Today, we headed to the outskirts of one of the most protected areas on the atoll: South Coral Gardens. This little pocket of coral reef in the southeastern corner of the reef terrace is home to a great diversity of colorful corals and is incredibly shallow. Special permission is required to enter, since snorkelers can easily damage the corals with the mere kick of a fin. However, we were able to dive to collect samples a bit north of the area, which was slightly deeper (10ft max) yet still incredibly gorgeous. The water was crystal clear, almost giving off the ambiance of the aquarium in your dentist’s office or perhaps a swimming pool.
Protected behind the barrier created by the reef crest, the water here was very still and the corals could be picked out from the surface. This allowed us to navigate through the maze of coral heads to safely access the site. The sand was also very fine, and we were quickly immersed in swirling clouds of silt upon digging into it. It oozed between our fingers and clouded our vision. This was the type of sediment we were looking for!
Damselfish, hovering over their coral homes, watch us with interest, and a baby blacktip and several titan triggerfish cruised by toward the end of our dive. What a great day!