Blown away by the underwater life

As posted last week- we have seen some incredible things underwater in Vanuatu. Our highlights have generally been from our snorkeling expeditions- completely counter to our expectations of what our memorable times here would be.
We based ourselves in and around Havannah Harbour, at the north end of Efate island, for the better part of a week. Much of our exploration was based from this idyllic anchorage.
Lelepa bay
We’re curious about why the reef here is so vibrant. It wasn’t just biomass- sheer volume of fish- it was biodiversity- the variety that’s present. The massive examples of different species, the healthy corals, the spectrum of life along the food chain- it’s in striking contrast to most other island groups.
Is it an anomaly? is it managed? is it simply not overfished? The only place that has rivaled it for fish volume (although without the supersized fish) was Suwarrow. There, though, the lack of human population made an easy rationale… here, small villages dot the islands, and many people scrape a subsistence living with easy access to the reef.
Here are a handful of images with a vain attempt to share some peeks into the underwater world. The first few are from Vanuatu, and from IO. The rest are pictures I took in Fiji. Speaking of IO- check out their blog! They just posted another great video, once again with oodles of our pictures and some of our video footage included. I am so grateful for the time Mike puts into making these. They’ve also have a post on their experiences with this awesome reef snorkeling in Vanuatu. Where I just say “HUGE!”, Mike gets into some specific weight estimates on the beasties we’ve seen underwater.
It’s hard to get the scale of this big tuna from the photo, but trust me, watching him patrol the reef- there is NO doubt about who is at the top of the food chain.
Tuna
My bad luck with seeing sea turtles on our snorkeling expeditions had become comical. I hadn’t seen one since the Marquesas! There are plenty of them around, and I often see them from the boat, but it’s hard to compare with the magic of being next to one of these magnificent creatures. Trust me, I’m not complaining, it was just funny how I never managed to see them when everyone else did. Invariably, we’d come back from a jaunt to the reef and Mike or Jamie would be crowing about the amazing turtles they’d seen. I might only be a few yards away, but I’d manage to miss it completely. Huh??
My luck finally changed. This big guy- hawksbill I think?- floated right past, looked us in the eye, and was barely fazed. You almost stop breathing, it’s so magical.
Finally!
Banded sea snake: Mairen saw one of these sliding along our hull the first day we anchored in Havannah Harbour. This one was photographed in Fiji. The kids insisted it was an eel, but this is actually one of them poisonous types. Lovely.
The kids insisted...
Giant clams never fail to impress me with their pretty colors and silky mantle. Turns out they’re good eating, too. Jamie and Mike met up with a couple of guys when we were anchored in Waya, Fiji, and spent part of an afternoon checking out spearfishing sites with them. They cracked one of these open and chomped down the abductor muscle raw!
Giant clam
Look at Niall diving down here. He does this without thinking. This is the kid who basically couldn’t swim two years ago. *sigh* I am so happy and so proud!
Niall dives without thinking about it now
This fish is called an Oriental Sweetlips- isn’t it pretty? I spent about 15 minutes playing hide and seek with it around a coral head. It was just a little too curious about me to skitter away completely. They’re delicious, too. They were generally 15-18″ in Fiji, but we’ve seen a similar species- slightly different coloring, more white than black- in Vanuatu, and the Vanuatu fish are almost twice that size.
Sweetlips
Niall spotted this nudibranch- a little sea slug- it’s pictured on his pinkie finger. Doesn’t it look like it should be some kind of cute cartoon character? Or have I been spending too much time undewater?
Nudibranchs!
Remember that pile of sea grapes from the market inFiji? Here they are growing underwater… not sure they’re ready to harvest, though. Yummmmmm….. seaweed….
Sea grapes
I think this is my favorite spearfishing pic of the trip. Mike, aka Mr Lethal.
they call him Lethal Mike
The colors and forms of coral never cease to amaze me.
beautiful corals and more
Why don’t I ever get tired of clownfish? Is it the X00 times I’ve watched Finding Nemo? I don’t know, but they’re so dang funny, popping in and out of their anenome home.
Nope. I never get tired of Nemo.

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5 Responses to Blown away by the underwater life

  1. Seven C's October 19, 2010 at 9:20 pm #

    Thanks for doing this post – this is just amazing! I can only guess what it must be like to actually see and experience these in real life!
    You guys are doing such a fantastic thing for the kids – and yourselves. Something that will last a lifetime 🙂

  2. kim October 20, 2010 at 12:16 am #

    WOW! it looks so beautiful there!!

  3. rebecca October 27, 2010 at 11:18 pm #

    Mira is with you re: the sea slug – She says “Oooohhh! It’s SO SWEET!”

  4. Hallovertheplace May 16, 2014 at 3:08 am #

    Hi Behan, we have just arrived in Havana Harbour and would like to ask if you have any recommendations for us. We are keen snorkel and divers

    • Behan Gifford May 16, 2014 at 10:20 am #

      Hey guys- that’s exciting! The really great spot we spent days in was between Moso and Lelepa islands, . We anchored at the bay in the NW side of Lelepa (lots of bommies, be careful going in, and suspend your anchor chain- don’t let it drag on the coral). The village on Moso (it’s at the SE side) doesn’t allow fishing / spearfishing on the reef at the NW end, which has fostered some really amazing sea life. Introduce yourself in the village, they’ve got a turtle research program going on you might be able to enjoy as well!

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