WAKATOBI – Rare Find

0

As a marine scientist, Dr. Richard Smith has visited Wakatobi many times in pursuit of his studies, sometimes staying for months at a time, and logging hundreds of hours on the reefs.

“I never tire of spending time here, and I always seem to discover new wonders and surprises with each visit. This latest trip to Wakatobi reminded me once more that this place truly is a tropical paradise, both above and below the water,”

says Richard.  This was certainly the case on his most recent stay.

Photo by Warren Baverstock
Photo by Warren Baverstock

For many years, Richard dived the wide areas of the Indo Pacific in search of a tiny variety of shrimp that lives deep inside the gills of the Giant Tridacna Clam, like the one seen here.

Photo by Wakatobi Dive Resort
Photo by Wakatobi Dive Resort

His search finally ended at Wakatobi, when he found not one but two of these elusive shrimp inhabiting a giant clam during his recent trip, and he captured this image. Adding more to the value of such a rare find, the shrimp is quite elegant with deep indigo blue markings on a translucent body, a beautiful sight to see.

Photo by Richard Smith
Photo by Richard Smith

The Giant Clam Shrimp is just one more example of the layers of species diversity that can be found at Wakatobi. 

“Every animal seems to have another animal that lives on it,” Richard says, “which is one of the things that makes diving and snorkeling in Wakatobi so rewarding.” 

Where one diver might pass up a close inspection of a colorful Crinoid perched atop some hard corals or a seafan, another will give it closer scrutiny.

Photo by Walt Stearns
Photo by Walt Stearns

Fellow critter heads love a challenge. Their reward is finding a wondrous variety of small fish and invertebrates like the Elegant Squat Lobster, which live among the Crinoid’s tangle of arms.

Photo by Walt Stearns
Photo by Walt Stearns

Between 2007 and 2009 Richard spent several months at Wakatobi Dive Resort conducting fieldwork for his PhD on the biology and conservation of pygmy seahorses. These tiny animals live exclusively on a certain type of gorgonian seafans, the first pygmy seahorse was discovered by George Bargibant in 1969 and named in his honor a year later. Richard still considers the pygmies some of his most precious subjects, both photographically and in the realm of his studies.

Bargibants pygmy by Richard Smith at Wakatobi Dive Resort
Bargibants pygmy by Richard Smith at Wakatobi Dive Resort

It would take another 30 years before more species of pygmies would be discovered, such as the Denise’s pygmy seahorse, which was first found and identified here at Wakatobi in 2003 by Denise Tackett.

Photo by Richard Smith
Photo by Richard Smith

This image of an orange variant of a Bargibant ‘s pygmy seahorse was taken by Richard down the wall on the Wakatobi House Reef.

 “Six of the seven known species of pygmy seahorses that have been discovered reside in the Indo Pacific , and Wakatobi is one of the best places in the world to find them,”

says Richard.

“This is why I have long favored this area for my research, and it’s exciting to think that there may be more unknown varieties out there awaiting discovery.”

Orange Bargibants pygmy by Richard Smith at Wakatobi Dive Resort
Orange Bargibants pygmy by Richard Smith at Wakatobi Dive Resort

“The dive guides at Wakatobi are extremely helpful when it comes to helping divers and snorkelers understand the marine habitat and letting them share in the excitement of finding many of the rare creatures found at Wakatobi,”

says Richard. Pygmy seahorses are among the most unique creatures for a diver to see. It’s not because they are an endangered species, it’s because they are so tiny, making them difficult to spot. Additionally, their entire existence is reliant on certain species of seafans. Wakatobi’s dive guides are there to enhance every diver/snorkeler experience, whether it be finding a rare species of pygmy or enjoying an exploration along the house reef wall.

Photo by Walt Stearns
Photo by Walt Stearns

One of the groups of Denise’s pygmy seahorses Richard studied lived on a gorgonian on Wakatobi’s House Reef, not far from the Jetty Bar. During his last trip he visited that same gorgonian to see if a new group had settled there. Sure enough, four new pygmies had taken up residence according to Richard.

“Pygmies only live for a year or so, so I knew it wouldn’t be the same individuals. What also made an impression was how little the gorgonian had grown in the intervening six years; it was about ten centimetres larger in span. This served as reminder that some of the huge gorgonians at Wakatobi can be many decades old, and reinforces the need to be careful not to damage them.”

