NAI'As Ark Part II - Naia meets NAI'A
Another ten days in Paradise! The Fiji winter has arrived, and with it some of our favorite sightings, like multiple manta rays and hammerheads! We also had some unusual nudibranchs, sea kraits, leaf scorpionfish and reef sharks. All peppered with a gazillion fusiliers, anthias, snappers, barracudas and so much reef health that Kathy had tears of joy on some of our dives.
Much like on our previous trip, this charter had a lot of double names and we spent most of the first days trying to tell our two Debbies, two Marks, two Bobbies (Why, Bobby, why???) and three Toms apart. At least Naia (the guest) and NAI’A (the ship) were easy to tell apart! It was Naia’s graduation trip and she wanted to see the boat that inspired her name.
Photo by Mark Snyder: Fiji colors
Photo by Mark Snyder: Village visit
Photo by Tom H: From down below
Our first day was at Vatu-i-ra. Our currents were mild but which helped with getting our divers back into the swing of things. Debbie C, Kathy, Donna and Bobbie (the Mother Muckers) were intent on learning as many Fiji fish species as possible. Debbie was even going to do some REEF surveys, but the Fiji sheet was more than a little overwhelming! The abundance of the Marine Reserve was a good introduction to Fiji diving. We saw our regulars, plus a moray eel and a pikachu-esque nudibranch (black and white instead of yellow and black).
We moved to Namena for two full days of incredible dives. Our very first dive had strong currents but the rest were mild, easy and relaxing, yet very fishy. We saw octopuses, gray reef and white tip sharks, orangutan crab, juvenile ribbon eels, squarespot anthias, barracudas of multiple species, an absurd amount of scads, Spanish mackerels, schooling bannerfish, humphead wrasses, golden mantis shrimps and two rare nudibranchs (protaeolidia juliae and haminoea cymbalum). On the night dives we saw bobtail squid, a pleurobranch and multiple colonies of skeleton shrimps.
Photo by Tom H: Fans and soft corals
Photo from Mark Snyder: Trevalies
Photo by Tom H: Kansas from below
We travelled to Makogai and dived Vatu Vula (a little uneventful, but covered in hundreds of exquisite flasher wrasses) followed by our regular bommies. We saw a turtle, a sea krait, leaf scorpionfish, Papuan scorpionfish, various lionfish, redfin anthias, flabelinas, whitecap shimpgobies, cleaner shrimp/moray eel partnerships and a damselfish attacking the hell out of a juvenile crown of thorn sea star.
Photo by Tom H: Crown of thorn sea star. You can see where the damselfish has been nibbling on it.
Photo by Mark L: Sea krait
Photo by Mark Snyder: Lionfish
Our next stop was Gau for Nigali Passage and the bommies. Nigali was a lot of fun with multiple grey reef sharks, a few white tips, loads of barracudas and snappers as well as trevallies. Bel made some bubble rings at the bleachers, attracting curious grunts and snappers, and then the grey reefs. Inside the lagoon, we spotted juvenile rockmover wrasses, humphead wrasses, big groupers and a gorgeous flatworm. The highlight of the day, however, went to snorkeling with manta rays after our third dive. Sensing it was a good day for them, we had the skiff drivers keep an eye for them on the surface and they recalled the divers once they spotted the mantas. We swam with 5 or 6 of them, and Mighty Righty even got to see at least three on their dive. Well played, Gau. Well played. Our village visit was a fabulous way to end this fantastic day.
Photo by Tom H: Gau manta magic. Plenty of food for them!
Photo by Mark Snyder: Mike and cat on village visit
Photo by Mark Snyder: Village visit
We crossed to Wakaya and had some challenge with the current on our first and third dives. The current went out all day, making for poor visibility, but compensated by a sighting of 15-20 hammerheads (plus another one on the wall), turtles, leaf scorpionfish, barracudas and a ginormous dogtooth tuna. Out away from the wall we saw a pteropod, some juvenile fish, salp colonies and… oh, yes, another 5 or 6 mantas, barrel feeding away from the wall, on dives 2 and 4. What a treat. Between the two days of manta sightings, we got identification on 8 of them, and 6 are new to the Manta Trust database (they are now named Tina Turner, Virginia, Firefly, Krill-kie Monster, Chilli and Gaeta). Mantastic! On the night dive, a seafood buffet with marble shrimps, decorated crabs and a squid.
We started the following day at Vuya diving the ever amazing Cat’s Meow and Humann Nature. Despite the amazing scenery underwater, we had very adverse conditions topside and decided to move over to Vatu-i-ra where we have more shelter from the swells.
Photo by Mark Snyder: Debbie C and Bel do a very effective manta dance
Photo by Tom H: Anemone fish
Photo by Tom H: Fishy Humann Nature
Over the last three days we dived the Sea Mounts and more Vatu-i-ra sites we hadn’t seen before as well as revisited some of the favorites. At the Sea Mounts we had some hammerhead sightings and a very action filled dive at the end of the day, with sharks, groupers, trevallies, barracudas and snappers patrolling the side of Mount Mutiny, covered in fusiliers and surgeonfish. At Vatu-i-ra, Coral Corner was sharky and completely covered with fish, sending Kathy to tears of joy. There were octopus and turtle sightings, a black leaf scorpionfish and a very rare Adam’s flasher wrasse.
Photo by Mark Snyder: Fiji tomato anemone fish
Photo by Tom H: Cathedral
Photo by Tom H: Dena in the Cathedral
It has been a fun trip with divers of diverse backgrounds and multiple levels of experience. We learned to tell everyone apart, we got to know sweet Naia, we got to see what terrible goat sounds these lovely people make. The sun shined strong for the last two days of our trip and we hope that’s the memory that stays, as well as all the laughter shared in the salon every day.
Photo by Jay: NAI'A and Naia
Photo by Koroi: Our mighty group heading to our village visit
“Any country with coral reef like this has a national treasure that should be protected. Fiji is one of the few lucky countries.”
~ Roger Steene, photographer, author, naturalist