Wakatobi: Colours of the Reef

One thing I love about diving is the surprising variety of colours to see. Closer to the surface at about 3 metres depth, the coral starts off rather pastelly and not particularly colourful. The fish are also somehow less colourful up here. Here’s where I admire the beautiful clear blue of the sea or observe the interesting textures of the coral.

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Then just slightly deeper and the colourful fish start popping out. It’s faintly surprising that entire schools of fish can be an intense electric blue with bronzed yellow fins.

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Alternatively, they could be bright magenta, standing out brilliantly against the sometimes drab coral.

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Then there are the slightly bigger and less colourful but no less flamboyant-looking pyramid butterflyfish. They somehow look like company logos swimming around in loose schools.

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There are also bigger fish that hold plenty of colour, like this pair of bright red crescent-tail bigeyes that stared miserably out at my camera. Their colourful background didn’t help lift their mood at all. How sad to have a permanently downturned mouth.

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One of the more cheerful looking fish is the aptly named fire dartfish, that stands out so prettily against the white sandy area it likes to live in.

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Against the more colourful coral background, there are the pictus blenny, looking incongruously like a yellow-tailed Homer Simpson, and the royal dottyback, showing off its magenta and bright yellow colouring.

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In the coral itself are Christmas tree worms, like this pretty yellow version.

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A real treat is to come across a whole range of colours on one piece of coral. Here, the worms are white-edged brown, bright pink, electric blue and yellow.

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Others living off the coral include this sea cucumber lined brightly in vermillion. Its stripes work well with its nobbly skin.

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My perennial favourites of bright orange clown anemonefish are another colourful highlight of diving. Here, a whole family looks up expectantly out of dusky pink-brown anemone.

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In blue-tinged green anemone, the very slightly purplish pink anemonefish looks out more dolefully.

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A much tinier fish, the translucent red whip coral goby lives on fiery red whip coral, shyly looking everywhere but the camera.

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Then at night slightly more colours come out. The blue on this scrawled filefish comes out decently against the reds of the coral.

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And the vermillion, brown and white of the twinspot lionfish come out dramatically against the slightly more muted coral.

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We had our own colours too. As a contrast from the usual black of neoprene wetsuits, DC and I went for red fins, which appeared purplish when deeper as the water absorbed the red light.

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And I decided more colour is always good, and wore my bright pink dolphin hood to match the colourful underwater life.

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More to come next post!

Back to Tulamben: Crustaceans

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There were a whole load of crustaceans around in Tulamben. Considering that we hardly did any night dives, which is when they typically come out to play, it is again a testament to the great diving at Tulamben that we saw so manyof them.

Here’s a brightly coloured coral crab under its anemone house. It’s a wonder it doesn’t get eaten that easily, its colour is so vivid.

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Even more brightly coloured were the peacock mantis shrimp, its inquisitive eyes jutting out quizzically.

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It’s when the mantis shrimp is in side profile that one understands why it’s called that, for its tail has the pretty colours of a peacock.

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We revisited startling specimens such as this orang utan crab, something you wouldn’t typically expect of something underwater, let along a crab.

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It’s almost impossible to bring one of these into sharp focus, as it’s so hard to tell whether the fuzz is caught sharply or not.

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There were also plenty of shrimp, like this imperial shrimp. It’s amazing how transparent its body is.

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I guess the transparency is how it camouflages itself, especially when young. Check out how the young one is so much harder to spot than the full-size one.

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There’s another type of mantis shrimp, the smashing mantis shrimp that hides in its hole waiting for unsuspecting prey to go past.

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Here, I admire the bravery of these hingeback shrimp. They’re so close to the smashing mantis shrimp’s home that it’s impossible for the bigger one to catch the smaller ones. Nothing like being too close for comfort here!

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Then again, these little shrimp are so tiny it’s hard to see how they’d make a dent in any sizeable creature’s stomach.

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Still, they are very pretty and it’s fun to get in close to catch a good shot of this attractive orange shrimp.

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One of my favourites, as regular readers would know, is the harlequin shrimp and again Tulamben didn’t disappoint. We saw this adorable pair posing as orchids.

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It’s really cute how they strutted and posed about.

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There were also some lobsters and these were incredibly well-camouflaged amongst the featherstars. Check out the yellow one here…

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… and the red one here.

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It’s hard to believe how sharp Wayan’s eyes were in spotting these.

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Easier to spot but much harder to spot were the goby shrimp, who spent their days pushing sand out of burrows guarded by gobies. At any movement at all, the goby would dart back into the hole, and of course the shrimp would dart in at the first twitch of the goby’s tail.

