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Fiji Underwater Photos

These underwater photos and videos come from a 12 day stay in Fiji, from July 6 to July 18, 2006. A week was dedicated to diving off the Fiji Aggressor, which sails from Suva, about 100 miles around the coast road from the International Airport in Nadi. The Aggressor trip offers 21 day dives and a 3 night dives most trips. Sandwiched around that week were 3 Big Fish Encounter Trips conducted by Beqa Dive Adventures, a land based diving operation in Pacific Harbor, about 30 miles short of Suva on the road from Nadi. Click here to view the island map in this panel.

The Aggressor boards Saturday afternoons, disembarks the following Saturday morning. The Big Fish Encounters are conducted Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and international flights on Air Pacific fly 10 hours nonstop LAX to Fiji on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturdays, arriving at Nadi at 5:10 in the morning two calendar days later, due to crossing the dateline.

Report Index



Trip Overview:

Big Fish Encounter (shark dives)

Fiji Aggressor

Dive Sites and Photo List

Summary


or just click the right arrow
and read it all
Departure from the USA was Tuesday July 4, arrived Fiji and transferred to Pacific Harbor Thursday a.m. (crossed the dateline), did Big Fish Encounter #1 Friday, transferred to the Aggressor in Suva on Saturday, dove all week. Went back to Pacific Harbor the following Saturday for the BFE #2, relaxed Sunday, did BFE #3 on Monday, then slowly worked back to Nadi for the 10 p.m. Tuesday flight to the US, shopping along the way.

3 shark encounter dive trips, 5 nights of hotels, and 6 transfers were booked by Andrew Cumming at Beqa Dive Adventures for a package price, saving considerably over the a la carte pricing.

The two night's stay before the Aggressor trip were at the Pearl South Pacific Resort, a luxury hotel on the beach at the river entrance. The three nights afterward were at the Lagoon Resort, up the river on a golf course. The dive shop and boat are located in that resort for added convenience.

The Big Fish Encounter Trips

Each dive of this two dive trip involves hand feeding of up to 8 species of local sharks, while the divers watch from almost touching distance. The highlight species is the big bull sharks, which are regulars in good numbers, and there's a chance of a tiger shark, which shows up a few times a month. The feed has been conducted by Manasa, Rusi and their support divers for over 7 years, and is very professionally run. Their predive briefing is fun, informative, and quite safety conscious. They are very good at their work, and clearly enjoy it as well.

The ride takes about 20 minutes, 10 in open water, to a set of buoys located at a place known for most of the century as Shark Reef. The boat is buoyed fore and aft, the divers get ready, enter the water as a group and descend together. Both dives are conducted directly under the boat in a dead coral area where water temp is about 78F°. All dives are done on air.

Big Fish Encounter - Dive 1

Shark Reef is a extensive flat topped reef that's awash at low tide and rolls down gradually to great depths, with intermediate shelves down the slope. The first dive starts on a shelf at 95 feet with a small arena area a short distance below. Divers kneel side by side on the shelf, the feeder gets into the arena. The bull sharks show up, patrol in a circle, and eventually come for the fish, slowly and one by one. The shark approaches the feeder, takes the food and passes over his right shoulder, toward the crowd, the turns away from the bubbles and goes back into the patrol formation. This portion of the dive lasts 17 minutes.

The divers then ascend to another shelf at 32 feet, and feeding commences on the gray reef sharks, who have studiously avoided the area of the bull sharks. Grays are high energy and kamikaze to the feeder in numbers, so a support diver hovers overhead and pokes the "extras" away while the feeder works.
After about 20 minutes there, the dive sometimes does a third feed. If the tide is in and the surge is down, the pinnacle top has about 4 feet of water over it and the whitetips and blacktips are fed for a few minutes. The whitetips usually come down to 32 feet with the grays, but the blacktips like to feed shallower so only a few furtive passes of them will be seen. We did not do the shallow feed any of the 3 days I dove, due to either low tide or serious surge across the top of the pinnacle.

