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 The Last Diving Frontier: The Solomon Islands

 Michael Zeigler Plate Coral

Large, seemingly untouched plate corals can be seen as far as the eye can see at Mbulo Canyons in Marovo Lagoon. Their presence is indicative of a healthy reef ecosystem, and is one of the many highlights of the Solomon Islands seascape.

Located at the far extremes of the eastern corner of the Coral Triangle, the Solomon Islands enjoy a dynamic biodiversity that attracts divers from around the globe in search of everything from tiny hermit crabs that make their homes in the corals, to swirling schools of fish. The flowing currents of nutrient-rich waters deliver sharks, rays and turtles to the characteristically steep walls, while colourful anthias dance in unison above the still pristine reefs. 

A 250km liveaboard cruise from the main island of Guadalcanal takes you to the Russell Islands and then Mary Island before reaching the delights of Marovo Lagoon. The ship then loops back to the Florida Islands before crossing Iron Bottom Sound and returning to the capital Honiara. You are spoilt for choice on these virtually untouched reefs, as you pass hundreds of possibly world-class dive sites.

Pristine the reefs may be, but that’s not to say that humankind hasn’t made its mark on the Solomons. The Battle of Guadalcanal between the Japanese and the American-led Allies was a pivotal battle in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War and resulted in large numbers of wrecks today peppered across the Solomons. Visiting divers can now see what effect 75 years of tropical water can have on a hunk of metal, and the many plane and shipwrecks are now swathed in hard and soft corals, transforming the metallic machines of war into beautiful nurseries and refuges for a multitude of underwater creatures. 

Solomona islands map

Michael Zeigler Locals

Locals paddle out to meet our boat


WAR EFFORT

Michael Zeigler Coral Encrusted Truck

White Beach was once a base for the American military effort during the Second World War, the evidence of which can still be seen beneath the surface. Located on a steep, silty slope, the ocean floor is littered with sponge- and coral-encrusted ordnance, trucks, and tractors such as this one pictured above


HITTING THE TARGET

Michael Zeigler Banded Archerfish

A pair of banded archerfish searches the mangroves for a meal at White Beach. Archerfish have the unique ability to use a jet of water to ‘shoot down’ insects from low-hanging branches. The banded archerfish even has the ability to jump out of the water to catch its prey


FAN PATROL

Michael Zeigler Sea Fan

The steep walls of Kicha Island are adorned with colourful sea fans, some nearly 3m across. This school of blue and yellow fusiliers seemed to enjoy swimming by this particular sea fan time and time again


FEATHER FANS

Michael Zeigler Feather Fans

Moderate currents around Ta Island provide the ideal habitat for feeding featherstars and sea fans. It is not uncommon to observe more than a dozen of these  brightly coloured featherstars and a host of massive seas fans on a single dive around the Russell Islands


BIG HEAD

Michael Zeigler Sprawling Coral Head

Spanning some 3m across, this massive coral head includes plate and branched corals, as well as encrusting sponges and smaller soft-coral species. Sprawling coral heads such as these provide food and shelter for numerous fish, crustaceans and invertebrates


RIVAL ISLANDS

Michael Zeigler Marovo Lagoon

Sunrise over Marovo Lagoon. Minjanga and Tamba Islands dominate this scene and are home to two rival tribes, both of which offered us fresh fruits and vegetables as well as intricate carvings made of native hardwoods and nautilus shell


SHARK BAIT

Michael Zeigler Blacktip Reef Shark

While at anchor in Marovo Lagoon near Karanjou Island, blacktip reef sharks are attracted close to the boat by the sounds and scent of fish carcasses thrown into the water by the crew


CUT ABOVE

Michael Zeigler Leru Cut

Leru Cut is arguably the most well-known dive site in the Solomon Islands. It is no more than 12m deep and cuts into the jungle-covered island for more than 100m. Surfacing in the cut and being surrounded by the lush landscape is as surreal as seeing the iconic blue vertical cut that marks the entrance


SETTING SAIL

Michael Zeigler Solomon Luxury Lifeboard

The steel-hulled MV Bilikiki sailed as the first full-service luxury liveaboard in the Solomon Islands. In addition to its ten deluxe cabins, the 40m-long vessel offers guests nitrox, large camera tables and photo room, as well as plenty of 240V and 110V outlets. For more information, go to www.bilikiki.com


HERMIT HOME

Michael Zeigler Hermit Crab

No larger than a pencil eraser, this tiny coral hermit crab makes its home in the boulder coral that is found throughout the Russell Islands. These colourful crabs are most often found living near other coral hermit crabs. If you spot one, the chances are you will find many more nearby


POINT OF VIEW

Michael Zeigler Bigeye Trevally

Swift currents are common near Karumolun Point and bring them food upon which bigeye trevally thrive. Large schools can be seen as soon as you dip below the surface, and are often seen adjacent to swirling schools of barracuda and the occasional reef shark


HOME COMFORTS

Michael Zeigler Soft Corals

Few things rival the ornate beauty of the soft corals that adorn the reef walls throughout the Solomon Islands. As they reach out into the currents to feed, they also serve as a home to several species of fish, crab, and shrimp


SAFE HAVEN

Michael Zeigler Amphiprion percula

The Solomon Islands are home to several species of anemonefish including this Amphiprion percula. Its symbiotic relationship with its host anemone allows it to have a safe haven while providing the anemone with a cleaning service, and warding off would-be predatory fish such as butterflyfish


SUN WORSHIP

Michael Zeigler Clarks Anemonefish

A pair of Clark’s anemonefish bask in the sun that floods the shallow waters of the Florida Islands. Hard corals, anemones, and schools of fish dominate the seascape, just a few feet below the surface


BAY WATCH

Michael Zeigler Maravagi Bay

Leather coral thrives in the sandy shallows beneath the mangroves of Maravagi Bay. During tidal changes, a swift current just outside the bay delivers nutrients for corals and critters alike


ON THE HUNT

Michael Zeigler Maravagi Bay Shipwreck

Inside Maravagi Bay a shallow shipwreck attracts a school of ox-eye scad, which in turn attracts the attention of a pair of hunting bluefin trevally


WING SPAN 

Michael Zeigler Sunken Japanese Kawanishi Seaplane

This Japanese Kawanishi seaplane was sunk by American forces in the Florida Islands when moored in the harbour in August  1942. Shown here are the sponge-encrusted propellers of the plane’s left wing, still intact after more than 75 years underwater


 

  first published in winter print edition2

 

 

 

 

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