Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

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Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » May 3rd, 2017, 3:01 pm

Hello Friends-

A little over a year ago I decided to move with my girlfriend, Jess, to a 26 square mile island in the South Pacific. The island is called Rarotonga, and is the main island in the Cook Islands. I'm severely restricted in my internet usage (30GB/month of island-speed for $200) so I'll slowly be adding to this thread. If you've seen my Instagram, apologies - there will be photos reposted here.

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This is a photo I took of the south side of Rarotonga (Raro for short). We live right next to the larger reef passage in this photo.

Here is some terminology: The reef is where the waves are breaking. The lagoon is the area inside the waves and isn't anything like the lagoons in California - this one is full of tropical fish and corals. The reef passages are the dark blue strips that function as rip currents allowing water that has flown over the reef and into the lagoon in the form of waves to exhaust back into the ocean. The passages can be dangerous - people die in them nearly every year. But the passages are full of life and on a small surf day, are a nice way to get outside the reef, either by swimming or in a boat.

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Here is a photo of me and Jess straight outside our passage. Passages are also popular surf spots due to a left and right breaking on the corners of the mouth. While most days are sunny and gorgeous here, we make the best of the tropical storms.

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This is a photo of the same reef passage from straight above. The passage gets about 60 feet across and 60 feet deep.

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This is Panulirus penicillatus, the pronghorn spiny lobster. These lobsters are the widest ranging spiny lobster in the world and the main species of lobster you may have found while visiting Hawaii. They are caught only by divers or people walking the reef at night. Traps don't work. Here, they are the larger of the two species of spiny lobsters. They are very cryptic during the day, hiding deep in the cracks of the reef. To find them, diving at night is the best way. They crawl out of the reef and sit in the surge zone. Catching them is fun but can be dangerous in big surf.

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This is the other species of spiny lobster you can find here. It is called a longlegged spiny lobster (Panulirus longipes bispinosus). Unlike the pronghorn, these guys like to spend their nights in deep surge channels. The shallowest I've found one of these was 20ft. They are also nocturnal and nearly impossible to find during the day.

They are very similar in appearance to the pronghorn. To tell these species apart, you'll notice the blue on the pronghorn is in the soft joints of the antennae, whereas the longlegged has tan tissue on the soft joints. The longlegged has purple plectrums (the squeaky pads) whereas the pronghorn has carapace colored plectrums. And if you were wondering, the longlegged tastes sweeter but unfortunately doesn't get as big nor is as common.

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The final type of "lobster" that you can find here are slipper lobsters. I don't want to talk about species because I don't know them all - I actually think I may have found a new/undescribed species. But they are in genus Paribaccus, are all very similar in appearance and don't get much bigger than your open hand. They love the surge zone and sometimes can be found in groups. Despite their small 'four bite' sized tail, the locals love them. I can attest to their tail meat being of very high quality. :sleeping-drool:

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For you fish crazy consumptive folks, Raro isn’t a great spearfishing destination for reef fish. Ciguatera here is a big problem. I don’t know any fisherman (other than myself, knock on wood) who lives here who hasn’t gotten cig.

I recently met a Cook Islander who was maybe in his late 40s. I could tell he was completely there mentally by looking at his eyes, but his hands were in fists, arms tight and didn’t appear to be very functional. He could walk though and my girlfriend introduced me. Turns out he used to be THE outdoor recreation guide on the island. He would take tourists and local kids outdoors on hikes and teach them about nature. Well, that was until he almost died of cig poisoning. He is now paralyzed for life. He can’t even talk. It is terribly saddening.

Needless to say, I stay away from fish that are implicated in cig poisonings. One fish that apparently never poisons people is the soldierfish. If you’ve been to Hawaii or other tropical locations, you’ll have seen them in caves during the day or swimming along reef drop-offs at night.

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A small soldierfish with a giant moray backdrop-

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Hunting soldierfish during the day is fairly easy. They usually stare at you from their cave until the first shot is taken. Then the fish remaining in the hole get pretty frantic and dart back and forth. In this photo my friend Georgia shot her first fish ever, a soldierfish, from a crack 30 feet down.

