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.