Cyclone Tomas hit northeast Fiji dead-on. A ferocious storm, it clobbered the eastern tip of Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Qamea, Matangi, and Laucala for close to two terrifying days. Greg Taylor, JMC's manager, remarked (when speaking of the storm) that they were prepared for complete destruction, but they were miraculously spared. JMC's luck, however, did not extend to the reefs adjacent. With winds barreling through Bligh Waters (the strait of water between the main island of Viti Levu and the island where Cousteau is located, Vanua Levu), the waves reached a height of 20 feet.
Twenty feet might not seem like much, to those who live in Hawaii, but for Fiji it is a big deal. The reefs surrounding Vanua Levu have made the island's water glass smooth. With such peace, staghorn and table corals grow right to the water's surface. When a storm, such as Tomas passes by, these same corals are smashed and wrenched from their anchorage.
The Lighthouse Dive Site is a reef less than 5 minutes from the JMC Resort. Diving websites describe this site as a dive down to 30 meters (100 feet) with table corals extending down the slopes. Some of the sites even mention spaghetti coral. It is named for the lighthouse which sits atop the reef, adjacent to the entry.
After a great lunch, Johnny Singh and I jumped on the boat and headed the few hundred meters to the entry point. Johnny told me the tide had changed and that it would definitely be murkier than the Alice in Wonderland dive. "No matter," I told him, "I can find something to film."
Not more than 15 feet down, the reef begins and gradually collapses down into the depths. Looking all around it seemed to be moving in response to the surge - and then the golden hued stalks of spaghetti coral came into view. A soft coral that relies in part on light for food, it is usually found in Fiji in small patches. The dive site "Alice in Wonderland" had a few patches, but they were sporadic, intermittent. Here, the coral envelops, everywhere present.
There are 2 classes of corals. Spaghetti coral is in the 8 tentacled coral class (as are most soft corals). Reef building corals, anemones, and zoanthids are 6 tentacled corals. Spaghetti coral is coated in protective slime (slimy to the touch) that is toxic to other corals (harmless to humans). As it grows up, its stalks are swayed in the current, touching and killing everything in its path. Looking at the base of the golden whips, I see the remains of hard coral colonies. Life can be brutal here on the reef.
Fish are going in and out of the spaghetti as I follow Johnny down. As we pass 10 meters, murkiness and a descending plane appear. It's apparent that while the spaghetti coral survived Tomas unscathed, the hard corals did not. There is coral rubble everywhere - huge table corals are upside down and being coated with algae. It's not a pretty sight. But, despite this, there are still plenty of fish grazing and milling about. It is not death. It is just different - a transitioning zone.
As we exited the water, Johnny remarked, "This is why Fiji is known as the soft coral capital of the world. Wasn't the spaghetti coral colony amazing?" I wholeheartedly replied, "Yes!" He continued, "Coral spawning will occur this summer, from which new coral colonies will begin. This is just a new beginning." I couldn't agree more.
To see the dive go to the link below or click on the FijiGuide videos.