One of the great attractions of diving is the abundance of life you get to witness. It’s true what they tell you in the handbooks- a half-hour dive on the reef will let you see more diverse flora and fauna than ten times as long walking through a forest or a field. Pick the right spots, and life is teeming around you, always moving, always interesting, always colourful. It’s a never-ending procession of the creativity of the Creator, and I get high off it.
Since getting into diving, I’ve discovered that one of the coolest things about being underwater is that a lot of the stuff that lives down there is downright weird. I’ve posted a few nudibranch shots, for example. When I say the word ‘slug’, you’re going to think of some ugly grey slimey thing that oozes on your lettuce head. But these marine versions are so phenomenally diverse, with bizarre and seemingly extraneous appendages and blatantly unnecessary colours, they could have stepped right out of a Gaultier costume extravaganza.
Take Christmas Tree Worms. These guys are awesome. I had no idea what they were at first. They look like little plastic toys, sticking out of holes in rocks or coral heads. Their bizarre spirals cluster like superfluous decorations, a teeny tiny forest, so for a while I wasn’t sure if they were plant, animal or mineral. They look just like a soft coral growth, but when you get too close, they suck back into their holes, curling up and vanishing in the blink of an eye- distinctly un-plant-like behaviour. Again what strikes me each time I see them is the wonderful colours. I’ve only got this one shot of a blue one, but I’m determined to see if I can’t collect a full set of colours.
These next shot I don’t have a lot of intelligent things to say about. I don’t know what you’re looking at. It’s just a random piece of reef scenery. Most likely coral. I just love that it looks like nothing else you’d find on the earth’s surface- it could almost be some alien flora. And this is a tiny six-inch fraction of a reef. Imagine if you could catalogue everything living and growing on Madang’s ten miles of living barrier.
This giant spiny Sea Slug was one of the highlights of Sunday’s dive. I’ve no idea what species it is, but it was huge- about a foot long, and as fat around as a clenched fist. You could headline it in a Ridley Scott feature and nobody would have any problem believing it was some extra-terrestrial parasite. The outrageous colours and bizzare protrusions make it like a giant step-brother to the fragile little nudibranchs, a behemoth among molluscs. Enjoy it in all its grotesque, spiny glory.
This little Hawkfish I shot in murky light near Tab Island last weekend. I really loved how his patterns and body-makeup make him blend perfectly into the spiny coral.
And on the subject of patterns, neither of these shots are as crisp as I would have liked, but both were taken in suboptimal optical conditions (say that three times very quickly with a marshmallow in your mouth). I hope to get a better chance at catching them again in the future. The first is, I think, some species of Angelfish. I’m not entirely sure. I found it flitting around coral off Barracuda Point on Saturday, during a dive that was full of exciting wildlife, but low on photographic opportunities. This one moved just a little too much for me to get a sharp shot, but even so I think you can appreciate the wonderful colouring and patterns.
The second photograph is of a juvenile Emporer Angelfish. The Emporer Angelfish is a relatively common sight along the reefs here, but apparently the juvenile version is a little less prolific. The two look nothing alike- in fact if you didn’t know it, you’d think it was a completely different species of fish. I will try and get a photo of an adult for comparison. But this juvie’s rings and swirls and splotches of white and blue are just delightful- truly one of the prettiest fish I’ve seen. This one was lurking around the wreck of a Cessna just off Tab Island.
From a little juvenile a few centimetres long, to a great walloping lump of fish more than thirty metres down, this guy is some species of Rock Cod, I think. He was the second of these I found lurking under a coral growth in just a couple of minutes. I spotted his cousin a little earlier while loitering at forty metres, but as I was about to line up a shot I noticed Jan had moved on and was around the next spur, and I didn’t fancy being left alone. Ascending, and this one made his presence known. At over half a metre long, I bet you could get quite a few steaks out of him.
And from the plain and almost ugly to the extravagantly beautiful. This one is a reefside classic, alternately known as a Firefish, Lionfish, Scorpionfish, or even Turkeyfish. I think that the common name for this species is the Red Firefish, and it belongs to the order Scorpionidae, so Scorpionfish works as well, but with a big mane like this you can see why it gets the Lionfish moniker. This is with out a doubt one of my favourite fish in the sea. It is posessed of a delicate beauty, with that fan of long fragile trendrils that float like so much extraneous crepe-paper. The stripes are full of drama, a veritable siren screaming ‘do not touch’: the Firefish gets its name from the row of poison-tipped spines protruding from its dorsal fin. And like the sub-adult Sweetlips, its locomotive habits make it a joy to photograph. The Lionfish hangs motionless in the water, looking deceptively like a piece of discarded seaweed, drifting with the surges, before pouncing on smaller unsuspecting fish. I got my lens to within six inches of this young one- always cognisant of the dorsal spines- and it never really gave me a second look.
Just a teeny tiny sampling of the vast and rich diversity life has to offer beneath the waves. When you think about the size of the oceans, it’s enough to blow your mind…