Certainly, the most memorable discovery I had ever made during my beachcombing days was finding a perfect pearly nautilus shell cast up by the tide on a Great Barrier Reef island.
With its classic shape and pattern and nacreous aperture it remained my most marvellous treasure for many years.
Never in the wildest realms of my imagination did I think I would ever see a live one, after all, they lived at extreme depths in excess of 250 metres, ancient mysterious beings.
Yet, 20 years later on an early morning dive in Vila, Vanuatu I got to see and photograph my first real live pearly nautilus and learn a little of its prehistoric lifestyle before it eased over the drop off and melted slowly into the twilight deeps.
Sometime later found me back in Vila, Vanuatu to experience diving with one of the regions longest established dive/watersports operators, Nautilus Water Sports.
Coincidence? Perhaps, but life sometimes has more than a twist of fate in store for all of us.
My first 'real' treasure ever found beachcombing on the Great Barrier Reef, I never imagined that one day I would see a Pearly nautilus Nautilus pompilious alive, let alone photograph it. Just to make sure I gor the shot, I took three rolls of film and ended up with 92 beautiful images. Might have over done it….. just a little?
(Photo Neville Coleman)
Snuggled in between New Caledonia, Fiji and the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu's 80 islands extend in a chain from north to south almost parallel with the Australian east coast.
Weathering many centuries of cyclones, active volcanoes, blackbirding slavers and more recently, colonial control, the Ni-Vanuatu people have created an independent nation out of one of the most diverse civilisations existing in the world today.
However, in a similar fashion to most Polynesian and Melanesian peoples, their traditional day by day, unhurried, extended family existence based on sustenance gardens, fishing and craft has been rocketed into the computer age.
Cascades waterfalls at Vila are a must for every visitor.
Crystal clear freshwater pools for snorkelling or swimming. Guides are available for this eco adventure, all run and managed by the traditional owners.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Modified by European colonisation and influences, traditional ways and values live side by side within a rapidly evolving world of commerce and big business.
Resources such as oceanic fishing rights, forestry and copra are no longer major items for overseas trade as they once were, and the only real sustainable industry is tourism, which more recently has also, to compete with the aquarium fish trade.
As a destination
A mere two and a half hours flight from Australias east coast aboard Air Vanuatu it has been one of the easiest and economic travel/holiday destinations for visiting Australians and is still one of the most popular Pacific venues.
However, just as the entire business of world tourism has been affected by the advent of September 11, the Bali bombing and economic downturns, the nations of the South Pacific have all experienced downturns in their economies with fewer people travelling.
Local markets are pretty much the same all over Vanuatu, with a good range of local produce and local handicraft for sale.
( photo: Dr. John Patten White Grass Ocean Resort- Tanna)
Initially this is to be expected; for most tourists, going away on a holiday is a reward for their yearly work day efforts and something they look forward to as happy times.
At this point in time, the South Pacific destinations appears to be the safest and most stable overseas holiday venues in the world.
With limited inland and highland development, most of Vanuatu's tourism infrastructure is spread around the foreshores where parasailing, fishing, jet skiing, sailing, canoeing, cruising, yachting, snorkelling, glass bottom boat viewing and scuba diving are catered for by a number of long-standing business enterprises.
In effect, the future livelihood of Vanuatu as a major tourism destination is somewhat dependent on its ability to protect and preserve its marine resources, especially in the vicinity of tourist resorts and recognised snorkelling and dive sites.
Regardless of who owns what and who is leasing where from traditional owners, everybody must realise that to protect a mobile resource which is unseen to most, is not quite the same as a garden, a forest or a block of ground where everything is recognised, easily measured, or counted.
In the ocean, the area a fish requires to breed and sustain its population (resource) is enormous compared to land animals or insects because most fish are broadcast spawners and the eggs and larvae may disperse over wide areas.
Beautiful little Swallowtail Basslets Serranocirrhitus latus are cave – dwelling plankton feeders and although they are collected as aquarium species, their natural habitat is away from the sun and any fabricated aquarium habitat would need to take this into consideration.
(Photo Neville Coleman)
Most marine animals have pelagic larvae dispersal and, as such, breeding populations (generally the largest fish) must be maintained in marine protected areas so that they can replenish the surrounding reefs. If, for instance, locals regularly go out diving at night and spearing all the big (sexually mature) fish while they are sleeping, it doesn't take long to reduce the entire breeding population of that reef, especially in areas close to shore.
Vanuatu Marine Life Inventoty of Dive Sites
The Vanuatu Marine Life Inventory of Dive Sites was aimed at establishing the long term compilation of a visual resource guide to the species of flora and fauna which occur around all the recognised tourism based dive sites. Once established, the survey could be extended to include all Vanuatu's waters incorporating all the aquatic species and would provide an excellent source of teaching aids which could be utilised in the schools.
