Monday, 28 September 2009

FIJI: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD

(21-09-09) All the dreamed exoticism of Southern Seas, is assembled in the remote islands of Fiji. Exuberant nature, warm locals and a spectacular underwater world.

A typical question at school was where the antipodes of Spain were located. “Anti... what?” It could be the classic answer of many children. With this term we mean the part of the world that lies just on the opposite side of where we are, well, in the case of the Iberian Peninsula, the antipodes would be located in the vicinity of the Fiji Islands, in the middle of the Pacific.

This remote and small archipelago lies 1,770 km north of New Zealand, it has all the classic ingredients of the South Seas, and, of course, an excellent dive, which makes the place be a dream destination for all divers in the world.

KADAVU ISLAND

This time we are going to discover one of the most remote areas of the archipelago. This is the island of Kadavu, located about 90 km south of the main island, Viti Levu. There, an interesting phenomenon of ecotourism has been doing for many years. A “private”, fisheries reserve has been created, managed by local people themselves and where the diving is particularly important.

In exchange for self-regulation of the fishermen, they charge a small tax on divers to ensure the preservation of the reefs. Here, large Asian fleets, which devastate the seas of the region, are unwelcome.

The diving in the area is around the Great Astrolabe Reef that runs over 120 km along the south-southwest coast of the island. Large areas of coral are lined as if they were a barrier to protect the lush coastline from storms. Also, several passages, which are the most interesting for the underwater exploration, appear. Wildlife is abundant and, especially spectacular.

In these turquoise waters the dream of any diver can came true: its abundance, size or rarity. Whales migrating that enter the reef lagoon, manta rays, different types of sharks, marlins and turtles will delight lovers of the great meetings. But for fans of the tiny things, ghost pipe fish or ribbon eel, along with many shrimp in soft corals or colourful nudibranchs, will make us fall into a fantasy world.

MEETING THE MANTA RAYS

One of the great attractions of the area is the abundance of manta rays, with sighting almost guaranteed. To do this we stand, after a long journey, in Manta Point, a coral plateau with a bottom of between 15 and 20 m that is place of appointment of these great animals.

We expectant cover the bottom of the sea, searching every corner. They spend a few minutes, but the animals are not going to miss the appointment. Depending on the time of the day and also the season, we can see them worming and eating. In the first case they are quieter, but the second one is certainly much more spectacular.

The manta rays come from the blue and start to turn back on themselves in a sort of exciting circle dance, a spectacle. With their big mouths and gill slits at full capacity, they introduce large amounts of plankton floating in the water.

They seem not to be tired because of spinning in what is basically a feast for them. The downside of this underwater ballet is that, obviously, the clarity is not much, precisely because of the amount of food that, after all, is why they come here.

One of the different entrances that open on the reef is known as Eagle Rock, since there is a large rock in its centre and encounters with sea eagles are usually frequent. It is a common area, and with great abundance of life. So, just we start the dive, two shoals welcome us: one of small barracuda, and the other one of carangid fish, prologue of the emotions that we are going to live.

We began the descent to glimpse the great rock. There is little current and do not see many animals. Our dive master, Jon, a native of the area and discoverer of these bottoms, starts to initiate a strange ritual. He takes a small plastic bottle from the pocket of his waistcoat and fills it partially with water. What is happening? Narcosis? We are just twenty metres deep. Once the operation finishes he starts to rub the bottle in his hands.

A dull and heavy sound is spreading across the submerged reef. The rate increases in a kind of frenzied “crescendo”. Suddenly the sharks, magically, begin to appear: first some oceanic white tip shark and then several gray sharks. Sharks undoubtedly are attracted by the sound, as they come very close to us. We can count, first, two, then three, five, even ten specimens.

This technique, as then Jon will tell us, attracts sharks. They come to find out what it is, and originally it was widespread across the Pacific either with shell rattles, wooden instruments, etc. They tried to get the attention of sharks to attract them and to catch them. These days, the purposes and instruments have changed, but the animals are still curious about this sort of ancestral call, a sound outside their silent world.

nagoro passage

This is a difficult dive, but it also is spectacular. It is into a large passage that the strength of the ocean has been digging for hundreds of years in the reef. Here, the reef wall has been cracked by the strength of the sea. This way, a passage as a perfect “v” that begins in the lake and ends in the deep blue of the open and wild ocean has been created.

Obviously, the currents in the area are strong, very strong, and we must exercise caution, besides having a good planning and knowledge of the area. We started taking advantage of the outgoing current. We are already under the water and, gradually, the current becomes more evident and pushes us towards the open sea. A hammerhead shark joins us in these early stages. In the area closest to the coast we can see sea gorgonian and soft corals that benefit from the hydrodynamics of the area.

But as we go along, the life on the walls disappears because of the virulence of the water. A tortoise seems to guide us in this oceanic path, which is gathering strength as we get closer to the exit. The walls are becoming steeper and deeper and the blue of the open sea gets an intense blue coloration.

In the blink of an eye we are out and we have to locate the outer wall not to get lost in the immensity of the sea. The surprises in this area are enormous, with numerous gray and white tip sharks, and the distant silhouette of a tiger shark. Large Napoleon fish or huge tuna walk on the area.

We still have time to repeat the experience, but this time in the opposite direction: from the sea to the lake. It is an interesting contrast to see two different realities. In this case it is essential the good work of our dive master to locate the entrance and go to that sort of giant funnel that, with the incoming current, quickly introduces us to the lake, where we can have fun with the great abundance of tropical fish. It is a feast for the eyes, after a frantic dive.

Text and Photos: Juan Carlos GarcĂ­a

http://www.marine-world.es/ingles/dives/fijijcg/fiji.html

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