DIVING WITH WONDROUS CRITTERS
We are hovering over the shallow bottom of the black volcanic sand on the Atlantis House Reef. It is a gorgeous sunny day in February, and our dive guide points out a half coconut husk lying face down on the bottom; we carefully approach as he flips the coconut husk using his pointer stick. Hundreds of tiny, translucent eggs are inserted in between the husk cracks. They are flamboyant cuttlefish eggs, and before we know it, some of the eggs begin to hatch in front of our eyes. It is beyond incredible – I can’t begin to describe my fascination with these critters!
Around five centimetres in length, they possess magical camouflaging abilities: Not only are they able to change colour in a split second, they can even alter their body texture! Usually purple, brown and white, when approached, they hover as their skirt-like fins feather in the ocean current, and suddenly, before you can digest their rare beauty, they change their appearance completely, and become anything, even transparent, and vanish. Now, imagine watching the tiny transparent young hatch: Having the same camouflaging abilities of an adult, they become purple, brown and white immediately upon hatching – it gave me goose bumps even under my wetsuit!
Critter diving is all about the thrills of finding small, weird things you have never seen before; the surprise when a rock suddenly comes alive, or when you flip a leafy grass to find it sheltering amazing critters like the pygmy squid. Being the tiniest squid, it is usually between 1.5 to 2.5 centimetres in length. Interestingly, it has a translucent body, and if you look carefully, you can see the contents of their stomach! According to Atlantis Resorts’ resident marine biologist, Marco Inocencio, these finger-nail sized critters are genus level on the toxicity scale, meaning they are the most poisonous in the bobtail squid (Idiosepius) family.
Have you ever seen the majestic Spanish dancer? Not the one with the castanetas in Barcelona (as thrilling as those are), but the
Hexabranchus sanguineus, meaning “bloodcoloured six-gills”. It is a large nudibranch averaging 30 centimetres, usually red with white spots dotting its soft, flat body. When disturbed, the Spanish dancer unfolds its wide parapodia, using contractions and undulating motions to swim away. As the wide, red edges
of the mantle whirl through the water, it resembles the skirt of a flamenco dancer – a mesmerising sight to see!
DIVING WITH VENOMOUS CRITTERS
When I dived with the great whites off the coast of South Africa, the adrenalin rush was unlike anything I have experienced, but diving around tiny venomous critters puts a cognitive twist on this thrill. “Should I fear you, you little thing?” I found myself asking the first blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata)
I met. Twelve to 20 centimetres in length, it is the only octopus that is lethal to humans, carrying enough venom to kill 26 adults through respiratory depression and paralysis. Usually, the blue-ringed octopus is brown to yellow in colour, but when provoked, its blue rings appear as a warning before it bites.