Waka­tobi’s Macro Magic

Dis­cov­er­ing small trea­sures and unique ma­rine life is one of life’s great­est plea­sures. Dive in with Karen Stearns as she takes you on an en­chant­ing jour­ney into the in­trigu­ing wa­ters sur­round­ing Waka­tobi Re­sort in SE Su­lawesi, In­done­sia

Asian Diver (English) - - Contents - By Karen Stearns

For divers and snorkellers, the ben­e­fits of Waka­tobi’s on­go­ing com­mit­ment to con­ser­va­tion are plain to see. Delve into the wa­ters of the pri­vate ma­rine pre­serve that sur­rounds the re­sort and you will find pris­tine co­ral for­ma­tions and thriv­ing fish life. But per­haps even more im­pres­sive are the things the big pic­ture doesn’t re­veal. Take a closer look, and you will dis­cover dive sites rich in macro life, in­clud­ing hard-to-find and rare trea­sures that will de­light fish watch­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers alike.

At Waka­tobi, you don’t have to go far to find the small stuff. Prime hunt­ing grounds are as close as the re­sort’s famed House Reef, which starts right off the beach with a drop-off just 70 me­tres out, en­com­pass­ing hun­dreds of acres of co­ral slopes and shal­lows. The search for macro trea­sures can be­gin right at the re­sort pier. In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing shel­ter for schools of fish, the pier’s large con­crete columns and beams are home to an as­sort­ment of shrimps and crabs. The wealth of macro sub­jects

Nearly all of the

40-plus dive sites within the Waka­tobi ma­rine re­serve of­fer a

chance for small finds

in this area is seem­ingly in­nu­mer­able, with the list run­ning from the more ex­pected such as anemone­fish to spe­cial finds such as frog­fish, ju­ve­nile cut­tle­fish, oc­to­puses and pairs of leaf scor­pi­onfish.

The up­per shelf of the House Reef ex­tends from shal­low grass beds to a co­ral lip less than two me­tres be­low the sur­face. Along this edge, am­ple am­bi­ent sun­light makes it easy to lo­cate in­ver­te­brates such as im­pe­rial, bub­ble, and crinoid shrimp, or to pen­e­trate the cam­ou­flage of a frog­fish. The light also brings out the full coloura­tion of the nu­mer­ous species of nudi­branchs that move among the corals. Just be­yond the lip, the reef drops away sharply, with slopes and walls that are rid­dled with crevices and ledges where nu­mer­ous species of in­ver­te­brates make their home. Among the more in­trigu­ing finds on the House Reef are the com­pen­sate pairs of shrimp go­b­ies and pis­tol shrimp, which share a bur­row and divvy up the tasks of house­keep­ing and watch keep­ing. The shal­low sea­grass beds be­tween the reef and beach are also ex­cel­lent macro hunt­ing grounds. It is here that keen ob­servers may find cryp­tic species such as or­nate and hal­imeda ghost pipefish hid­ing in plain sight.

Al­most ev­ery dive site in the Waka­tobi ma­rine re­serve of­fers a chance for small finds, with favourites such as Cor­nu­copia, Mag­nifica, Teluk Maya or Zoo de­liv­er­ing thou­sands of species. Sites with min­i­mal cur­rents and shal­low depths al­low for re­laxed hunt­ing and long bot­tom times. This is the case at the site known as Du­nia Baru, where snake eels slither among the corals, Span­ish dancers flit about, and man­tis shrimp stalk their prey. A closer ex­am­i­na­tion of the bot­tom will re­veal saron shrimp and an abun­dance of flat­worms and pleu­ro­branchs. Du­nia Baru is also a favourite for night dives, and one of the best sites to find the polka dot-adorned pa­jama car­di­nal­fish.

For a dif­fer­ent macro div­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, Waka­tobi guests can book a cabin on the dive yacht Pe­la­gian, which de­parts the re­sort weekly for cruises to more re­mote ar­eas of the Waka­tobi ar­chi­pel­ago, and to the south­east­ern coast of Bu­ton Is­land. Here, the fo­cus is on the near-shore shal­lows, where divers en­gage in un­der­wa­ter trea­sure hunts for the small and of­ten highly cryp­tic crit­ters that bur­row into the seafloor silt, lurk in de­bris fields or hide among the sup­port­ing columns of vil­lage piers. This is muck div­ing, which is all about mov­ing slowly and look­ing closely to dis­cover hid­den sea life.

Pe­la­gian vis­its a num­ber of top­notch sites where divers can hover over sea­grass and rub­ble ter­rain in search of unique finds. This type of close-quar­ter ma­noeu­vring can be chal­leng­ing for even ex­pe­ri­enced divers, but it be­comes eas­ier when you bor­row a lit­tle trick that un­der­wa­ter macro pho­tog­ra­phers have used for years. Rather than at­tempt­ing to use fins and body lan­guage to hold po­si­tion above a tiny and frag­ile sub­ject, they de­ploy what is known as a muck stick into an ap­pro­pri­ate piece of bot­tom, and use it as an an­chor point to con­trol their dis­tance from the sea floor.

