Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fiji: Tuesday, March 13, Beachcombing Begins

Unnamed point southeast of Matava, Kadavu; March 13, 2012 (Fiji Beachcombing series No.1):    Driftwood, Nerites (Nerita sp.), plastic bottle cap, sea glass, beach stones, Nerite (Nerita cf. lineata), Cone Snails, paper, Calophyllum inophyllum drupe, part of a Spider Conch (Lambis sp.), spinal disks, unidentified corals, Walai vine seed (Entada phaseoloides), interior of a spiral shell.

The coolest things I saw on my first day of beachcombing:

 Rainclouds and sunshine fighting it out over the mountains.

Crazily sculpted shorelines that look like a sedimentary formation of volcanic stones. My brief research seems to show this is called a conglomerate, but frankly I'm still trying to understand the geology here. (Geologic map of Fiji)
Mud-Dauber Wasp nests in a shallow sea cave. There was no mistaking the loud hum that drew me in to investigate. These wasps are not at all aggressive, unlike the ones I've known my whole life. There were a lot of them in our bure who would just fly in and out through the thatched walls as they pleased. It was extremely disconcerting until we realized they were only mildly interested in us. Every now and then one would come and hover at eye level until one of us asked it to go away. They flew so slowly I even walked into them on a couple of occasions! So when I saw this mass:
I didn't run off posthaste the way I would in North America. I moved in to get a better look at these cool little nests. Even tucked up against the rock like that they must get their feet wet at high tide!
This is some sort of polyp. I showed the photos to one of the dive masters and the language barrier made explanations difficult, but I gather it opens out when underwater, something like an anemone.
I never did identify this shell - it was occupied by a hermit crab so I left it in place.
This is a kind of algae the locals called Dead Man's Eyeball. It is usually clearer and less green. It is also usually underwater. This one had washed up with the seaweeds.

See the big, oval, dark brown seed in the top photo? I asked Sami, one of the crew, about that. He said they were from the wallai tree, and are called limbi nuts. He also said if you are walking in the forest and get thirsty, you use your machete to slash a wallai tree and water will come out. Unfortunately, I never figured out which were the wallai trees. It could be useful to know. Or I could have completely misunderstood what he was trying to say! Another local, Ta, said the nuts are drilled and strung as anklets for traditional dances. They must make a great percussive noise. Now I can't find anything about the trees online, so I assume my phonetic spelling must be way, way off. Remember I'm just taking notes while people are talking! Maybe it's uallei, or welei, or valai... the Fijian accent was new to me... If you know more about this than I do, please chime in with a comment because I'm most awfully curious.
Sami also opened a green coconut for me with his machete. (Those are green coconuts in the photo - green meaning both the color and that they are not ripe.) The milk was effervescent, but a month later I can barely remember the taste. When I finished the milk, he split the nut for me, too, and we scraped the flesh out with shards of the rind. It was soft and almost jello-ish. Nothing like the ripe, old coconuts we get in the stores here, with dark brown husks and woody shells. Wonderful and strange!

January 25, 2014
I've finally identified that bean: it's Entada phaseoloides, and it does seem to be called Walai in Fiji, although it has several other names, and it isn't a tree, it's a vine. Here's a shot of the plant: and the seed pods:

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