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Marine Life Blog » Indonesia, Liveaboard Diving Indonesia » A cuttlefish hatching and finding muck diving gold.

A cuttlefish hatching and finding muck diving gold.

April 9 – This morning’s dive is a bummer compared to yesterday’s stunner. The info we have on this area details a very different scene than what is discovered. The dive team’s pre-breakfast reconnoiter finds the area devastated by blast fishing. What had been a thriving reef just a few years earlier now lies in a tumbled heap of white coral bone. Except for surviving patches of coral here and there and some new sponge growth, the area is a wasteland. Conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International are working hard to educate the local fishermen about the destructive nature of using explosives for fishing. After witnessing the damage all around us, the economics of the devastation makes matters even more disturbing. Less than four US dollars will buy a bottle of nitrate and a fuse that, on average, will produce $20 of market fish. Wendy’s briefing put the dive in the “You win some, you lose some” category. Having no time to search out an alternate area due to a pressing schedule induces us to dive here anyway. Ned and Liberty make lemonade out of lemons by turning over a gazillion rocks in their untiring quest to discover new flatworms, slugs and other sorts of creepy crawlies. Our group still makes some nice sightings of cuttlefish, a blue ribbon eel, a juvenile pinnate batfish and a half dozen species of shrimp gobies. I was able to add a Pastel Ring Wrasse to my life list.

At 10:45, we cross the equator. Jim Pearson, Bruce and I spend an inordinate amount of time on the bow setting up the shot of our handheld GPS as it hits 00.00.000, only to have it jump from 001 seconds S to 001 seconds N.

GPS

GPS Reading at Almost the Equator

Guido sounds the siren as those of us now in the northern hemisphere wave to the crew at the stern, still in the southern hemisphere.

Our afternoon dives are off the island of Kayoa. Drifting along the slope, I look up to see old friends and long-time traveling companions Lynne and Roger Van Dok motioning me over, always a good sign. (Lynne discovered the unique pink color form of the pygmy pipefish last December in Tawali.) They are under a large ledge with a group of pie-sized batfish that appear to delight in our company. Park Chapman and Geri join us as the friendly fish swoop in and encircle us for the remainder of the dive. Back on the tender and still giddy from the enchanting experience, we laughingly dub the bunch, Lynne’s Trained Batfish.

On the late afternoon dive, some of our group saw sea cucumbers spawning. Ned had the experience of a lifetime on the dive, so I will pass this off to him to tell his story. ~ Anna

We don’t get farther than 20 feet from where we tumbled out of the dingy, and with good reason. On lifting up the edge of a rock slab, I discover a clutch of about 20 Broadclub Cuttlefish egg cases. Each, about the size of a thimble, dangles from a separate holdfast. I motion for Liberty to find Anna. This is a whopping good piece of luck: Broadclubs typically lay their eggs deep within tangles of coral branches where they are difficult to observe. Adjacent cases lie empty and tattered indicating that some of the eggs have recently hatched. While the three of us stare, a baby cuttlefish pops through its casing and swims away. The hatching sends us into overdrive; six eyes dance from egg to egg attempting to locate the next one to go. Liberty points to an egg near Anna and begins to slowly fan the casing. As if by magic, the white embryo slowly takes on pigment and begins to hop about. Then, quick as a snap it breaks through the casing and is gone. After a few more individuals hatch we pick up a routine. Liberty indicates which egg he thinks will be next, and Anna and I focus our lenses. With her video camera running at 30 frames per second Anna has little trouble capturing the tiny cephalopods making their break, but I am stymied, the breakthrough is too fast for my trigger finger. That is until I note that a second before it pops forth, a maturing embryo will turn on its back and take what appears to be two deep breaths. In just over an hour most of the eggs hatch. I’ve had my chances, now it is in the hands of the Photoshop gods to find out if I get the shot. ~Ned

Cuttlefish Egg Cases As Found

Cuttlefish Egg Cases As Found

Metamorphasis

Metamorphosis

Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass

Brave New World

Brave New World

Back on the boat, while Ned disappears to download his hatching cuttlefish images, the rest of us convene on the sun deck to take in the marvelous sunset. Paul comes up with the winning photo of distant Makian Island, our destination for tomorrow’s dives. Then it’s back to cocktails.

