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: A Mucky Secret

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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.

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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!

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Their blue-black colouration with the almost fluorescent white spots was mesmerising.

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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.

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When pursued, they’d turn ninety degrees so they could make a quick getaway, but were otherwise always nose to the ground.

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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.

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Another odd fish was the cockatoo waspfish that liked to pretend to be a leaf swaying in the water. Very strange.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Almost completely camouflaged until it started moving was this peacock flounder with its weirdly asymmetrical eyes.

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Another well-camouflaged fish was this orange and black dragonet, its only giveaway the orange lips.

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There were more – this crocodile flathead, if left alone, would soon change colour to blend in with the sand below.

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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.

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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.

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Another unexpected find was this whole pile of schooling catfish in the wreck of a little rowboat.

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Even more surprising was this ornate ghost pipefish floating along obliviously above the seething mass of catfish.

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Other than that, there was a truly horrifying sea centipede, another first for me (and hopefully last).

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And then there were the ubiquitous nudibranchs, though this time nothing I’ve seen before again.

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Check out this scrum of beautiful blue and yellow ones too. Lovely huh.

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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.

Guest Post: DC Dives Redang – Last Dive and Some Clean-Up

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For our last dive, Tim took us to a coral bommy sticking out in the middle of the sea. He told us that it had very nice soft and colourful coral that couldn’t be found anywhere else in the other Redang dive sites. We exited the boat and dived down to the coral bommy. We immediately found a very pretty pair of lionfish down there.

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However, we were also dismayed to find a large stray net had draped itself over the beautiful table coral! Immediately we swung into action, tearing away the net and trying not to damage the coral in doing so.

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It was really cool how everyone was willing to forgo their dive and carry out a clean-up operation without any prompting. No words needed to be said here – it’s the duty of every diver to do their best to clean up the dive environment, and stray nets are some of the worst bits of trash left by humans in the sea. Left unattended, such nets will kill the coral, trap fish and other sea creatures and even entangle unsuspecting divers. Disposing of the net was the only decent thing to do.

Tearing off a net’s pretty hard though, especially without gloves. Due to the encrustation, the net can be embedded with sharp objects that will tear at the skin if you’re not careful. After a while, we also had to get the knife out to remove some of the more stubborn bits of netting.

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We worked for many minutes to clear the net, but eventually the table coral was finally free of the man-made menace.

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It was with a great deal of satisfaction that I ended my final dive in Redang. I’d accomplished something good that day.

Redang is a great place with some nice dive sites. Well worth a return visit!

Guest Post: DC Dives Redang – Night Dive

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The PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course comprises several specialty dives, but the main reason why people take it is to dive deeper than 18 metres (up to 40 metres for a qualified advanced diver) and to do night dives. I love night dives. Once you get past the spookiness of utter blackness surrounding the nimbus of your torch, you get to enjoy a whole multitude of sealife that you can’t ordinarily see during the daytime, as well as a whole set of different behavioural patterns. Because of the pitch-black nature of the surroundings, camera flashes also fire at maximum efficacy, which makes for very beautiful photos. For my first night dive, I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

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See how the flash brings out the beautiful purple highlights of the anemone? Another example of the vibrant purple can be seen in this picture of a flibonella.

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WS also uncovered a cute false clownfish that was outside its protective anemone home.

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The poor little critter soon realised that it was attracting unwanted attention, and ducked into its home for cover…

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… until it was completely covered by the anemone’s stinging tentacles.

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Nighttime also brings out the ambush predators, such as this spiny scorpionfish. The sharp spines on its back contain a poisonous toxin that can really hurt.

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We also saw this beautiful, and aptly-named twinspot lionfish.

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Overall, this was a great introduction to night diving.

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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The Black Manta: Anambas Islands

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DC and I needed a break, so we jumped at the chance when the waitlist cleared for the Black Manta. That weekend, it went to the Anambas Islands, Seven Skies Wreck and ended at Pulau Aur. It was a very relaxing weekend as the boat left on Friday evening and returned on Sunday evening from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. There was no long bus ride nor jostling with the crowds at the causeway. It was very chill as we could relax on deck or in the cabin and there were even cheap massages available, albeit not very good ones.

The boat travelled all night and delivered us to Pulau Damar, one of the southernmost of the Anambas Islands for our checkout dive. It was a nice relaxed, very easy dive with only a little current here and there. It was fun trying to catch a bit of current while trying out my brand new bright red Jetfin Revos. (Verdict? Not bad!)

There wasn’t a whole lot of life down there. We found a giant moray eel in a hole and I was glad that I didn’t have to get too close to snap this photo.

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I got a little bored, so started taking pictures of feather starfish, which look quite dramatic perched at the top of a lump of hard coral, especially when coupled with some cute Christmas tree worms to balance out the picture somewhat.

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DC had quite a bit of fun checking out his new gear and testing his buoyancy in different positions. Too bad I couldn’t signal for him to get closer to the coral for a better picture.

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Now this picture isn’t that bad. I really like how blue the sea looks behind it.

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There was also some really bizarre maze coral that I’ve not really seen much before. This is quite a cool texture shot.

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To top things off, we saw a pretty lionfish. This one is rather special as it’s not the usual common lionfish. It’s called the spotfin lionfish, from the pretty spots on its pectoral fins. Such a pity that I was for some reason distracted and couldn’t get a good close up shot of this fella.

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