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Last of all in this series of crustaceans is this shell of sorts. I have no idea what it is. If anyone can identify it, I’d be really grateful.

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Back to Tulamben: Of Coral, Crevices and Cleaning Stations

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There was plenty of very healthy coral in Tulamben as usual. And there was occasionally very blue and clear water.

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We were lucky to catch a small school of razorfish passing by…

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… and were even luckier to discover an electric clam in a crevice on one of the walls of the wreck. Check out the blue-white lines on the clam – those are the electric bits. I wouldn’t advise putting a finger anywhere close!

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Other things in crevices included this octopus that didn’t make any attempt to conceal itself.

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All it did was to curl its bulbous head in a bit more to look like a giant, doleful nose.

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Another one was far less gregarious. I wouldn’t call this one shy, given its evil eye peering malevolently from its hole.

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Cleaning stations had plenty of crevices too. Here, many different types of shrimp were proffering their services, including this one coming right up to my hand. It tried to give my glove a good clean, but in vain.

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Others had more business with this giant moray eel, giving it a good dental check up.

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Some were so zealous about their job that they went into the jaws of the eel quite fearlessly. And the eel never bothered trying to eat it.

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The shrimp obviously had to be quite smart in getting out before the eel’s jaw closed, just like this one making the eel look rather foolish.

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Wayan did a reprise of the last trip and demonstrated how the shrimp would even go into his mouth with sufficient coaxing. Here’s an incredible action shot of not one but two (!) shrimp making a beeline for his lunch leftovers.

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And here they are making sure they’re doing a thorough job. Wayan kept at this till he could hold his breath no longer.

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The show was over and we went on to the next cleaning station. Here, a shrimp took a breather atop a coral grouper’s head before going back into its mouth for more dental action.

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And a midnight snapper waits its turn, mouth open in anticipation of the cleaning to come.

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A Quick Trip to Redang: Night Dive

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Our night dive was where I finally figured out how my strobe and camera worked together and I very merrily went round taking a tonne of photos. Sadly, not a great deal of them turned out well as I didn’t have the chance to linger. We had a big group with us and it was tough to stay in one spot undisturbed by other divers for a while. We revisited the black-finned snake eel from the last time, but didn’t manage to get in a better shot.

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There was a pretty little juvenile raggy scorpionfish, not quite so well camouflaged amongst the coral. I spotted it easily from its eyes – they look so much like Starlight mint sweets.

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Next up were the crustaceans that tend to only come out at night. Can you spot the transparent shrimp here?

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Then there was this uncooperative coral crab saying “look Ma, no hands!” It refused to come out and show itself topside up.

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And finally, after much frustrated snapping, I have a picture of a very shy saron shrimp. Isn’t it beautiful?

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For a dive trip to a place full of coral bleaching, and with general low visibility, this trip to Redang was pretty fruitful!

A Quick Trip to Redang: Life Goes On in the Reef

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We didn’t have great visibility for most dives and the colours weren’t very good at all. Low visibility tends to tinge everything green. Still, we managed to see some interesting creatures, like this green turtle poking around in the coral.

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One morning, we were treated to a  herd of bumphead parrotfish on their morning breakfast foray. This big guy came right up to us to check if we were chompable enough. He soon realised that we weren’t yummy coral and joined the rest of his herd.

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And off they sailed, back into the murky water in search of their breakfast.

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One thing that astounded me this trip was the first time I saw pomfret underwater, and in large schools no less.

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We were minding our own business doing the usual reef tour and suddenly we came up to an alcove of sorts and found them schooling in the thousands. It was an incredible sight. I must confess that I was trying to figure out whether they were the white or silver pomfret and whether we could catch any for dinner.

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We stayed there for ages simply gawking at the sight of so many fish in the same area, marvelling that there was enough oxygen in the water to keep them going.

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My fish ID book calls them diamondfish, and the tend to school in shallow waters close to silty areas. What a bonus for diving in a low visibility period.

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A Quick Trip to Redang: Anemones and Their Fishes

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As always on a dive trip, I’m fascinated by the vividly coloured anemones and their impossibly cute fish. I never get tired of taking photos of them. This time at Redang, some of the anemones were also affected by the bleaching and there were some very unusual colours. This green and blue anemone wasn’t so badly affected as it’s pretty close to the usual green and purple. It made for a beautiful contrast with the bright orange clownfish!

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Less normal was this bleached out specimen, though the white and pastel purple-blue was so pretty. Equally pretty was the baby anemonefish taking shelter here.