Halmahera sunset

Halmahera sunset

Non-Night Diving Cocktail Set

Non-Night Diving Cocktail Set

April 10 – The volcanic island of Makian is our stop for the day. Other than Lembeh and a few black sand sites in the Komodo area I don’t remember seeing another muck bottom that appeared so promising. Now any shallow semi-barren silty sea floor can be considered muck, but black pumice sands, fresh water seepage and the mouths of dry river beds seem to the magic ingredients that, for whatever reason, attract an inordinate amount of exotic marine life. At Makian all the elements are in place, and every critter hunter aboard senses the possibilities, and is chomping at the bit to get below. The morning dive on a sand ridge dotted with sponge and crinoid islets, sea fans and black coral bushes, fulfills our expectations. A single black coral bush standing alone at 70 feet is loaded with eye-popping animals including a pair of ornate ghost pipefishes, four Tozeuma shrimp on steroids,

Tozeuma Shrimp

Tozeuma Shrimp

Longsnout Hawkfish

Longsnout Hawkfish

a spindle cowry and a Longsnout Hawkfish that was just dying to have its portrait taken. Jazzed, most of the group votes for a return to the ridge, but Wendy and I are pushing for the nearby fishing jetty. “I have always had luck under jetties!” I plea. “OK, the jetty it is!” pronounces Wendy, “Load up Boat One.” Paul teases me about passing up a known quantity, “And not just any old known quantity mind you,” he rags, “and all for a pie-in-the-sky dock dive.” Oh my, the pressure is on…

I don’t have to worry long – Guido just misses landing on a pair of Robust Ghost Pipefishes

and while waiting for his turn at photographing the beauties James spots a teeny Shortpouch Pygmy Pipehorse

Shortpouch Pygmy Pipehorse

Shortpouch Pygmy Pipehorse

 clinging to an algal stem. Sixty seconds into the dive and we’ve hit pay dirt, the pressure is off, and best yet, we have 69 minutes of the dive left to go! Acho, Wendy and Yann point out animals rapid fire. I’m delighted with a spaghetti-sized snake eel, which gums me when I extend my finger into the video scene to give some perspective to its tiny size.

The fishwatchers in the crowd add bright yellow Short Tail Pipefishes, both the Reptilian and Crocodile Snake Eels and a Thorny Seahorse to their species list.

Everyone is so stoked about the muck that even the cocktail crowd forgoes sunset martinis for a night dive. The vote is unanimous to return to the dock. The two snake eels turn into a dozen and we locate four seahorses instead of just one. Everyone is pointing out something to someone at the same time. Among the goodies are Bobbitt Worms,

Bobbitt Worm

With Choppers Like These It’s no Wonder the Worm was Named After Lorena Bobbitt

 a juvenile batfish, decorator crabs and night-prowling nudibranchs galore.

Nudi

Cuthona yamasui Nudibranch Found Under the Dock

After climbing back aboard, laughing, high-fiving and still dizzy with discovery, the tender drivers inform us that the town folks who have come down to the dock for an evening’s entertainment believe we are treasure hunting and that my video rig is an underwater drill. I just wish that I had time to share some of my images of the real bounty we’ve encountered in their front yard.

