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.
 

A Moment with Pilot Whales: Sea Shepard volunteers dive at Paradise


“Sometimes we see pilot whales this time of year," the divemaster explained, "but there is no promise we will see them today.” 

No sooner was it said then the dark silhouettes of a pod of pilot whales presented themselves.  We approached slowly while E.B. and Sarah excitedly scampered to the bow to get a better look.  They’ve spent the past few months volunteering for Sea Shepherd, a conservation group who’s mission it is to end the slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans.  Sea Shepherd has three vessels with which it takes direct action to expose and confront illegal harvesting of marine life on the high seas.  They are most famous for their efforts in the Great Southern Ocean to stop the harvest of whales by Japanese fishermen, doing whatever it takes to force fishing vessels out of their hunting grounds.  But, in fact, Sea Shepherd has campaigns all over the world including the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean where pilot whales are slaughtered by the hundreds.  Thus, it is a relief for E.B. and Sarah to be able to see pods of these lovely creatures peacefully laying in the sun with their young calves. 

“Can we snorkel with them?” Sarah asked.

“You can try, but they will probably run away.”

Slowly, the couple slid into the water, careful not to make a splash and calmly began to swim towards the pod.  I expected them to disappear under the surface immediately but they continued to lay undisturbed, so I grabbed my own mask and snorkel and followed behind.  The visibility wasn’t good.  We kept swimming closer but couldn’t yet see them, popping our heads above the water intermittently to check that they were still there.  It wasn’t until we were within a few meters that they became visible hanging just beneath the surface, the faint outline of their eye watching us.  We lay limply, exhaling deeply, imitating their behavior naturally.  The big bull scrutinized us seeing we meant no harm.  We believe the pod stayed because it had a young calf it would not abandon.  We stayed for a little while and then swam back to the boat ensuring it didn’t get too close and resumed our day of diving on a new high.

Sea Shepherd has had a lot of success yet still has a lot of work ahead of it as well.  The Japanese fishing fleet announced that it would not be hunting whales this year, giving Sea Shepherd a chance to focus on the illegal fishing of Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea, more commonly known in restaurants as Chilean seabass.  Little is yet known about the toothfish that lives in the world’s coldest waters.  It has anti-freeze in its blood and matures very slowly.  The Ross Sea was once called the ‘Last Ocean‘ because it was the only sea where fishing had yet to be performed, but now that is changing drastically and fast as toothfish off the coast of Chile are being fished out and fishermen are turning southward.

To learn more about Sea Shepard and all of their efforts go to: http://www.seashepherd.org

 

Wednesday, February 11

Boat Training: Api in Paradise


In preparation for the arrival of a new and bigger boat, the boat captains of Paradise resort are currently undergoing training to obtain their class 6 boat captain’s license.  The new boat will be more powerful and capable of rounding the entire island of Taveuni, including the wind-swept eastern side that offers lovely views of waterfalls cascading into the ocean.

They are being trained by Apisei Saidora, or Api for short (pronounced Happy, to the left in photo).  Api is teaching all sorts of nautical knowledge from different types of knots and lines to how to identify boats far at sea by only the type of lights they have.  So far the highlight of his trip has been the school of dolphins that followed the boat as they brought guests along the coast from the airport to Paradise resort.

Api is Fijian and grew up across Somosomo strait in Buca (pr. bu-tha) bay on the island of Vanua Levu.  He spent many years working as second officer aboard ships up to 80 meters in length, so he knows his way around the deck of a vessel.  In his younger years he traveled all across Polynesia from New Zealand and Australia to the Marshall Islands with stops in Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands.  He has met the many people of the Pacific throughout his travels and can share a few stories.  In 2009, he was aboard a vessel anchored just off of Samoa, when early in the morning he heard the anchor channel rattle hard.  The captain decided to weigh anchor and move further to sea where it was safer.  As they were out at sea they learned that a magnitude 8.1 submarine earthquake had caused the tsunami that smashed into the Samoa coast.  It was thanks to the cautiousness of the captain and the strong anchor chain that the ship was spared.  Though as they sat offshore they could only watch the news unable to help.  Another time Api was aboard a vessel in seas so rough two containers broke free.

It is only recently that regulations have been put in place to require all boat drivers, from hotel resorts to local fishermen, to have up-to-date boating licenses due to a rash of accidents around Fiji.  Paradise resort is more than happy to comply and has always maintained the upmost professional standard as it travels to dive sites far and wide.

Friday, February 6

Ocean Art Winner

 
The winner of the 2014 Ocean Art Competition and a 7-night dive package at Paradise Taveuni Resort was announced yesterday.  The winner of the Wananavu prize is Ray Collins.  Ray received first place in both the wide-angle category and Best of Show for his through-the-barrel shot at Kirra Point, Australia.  About his winning shot, Ray writes, “I love to make images underwater. The sand on the Gold Coast reflects light really well so it is one of my favourite local places to shoot. On this morning I was trying to show the clarity and surroundings while composing for the wave to go past me.”  We can’t wait to see what shots he can produce when he gets here.  Congratulations Ray who was up against a lot of other great photographers.  Feel free to check out all the top shots entered in the contest at:
http://www.uwphotographyguide.com/2014-ocean-art-contest-winners
and check out more of Ray Collins wave shots at his facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/raycollinsphotographer