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The real challenge is hunting them at night. After the sun goes down, the fish come out. They become sensitive to light so illuminating them with a flashlight usually causes them to bolt away. My girlfriend Jess got her first soldierfish at night. I was impressed. Actually, both Georgia (above) and Jess appeared to be more accurate with a speargun than I am. :ugh:

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While the ciguatera is bad here, it does have a bonus: many game fish that in other places are hunted and therefore wary of divers, will swim right up to you.

The most common gamefish that is (usually) not hunted is the bluefin trevally.

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TO BE CONTINUED...
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Westbury » May 3rd, 2017, 9:23 pm

Love the pics and write up

Thanks Kirby!
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby castronova » May 4th, 2017, 4:27 am

This is awesome. Hope you get to keep this updated. :obscene-drinkingcheers:
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby dam » May 4th, 2017, 11:43 am

Dude, share more! Seeing the aerial shot of the channel gets me frothing. I just wanna explore every nook and cranny. :sleeping-drool:

Did you take those lobster pictures? They're fantastic! I've only seen a slipper 1 time and was afraid to catch it. If only I knew how delicious they would be...
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » May 4th, 2017, 12:30 pm

Thanks, Guys!

Yeah, Dam - I took all of these photos.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby John Hughes » May 5th, 2017, 4:36 am

Great pics Kirby, what an adventure. Those slippers look crazy. Keep em coming!!
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Nate Baker » May 5th, 2017, 6:57 am

Fun stuff!

More!
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Bill McIntyre » May 5th, 2017, 8:48 am

Keep em coming.

The first time I saw a slipper was in Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii in 1961 and I had never even heard of them. I didn't know whether it was an aquatic cockroach or what.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Schwaman » May 5th, 2017, 8:51 am

at least someone is having good conditions.
really enjoy your fotos and report from sch a beautiful place
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » May 6th, 2017, 6:50 pm

dam wrote:Seeing the aerial shot of the channel gets me frothing. I just wanna explore every nook and cranny. :sleeping-drool:



Well today was supposed to be the big day here in Rutaki. But unfortunately, the spearfishing competition will have to be postponed again due to more "torrential rain and windy weather." I took these aerial photos for you, Dam. That same passage both you and I want to dive looks like this right now. :'(

Good thing water here clears up 24 hours after the rains stops! :D

Contest announcement from the paper the other day-

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Aerial photos from today-

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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby malibujohn » May 7th, 2017, 7:42 am

This has the potential for an epic thread!! :handgestures-thumbupleft: Awesome shots, will be checking this one often. And good on ya for living the dream, me and my girl will be doing the same very shortly. The best of luck to ya, sounds fantastic!!
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Bill McIntyre » May 7th, 2017, 8:41 am

I couldn't open those links.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » May 8th, 2017, 5:21 am

Bill McIntyre wrote:I couldn't open those links.


Thanks for the heads up, Bill. It looks like my links just stopped working. A bit hard for me to troubleshoot on my poor internet but I'll see what I can do.


EDIT: I can see only half of the photos in my first post, and none in my second (three posts up) when I use my phone, but I can see all of them on my laptop. :confusion-shrug: How is that possible? Dam?
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Bill McIntyre » May 8th, 2017, 6:45 am

Kirby wrote:
Bill McIntyre wrote:I couldn't open those links.


Thanks for the heads up, Bill. It looks like my links just stopped working. A bit hard for me to troubleshoot on my poor internet but I'll see what I can do.


EDIT: I can see only half of the photos in my first post, and none in my second (three posts up) when I use my phone, but I can see all of them on my laptop. :confusion-shrug: How is that possible? Dam?


On both my phone and my desktop I can see them all through the slipper lobster, but none after that.
Last edited by Bill McIntyre on May 8th, 2017, 11:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby dam » May 8th, 2017, 11:43 am

Check your photo permissions, Kirby. I can't see half of them either. Make sure they're set to public, or viewable with URL.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » May 8th, 2017, 1:05 pm

You were right, Dam. I think I fixed it. Thanks guys for pointing out the links were broken and the solution. Apologies for my computer incompetence.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby rhyne » May 8th, 2017, 1:55 pm

Killer shots Kirby... looks like you're living it up out there :)
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Bill McIntyre » May 8th, 2017, 2:34 pm

I still can't see them.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » May 8th, 2017, 3:04 pm

Bill McIntyre wrote:I still can't see them.


