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

 

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