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We then got down to even more bleached anemone, with this little fella both wary and curious of the intruder with the lens.

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The worst bits of bleaching hit the panda clownfish. Check out this poor shellshocked fish. My heart goes out to him.

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This anemone is not normally white or even pretty fluorescent orange, it’s usually a dark orangey-brown, quite similar in colour to the pandas themselves.

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It was really sad how they sat glumly in their bleached homes, not being able to change anemone because they were evolved to only live in one type.

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I hope the bleaching has stopped and the anemone recovered by now.

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A Quick Trip to Redang: Mourning the Coral

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DC  and I went back to Redang to look up some friends for diving. We were there just as the coral bleaching broke out and were incredibly sad at the poor state of the coral. Global warming had taken its toll and the seas were unseasonably warm this time of the year. To upside was only for me as it was warm enough that I didn’t need to wear a wetsuit, the wuss that I am.

Our first dive was a bit of a shock. Whole patches of the coral had gone ghostly white and the patches stretched far and wide across the coralscape as far as the viz allowed us to see. It didn’t help that the water was a bit murky and the usually brightly coloured coral was completely washed out.

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A lot of the hard coral was affected,, including the staghorn that was bleached from its usual tan to sickly yellow to dead white. It was an incredibly sad sight.

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At some places, it wasn’t too bad, but we could already see the bleaching taking its toll on the outer edges. It was so depressing that the yellow sunflower coral that the other divers liked so much did nothing for me, looking to me as if they were pus-filled fungal colonies taking over the reef.

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Yet, not all dive sites were affected. Only some areas hit by the worst conditions of warm water and unfavourable currents suffered badly. On other reefs, it seemed like life went on as normal, with only minimal bleaching that was hardly noticeable.

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At some areas, I pretty much forgot that the bleaching situation was really bad – there was so much coral and fish life.

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But the diving wasn’t always great. Somehow we ran into a lot of poor visibility, especially in the sandy areas where we saw this blue spotted stingray.

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And this crocodile flathead, also in the sand.

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Things got a little better on the coral itself where there were bigger fish like this grouper.

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And on the coral were the pretty brown-banded pipefish that came in pairs, skittering over the reef with cautious movements.

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The soft coral didn’t seem to be very much affected. It was healthy enough that this lionfish took refuge in it, peering placidly out from its sloe-eyes.

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So all wasn’t quite lost as the reef didn’t seem to be all that dead. It appeared to be rebounding despite the dead patches. We were cheered as we continued our diving.

September in Bali: Menjangan Island

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I was in Permuteran to dive two very different locations. The first was Menjangan Island, also known as the island of the deer. To get there, we had to abide by a whole bunch of rules. I like multi-coloured signs like this and I especially liked the rather paternalistic exhortation to make sure all your diving equipment was attached securely to your body.

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While the diving at Menjangan Island wasn’t quite as spectacular as the other places I’d dived for this trip, it was very relaxing as there weren’t any challenging currents. The water was beautifully blue as usual and while there weren’t as many pelagics, there was still the odd gem or two. This yellow-spotted trevally was one of them.

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Here also was the second time in my diving career I saw a school of squid in broad daylight. The last time I saw a school of squid, it was my first dive. It took more than a hundred dives to see them again.

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Closer to the reef were plenty of longfin batfish. Here, they seemed almost excessively friendly, changing quickly from their day colours…

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… to night colours as they came in close, as they did when wanting to be cleaned.

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For some really odd reason, one of them swam right up to me, as if it was expecting me to do the cleaning honours for it.

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There were plenty of parrotfish around. I’m surprised how little photographed these fish are. I think it’s something to do with how shy they are and how they just don’t stay put in one place.

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There were others like this grouper that I can’t find in my fish ID book…

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… and more familiar ones like this Indian doublebar goatfish hovering over some coral.

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Some of the fish came in schools, like the two-spot snappers in their brownish grey raiment.

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Others were more solitary, like one of my all-time favourites, the juvenile harlequin sweetlips. I can’t get enough of its unique polka dot pattern.

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Some fish lived in crevices, like this yellowbarred jawfish emerging in search of prey.

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Others like this fire dartfish seemed to simply hover in one place posing for the camera.

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There were other fish that lived in crevices, and some of these you won’t want to get too close to. This fimbriated moray eel is one good example.

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Some were small and really difficult to get close to, like the goby. I can’t tell for sure whether this is a common ghostgoby.

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I think this is a large (!) whip goby but as usual, I can’t be sure.

