People don’t give the disposable underwater analog camera the credit it deserves. For a cheap throwaway, it certainly takes some incredible photos, provided your subject is somewhat photogenic. And what could be more photogenic than Rainbow Reef in Fiji?
The reef surrounding Taveuni Island is pretty much the center of the universe, as far as diving goes. That’s what I learned from the incredibly skilled team at Taveuni Ocean Sports who told me that here, there are over 400 species of coral, including hard and soft coral. Acropora are the most common and the fastest-growing, with gorgeous branches sprouting up to 7-12 inches per year.
One of the things that makes hard coral so unique is that they’re half-animal, half-plant, so inside of every little polyp are algae that photosynthesize and give the hard coral around 90% of its energy. This is the main reason hard coral needs to be in sunny, shallow areas: in order to absorb the solar activity to survive, since they are technically part animals. In fact, if you look closely, you’ll see miniature polyps that look like tiny sea anemones that open and close, trapping plankton and nutrients for food.
Meanwhile, soft coral has a completely different way of feeding, because they rely on current, which delivers all the plankton directly to the polyp. So with a strong current, the soft coral blossoms just like a flower on dry land.
With regards to fish, this area is home to 1500 species of fish, including butterfly fish, angel fish, and clownfish — basically, every kind of tropical fish on the planet. One of the most common are Anthias, a colorful kind of fish that are sort of like the butterfly of the underwater kingdom. The orange ones are the females, and the bright purple are the males. Each male has a harem of 10-20 females, making him a sea pimp.
“The man in the grey suit,” a.k.a. sharks, are pretty common here, too. But don’t worry, they’re not as dangerous as one might believe after seeing Jaws. My diving instructor informed me that 100 people a year are killed by coconuts, 200 people a year are killed by dogs, and since they’ve been recording shark attacks, the average amount of shark attacks a year is five — not necessarily fatalities, but attacks. So if you do see a shark, consider yourself lucky. They tend to be afraid of humans, and it’s usually a very short encounter.
Fish and sharks notwithstanding, at Rainbow Reef around Fiji’s Taveuni Island, the real star is the coral. It comes in just about every shade of the rainbow, hence its name. But remember — don’t touch, and don’t take. Just photograph.