Monday, March 12, 2012

Fiji: The Spectacular Sights of Namena Marine Reserve

For the past several years, the New England Aquarium has participated in a joint expedition to Fiji, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other conservation-minded groups and individuals. The last expedition took place in October and November 2010. Stay tuned to this blog to follow the team as they dive to collect data on the health of the coral reefs, pick up trash where they find it, check in with the villagers to see how some conservation initiatives are faring and further develop connections with the people that live on these beautiful Pacific islands.

Today's post comes from citizen scientist Bruce Thayer, blogging from Namena Marine Reserve, Kubulau Province, Republic of the Fiji Islands.

What if you were a kid and you, along with your buddies, had come up with names for all your favorite hangouts in the neighborhood?

Mushroom’s diverse hard coral head pokes through the water to within feet of the surface

Here on the NAI’A, you can experience that anew. Each day we visit the favorite happening dive sites of divers that came before us, and those divers bestowed names descriptive or colorful: Mushroom, Tetons, GoMo, Cat’s Meow. Some commemorate happy visits by marine dignataria such as Humann Nature, for fish guide author Paul Humann, or Howard’s Diner, named after famed underwater videographer Howard Hall. Maytag connotes a certain energy level/strength of the currents before you even arrive there, at least for American divers.

A 15’ wide giant manta Manta birostris approaches Teton 1’s pinnacle for cleaning by the site’s hardworking cleaner fishes. (And if you like this shot of a manta, check out this post from the 2010 Joint Aquarium Expedition: Mantapalooza!)

In Fiji there is a special group of favorite dive sites. They are particularly healthy, feature spectacular biomass, and it is no accident that they are that way. Surprise! These sites are all part of the Namena Reserve, a highly successful marine protected area (since ’83), and it happens to be where we are right now, for three days of dives! Life is good.

Multiple schools of fusiliers, damsels, anthias and others block out the sun on FantaSea

Some of Namena Reserve dive sites (including FantaSea, South Save-A-Tack, Two Thumbs Up) could easily be described as three ring circuses. Here’s one  argument:

North Save-A-Tack is one half of a historical short-cut for Fijian sailors heading between the islands of Vanua Levu and Ovalau, but it is so much more for divers! Dropping off the skiff straight into 2000 feet of blueness, the current pushes you towards the precipice’s shelf of shallows at 100 feet.  What ensues is beyond imagining: the deep water-shallow water interface is extensively patrolled by sharks, numerous trevally and barracuda schools, clouds of plankton-feeding red tooth triggers, big Malabar groupers lumbering about, dive bombing dog tooth tuna and king mackerel, and that’s just the immediate margin adjacent to the drop-off.

A blackfin barracuda Sphyraena qenie patrols the bottomless blue off North Save-A-Tack’s precipice

Moving ‘inland’ a couple hundred meters, a large coral arch beckons, and is the first landmark on the route to Oz or Kansas (both are pinnacles rising up to within feet of the surface, and part of this extensive site) and is the home to many table corals providing refugia for palette surgeons, the Dory of Finding Nemo fame. Leaving the arch behind, the route leads right through an extensive sandy patch populated by garden eels. Preparing to move on requires a compass heading of 210d so arriving at the destination of Kansas, is ensured. Kansas is a bommie topped by a thriving dense field of wheat, blowing in that previously mentioned ‘wind.’ OK, perhaps it is not wheat after all: Instead it is the soft coral Sinularia polydactyla. which has the color, texture, and flowing form of wheat. So rare to find such an evocative mono-cropped bommie (and there are some excellent theories as to how it came to be)! Kansas offers a myriad of sights, most intriguing of which is the complex layer of life dwelling amongst the soft corals’ bases, far below the waving tops.

Pacific trumpetfish Aulostomus chinensis stealthily maneuvering within Kansas’ fields of Singularia soft coral

The delights of such places are not unlike the childhood delights of those neighborhood hangouts.  Night dives in particular always remind me of running around the neighborhood with my childhood friends, flashlights wildly illuminating random this-n-that’s. Perhaps that is the reason I keep returning year after year?! Definitely one, of many.

Reefs under stress, though increasingly common, do not have to become the new normal. It is exemplars like those mentioned above that give us deep insights into healthy reef processes and dependencies. Only then do we have the opportunity for meaningful reef stewardship.

-Bruce Thayer

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this with all. Very nice picture gallery. I really like your post.