September in Komodo: Blue, Blue Oceans

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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 asĀ it is very much an untouched area with an incredible amount of fish.

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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.

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It was always a fish soup experience each dive.

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Famous here are the pelagics, otherwise known as big fish that swim in the blue, like the ominous looking giant trevally.

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They get pretty big, though not quite as big as a diver!

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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.

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They weren’t too shy and often swam round us in large circles, as if to mark out territory.

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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.

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Other creatures were more fearsome than majestic, like the dogtooth tuna. From afar they looked fine…

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… 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Some of them came in right onto the reef but quickly shied away from the avid photographers.

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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.

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Diving the Similans: Bigger Fish

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

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