Wakatobi: Getting in Close

Wakatobi is a great place for macro shots. If you have a good camera like DC, you could get right in on some of the creatures, including this warty frogfish. It looks uncannily like a bright yellow plastic toy covered in coral muck.

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It’s of course quite easy to get in close when it’s soft coral. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t run away, I like how the textures really show up when you go in closer. Check it out.

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With coral, sometimes you don’t have to go in too close. DC pointed out this barrel sponge which is typically round but this one was heart-shaped! How sweet!

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Other ways of getting in close include catching a fish unaware, like how DC did with this poor fella in a barrel sponge. It must’ve been so relieved to get away once he was done with the shot!

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Another way is to try getting in under the creature, like with this reef cuttlefish. It looks quite different from the bottom, with its blowhole clearly showing.

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Otherwise, just tackle it head on. The cuttlefish will definitely start its aggressive display, which is quite interesting to watch as it changes its colour and pattern, and lifts its tentacles threateningly like so.

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Another creature worth getting close to is the anemonefish. This Clark’s anemonefish peers out furtively from the stinging anemone…

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… while this clown anemonefish merely looks up in mock surprise, his smaller counterpart taking confidence in the protection of the anemone.

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September in Bali: The Cephalopod Experience

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One dive at Nusa Lembongan we thought we were having a rather quiet and peaceful hour underwater. The water was blue and fairly clear and there wasn’t a lot of action. We were a little disappointed because of a false alarm that mola molas were sighted.

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After the advance party came back reporting nothing to see, we morosely headed on and came face to face with a large cuttlefish instead. Now cuttlefish aren’t particularly rare, but this one was large and quite friendly.

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In fact, it was so friendly that it let me get right under and take a cheeky shot of it propelling itself backward.

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As we proceeded further, we met more of these placid characters milling about on the reef.

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I started to click away quite happily…

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… and to my delight, I realised that the main reason why they were so placid was that they were laying eggs! Here I caught a female using her tentacles to push the egg sacs deep into the coral away from reach of predator fish.

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As I looked up, there were quite a few others in the area, some rather large like this handsome specimen here that my dive guide Nyoman is pretending to catch.

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I’m not sure whether they were other females searching for a good spot for their own eggs or males keeping watch.

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It was a wonderful privilege to watch a new generation of cuttlefish being laid.

September in Bali: Underwater Macro

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Bali as a dive destination really surprised me with the sheer variety and quantity of wildlife to be seen. The rich coral life supported many species that were rare at other more famous dive areas in the region. I could choose no better place than Tulamben to start taking underwater photos. There were lots of  Nemos to shoot, though some were shyer than others, like these false anemonefish or clownfish.

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The pink anemonefish flashed a bright pink against the brilliant green of their protective homes. Even so, they sulked at the camera rather disagreeably.

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It was this panda clownfish that finally posed nicely for me while guarding his pink eggs at the base of the anemone.

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Next up, the challenge was to spot and shoot the pygmy seahorses. My task was made far easier with the world’s best dive guide ever, Wayan. It was amazing how he could spot the little creatures so easily and point them out carefully. Here, you can see how tiny a pygmy seahorses is.

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Here’s the Denise pygmy seahorse up close, looking so elegant and fragile.

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Less delicate looking was the regular Gorgonian pygmy seahorse, though this male is very obviously pregnant. For seahorses, the males carry the eggs while the females swim free. What a great arrangement.

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Other rare fish included this longnose hawkfish, a very pretty fish that started my subsequent fascination with hawkfishes of all shapes and sizes.

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Then there was the jawfish that burrowed in the sea bottom, only revealing its face and yellow eyebrows to the surface.

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And there was the funny-looking ribbon eel that showed off its striped blue body and brilliant yellow mouth, looking like it had a tragicomic accident with a fluorescent yellow marker pen.

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Another interesting find was the robust ghost pipefish that looked remarkably like leaves gliding along in the current.

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Here’s a video with a pregnant one, you can just about spot its eggs in between its ventral fin parts right at the end of the video.

There were also other creatures like this pretty little cuttlefish so well camouflaged against some stinging coral.

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And then there were the pretty nudibranchs, also unglamourously known as sea slugs. There were pink ones with yellow trimmings…

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… black and white ones with orange trimmings…

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… purely blue ones…

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… and even pairs with pinkish brown splotches on them. I bet these fellas must be poisonous, otherwise they’d be way too easy to be spotted and gobbled up!

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Diving the Similans: Things on a Wreck

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Our last dive in the Similans was at Boonsung Wreck. It used to be a whole boat at the bottom of the sea, but the tsunami lifted it up and smashed it into four big pieces. Ironically, this makes for richer marine life as there’s more space for coral to grow and therefore more places for fish to hide and spawn. Among which were these bored, listless looking longfin bannerfish mooching about the place.

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There were quite a few moray eels and here was one of the few blackspotted morays I’ve seen. It wasn’t too pleased with its hole because soon after I took this picture, it departed and tried to fight a white eye moray for space but sadly was soon defeated and had to go back to its lousy old hole. Poor guy.

