When I first agreed to join a major aquarium fish and coral importer on a trip to the Solomon Islands, I blindly agreed knowing that there would be lots of reef fish and corals and diving involved, but I really had no idea what would happen. Perhaps I should have done more research and asked a few more questions because the challenges I had to weather including countless coral bites, reef stings, and love kisses from the sun (read severe sunburns) would have been enough to make me think twice about the whole proposal.
Who am I kidding? I would have suffered twice as much hardships just to get up close and personal with the reefs, the fish, the corals, and especially the people of the Solomon Islands. The next time that someone suggests that I am “so lucky” to get to travel these exotic places to ‘go diving’, I will light into them with a full account of how challenging it can be to even get to the far flung and secluded reefs of these exotic places.
Getting away from the opposite spectrum of armchair journalism required several days of cramped airplane rides, hours of unshaded, choppy boat rides, sleeping on beaches with no more than a nest of banana leaves, and definitely, absolutely, no electricity, running water, phone signal, and don’t even make me laugh about internet service. And if you are wondering where the bathrooms were, it was all natural, not even a hole to aim for, or soft leaves to clean up with.
For this last assignment to the Solomon Islands I really went “full native” but the experience was priceless, and well worth it. Visiting the edge of known coral reefs required, neigh, demanded a complete sacrifice of comfort to get up close and personal with coral reefs that have been exploited for food for millennia, yet most of which have never been seen by the eyes or camera lens of a diver, or even a snorkeler, and most definitely not from the point of view of an aquarist. As I catch up with the day-to-day of Reef Builders and begin to share my stories of the Solomon Islands with you, I hope you will appreciate the massive jetlag at work, while I nurse a severe ear infection and type away with battle-weary hands and fingers.
Thankfully, the trip to the Solomon Islands was fruitful with some great moments of accomplishment and connection with the local peoples. Overall the trip rewarded my tenacity with the collection of uncommon knowledge about the aquarium trade as a whole, about the species diversity of corals and fish in this region, with sightings of exotic corals, samplings of the water that supports them, and finally some dives on an exquisite “chalice coral reef” which is unlike anything we have ever seen, in person or in pictures.