Today's post and pictures about the first dives of the joint Fiji's expedition comes from former scientist with Monterey Bay Aquarium Steve Webster.
|More than 10-foot gorgonian (sea fan) | Photo: K. Ellenbogen|
4AM on the NAI'A (I’m still on California time). Four days into the charter, and a good time to edit trip video and contemplate where we are and what the day is likely to bring. Of course, while Bailey and the others see a grand array of Fiji’s reef fishes, I can do an entire dive and not see a single fish. But the adhesive anemones, popcorn shrimps, Bonelia worms, sea cucumbers, sponges, corals. Forests of colorful soft corals, sea slugs, cleaner shrimps, feather stars – they’re everywhere! Actually, I take it back. In approaching a goby shrimp in its burrow, the associated goby managed, as usual, to get in the way. So I did see a fish.
|Coral residing hermit crab (Paguritta corallicola), site: Heidi’s Hideaway|
Photo: K. Ellenbogen
I’ve been lucky to visit two areas in Indonesia this year – Raja Ampat and Sulawesi. [Aquarium explorers visited sea mounts in Raja Ampat and the pictures were stunning.] Wonderful critters in both locations, but I enjoy Fiji’s reefs better no matter where we anchor for the day the variety of spectacular bommies and reefs is just outstanding. Massive reefs that stretch for hundreds or even thousands of yards, with nearby bommies shaped like 100-foot high silos. The bommies are capped with beautiful healthy corals and sponges, and a spectacular array of (yes!) fishes. These bommies tops are usually between just ten and twenty-five feet of the surface, so the sunlight (the sun came out yesterday!) makes these areas as spectacular as any reef site in the world. And at that depth we could stay all day, but for having to return to the NAI’A for another terrific meal–fuel to keep us going for the 3rd, 4th or 5th dive of the day.
|Anker’s whip coral shrimp Pontonides ankeri, site: NAI’A Fly’a|
The reefs this year are healthy in Fiji. No evidence of any recent coral bleaching events. But as the ocean warms they will come, and will be more frequent and more severe. If the reefs are here 20 years from now, it will be only because Humankind decided to get its collective act together and get serious about slowing the pace of climate change. Coral reefs, like polar bears, are the “canaries in the mine.” They will be among the first to go as the ocean warms just a very few more degrees. So let’s get serious, folks! To paraphrase one of my favorite quotes from nature writer Barry Lopez: “One of the great dreams of Mankind must be to find a place between the extremes of nature and civilization where we can live without regret”. Amen. I hope your grandchildren will be able to enjoy these reefs just as we do.
|Soft coral’s schlerites close-up (Dendronephthya sp.), site: wreck of the Nasi Yalodina|
Photo: K. Ellenbogen
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.