Sunday, March 1, 2009

#2: First Dive Reports and Island Exploration

Post by Steve Bailey

6 AM During the night aboard Nai'a, while the team was in the arms of Morpheus, we've sailed east into Bligh Waters (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) to the island of Vatu-I-Ra. We awake to a calm sea, a majestic South Pacific sunrise, and Chef Penie sending incredible smells wafting from the galley.

A full day of diving lies ahead that includes visits to favorite sites: Charlie's Garden, Mellow Yellow, and The Whole Shebang. It'll be an initiation of sorts for the newest members of our gang and a reunion for those of us who've explored these sites on four prior expeditions. Also in our sights is to dive on an amazing undersea pinnacle called Go Mo (named after Nai'a's long serving Bosun & Divemaster Ratu Mosese Tuivuna) to continue our work on coral transects. The last two trips powerful currents sweeping around this dive site have blown our dive teams off the pinnacle and prevented our goals from being met.

11:30AM We enjoyed two, terrific dives this morning. The mind-blowing abundance of fishes was just as we remember it, and the surface water temperature was 83 degrees Fahrenheit--a tropical gift for many of us who left the snow and ice behind in Boston! After donning our dive kits and rolling off the skiffs, we drifted down current right to our study sites and settled into the protected lee of towering coral formations. Those currents play a critical role in having the stunning multicolored, Fijian soft corals blown up like 'Michelen Men,' pumped full of water to maximize their ability to filter-feed. The clicks of underwater camera shutters started immediately, and our recording slates and pencils commenced scribbling.

6:30 PM Instead of suiting up for a 5th dive, 11 of us decided to visit Vatu-I-Ra island to observe nesting seabirds. Fortunately, the Fijian government has conserved the island so that terns, boobies, noddies, and frigate birds can make future generations unmolested. Even some distance off this isolated place, the sight, sound (not to mention the smell!), of more than 10,000 winged guano machines was overwhelming.

After landing on the beach, and just steps from the water's edge, we observed an enormous number of nests with chicks in virtually every tree and shrub, every rocky ledge, anywhere really that would accommodate a nest. The spectacle made us wonder how airborne parents could find room to land, let alone, recognize their offspring.

Disturbingly, we soon were very aware of a wagon-load of plastic debris that had apparently washed ashore during recent storms. With this group, however, there was no need to mention what was necessary. Our divers-turned-birdwatchers had in quick order collected a small mountain of rubbish, whipped it all into bags, and loaded the skiffs for ferrying it all back to Nai'a for proper disposal. Now all that caught our eye as we walked the beach were the hermit and Sally lightfoot crab tracks, made even more pronounced by the slanting rays of Fijian sunset.


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