Wakatobi: Bottom Dwellers

Most dives at Wakatobi were wall dives, with us drifting along watching the coral like TV just on one side, our backs to the blue. Sometimes we’d miss some sights out in the blue, like a few stern-faced tuna cruising past. But most of the interesting things were unsurprisingly in or on the coral wall, like this crocodile fish in a shallow sandy alcove. Look carefully for its eye towards the centre of the picture and you can see it materialise. It’s even harder to spot with the naked eye, because the dark mottling only shows up when filled in with the white light from the camera flash.

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Another fish that favours grounded in coral alcoves is the blue spotted stingray. It was a bit of a rare find at Wakatobi, and very shy. I like how electric the blue of its spots are!

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There was one dive site in particular that broke away from the usual wall dives, letting us explore the sandy bottom. We saw a few leopard flounders with markings so matching to the sand beneath it that I’m sure there were plenty more than we could easily spot. Look for the eyes slightly right of centre if you can’t make it out.

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One of my favourite underwater pairings to look out for are the shrimp and its goby. In this case, the blind shrimp keeps house for two sand shrimpgobies. It must be busier than normal!

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And here’s a Randall’s shrimpgoby that is on guard. It’s already alerted its shrimp, which is snugly hiding in the burrow.

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One of the rarest of the bottom dwellers is the sea moth, a strange fish that doesn’t swim. It crawls along the sandy bottom using its fins and tail instead.

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This bizarre creature comes alone or in pairs. We spent a while stalking this pair across the sandy bottom, trying not to disturb them or the sand under our fins as we made our shots.

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More stationary is the yellowbarred jawfish peeking out from in its hole in sandy coral rubble. I’m told that the jawfish is one of those where the male holds eggs in its mouth till they hatch. The mechanics of how this happens boggles my mind. Sad to say, this one didn’t have eggs in its mouth.

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Not quite bottom dwellers but making it to this post because they’re always found perched on the coral are the blennies. These are the ones with heads that look vaguely like Homer Simpson, like a strange mermaid edition.

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The odd bulbous eyes never fail to fascinate me. It’s a pity they’re generally very shy and dart away so quickly it’s hard to get a decent picture. We see so many out there while diving, but rarely have a good shot.

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Similar in size but with a more elongated head (and therefore looking more like an archetypal fish) is the triplefin. I think this is a pale-spotted triplefin, but please correct me if it isn’t. It’s got a very translucent body and red and white markings that makes it blend in very well with the coral beneath.

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Amazing.

September in Komodo: Cute Little Fellas

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Despite the currents at Komodo, I managed to catch some pictures of cute little critters that are pretty shy and hard to photograph. One of them is this little blenny with its somewhat unsuccessful attempt at pretending to be a shadow in some bright orange coral. It darted about, emerging cautiously from various crevices in the coral when it thought the coast was clear.

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Its squat, square face reminded me a lot of a particular cartoon character and I christened it the Homer Simpson fish.

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Another really hard one to spot let alone photograph was the juvenile bicolour parrotfish.

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This little guy was tiny and incredibly hard to get close to.

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Luckily, I managed to spot two at separate occasions and caught a fairly decent shot of this fella’s orange half-mask.

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One thing that surprised me about Komodo was that there were mandarin fish in their true habitat. In most places like Lembeh and Malapascua, mandarin fish are generally found in areas with broken coral. If you think about it, in its most pristine conditions, no fish would live in broken coral as its most  favoured habitat. I suspect the coral could have ended up broken from all the masses of divers swooping in trying to get a good shot.

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Here, the little fellas were out in broad daylight and not in the evening as is typically the case elsewhere. While they were pretty shy, it wasn’t as difficult to get a good shot through the staghorn coral in bright daylight.

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Another amazing thing that I caught was a yellow-barred jawfish out of its hole. Typically, these fellas have their heads protruding from their holes at best. This one came right out in search of prey, and right in front of my lens at that!

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Last of the cuties was this dragonet that I’ve not seen anywhere else. I suspect it’s the Morrison’s dragonet but can’t be sure.

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While trying to photograph the adult, I noticed a juvenile in the same area and to my delight, this photo turned out fairly in focus. I found its bulbous starlight mint eyes and tiny sharp mouth enchanting.

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Diving the Similans: Things in Crevices

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There was lots of other good stuff at Koh Bon. A lot of these were crevice dwellers. Some of them were quite shy and it was fun to wait for them to emerge and observe them doing their thing. During the dive, I only saw the two white eye moray eels in the hole and spent ages trying to get a good shot. It was only when I reviewed the pictures out of the water did I notice that there was also a fimbriated eel at the back of the hole. Look carefully above the middle white eye moray’s head and you’ll see its yellow head splotched with black.

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There were other oddities such as this warty orange thing. I have no idea if it’s a coral or a worm or something else, but it’s incredibly pretty nonetheless.

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Then of course there are the ubiquitous Christmas tree worms. They come in lots of different colours and are invariably embedded in brown coral. When you go too close they suddenly withdraw and the entire thing retreats instantaneously into the hole.

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I admit the lighting in the next photo isn’t great but try to spot what’s there. Hint: it takes up quite a bit of the photo. This fella is a master of disguise.

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Can you see it’s a reef octopus? It’s one of the biggest specimens I’ve seen and its tentacles looking quite menacing. Needless to say, I didn’t stay longer than necessary for a few snaps.

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Our dive guide spotted this ornate ghost pipefish quite by chance and he was visibly pleased to be able to point it out to us.

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It’s related to the seahorse and it’s such an odd fish for always being upside down. It’s one of my favourite fish because it’s so pretty and sightings of these aren’t that common.

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Towards dusk, the crustaceans started coming out. Here are some durban dancing shrimp. They’re cute because they always hang out in groups and like to face the same direction.

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It also helps that they’re not painfully shy and are quite happy to pose for pictures. They’re such funny stripey little red things.

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Then there was this lobster with the longest feelers ever. I had to resist the strong urge to pull it out of its hole by its feelers!

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The identity of this crevice dweller stumps me. I looked through my entire fish ID reference book and I can’t find a fish that has a head that looks like My Little Pony! I think it’s a type of blenny, anyone have any ideas?

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And the last of the lot: a banded sea snake! This is probably only the third one I’ve seen and I’ve done a far number of dives. They’re supposed to be several times more poisonous than the most poisonous land snakes but aren’t aggressive. I guess that’s a good sign.

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