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Then there were goby shrimp and their shrimp gobies. It’s cute how all the shrimp does is shovel gravel out of the hole. Talk about a menial task. The goby just guards the hole and darts in at the first sign of trouble. The shrimp never shovels past the middle of the goby’s body. It was so hard to get close enough to take a good picture. This is the best I got.

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Then there were these two lovebird cuttlefish who stuck together despite showing their alarm colours. I think there were too many divers hovering over them and no crevices big enough for them to hide in.

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Last of all was the only set of nudibranch eggs I saw on the trip. It was funny how there weren’t a huge number of nudibranchs in the Similans. The ones I saw were the rather common and boring ones, so it was such a treat to see the ribbony sheets of eggs. See how each pink dot is an egg? I wonder how these things survive without being eaten by predators, they’re so obvious. Maybe they’re poisonous to most fish.

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Boonsung Wreck was a nice easy wreck to dive at. While the viz wasn’t the best, I liked how there was stuff both on the wreck and around it. It was a relaxing end to the diving.

Diving the Similans: Not Your Usual Fish

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Of course there are lots of other types of fish and sealife other than the typical, well, fish-shaped fish. Moray eels were rather common and we even came across this one moving homes. It’s rare to see moray eels out of their usual crevices so suddenly seeing this one was a nice surprise. We kept a good distance away from it because giant morays are known to be aggressive. Not quite to the point, but there’s a story about a rather tame one in the Similans that divers fed by hand. One day after getting his usual sausage treat, the moray eel mistook the dive guide’s other hand for more tasty offerings and bit off his thumb in one hefty chomp!

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We found another giant moray under a coral cover and this time it was facing off with a small hawksbill turtle. Too bad I had a bit of problem fiddling with my camera and didn’t manage to get in for a closer shot.

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In the end the turtle and the eel just minded their own business and the turtle wandered off to munch on some moss. It was a bit of an anticlimax, like the turtle telling us to run along, nothing to see here.

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Along another patch of coral, the visibility cleared up a bit and we chanced upon this beautiful cuttlefish. Once it saw us, it reared up cautiously, though its colours remained the usual striated spots. Only if it got spooked would it start having fluorescent violet spots ringing the edges of its body.

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I like how otherworldly and calm it looked against the backdrop of coral and anemone.

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The Black Manta: Pulau Aur

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We continued on into Malaysian waters to Pulau Aur. DC made it for the night dive but I was just too knackered. He had fun taking pictures with my camera. The next morning, we did two more dives before heading back to Singapore. Here’s a selection of highlights from all three dives.

DC spotted a cuttlefish on the first dive. The moment we spotted it, it knew straightaway that its cover was blown and it changed colour and markings  in a blink of the eye.

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As I got a bit closer, it went into a defensive posture with one tentacle raised, all ready to scoot off on a jet of water. We decided to leave it alone at this point.

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There were quite a few cute shrimp spotted in the dives. Here’s one DC saw on the night dive. It’s amazing how delicate it looks, yet its job is probably as a fish cleaner. It eats dead skin and parasites off fish.

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Here’s another shrimp, this time one that eats carcasses of dead creatures. If you put your hand close enough to a bold specimen, it’d quite happily hop onto your finger and pick away at the dead bits of hangnail, thinking that it must be some kind of weird dead sea creature.

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There are also the famously shy gobies which are a total bitch to snap pictures of. After far too many unsuccessful attempts, I finally caught these two shots.

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I still haven’t figured out exactly what kind of gobies these are. Drop me a message if you know!

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Another cute fish we found was the brown-banded pipefish. These were at first hard to spot, but once you found one it was often easy to locate the rest in the area.

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These relatives of seahorses had such comically serious expressions I could spend ages staring at them glide about the coral.

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Other fish were far bigger, like this  map puffer fish cruising around waiting for a little cleaner fish to get on with its job.

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Then there was this scorpionfish, most likely a tasseled or papuan one as it doesn’t have prominent eye cirri. Hard to tell though. It was probably a little bit annoyed that its cover was blown as the flash really showed up its pinks, reds and oranges.

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Then there was this blue spotted stingray that just couldn’t hide away enough. I think I caught in the act of burying itself in the sand for camouflage.

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Then there’s also the typical clownfish shot. Here’s a very grumpy specimen: it’s an orange-finned anemonefish and it’s not as  cute as the Nemo in the cartoon.

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And here’s a common lionfish that was so upset that it was just a commoner that it constantly looked down and tried to hide in the coral.

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See if you can spot this master of camouflage. It’s a hermit crab. Hint: look for its eye stalks.

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I got some lovely macro shots, the first of a flabellina, a kind of sea slug.

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Sea slugs have such a bad sounding name, so it’s nice that we call them nudibranchs most of the them. Here’s a really pretty one: it’s a pink dorid and I love how the pink and yellow-orange complement so nicely.

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And last of all, here’s a lovely fat little joruna nudibranch.

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And the icing on the cake, two joruna in very close proximity… mating?

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