With all of our logistics and shakedown dives complete, we’re ready for our first exploratory dive of the trip! Our destination is Pakin Atoll, a remote atoll about two hours by small boat (on a good day!) from Pohnpei. Brian is the only one among us who had been there before, and even then he never set foot on the islands. Pakin is unusual in that there is no main channel connecting the inner lagoon of the atoll to the outside ocean. Except for one spot on the barrier reef that gets deep enough at high tide for a small boat to get in and out, there is no way to easily set foot on the small islets themselves. This is, of course, normal life to the small population of Pakin residents. For us, it means carefully planning our dive schedule around the tides, to ensure our ability to get inside the lagoon before sunset.
The boat ride out to Pakin Atoll was spectacular, across mirror-flat seas on a bright sunny day. We had braced ourselves for a 2-3 hour journey, but 90 minutes after leaving Pohnpei we were fast approaching the atoll.
We selected a site off Nikalap Islet at the northwestern corner of Pakin Atoll to be our first deep dive of the expedition. As is evident from the photos, it was an absolutely ideal scene! Soon after selecting the perfect spot, with air-clear water beneath a glassy sea surface, a small pod of dolphins swam under our boat. It was one of those rare moments where everything was perfect! Sonia couldn’t resist getting a preview of what was to come on our dive, as she went for a short swim around the boat.
The dive itself was, of course, spectacular. Within minutes of starting the dive, as we reached a depth of about 200 feet / 60 meters, a school of more than 100 Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) with a single Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) and a school of Rainbow Runners (Elagatis bipinnulata) accompanying them, came in close to investigate.
The dive itself was spectacular, but because it was our first dive of the trip, Brian and I spent most of our time looking around, rather than trying to collect anything. Sonia, as always, was in full science mode, and gathered all sorts of interesting Gorgonian specimens.