Big Fish Encounter - Dive 2

While the divers are doing dive 1, a support diver has parked 200 pounds of fish parts in a slatted box at dive site #2, a ledge at 52 feet. Thus, for the 2 hours of the first dive and the surface interval, it's been leeching out onto the reef. The 2nd dive is done entirely at 52 feet, for a time of about 40 minutes. Normally, it's all about bullsharks, but if the tiger shark is to appear, it's on this dive. The divers descend to that ledge, and the fun begins.
5 to 8 bull sharks are by then patrolling in circles just below the feed box. They rarely moved rapidly, and seem to move to the feeder not by turning to him but by gradually moving the center of their patrol circle until they intersect him on their next pass. Here is a video of them circling, taken from slightly more depth than the feeder. The first shark has just passed the feeder, ignoring the fish. Shark 2 passes me, then circles near the fish, ignores it, then back by me. The next 2 sharks look at my silver Stingray housing to see if it's the fish. We'd been cautioned that if they came at the camera just to bump them and they'd move away, but not to bump too hard or they'd strike at the camera. I have several video passes where they came on in toward the camera. Not knowing how hard to "bump", I pulled off the shot.

Here are 3 different sharks taking the bait and resuming their circling. Watch the 3rd handoff to see how my video housing at arms length might look like the fish he's handing out.

Big Fish Encounter - Other Critters

Many other fish are in attendance at the bull shark feeding. A large tawny nurse shark will show up early, and try to crawl into the feed bucket. A bumphead wrasse is another early arriver, hanging around the fringes, looking for a handout too. Both will leave when the bulls start feeding. One or two gigantic grouper will be there the whole time and feed until they get tired of it. They show no fear of the bull sharks and will muscle in for a turn with the feeder. There a many different jack species, including the largest ones I've ever seen, constantly buzzing the feeding. Divers with small point and shoot cameras are warned not to hold them at arms length as the jacks will haul them off. Everyone wears black gloves for the same reason. There are literally thousands of smaller fish, including the zebra striped damsels that cover the feeder like bees on a beekeeper. The combination of many fish, swirling sharks, and divers moving about creates a severe backscatter environment for still photos, in otherwise great vis.
Worries that the swirling mass of fish interferes with the diver's shark viewing causes Beqa to station a support diver about 20 feet over the feeder's head to toss out chunks of bait to attract them upward. Sometimes a big enough chunk of bait is dropped that the patrolling bull sharks notice, and rocket upward like climbing fighter jets. One grabs the bait chunk, then all settle back down to slowly patrolling the bottom again. Similarly, sometimes a big chunk falls down into the arena with the sharks, setting off action not unlike a rugby scrum. They only abandoned their sedate circling to move rapidly when the bait was loose in the water. They are reticent to approach the diver's bubbles, but show no such inhibition in a free for all with fish or other sharks.

I booked 3 of these dive trips to up my chances of seeing a tiger shark, and the cover the risk of a trip being cancelled due to weather or boat issues. While I missed the tiger shark, I don't regret doing all three trips. The "fun factor" was enormous.

Diving on the Fiji Aggressor II

The Sere Ni Wa is a private yacht 101 feet in length, 22 feet in width, that has been refitted to be a 10 passenger live aboard dive boat. With only 10 passengers, the berths are quite spacious, with plenty of storage, and the living/dining area is adequate. The outside camera area is both small and wet, so most of the time the cameras live on the floor inside. Both the food and crew were excellent. The dive stations are cramped, being in a row across the dive platform just one step from the ocean, and as close together as physically possible to put adjacent tanks. Divers have to take turns gearing up as there is not sufficient room between them. About 25% of the diving is from the panga, and all must go together, so the cramped spacing becomes more noticed when all 10 divers are on the platform at once. 32% nitrox is available. On our trip there were 21 day dives, 3 night dives, and a very worthwhile trip to a native village for a pork roast, songfest, and kava ceremony.

Dive Site Notes and Photo List

Many of the dive sites we dove through the week were pinnacles. Except as noted, they were roughly 100 feet or less in diameter, and rise up to near the surface, where they very colorful and full of fish. Around each is a a flatter area at 65 - 90 feet, with critters of it's own, then a drop of 3000 feet into the abyss.

Manta Rock: 1 pinnacle, 15 - 75 feet, drops to 3000 feet

In summer the top of this pinnacle is a manta cleaning station, but July (winter) isn't the season, so no mantas.

Photo 1: Sparky is the resident lionfish on Manta Rock.
Photo 5: A two banded anemonefish flits about while her buddy hides. Unlike the clown anemonefish, rather than attacking as I moved closer, these fled the anemone and did not return.
Photo 23: Many soldierfish peer out from beneath overhangs.

Becky's: 2 pinnacles, 10 - 75 feet, 200 feet apart

Two good pinnacles. The second one has 2 peaks.

