This morning (Thursday, July 3rd), as we began preparing for the day’s dive, the sun was out in full glory, and the perpetual mud puddles on the dirt road between the dive gear room and our bungalow were finally starting to dry up. Unfortunately, it turned out to be Mother Nature’s mischievous prank, because just after breakfast it started to rain; and then it started to pour; and then it started to REALLY pour. Although we had our gear ready two hours earlier than yesterday, we had another hour delay due to trouble with the engine on one of our two boats. By noon, we were on our way out through Palikir Pass en route to the dive site.
The original plan was to head further south along the west coast of Pohnpei, but due to the late start and heavy rain, we opted instead to try just north of Palikir pass. It turned out to be a good call, because we found a fantastic spot. The wall dropped from about 20 feet (6m) down to about 150 ft (45 m), then became a steep slope. At a depth of about 300 ft (90 m) we encountered a HUGE rock buttress, with an undercut ledge on one side that was likely carved by wave action thousands of years ago when the sea level was lower.
As we arrived at the rock, I felt very slightly short of breath – a telltale sign that I might have a problem with carbon dioxide buildup in my rebreather. Because that’s a particularly dangerous problem, even though the symptoms were extremely slight I didn’t want to commit myself to a lot of decompression. So Rob and I stopped at the rock while Sonia and Brian continued downward. Within less than a minute the shortness of breath passed, and it became clear that it was only my paranoid imagination at work. But I was very happy in any case, because the rock was full of interesting things to see.
The first fish of interest I found was the new species of sand perch that Brian had collected previously. We had originally identified it as belonging to the genus Parapercis, but now that we’ve had a chance to look at it more closely, we’re not so sure. In any case, I took some video of it, then collected it. In the same area I also found a group of the beautiful Helfrich’s Dartfish (Nemateleotris helfrichi), living with a group of its close relative, the Purple Dartfish (Nemateleotris decora). But the highlight of the dive for me was when I came across a pair of Colin’s Pygmy Angelfish (Centropyge colini). This species holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first truly “rare” fish I ever found (back in the early 1980’s in Palau’s Blue Holes). It was like seeing an old friend. Other interesting fishes I saw at the rock include Randall’s Anthias (Pseudanthias randalli), the Harlequin Hind (Cephalopholis polleni), many Bellus Angelfishes (Genicanthus bellus), and an unidentified little yellow fish that appears to belong to the family Pseudochromidae.
I wasn’t the only one to have an encounter with an old friend on that dive. During his ascent from the deep plunge, Brian found a fish that is special for both him and me: Belonoperca pylei. Both of us independently discovered this fish – I in Rarotonga in 1989, and Brian in Kwajalein a few years later. We’ll definitely be looking out for this species during the rest of this trip.
All in all, a great dive was had by all, and we’re excited about what discoveries tomorrow might bring!