Postcard from the Reef – Reef Rose

With the appearance, size and color of a rose, the moniker Reef Rose seems to fit. In reality these are the eggs of a large nudibranch, the Spanish dancer. Not at all hard to spot, I had been finding these for years before actually seeing the parent.

I always make a point to check the egg mass closely. There is another nudibranch, a tiny parasitic nudibranch that eats the eggs of the Spanish dancer, a species unsurprisingly called the egg-eating nudibranch.

The eggs of a Spanish Dancer nudibranch (Hexabranchus sanguineus) at Three Tables, Oahu

A Morning at Three Tables

With the south shores of Oahu denied us by rough conditions, we spent a day diving the north shore of the island. The specified rendezvous was a site known to local divers as Three Tables for a little shore diving. With an iPhone and Google Maps in hand, Deb and I drove across the island along unfamiliar roads to Oahu’s famous North Shore.

Three Tables
The beach at Three Tables, North Shore, Oahu as seen from the parking lot, photo by Deborah
What greeted us was a pleasant surprise. A small, sandy beach fronted a very interesting cove. Parking was just above the beach, we would not need to carry the gear very far at all. The “Three Tables” were an obvious set of flat rocks just out from the beach.

There were quite a few divers already present, including a class just getting their certification. Our group just added to the party. Charles and Jeannie, who had been with us on the previous day’s aborted dive at the YO-257. Another visitor from Texas, Ray, joined us for the dive.

Leading the dive would be Gabe Scotti, the owner of Kaimana Divers. Christine would be his backup. While Gabe led off, Christine would play the caboose, riding herd on the group. It was a nice day to be diving, we chatted while setting up the gear. It was a relaxed, Hawaiian style morning.

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A Case Study Tourist Trap

It hits you as soon as you step through the front door. There is only one thought that describes it… tourist trap.

Dole Plantation
The Dole Plantation in Wahiawa, Oahu
The signs are classic, you enter and exit through the gift shop. It isn’t a little gift shop either, but a large operation with every type of tacky tourist wares. This is a place where the tour buses stop. A place designed to extract as much money as possible in the short time available before the bus moves on to the next stop around the island.

I have been to tourist traps so kitschy they actually become fun. Between Benson and Wilcox, Arizona, along I-10 is The Thing. The place make no pretense about being a pure tourist trap. Admission to the museum that includes the namesake mummy/artifact/side-show-exhibit is actually quite cheap, $1 per person last time I was there. They obviously make the money in the gift shop. Beside The Thing itself, the little museum is surprisingly decent, with western memorabilia, wagons and old cars. If you take the place for what it is you can simply enjoy the experience, with some ice cream on the way out.

Pineapples in the demonstration garden at the Dole Plantation
The Dole Plantation is simply a tourist trap, without many redeeming features. They charge for most everything, the maze is $6/person, the train is $8, the garden tour is $5. Visit a couple spots and it quickly adds up. The prices in the gift shop are not much better. I had to laugh when I saw the prices for the small packages of macadamia nuts. You could buy twice as much of the same brand in any local supermarket.

There were a few simple signs in the garden that explained the history of the Dole pineapple empire and it’s founder, James Dole. The story is a fascinating example of a determined businessman who took a quiet local market and turned it into a global industry. It is a classic example of the plantation history of Hawai’i, with all of the good and ugly bits mixed in. Likely you will not learn much visiting the place. There was supposed to be something more of a museum here, if it still existed I could not find it behind all the tasteless merchandise. A bit of history, something real, anything would have created a more worthwhile stop. I guess it would just take up space that could be used for another rack of hula skirts.

I must admit it was not all bad… Walking through the garden Deb and I discovered the best part. There were cute little Carolina anoles all through the bromeliads. We must have spent half an hour chasing anoles trying to get good photos, with some success. The pineapple ice-cream float wasn’t so bad either.

A Dive That Went Wrong

Five days, a quick island hop to Oahu, our first time exploring the island. A major feature of the plan was a bit of diving. Oahu features a number of unique dives we can not experience on the Big Island, particularly the wrecks. Based on conversations on ScubaBoard I chose to book with Gabe and Kaimana Divers. The reviews and comments of this dive op have been uniformly positive. After some experience I can second that opinion.

Along with a few changes of clothes and the cameras, we packed two full sets of dive gear. There would be five full days, including two days of diving. The basic plan each day was a two tank morning dive trip, a deeper wreck dive, followed by a shallower reef dive. The YO-257, the Corsair, there are several sites to choose from. On the Big Island we do have the SS Kauai at Mahukona, but scattered bits and pieces are not the same as a large intact ship.

Walking across the posh lobby of a luxury hotel with full dive gear over your shoulder is fun. Everyone looks in your direction, you can only guess at what they are thinking. It was 7am, meeting our ride to the marina. We were looking for our ride from Kaimana Divers in a big black pickup truck. Already in the truck were a couple from Texas and another fellow, five divers total, a nice small group.

We met Drew, our divemaster for the day. Like all divers we introduced ourselves, Jeannie and Charles lived near the gulf coast, but traveled regularly to dive under better conditions than local waters offered. Our fifth diver was somewhat less experienced, with a dozen dives behind him. We were all looking forward to this dive.

Surf to Diamond Head
Surf and Surfers along the famous Waikiki breaks with Diamond Head in the background
Heading of of the marina we saw the first sign that perhaps not all was well… The surfers were out.

Dramatic breakers rolled across the famous Waikiki reefs, stretching from the marina to Diamond Head. There is an adage in the local dive community, if the surfers are happy, the divers are not.

Arriving over the wreck for the YO-257 there was a notable swell, while it was going to be a problem, it was diveable. Drew hopped in to secure the mooring line. Upon returning to the boat he reported a moderate current. We geared up and readied for the water.

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