Friday, March 13, 2009

#11: Leaving Rich Biodiversity At Risk

Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

Up and going straightaway even though not enjoying much sleep after getting into my rack at 1:30 AM. Having not blogged on previous cruises I didn't realize how serious the impact on beddy-bye time would be. The 10th of March will be a double day because we get to live most of Tuesday all over again after flying across the International Date Line on our way back to the States. Two breakfasts, lunches, and dinners today--that's kinda strange.

OK then. A lot to do before we aquarium folks step back ashore. All that odoriferous dive kit has to be coaxed into a bag, clothes packed up, and project bits including animal ID books, reference papers, and the now important computers and external hard drives (in the old days it was all done in notebooks) get loaded strategically in our duffels and backpacks.

Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

I peer out through the porthole and see immediately that Capt John Smith and the crew have the Nai'a tied up smartly at the pier in Latouka. The huge pile (60'?!) of woodchips harvested from Fijian pine plantations is visible on the dock where it is located in close proximity for loading onto the big cargo ships that take it to Japan (we hear) for use in making paper pulp. The sweet smelling pine resin completely permeates the air, and we know even before peering outside that we're here. After 7 trips on the boat, that pine chip smell is unmistakable, and unique. I could detect it on my way down to my state room from the bridge last night even though we were still miles offshore. The scent apparently can travel on the breezes quite effectively.

Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

10 AM- The goodbyes were emotional. Even if this boat's crew puts on a great act about looking forward to the next time we aquarial folks are back, it sure feels genuine and always makes me tear up. We hugged ‘em all and said that we'd get pics to them right away. All they ever ask for is pictures. Pretty simple request. I think about what is waiting back in the States for us: good jobs, a gov't that works (… when was the last time the U.S. had a coup?!), confidence that better times are ahead. And what they likely have waiting for them: a couple of days off to spend with their families, and then back out to sea for at least another charter, an economy that is having a tougher go of it than ours.

Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

That has to be rough. As I sit here in a room at the Mocambo Resort continuing to ruminate about that, the similarities to being in the military strike me. Financial hardship, and long, continuous separation from family is something I couldn't take well at all.
We'll all head into Nadi town for our traditional farewell lunch, a quick stop at the Fijian handicrafts stalls, and then back to the Mocambo to ready luggage and gear for schlepping to the airport.

5:30 PM- Still a few minutes yet before Air Pacific opens up the check-in desk for the 11 PM flight to Los Angeles.

A bunch of us were just chatting about how great our dives were, all the fun we have when we come together, the new members of our merry band of Fijian Fishes Fanciers Federation, and when the next expedition together will be.

Some of the amazing biodiversity that relies on diving tourism to support it. Photos: Keith Ellenbogen

We then drift onto the uncomfortable topic of the apparent decrease in some numbers of critters since the last time we dove all those sites. It was touched upon one or twice during the dives, but nearly an entire day now separates us from those last dives and I suppose we are being a bit more general in our discussion. Seeing fewer sharks at Nigali Passage could be explained a number of ways, or maybe only one--fishing. Ugggh. It makes my euphoria coefficient drop a couple of points just contemplating it.

But why is it fair to expect (with the current global economic situation) Fijians to not make do by tapping into their country's riches?! Hey, if the divers and tourists stay home in Australia, Japan, and the States, these people's livelihoods start to wither. Yuck. Another complicator added to this great place's handicap-pile to keep its aquatic world one of the top on the planet.

More of the amazing biodiversity that relies on diving tourism to support it. Photos: Keith Ellenbogen
More discussion before going back back to planning our next reunion. Rendezvous and reunite in 18 months we chant! So October of 2010 it'll be. Maybe I'll even be able to get my high school senior of a son onboard. Wow.

- Bailey

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