As I’m fond of saying, “If you love nature, there is no better place to be than underwater.” Anna’s and my fall 2012 trip to Indonesia with a group of friends illustrates this point well.
On the first part of our month-long visit we explore the northern fringes of Raja Ampat, in far eastern Indonesia, aboard the luxury liveaboard Dewi Nusantara. Past visits to these less-traveled waters had proven extremely productive, so we arrange our October itinerary to circumnavigate the bird island of Batanta and scout the wilds of Waigeo—the best muck diving in the region.
RAJA AMPAT NORTH
As always it is a pleasure to be back aboard Dewi Nusantara with Wendy Brown and her crew including Yann Alfian who has, over the years, conjured up many splendid animals for me to photograph. And it just so happens I have a mission in need of his talents: helping me track down the gobies living symbiotically within the tangled branches of plate corals. Although it takes a bit of dedicated hunting to find the many different species, the search doesn’t take a fraction as long as photographing our nimble subjects inside their labyrinthine homes. It’s a two-man job, often requiring the better part of a dive before Yann, using a pair of satay sticks, can coax a reluctant target into an opening where I can grab a shot. Yann and I have such success I continue the goby hunt during the second leg of our trip in Lembeh Strait where dive guide Denny Tukunang takes over stewardship of the satay sticks.
It is rare to encounter a large jellyfish. Typically the gelatinous giants, occasionally measuring a foot or more, escort an entourage of juvenile fishes that avoid predators by taking refuge inside the jellyfishes’ tentacles and oral arms. Yann and I give chase to a basket-sized specimen during a night dive. Taking a close look, we find a dozen or more young jacks napping within their host’s billowy skirt.
Over the years we have made five night dives under and around the Cendana Pearl Farm Dock in Aljui Bay on Waiego Island and as before the sponge-covered pilings produce special animals.
The Aljui Bay walls never fail to produce surprises including three excellent additions for our Pacific fish identification book, as well as a quick but dandy hermit crab fight.
BACK TO LEMBEH
Returning to Lembeh Strait always feels like ol’ home week. Jim and Cary Yanny, dear friends and partners in Eco-Divers Resort Lembeh, where we always stay, make our visits even richer.
During our many years in Lembeh Anna and I have frequently noted how many animals come and go like phantoms—often entire populations disappear in a matter of weeks only to reappear, as from nowhere, months or years later.
On our previous visit in June only a scattering of frogfish could be found, now less than four months later three to a dozen are typically sighted on every dive. We also encounter a number of ghost pipefishes, Coconut and Starry Night Octopus, absent during our previous visit. At the same time, the summer’s muster of Flamboyant Cuttlefish and sea horses has gone missing. We have come to expect and embrace these changeovers and the curiosities they invariably bring. The fun comes in finding them.
Things begin with a coup, but what else would one expect—we’re in Lembeh. Denny takes us straight to Pantai Parigi, a white sand muck and coral dive on the island side of the Strait. For an hour Denny sorts through a field of pulsating Xenia soft coral before finally signaling me over. At the tip of his wooden stick rests the tiny head of a Barred Xenia Pipefish, a species I’ve coveted for years.
Searching the rubble near the water dock, I catch sight of a lizardfish—a prolific and most formidable predator—being held in a death grip by its four-inch prey. Not believing what I’m seeing, I move closer. Sure enough the razorfish is clamped down on the lizardfish’s throat bringing the powerful brute to a standstill. For a minute or two the only movement comes from the razorfish’s slowly twitching tail. Just as Anna settles at my side the missile-shaped lizardfish blasts off; in the same instant the razorfish disappears beneath the sand. A bit of Googling back at the resort brings to the screen a tale of a razorfish latching onto the hand of a fishermen as the little sand-dweller is being removed from a net.
Nudibranchs and other sea slugs epitomize natural selection. The Elegant Sapsucking Slug is no exception.
The classic pair of Warty Frogfish, one white the other yellow, residing on the coral slope of Makawide are so exquisite we go back for three visits. We are particularly interested in the highly modified fishing lure attached to the tip of the highly modified first dorsal spine of the highly modified fish. When dangled in front of the predators’ mouths the decoy looks for all the world like a tasty crustacean treat.
Ever since first diving the Asian Pacific we’ve been crazy about ghost pipefishes. Traditionally their pelagic larvae settle during late summer. Within a few short weeks the translucent bits of life transform into fully formed three-inch adults. All the arrivals start out as males, but soon after settling a few change into females that quickly outpace the males in growth. During their transition the females’ once dainty ventral fins evolve into large crescent-shaped pouches for incubating eggs carried in various stages of development throughout the breeding season. The continual promise of fresh eggs to fertilize keeps a male faithfully hanging around until the last egg is laid.
Robust Ghost Pipefish, one of four family members that regularly inhabiting the Strait, often take up residence along sandy shorelines where they mimic fallen leafs tossed by the surf. Half sailing half tumbling the pairs casually snap up tiny crustaceans from the bottom as they go. Cary tipped us off to the whereabouts of an egg-laden pair of Robusts at Teluk Kembahu. And sure enough we find the honeymooners rolling with the surge in four feet of water; and like we had hoped the female’s pouch brims with a new generation of eggs.
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Filed under: Indonesia, Lembeh, Raja Ampat, Uncategorized · Tags: anna deloach, boat dive, dewi nusantara, frogfish lure, ghost pipefish, indonesia diving, Liveaboard Diving Indonesia, muck diving, ned deloach, pipefish eggs, Raja Ampat, zebra hermit crab