Holy crap. Hows it looking now?
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Bill McIntyre » May 8th, 2017, 4:02 pm

Looking good now. Thanks
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby dam » May 8th, 2017, 7:42 pm

A few of the shots still aren't showing up, Kirby. But I see the mud river now. That is CRAZY! Hard to think it could clear out in just a day.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby dam » May 8th, 2017, 7:44 pm

Love that shot looking up at Georgia and the soldierfish!
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Namor » May 9th, 2017, 7:26 am

Fascinating thread, thanks for posting it. Computers suck ive been without a good one for a year now and it sucks

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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby jwhit88 » May 9th, 2017, 3:35 pm

I talked to Tim after he visited you, seems like your living the life Kirby! Keep the posts coming!
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Surforfish » May 19th, 2017, 10:54 am

Awesome photos, pretty glad i decided to venture out of the Cali section
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby db1 » May 29th, 2017, 6:38 am

yeah, agreed with Surforfish... this is my first time looking in here. Glad I did.

Awesome! Thanks for posting about your life out there. Very cool.

Can I ask what made you guys pick there? And is it a permanent one or just an adventure?
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » June 21st, 2017, 12:56 pm

My girl and I just got back from a three week research trip to Aitutaki.

Aitutaki is the second most inhabited island in the Cook Island group. Aitutaki is an 'almost atoll,' which means the ancient volcano has almost sunk away but the barrier/fringing reef keeps up with subsidence by upward coral growth. What is left of the volcano are the main island and two islets. The other 12 islets are from sand buildup on the reef.

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The 'hike' to the top of the 'mountain,' Maunga Pu, is a short one. At only ~400 feet in elevation, you can still make out the islets across the vast lagoon to the south.

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Where we live (on Rarotonga) there has been quite a bit of development. Through some combination of factors, the number of land crabs here is small compared to historical accounts. We still have dozens of giant crab holes in our yard (think of gopher holes on steroids) but I rarely see the crabs. What I found very interesting about Aitutaki is the sheer number of crab species. There were crabs everywhere, even in our accommodation!

Brown land crab-

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Tetragonal fiddler crab-

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This is a medium sized mud crab. They are a prized catch because of their high food quality but have very dangerous claws. The claws of this one were the size of my fists.

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This hermit crab normally would have covered its shell in anemones. I caught him in the shallows running around through a cloud of shrimp.

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The diving was pretty stunning. The endangered humphead wrasse has a very healthy population here. On every dive and on all of our remote camera footage we had at least one and up to six humpheads milling around. And at night, they slept in caves just like parrotfish. It was breathtaking to see 200lb fish glued to the back of caves.

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If you've ever seen footage of people petting giant trevally, the footage was likely from Aitutaki. I jumped in deeper water and had the captain throw chum on me for some decent footage.

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There were plenty of other cool and friendly fish. Here is a spotted unicorn that obviously got into a tussle.

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Aitutaki has a giant clam breeding program-

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No two are alike and most are brilliantly colored.

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Something I never knew about but was puzzled by until I thought to ask a local buddy was why the clouds were green. Of course! The lagoon turquoise reflects to the clouds. Turns out Polynesian voyagers would use this as an indicator of land and would steer in that direction. More modern sailors would avoid green clouds to keep from running aground.

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Probable cyclone damage-

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The giant lagoon. If you look closely above the outboard, you'll see islets on the furthest corner of Aitutaki. This place is world renown for kite surfing.

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Aitutaki was the first Cook Island to get converted to Christianity, and like all other Cook Islands, the locals are devout. On Aitutaki they have been protesting incoming and outgoing flights on Sundays for 7 years. They want the government to intervene.

