Sunday, November 21, 2004
Not Just A Shark Tale

Notes from the diving trip to Lombok 12-16 November 2004

sailboat  click picture for more photos

The People
Wisang: Bubbles diving instructor, organiser and leader of the trip. The only bloke in the group. Very very typical Javanese and very kind hence he was an easy teasing target for us.
Oudy: The Menadonese camerawoman, energetically taking pictures underwater and abovewater with her Olympus camera. And keeping us entertained with her funny stories and laughter.
Fiona: The girl with a mosquito on her forehead, that is, according to Wisang :) A Chinese-sundanese mix girl, Oudy’s work colleague, Oudy’s roommate and diving buddy in this trip.
Theres: Another Menadonese, loves traveling. My roommate and buddy.
Maria Louie: A Filipino girl, my beer-drinking friend, loves shopping :)
Anupama: An Indian girl, non diver, left alone by us most of the time to roam the beach by herself. Broke three pairs of sandals during the 4 day trip.
And me, the writer. How do I describe myself? I can’t, so I won’t.

Friday, 12 November 2004. Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Indonesian style

3 pm: sent a text message: “I’m still in the office, getting ready to go.”

That Friday afternoon I planned to bog off the office at 3 pm, but as usual, I chickened out and made my brother waited in the car downstairs until 3.30 pm, the official end of office hours. Earlier I asked him to drive me to the airport and he agreed readily. Of course, since this meant he’d be able to use my car to drive his girlfriend around for a few days.

Since it’s the last weekend before Idul Fitri I thought the roads to the airport would be jammed and the airport itself in chaos. Turned out that the roads were clear and we drove there in 40 minutes. Check-in and all that were done in a matter of minutes and I sailed down to the waiting room.

5 pm: sent another text message: “In the waiting room at Cengkareng Airport”

Wisang from Bubbles who was our trip leader texted me saying that there’s an Indian girl who would be joining us and she would be in my plane. Him and the rest of the group had left in the morning. I looked around and saw an Indian looking girl but I didn’t dare to say hello in case I was wrong.

Boarded the plane and things started to go downhill from there. The Lion Air plane was full and the aircond not functioning properly. It was hot and the guy next to me was really smelly and I had to hold my breath most of the journey. Luckily it was only a 1-hour flight.

8 pm: sent a text: “In Surabaya Airport, having somay dinner”
10 pm: more text: “Still in Surabaya Airport. The plane is late. Don’t know when it will arrive. Met the Indian girl so I have a companion.”

Just before touching down the soil (or tarmac) of Surabaya I heard the Indian girl asking questions to the stewardess, so I dared to ask her if she’s Anupama. Turned out she was. So we ended waiting together in Surabaya airport, which was a good thing since the plane was late. No apologies and no announcement at all from Lion Air. The gate simply did not open on time and instead of a queue for our flight there was a queue for some other earlier flight, which was also late.

12 am: a text: “In Mataram Airport waiting for the bags.”

Landed in Mataram at midnight, waited for the bags for a long time, with the horror thought at the back of my mind – what if my gear bag was missing? But I was lucky, got the two bags and met the driver who picked us up.

We drove along a stretch of small road in the middle of a forest. Anu began to feel uncomfortable because the road was deserted and it felt like we were deep in the middle of nowhere.

12:15 am: sent a text: “In a car driving through a dark forest. No other cars around. A bit spooky.”

Then after what seemed to be an eternity we reached the beach. Another deserted place, just a sandy beach with a few shacks and huts here and there. Anu said if her family ever found out she were doing this they would kill her. Well, seeing it from her perspective, a stranger in Indonesia, and not used to adventures she’s right to be concerned.

1:00 am: then more text: “At a strange beach with only a few shacks around. And what looks like a small boat.”

Turned out that a boat was waiting for us, a small wooden outrigger fishing boat, and we had to wade the water to reach it. Then the boat left the shore slowly and we just sat there quietly watching the stars. The sea was totally black, but I could see a little bit of wave. A bit spooky to cross the sea at night like this in such a small boat with complete strangers. I thought I began to feel worried too.

1:10 am: more text: “In the small boat, crossing the sea. Very dark. Spooky. The night is starry though. I can see Orion.”

Landed at Gili Air and again we had to wade through the water. Everything was dark and quiet, except a horse with a two-wheeled cart behind it, which was our next vehicle to reach wherever it was we were supposed to reach. As we swayed in the cart, I swore to myself. After being so used to plan my own journeys and knowing every detail of them, to completely put myself in the hands of strangers guiding my trip was a bit unnerving. I should’ve asked Wisang the details of the trip.

1:35 am: a text: “In a horse cart, swaying here and there. This is scary. I’m so afraid the cart would just flip over to its side every time we hit a hole in the dirt path.”

When we reached Coconut, a series of bamboo bungalows owned by Elaine, a Scottish lady, and Kamil, her Indonesian husband, I was dead. However the helpers didn’t know where to put us in. Anu knew she was supposed to share with Louie the Filipino girl, but which one’s her room? As for me, I didn’t even know whom to share the room with and of course we couldn’t knock each room to find out which one was Louie’s and which one was the other one with only one person inside.

