Solomon Islands Snorkeling Tour, July, 2015 Trip Report
Ah, the Solomon Islands, still one of my favorite snorkeling destinations. If you are a frequent reader of my blogs (hi mom, I think your still the only one :-), you’d know that I use the term ‘favorite’ for just about every destination that we go to. Well, its true and each are my favorite for different reasons as each one has something that makes it special. For me, the Solomons still represent a place where time stood still. Life is truly on ‘island time’ and, as a result, the place still reeks of pristine beauty and culture. The islands are lush, even those with small villages, and the undisturbed bird life makes mornings a chorus of out-worldly bird calls. Speaking of bird life, I recently learned that nearly half (200 species) of the total number of currently known birds in Melanesia (501 species) are endemic!
The reefs are still some of the best I have ever had the chance to snorkel upon. Some are just enormous, I mean, enormous in scale with table corals the size of King Arthur’s round table and massive coral bommies that are the size of 3-bedroom single homes. Others are the models of coral diversity with seemingly all recorded species in the area (over 500) represented. The fish life is equally as impressive with huge diversity and abundance on just about every snorkel. Sharks and other large predators, often noticeably absent in other areas (even those thought of as pristine) are common as well.
We began in the Russell group where places like White Beach, Mane Is., and Leru Cut can be found. White Beach is known for it’s mangrove and ‘muck’ snorkeling. Nudibranchs, lionfishes, cardinalfishes, and colorful sponges and tunicates can be found in very shallow water and encrusted on the multitude of debris left over from when the US had its military base along the shores. Mane Island is home to Mirror Pond, a beautiful reef that not only has incredible corals (like the patch of cobalt blue Acropora), but also is probably the most consistent place to find a species of coral hermit crab that has only been described from the Solomon Islands. Leru Cut is a fissure that cuts 40 foot deep, 200 foot long into Leru Island. Sea levels allow us to snorkel into the cut where blue sky above is shaded by dense tropical jungle. The walls are covered with sponges and feather stars. It’s a real ‘Indiana Jones’ experience complete with a large boulder that fell and lodged into the crevice and now marks the end of the passage.
Next was Mary Island. This tiny little oceanic island sits about half way between the Russell Islands and Morovo Lagoon in the New Georgia Islands. Mary attracts the big stuff and within our first five minutes at Barracuda Point, we were visited by a large manta ray. After a few passes to check us out, he swam gracefully out into the blue. As for us, we continued with the current to the point where schools of barracuda, jacks, and bumphead parrotfish aggregate. It was also spawning time for the unicornfishes and we watched the males of several species flash their colors and corral the females. The reefs consist of convoluted canyons with enormous bommies standing like sentinels at the entrances. Visibility was great and we could take in the grand-ness of the reef system.
Our next stop was Morovo Lagoon. One of the largest lagoons in the world, Morovo boasts some of the most remarkable reefs. Steep walls covered with hard and soft corals often have large cuts and swim-throughs making for exciting places to explore and play. We visited Karanjou Is., Wickham Is., and Mbulo Island that was the group’s favorite snorkel because of the topography combined with the incredibly healthy and abundant reefs and schools of barracuda and bumphead parrotfish. White tip reef sharks were also a nearly permanent part of the reefscape. Morovo Lagoon is also the place where many of the villages practice their art of woodcarving. We stopped by several of them to browse (and often purchase) their beautiful works of art.
Our final stop was the Florida Islands, just east of Guadalcanal. This area has always delivered some of the best the Solomons have to offer. Maravagi Bay has a wealth of habitats all within an easy swim from each other: mangroves, reef, sand, a wreck, sea grass, and rubble! We saw both ornate and robust ghost pipefish, waspfish, several species of Centropyge angels, bumphead parrotfish, schooling scad and batfish, and a huge diversity of reef fish. We stay here a full day and it is often not enough! As a matter of our 10-day snorkeling cruise was too short to fully explore this wonderful region within the Coral Triangle. Fortunately, we will be back in December 2016.