Giant Wrasse Encounter!
Location: Millennium (Caroline) Island, Kiribati
by Wayne & Karen Brown
It looks like a great day today even though it is still windy and choppy. At least it is not cloudy. We are approaching Millennium Island. The map shows us that Millennium Island is an atoll that is long and narrow. It is about 5 3/4 miles (10 kilometers) long and a little over a mile (1.8 km) across at the widest point. The motus that ring the atoll are flat and only 15-20 feet (4.5-6m) above sea level. There are lots of small inlets through the reef, but none big enough to take Odyssey in through. If we are lucky we may be able to get our Zodiacs through the inlets and into the lagoon.
Captain Frank circumnavigates the atoll. We see that the motus are covered with an abundance of plants and trees, including coconut palms and the Pisonia that we saw on Vostok Island.
Captain Frank is looking for a place that is calm and that may allow us to enter the lagoon with our Zodiacs. Unfortunately it is too rough to try any of the passages into the lagoon. One possible entrance is called "Blind Passage". Sticking out of the water by the entrance is the wreck of a large tug boat sunk on the reef here. We don't think that it would be a good idea to add our boats to that wreckage.
The calmest location is on the southwest end of the atoll. On the map it is labeled as a boat passage, but it is all reef!. Even though we can't get our boats in the lagoon we can go snorkeling!
With our Zodiacs in the water organize our snorkeling along this southeast end of the atoll, close to shore. We carefully anchor on the reef by swimming our anchor down and gently placing it on part of the reef were the coral is not growing.
Underwater we see a wonderland! This is what we had hoped to see on Starbuck Island. The reef is covered with a variety of healthy corals of all sizes. The top of the reef is from 1-20 feet (0.3-6m) deep, then it drops off vertically into the deep like the Grand Canyon. Schools of fishes swim along the drop-off and into the deep coral canyons. We see parrotfishes, butterflyfishes, damselfishes, triggerfishes, and moorish idols (like Nemo's friend, Gill). This is a healthy, thriving reef!
Just as at Starbuck Island we see blacktip reef sharks patrolling the reef. The slowly swims along the edge of the drop-off and up the canyons. Some of the smaller (about 3'/1m) blacktip reef sharks even swim along the top of the reef, near shore, in water only about 12 inches (30 centimeters) deep!
Lurking in the shadows of the coral ledges down below us we see something large watching us. We hold our breathe and swim down for a closer look...It is a huge humphead wrasse! It is about 4 1/2 feet (1.3m) long! The humphead or giant wrasse is the largest wrasse in the world. It can grow over 6 feet (1.8m) long and weigh over 100 pounds (45 kilograms)! The humphead wrasse gets its name from the large hump it has on its forehead. As it grows larger, so does the hump! Even though this is a huge fish it won't hurt people. This large fish eats mainly mollusks, crabs and lobsters.
The humphead wrasse seems to be curious about us. Because this island is so isolated it probably hardly ever sees people. Just as the humphead wrasse slowly starts to swim towards us we have to quickly swim back to the surface to catch our breath! The humphead wrasse is not sure about these strange-looking creatures. The whole time we are in the water the humphead wrasse never gets totally used to us and keeps its distance from us.
We swim along the edge of the drop-off, staring deep into the blue below us. In the distance we see a large form moving towards us...It looks like a B-2 Stealth Bomber!..It's a huge manta ray! This manta is bigger than the ones we fed in Hawaii (Day 8). This manta is about 12 feet (3.6m) across! It is slowing swimming along the drop-off about 50 feet down. It must be feeding on plankton because it has its cephalic lobes reaching out in front of its mouth, like big scoops, to direct the food into its mouth.
As we quickly swim ahead to intersect its path along the wall, the battery on our underwater camera dies! We can see Little John in the water near his Zodiac. We stick our heads out of the water and yell to him to get a picture of the manta. He rapidly swims down towards the passing manta and is able to get only one picture because his camera memory chip is filled up!
Wow! This was a incredible way to end of snorkeling here with the fly-by of a huge manta ray.
Back onboard Odyssey we download Little John's manta ray photo onto our computer...Check this out!
This was the best snorkeling day, yet. Again, though, we did not find any clownfish, but our expedition is not over...
As we cruise away on Odyssey and leave Millennium Island behind we are now finished exploring the Line Islands of Kiribati. Tomorrow join us as we will begin exploring the islands and atolls of French Polynesia.
Wayne & Karen Brown
Millennium (Caroline) Island, Kiribati
Position: 10º 00' S / 150º 25' W
Air Temp: 84ºF
Weather: strong winds, cloudy
Sea Conditions: rough seas
Water Temp: 82ºF
Underwater Visibility: 200 feet
Clownfish Seen: 0
Sharks Seen: 6
Millennium (Caroline) Island is a long, narrow, uninhabited atoll.
At the south end of Millennium Island we see the wreck of a tug boat at the entrance to a passage through the reef.
The corals here are the best we have seen on our expedition so far. We can see lots of healthy corals and many different kinds.
LIke on Starbuck Island, blacktip reef sharks are constantly patrolling the reef.
This is the shy humphead or giant wrasse we saw. It is the largest wrasse in the world. This wrasse is about 4 1/2 feet long! It can grow over 6 feet long!
This is the photo LIttle John took of the huge manta ray as it swam by us. It is about 12 feet across!