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Other fish are much more easily identified, like these panda clownfish, also known as Clark’s anemonefish. They were so at home among the stinging anemones…

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… as was this anemone shrimp.

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Rather camera-shy was this hermit crab, which hid its face swiftly under its shell as the camera clicked.

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And then the ones that didn’t seem shy at all – the nudibranchs. I saw a white flabellina that seemed to mimic the coral it was on.

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There were others that were even more unidentifiable, like this strange blue one with an orange and white strip outlined by deep blue running down the middle.

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I tried to take some nudibranch portraits, some not quite coming out as I’d like as the flash refused to fire.

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And others came out much better, with a pensive, slightly lonesome feel that seems quite at odds with the experience of being a nudibranch, perhaps.

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September in Komodo: The Critters

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Komodo surprised me by throwing up plenty of critters. There were plenty of nudibranchs, as usual, eggs included.

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Some of them I still can’t identify though I see them occasionally.

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Others, I think I know the names, like this spanish dancer (I think).

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And then there are the ones that I’d seen for the first time in Komodo, and had no idea what they were.

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There were some that were plain bulbous and gross. If anything can tell me what this is, I’ll be quite grateful. I think this is more of a sea snail of sorts because I think our guides said something about the shell being on the inside and the soft stuff outside.

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There were also much prettier ones with delicate tendrils.

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Then there were the crustaceans that lived in the delicate tendrils of corals, like this coral crab.

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Others, like the orang utan crab, lived on cabbage coral.

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And there were the hard to find whip coral shrimp, which was a beast to photograph. I remember this little critter took me 10 minutes and a good 20 bar of air to get a not-great photo.

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And the highlight of the critters was Oscar the smashing mantis shrimp. This fella lived in a hole and whenever we’d visit, our guide would knock at the entrance of his hole. Before long, two little fish would rise out of the hole, smartly realising that the safest place would be in the cosy hole where Oscar couldn’t extend his smashing pincers.

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Check out how Oscar would come out and peer at the outside world.

September in Bali: Underwater

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The diving at Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida was nothing short of beautiful.

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There was plenty of very healthy coral and every single dive was full of beautiful coral scapes, quite different from the black volcanic sands of Tulamben.

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I loved how blue the water was and how colourful the fish were. They were everywhere the eye could see, with the tiny brightly-hued anemonefish hovering on the roof, the slightly bigger ones like the butterflyfish close to the reef and the large ones like the trevally hunting a few metres from the reef.

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It wasn’t all blue underwater. Featherstars like these gave bursts of colour along the way. These creatures are relatives of the starfish and can walk themselves to convenient places to feed. I like how they congregated on this coral to pose for a picture.

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The fish closest to the reef are generally the smallest and naturally the most skittish because they are food for most other bigger fish. I had a hard time getting a picture of these two-tone dartfish that always come in pairs. I love how they look like they’re wearing frilly dark clown pants!

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Another skittish fish was this adorable juvenile yellow boxfish that was almost impossible to catch on camera without being a spotted yellow blur.

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Bigger and less shy, yet still hard to capture was the emperor angelfish. It had this knack of sailing off in a huffy imperial manner away from the camera.

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Also adopting a regal manner was the spotted soapfish. Again, I kept capturing the tails of these fellas till this one though no doubt it’s angled away in retreat.

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Less skittish fish are those that laze along the bottom of the reef, like this hexagon grouper. It perched itself on the coral and anemones, keeping a careful eye on nearby divers and moving away on if they got too close for comfort.

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Others didn’t bat an eyelid even when we got close for a shot, like this giant frogfish. All it did was occasionally shift its foot-like ventral fins to get to a more comfortable position.

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One fish that we daren’t get too close too was the scorpionfish. This specimen is probably either a tasseled or Poss’s scorpionfish, with its well developed skin tassels along its chin and jaw.

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Other things hardly moved at all, like this egg cowrie. Its black mantle covered most its smooth white shell whilst it fed on soft coral.

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Some creatures were actively out hunting, like this very cute snowflake moray eel. It had a most sheepish expression on its face that amused me to no end.

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There was also the banded sea snake, a highly venomous reptile that we steered clear off. From a distance, I admired its pretty bands of alternating black and pale blue, its smooth rounded head and its rudder-like tail that was well adapted to propelling itself in search of prey.

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Last of all was this pretty pink  nudibranch with an orange flower on its back. It’s actually a pink dorid and the flower is its branchial plume through which it breathes. I wonder why it was doubled over though.

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Even without the fish I was after, seeing the variety of life here was rewarding in its own right. More to come in my next post!