Photo by Walt Stearns at Wakatobi House Reef
Photo by Walt Stearns at Wakatobi House Reef

Another sighting on this latest visit was a Pontoh’s pygmy seahorse. At just 1.7 cm in length, adults of this species are just a bit smaller than the diameter of a US dime. They are frequently found around Wakatobi, but unlike the other species, they do not live in association with gorgonian seafans.

Pontohs pygmy by Richard Smith at Wakatobi Dive Resort
Pontohs pygmy by Richard Smith at Wakatobi Dive Resort

There are several factors that account for the diversity of life found on Wakatobi’s reefs. Because they rise almost to the surface, the reef tops are exposed to ample ambient light that encourages a broad range of coral growth, supporting a wide variety of fish and invertebrates that depend on these corals.

Photo by Walt Stearns
Photo by Walt Stearns

Then, as the reef drops away into the deep, the composition changes and many more species of soft corals and sponges replace the light-loving hard and soft corals of the shallows. This ever-changing habitat provides shelter for an equally broad range of marine life.

Photo by Walt Stearns
Photo by Walt Stearns

Halimeda ghost pipefish are considered exceedingly rare throughout their range.

Those who seek out these masters of camouflage consider Wakatobi to be one of the best places to find them,” 

adds Richard.

“I’ve been lucky enough to do so on several occasions. The female in this photo was brooding a clutch of eggs in her large fused pelvic fins. A male was almost certainly nearby, but was more than likely blending seamlessly into the algae.”

Halimeda ghost pipefish; Photo by Richard Smith
Halimeda ghost pipefish; Photo by Richard Smith

The white cap goby is a very shy little fish. Richard found this one on the dive site Teluk Maya, living alongside a yet un-described species of Alpheid shrimp. When you think of the association between Shrimp goby and Alpheid shrimp, think of the TV series The Odd Couple and the main characters, Felix and Oscar. The partially nearsighted shrimp is a hard worker, and is constantly excavating the pairs’ shared burrow. In exchange, the skittish, yet lazy goby keeps its eyes peeled for any predators. The two communicate via subtle movements made by the goby which the shrimp detects using its antennae.

Photo by Richard Smith
Photo by Richard Smith

Splendid dottybacks definitely live up to their name. They swim in and out of the sponges and crevices of Wakatobi’s reefs, their movements making them quite easy to miss despite their bright coloration. They tend to be quite nervous and won’t stick around for photos, so as always it’s best to be set up and ready to shoot should the opportunity arise.

Splendid dottyback; Photo by Walt Stearns
Splendid dottyback; Photo by Walt Stearns

“Since my last visit to Wakatobi, the number of bigger fish appear to be greater than before,”

Richard says,such as the schools of Black snapper that show up at sites like Roma and Treasure Chest (seen here).

“Their presence could be attributed to both the creation and management of Wakatobi’s marine protected area surrounding the resort. Clearly the benefits to both us as divers and to the marine life is paying off, as the programs in place help preserve these highly diverse and pristine reef habitats.”

Black snapper at Treasure Chest; Photo by Walt Stearns
Black snapper at Treasure Chest; Photo by Walt Stearns

Speaking of keen inhabitants, can you see the reef octopus?

“This super-intelligent animal was quite content to stay out and watch us, provided we gave it space and kept quite still,”

according to Richard. Tiny muscles control the octopus’ expression of color and surface texture, allowing it to perfectly match its surroundings.

Photo by Richard Smith
Photo by Richard Smith

“This latest trip to Wakatobi reminded me once more that this place truly is a tropical paradise, both above and below the water. I was happy to return to reefs with which I’m so familiar, yet still see creatures that I’d never seen anywhere else before. If you can get bored on these reefs, you need another hobby.” 

Many thanks to Dr. Richard Smith.

The Pelagian and Wakatobi Resort; Photo by Didi Lotze
The Pelagian and Wakatobi Resort; Photo by Didi Lotze

All content provided on the “Scuba Diving Resource”  website is for informational purposes only. Any comments, opinions that may be found here at Scuba Diving Resource are the express opinions and or the property of their individual authors.
Scuba Diving Resource makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. Please note that regulations and information can change at any time.

September 11, 2017 |

Leave a Reply

Powered By DesignThisWebsite.com
Skip to toolbar