2 – 3 April 2013

Google Earth - Mali Island, Fiji

Google Earth – Mali Island, Fiji

We had a grand opportunity of checking out the Great Sea Reef underwater while in Mali Island. Our Ligaulevu Village host Leone Vokai operates a brand new dive shop called the Great Sea Reef Divers and he invited us to go diving with him. It had been raining non-stop for like the past 6 weeks in the northern part of Fiji and when we got to Mali Island, the rain blessedly stopped. It was time to see the GSR underwater so off we went in Leone’s fiberglass boat with John Robinson as our skipper.

Stella fixing the dive gear and tanks as the Great Sea Reef Divers prepare for diving the world's third largest barrier reef!

While in the Great Sea Reef Divers base camp in Ligaulevu Village, Stella puts together the dive gear as the Freunds prepare to dive the world’s third largest barrier reef!

Leone Vokai owner of Great Sea Reef Divers brings the Freund diving the marine protected area of the GSR.

Leone Vokai owner of Great Sea Reef Divers brings the Freunds diving the marine protected area of the GSR.

We departed Ligaulevu Village early in the morning after breakfast to have the incoming tide bring in clear water. But with the past 6 weeks of constant downpour, the water was what I called “crystal green” with a deep layer of fresh water on the surface. Nonetheless, it was our first look at the GSR and first time to dive the waters in Fiji. Leone brought us to the marine protected area nearest Mali Island.

Coral Reef crevice in the Great Sea Reef with diver silhouetted against a coral cave.

Coral Reef crevice in the Great Sea Reef with diver silhouetted against a coral cave.

Diving the Great Sea Reef.

Diving the Great Sea Reef.

Lifting text from the WWF South Pacific website, the Great Sea Reef locally known as Cakaulevu, is the world’s third longest continuous barrier reef system or the third longest reef in the southern hemisphere. The GSR runs for over 200km from the north eastern tip of Udu point in Vanua Levu to Bua at the north west edge of Vanua Levu, across the Vatuira passage, veering off along the way to hug the coastline of Ra and Ba provinces and into the Yasawas. As it snakes its way across the western sections of the country’s sea, the reef system takes on different local names but is part of one barrier reef system.

Whitetip reef shark in the coral reef of the Great Sea Reefs.

Whitetip reef shark in the coral reef of the Great Sea Reefs.

The next day, Leone and the men from the village brought us spearfishing in their traditional hunting grounds. Upon reaching the area, a huge pod of spinner dolphins greeted us and were bow riding as the men prepared to go fishing. I didn’t get into the water and for two hours, I saw these very dolphins go back and forth not 10 meters away from me. I learned from past experience to stay where I was and admire them from this safe distance, because the minute I get into the water to swim with them, they’ll be gone like a flash.

A pod of spinner dolphins

A pod of spinner dolphins bow riding with the fiberglass boat.

For two hours, 5 men from the village went spearfishing for reef fish to bring home to their families. Living in rural Mali Island, these subsistence fishermen rely on the coral reef for fish as their primary food source. If they have a good day and catch enough, they sell their fish to the local Labasa Market in the mainland to supplement their livelihood and income. There were about half a dozen reef sharks way below the free divers as they moved from reef to reef looking and spearing reef fish. Luckily, no sharks came for their bounty.

Strong free divers, spear fisherman from Mali Island hunts reef fish in non-marine protected areas of the Great Sea Reef.

Strong free diver, spear fisherman from Mali Island hunts reef fish in non-marine protected areas of the Great Sea Reef.

Freshly caught parrotfish speared in the reef.

Freshly caught parrotfish speared in the reef.

Skipper John Robinson ties all the fish catch together.

Skipper John Robinson ties all the fish catch together.

Earlier on, we were told about a solitary mangrove in the middle of a shallow sandy area far away from any island that at low tide attracts hundreds of sea snakes. Well, guess where we badgered Leone to go once the men finished spear fishing and the tide was lowering at the height of noon when they were all tired and hungry? It was bizarre and awesome! A solitary mangrove tree indeed far away from the islands.

Lone mangrove in the shallows in the middle of the sea in the Great Sea Reefs filling with banded sea kraits at low tide.

Lone mangrove in the shallows in the middle of the sea in the Great Sea Reefs filling with banded sea kraits at low tide.

Yogi was in banded sea krait heaven. We have never encountered a mangrove tree like this in any of our travels and made this experience quite special. As we excitedly got off the boat, all our strong free diving spear fishermen stayed behind. Not one of them liked the idea of us getting near the snakes. They would exclaim loudly as Yogi photographed the mangrove tree very close to the snakes who were all over him swimming from all sides trying to slither up the tree for their siesta. It was simply fantastic. Leone could not believe how Yogi was unafraid saying the sea snake was their totem, and they left it as far away alone as possible.

Banded sea krait in a tight bundle above the water line as those coming in from the water found their way to huddle with their comrades.

Banded sea krait in a tight bundle above the water line as those coming in from the water found their way to huddle with their comrades.