SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
July 29, 2018
“Did you see anything cool?”
4°00’ S x 172°44’ W
Heading and Speed
310° at 3 knots
Motor sailing under the mainstays’l and forestays’l
Sunny and 32.5°C, with light winds and calm seas out of the East Southeast
Last night we sailed away from our second port stop, the island of Orona. Of the past 10 days, 6 have been spent snorkeling, swimming, or exploring Orona and Kanton. After a group of snorkelers returns to the ship, one of the first questions always asked by those already on board is "Did you see anything cool?" The answer is usually focused on the big guys, the charismatic megafauna that reside in these waters and on our snorkeling bucket lists: the sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, etc. While it's thrilling to follow around giant, majestic rays and to feel your heart beat a little faster when a grey reef shark appears suddenly beside you, I've found that as much joy can be found if I just look a bit closer at the little guys swimming below.
Wrasses, damselfish, butterfly fish, chromis...the list of tiny, gorgeous fish is endless. They dart in and out of hidey-holes in the reef or surround you in glimmering schools. A few days ago inside the Kanton Lagoon, I spent the afternoon snorkeling along the beach during some time off. The majority of my shipmates left the water after the manta rays disappeared, but I was enamored with a small damselfish species that I had never seen before: the humbug dascyllus. They are only a couple centimeters long with a white tail, solid black and white stripes, and a small patch of white between their eyes. The humbugs stayed close to the acropora coral heads in the shallow parts of the reef. Dozens of them flitted around each coral. When I dove down to get a closer look, however, every single one would turn to look at me. They were still and stared at me right in the eye, as if challenging me to come closer. As soon as I or my camera was back at the surface, they would continue swimming around their coral, nibbling on algae or chasing away other fish. I floated and watched the humbugs dart in and out of the coral, their adorable zebra-striped selves quickly winning me over and becoming one of my new favorites.
Another magical miniature fish moment came at a deeper reef off the shore of Orona. My snorkel buddy and I were cruising along the edge of the drop off hoping when I noticed an undulating patch of tannish yellow amidst the mostly pink and purple crustose coralline algae.
The anemone swayed gently back and forth with the swells. Swimming above it and burying themselves in its tendrils were two orangefin anemonefish (the same genus as the famous clown anemonefish). The orange, black, and white striped fish happily rolled around in the anemone, but when we swam closer, they also swam toward us, baring their tiny teeth in protection of their home. Like a lot of the small reef fishes, these two would be easily missed when just swimming quickly near the surface and scanning for megafauna. But if you dive a little closer and swim a little slower, there is always an infinitely exciting world to explore.
Sending love and happy thoughts to family and friends at home!
Over and out,
Sadie Cwikiel, Stanford University