Friday, March 6, 2009

#7: Bula vinaka!

Post by Dr. Steve Webster of the Monterey Bay Aquarium

I've decided the crepuscular dive (just before darkness envelopes the reef) is my favorite. Our vision adjusts to the dimming light, our cameras take some of their most dramatic photos and videos, and the denizens of the reef are frantic in their attempts to score a before-bed snack, or are already snuggling into their protective cracks and crevices for the night. The jacks are tearing though the schools of Anthias. The Anthias are dashing in unison for the protective cover of the reef corals, and the groupers, lurking there with keen eye and open mouth, are doing just fine on Anthias snacks.

Stonefish do their rock-mimic act with elegant precision, and their unsuspecting prey are all but unaware of their presence. Divers with lights (a.k.a torches) are better equipped to pick them out. Thankfully! Contact with a stonefish would be a memorable event. Perhaps one's last memorable event.

It is the divers' lights that also illuminate the pygmy seahorses, a half-inch tall and tail-hooked to a feathery hydroid colony. They are saved by their tiny size (for a fish), stingy use of swimming as a sensible thing to do, and (perhaps) by the stings and venoms of the hydroids to which they anchor themselves.

Just over the edge of the reefs, looking upward from about thirty feet deep, the corals at the edge of the wall are silhouetted against the last light of day, providing some of the best photo ops of the day. Heading back to the skiff, I look back to see the several points of light – my companions still squeezing the last great find in their torchlight before batteries and SCUBA tanks are drained of their contents. The ride back to the Nai’a is a happy recounting of all the firsts and bests of the dive, bathed in the last rays of a gorgeous sunset.

As we approach the sparkling lights of the mother ships, loud cries of "bula!" ring out from the Fijian crew, welcoming us back to their floating "village." And the fifth great meal of the day.
And tomorrow we'll just have to do it all over again. Hot, wet work, but somebody has to do it!

- Steve Webster

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