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.
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.
Next up were the crustaceans that tend to only come out at night. Can you spot the transparent shrimp here?
Then there was this uncooperative coral crab saying “look Ma, no hands!” It refused to come out and show itself topside up.
And finally, after much frustrated snapping, I have a picture of a very shy saron shrimp. Isn’t it beautiful?
For a dive trip to a place full of coral bleaching, and with general low visibility, this trip to Redang was pretty fruitful!
The other highlight of being in Permuteran was diving at Secret Bay. I don’t think it’s that big a secret anymore, but not as many divers go there. It’s a muck diving place, meaning that less of the casual divers and more of the serious divers go there. Why? Because muck diving is all about diving in places with less than white sand and very little coral. The atmosphere can be very depressing because of the low light and poor visibility conditions. Nonetheless, there are plenty of weird and wonderful creatures to see.
I strongly suspect this to be the Kodipungi lionfish, with its separated pectoral fin rays. It’s so beautiful and flamboyant against the dull grey sand.
What surprised me next was the Banggai cardinalfish, something that is supposed to be very rare. When I’d last dived in Manado, I was told that these fish were only found at Banggai Island and the Lembeh Strait. Balderdash!
Their blue-black colouration with the almost fluorescent white spots was mesmerising.
There were also plenty of razorfish among the sea urchins. They were funny creatures that seemed to stand upside down on their noses to hunt for food.
When pursued, they’d turn ninety degrees so they could make a quick getaway, but were otherwise always nose to the ground.
Another rare find was the hispid frogfish. It was hilarious how each had a disarmingly charming white pompom on its forehead. This pompom acted like a lure to bring in prey. In a gulp, the poor fish would be gone.
Another odd fish was the cockatoo waspfish that liked to pretend to be a leaf swaying in the water. Very strange.
Less strange was this octopus that (for good reason) refused to budge from its hole. The best I could do was to take a blurred shot of its tentacles. Pity.
Other inhabitants of this freakish side show include the striped puffer with its dark blotch around the base of its pectoral fins making it look recessed and mutated.
Reflecting the green seaweed was this unidentified goby. It would’ve been difficult to spot if it was just a few inches into the seaweed.
Easier to identify was the spotted shrimpgoby with its distinctive white iris and black markings. It was surprisingly how I managed to get close enough without startling the shrimpgoby.
Almost completely camouflaged until it started moving was this peacock flounder with its weirdly asymmetrical eyes.
Another well-camouflaged fish was this orange and black dragonet, its only giveaway the orange lips.
There were more – this crocodile flathead, if left alone, would soon change colour to blend in with the sand below.
There was also this really ugly pipefish that looked like a piece of random trash in the water. No wonder it’s called muck diving.
Secret Bay was one of the few places where I saw full-sized seahorses, like this thorny seahorse. I was so thrilled by this find! Even though we’re told that pygmy seahorses are very rare, somehow I feel that full-sized ones are even more so because guides tend not to look out for them. What a great find.
Another unexpected find was this whole pile of schooling catfish in the wreck of a little rowboat.
Even more surprising was this ornate ghost pipefish floating along obliviously above the seething mass of catfish.
Other than that, there was a truly horrifying sea centipede, another first for me (and hopefully last).
And then there were the ubiquitous nudibranchs, though this time nothing I’ve seen before again.
Check out this scrum of beautiful blue and yellow ones too. Lovely huh.
And rounding things off, here’s a video of something not seen that often – a white-eye moray eel out of its hole in search of prey. Enjoy.
Komodo surprised me by throwing up plenty of critters. There were plenty of nudibranchs, as usual, eggs included.
Some of them I still can’t identify though I see them occasionally.
Others, I think I know the names, like this spanish dancer (I think).
And then there are the ones that I’d seen for the first time in Komodo, and had no idea what they were.
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.
There were also much prettier ones with delicate tendrils.
Then there were the crustaceans that lived in the delicate tendrils of corals, like this coral crab.
Others, like the orang utan crab, lived on cabbage coral.
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.
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.