Photo 4: I spent a while watching this tasseled scorpionfish feeding along the bottom of the first pinnacle. Sometimes, unwilling to wait for the victim to swim near, it would first open it's mouth widely, then scoot rapidly along until it caught up to it.
Photo 9: All current filled passages, such as this deep one on Becky's, are filled with sea fans. A careful diver can get through here without bumping them, to find a overhang with even more.
Photo 22: At shallower depths, hard coral and bushy soft coral compete with the sea fans for real estate. Colorful anthias show up as the diver rises, until at the top there are thousands.
Photo 12: Many species of butterflyfish hunt in pairs, like these Redfins, mostly at depths shallower than 50 feet.
Photo 24: One of a pair of pennant butterflyfish working the second pinnacle wall. Fiji has many butterflyfish species.

Christine's: 1 pinnacle, 20 - 65 feet

Photo 21: This nudibranch and several others were crawling along the flat area below the pinnacle.
Photo 19: Finger coral plays host to lots of fish. Here blue damselfish come out to feed on drifting plankton and then dash back down inside when threatened.
Photo 10: Steve kept finding tiny critters, like this spider crab.

Hi8 Reef: An extensive flattopped pinnacle, 0 - 3000 feet

Photo 18: An area on the edge of this extensive pinnacle is covered with several bubble anenomes of varying colors from white to deep red. Shown here are 2 of them and a lonely tomato anemone fish trying to cover them all.
Photo 17: One of the several lionfish sighted on Hi8.
Photo 15: The saddleback butterflyfish also make great video subjects, as they are easy to follow and go to interesting places.

Blue Ribbon Eel Reef: Rolldown wall, 30 - 3000 feet

Photo 2: 3 blue ribbon eels were here, down at about 95 feet, skittish and in hard to shoot locations. 3 visits to get this one.
Photo 7: A star puffer at a cleaning station.

Halfpipe: Pinnacle, 15 - 95 feet

Photo 8: 1 of a cluster of 3 of these nudibranchs on the wall.

Keenan's: Pinnacle, 15 - 75 feet

Photo 11: An absolutely gorgeous pinnacle, the top ablaze in color in the morning sun. Over a dozen closely packed bubble anemones, with tomato anemonefish like this one everywhere.

The Chimney: Pinnacle, 10 - 65 feet

Photo 14: A pair of masked butterflyfish search for food.

Pinball: 2 pinnacles, 15 - 65 feet, 150 feet apart

Photo 13: An unknown species of puffer fish.

Rick's Rock: pinnacle, 15 - 80 feet, drops to 3000 feet

Photo 20: Surge made for a tough shot on this common lionfish.

North Save-a-Tack: Wall, 45 - 110 feet, pass 105 - 20 feet.

A swim along a wall to a sandy pass, then turn right and drift to the boat. Schooling jacks, schooling barracuda, gray reef sharks, sometimes eagle rays. Sleeping grouper resting on the bottom. We did it twice in the week, looking for pelagics.

Photo 16: A resting backsaddle grouper gets a cleaning.

Summary

I went to Fiji because it was a quick and easy trip. I needed a trip, as I'd not been on a long range trip in almost two years. It was already June, and I have to remain in Florida from August thru October. Fiji promised waters warm enough that soft coral thrives, lots of the asian pacific fish species I've come to enjoy, and bookings were available.

It also had another attraction....the Big Fish Encounter. I'd learned of this adventure from my friend Michael O'Neil, a professional underwater photographer and author of children's marine books(http://www.mpostock.com) who dives regularly with us in West Palm. He'd rated it the best in the world, and he's done a lot of them. So the combination of attractors, the ease of the trip, and sudden inspiration got me going.
I usually get asked to rate a trip, against a standard others would understand. After two weeks thought on the matter, I rate it 75% of Papua New Guinea. It has about 75% the fish count, 75% the species, 75% the soft coral, hard coral, nudibranchs, etc. Still, they are the Asian Pacific variety, which I don't get to see often.

I went to Fiji in it's winter, which is a little blustery, and water is 78F°. Comfortable with a light wetsuit, but not in a skin. There's no winter in PNG, so 75% for the comfort factor too.

However, it takes me 3 days (2 overnights) to get the PNG, by any route, and only one really long day to get to Fiji. So a two week trip means 12 days in Fiji, and only 8 in PNG. For much less effort, and cost, I get the Lite version of the Asian Pacific.

And...I agree with Michael. Fiji has the world's best shark dive. The fun factor was enormous.
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