I’m nervous. That’s not an unusual feeling for me when embarking on a challenging dive, yet I am in only two metres of water, the sea is flat calm, and there is no current to impede my progress at all. Indeed, the source of my apprehension lies just beyond the tunnel that I’m cautiously making my way through. I will soon emerge into a shallow pool known as Mirror Pond, and it is here that saltwater crocodiles are frequently sighted.
They are the largest crocodilians on earth, and some say ‘the animal most likely to eat a human’. They are opportunistic hunters and will eat anything they can get their jaws on, even sharks. Sadly, it is this reputation as a man-eater and the high value of their hides that is putting immense pressure on their population, as is the case for so many of the world’s great predators.
I have never dived with a ‘saltie’ before and the chance to photograph one in the wild was an opportunity that despite my nerves I could not forgo. The photographer in me had fearlessly fitted an ultra wide angle lens meaning that I would need an extremely close encounter to get those coveted shots.
Despite every natural fibre in my body screaming at me that what I am doing is insane I continue into the tunnel. Behind me a fellow diver must have listened to her instincts as I catch a glimpse of her reversing out of the tunnel. Unfortunately it is, I have to admit with a slight element of relief, clear that the pond is not concealing the awesome hunter that we seek. However there was one more place to try.
As we move toward a dark, overhanging corner of the pond my heart again begins to race. I stop, my nerves forcing me to ponder my potential fate. It is then that I feel someone push past me. Di, one of my fellow passengers on the MV Spirit of Solomons, who only recently learned to dive, brushes past me torch boldly in hand, somewhat frustrated by the hesitating ‘professional’ in her way.
Coming to my senses I pluck up the courage and follow her in. So much for the wildlife photographer—when it comes to saltwater crocs, I’m reduced to following others. Alas, maybe just to further prove my humility, there is still no sign of the elusive croc. I can’t help but feel somewhat relieved.
The Edge of the World
Of course, the lure of such thrilling encounters is not compulsory when diving in the Solomon Islands—the true variety of diving here will satisfy all tastes, but the mere fact that saltwater crocodiles have not been dislodged from their natural habitat by man’s relentless expansion should give you a hint that this destination remains most definitely “off the beaten track”.
Indeed, the Solomons receives less than 15,000 visitors each year, of which only around a third are tourists. Compare that with a popular destination such as the ....
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