Solomon Islands: Corals and Skulls

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I awake at 6am to a dozen roosters on the property, a swollen lower lip from some strange bug bite, and the buzzing of a mosquito that apparently slipped past my bug net fortress.

Despite the itchy morning start, I'm keen to start our scuba dives for the day in the stifling heat of the Solomon air.

After assembling our scuba gear and photography equipment, Mikayla, Andrea, and I board our little speedboat to a field site. Mikayla and Andrea have already spent a month in the Solomon Islands before I arrived, so today I got my first glimpse of Solomon Island coral reefs.

After conducting a bumphead parrotfish survey (in which we only saw 3), Mikayla photo-modeled a few corals in order to compare structural complexity of the reef. I also photo-modeled a few corals, and documented the local stressors in the area, noticing a multitude of crown of thorns starfish, which feed on corals. We also measured water quality parameters, documenting the pH, and levels of nitrates (which are indicators of nutrient run off, usually from waste water).

After a quick lunch on a nearby beach, we launched the drone, a DJI Phantom 2+ vision quadcopter, equipped with a HD camera and electronic gimbal for smooth video capture. Donned with a hand-made flower lei, our guide, Sunga, was as thrilled as we were to see the drone soar to 100m above the ocean, and even more thrilled to catch it as it landed.

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The next day we visited the infamous Skull Island, the location of dozens of human skulls. Dating back 100 years ago, these skulls were trophies of the head hunting games that once took place in these islands. The memorial is littered with dead coral skeletons and shell money that was once the currency for these islanders.

In coming days we will be attempting to visit Tetepare, the world's largest uninhabited island. Highlighted in the book, The Last Wild Island, this lush island gem was and still is to some degree a contentious place in the battle between pro and anti logging parties.

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