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Dive Review of Nai'a in
Kiribati (Christmas Island)/Phoenix Islands

May, 2005, an Instant Reader Report by Wendy McIlroy, PA, USA
Report Number 1718
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Reporter and Travel
Dive Experience
Over 1000 dives
Where else diving
Carribbean, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Tonga
Closest Airport
Getting There


Dive Conditions

Water Temp
84   to 86    Fahrenheit  
Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility
50   to 100    Feet  
Dive Policy
Dive own profile
Enforced diving restrictions  
Nitrox Available?
What I saw
1 or 2 
Whale Sharks
> 2 
Ratings 1 (worst)- 5 (best):
  1 stars
Tropical Fish
3 stars  
Small Critters
  2 stars
Large Fish
4 stars  
Large Pelagics
  4 stars
Underwater Photography  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
Subject Matter
3 stars  
Boat Facilities
5 stars
Overall rating for UWP's  
5 stars  
Shore Facilities  
Ratings and Overall Comments  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
5 stars
4 stars
Service and Attitude
5 stars
Environmental Sensitivity  
Dive Operation
5 stars  
Shore Diving  
3 stars  

Overall Rating

Value for $$
3 stars   
3 stars    
I spent 2 weeks as part of an expedition to study the Phoenix Islands
ecosystems recovery from a severe coral bleaching episode in 2002. David
Obura and Sangeeta Mangubhai, our coral scientists, had been on 2 previous
Phoenix Islands expeditions, when the object was to study pristine reefs in
an area isolated from most human development. Many of you may have seen the
National Geographic article from February 2003, documenting the second of
these trips, in early 2002. Our current trip was meant to be a pleasure
trip to see these untouched reefs. Unfortunately, a severe hotspot of ocean
warming occurred here in late 2002, and a somber report of dead coral was
put out in November. Five people cancelled their plans for the trip, but
the rest of us decided to stay on but change the focus to research,
inviting the scientists who had been there previously to come along and see
if they could determine the severity of damage and potential for recovery.

It was indeed a severe bleaching episode--the temperature gauges set during
the 2002 trip and recovered during this one indicate that the ocean heated
up to well over the bleaching baseline of 30c for 5 monthsall the way up
to 31.5c for a significant amount of time. The result is staggeringin many
places the coral is not only dead but reduced to rubble. The Coral Castle
site in Kanton lagoon, shown in its former glory in the NG article, is
intact but nearly 100% dead. Huge stacks of table coral in a sea of
staghorn coral, all dead. It must have been an amazing sight prior to its
demise. Watching the fish swimming there is analogous to watching children
playing in a junkyard or a war-ravaged city. It is heartening to see the
spirit of the children, but incredibly sad knowing that their future is in
serious doubt. This is the general feeling I got on this expeditionthat
this is but one of the many ecosystems being lost to ocean warming. There
were areas on some of the smaller islands especially where some recovery is
occurring. Is the new growth just a last gasp before the next wave of heat?
Or will these living corals be able to withstand higher temperatures? It
will take years to know the answer to this. A particularly interesting
reason for studying this area is its remoteness. Recovery from bleaching
episodes in other areas of the world is generally aided by reseeding of
coral polyps from nearby undamaged reefs. In islands this remote, can this
reseeding occur? 
Right now there is still a fairly healthy fish population, although in the
past there were huge numbers of butterfly fishliterally hundreds flocking
over the reefs. Now we only see a few per dive. Previously there had also
been a lot of mantas. Total for the whole trip: 2. So the fish population
is already changing. What are the long-term ramifications of all this?
There are a lot of questions, and few answers. 
There are other concerns as well. In 2000 there was a very healthy shark
population around the islands. Between that visit and the 2002 expedition,
long-liners came through, with the blessing of the Kiribati government,
fishing for shark fins for the Asian market. The shark population has not
recovered from this.  Formerly sharky sites are fairly barren of sharks.
On Nikumaroro (Gardner) Island, the last island we visited and the most
remote, it was clear that the shark-finners had not been through, and it
was heartening and exhilarating to see healthy populations of gray reef,
black tip and white tip sharks, from curious juveniles to fully grown
adults. Our best dives were definitely on Nikumaroro.
There were a few land visits as well. One highlight was our very first
island, Phoenix Island, where there is an enormous population of boobies
and frigate birdsa real bird-watchers paradise. 
On a positive side, we had a terrific group of people and, as always, the
Naia crew made us all feel like family. This was my 4th trip on Nai'a, and
I have been delighted with every one. I don't think there's a better crew
and a happier boat anywhere. We all enjoyed the fish and shark encounters,
focusing on the positive. The sharks at Nikumaroro and the large number of
Napolean Wrasse at all of the islands were worth seeing. We had interesting
discussions about what we were seeing and what we thought it meant. We know
that our participation in this trip was important, and that our main
purpose in coming was to bear witness to whats happening. This letter is
my attempt to do so, and I don't regret going on the trip.
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All Kiribati (Christmas Island) Dive Reviews and Reports
Diving Guide to Kiribati (Christmas Island)
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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