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One of the many living lawnmowers-

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There are frequent reports on many of the Cook Islands of banded sea snakes. Turns out, these snakes live in the next country west of here (Niue) but there has never been a confirmed report of that species here. The animal responsible for these mis-IDs is the banded snake eel. They are nocturnal and poke around in holes for midnight snacks.

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While we were there for work and in our three weeks had very little free time, I did make it out on a night dive with some locals. They were mopping up sleeping parrotfish. Call me a snob, but I didn't really want to shoot sleeping fish, so I went after slipper lobsters and took on a nocturnal and very awake bigeye (Hawaiians call them aweoweo). Woody's bug bag came in handy.

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I also did a bit of shell hunting and came home with a sack of high gloss cowries. I'm pretty pumped that I found a few of the rarer and more fragile species. The triangle coin is for scale and about the size of a US quarter.

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I could go on forever about Aitutaki. If you ever end up in the Cook Islands, you must go there...

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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » June 21st, 2017, 1:12 pm

Well again, thanks guys for the positive comments. :obscene-drinkingcheers:

And yes Jeremy, the computer thing drives me crazy. If I pick up my laptop by the left corner, the screen turn psychedelic for a couple minutes before shutting off.

db1 wrote:Can I ask what made you guys pick there? And is it a permanent one or just an adventure?


I met a girl from the States who had moved here for work. She landed here mostly on accident. Just as she was moving back to the states we met, and decided to move back. She is now working on her PhD in marine science so we'll probably be here for a year longer while we collect her data.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Nate Baker » June 21st, 2017, 2:13 pm

Dad Gummit!
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » June 21st, 2017, 2:43 pm

Nate Baker wrote:Dad Gummit!


:'( Holy crap. It took me over an hour to make that post. Standby...
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » June 21st, 2017, 2:58 pm

Alright, Nate... Did I fix it?

Thanks for letting me know when my photos don't show up. My incompetence with computers is unending.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Alex Ray » June 21st, 2017, 3:19 pm

I can see the pictures. Looks awesome!!


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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby chris oak » June 22nd, 2017, 6:34 am

Man Kirby what an experience, thanks for sharing the awesome shots too.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Bill McIntyre » June 22nd, 2017, 8:39 am

What an incredible experience. Keep those awesome photos coming.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby rhyne » June 22nd, 2017, 9:10 am

Bravo Kirby... these shots are amazing. sounds like such an epic time. good for you homie.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby castronova » June 22nd, 2017, 11:29 am

Thank you for continuing to share. That is one amazing place.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby John Hughes » June 23rd, 2017, 4:20 am

Amazing Kirby! Thanks for sharing the photos but also the history and odd facts. What an incredible variety of land and sea creatures!!
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby dam » June 23rd, 2017, 10:08 am

Incredible, Kirby. I would use any of those photos as my wallpaper! Uh...even the selfie one. :gay:

How did you get so close to the fidler crab? They always slink away into their holes before I get within 20ft of them :rofl: . That mudcrab! :sleeping-drool: And the picture of the hermit with shrimp in the background :bow-blue: and the wrasse, holy shit :eek: . Let's trade places! :'(

Oh, and those clams are HUGE! More! I demand more!
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby ApneaAddict » June 29th, 2017, 10:17 am

Just stumbled across this thread- how did I miss it earlier!? Amazing photos, Kirby! Thank you for sharing them with us despite your poor internet connection. That mud crab is awesome. Have you eaten any?

I had been wondering what you were up to out there in the south pacific. What an amazing experience. So while your girlfriend is collecting her PhD data, what does that have you doing on a daily basis? Sounds like you're working on the research with her?
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » July 5th, 2017, 10:04 pm

Thanks, Guys. I'll keep adding when I have the bandwidth!

dam wrote:How did you get so close to the fidler crab?


Sit still for far too long. It helps if you lie down in the mud. Or you can just catch the sucker and make him sit still, but that is cheating.

ApneaAddict wrote:So while your girlfriend is collecting her PhD data, what does that have you doing on a daily basis? Sounds like you're working on the research with her?


