Saturday, October 1, 2016

Final week in Fiji

The three boats, Good as Gold, Free Spirit and Roxanne, left Mana Island and went north towards Naviti Island, the place known for Manta Rays. We all decided to anchor part way to Naviti Island, at a little gap between Waya and Wayasewa islands. We chose this place because it was supposed to have good snorkelling and it was close enough to we could make a day trip to Naviti Island the next day. At low tide, Waya and Wayasewa are connected by a sand bar and at high tide the locals drive their boats though the gap. We did some snorkelling and the reputation was well deserved. Unfortunately, the bay seems to have been invaded by Crown of Thorns, an invasive species of starfish that eats coral at an incredible rate and is killing reefs around the world.

Instead of taking all three boats to Naviti for the day, everyone got onto Roxanne for the trip. Once there, we saw several tour boats from the local resorts. The coral and fish here were plentiful, like lots of places in Fiji, but the Manta Rays were nowhere to be found. We talked to some of the tour boats who confirmed that most days there are mantas but some days there aren’t. Well, the snorkelling was nice. Before we left, Tom thought we should check one more time so he drove his dinghy towing Malcolm through the water. Malcolm really, really enjoyed this. It was like the drift dive we did in Fakarava, French Polynesia. It seemed like the fish were not that frightened by the dinghy so Malcolm got a great view. There were still no Manta Rays, but there was a very large octopus – maybe 5 feet long. It was frightened by the dinghy so it moved quickly to a better hiding place as Malcolm and Tom passed over it. Malcolm was amazed at how quickly it camouflaged itself as it settled into a crack in the coral. Just as they were heading back to Roxanne, Malcolm saw a White Tipped Reef shark and he felt like a large lure being towed behind Tom’s dinghy. The shark was sleeping on the bottom, so it was a non-event.

Coral

Dina snorkelling

On the way back to the anchorage, we discussed the Crown of Thorns. We decided to go snorkelling the next day and see if we could remove some of them. Free Spirit left in the morning to head down to Nadi, as Lauri had plans to fly home for a visit. In order to avoid too many tears, we said a quick good bye to our good friends and made plans to see them next season in Vanuatu or New Caledonia. After they left, we got some tongs from the galley and went on a Crown of Thorns hunt.

Tom had a big bucket in his dinghy, while Lynn, Malcolm and Dina gathered as many Crown of Thorns as possible. As the bucket filled, Tom took the starfish to the beach and dumped them in a safe place. In no time the hermit crabs were investigating their next meal. The thorns are very sharp and have a mild toxin. Dina was the first to get pricked when one moved around while she had it in her tongs. Tom is a former ER Doctor, so he took Dina back to Roxanne, removed the spine from her finger and made her soak it in very hot water to break down the toxin. In the meantime, Lynn and Malcolm continued collecting. Malcolm was next to get stung when he tried to grab some coral to help position himself to reach a very large Crown of Thorns. Unfortunately, there was a second one hiding under the coral that he grabbed and he was stung. By this time, the group had probably collected about 80-100 Crown of Thorns so we called it quits and went back to Roxanne so Dr. Tom could take care of Malcolm’s finger.

Pile of Crown of Thorns we dumped on the beach
Photo we found at www.cairnspost.com.au, showing someone else collecting some Crown of Thorns

At this point we’d explored as much of Fiji as we reasonably could, so both boats headed south to Nadi, docking at Port Denaru next to about 7 or 8 mega yachts, 2 with their own helicopters. We stayed at Port Denaru for a few days, bought fuel and provisions, and had some nice meals ashore. We had a really good weather window, so we checked out of the country and started on the three day sail to Vanuatu.

Halfway to Vanuatu