IN THE SOLOMONS -- JUNE 1996
by Gene Everson
If you are like
me, you find it disappointing to read about a shell trip to
a wonderful sounding marine area, only to find it is 90% about
the country, and the other 10% is about all the money cowries
or tulip shells that were found. I want to use my 90% to tell
you about the shells I found -- those that would appeal to me,
and hopefully to you.
In June, 1996,
I went on a collecting trip to the Solomons. Our group included
Wayne Harland, Homer Rhode, Karlynn Morgan and myself. We arrived
at Honiara, Guadalcanal, the capital of the Solomons, on June
9th. We boarded the Wyuna, with Brian and Mary Claire Bailey,
and we began collecting that same day. Snorkeling near the mouth
of the Lungga River in very poor visibility, on dark sand, we
found Conus monachus at 10' and deeper under rocks, and in the
open, C. figulinus, Thais buccinea on a silty log, and Oliva
vidua. That night, using SCUBA at 50-65' depth, we collected
Terebra commaculata at the end of a sand trail, and Murex tenuirostrum,
Cypraea onyx melanesiae and Oliva rufula, all in the open. A
second dive that night off the Honiara Airport, starting at
about 100' and working up to 15' on a silty slope, yielded Conus
hopwoodi, C. betulinus, Strombus marginatus septimus, Cymatium
gutturnium, Trigonostoma obliquata, Glycymeris reevei, Phalium
areola, P. bisulcatum, pretty Natica undulata, N. alapapilionis
and N. vitellus. Oddly enough, whenever we found Conus betulinus,
it had another species on its back, Trigonostoma obliquata,
for instance. The Phalium areola was crabbed. We also found
Murex salomonensis and M. tenuirostrum, but I won't mention
them again, because we found them at many sites at night.
The next day
was spent traveling; we anchored for the night and dove at Vulalua
Island. The depth was 35' on a silty bottom. We collected Harpa
amouretta out on the sand, crawling with its wide, fleshy foot,
Strombus labiosus, Bursa tuberosissima and B. rana. Conus pohlianus
(which the latest cone book calls C. consors form pohlianus)
and an unusually marked C. leopardus with markings much larger
and fewer than normal were both at the base of a small reef
on sand at about 30'. The following morning, some of us walked
on exposed flat reef along the shoreline. Thais tuberosa was
abundant and I found my first Turbo sparverius and a large,
81mm Asaphis violascens.
We left Guadalcanal
and crossed over to the Florida Islands group. Killing time
'til dark, we snorkeled at Nuggu Island, where we found Conus
episcopatus under a rock, and several common species such as
Cypraea arabicula. Our night dive, at Mandoleana Island, yielded
Fusinus colus at 90' on sand, Chicoreus paini and C. axicornis
both crabbed on the sand and rubble slope, and a Harpa harpa
at 55' on sand. A Cypraea cribraria was at 10' on a coral head,
and Conus ammiralis was at 90' while C. planorbis appeared at
20' on the side of a log in algae.
We dove Mbungana
Island the night of June 12, on a sloping reef with sand and
rubble and coral heads, to find Turridrupa cerithium on reef
sand and one of the prettiest of all turrids, Turris spectabilis
at 47' on a small rock. Also found Latirus gibbulus in sand
and rubble, the lovely Nassarius glans at 27' on reef sand and
a 99mm crabbed Cymatium pileare. On the 13th, we snorkeled in
a small lagoon at Aviavi Island. I found a 107mm Mitra mitra
nearly buried. I spotted a fleck of orange and fanned it up.
Common, but excellent, specimens of Tectus conus (66mm) and
T. triserialis (42mm) were at 6-8' on coral heads, and my first
Spondylus varius was attached to dead coral.
That night we
dove the unique Mboli Passage, on Nggela Island. About the width
of a freshwater stream and sporting a current requiring a drift
dive holding rope attached to the boat, this passage provides
several habitats on a single dive. You can encounter sand with
delicate soft corals, silty mud, coral reef areas, or gravel
bottom, all coming by you very quickly in poor visibility. Among
the soft corals were Cypraea bregeriana, C. onyx melanesiae,
Margovolva bimaculata, and Volva volva. On the sand was Murex
pecten, Conus acutangulus, Architectonica perspectivum and Gyrineum
pusillum. On the mud was Placomen calophyllum.
