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Me diving

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fiji 2016: Nai'a Day 6: Wakaya Island

We woke up anchored very close to a little island called Wakaya Island. Where we were anchored was very flat and you could see patches of turquoise blue water out on the reef. It was pretty much what you'd think of when you think "tropical paradise".  We were diving at three sites, which were really just the same wall, which had somehow been divided into and named as three sites. But you could swim from one site to the next without much effort in a single dive. Anyhoo, the wall came up to 50'-80' depending on where you were, and there were various sizes bommies along the edge of the wall, some coming up as shallow as 15'.  The bommies were said to have lots of healthy hard coral and lots of fish on them. There were also some assorted interesting macro critters that were known to live here. But this was also supposed to be the best chance of the week to see big stuff like mantas, hammerheads, and turtles. There were a couple of cleaning stations along the wall that might have mantas or reef sharks on them.  We were also told during the briefing that this was the one day that dives would be limited to 60 minutes, because the sites were too far away to ferry people back to the boat (but the sites were still super close).

We started at Lion's Den, which is on one end of the wall. There was supposed to be a cleaning station ear the end. The coral on the site wasn't actually that impressive. I guess I just can't get that excited about hard corals... Their colors are just so dull compared to California hydrocoral :P. There was a pretty big school of fusiliers that we had fun playing with.  As we approached 60 minutes, I swam over close to Joshua, since I figured we could get away with staying until he headed up. He found a leaf scorpionfish and we were checking that out when I guess I heard Joshua make some noise and looked over to see a manta coming up over the reef!  I looked over at Rob to get his attention, and of course he was staring down and impervious to my signals. He finally looked up and we swam over to the manta. At this point, both groups of divers had ended up in the same are (remember how I said you could easily swim from one site to the next?), so it was pretty crowded. We got to watch it swim by, circle around, and swim off. When the show was over, everyone started their ascents. We were on our way from 20' to 10' when I think I saw Hollyce point down, and I looked down and saw that the manta was back. So we swam back down to the reef, and I was already videoing as we descended to it. The manta circles around us a few times and even got quite close to Rob as his camera was pointed at it. Woot!  There were only 4 of us down there, so we managed to actually get some photo/video time. After the manta took off, I turned to Rob to tell him that I really needed to ascend (because I was very low on gas), and saw him slashing his hand across his throat from about 15' away. Doh!  I had my long hose deployed forthwith and in his hands by the time we swam to each other and we immediately started our ascent. I showed him my gauge, so we just ascended sans stops. This was the first time I have had to donate gas for realsies, and I think it went pretty smoothly, though Rob told me not to put it in the blog :P. But just for the record, he estimates that he had about two breaths left when I donated (based on his "extensive experience with breathing stage bottles dry"). 

Breakfast was really really good today... French toast with bananas and coconut. The French toast tasted like it had a cinnamon batter and the bananas tasted like bananas foster :). After breakfast, we went to Vatu Vai, which is at the other end of the wall. There is a bommies that comes up to 15' right at the drop point, where there is often a cleaning station. So we were hoping for more manta action, though that did not end up happening. We did spend a lot of time looking out into the blue hoping for something though. Joshua found a cool pipefish at the bottom by that bommie, which looks like a twig with leaves on it.  Other than that, we took some video of anemonefish to pass the time. Everyone seemed to find it quite amusing that Rob lights for me when I video :)

After lunch, we went to Blue Ridge, which is the site between the two that we had done before.  We dropped in and looked into the blue for a couple of minutes, then moved over to the reef. Just a couple minutes later, Amanda's bell jingled, and there was a manta doing somersaults just off of the wall!  It stayed there doing barrel rolls and circling around us for a few minutes. It was awesome!  It took off and after a bit of waiting, we gave up and went back to the wall. A couple minutes later, Amanda signaled us again and this time, one manta did a fly-by and two more swooped by, but we just got one look and they were gone. That was it for mantas for that dive. Amanda found some cool macro critters, though, including another leaf scorpionfish, a cool Blenny with his shrimp companion, and a pair of juvenile regal angelfish, which are very pretty and look very different than the adult.  It was a good macro dive, though the mantas clearly mad it worthwhile to shoot wide angle :)

The afternoon snack involved some fantastic fresh baked chocolate brownie cookies.  They were like brownies, shaped like cookies. And they were huge. And I had two. For the night dive there was a bit of negotiating about whether to do a night dive at 6PM or a dusk dive at 5:30. I could not find any reason to care. In the end, the other skiff did a dusk dive and we did a usual night dive. We went back to Lions' Den.  Joshua was leading us and he promised to find us something that would "blow our minds". At first, I felt like the dive was not super productive in terms of finding macro critters, but then things picked up. We saw a ton of scorpionfish, including two leaf scorpionfish (found by moi). Joshua lived up to his promise but finding these two awesome slugs of hydroids. At first I thought they looked kind of tritonia like because of the shape of their frilly bits, but upon more careful inspection decided they looked like dendronotus. They were beigish with a very intricate pattern (that looked like diamonds to my eyes, but I guess are more like ovals). They struck me as pretty big for hydroids slugs. There was also the usual assortment of little crabs, a few blennies poking their heads out of the reef, and quite a few moray eels, mostly very small and cute, but one medium and one huge.  Overall it was a good macro dive. 

When we surfaced, Rob postulated that the cool slug was a tritonia; I told him I thought it was a dendronotus. He said he didn't think so. Well, it was in the "dendronotid nudibranchs" section of the book. While we were on the skiff, we noticed that there was a lot of bioluminescence in the water. Even when we weren't moving, it was like little flashes of light in the water. Once we got moving, in the boat wake we could see what looked liked sparks flying off of the boat. Very cool. This competed for our attention with the awesome view of the stars. It's just so dark out there!

After dinner (the highlight of which was an awesome dessert of brownie cheesecake with chocolate ice cream), we went up to the sun deck. Unfortunately the mast light was so bright that we could hardly see any stars. One of the crew on watch in the wheelhouse came out and asked if we wanted the mast light off to see stars. When he turned it off, it was like he flipped on the stars :). A bunch of us were looking at the stars, and we saw several shooting stars!  Eventually Joshua came up and he asked the crew to turn off the bridge lights too and the view got even better view. Eventually I got chilly so we headed downstairs and found some of the crew gathering with guitars on the dive deck. So we stayed and listened to them for a bit, and Rob had some kava. He said he could feel the tingle on his tongue this time. 

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