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AD 2016 Q1

68 | WINTER

68 | WINTER 2016 F I J I SOFT CORAL CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

A LIVEABOARD TREK THROUGH THE BLIGH WATER TEXT AND PHOTOS BY STEPHEN FRINK When the divemaster announced we would start the day with a dawn dive at Mellow Yellow, I was thrilled. Recollections of dive sites tend to blend together over the years, but this one remains clearly defined by a previous dive in which we found a huge yellow frogfish nestled amid squat yellow sponges, surrounded by a field of saffron soft corals. I recall thinking at the time that they certainly nailed the name of the site. From my 2004 trip log: At Mellow Yellow we were briefed on the possibility that we might find a large yellow frogfish, and sure enough it was right where we were told it would be. Larger and more vibrant than most of its Caribbean cousins, this frogfish was nicely situated amid some red and yellow encrusting sponges. However, as satisfying as this encounter was, the marquee attraction of this dive is the yellow soft corals that adorn the main pinnacle and the saddle that adjoins it to a smaller, deeper pinnacle nearby. This is the dive for which Velvia slide film was made: gold anthias, yellow soft corals, crimson sea fans and turquoise water. I was blown away on this dive — not literally, which is possible in the heavy current sometimes present here, but figuratively, in astonishment. We dived Mellow Yellow again later in the week at a time when the currents were not as propitious. There was no flow whatsoever, and the dive was therefore totally different — good, of course, but the right amount of current transforms the merely good into amazing in these waters. Now, more than a decade later, I wondered if this site would still deliver. After all, it is a pinnacle, and some of the pinnacles I’m seeing in other parts of the world are showing signs of wear. This degradation isn’t necessarily from divers touching the coral, but as dozens of divers circumnavigate popular pinnacles every day, their exhaust bubbles percolate upward and scrub the soft corals above. We may aspire to take only pictures and leave only bubbles, but on sites with vertical walls, overhangs or pinnacles, the bubbles may cause damage. With that in mind I expected to find this site diminished from my previous perceptions. Yet 11 years later, in a mild current (enough to supersize the soft corals but not so much as to make it difficult to stay in place to frame a photo) this remains a world-class dive. Fiji is paradise for Indo-Pacific fishwatchers. Above, from left: Regal angelfish, painted frogfish, Diana’s hogfish Opposite: Emperor angelfish ALERTDIVER.COM | 69

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