BY: Sangeeta Mangubhai
We woke up to the tall green mountains on the island of Gau in the southern Lomaiviti group and anchored ourselves in the calm sandy lagoon. In addition to being home to the Gau petrel, the area is famous for Nigali Passage. Diving Nigali requires precision – you need to time the tide correctly otherwise you can easily be swept out to sea. As oceanic water rushed into the channel, Cat Holloway (who I did my first dives with in the Phoenix Islands in 2000) and I jumped in at the mouth of the lagoon and rode the incoming tide into the lagoon.
Steep walls either side of the channel were covered in hard and soft corals. As we descended and moved into the centre of the channel we found ourselves flying through schools of barracuda while grey reef sharks gracefully circled and moved around me curiously. A large grouper sat at the bottom effortlessly and stared up at us. Seconds later we passed through a large school of big eye jacks hovering in the water column. As we pulled ourselves around a corner and out of the current I found myself in the middle of a bright yellow garden of Turbinaria corals – sometimes called cabbage patch corals.
The outside fringing reef had some of the healthiest hard coral communities I have seen in Fiji. Hard corals are important, as they are the reef builders. With over 80 percent cover, hard corals stretched out in all directions covering surfaces. Delicate branching corals and plates seemed to have weathered the cyclone, with very little damage recorded.
We also paid a visit to the community of Somosomo and were relieved to hear that all the villages around the island of Gau had little to no damage from Cyclone Winston. What brought tears to my eyes was to see the Gau community put together food and clothes to take over to the neighouring island of Batiki, which did not fare so well. I was reminded of the strong community bonds we have in Fiji, and how resilient our people are.
Brightly coloured gorgonian corals that survived cyclone Winston