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Matt Blaine on 25/11/2006
Hi Jose, Thank you for the great article and photographs. Very interesting. Matt

Mark Chan on 01/10/2006
Hi Jose, interesting descriptive shelling trip and nice pictures too. Regards, Mark Chan

Pierre Lecuyer on 30/09/2006
Hi Jose, thank you. It is always very interesting to read you. Pierre.

Harry Tasker on 26/09/2006
Having been in the PI and seen the native attitude about eating shells, I understand. In the PI the only Cyp. they didn't eat was the big whit cowrie with the black mantle. They just didn't like its taste. When you go somewhere exotic you usually find zilch and are disappointed. You wonder where the rare shells are found.

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A New Shell Frontier: Fiji Islands by José Coltro
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My trip to Fiji started September 1st at night. First to Dallas (a 9½ hour flight); then to Los Angeles (4 hours); then I lost Sunday by crossing the international date line, and after a further 12 hours flight, I arrived in Nadi (pronounced Nanji), Viti Levu, on Monday morning, September 4th.
My friend Bernie was waiting for me and I had no problems at immigration nor customs. Lots of tourists from the US, Canada, England, Sweden, and locals returning home filled the 747-400!

Bernie drove about 75 km to his place in Korotogo (pronounced Korotongo), near Sigatoka (pronounced Singatoka) where we arrived around 7 AM. I met Bernie's wife, Suzan, and their kids, Cassandra and Titus. After a light breakfast, I was desperate to walk on the reef which was just 50 meters from Bernie's house. Despite the long trip I was very eager and not feeling tired at all. The tide was receding as Bernie, Titus and I walked on the edge of the reef. The water temperature was amazing - cold!!! Not only cold, but VERY COLD! Like 17º or 18º C (63º F). Just like in Brazil, September is the last winter month and some cold currents appear near the coast. I don't know if this had any influence, but we didn't find too many shells. I hoped to have better luck snorkeling in the afternoon.

Shells are part of daily life for all of Fijians. They eat most of the species, including Conus textile and other poisonous ones. Actually, they eat everything including sea-cucumber, weird algae, all kinds of crabs or anything that moves in the sea. Every morning, women from most costal villages walk the reefs collecting seashells and other things. The favorite shells are members of Turbinidae, but they will collect everything they see.

After lunch, Bernie took me to Sigatoka town and we went to the small local market where people were selling Batissa violacea (Lamarck, 1818). This fresh water bivalve in Corbiculidae is part of the regular diet of Fijians. I bought some; but later heard that specimens from Sigatoka River have heavy metals such as mercury absorbed in the mantle. Good thing that I didn't try to eat them! Walking in town, I noticed that half the population was Melanesian Fijian and half is from India. And they don't mix. I saw very few oriental or western people around, except in hotels and resorts. In the afternoon I had my first snorkeling at Korotogo Bay. Very COLD!!! I found very few species, but the water was so clear that I could have stayed for hours. As in the morning I saw some Cypraea tigris crawling during daylight!

The next day, we waited for a Fijian named Moala and went to the reef where I pointed out where to look for shells. They had never paid attention to some species and we found at least 40 species that day. At night, we walked the reef again and we got some species not found during the day. It was great. On the subsequent days we went to many places nearby, including one funny trip to take a look at mangroves on the west side of Viti-Levu. Our first idea was to go to Nanuya-Sewa, a small island were my friend Tony McCleery had been two or three times. On the way, I saw some extensive mangroves - all the west and north coast of Viti-Levu is covered with mangroves. I was so excited with the very low tide that I asked Bernie to stop at one place to try collecting there.


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One very curious thing about Fiji is what is required to get to the beach. There are only a few beaches open to visitors - most of the beaches and reefs belong to the local villages. To visit one of these you MUST first ask for permission. But it is not like arriving, saying hello and going. The Fijians have some elaborate protocols about asking for permission. For a foreign person, it is almost impossible to do that. Thanks to Moala, we were allowed to visit many places where very few western people had been before.