Hey Carter. Yes, I help her, but I have a few other things to keep me busy - one of which is running a coral rehabilitation program for a local foundation. Here is a photo I took today when I swam out to check on our recent nursery additions. :D

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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby Kirby » July 12th, 2017, 11:59 am

Recently, I went on a trip to Niue. Niue is a one-island, South Pacific country. The island is large (100 square miles) and has a tiny population (~1200). Most Niueans don't live on Niue, but have left and live in New Zealand and Australia. Niue is known more for it being a quarantine island (for stuff like elephants bound for New Zealand) than it is for tourism.

The island is a raised coral atoll. What this means is a normal coral atoll, was geologically uplifted, and in this case, hundreds of feet out of the water. The ancient coral is still visible and very present today. There is little top soil, only low trees and bushes and chunks of razor sharp coral sticking out of the ground. Oh yeah, and there are no beaches, just spectacular limestone (coral) cliffs.

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Just like underwater coral reefs, Niue has caves everywhere. But what I found beyond awesome was that when it rains, the water soaks through the highly porous ground, ever so slightly dissolving the ancient coral, and forming stalactites, stalagmites and columns in the caves below. The porous ground allows even tropical levels of rainfall to soak in. This means that there are no rivers and therefore no sediment runoff. And this makes Niuean water some of the clearest in the world.

Here is an example of some of the caves we explored. The water was CRYSTAL clear.

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For some scale, here is my girlfriend in another cave-

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This is the 'harbor.' All goods and food that come into Niue by boat are offloaded here. Most fishing boats also launch here, also using a crane. When the container ship is in, locals know its time to intercept the goods at the pier for first choice on exotic fruits and veggies...like apples and lettuce.

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Wherever we went, we found another "my favorite place ever," which usually consisted of a chasm, cave or crack filled with gin clear water and colorful fish and corals.

Matapa Chasm-

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Limu Pools-

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This crack only gets water on high tides with high surf. The water comes through an arch, around the left wall. This is the closest thing to a beach that Niue has.

Togo Chasm-

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Niue's reefs are pretty incredible. The standout species is without a doubt, the katuali, aka banded sea krait. This species only lives on Niue. Like other sea snakes/kraits, they are highly venomous although they are tame. The katuali were everywhere. They were also very curious which was cool until they started rubbing up on us. The snakes often follow goat fish, hunting together.

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Like I said, the water is clear. The bottom here was well over 100ft deep. Visibility must have been around 200ft.

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We didn't have much time, but we did do a little bit of diving and fishing.

Here is biologist "Dr. Alan" 'sampling' for dinner- Check out Niue in the background. That cliff is about 100ft high.

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I got the unique opportunity to dive with, Brendon, the former head of government fisheries. I learned that Niue has a fantastic set of fishing regulations. For lobsters there are minimum size limits, daily bag limits, bans on gravid female take, etc. For FADs some are canoe fisher only, some are pole only, some allow take by spearfishing. The regulations are unique to this area of the pacific and when I went on a night dive with Brendon, the difference was noticeable.

There were more tropical spiny lobsters than I've ever seen. Some were in groups of five, just hanging out.

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There were more slipper lobsters than I've ever seen.

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And there were more sharks than I've ever seen... This photo is of a massive whitetip reef shark, which isn't that scary. What was scary was it swam over my shoulder from behind when I was night diving by myself. And I was only in 3 feet of water. What else was scary was Brendon wore a shark shield. Most islanders can't be bothered with stuff like this, but Niue does have a decent shark population. We had large grey reef sharks following us on the edge of our flashlights' range the entire night.

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I only made it the the FADs once. There were just a few rainbow runner...

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And there were a few mahi-

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I took one back to the hotel for dinner-

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:bow-blue: Niue!

Talava Arches-

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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby dam » July 13th, 2017, 10:38 am

Wow :'( I wanna explore those caves and chasms. :'(

That water clarity is insane! How's the big game fishing there? Any doggies?

Keep posting, dude. You're not allowed to stop.
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Re: Photos from the South Pacific and Beyond

Postby John Hughes » July 13th, 2017, 6:59 pm

dam wrote:Wow

Keep posting, dude. You're not allowed to stop.


THIS!

absolutely incredible!!
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