There was plenty of very healthy coral in Tulamben as usual. And there was occasionally very blue and clear water.
We were lucky to catch a small school of razorfish passing by…
… 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!
Other things in crevices included this octopus that didn’t make any attempt to conceal itself.
All it did was to curl its bulbous head in a bit more to look like a giant, doleful nose.
Another one was far less gregarious. I wouldn’t call this one shy, given its evil eye peering malevolently from its hole.
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.
Others had more business with this giant moray eel, giving it a good dental check up.
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.
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.
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.
And here they are making sure they’re doing a thorough job. Wayan kept at this till he could hold his breath no longer.
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.
And a midnight snapper waits its turn, mouth open in anticipation of the cleaning to come.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At some areas, I pretty much forgot that the bleaching situation was really bad – there was so much coral and fish life.
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.
And this crocodile flathead, also in the sand.
Things got a little better on the coral itself where there were bigger fish like this grouper.
And on the coral were the pretty brown-banded pipefish that came in pairs, skittering over the reef with cautious movements.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Closer to the reef were plenty of longfin batfish. Here, they seemed almost excessively friendly, changing quickly from their day colours…
… to night colours as they came in close, as they did when wanting to be cleaned.
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.
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.
There were others like this grouper that I can’t find in my fish ID book…
… and more familiar ones like this Indian doublebar goatfish hovering over some coral.
Some of the fish came in schools, like the two-spot snappers in their brownish grey raiment.
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.
Some fish lived in crevices, like this yellowbarred jawfish emerging in search of prey.
Others like this fire dartfish seemed to simply hover in one place posing for the camera.
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.
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.
I think this is a large (!) whip goby but as usual, I can’t be sure.
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…
… as was this anemone shrimp.
Rather camera-shy was this hermit crab, which hid its face swiftly under its shell as the camera clicked.
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.
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.
I tried to take some nudibranch portraits, some not quite coming out as I’d like as the flash refused to fire.
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.
One night I had a dinner at a new place recommended by my aunt. We had a boisterous family gathering round an eponymous fishhead steamboat. It was chockful of chunky grouper fishhead in a rich, flavourful stock, all augmented by plenty of fresh vegetables and yam. The yam practically melted in the mouth after spending a while in the soup. It was a great dish for sharing in a group.
To accompany the steamboat were deep-fried pork spareribs that were fairly decent. It was blown out of the water by the next dish.
I spied this dish at another table and insisted that we order a portion of it: prawn sang meen. The crispy noodles bathed in thick yet not too gloopy sauce was simply heaven. I don’t recall anywhere else that does the noodles so thin and crisp and plain yummy! The juicy big prawns with plenty of orange milt helped a lot too. I’m still dreaming of this dish.
Not satisfied by just one serving of crispy noodles, my cousin insisted on another one, this time fish. I don’t know how we could be relatives but this cousin doesn’t even like prawns, hence this version. It had the same to-die-for crispy noodles and yummy sauce, but I felt that the prawn version was far better.
136 Hong Kong Street Fishhead Steamboat
291 South Bridge Road
Tel: 8288 3368
The diving at Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida was nothing short of beautiful.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Another skittish fish was this adorable juvenile yellow boxfish that was almost impossible to catch on camera without being a spotted yellow blur.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Don’t think that Layang Layang is only for the pelagics. There’s plenty of macro to be found here, it’s only that sometimes the currents and the wall can be a bit challenging for finding those critters and also getting the perfect shot of that tiny little creature. There was a lot of reef life here, such as this rather surprised looking tomato grouper.
I was also quite pleased to see one of my favourites, a juvenile black snapper with its characteristic black and white stripes and dots.
Then there were the fish that insisting on posing for a picture, like this slightly constipated looking pennant bannerfish.
There were also bottom dwellers like blue-spotted stingrays.
They always seem to stare up so malevolently at us.
There were also other fairly amusing fish, like this doublebar goatfish. They like to rest on coral and pretend that they are not there, innocently spacing out, as if if they can’t see us we can’t see them!
Others showed off their colours beautifully against the coral, like these panda butterflyfish and peacock grouper.
DC is obsessed with the pufferfish family, just like I’m obsessed with hawkfish. His favourite shot of the whole trip is this seal-faced puffer that he cornered in a coral niche. It’s cute, isn’t it?
Not so cute is this giant frogfish that has its mouth open in wait for unsuspecting prey. In a split second, it’ll pounce and the prey will be in its belly.
Far less grotesque were pretty nudibranchs slowly making their way across the coral gardens.
They were surprisingly hard to spot among the colourful backdrop of coral, but once found, a joy to photograph.
