16 December 2013 – Great Sea Reef
Before this expedition started, we were asked by Patricia Mallam of WWF South Pacific what we wanted to photograph of the Great Sea Reef. #1 on our list was the most complicated, and I thought, better blurt it out now and hope for the best. I told Patricia we wanted to do aerials. In fact, I told her we must do aerials to be able to see what the Southern Hemisphere’s third longest barrier reef looks like. That was in March 2013. Fast forward to December 2013 – aerial funding secured, we were back in Fiji.
Having just arrived in Nadi early morning Dec 16 after a red-eye flight from Australia, we had to do our aerials that very day as the week’s weather forecast was not looking good. Patricia and our young Kiwi pilot were ready for us and off we went on our six hour helicopter blitz through the Great Sea Reef in a Robinson 44 – without the back doors of course, for best photography. Slightly jet-lagged with hardly any sleep, we thought: “OK, let’s do it!”
For six hours my hair was painfully all over the place. For the first time ever, I envied Yogi’s bald head…
Oh but what a sight! The Fijian Islands of the South Pacific did not disappoint. It was, in fact, totally spectacular from beginning to end. We took nothing for granted. We knew it was a special privilege to do this aerial – to be one of the few people to see the GSR from the air.
Here’s a glimpse of the Southern Hemisphere’s third longest barrier reef from the air.
And what are the chances we’d see coral spawning slick from the air???!
Every year, coral spawning in Fiji occurs during the full moon night in November or December. The date of this aerial, Dec 16, was the day before full moon and we’re making an educated guess the corals spawned 2 nights before the December full moon. We only saw the slick where there were corals nearby. The coral spawn slick was metres wide and kilometres upon kilometres long along the Yasawa Group of Islands.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef coral spawning occurs 4-5 days after the full moon. Here below is a picture of the night we dived the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns at 9pm on the 4th of November 2012. I’d love to have seen coral spawning underwater in Fiji’s Great Sea Reef but seeing the slick from the air was pretty awesome enough! An unexpected treat!
Before we started our flight, with a map at the ready, Patricia identified the ideal flight path to determine which areas of the Great Sea Reef we must pass and photograph. Among the list of “must see” is this elongated, slightly sunken reef that is rumoured to exist past the northern tip of the Yasawa. This phantom reef has never been seen before or even detected by the amazing satellite images of Google Earth. Like a treasure hunt, or more looking for a needle in a hay stack, our pilot persevered and found it!
And it was a jewel to behold.
After the newfound reef, we headed for Yadua Island. It was so beautiful from the air! To think exactly on this same day the year before, a category 5 Cyclone Evan devastated Yadua Village. It is hard to imagine this catastrophe when the sun is shining, the calm waters are turquoise blue and the island is looking magnificent!
We had to refuel in Savusavu and flew across some stunning mountain ranges of Vanua Levu. But here and there, the scars of progress jarred the senses like this mining or logging road to some bauxite hill or another.
At some point our pilot went head on in the clouds towards this steep mountain wall that made me exclaim “mountains ahoy!”
After refuelling, we headed straight up north to Kavewa Island. Seeing a familiar island brought back memories of our time experiencing Village Life in Kavewa Island. Then the white sandy beaches of Katawaqa Island also reminds of our turtle adventures with Emosi Time.
One of our favourite images is this one of Kia Island surrounded by the Great Sea Reef with the bursting clouds! Here’s a flashback blog entry on Kia – The Remote Island Paradise of the GSR.
We needed to refuel again in Savusavu to make it back to Nadi. The finale that awaited us was just magnificent! Here’s how the rest of our flight back to base went.
By about 5pm, I was exhausted. I fell asleep with the wind still blowing on my face, hair and everywhere. Our pilot said it’s a first for him to have a client fall asleep on a flight – especially with open doors!
I’m not sure if it’s obvious but here’s a stunning picture of the open sea with the sun low in the horizon reflecting water ripples. A fishing boat is zipping below like a tiny spec of dirt.
Upon zooming in, we could see the fish!
Finally near Nadi as I feel our hotel’s bed beckon me to sleep, a last pretty picture of the mangroves of the Ba Province, Western Division Viti Levu.