Montipora and the legendary purple monster Acropora are plentiful along with fabulous swirling colonies of bright blue and purple Montipora capricornis.
The day after my zoanthid adventure I was off to Tanapari, a small sand bar of an island near Guadalcanal. Along with some local collectors and divers we explored the crystal clear warm waters for Montipora and Acropora. In this area the highly prized and brightly colored encrusting Superman Montipora and the legendary purple monster Acropora are plentiful along with fabulous swirling colonies of bright blue and purple Montipora capricornis. There were numerous reef fishes including mated pairs of Moorish Idols, assorted butterflyfish, and adult pairs of Emperor angelfish.
The fish collectors I was with specialized in collected only fish, no corals. They were brought in from the Philippines where they perfected their skills from many years of collecting for the aquarium trade. In the Solomons they work with an air compressor on the small boat that is hooked up to a hose they use to breath from while underwater, a device they call a hookah. Fish are collected with nets in a fascinating manner where teams of divers set up larger barrier nets and herd fish into smaller collection nets. Coral collectors use only goggles, no snorkel or other breathing equipment such as Scuba since they are not available in the Solomons, as they hold their breath and go underwater to chisel small colonies.
Underwater coral collection is a real feat that the local divers have perfected. It is very difficult to hold your breath, dive down 10-50 feet, keep your balance and stay underwater with very strong currents, chisel away at a colony without damaging it before it’s freed, and do all this with one breath. I’ll have to admit that this slightly out of shape old guy was the focus of some laughter and kidding by my more skilled and younger companions. The experience was not only a bit humbling, but also very enlightening. It gave me a much greater appreciation for the process of how our corals get to us here in the US.
"The laborious work by the skilled local divers and their care and attention to detail was inspiring and appreciated as they constantly thought about quality and getting their prized collections to us alive and healthy. "
These basic steps are often forgotten by us as we tend to complain that maybe a colony isn’t completely perfect or as colorful as we would like. The laborious work by the skilled local divers and their care and attention to detail was inspiring and appreciated as they constantly thought about quality and getting their prized collections to us alive and healthy.
The unrelenting sunlight took its toll on my skin despite wrapping myself in a hood, shirt, and towels to block the intense equatorial sunlight. That was OK though, here I was seeing and collecting colorful fish and corals that I had kept in my aquariums over the years, it was my dream come true! There were mated pairs and groups of clownfish and damsels living in huge anemones protecting their territories, mated pairs of assorted angelfish and butterflyfish, all sorts of colorful corals, and a huge array of beautiful reef critters. It was very awe inspiring!
Interestingly most corals were not brightly colored under the natural sunlight. This is an aspect we tend to forget as hobbyists seeing our corals under artificial lighting in our aquariums. Many of these somewhat bland colored corals were actually very colorful once viewed with artificial lighting, but in the ocean while battling strong currents and other obstacles it was difficult to appreciate their full beauty.