On the 14th we
snorkeled off Siota, the small village where the Mboli Passage
empties into the sea. There were Conus stramineus, C. leopardus,
C. striatellus, black C. marmoreus and C. magus, as well as
a crabbed Voluta rutila and a lovely white crested tellin, Tellina
capsoides, all on sand. Wayne found a pair of Ovula ovum which
he photographed and returned to their coral head. That night
we dove and snorkeled at Siota. I collected Turris babylonia
and another turrid I had hoped to get, Clavus flammulatus, at
8' on sand and rubble, a pair of nice Pterygia fenestrata at
8' in sand trails, Harpa major and Pyramidella acus. Mitra eremitarum
was on a coral head feeding on a worm inside the coral. Its
proboscis was extended so far I had to break it to pull the
mollusk off. I also took a live 86mm Cymbiola rutila with SCUBA
at 45' on sand and rubble there.
The next day.
the 15th, we snorkeled Anuha Island and found common species.
That night we dove there and I found Polinices maura, the only
black Polinices I can think of, with a white animal. A 90mm
Mitra papalis was at 30' on reef top rubble, as well as Conus
moreleti and my largest Conus geographus (104mm), the last at
78'. Next day we snorkeled at Buena Vista Island by day and
dove at night. There was Cypraea nucleus on coral, Latirus lancea,
and a crabbed Homalocantha anatomica -- they're so camouflaged
I'd never have found it if it was live, and Homer found one
of the few shells that he really wanted, a fine Conus ammiralis,
The next morning
we departed the Florida Islands and returned to Guadalcanal.
Then the collecting got good! That night, diving at Kakombona
on a sand slope, Wayne and I each found our first Conus gloriamaris,
and each was a gem, at 63' on a sandy slope! There was also
Conus generalis, Strombus minimus, S. plicatus pulchellus, Casmaria
erinaceus, several colorful Phalium glaucum, and under a rusted
slab of sheet metal, a beautiful Chama pacifica.
On the 18th,
we went back near the Lungga River mouth and put on tanks to
dive the silted poor-visibility slope in search of logs to push
our hands under while hoping to avoid the dangerous fins of
the Butterfly Cod. This hardest dive, physically, was worth
it. Karlynn and Homer each found a Conus gloriamaris under the
same log, and the specimens were larger than the two that Wayne
and I had found.
That night, and
the next, we dove Mamara Point and had our best finds of the
trip. Between Wayne and me, we found five Conus crocatus, in
among dead coral fingers, three of which were giants over 60mm.
The other three divers found Conus bullatus, while I collected
Conus viola, C. circumcisus, C. legatus, C. litoglyphus, C.
muriculatus sugillatus. C. imperialis, C. omaria and other cones,
all in the same coral habitat as the C. crocatus. I also found
there a large 21mm Psilaxis (syn: Philippia) radiata, Coralliophila
admirantium, Vexillum zelotypum and more. Between these night
dives, we day-snorkeled off downtown Honiara where the best
shell was found by Karlynn, a nice, large Conus varius, sitting
on a coral head right by the downtown seawall.
We were to depart
from Fiji on the morning of June 21st, so the 20th was spent
packing and transferring our gear from the boat to a hotel.
Karlynn and I made one last night dive at the nearby Point Cruz
on a reef down to 75'. There was Lyrocardium lyratum, fresh
dead on reef sand, a 6.5 inch black hammer oyster, Malleus malleus,
my first Cymatium lotorium, Conus emaciatus, C. vexillum, and
we each found Conus circumcisus.
This was the
second trip to the Solomons for Wayne and me, both of them with
Brian Bailey aboard the Wyuna. We found many species on this
trip that we did not find on the first, and bigger and better
specimens of some of the species we found on the first trip.
Brian is THE expert, and if (I say IF) his boat and compressor
are in working order, any shelling trip with him as a guide
is sure to be a success.
All photos were
taken by Charlotte Lloyd.