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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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.

Diving the Similans: Things in Crevices

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There was lots of other good stuff at Koh Bon. A lot of these were crevice dwellers. Some of them were quite shy and it was fun to wait for them to emerge and observe them doing their thing. During the dive, I only saw the two white eye moray eels in the hole and spent ages trying to get a good shot. It was only when I reviewed the pictures out of the water did I notice that there was also a fimbriated eel at the back of the hole. Look carefully above the middle white eye moray’s head and you’ll see its yellow head splotched with black.

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There were other oddities such as this warty orange thing. I have no idea if it’s a coral or a worm or something else, but it’s incredibly pretty nonetheless.

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Then of course there are the ubiquitous Christmas tree worms. They come in lots of different colours and are invariably embedded in brown coral. When you go too close they suddenly withdraw and the entire thing retreats instantaneously into the hole.

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I admit the lighting in the next photo isn’t great but try to spot what’s there. Hint: it takes up quite a bit of the photo. This fella is a master of disguise.

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Can you see it’s a reef octopus? It’s one of the biggest specimens I’ve seen and its tentacles looking quite menacing. Needless to say, I didn’t stay longer than necessary for a few snaps.

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Our dive guide spotted this ornate ghost pipefish quite by chance and he was visibly pleased to be able to point it out to us.

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It’s related to the seahorse and it’s such an odd fish for always being upside down. It’s one of my favourite fish because it’s so pretty and sightings of these aren’t that common.

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Towards dusk, the crustaceans started coming out. Here are some durban dancing shrimp. They’re cute because they always hang out in groups and like to face the same direction.

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It also helps that they’re not painfully shy and are quite happy to pose for pictures. They’re such funny stripey little red things.

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Then there was this lobster with the longest feelers ever. I had to resist the strong urge to pull it out of its hole by its feelers!

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The identity of this crevice dweller stumps me. I looked through my entire fish ID reference book and I can’t find a fish that has a head that looks like My Little Pony! I think it’s a type of blenny, anyone have any ideas?

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And the last of the lot: a banded sea snake! This is probably only the third one I’ve seen and I’ve done a far number of dives. They’re supposed to be several times more poisonous than the most poisonous land snakes but aren’t aggressive. I guess that’s a good sign.

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April in The Philippines: Malapascua

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Malapascua is a beautiful little island north of Cebu. I met up with Omar at Cebu city’s northern bus terminal for the 4 hour bus ride up. Following that was a short 15 minute boat road across and then this idyllic sight met us.

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We spent a good few days diving with Sea Explorers, a very good scuba outfit that took really good care of us. The board below shows Malapascua (right below the tresher shark) and the types of wildlife you can see there. It’s most famous of course for the thresher shark, but there’s lots of other stuff to see there too, like mandarinfish (mating ones at that!), blue ring octopi (which I didn’t spot), lots of other types of sharks and unusual stuff like hairy frogfish and harlequin shrimp.

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It was pretty fun except for the early morning dives, the earliest of which requiring us to be awake at 4.30am. These were to catch the thresher sharks as they came out early to the cleaning stations when the water was cooler. Here’s one of me and the dive guides at sunrise. I look uncharacteristically cheerful in this picture.

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So did we see any threshers? Yup, just one for a couple of seconds out of maybe four hours underwater for the dives we were down there. It was a pity but the rest of the diving made up for it. Omar’s blogged about the trip here and I think he’s done a better (and far faster) job of it.

April in The Philippines: Ho Hum Diving

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It was time to get to the next main island. Not even considering a ferry ride now, I flew out of Coron on another one of those small propeller planes. The view was stunning as usual.

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It was my last propeller plane ride of the trip.

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My next stop was Moalboal in Cebu. The most interesting thing that happened was that I had tropical fruit pancakes for breakfast. I kid you not. Aside from the pancake place (very aptly called Last Filling Station), there wasn’t good food to be had in walking distance.

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The diving was boring, as I had a mediocre dive guide who couldn’t even take care of himself let alone me. He didn’t point out anything at all. Once he saw a whaleshark but didn’t even bother to signal me and upon surfacing asked me whether I saw it. (Obviously not.) When I spotted what looked like a blue-ring octopus (neon blue pulsing rings anyone?) he told me it was a fish.