A Quick Trip to Redang: Anemones and Their Fishes

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As always on a dive trip, I’m fascinated by the vividly coloured anemones and their impossibly cute fish. I never get tired of taking photos of them. This time at Redang, some of the anemones were also affected by the bleaching and there were some very unusual colours. This green and blue anemone wasn’t so badly affected as it’s pretty close to the usual green and purple. It made for a beautiful contrast with the bright orange clownfish!

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Less normal was this bleached out specimen, though the white and pastel purple-blue was so pretty. Equally pretty was the baby anemonefish taking shelter here.

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We then got down to even more bleached anemone, with this little fella both wary and curious of the intruder with the lens.

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The worst bits of bleaching hit the panda clownfish. Check out this poor shellshocked fish. My heart goes out to him.

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This anemone is not normally white or even pretty fluorescent orange, it’s usually a dark orangey-brown, quite similar in colour to the pandas themselves.

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It was really sad how they sat glumly in their bleached homes, not being able to change anemone because they were evolved to only live in one type.

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I hope the bleaching has stopped and the anemone recovered by now.

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September in Bali: Menjangan Island

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Closer to the reef were plenty of longfin batfish. Here, they seemed almost excessively friendly, changing quickly from their day colours…

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… to night colours as they came in close, as they did when wanting to be cleaned.

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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.

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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.

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There were others like this grouper that I can’t find in my fish ID book…

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… and more familiar ones like this Indian doublebar goatfish hovering over some coral.

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Some of the fish came in schools, like the two-spot snappers in their brownish grey raiment.

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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.

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Some fish lived in crevices, like this yellowbarred jawfish emerging in search of prey.

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Others like this fire dartfish seemed to simply hover in one place posing for the camera.

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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.

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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.

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I think this is a large (!) whip goby but as usual, I can’t be sure.

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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…

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… as was this anemone shrimp.

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Rather camera-shy was this hermit crab, which hid its face swiftly under its shell as the camera clicked.

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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.

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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.

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I tried to take some nudibranch portraits, some not quite coming out as I’d like as the flash refused to fire.

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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.

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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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Layang Layang: Reef Life and Macro

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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.

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I was also quite pleased to see one of my favourites, a juvenile black snapper with its characteristic black and white stripes and dots.

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Then there were the fish that insisting on posing for a picture, like this slightly constipated looking pennant bannerfish.

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There were also bottom dwellers like blue-spotted stingrays.

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They always seem to stare up so malevolently at us.

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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!

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Others showed off their colours beautifully against the coral, like these panda butterflyfish and peacock grouper.

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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?

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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.

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Far less grotesque were pretty nudibranchs slowly making their way across the coral gardens.

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They were surprisingly hard to spot among the colourful backdrop of coral, but once found, a joy to photograph.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We had some good luck on sandy patches at the house reef at night. There was a flamboyantly coloured Spanish dancer.

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There was also this strange blob of a sea slug oozing its way along.

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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.

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Then there was the bizarrely shaped longhorn cowfish that seemed to have difficulty navigating its way out of this patch of seagrass.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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They were some kind of orange cleaner shrimp that I have yet to identify, very pretty though!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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Then there was this emperor angelfish that came up to pose for a picture on my last dive. Such an obliging creature!

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And last of the fish, there was this white mouth moray looking out for prey.

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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.

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DC got in close enough for a really macro shot of it.

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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.

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It was such a lovely feeling to end our successful series of dives by helping out a stranded turtle.

August in China: Panda Signs

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There were lots of fantastic bilingual signs in China. Even though a lot of them were grammatically correct, some, like the one below, couldn’t quite translate the poetry in the Chinese language. Here we have a polite sign telling people to get the hell off the grass. I like how the Mandarin version includes a rhyme.

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I saw this sign at the entrance of the Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre and wonder why people need to make use of the free sewing kits. Horrors! Do so many suffer maulings from the pandas?

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And the last classic in the giant panda exhibit is hardly serious and scientific but it’s so whimsical I love it!

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August in China: Red Pandas

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Even though there aren’t in the same family as giant pandas, red pandas are thought to be the closest relatives to giant pandas. There were also red pandas at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre. The place had one enclosure dedicated to red pandas.

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Even though they look somewhat like raccoons, I think they’re still incredibly cute, albeit not quite on the same cuteness scale as the giant pandas.

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At least they were (very) slightly more energetic than their giant cousins!

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August in China: Giant Panda Mania

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Chengdu is probably most famous for its giant pandas. The furry black-and-white mascot is plastered all over the tourist shops it’s surprising that people don’t get sick of them. One evening, Mr Bunglez and I dropped into a youth hostel to book a  half-day panda tour for ¥80. They gave us each a plush panda key chain which is so big I don’t know what to do with it!

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To round off the evening, Mr Bunglez insisted on taking me to a panda shop, obviously selling all things panda. I couldn’t resist taking the enamoured panda fan-girl shot outside its window display. After gawking at panda apparel, panda shoulder bags, panda plushes and other room accessories, I settled for a stack of panda postcards. After some persuasion from Mr Bunglez (for cheaper than an equivalent stack of postcards, I get 52 different panda pictures), I also got a deck of panda poker cards.

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We were picked up far too early the next morning and snoozed all the way to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base where I took more cheesy photos.

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It was a short walk into what was really a small zoo specialising in pandas.  I’d not seen pandas before this, only the ones on San Diego Zoo’s panda cam, so I’m not very embarrassed to say that I went completely gaga over my first sighting. It’s almost funny that I was so pleased by the sight of this lazy fella nosing away at some bamboo, musing over its plans for the day: to eat, poop or sleep some more. After snapping this picture, we stared at it for a while and then realised with great dismay that it was really going to sit there for the whole day.

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Moving rapidly on, we found some slightly more energetic pandas posing cutely in the trees. (This shot is taken with zoom using my crappy old camera so pardon the graininess.)

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After a while, we realised that pandas are a very lazy bunch and do nothing but lie around. What a life!

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Soon our guide took us round to the juvenile panda enclosure where the one-year-old teenagers romped. Here, they were slightly more energetic, though you can hardly tell the difference from the photos!

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Still, they are far cuter than the adults. As we avidly watched the pandas, Mr Bunglez couldn’t help but get slightly annoyed as I kept exclaiming sotto voce “Pandaaa! Pandaaa! Paaan! Daaa!” over and over again.

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The most fun bit was watching the keeper come out into the enclosure. These young fellas were really attached to him and gamboled around him, wanting to play. It was quite amusing when he wanted to leave the enclosure as he had to leg it to the exit faster than the teenage pandas and get to the door before them.

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After the keeper left, the young ones seemed a bit sad.

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Soon, they recovered their high spirits and went on with their panda play. One of them got so carried away playing with a car tire he clumsily fell down the steep side of the enclosure into the ditch below. Dazedly, he looked around, then continued pawing at the tire for a while before crawling back up the slope to the main enclosure.

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After this enclosure, we went on to see the infant incubation centre where tiny newborns were showcased. No photos allowed here so as not to disturb them. They were rather ugly anyway, the hairless and helpless pink creatures. They definitely weren’t as cute as the grownups! It’s only much later that the characteristic black bands appear on the skin, after which the white fur turns black at the right spots.

[Next up: Red pandas]