Saturday, October 18, 2008

Solomon sharkies

You don't find yourself swimming with hundreds of sharks in very many places around the world. But here, at Uepi Island in the Solomon Island chain, you do. Unfortunately, it is possible that sharks may not be around much longer in the oceans. They are being mercilessly slaughtered for their fins (to make Asian sharkfin soup) and because the demand is so high and the price so good, the decimation of this amazing creature reaches to the far corners of the globe. I don't know the exact figures, but it is extremely shocking and depressing when you realize how few sharks are actually left in the world's oceans. What will happen when we kill off the ocean's largest and most important predator?? No one knows.

But here, at Uepi, they are still healthy and active. There are big numbers of black-tipped reefsharks, greys, and I even saw my first hammerhead here. Diving in the flood current through Uepi Pass the other day, Nicole and I counted hundreds of grey reef sharks, the most we have ever seen. They were everywhere. They weren't alone either. We saw other big pelagic fish like giant trevally, schools of barracuda, dogtooth tuna, and wahoo. Huge schools of snapper surround the points where the currents carrying rich nutrients wrap around the rocky coral faces. On some of the nearby reefs and walls we have also seen crocodile fish, pygmy seahorses, beautiful nudibranchs, and many gorgeous soft corals. Even though the visibility has not been as good as many places we have been (only 50-70 feet here), the interesting underwater life we have seen here has made up for it.

We have been here almost a week. The little dive resort is run by an Aussie couple, Grant and Jill, and their son, Jason. They have been good to us letting us come diving with them and their handful of guests, as well as share in a couple of seafood dinners with the whole crew. It has been refreshing to see Grant and Jill still go diving everyday and fuel their passion, even though they are hosting all their guests.

We have been anchored in front of the resort in the beautiful Marovo Lagoon, a place James Michener labeled as "one of the seven natural wonders of the world". Even though we have not wandered to far from Uepi yet, it is obvious that this place is special and we will head out tomorrow to spend time in some of the local villages. We have met some nice people here and have been befriended by one of our dive guides, Robert, who has invited us to come to his village this week. We have also been invited to another village by one of the very talented local wood-carvers named Gary. Robert lives in nearby Chumbikopi village and Gary lives in the village of Telina.

The only down-side of our week is that Nicole has been fighting a cold. She only dove one day and has been snorkeling a bit, but still feeling under the weather. Bummer as we may not have the chance to dive again for some time now. But hopefully once she starts seeing some of the master carvers amazing wood carvings she will heal up again. Let's just say that she has some Solomon Island dollars burning a hole in her pocket and is not shy in telling me that she wants to fill our quarter berth up with carvings. Sorry friends and family, no room on the boat for you anymore.

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