For many years Jone (pronounced Johnny) was a dive guide at Paradise, back when it was still Suzie’s plantation. He says he’s been to all the best dive sites in Fiji: Namena, the Bligh waters, and of course Rainbow reef and Vuna reef. He now has over 6000 dives and lives in Germany where he works as a dive instructor taking Germans on their first dives in frigid lakes. He’s come back to Taveuni to reconnect for a few weeks but has bigger plans. Next year he hopes to return to Fiji to start his own dive shop focusing on teaching local Fijians how to dive. He says he wants to change people the way diving changed him. He wants Fijians to fall in love with the underwater world and want to protect it. If you just go fishing you never know what’s below. Even if you spearfish you only see things for fleeting moments. But if you go down and spend an hour studying the reef learning what everything is then you really appreciate it. Jone participated in the great butterfly fish count and other marine research projects, which showed him just how diverse the marine life can be. He says he’s seen anemone fish grow through most of their life cycle as he dove on the same sites and visited their homes each year. He’s also seen the coral suffer. He’s enjoyed his time away but now its time to come home and make a difference. He wants to help protect the reef and the best way to do that is to show more local Fijians what it is that’s worth protecting. Back 15 years ago he says there weren’t many dive masters, just him and a few others. Now there are more and more local dive masters and a growing number of local dive instructors like himself. Jone wants to keep the trend going.
Friday, May 29
Friday, May 15
Sara and James, our Dive Masters in training (DMTs) are now halfway through their stay and well in to the courses. They are currently completing the mapping exercise and have recorded the house reef in detail. But this isn’t the first time they’ve documented the undersea world. Just a couple months the were working at a marine research base on the island of Cagalai helping to accumulate baseline data on the condition of the reef.
Two years ago, large storms disturbed much of the reef around Cagalai. The research Sara and James assisted with looked at the density of fish, invertebrates, soft and hard corals and more. The information gathered will help to map out the reef around Cagalai. They will then present the data back to the villages on the island to allow them to decide where to have their marine protected areas (MPAs), or tabu areas where no fishing will be allowed to let the reef recover. Sara said that their were patches of reef that were still really good and she could see where the reef was bouncing back. She is hoping to return to Cagalai after her DMT course at Paradise to continue the research. She says she was doing about two dives a day, five days a week for three months and did around 100 dives while there. So you can understand why she would want to go back.
James worked underwater on the research team but also spent a lot of time in the local schools teaching about marine ecology and rubbish. He started with grades 1-4, mostly 6-7 year olds, which was a bit difficult due to the language barrier as they were just then learning English. But, he said he had more success with grades 5-8, those aged 10-11, who seemed to get it. The main focus of his teaching was understanding what was living, what was part of the natural environment, and what wasn’t - basically, why we want to keep the rubbish out of the ocean. Community meetings were also occurring within the villages and the whole effort was leading to the opening of a recycling center with songs and entertainment provided by the school kids to celebrate.
In addition, there were beach clean-ups, underwater clean-ups that collected a lot of fishing line. Sara says her favorite were the opistobranch surveys to look for nudibranchs. Often, she would find a whole family of nudibranchs together and find 6-8 different types on one survey. Both are great divers and are sure to become Dive Masters with ease. Paradise is pleased to host two divers who have done some great work for Fiji.
Thursday, April 23
If you ask Salote when she decided to become a divemaster, she’ll tell you about when she was in grade school, around the age of nine, and would picnic every Saturday and go swimming with a mask looking for sharks. Her family’s from Vuna village and the people there tell a story of a chief who lost his daughter. The chief stood in the lagoon in front of Vuna and he became a shark and searched far and wide for his daughter. He eventually found her but he remained a shark, and today the people of Vuna say that his spirit protects them from the sea and that no shark will ever bite them. It was way back then that Salote fell in love with the ocean.
Today, Salote has followed in the footsteps of two of her uncles and become a divemaster, though she says she hopes to one day be a dive instructor. Her favorite dive spot is Jerry’s Jelly on Rainbow reef when there’s a strong current to bring out all the soft coral and its four blue ribbon eels. She says her favorite dive group to lead around were the divers from Jack’s Diving Locker in Hawaii and she looks forward to them coming back. And when she’s not diving she likes to play guitar and sing - a talent she put on display one night when she performed her favorite song ‘See Beneath Your Beautiful’ for a crowd of guests at Fiji Night. If you plan to come diving at Paradise be sure to request for her to play it as it’s well worth a listen.
