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Diving the (Almost) Most Biodiverse Reef in the World

Montage of Solomon Islands marine life. (Photographs by Mikayla Wujec)
Montage of Solomon Islands marine life. (Photos by Mikayla Wujec)

Here in the Solomon Islands, searching for the elusive bumphead parrotfish, we spent this week diving in waters that boast some of the highest fish biodiversity in the world, second only to Sipadan, Malaysia.

The aptly-named Grand Central had fish rushing off in all directions including schools of red-bellied fusiliers (Caesio cuning), titan and redtooth triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens and Odonus niger), as well as lone grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) and great barracudas (Sphyraena barracuda).

Shallower in the water column, giant clams (Tridacna sp.), false clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris), and Christmas tree worms (Spirobranchus giganteus) retreated into their homes.

Despite the staggering number of creatures, the odds were still not in our favor and we spotted only a single bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum), the animal we’ve come all this way to observe.

At first, the looming outline looked more like a shark in shallow water. We froze and then frantically bumped our fists to our foreheads–our underwater signal for our bumpheaded friends; its genus Bolbometopon is Greek for “onion-brow.” Seemingly unphased, the bumphead turned and left before we could catch it on film.

A school of redtooth triggerfish plunging down the water column. (Photograph by Andrea Reid)
A school of redtooth triggerfish plunging down the water column. (Photo by Andrea Reid)

At our first sighting, we had had jumped off our boat without our masks, fins, or snorkels, eager to see the bumpheads down below, but the fish had vanished almost as soon as we saw it. Apparently, after generations of spear-fishers on snorkel, bumpheads are often skittish around any kind of swimmer.

Diving with scuba gear the next time allowed us to settle into their habitat fairly unnoticed, so much so that a meter-long giant came up close and stuck around. From experiences like this on our initial surveys, we’re getting the impression that bumpheads here occupy deeper waters than those in areas where they have been fished less.

A lone bumphead parrotfish lurks along the seafloor. (Photograph by Andrea Reid)
A lone bumphead parrotfish lurks along the seafloor. (Photo by Andrea Reid)

We’ll soon be heading southeast to more remote (and less fished!) reef systems surrounding the town of Munda, known for its World War II relics and world-class diving.

Read All Posts by Mikayla Wujec and Andrea Reid

Comments

  1. J B
    April 14, 2015, 9:53 pm

    Cool! Talk about a cool dive journey! I just realized you two are based in Montreal! That’s fantastic – I grew up in Montreal and did my undergrad at McGill. What a strange coincidence that I am also headed to the Solomon Islands in about a month. Good luck analyzing the data you two collected and have a good time in Komodo

    Cheers!

    José

  2. Mikayla Wujec & Andrea Reid
    April 5, 2015, 1:44 am

    Thanks for your comments regarding Raja Ampat Alec, Gaby & J B – we’re just seeing these now after recently wrapping up in the Solomons! Alec, we’re actually on our way to Komodo now & are excited to dive in another incredibly diverse region. You’re indeed right about Raja Ampat boasting the highest fish biodiversity. We have our fingers crossed we get to dive there too someday soon. Cheers, Mikayla & Andrea

  3. J B
    February 21, 2015, 7:11 pm

    I second Alec’s comment. With respect to fish biodiversity, the highest measured biodiversity has been recorded in the Bird’s Head Peninsula Sea Scape (Raja Ampat) in West Papua, Indonesia. It would indeed appear that this area and those around the island of Halmahera currently boast the greatest number of fish species in the world. The Solomons group, Bali, Lesser Sunda Islands all boast greater numbers of fish species than are currently recorded from Sipadan and adjacent areas of Borneo. Enjoy your time in Munda 🙂

  4. Margie Cain
    Ottawa, ON
    February 21, 2015, 7:34 am

    You are certainly encountering awesome sealife while seeking your prized Bolbometopon. Your account and pictures provide a window into a world that most of us can only visit in our imaginations. Look forward to your accounts from the reefs near Munda.

  5. ryan
    Australia
    February 20, 2015, 8:34 pm

    Try Raja Ampat in Indonesia 🙂

  6. Gaby zimmermann
    Vienna
    February 20, 2015, 4:48 pm

    as far as I know, Dr. Gerry Allen documented the highest biodiversity in Raja Ampat, West Papua, a couple of years ago…

  7. Alec Scott
    San Diego
    February 17, 2015, 3:04 pm

    Have you tried the USAT liberty wreck in Bali for bumpheads? They’re there almost every morning at dawn

    Also, I don’t think its accurate to say that the solomons are the second most biodiverse reef in the world, nor that Sipidan is the most. What about Raja Ampat? What about Komodo? What taxa are you talking about?