Thursday, March 5, 2009

#6: Finding a Life Fish in Fiji

Post by Heidi Munzinger

This morning seemed to come earlier than most. Last night after dinner the Nai'a crew hosted a traditional Fijian kava party, and many of us stayed up until midnight singing and enjoying the local "grog."

However, it was definitely worth getting up in time to take advantage of favorable tides and enjoy the first dive of the day at "Fantasea" in the South Save-a-Tack region of the Namena Marine Reserve. Our cruise director Brigitte advised us to take it slow and make it a long, leisurely dive. We dropped onto a wall teeming with small triggerfish, colorful dottybacks and damsels, then cruised across sand flats and "high quality rubble" featuring decorated dartfish, flagtail blanquillos, and bluestreak gobies, admire a half-dozen ghostly cornets, pair of yellow boxfish, and huge star puffer that disappeared into the blue before doing our safety stops on a reeftop amid swarms of ubiquitous purple and orange scalefin anthias.

(photo: Keith Ellenbogen)
Not a bad way to start the day, and as we like to say: "Here on the Nai'a we see more before breakfast than most divers do all day!"

(photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Late morning we moved back up to North Save-a-Tack to revisit a couple of our favorite sites. Some divers were dropped directly on Kansas (with its iconic Sinularia soft coral "blowing in the breeze" of the mild current), others chose to explore again the area around the Arch (where a resident whitetip reef shark lounges in the sand), and a few of us managed to get lost in "No Man's Land" in between (that we not so affectionately dub "Arkansas"). Halfway through the dive many of us heard a strange sound which we were not able to identify; when we returned to the boat we learned it was the song of a Minke whale that our skiff driver Wally saw breaching in the distance while we were all below the surface! As it turns out, this is not an uncommon occurrence in this area, so we all will be keeping our eyes and ears open in the future.

For the afternoon dive both skiffs went to "Two Thumbs Up" where there are plenty of pinnacles and definitely enough cool critters to go around. Mark Rosenstein, New England Aquarium volunteer collector and self-described "fish geek," was thrilled to score a "life fish" when he sighted his first ever leopard blenny (Exalias brevis).

Leopard Blenny, Mark's life fish (photo: Mark Rosenstein)

This event exemplifies why so many of us return again and again to this part of the world; we may have dived these sites dozens of times, but the abundance and variety of Fiji's underwater fauna ensures that there is always something new and exciting to delight us.

Our dusk dive was back on "Teton I" where divemaster Mo led us directly to the den of an octopus that was resting and not at all interested in interacting with us at the start of the dive. Later, after we had explored the rest of the site, we discovered that the octopus had moved into a more visible space where we could all admire its ability to change colors and textures instantaneously depending on its mood. This time of day marks the "changing of the guard" on the reef, when many animals take advantage of the limited light and either engage in mating and spawning, or hunt by taking advantage of those who have let their guard down. As Bailey succinctly states, "It's either pure bliss or outright death"--a compelling combination!

A decorated dartfish (photo: Mark Rosenstein)

We are still digesting dinner and discussing the highlights of our day when the night divers return to the boat; Keith Ellenbogen (who has made every dive offered on this trip so far) is raving about the "dazzling nudibranch" (Flabellina rubrolineata) he saw, while Bruce Thayer relates his close encounter with spotted unicornfish. Fifteen hours after our dive day has begun it finally comes to a close, and tomorrow we get to do it all again!


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