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Diving the Solomon Islands

We had long heard of the richness of the reefs and the great diversity of the marine life, with new species, found nowhere else in the world, being identified. The Solomons has long been a mecca for divers, and the best way to see the variety of the marine life over such a large area is on a liveaboard dive boat. There are two that ply these waters - the Bilikiki, and the Spirit of the Solomons, both owned by the same company. Each is 125 feet long, with 10 cabins, taking up to 20 divers. The boats pick you up at the hotel in Honiaria, or the airport, if you come on the day of departure. We always recommend coming into a destination a day or so early, so your luggage can catch up and you can get over jet lag. It also enables you to explore. (See companion article - Solomon Islands - Land and People)

We took a 12 night trip on the Bilikki- (there were only 6 of us, and a crew of 11!). The diving begins right outside of Honiaria, in Iron Bottom Sound- so named for the number of WWII shipwrecks that are there. Most are out of the range of recreational diving, though. The boat then makes its way to the west/northwest towards the Russell and New Georgia Islands. From there, we headed to the Florida Islands to complete the circuit. We encountered walls encrusted with soft corals of many vivid colors, huge expanses of table corals, massive schools of fish, and so many species that are found only in this part of the world. We also dived several WWII wrecks that, over the last 60+ years, had became so covered in corals and crinoids, they were hard to recognize. Several kinds of Lionfish, multicolored nudibranchs (snails without shells), humphead wrasse, pipefishes, anthias, crinoids of varied colors, anemones with varied types of clownfish, crocodilefish, and schools of fish would abound. Starfish of many colors littered the bottom along with large, multicolored giant clams.

The reefs were a mecca for macro photography, and other than insanely colorful nudibranchs, the two things I wanted to photograph were the pygmy seahorse (about the size of a grain of rice) and the mandarin fish. I had hoped to see the mandarinfish spawning, but knew that would be very difficult. (See the accompanying article on that adventure- Mandarin Fish Adventure Photography). I photographed an unnamed species of mantis shrimp, and several species of fish not found in the books. Sometimes the currents would be ripping, but the visibility was generally pretty good. We did see numerous turtles and some sharks, mostly black tipped reef sharks.

This was a trip of a lifetime for us, and it re-enforced for us the fact that we have so much of our underwater world and cultures yet to see and experience. It also reaffirmed to us how much of the world gets by on very little, and happiness has nothing to do with material things. We plan to go back as soon as we can.

For more information on diving from the liveaboards, contact the Bilikiki at www.Bilikiki.com

See you there!

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