Bluestriped fangblenny  (Plagiotemus rhinorrhynchos) larva on a blackwater dive in the Solomon Islands. Body length is about 2", which is much larger  than most blennies at settlement.

Want to dive on remote, pristine reefs with an abundance of fish species and no other divers in sight?  The Solomon Islands is the place. The archipelago of 990 islands lies in the South Pacific Ocean just east of Papua New Guinea on the eastern edge of the Coral Triangle. The six main islands are volcanic in origin and are surrounded by barrier, patch, lagoon, and fringing reefs. Mangrove forests and seagrass beds are widespread. This highly variable marine habitat creates one of the most diverse coral reef ecosystems on the planet.  1,019 fish species belonging to 82 families inhabit Solomon Island reefs, a fish diversity surpassed only by the reefs in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. 

Soft coral reef scene in the Solomon Islands.
Soft coral reef scene in the Solomon Islands.

The dive industry in Solomon Islands is very limited.  You won’t run into anyone underwater beside the people on your boat. Luckily, the islands are home to one of my favorite liveaboards – the MV Bilikiki. The Bilikiki is 125′ steel boat with comfortable layout.  The crew is friendly, experienced and do their job well. The food is tasty. Throw in five dives a day and complete freedom underwater and you have the perfect platform to explore and photograph the underwater world. 

November is larval fish recruitment time in the Solomon Islands and the reefs are loaded with juvenile surgeonfish. Juvenile striped surgeonfish (Acanthurus lineatus) are especially common on open ocean reef flats in less than 3 feet of water. This is one of my favorite Acanthurids.
Juvenile striped surgeonfish (Acanthurus lineatus) are especially common on open ocean reef flats in less than 3 feet of water. This is one of my favorite Acanthurids.

I dove off the Bilikiki in November, which is spring in the Solomon Islands. The reefs were loaded with juvenile fish. I spent the daylight hours combing the underwater terrain for novel fish species and nights searching for fish larvae in the water column.

Fish larvae are interesting animals, especially the way they differ from juveniles in shape and color – even when they are just a few days before transformation.   Many fish larvae are attracted to light at night. I use bright lights to lure these tiny fishes in for the photo.

Peacock flounder (Bothus mancus) larva on a blackwater dive in the Solomon Islands. Note that the right eye still needs to migrate to the left side before the fish is considered a juvenile.
Peacock flounder (Bothus mancus) larva on a blackwater dive in the Solomon Islands. Note that the right eye still needs to migrate to the left side before the fish is considered a juvenile.

The Solomon Islands are a heaven for fish photographers or anyone who appreciates a diversity of hard corals and fish, especially juvenile and larval fish. With light current on most dives, it’s easy to search for and photograph fish with a macro lens.  I was able to add 94 new fish species to my database from this trip.  Some of my favorite underwater images from the Solomon Islands.