Cheeky Beach is a favourite site vis­ited by the Pe­la­gian. The beauty of this and most sur­round­ing muck sites is that it can be dived repet­i­tively, ren­der­ing unique and dif­fer­ent finds ev­ery time. The big news at Cheeky Beach is the small stuff, as it is a shrimp breed­ing ground for sev­eral of the more ex­otic species found in the Waka­tobi re­gion. Found here in abun­dance are class favourites like the Cole­man shrimp. Of­ten found in pairs, these ex­quis­ite shrimps live ex­clu­sively on fire urchins, tak­ing up res­i­dence in the mid­dle of the urchin’s toxic spines. The host urchin’s spines do not harm the shrimp, but they usu­ally clear an area on the urchin where they perch, mak­ing for a com­pelling macro sub­ject.

Sev­eral va­ri­eties of man­tis shrimp also take up res­i­dence at Cheeky Beach, in­clud­ing the enig­matic pea­cock man­tis, as well as a host of smaller species that can re­quire a bit of vis­ual de­tec­tive work to lo­cate. Find a blue starfish and there’s a good chance there will be a few har­lequin shrimp nip­ping away at its flanks, as starfish are this species’ favourite food. A closer look at a seem­ingly unim­pres­sive find such as a sea cu­cum­ber may yield a pair of im­pe­rial shrimp. For a more colour­ful com­po­si­tion, pho­tog­ra­phers look for this same species at­tached to a colour­ful nudi­branch such as a Span­ish dancer. Divers with keen eye­sight can scan al­gae-cov­ered rocks in search of the tiny hairy shrimp, or check among the spines of an urchin for a chance at lo­cat­ing the colour­ful bum­ble­bee shrimp.

The same soft sub­strate that shrimp pre­fer is also home to a num­ber of

Of­ten found in pairs, these ex­quis­ite shrimps live ex­clu­sively on fire urchins, tak­ing up res­i­dence in the mid­dle of the urchin’s

toxic spines

an­i­mals that bur­row into the bot­tom. Stake out a promis­ing hole in the sea floor and you might wit­ness the am­bush at­tack of a bob­bit worm, which lunges from cover to cap­ture pass­ing vic­tims. Cut­tle­fish, blue-ringed and won­der­pus oc­to­puses are all known to bur­row for shel­ter, but can also be en­coun­tered out and about, es­pe­cially in the evening or dur­ing night dives.

One of the area’s most com­i­cal species of cephalopods doesn’t dig in, and in­stead takes up res­i­dence in dis­carded co­conut shells. Should you see a co­conut husk drift­ing or rolling across the bot­tom, take a sec­ond look as there might be a co­conut oc­to­pus in­side.

The dive site known as Magic Pier is fa­mous for the courtship dis­plays staged by amorous man­dar­in­fish each evening, and that alone is rea­son enough to visit this oth­er­wise un­re­mark­able bit of sea floor.

But there’s more. As dusk turns to full dark­ness, dive lights are switched on to re­veal a noc­tur­nal cast of char­ac­ters. White-eyed, moray and Napoleon snake eels slither through gaps in the co­ral rub­ble, and bizarre man­tis shrimp emerge from their bur­rows, their eerie, chromi­umtinged eyes re­flect­ing in the beam of your light. A pile of sed­i­ment seems to move, then re­veals it­self as a per­fectly-cam­ou­flaged blueringed oc­to­pus. School­ing ra­zor­fish flash sil­ver, then scat­ter as a trio of pul­sat­ing cut­tle­fish ap­pear.

On any given reef, a close-up search around out­crops of co­ral, al­gae, sponges or sandy slopes can re­veal the tiny form of an or­nate ghost pipefish. Ad­di­tion­ally, four of the seven known species of pyg­mies are found on the reefs of Waka­tobi: Bargibant’s, Denise’s, Pon­toh’s and Sev­ern’s pygmy sea­horses, plus the re­cently de­scribed pygmy pipehorse. Ask a Waka­tobi guide and they will set out on a mis­sion to lo­cate these tiny, del­i­cate res­i­dents of the nu­mer­ous large sea fans found on most sites, in­clud­ing the House Reef.

Plan a visit to Waka­tobi Re­sort or on the Pe­la­gian live­aboard and you’re sure to dis­cover a plen­ti­tude of small trea­sures and unique ma­rine life.

OP­PO­SITE PAGE:On some dives you­just get the crabsIMAGE: Marco FierliTOP: A triplefin goby un­der fluo light­ing(dive site Zoo)ABOVE: A pair of pa­jama car­di­nal­fish strikea pose at Du­nia BaruIM­AGES: Walt Stearns

ABOVE: A mated pair of Cole­man shrimp on a fire urchin at Cheeky Beach BE­LOW: An em­peror takes a ride on the nose of a large Nem­brotha nudi­branchIM­AGES: Walt Stearns

RIGHT: Man­dar­in­fish (Synchi­ro­pus splen­didus) a mem­ber of the dragonet fam­ily,can be seen at Magic Pier, a Pe­la­gian sig­na­ture diveIMAGE: Walt Stearns

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cambodia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.