Thursday, April 9
Imagine being told that you would be the dive guide for Jean-Michel Cousteau. Impossible you say, he is the expert. The son of the great oceanic explorer Jacques Cousteau who helped create scuba diving, Jean-Michel discovered many of the dive sites throughout Fiji and has produced 70 documentary ﬁlms on the undersea world. To be a dive guide for someone so eminent would be like giving Barack Obama a tour of the White House. But it was just such a task that was asked of Willy as a young divemaster. Of course he was nervous, but the dive went great. And of the great oceanographer Willy says his buoyancy was amazing. “He hardly used his ﬁns, just his breath.”
That was back when Willy worked at the Jean-Michel Cousteau resort and spent most of his days diving in the Namena marine reserve. One of his favorite dive spots is called Chimneys, named for the large stacks of coral that dominate the site. He says the currents strong there and the dive would follow within the lee of the coral heads while large pelagics swam about. It sounds like a great place to learn the ropes. Willy certainly doesn’t mind a bit of current as I found out when I dove with him at the Great White Wall on an especially rough day. Based on his excited, up-beat personality some characterize Willy as a bit crazy, but I’d say he’s much more focused than people realize, knowing his limits and staying within them. But he sure is fun to dive with. He has a knack for spotting the big stuff: moray eels hiding in the coral and sharks that blend into the big blue.
Thursday, April 2
The new boat has arrived. The 45-foot Taveuni Explorer has returned from Nadi where it was dry-docked and fully refurbished. It is returning home. The boat was originally laser cut in Australia and assembled in Taveuni 21 years ago by Spencer Tarte who’s family has lived in southern Taveuni since the late 1800s. It has gone as far as Tonga and back and to many islands in between. The Taveuni Explorer boasts seating for 26 divers with double tanks, 18 on its upper deck, a freshwater shower, kitchenette, and twin Iveco 333 horsepower in-board diesel engines.
So what do we have planned with our new vessel you ask? Well let’s see. How about an overnight ﬁshing trip to Koro island, through the Koro sea’s chain of basaltic cinder cones which support abundant ﬁsh life. Island hopping to Kioa, Rabi, and Ringold island to look for manta rays. Circumnavigating Taveuni to see all the waterfalls on the windward eastern side that are only accessible by sea. Whale watching in August when the Humpbacks arrive. Or, sunset cruises with sparkling wine and nibbles. But, we are perhaps most excited about overnight dive expeditions to Namena marine reserve. The Taveuni Explorer has bunks for two couples and crew for ﬁve dives on one Taveuni’s most pristine reefs. We’re so excited we don’t know where to start.
Thursday, March 26
With two dive master brothers and a sister working on her advanced open water, scuba diving seems to run in the family for Kiti, our local dive master in training here at Paradise. There must be a bit of pressure to do well, but he shrugs it off like it’s no big deal. Perhaps all the talk around the dinner table has prepared him for his training.
Kiti is going all the way: from the first instruction on open water, through the advanced courses (fish identification, deep dive, night dive, and navigation), on to rescue diver and ultimately dive master. He just started in February. For most the path to dive master takes a bit longer. But for Kiti, it’s a crash course that he seems to have been anticipating, because he’s doing pretty good - comfortable at depth, with keen eyes to spot the smallest critters, and good on his air. Yet, he can’t afford to get to cocky yet.
Kiti says the sea creature he’s looking for most is a seahorse, a highly camouflaged find that takes many dives and good fortune. His favorite so far is the blue ribbon eels in front of the resort. Once he completes his dive master he says he’ll take a break before attempting an instructor course and hopes to stick around Taveuni for a while. He says his older brother who once worked here as a dive master got married and moved to Germany and is now feeling the cold. His youngest sister is only six. I expect he’s already telling stories of the things he sees on his dives. Perhaps in ten years she’ll be the one working on her dive master.
Monday, March 23
With Cyclone Pam around Vanuatu kicking up a fuss, giving us wind and rain from the north, we decided to look for some new shore dives on the south side of the island. Vuna village has always welcomed us to come visit so we decided to ask the chief if we could dive Vuna reef from their backyard. We were given the okay and shown to a small rocky cove. With no idea what they would find dive instructor Antoni led three of our more experienced guests, Matt, Laura and Sally, over the rock and coral bottom at high tide and out to the ledge. Schools had been canceled because of the weather and a large group of children looked down from the rocky outcrop. It was the first time they'd seen scuba divers in their village. Some had taken tentative sips of air from our regulators to see how the scuba gear worked. The men of the village regularly collect shellfish and go spearfishing here, free diving to great depths including the young high chief himself who commands just over half the island's landmass. But as yet the intrepid four would be the first scuba divers to explore the site at length.
