Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fiji 2013 | Expect the Unexpected—Lights Out

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 Spring 2012

Today's post about the joint aquarium Fiji expedition comes from the Aquarium supporter and Boston Harbor Cruises Vice President Alison Nolan. (Our partners at Boston Harbor Cruises present the New England Aquarium Whale Watch.) Photos by Keith Ellenbogen.

Last blog I had proudly logged 633 minutes of dive time on a grand total of 16 dives.

In fact, it was earlier in the trip on dive #7 while diving a site called School House that I took a few deep breaths, looked around and realized that diving was in fact for me and something that would carry through the rest of my life as a personal interest and passion. So there I was, hooked on dive #7, full of enthusiasm but still nervous and keenly aware of being few thousand dives behind those around me. I continued to spend as much time thinking about what I was doing and where I was, as I did looking at the reef and fish that surrounded me. I was stuck but the sense that in some ways I was missing the best part of the movie.

Water column nearly empty at sunset, planktivore fishes settled in for night 
Site: Kansas Reef, Namena Marine Reserve, Fiji

So when asked to participate in my first night dive, it seemed a great and appropriate idea in this week of new things. So at 840 minutes on the dive clock I hit the skiff and, as we motored away from Nai’a, became keenly aware of how completely dark it was. Armed with my new underwater light and seated next to my fearless buddy Dive Master Joe we hit the water and began the night dive hand in hand. Being underwater in the dark is a unique experience much of which I was prepared for but one feeling in particular I was not.

Auger shell Terebra maculata occupied by hermit crab (Clibanarius sp.)
Site: Kansas Reef, Namena Marine Reserve, Fiji

Visibility in Fiji is usually excellent which means that as far as the eye can see there is vibrant color, life, movement, activity and vast expanses surrounding you completely and in many ways overwhelming the senses.  It’s a singularly stimulating experience.

Black blotch stingray (Taeniura meyeni) resting on sand flat
Site: Kansas Reef, Namena Marine Reserve, Fiji

However, once underwater in the inky black with just the beam of my torch and that of my buddy Joe I found myself suddenly and completely relaxed. This was my first experience of absolute calm and comfort underwater and so entirely unexpected for it to be happening in the dark. The narrowing of field of vision to such a small area had the effect of narrowing your focus so that outside distractions fade away and you are left with the enjoyment of the moment. My first night dive was another reminder for me that the things that are most fulfilling are not always the ones you expect. It is always worth the try.

Dash-dot goatfish (Parupeneus barbeinus) in night coloration Site: Kansas Reef, Namena Marine Reserve, Fiji

Dash-dot goatfish (Parupeneus barbeinus) in day coloration

It wasn’t  new adventures for me, only. As it turns out, when a group as knowledgeable and experienced as the New England Aquarium and Monterey Bay Aquarium Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition climb aboard the Nai’a; the vessel’s crew decide it is high time to check out reefs and locations that have yet to be explored.  Five unexplored dive sites to be exact! To me, there is no better group to explore and evaluate the health and condition of a reef and its inhabitants than this. Because of this trip, the Nai’a, her crew and the members of this expedition will continue to explore, monitor and advocate on behalf of these special sites for years to come.

Night creatures emerge: Giant Synaptid Cucumber (Synapta maculata), length, 6 feet 
Site: Kansas Reef, Namena Marine Reserve, Fiji

As with my night dive opening new horizons for me, these five previously unexplored dive sites expanded the awareness and understanding of this delicate habitat. Continued exploration, study and awareness of the blue planet and its special places like Fiji are important not to just new divers like me who hope to return someday but for each of us.

Stay tuned to this blog to follow the team as they dive to collect data on the health of the coral reefspick 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.  

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