Sailing from Jayapura around the entire north coast of West Papua and through the Seram Sea, we covered 1000 nautical miles before reaching the tiny volcanic islands of Banda Neira. Brad, the naturalist, kept us amused and fascinated by his lectures on reef life, as he prepared us for snorkeling.
We've learned about hard coral - boulder and plate types - and soft coral and the many symbiotic life forms they support. One of his favorites, the Peacock Mantis Shrimp, has over 10,000 light collecting cells in its eyes, allowing it to have "trinocular" vision, i.e., normal vision, polarized vision, and infrared vision. I was happy to know that the Tiger Cowrie, whose shell I had bought at Iwa, has a mantle that covers and cleans its entire shell, giving it a uniform, shiny polish. The Reef Octopus can change its coloring instantaneously as it moves across terrain, and the Nautilus - a very ancient octopus - squeezes gas or, alternatively, water into its many chambers to rise and fall in the water. Building progressively larger chambers as it grows, the Nautilus constructs an architecture of perfect geometric proportion. Ancient Greek mathematicians described this "golden mean" in a formula that has been continually used in engineering through the ages.
As we approached the island chain of Banda Neira, we saw a pod of spinner dolphin lolling in the water. Several people were fishing out of long boats and there were floating houses where families live full-time on the open water. We saw a beautifully symmetrical volcano just outside Banda Neira that still has a blackened lava trail to the sea from its last eruption in 1989.
Barry and I were planning to go snorkeling in the early afternoon, but we wanted to see as much of the town as we could. Even though it started to rain, we left the ship and walked into town. There were some paved streets and a few motorcycles, but people were mostly inside. Probably they knew that a squall was coming, while we got drenched.
In the 17th century, the Dutch discovered nutmeg in Band Neira and established a permanent settlement, including a defensive fort built high on the hillside. Suzanne told us that there is a church in town, but it was abandoned some years ago when Indonesia moved in a Muslim population. Indeed,there are several mosques in this small town and later we heard the muezzin sing the call to prayers over the loud speakers. It's such a shame that so many Muslim communities seem to use bad broadcast systems; the call to prayer is lyrical and powered with emotion, but the distortion from the loud speakers can become a repugnant blare.
We ate a quick lunch shipboard in our sopping wet shorts, then changed to dry swimsuits for the dive. We all rode in long boats to a secluded beach where the coral seemed to stretch out for half a mile before suddenly dropping off into the abyss. We definitely saw different types of coral and also damsel fish, butterfly fish, lots of large blue starfish, and so many other little fish. I think I saw some worm fish and a small eel. Everyone spent at least an hour swimming about before loading back and reboarding the ship.
Tomorrow: another full day at sea and then to Flores Island. The crew had a "caviar splash" poolside and a barbecue. The splash happened when a handsome young water opened champagne and ran around the pool, stopping to show us his moves, before squirting everyone with champagne as he jumped into the water. That night, we were invited to join a nice couple from Detroit for a Japanese dinner. Her father was a Japanese studies professor at Stanford, and their family were some of the very few American civilians allowed by General MacArthur to live in a small Japanese village. He collected invaluable data about the transition of this community from traditional prewar society to a modern democratic one. The family returned to Japan throughout the 50's and 60's.