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LOLOATA’S SARDINE STROLL

By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

The sardine run off South Africa is an amazing annual event where millions of sardines gather in immense schools that in turn attract a host of predator species and divers that come to watch the action. However, on a recent trip to Loloata Island, off Port Moresby, we found a similar gathering of sardines, but on a much smaller scale, more like a sardine stroll.

 

Loloata Island Resort is one of the top dive resorts in Papua New Guinea, and located only half an hour from Port Moresby’s Jackson Airport one of the easiest to get to. The resort has 24 cabins set along the mangrove shoreline, and also has a conference centre, bar, shop, spacious dining area and dive shop. It is a great place to stay for a week or more, as there are over thirty dive sites in the area, including reefs, wrecks, pinnacles and even muck diving sites.

 

We recently revisited Loloata, lured back by its wonderful diving, but as soon as we arrived at the jetty we discovered another attraction – thousands of sardines. Thick black clouds of sardines were swarming under the wooden jetty, an amazing site to watch from above, but we were eager to see them underwater. However, the water under the jetty is only one to three metres deep and doesn’t always have the best visibility, usually less than 6m. We knew we would have to bide our time as an early morning high tide would bring the best conditions to photograph these masses of sardines.

 

Over the next few days we checked out the sardines several times a day, just to make sure they were still there. They appeared to linger under the jetty during the day, for shade and shelter from the large predator fish patrolling the outskirts of the school. After sunset the sardines would move away from the jetty, and we could see them jumping to avoid night time predators, that including squid.

 

On the third morning the tide was just right, so we donned our snorkelling gear and slipped into the water. It was an amazing sight to see masses of sardines swirling around the jetty, a wall of tiny fish from surface to bottom. They proved difficult to photograph as they were very wary of us, assuming we were out to eat them.

 

The predators they had to be worried about were the trevally and long toms, which would swim around the school then make sudden attack runs to grab stray fish. We discovered other predators lurking under the jetty; crabs were on the pylons hoping to grab any fish that came to close and a dozen lionfish were also on the prowl. With fins spread wide the lionfish would try to round up the sardines, but we didn’t see them catch any, they probably had more success after dark.

 

Over the next few mornings we enjoyed several more snorkels with this massive school of sardines, which we learnt are almost a regular feature at Loloata Island, coming and going at different times of the year. We had a lot of fun watching and photographing these sardines, which added something extra to an already special dive destination.

 

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