On our second dive yesterday, a few of us got to go to a sandy patch reef to check out a big bommie (a large coral head). This bommie was the size of a large boulder, and served as a cleaning station. Schools of fish resided here and gathered around the bottom and sides, as in the bommie’s crevices were dozens of cleaner shrimp. I counted at least six different species. These shrimp wait for schools of fish to come by, and then they proceed to pick off parasites, bacteria, or dead skin. It’s like an underwater car wash for fish.
A banded coral shrimp waiting in its hole, scouting for a fish to swim by to clean for a meal. A great opportunity to see symbiotic relationships at work!
There is so much to see in even a square foot of space that its easy to just pick a spot and lay still for a while, observing all the interspecies interactions go on. This was my second dive at the spot, so it was a great chance for me to hone in on some close up underwater photography skills (which I’ve been enjoying improving each dive). I’d overheard that Professor Peterson had his hand cleaned the first time we got to check out the spot, so I was curious to try it for myself. A little nervous at first, I placed my hand by a rock with a few Dancing Shrimp on it. After a few moments, they hopped on and began picking at the skin around my nails. Their pinching was certainly…thorough. I stayed for a few seconds as the shrimp went to work, and took some photos. It was truly an unforgettable experience, and just one of the many ways of feeling immersed in the environment around me.
A dancing shrimp climbing onto my hand to begin picking away. If only I could always wash my hands like this.
When getting your dive certification one thing the instructor will warn you about (or at least mine did) is the importance of equalizing or clearing your ears and other “air pockets”. Over the past few days there have been some of us who have been getting sick or have had difficulty with equalizing; this can cause not only discomfort during your dive but can potentially result in having a ruptured eardrum or other types of injuries caused by the water pressure.
Thankfully everyone who has been having some form of equalization troubles have been able to overcome the oncoming colds and congestion with plenty of sleep or antibiotics; myself and a few others have only had to be out of commission for a days worth of diving at a time, and completing the dives at our own pace. Just a few days remain in Fiji and none of us want to lose out on this experience.
Bubbles released from regulator.
Today we traveled into the village and got to experience a church service. I have never been to any religious service outside our home. It was amazing to experience something that is normally so familiar to me in another culture. There were a lot of similarities but at the same time so many differences. The Church was set up like it is at home and before anyone spoke, I would think I was home. Then the music started, and the entire room, maybe even the surrounding village, lit up. You could hear the passion in their voices.
This was a portion of one of the songs they were singing.
At one point during the service, everyone stopped and a man stood up and turned to all of us. He welcomed us to their village. Everyone was so welcoming and greeting us with open arms. It was an amazing experience that I am glad I got to see.
The class is going great and we are all extremely busy every day. We wake up between 6-7 to work, have breakfast, dive 2 or 3 times, have lunch, work some more, lecture, have dinner, then sleep. We are moving around and doing things every day, but it’s times like the sunset that can make a hectic day slow down. Yesterday, while the class was working before dinner we all stopped and went to the deck to just appreciate the beauty of Fiji.
Sunset over Kadavu.
Yesterday was different than our other days at Matava. Usually we go on two to three dives a day then come back to the resort and either have class or study for our class. Sometimes we even have a Kava ceremony in which we all gather and drink Kava. Yesterday we went to the Kadavu village. We got there by boat and then walked around. While walking around, the villagers greeted us with smiles and waves. We were shown the systems used to make their Kava as well as got to sit in on a church ceremony. After the church we went to the waterfall located just on the outskirts of the village. I was surprised by how many dogs were there. I somewhat thought that the village would have more up keep so I was surprised to see the houses not in the best shape.
Some houses in a Fijian village and a rooster.
These past two days were not the best for me. Unfortunately, I came down with a head cold that had been going around here at Matava. I suspect that it may have been transmitted to me during one of the kava ceremonies. It started out as just a sore throat, and I didn’t think much of it, but during my second dive of our first three-tank day, my biggest fear happened — I couldn’t equalize. I heard the sound I usually hear during equalization, followed by an intense pain in my inner ear. When I tried to dive on the third tank, I only made it a meter before the pain happened again. So, I decided to sit out on the next two days of diving. Missing out on dives is the last thing I want to do in Fiji, but I was able to make plenty of progress in my species identifications! [Ed: We can report that Greg has recovered from this and is back diving]
A few of the well-worn identification guides the students can use at Matava.