Far harder to photograph were the pink anemonefish, who were so skittish, this is probably the only decent one I got amongst the tens of shots I took.
Going down to the seriously macro-level, I found some large whip gobies on a sea fan and thankfully this one wasn’t as shy as my next subject.
The Denise pygmy seahorses were such a pain to photograph. My camera had great difficulty focussing on the tiny creatures smaller than my fingernail. This one is pregnant and had the tendency to swim to the underside of the sea fan, making it impossible to catch on camera.
DC got this picture that’s far superior to mine, it’s so beautiful how he managed to capture the eye and its almost serene expression.
We had some good luck on sandy patches at the house reef at night. There was a flamboyantly coloured Spanish dancer.
There was also this strange blob of a sea slug oozing its way along.
Much prettier was this variation of a reeftop pipefish that wiggled its pretty pink tail and didn’t seem to mind the many flashes from our cameras.
Then there was the bizarrely shaped longhorn cowfish that seemed to have difficulty navigating its way out of this patch of seagrass.
Back on the coral reef, there were other oddities like this leaf scorpionfish with its glassy white eye staring out at us while swaying back and forth in the water pretending to be a leaf.
In the anemone were some porcelain crabs, which were quite shy. This one kept scuttling towards the underside of the anemone and it was really hard to keep up with it before it disappeared from sight.
A rare sight in the coral was this peacock flounder. Normally associated with muck diving, I was thrilled to see this one swim along and then try to rather unsuccessfully camouflage itself on some maze coral. Its googly eyes and patchy colouration gave it away immediately!
There were also quite a few shrimp and other crustaceans hiding out in crevices. Here’s DC trying to get a good snap of some shrimp.
They were some kind of orange cleaner shrimp that I have yet to identify, very pretty though!
Other cleaner shrimp like these commensal shrimp also hung around the same area. Both kinds would come out onto my hand and pick away at dead skin. I suppose it makes good eating for them. And round goes the circle of life!
There were also these spiny rock lobsters in another hole. I was so tempted to pull them out by their feelers but of course resisted. It’s a pity they were so shy though!
Back on the surface of the coral reef, we were happy to see the bigger fish thriving. There were plenty of sweetlips about, including these adult harlequin sweetlips that seemed to love giving a mirror mirage by going in pairs above and below the coral.
Then there was this emperor angelfish that came up to pose for a picture on my last dive. Such an obliging creature!
And last of the fish, there was this white mouth moray looking out for prey.
Unfortunately, as this video shows, it’s a bit of FAIL because it got slapped in the face by a passing fish. So much for being a lean, mean predator.
The nicest finale to our dive was getting up close to this turtle. As we approached, the green turtle was facing us and knew full well of our approach. Somehow it didn’t swim away.
DC got in close enough for a really macro shot of it.
But then we noticed something odd about the way it was rocking back and forth.
We realised that it was stuck in the coral! For the sake of this turtle, I broke one of the laws of diving – don’t touch any creature – and tugged it gently out. It got free and immediately coasted up towards the surface for a good breath of fresh air.
It was such a lovely feeling to end our successful series of dives by helping out a stranded turtle.
My luck is not too bad for slightly bigger fish. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to see pairs go by, like these white collar butterflyfish. I like how the yellow-green-blue of the main body contrasts with the bright red tail. It’s almost as if the fish was drawn by a very skilled primary school kid who only had the four colours.
Coral groupers like these always make me feel a bit hungry. I still feel slightly guilty about it, but looking at one of these makes me think of perfectly steamed fish, Cantonese style. I can just imagine the tender flesh of perfectly cooked fresh fish accented by light soy sauce and shredded spring onion. All of it sliding down my throat. It’s amazing how one glance can evoke all these sensations, even underwater.
Then there’s one of my favourites: the clown triggerfish. It’s just crazy how madly flamboyant this fish is, with the bright white spots and the yellow lipstick. It just looks so comically out of place.
Then the other joy of slightly bigger fish is watching them at cleaning stations. Here we have some fusiliers, most likely variable-lined fusiliers, mingling around. Look carefully to see what they’re up to.
Did you see how they’re opening their mouths to let the little cleaner wrasse in? The wrasse goes in to eat up parasites and other edible yuckies in the fusiliers. I’d never seen fish gaping their mouths open so wide for cleaning before!
And talking about cleaning stations, check out this cool sight. The two fish are the same species, yellowfin surgeonfish, even though they’re such starkly different colours. Better yet, they can change colour at will. When they want to be cleaned, they turn to their black night colours. Isn’t great to change colour at will?