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

Nai'a, May, 2005,

by Wendy McIlroy, PA, USA . Report 1718.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity N/A
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving 3 stars
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ N/A
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 3 stars
Comments I spent 2 weeks as part of an expedition to study the Phoenix Islands ecosystem’s 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 months—all the way up to 31.5c for a significant amount of time. The result is staggering—in 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 expedition—that 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 fish—literally 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 birds—a real bird-watcher’s paradise.
On a positive side, we had a terrific group of people and, as always, the Nai’a 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 what’s happening. This letter is my attempt to do so, and I don't regret going on the trip.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience Over 1000 dives
Where else diving Carribbean, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Tonga
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny Seas calm
Water Temp 84-86°F / 29-30°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 50-100 Ft/ 15-30 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions [Unspecified]
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas 1 or 2
Dolphins Schools Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 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 N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]
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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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