We obtained our permission and went back to the mangroves. We started to cross a very difficult path among trees and mud. It took a half hour to get to the open area, but then I started to sink 30 or 40 centimeters with every step I took. When the sinking increased, I became concerned. Moala, Bernie and Titus had a similar problem, but they were half my weight. I was so tired after half an hour, that I had to stop and started to sink even more. I was halfway between the trees and the rocks on the edge. What to do? Bernie started to worry about me but Moala and Titus were at the edge, too far away to help me. I told Bernie: don't laugh, but I will crawl like a fat sea lion. I crawled on the mud and after a few minutes I reached the rocks but found no shells. The tide started to come in and again I had to slip back to the trees. It was disgusting - I saw some floating human trash when I was crawling and swimming back; I discovered that Fijians love corn.Back at the trees I found some Cerithium, Littorina, Cassidula, and few others. I was so dirty that we asked the locals for some fresh water and I took a bath. But I didn't have extra clothing, only my dive skin and my Speedo - too aggressive for the locals! I used a beach towel until we reached Lautoka, a medium-sized town on the western coast. I wanted to take a look at the market and Moala had a solution - he bought me a "sulu", or local sarong. Men, it is very strange to wear that! I had my Speedo underneath, but I felt naked most of the time!

On Saturday we went to Suva to visit the local market. Very colorful, very crowded, and the strangest food I ever saw. When Bernie and I saw one spongy ugly thing a lady was selling, she tried to explain. She asked if we had watched "Nemo" and we finally found that strange thing was a sea anemone! In the afternoon we went to the Fijian Museum. Very curious. Did you know that the Fijians were cannibals until 150 years ago? You must see the special fork for eating human eyes! They had beautiful handicraft, using lots of local hardwood and shells. After that, we went to Suva Bay and we walked on the beach. We found some Nassarius and lots of different bivalves. On the way back we stopped at Moala's village to leave some of the shells that I bought at the market to let him eat and clean them!

The next week I intended to do some dredging and a small cruise to the Yasawa Group. We rented a fishing boat and went to Sovi Bay for dredging. We didn't have a power winch to pull the dredge up and Moala and the two fishermen had to do it by hand. It was a small dredge but after 4 or 5 times pulls, all of them were very tired! The material I selected was very interesting, but I couldn't go through everything.


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The Yasawa cruise started on Wednesday morning and our first stop at Kese Village was great. On the beach, I found my first fresh dead Nautilus pompilius! I was very excited. But again, the area where the cruise people could snorkel was very limited and the nicest reef was forbidden to tourists. Again Moala saved the day and I had some great shelling. Later in the village, we saw a performance of the local dances and customs. It was very interesting. They had some handcrafts and shells for sale. Nothing good because they cook the shells to sell. The next day we woke at the Blue Lagoon, a great place between five islands. One of them, Nanuya Lailai is property of the cruise owner and we had an entire day to do all the snorkeling we could. The sandy area was great. I found lots of Terebra, Oliva, and Natica. In the grassy area, I found a fabulous Cassis cornuta but I didn't have courage to take it from there. It was too big and I thought about the problem of cleaning it! We tried a night snorkel but I had problems with my light just a few minutes after we started. I stayed with Titus and a few minutes later his light burned out too. At the dinner they had some nice local songs and in the end all the guests had to sing something in their native language. I was completely scared! I had never done anything like that and the only complete songs I knew were those I sang to my daughter Thais when she was a baby! Well, it was one of those that I sang to them! At least nobody slept! On the last day, we went to Naukacuvu Island and I had my best shelling of all. But it happened only half an hour before we left the island. I found lots of shells on the rock reef and I missed the dinghy to take me back to the ship. I had to swim about 1 km and I found out I am still in good shape to do that. I arrived before the dinghy reached the ship and I was felt great!

In the afternoon of the last day, I worked on my luggage for the return trip, and I had to borrow one extra bag from Bernie. It was packed full of shells and handicraft. My journey back home started at 6:30 PM when I took a bus from a near resort to Nadi Airport. It took two hours because the bus stopped at every single resort and hotel on the way. My flight was at 10PM and I started to worry that I was going to miss my plane. Finally when I arrived there I found my flight was delayed by 1½ hours! I had to pay about US$ 50 for the extra bag. I left Nadi Saturday close to midnight and arrived in Los Angeles at 3PM, but still Saturday! The American immigration and customs were so busy that it took over one hour to pass them. I had to wait until 10PM for the next flight to Miami. I arrived in Miami at 6:30AM, Sunday. Guess what happened? American Airlines had lost my extra bag. I waited for the next LA flight and nothing. I lost my entire morning fighting with luggage customer service. Until today, they have not found the bag and I believe that when they do, they will call the FBI because of the smell of dead body! I had some fresh shells collected on Saturday that I didn't had time to freeze or put in alcohol!

I left Miami few minutes before noon and I arrived in Sao Paulo just before 9PM. Marcia, my wife, and Thais were waiting at the airport. I missed them a lot. Aside from the missing bag, the trip was great and I hope to have some nice shells from Fiji to offer!

 

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