The cell transmitter tower that Matava uses for its Wi-Fi accessibility has been down since the 10th of January. It’s still down as I write this; I have no idea when these blog posts will go up. It may not be until we arrive back in Nadi, or even LAX. This isn’t exactly surprising, since we’ve had a few storms over the past few days, but it is inconvenient. Or at least, it is to us college students, who are so used to the Internet being available almost without interruption. I’ll admit it’s been a difficult adjustment: I miss my family and friends, and want to let them know I’m still alive and okay and having a great time.
The plane we took to get from Nadi to Kadavu, and that we will take to get back. There were fourteen(?) of us total and we filled almost all of the available seats.
At the same time, I suppose it’s good to get away every once in a while. I probably wouldn’t enjoy myself nearly as much if I could disappear into the online world whenever I wanted. As it stands, lacking anything better to do, I’ve been absorbing as much of the atmosphere and imagery Kadavu and Matava have to offer. We’ve had storms since we got here, yes, but also days of bright, clear sunshine and cooling breezes. I’ve seen so much more ocean life than I could have hoped to imagine. I’ve been coming out of my shell around the other students a bit more.
The view from the boat leaving the village by the Kandavu airport behind as we set out towards Matava on the first day.
I guess a little remoteness now and then doesn’t hurt.
Unlike most of the other blog posts discussing the dives and the cultural aspects of this trip, this one will be about the physical classroom aspect. The second (or third) dive of the day is followed by a lecture by one of our professors. Topics include discussions about coral biology, limiting factors, human interferences, as well as, marine hierarchy. Each lecture starts with a quiz on the previous day’s lecture, usually five questions. Then, we go over the quiz answers. I have to admit, they are pretty stressful. The lectures are informative, interesting and thought provoking.
I really like how the professors include images of what they see during their dives; teaching about the marine life that we see daily, in Fiji, is much more engaging than if we were thought things that we didn’t have the real-life experience of seeing.
We are students nestled on the couches looking over to a projector screen pinned to the wall. The intimate setting provides an atmosphere great for asking questions and having more personalized discussions about freshly seen organisms. The gentle breeze flows through the main bure, where our lectures are held, which is relaxing. All-in-all, the lectures are wonderful.
A lecture by Professor Joe Warren.
During our lecture yesterday, we talked about how anemones are in the phylum Cnidaria and have nematocysts which are the stinging cells that they use to stun their prey. The professors told us how on anemones they won’t actually painfully sting you, which of course made us all want to touch an anemone the next time we saw one. During our second dive today, my group came across an anemone so we all began touching it and it was the coolest feeling, because growing up you always think they are going to sting you badly but they were sticky, it just felt like they were velcroing to your fingers.
Anemone with two anemone fish. Photo by: Alex.
Never in my life have I felt more like I was in Finding Nemo.
Yesterday while diving along a reef wall I came across a Hawksbill Sea Turtle. My group was drifting along with a current, slowing for anemones or bright damsels. In following a school of silvery fish along the reef, I saw a shape I immediately recognized (but didn’t quite believe), resting on a flat coral. I signaled back to the group, but having forgotten the underwater hand sign for “turtle,” I sort of just flailed and pointed for a second. Our dive-master Mike saw and made the signal, and once I knew the group knew what it was I swam closer to get a picture.
Hawksbill turtle resting on some coral.
By the time I got some footage, the hawksbill took off from the coral and drifted farther down the reef. I thought that that footage of it swimming away would be the best shot I got, but I ended up incredibly lucky, as it only went over a few patches of coral over. I was able to get about 10 feet away and hovered for a while, struck with admiration. Its shell was nearly the size of my torso, and after a minute or so, it moved on, swimming up the reef wall. Thanks to the light current, I was able to follow it for a few seconds before it really kicked off and swam away, fading into the distance. Easily one of the coolest things I’ve seen on this trip so far, and I’m still reflecting in amazement (I probably will be for a while).
The Hawksbill Sea Turtle resting on a patch of sand, just before swimming away.