Thursday, April 23

Local Divemaster Salote


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

Local Divemaster Willy


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 Taveuni Explorer

 

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

Local Dive Master in Training, Kiti


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

First Descent at Vuna Village dive site


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

Kate and Antoni, Dive Instructors


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

Lora Van Uffelen & the Road Scholars


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:
www.itsaplasticworld.com
 

Monday, February 23

Scuba Earth


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.

Thursday, February 19

Local Dive Master, Christine Riley


Here at Paradise Taveuni, we are proud of our local dive masters and want to introduce you to some of them. Meet Christine Riley. 

Christine grew up on Taveuni island in Waimaqera, a coastal farming settlement where people grow dalo, yaqona, and vegetables, and raise goats and pigs.  Growing up she was always swimming in the ocean.  Two years ago, Christine took a six month break from Fiji National University to make some money back home.  She was working at Paradise in housekeeping when she was asked if she would like to try a Discover Scuba Diving course.  She says she immediately loved diving and decided to pursue more training. 

The dive instructor at the time was a local named Charlie Valentine who she knew from growing up.  But, even if they knew each other, Charlie didn’t take it easy on her.  Christine says he was a tough instructor and even if she got the answer correct he would ask if she was sure.  If she wasn’t sure she would have to look it up just to be certain.  Even if the course was difficult though, Christine says it was fun and kept her diving.

Now, two years later, Christine has dove on every dive site around Taveuni many times over: Rainbow reef, Vuna reef and all the shore dives.  She says her favorite dive sites are those that offer lots of ‘micro-stuff and turtles’, such as the Stairs on Vuna reef, the Purple Wall on Rainbow reef, Dolphin Bay just down the road and Paradise Reef just in front of the resort.  Recently, she’s been filling in as boat driver while the boat captains complete their training and can’t wait to get back into the water. Christine says she doesn’t like to make plans for the future because they usually don’t work out so for now she expects just to keep diving and see what happens.  Sounds like a good plan to me.
 

Monday, February 16

Protect Our Sharks


Most readers are likely accustomed to enjoying pleasurable stories of our life in Paradise, and, by and large, the sunsets keep things pretty rosy-tinted here.  But recently we learned of something so distressing that we cannot, in good conscience, sweep it under the rug.

A few days ago, a leopard shark was found dead on the beach and we have since learned that it had been thoughtlessly killed by local fishermen.  Paradise Taveuni is outraged that such a thing should happen.  We feel it is our duty to help educate the community on the value of sharks, not just to the tourist economy, but to the ecosystem itself. 

Yes, sharks attract tourists from all over the globe to dive in our waters and in doing so bring large amounts of money to our small island economy.  But more importantly, sharks play an important role in the health of the reef.  Like all natural predators in the wild, they feed on the weak including those that are sick.  By removing sick fish from the population they limit the spread of disease and make the overall fish population healthier, allowing the stronger fish to breed more vigorously.  A healthy population of herbivorous fish in turn clean algae from the reef and allow the coral to grow healthier providing more food and housing for other fish.  Sharks help support a reef with more fish for divers and fishermen alike.  One can compare it to raising a herd of livestock.  If you raise cattle and one of them gets sick you remove that one from the herd so it does not spread disease to all the others.  The shark performs the same function.

Sharks are often misconceived as dangerous animals.  In Fiji, writings from the early 1800s described sharks living in the larger rivers that would bite swimmers.  At that time newly-introduced European diseases were causing widespread epidemics of smallpox, measles, and other deadly killer infections.  The people died in such numbers that they were simply thrown into the rivers to dispose of them.  This practice led sharks to move into the rivers to feed on the abundant food supply of sick and dying people fulfilling their role cleaning the ecosystem.  Occasionally, an exploratory nibble discovered that the body was still alive, especially once immunity developed and the free food supply began to decline.  Today, shark attacks are extremely rare.

The leopard shark is a carpet shark meaning that it patrols the sea bottom.  It is extremely unlikely that it would ever bite a person, unless they were dead at the bottom of the ocean 60 meters down.  There is absolutely no reason to kill them from the wild.  The same is true of every other shark on the reef who prefers a free meal of something dead, sick, or if they absolutely have to work for it a fish or turtle, but never a person.

So, if while fishing, one ever gets a shark hooked on one’s line, which may happen when bait-fishing, do the right thing - cut the line and leave the hook to work itself out.  We don’t want anyone losing their fingers trying to get the hook out and its easy enough with a quick flip of the knife.  But to leave a shark dead on the beach is unthinkable.  It is destructive to the ecosystem and will lead to fewer fish for fishermen and divers, and is distressing to anyone on a casual walk on the beach whether they are a tourist or not.

We know this is one of those stories that everyone will find really weird to click that ‘like’ button on Facebook.  We’re not asking you to like what’s happened.  But we do want you to spread the word and ‘like’ that someone’s standing up for the rights of the sharks.  Many islands across the Pacific are making a pledge to make their waters shark sanctuaries.  If you think Fiji should protect its sharks click ‘like’ because that’s something worth feeling good about.