Excited Night Divers and Well They Should Be

Excited Night Divers and Well They Should Be

 

Yann, Ned and Liberty Reviewing the Night’s Results

Yann, Ned and Liberty Reviewing the Night’s Results

April 11 – Ternate, at long last! Anyone who has attended one of Ned’s talks about Indonesia has heard the tale of Alfred Russell Wallace, an uneducated English collector of specimens, who is today considered to be the most renown field biologist of all times and the father of biogeography. In 1858, after weathering a bout of malaria while on Ternate, he wrote “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type.” Wallace’s story and the chain of events set into place by his paper is chronicled in an article Ned wrote years ago for Ocean Realm magazine, entitled “Ghosts of Indonesia”  A visit to Ternate has been high on our list ever since we started traveling to Indonesia ten years ago. We all rush up to the bow to get a photo of Ned, proudly posing with Wallace’s book, The Malay Archipelago, as Ternate’s volcano, Mt. Gamalama, steams in the background.

Ned at Ternate

Ned at Ternate

Our first dive of the day is a wash for those of us who stay near the drop point. We spend a long hour looking for pretty much anything we can find on a swell-scrubbed bottom of black volcanic sand and boulders. The only thing that comes out of it is a hot new shrimp Liberty finds on an isolated sea pen way off in no-man’s land. Those who drifted along the coast ran into a nice coral area with a lot more fish life. 

Shrimp on Sea Pen

Liberty’s Mystery Sea Pen Shrimp

“Muck, we want muck!” is all the crew has been hearing ever since our classic dives at Makian. To comply, they take us to a spot that reminds us of Tulamben, in Bali, and that is good, really good. Wendy and Yann return from scouting with a shot of adrenaline that snaps everyone awake – they left Acho babysitting a prowling Wunderpus.

Wunderpus photogenticus

Wunderpus photogenicus

 This particular animal has been much on our minds. A recent issue of Scuba Diver Australasia features our article covering the current plight of marine taxonomy and the naming of the octopus, Wunderpus photogenicus. But, more significant, Wunderpus sightings always herald great critter hunting. Ned finds the world’s most beautiful sea star. It doesn’t even look real.

Ned’s Sea Star

Ned’s Sea Star

We hit the critter-rich jackpot on a coral slope that transitions into a rubble field, before giving way to a black sand plain dotted with small sponges and coral heads.  A mimic octopus, a second Wonderpus, the best nudibranch hunting of the trip and an unknown species of long-armed octopus highlight the afternoon. The night dive, at the same location, starts off with promise. We come across a pair of courting Leaf scorpionfish, halfway into the dive, just before the modest current builds into a bottom-hugging fight to hold our ground. This is manageable for those of us who were still poking around the reef when the blast hits, but for those farther out on the sand plain, it’s Mister Toad’s Wild Ride and an early finish to the last night dive of the trip.

April 12 – Tifore, a volcanic island halfway between Ternate and Lembeh is our final stop. The dive team returns from their scouting run to report that there is a lot of bomb damage but extremely clear water and abundant fish life. It wasn’t a site for critter hunters but the Eduardo, Park, and Ned had a fine time watching the hyperactive courting antics of a large aggregation of spawning wrasses.

Spawning Wrasse Peep Show

Spawning Wrasse Peep Show

Joyce and I took advantage of the last chance to beach comb and I Hit the jackpot finding a handmade toy top and a pod full of sea beans – an unusual find, since pods usually rapidly deteriorate at sea.

Sea Beans in Pod

Sea Beans in Pod

Our final fish species count, accumulated almost single-handedly by Janet, is over 680. Once she returns home, she will finish cross-checking her photos and confirming some difficult id’s with scientists before releasing the official fish list for the trip. I’ll post it here when we receive it from Janet, so “stay-tuned.”

Packing for the journey home is always the worst part of the trip. Geri, ever-dedicated to her photography, continues to snap away while the rest of us struggle with bootie-drying and lost lens caps. Heather suggests that we pay homage to Geri and her trademark pigtails with a diversion from the usual group photo, so those with hair, which is a mixed bag to say the least, do their best Geri impersonations. A fun way to end a fun trip ~ Anna DeLoach

Who is the real Geri Murphy?

Who is the real Geri?

 

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