Uepi Update – 2015 In Review
"Always bring the weather, the weather, the weather with you" The 2015 year began with tumultuous weather in January. That trend continued with low pressure cells/cyclones south of us in February and beyond. The Convergence Zone, normally just above us or over us, slipped south and we felt we were in no mans land when it came to predicting the next days weather. After a warm to hot 2014 with water temperatures in the 30C – 31C range, 2015 was cool, consistently 29C and lower. The Dive Staff froze and shivered until they rugged up in double layers or wetsuits. They turned to hot tea & coffee after dives, the staff kitchen looking like the Coffee Club. By June most of the annual 3m of rain had fallen and the tanks were always overflowing.
Then it got interesting. The Convergence Zone was still below us. Hurricanes in the northern hemisphere were lined up in queues, smashing Japan, the Phillipines and elsewhere. One low pressure cell veered south and lobbed right on top of the Solomons, pretty much right over us, and sat there. Tropical Cyclone Rachel (early July) was paying us a visit. Considering that the Solomons cyclone season was December to March, that cyclones originated from the Australian/PNG region, and that Marovo Lagoon had not had a direct cyclone before, this was unusual. Luckily Rachel was only a Category 1 but she dumped half a meter of rain on us in about a day, then became increasingly windy. Coconut trees were bending over but holding fast. The third day Rachel moved a bit and at lunchtime we were all taking lunch at the Mainhouse, playing Monopoly Deal and having a beer for lunch. The wind shifted and the Mainhouse leaf deck roof began levitating and moving. At the critical moment, just as I was standing with the Sheddon family males and we were saying "it is about to take off right now", the wind changed instantly and an almost airborne roof settled back to being badly aligned, the two big main support post on the outside end snapped, but still offering support. The SE Trade Winds hardly got a breathe in. (Recently Grant and the staff re- aligned the mainhouse deck, removing and replacing the two snapped (large) posts, using only a car jack and chain block as tools. It was a precise and at times nail biting engineering feat, made possible by impressive group strength and large doses of ingenuity. And of course there was OTUANA with the jack hammer! As a result of the big blow more than 20 very large trees (and many smaller ones) were blown down, making it necessary for us to re-route our forest walks.
What followed was also unusual. At Uepi two weeks with no rain is a drought, three weeks a severe drought. Rachel was followed by a seven week drought. The eventual relief was a one event downpour. Then came a 13 week drought. Not only did this require considerable effort in water carting and management but the local gardens also suffered. Our hydroponics garden was crucial to our salad bar and thankfully our hydroponics setup is very frugal with water. Rains finally arrived in the last months, much to our relief. Whilst the sight of the MLST Barge, laden with tanks, pumps and trailing PVC water pipes, topped with various colourful configurations of palm leaf shade, flags ands deck chairs is a favourite memory, I can live without it.
But what about the diving? During and despite all of these extreme weather events 2015 was a very, very good year for diving. With ultra high rainfall in the first six months combining with outgoing currents, at times the top of the lagoon waters was murky, but below the upper surface layer the visibility was great, common with colder water temperatures. At 150M depth the water temperature is typically about 25C and if this water upwells we have cold & clear water. During the droughts we had some outstanding visibility.
The marine life was as always prolific. The Manta Rays were present for early morning snorkels for much of the time, lining up for cleaning or feeding. We had a great year for smaller fish such as the Halimeda Pipefish, even a rare and elusive Winged Pipefish, and very cooperative Yellow Leaf Fish. We discovered new shrimps, some so hard to find, and many new Soft Coral Crabs. Both Uepi & Chara Points continued to showcase the big schools, the bigger fish. At times the Dogtooth Tuna deeper down were huge. The Giant Gropers showed up when they chose. Our healthy shark population was ever present. The definite highlight was the almost constant encounters with Hammerheads and along with them Silvertips. This was our best Hammerhead year ever, and they still going strong into 2016.
Happily the corals flourished in the cooler water and the Crown-of-Thorns barely waved a spiky leg our way. It has always been a frustration that we have never seen massive coral spawning here, despite our best efforts. Once again despite regular night dives at the 'correct' times we were fooled again, and one morning, late in the year, heavy, heavy layers of spawn were all everywhere outside. A challenge remains for 2016.
Everybody loves Dolphins. With regular schools of Dolphins, in the blue water, in the channel, feeding off the points, looking after their young in the bays, there were lots of opportunities for leaning over the bow as Spinners and Common Dolphins rode the bow waves. And along with that a high number of underwater Dolphin encounters.
It seems that 2016 is forecast as a very strong El Nino. Another challenge as our planet warms, sea levels rise, and economies shift.