As there are no Governmental materials on training opportunities available at present I believe it will be up to the tourist operators to provide a system by which their investments would be protected and at the same time address local education. Of course, everything worthwhile costs and for any project to be successful it must be economically viable so that all those who take part can see a future for their investment.
Viable and self-funding project
The facts are that this entire project, its training aids and program structure is already available, proven throughout Indo-Pacific regions (PNG), self-funding and within the limitations of all Vanuatu tourism enterprises.
UNDERWATER MARINE MARINE IDENTIFICATION
COURSE PADI (ECO-TOURISM) CERTIFICATE ADVANCE DIVER COURSE
NAUTILUS SCUBA (2 day workshops – 1 to 11 Jan 2004)
In order to begin any work establishing base line studies it is necessary that divers, snorkellers etc undergo a recognised educational course on basic visual identification of fish and marine invertebrates. As divers and snorkellers are the only ones who see whats underwater the dive tourism industry is in a perfect position to not only provide learning experience services but in doing so also elevate the status of all parties towards future eco-tourism based educational programs.
Easily recognised, the Durban Shrimp Rhincocinetes durbanensis is a very common cleaner fish shrimp that lives in colonies beneathe caves, ledges and in wrecks.
(Photo Neville Coleman)
Local or resident divers could make up the mainstay of the initial fauna survey clientele by being encouraged to further their interests and education and assist in this national concept. There is no reason why dive tourism operators couldn't advertise these courses and invite overseas customers to take part in the exploration and discovery of Underwater Vanuatu.
Nautilus Scuba have already applied their expertise to the project with various courses being offered from the 1st to the 11th January, 2004. These initial courses will be run by Neville Coleman in his capacity as a LSFI instructor and within the umbrella of PADIs Project AWARE Asia/Pacific educational programs.
Only found on sandy, or silty bottoms, the characteristic Twinspot goby Signigobius biocellatus Is common at some dive sites in Vila Harbour, where it excavates burrows in the soft bottom.
(Photo Neville Coleman)
Dive destination: Vila, Vanuatu
Dive boat: Nautilus Water Sports "Cowrie"
Dive site: Mele Reef
Overheard between two Sydney divers on the back deck, "What was that bright green thing in the cave with the white stripes?"
It looked like some sort of cucumber to me…
Neville, did you see the bright green cucumber with the white stripes?
Pity you didnt come with us, we all saw it. Ive never seen anything like it in 12 years diving.
Neville: There are no bright green sea cucumbers with white stripes in the Asia/Indo-Pacific waters, what did you eat, sniff or drink for breakfast?
Honest Neville, we all saw it and the thing certainly looked like a cucumber to us.
We will take you down next dive and see if we can find it.
So, on the next dive I followed behind the group and guide and, sure enough, 15 minutes into the dive there is a frantic beckoning from up ahead. I fin along the wall thinking to myself, This isn't sea cucumber territory. The only ones here would be nocturnal species that live deep in the caves and crevices and venture forth on dark nights.
However, on my approach everybody was arranged around a small cave, so perhaps it might be feasible.
After all, there really hadn't been much investigation of the reefs of Vanuatu regarding flora and fauna surveys (anything was possible).
Thomas, the dive guide, had his arm in the cave pointing to an object…I went closer, flicked on my torch and, sure enough, there in the back of the cave was a bright green cucumber with white stripes and eyes that until yesterday had been inhabiting the local fruit and vegetable market in Vila.
I backed out of the cave and turned around to an audience that were almost drowning themselves laughing so much.
Grinning to myself I played along and took several shots of the new species and transferred it to my BC pocket (which I would never do with a real sea cucumber) gave everybody a thumbs up for showing me their "plant" and angled off down the reef face to the next discovery.
It was a simple, plausible, well thought out and executed plan. Everybody had been involved AND what was even more important everybody enjoyed themselves AND nobody got hurt or was put in danger.
It was all in GOOD fun!
After all, I had asked to be shown any unusual sea cucumbers that anybody noticed. Not that anybody, except me, was going on a dive looking for sea cucumbers.
However, due to everybody playing their part they all now know the difference between a cucumber and sea cucumbers…what more could I ask?
My old original by-line "Education through Entertainment" was still alive and well!
Paul J Schofield and Paul Harvey of Sydney, New South Wales, it was a pleasure to share your imagination and sense of humour, it made everybody's day. What impressed me most was your enthusiasm for diving. See you in Sydney next time Im down there.
Yes! I can tell the difference between drowning caterpillars and nudibranchs…
From Nautilus Scuba website
Nautilus Scuba has full certification courses running at all times. They run PADI and SSI courses starting from Open Water through to Instructor. In their Open Water courses they provide a full set of equipment included in the price. For the Advanced course, Rescue course and Speciality courses equipment is available for hire.
For further education you will require to have your own equipment. The PADI Open Water course consists of 4 or 5 Open Water dives. The SSI Open Water course consists of 5 Open Water dives. The PADI Advanced course and Rescue course each consist of 5 Open Water dives. The Divemaster and the Instructor courses are on application only.
