Log Date: Sunday, Mar 06, 2016
Entry By: Fiji Aggressor crew
Two weeks after Tropical Cyclone Winston ripped through Fiji we departed Suva on the 5th of March at 1400 hrs not knowing what to expect at our most spectacular most visited dive sites in the Lomaiviti waters.
Sunday 6th March
We arrived at Makogai Island the night before at about 2100 hrs after a moderate trip around Nasilai light house. Winds were Easterly and blowing about 15 to 20 knots. At sunrise the true picture of TC Winston was revealed when we saw that the island vegetation was significantly destroyed. The nearby village of Dalice had almost all its houses destroyed, yet the local Fijians were pleased to see us with lots of big famous Fijian smiles. At our first checkout dive, at Christine’s, we saw what to expect in reef areas that were directly in the path of the eye of the cyclone. All weights and buoyancy sorted we headed to our dive site at Makogai called Rick’s Rocks. The good news is the white leaf fish at 15 feet was still at its same perch looking proud that it survived TC Winston. Usually after every cyclone the visibility takes some time to clear up. Visibility today was about 40 feet, so macro subjects was the pick of the day. Nudibranchs that survived the storm surge were displaying their vibrant colours which made for perfect macro photography in the given conditions thanks to the very experienced dive master Mo. The seabed around Rick’s Rock’s Was dug up to about a meter and half deep. With huge boulders broken up and strewn around the base of Ricks. Though the reefs were stripped of the famous soft and hard corals, we did manage to find cool macro critters like Leaf Fish, Nudibranchs, Ghost Pipe Fish, Network Pipefish and the schools of anthias which after all that had happened still had the energy to dart around enthusiastically. The night dive was positive with the usual night critters like Plurabranchs, pipe fishes and squid.
With over 300 islands in the group, there are numerous dive locations to chose from. Currently the boat is visiting the large island of Kadavu and the world famous “Astrolabe Lagoon” and will be exploring dive sites in that location. Kadavu was completely unaffected by the cyclone.
Monday 7th March
We left Makogai Island in the early hours and tied up to our mooring at E6. The grotto was badly damaged with a few boulders broken. Most of the soft coral had been considerably damaged. The walls of E6 had a few rock slides. We moved across the Vatu I ra channel to Hi-°©‐8 and found the rainbow wall, which was covered with dendronephthia soft coral, had been significantly damaged. From Hi-°©‐8 we moved to the Alacrity wall which was relatively pristine. The black coral bushes were still hanging on the wall with their residents of long nose hawkfish trying to hide and look camouflaged. The night dive displayed pleurobranchs and squid and schooling anthias even though visibility was not as good as usual at this site.
Tuesday 8th March
We heaved anchor at 0600 hrs and moved to our Mellow Yellow anchorage which had a sandbank now visible on the top of the main reef. We did the first dive at Coral Corner which had some soft coral protected and bits of rubble damage evident in the shallows. The visibility still wasn’t the greatest but at least this was one reef that still had soft corals. The fish population was still good with Spanish Mackeral and a few big Grey Reef sharks patrolling the wall. Mellow Yellow still had all its yellow wall and fish, and surprisingly two green leaf fish at 32 feet. Howard’s diner had a few rock slides and the wall still had soft corals on it. All in all Vatu I Ra was an area that we will eave alone for a few weeks to recover from the cyclone.
March We traveled to Wakaya Island and were overjoyed with what we saw. It was amazingly beautiful. The highlights of the trip were Manta rays, eagle rays and beautiful soft coral walls and fans and hard corals on every dive. A few passengers managed to see a hammerhead. We had a great day at Wakaya Island knowing that once the visibility extends, the diving there will be back to normal.
March We departed Wakaya Island at 0200 hrs in the morning and made our way south to the big island of Gau. This island escaped the brunt of the cyclone. We headed straight to Nigali Passage to be ready for the passengers to wake. The first dive was on the outside wall of Nigali. This was still the same as prior to the cyclone with no damage at all. Schooling anthias and Spanish mackerel patrolling the wall in 50 feet visibility. The two dives in Nigali passage were even better with 100 feet visibility and about thirty sharks at the bleachers with manta rays. Rhys drew the sharks in even closer with a few frozen tuna heads and red bass going crazy and enjoying the battle with the sharks for the fish heads.
We ended the day with a village visit to Somosomo Village and meke’s (traditional Fijian dance) and great harmony from the villagers. Passengers had the opportunity to see first-°©‐hand Fijian culture and village life which they enjoyed very much. Even though the Country had experienced its worst cyclone ever, the Fijian spirit remains positive and strong.
Friday 11th March
Today was an early start with a dawn dive at Jim’s alley at 0600 hrs. Incoming current, good visibility, puffed up soft corals and tons of fish and colour. This is what you call Fiji diving. Dr Jim and Gerald got some great pictures and footage which truly depicted Fiji diving.
All was not lost after all and a lot of the dive sites survived TC Winston untouched. This was a good sign which meant that there were some unexplored reefs out there which had great potential to become great dive sites. We left Jim’s Alley and jumped on the Gau wall which was another great dive with Eagle rays and soft corals and fans.
We departed Gau at 0930 hrs and arrived in Suva at 1530 hrs after which the guests had a cocktail with the crew and departed for dinner at Tiko’s floating restaurant at 1930 hrs. Even though some of the dive sites were affected by the cyclone there is still plenty great dive sites that are as magnificent as ever…….and who knows what news our current trip to Kadavu will report.
Captain Johnathan Smith Fiji Aggressor