I stood on the beach tracking their bubbles through my binoculars, occasionally letting the kids have a look, phone ready in case any problems should occur. The kids lost interest and wandered off and it was just me and a couple others sitting there when the divers resurfaced 50 minutes after their descent. They swam through the small surf back to the beach and we got their gear off. "Amazing," they said. "Lots of ghost coral everywhere, some really big ones, bigger than we've seen anywhere else. The hard corals were probably the best on Vuna reef with plenty of large plates and branching staghorn." The dive site in the protected southern bay is sheltered from the storm surges that would have hammered much of the reef during previous cyclones. Then, after the second dive, they came back reporting seeing several eagle rays, one especially large and old. It was a good dive site, maybe even great. The villagers said in June and July the surf would be pumping and a hundred kids on school holidays would be surfing on any piece of plywood they could find, vying for the few surfboards available. But for now we had found a great site to get us through the cyclone season until the surf arrived. And we had claimed a moment in history: the first descent at the reef off Vuna village. Special thanks must be given to the chief for giving us the opportunity. We promise to take good care of the site.
Friday, March 13
With a few thousand dives between them you would think, Paradise Pro Dive Team’s dive instructors Kate and Antoni would have seen it all by now. But they still get excited to see manta rays, sharks, and all that Somosomo strait has to offer.
Kate began diving eight years ago on a whim and instantly fell in love with it. Originally from Melbourne, she found herself in Queensland at Airlie Beach diving amongst sharks. She said, like many, she was initially scared but even more drawn to the underwater world. Over the several years she traveled all over Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Borneo, Galapagos, Mexico, and Zanzibar. But it was in Honduras where she met Antoni, her instructor for her dive master course at the time. Together they swam with whale sharks and turtles. A year later she did her instructor course and was working on a live-aboard diving six days a week, five dives a day on the Great Barrier reef, the most famous dive site in the world. She says one of her favorite underwater experiences was cage diving with great whites in Southern Australia and hopes to one day dive with dugongs in Western Australia. But for now she’s more than happy diving with the manta rays here in Paradise.
Antoni was born in Reunion island, a former French territory off of Madagascar. It is a beautiful mountainous island with a wide mix of cultures. He started diving there for fun but started getting serious after completing his instructor course in France. He says his favorite diving is off the north coast of Madagascar where one can see ghost pipe fish and a variety of sharks including whale sharks. His most daring feet was completing a six tank TEC dive to 75 meters off Utila island in Honduras.
Kate and Antoni have come to Paradise on a six month visa. Afterwards they will be traveling to France, Madagascar, Reunion and then back to Australia. But for now they're doing as many dives as they can while they're here.
Tuesday, February 24
Road Scholar is a different sort of travel agency. They offer educational tours with renowned experts in the ﬁeld that provide a greater experience than your average tourist can normally expect. Their primary clientele are American senior citizens with a thirst for knowledge and adventure. Paradise Taveuni has been pleased to host oceanographer Lora Van Uffelen as she shares the underwater world with her band of Road Scholars.
Lora specializes in ocean acoustics, the way sound travels through water. Her research focuses on how marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins, use ocean acoustics to communicate with each other and how we can use their natural communication networks to learn more about these elusive creatures. Her study aims to help create an autonomous sea glider, a robotic submersible, that will be able to travel through the seas gathering information about marine mammals following them by sound. She has worked in oceans around the world from San Diego to Taiwan and the Philippines.
For her travels to Fiji she got back to the basics, teaching how the vast ocean works circulating currents in a giant ecosystem. Each day the Road Scholars have gone snorkeling at a different location observing a piece of that ecosystem. Lora’s ﬁnal talk explained how the ocean is changing from ocean acidiﬁcation to overﬁshing. Sea-level rise will soon bring climate refugees from Kiribati to Fiji as their islands become inundated by water. Lora focused particularly on plastics which break down in the oceans to the size of microscopic plankton and are in turn ingested by ﬁlter feeders like baleen whales and many other creatures. Her talk moved us at Paradise to think about how we too can limit the amount of plastic we use.
To learn more about the Road Scholars program here in Fiji you can visit their website at: http://www.roadscholar.org/n/program/summary.aspx?id=1%2D4LRKSL
To learn more about the impact of plastics, check:
Monday, February 23
If you’ve ever misplaced or lost your dive logbook, you know how precious those little scraps of paper are. Well, PADI has found a solution. At PADI’s Scuba Earth website you can log all of your dives digitally to the internet where they will never be lost. You can also share your dive experiences with divers around the world.
Paradise Taveuni has now uploaded its dive sites for the southern portion of Taveuni around Vuna reef. Go onto Scuba Earth and check out the 14 dive sites that only Pro Dive Taveuni can take you to. With names like the Fish Factory, Foreplay, and Orgasm, you know there’s going to be some exciting things to see. You can plan your trip before you even come.
And keep checking. We’ll be adding photos and videos from are archives.