DIVE SITES: Coral Reefs, caves, caverns and drop off's
Two "bombora" formations with most species of tropical fish. Depth from 10 metres on the top of the reef to 18 metres over the edge of the drop off.
At many coral reef dive sites one may be lucky enough to see one Spiny Squirrelfish Sargocentron spiniferum present. At Twin Bommies there are an entire school. I really enjoyed my dives there, everything was vibrant and with so many species to search for in the caves and ledges and around the gap. I was only disappointed by how quickly the dive time went.
(Photo Neville Coleman)
This site features a variety of coloured coral and brightly coloured fish. Depth from 6 metres to 15 metres.
A series of interlocking caves and swim-through tunnels. The sandy bottom is home of many small rays. Depths of 8 metres to 14 metres.
This extensive reef rises up to 6 metres. With the colours of the rainbow represented on the vertical wall and the masses of interesting life at this spot – you will want to visit Mele Reef more than once.
Common Lionfish Pterois volitans are present at many dive sites across Vanuatu and are especially common at some of the Vila Dive sites.
(Photo Neville Coleman)
At the tip of the Pango peninsular a vast cavern is formed. Maximum depth is 24 metres with shafts of light creating an unusual effect. It is possible to swim through to the back of the cavern and up through a "chimney" to a large pool on the surface inside the reef. After the Cathedral we swim along the reef wall and look out into the deep, blue open ocean.
Konanda is an island trader, 45 metres in length and deliberately sunk in 1987 after being damaged by a cyclone. She was carefully prepared so that penetration of the wreck is safe. She sits flat on a sandy bottom at 26 metres. Some of the inhabitants on Konanda are lionfish, boxfish, crocodilefish etc.
Due to its marvalous camouflage, the Fringe – eyed flathead, or 'Crocodile fish' Cymbacephalus nematophthalmus is not often noticed by divers, even though it grows up to 1 metre in size. It frequents sandy rubble bottom and seems to very attracted to wrecks.
(Photo Neville Coleman)
Star of Russia
This historical interesting wreck is the largest in Efate and was built in 1874 in Belfast by Harlan and Wolff (also famous for construction of Titanic). She is 80 metres in length and 13 metres in breadth. The marine life consists of countless varieties of tropical fish.
At 33 metres you can inspect the old anchor weighing equipment and a huge main bollard in the forward section, dead eyes and rigging along the railings, three massive masts and remains of a crows nest, the hull with a romantic shapely bow, the wheel machinery etc.
For those divers keen on macro photography there are enough critters on the buoy and chain to take up an entire dive.
A cargo carrying trading vessel sunk in 1985 to a depth of 26 metres and later in 1987 moved further down by cyclone Uma. The stern area with the cabins and the wheel house can be dived within 40 metres. The clarity of the water at this site is a feature and you get up to a 60 metres viz. As a build up towards the President Coolidge in Santo the Semele is a valuable experience.
In 40 metres of water lies the Qantas S26 Sandringham Flying Boat. The wreck was discovered in 1978 after quite a search and makes a fascinating dive site. With a wingspan of 30 metres this bulky giant is waiting to be explored. We drop onto the tail and climb through the cockpit window and out the other side, and peer through the many windows.
I Many thanks to owner/operators of Nautilus Scuba, Peter Phillips and Leanne Collett for their hospitality, professional establishment and barbecues supreme.
To Thomas (divemaster/mate) and Jim (Dive Boat Cowrie skipper) a big thank you for showing me around, excellent guiding (I didnt get lost once) and for taking care of my camera gear.
A big thank you to Kate Philips for accompanying me on the adventurous night dive amongst all the sea urchins and Josh Phillips for volunteering Ben the lorikeet (who talks more than Neville) to star in the next series. Holan Harry's air is amongst the best I ever breathed underwater and Kathleen is teaching me how to iron my shirt and understand Halo skiusmi I oraet sista…many thanks to all.
Neville Coleman's diving expeditions, fauna surveys, photographic fauna surveys and marine life identification courses include every major group of marine life.
Neville Coleman's expertise in marine life identification extends to the identification of Algae, Sea Grass, Forams, Sponges, Stony Corals, Soft Corals, Sea Anemones, Sea Jellies, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, Black Corals, Flatworms, Segmented Worms, Crustaceans, Barnacles, Shrimps, Rock Lobsters, Hermit Crabs, Squat Lobsters, Molluscs, Chitons, Univalves, Bivalves, Cephalopods, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Squid, Opisthobranchs, Nudibranchs, Sea Slugs, Bryozoans, Sea Mosses, Echinoderms, Sea Stars, Feather Stars, Brittle Stars, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, Ascidians/Sea Squirts, Marine Fish, Sharks, Marine Reptiles, and Marine Mammals, all found in the waters around.
( Copyright Neville Coleman)