrived with all of my gear. There were ten folks on the boat centered on a group of friends from Minneapolis, a pair of Germans, an Aussie who was just ending a six month stint as a visiting doctor to the Solomons, and a special treat: the owner of the Bilikiki and the former owner were both along just as divers, not working. The cruise directors are Tina and Oli, a German and French couple who did an excellent job.

The rest of our first day was just an orientation, setting up our gear, and dinner. Meals were all served buffet style in the salon, and we ate outside where they also had clear screens that could be rolled down when it was rainy (which it frequently was, this being the rainy season). There were only 17 guests on the boat with ten double-cabins, so Heidi and I lucked out and each got our own cabin rather than having to share. After dinner, the boat lifted anchor and steamed up to the Russell Islands for the next day’s diving.

Our typical day consisted of a hot breakfast at 6am, then the first dive at 7:30am. The mid-morning snack often had fresh baked cookies, and always popcorn. The second dive was usually at 10:45am, followed by lunch. The third dive was at 1:45pm, then another snack, often fresh fruit and more popcorn. The fourth dive was usually at 4:45pm, which gave us time to complete it before it started getting dark. Appetizers were served on the sun deck (when it wasn’t raining) at 6pm, and dinner at 7pm. Many nights a night dive was offered at 7:45. The food was good and varied, often with two entres and several sides to choose from, including fresh salads. Dinner always had a dessert. My friend who is vegetarian was pleased with how well they provided options for her too.

I made 42 dives on our ten days of diving, including four days where I competed five dives. Most times the ship was brought very close to the dive site, so that skiff rides were rarely more than a minute or two, and occasionally we could just swim back to the ship and the end of a dive. Because the terrain both above and below sea level is often very steep, sometimes there was no anchorage and the ship was live while waiting for us to dive. Several afternoons we anchored very close to shore and “the pool was open” and we could dive on our own if we desired directly from the back of the boat, though guided dives were also offered.

Many of the guests on this cruise were especially interested in sharks and other big animals, so many dives were planned for that. We would drop on a slope or wall and go to a corner where there was some current and the sharks, tunas, and others might come by. Gray Reef Sharks were somewhat common. I had one Silvertip Shark, and a few Blacktip Reef Sharks. Whitetip Reef Sharks were often seen on the reefs. We had a few Spotted Eagle Rays, a Mobula Ray, and I had a great Manta Ray encounter at the surface right at the end of a dive. Most of the guests did a Manta dive at the end of the trip, but Heidi and I opted to dive a nearby shallow bay instead, where we saw a dozen kinds of fish not previously encountered on the trip.

While I’m fine seeing the big guys, I am most interested in the smaller reef fish, so often moved off along the reef rather than watching for pelagics. A couple of times I went deep looking for different species, but those typically seen deeper in Fiji like Squarespot Anthias and Pyramid Butterflies were also found shallower in the Solomons, so there seemed little reason to spend time deeper. Like other Indo-Pacific locations, most reefs had unicornfish and fusiliers furthest off the reef, clouds of anthias below that, and damselfish just a little bit above to reef. There was a lot of diversity on the reefs, with about half of the fish familiar from my many trips to Fiji, but many different ones as well.

The Solomons have great diversity of reef fish. There are nine different kinds of anemone (clown) fish, and I managed to see and photograph all of them. I enjoyed watching and photographing both Melanesian Fairy Wrasses and Filament-fin Flasher Wrasses. Other favorites include Signal Gobies with their two huge false eyespots, and the bright red Flame Angelfish who are very shy and only occasionally peek out from their cover of coral.

Night dives were offered most evenings after dinner, and I did four of them. Lots of soldierfish and cardinalfish about, as well as many shrimps, crabs, and the occasional lionfish and scorpionfish. Special finds at night include a pygmy squid and an emperor shrimp on the back of a huge nudibranch.

Overall, it was both a fun and productive trip. In 43 dives I recorded 580 different species of fish, including 24 new to me. I managed to get 11 photos that I was missing for the book I’m working on.

Photo highlights are at https://www.flickr.com/photos/14233971@N04/albums/72157693446400631

Posted on April 09, 2018 00:30 by maractwin maractwin | 5 comments | Leave a comment

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