Check out how Oscar would come out and peer at the outside world.
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.
Its squat, square face reminded me a lot of a particular cartoon character and I christened it the Homer Simpson fish.
Another really hard one to spot let alone photograph was the juvenile bicolour parrotfish.
This little guy was tiny and incredibly hard to get close to.
Luckily, I managed to spot two at separate occasions and caught a fairly decent shot of this fella’s orange half-mask.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I really enjoyed how varied the diving was in Komodo. There were plenty of drift dives, wall dives, and sometimes just plain vanilla let’s-poke-around-the-reef dives.
I dived with Reefseekers and the guides were the loveliest and most professional I’ve met. In addition to their impeccable briefings and safety procedures, I liked how they shared their love for the ocean at a daily storytelling session. Each day there was a different topic, perhaps on rays, or on cephalopods or, in one case, on day and night colours of fish. I never really noticed till diving in Komodo that fish have day and night colours. Not only that, but they change to night colours in the day time to signal to the cleaner fish that they want to be cleaned. Below we have a few surgeonfish changed into their darker night colours, and this in very stark contrast to a much lighter brother who was already being cleaned.
There were plenty of other fish hanging around the reef, like this startled looking soldierfish…
… and this predatory giant moray eel.
There were also plenty of hawkfish, and I had fun catching pictures of the threadfin hawkfish…
… the freckled hawkfish…
… more freckled hawkfish…
… and the rare longnose hawkfish.
Others in the reef were very hard to spot. Look carefully and see if you can spot a scorpionfish.
Others away from the coral were the garden eels, poking their heads out from the sand only when divers were further away. It was impossible to get a closeup shot.
I flew to Flores from Bali, landing at Labuan Bajo, the staging point for Komodo. Komodo itself is a small island off Flores and is home to the famous Komodo dragon. I wasn’t here just to see the dragons, but also to experience the famed diving in the area. Diving here is challenging with the strong currents but very rewarding as it is very much an untouched area with an incredible amount of fish.
Every dive I had was so blue and full of fish. There were trevally in great abundance and in greater abundance were the fusiliers and other smaller fish that made their prey.
It was always a fish soup experience each dive.
Famous here are the pelagics, otherwise known as big fish that swim in the blue, like the ominous looking giant trevally.
They get pretty big, though not quite as big as a diver!
It was almost shocking to me how often we saw Napolean wrasse. These are rare in other waters but seeing two or three in one dive was almost the norm here.
They weren’t too shy and often swam round us in large circles, as if to mark out territory.
Some of them were not yet in the terminal phase and had lighter markings on their smaller bodies. It was wonderful to see these majestic creatures cruise round us.
Other creatures were more fearsome than majestic, like the dogtooth tuna. From afar they looked fine…
… but up closer their rows of teeth and rather unfriendly expression made me think of how eagerly they would take revenge on me – all for my penchant for tuna sashimi.
There were some slightly dangerous fish in the water. Here’s probably the most dangerous – the titan triggerfish. It’s been known to attack divers and to grave consequence. Thankfully it wasn’t nesting season when they tended to be very aggressive and territorial. This one just cruised past without taking any notice of us.
Even though they have a reputation for being deadly, sharks are generally pretty harmless. There were lots of white tip sharks in the area. It is obvious how they got their name and it’s marvellous how the white tips are almost luminous in the water.
These creatures were quite shy and it wasn’t easy to get a photo. It doesn’t help that they tend to be quite small, generally being about one to two metres long.
Some of them came in right onto the reef but quickly shied away from the avid photographers.
The closest we got was when there was a white tip shark hiding in a cave, oblivious to the fact that its tail was sticking out for all to admire.
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.
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.
In fact, it was so friendly that it let me get right under and take a cheeky shot of it propelling itself backward.
As we proceeded further, we met more of these placid characters milling about on the reef.
I started to click away quite happily…
… 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.
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.
I’m not sure whether they were other females searching for a good spot for their own eggs or males keeping watch.
It was a wonderful privilege to watch a new generation of cuttlefish being laid.