The Island of Makogai (pronounced Makongai)

Mike and Liz Downing
Fri 20 Jul 2012 09:01
It's an interesting place. On going ashore the head man of the marine research station gave us a tour around that part of the island. It was a mix of new things built for their marine work in the late 1990s and the old buildings from the leper colony that had closed in 1960s. The colony was started in 1911 and by the time it closed in 1969, 5,000 or so people from all over this part of the Pacific had sheltered there. So lots of buildings - dormitories, hospital and even a cinema - set out in a wide open area which is mostly grass today with coconut palms dotted  here and there. The diesel generator they use to power their work today is the same Lister generator used by the colony and is still going strong after 70 years or more. The main work of the station today is to breed giant clams for redistribution around the reefs of Fiji. The clams had almost disappeared having been over harvested, so their aim is to reintroduce them. And by giant, we're talking 2 to 3ft across. It was a good day to visit as it was one of the few days when spawning takes place so we were able to see the work they do. The clams are protected in concrete seawater ponds to start with and then in protective cages in the bay until they're too big for their natural preditors. Then they're sent to the reefs that need to be repopulated. They also rear baby Hawksbill turtles until they're big enough to fend for themselves back in the sea.  
Following the tour there was just time for a snorkel on one of the reefs in the bay. It was only a small isolated reef, but it was covered in magnificent corals tightly packed together, with giant clams and lots of reef fish. Despite the cold water (it was sundowners of hot chocolate that day!) it was a gem and quite a surprise. We wished we could have stay longer to explore the other reefs around the bay, but the next day we had to make the most of a good day for sailing and move on otherwise we'll get even further behind schedule.
The chartplotter's view of the anchorage and route into Makogai.
Grey skies, but the reef and clear water can still be seen. Although it looks like we are
on our own, there were 4 other yachts in the anchorage.
The 'main street' . The colony had been quite big, but today the marine centre is run by just 7
people who live in some of the buildings with their families.
One of the unused dormitories.
What's left of the cinema - with projection room and holes. Apparently in its day it was
bigger than the cinema in Suva, the capital of Fiji.
And the graveyard. The grave in the forefront is of French nun Mother Marie Agnes
who ran the Leper colony for 34 years and died at the ripe old age of 85.
Cassava plants - one of the staple crops they grow here today.
The old Lister generator provides their power.
Giant clams taken out of the bay. They take them out of the water for a few hours before spawning
as apparently it stresses them a bit and they more readily spawn. It takes 2 or 3 big guys to carry each
of these.
Two smaller varieties of clam, also being 'stressed'.
Having been 'stressed' they're put in the spawning pools and everyone waits .....
......and if nothing starts to happen, they're injected with hormones that hopefully start the process
and it did, but it was slow.
The head man and another cruiser checking to confirm that eggs have started to be produced.
Then more waiting. We decided to see what we could see in the bay. The big spawning
took place later in the afternoon. 
One of the tiny Hawksbill turtles they're rearing.
Baby Giant Clams, in protective cages in the bay.
Older ones also protected.
A number of Giant Clams that they use for spawning have been brought to the bay
just in front of the marine centre, so they can more easily be taken ashore and returned to
the sea. 
Out on the reef a clam firmly imbedded in the coral.
It was only a small reef, but very pretty.
Although the top of the reef was relatively close to the surface, it was in deep water
which made the background a lovely shade of blue.
Teeming with Blue Chromis.
And a bit of soft coral here and there. The reef was predominantly hard coral.
Lots of anemones and clown fish.
At the end of the day the clouds finally started to break up and it was a good sunset.
'Red sky at night' works here too, so we hoped for a much better day in the morning,
and it was!