But then Louie called Anu on her cellphone hence Anu got a place. And me? Wisang’s phone was off and we didn’t know which room he was in, and my level of patience was getting low. In the end they gave me a temporary room to stay in that night.

2 am: final text sent: “Finally got a room, I’m going to get shower and crash out. It’s been a long journey.”

Saturday, 13 November 2004. Three-dive day

Woke up early that morning and went to the restaurant. After sitting alone for a while two girls came out – Oudy and Fiona. Then Wisang came. Then Theres. Turned out she’s one of the girls I went with to Semarang in a Sahabat Museum trip, and she’s the one I would have to share a room with. Then Anu and Louie came as well. So it’s an all girl team. Anu was not a diver so there would be 5 girl divers and Wisang. Blessed was he among women :)

We had breakfast then took horse carts to Reefseekers, the dive center. Elaine, the Scottish lady who owned the Coconut resort we stayed at was going to be our dive guide. She took our data and certification proofs, and then gave us a briefing. After that we changed, picked up our equipments and headed to the boat.

Charlie’s Reef
Our first dive site was called Charlie’s Reef, which is about 10 minutes boat ride to the east of the Gili Air island. It was a gently sloping sandy bottom, with a belt of reef along the shore and two mounds of reef growth further to the sea at around 22m depths.

The reef condition was not good. The corals were brown and dead and broken. Elaine said that dynamite fishing was a big problem in the past, which finally managed to be wiped out in the end. However in 1998 the El Nino brought heat wave, which warmed the water and finished off the reef. Some were still alive though and some started to grow back so I could see small patches of colours here and there in the mounds.

Despite the dead corals, the water was teeming with life; fishes everywhere. Visibility was also good, about 18m so we could see all the biota clearly. We saw many different angelfish – emperor, regal, six banded. They lent colour to the environment with their bright blue and yellow. Saw some butterfly fish too, some Moorish idols, and a lot of little three spot dascyllus, black with three white spots on them, dancing merrily among the corals.

Elaine pointed out a silvery coloured flutemouth to us. Also a scorpion fish attaching itself to a clump of reef and looking exactly like its host I had difficulties spotting it. She also knocked on the sand around where a mantis shrimp buried itself. The thing peeped out and looked at us, his guests, for a few seconds, then quickly popped his head back in again.

While everyone was swarming above something my eyes were caught by a bright blue object among the brown coral and white sand. At first I thought it was a blue fish poking its nose in the sand but it kept going on like that for a long while so I got suspicious. No, it wasn’t the backside of a fish I saw. In fact what I thought as the fin was actually the mouth of the creature, opening and closing. Nobody was around, until my buddy Theres came by but she also didn’t know what it was. So I swam to Wisang, caught his wrist and wrote in his slate, “There’s a blue animal over there.” He swam by with me to the blue thingy and wrote, “Ribbon Eel.” Then everyone came and observed my ribbon eel. I was proud.

Then I spotted a moray eel, a yellow margin one, hiding under a clump of coral, and Elaine showed us an octopus. The octopus looked just like a clump of dark coral, but when I looked harder I could see his eyes, warily watching us. And then it started changing colour, grey to black, grey to black. Obviously it didn’t feel comfortable having us noisy big strange fishes flying around him.

We dived for 66 minutes that time and then we surfaced, had lunch and got ready for the afternoon dive.

Ribbon Eel Point
The weather was still sunny, the tide still low but unlike in the morning which was calm, the surface was now a bit wavy. The boat ride was about 25 minutes from the beach and Elaine gave us briefing on the boat. We put on our gear while she checked the current. Then we back-rolled into the sea. I was glad I could back-roll already. I remembered the times when getting into the water was still the most stressing time for me. I didn’t dare to back-roll then, and I hated giant stride. Most of the time I would put on my gear in the water even when it’s wavy. But now I could back roll comfortably and didn’t find entry too stressful anymore.

There was a bit of an incident – Theres lost her weight belt and Elaine had to recover it first and so we had to wait while bobbing up and down on the wavy surface. I didn’t like that, as soon as I touched water all I wanted to do was to dive in straight away. Especially when it’s wavy and I had to swallow lots of seawater during the wait.

This second dive site was a place called Ribbon Eel Point, which was located at the northwest of Gili Trawangan. Again it was a gently sloping white sandy bottom, but a bit far from the beach. The reef in this site was in a better condition than in the first site. There were more bright colours around, and less broken branches covering the bottom.

I like this second dive. It was calm, with no current at all. The slope was very gentle and the water very clear – visibility was around 20 m – so I could see far into the distance. It’s like swimming in a great big aquarium. Again, this area was also teeming with life forms. There were batfish, sweetlips and several lionfish. There were also schools of thumpback snappers. I was happy to just swim among those fishes. I remember thinking that when I die I would want to be born again as a fish. But then again maybe not. No, maybe not, because if I were just a fish with no consciousness then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the beauty of this huge aquarium. But if I were a fish with consciousness then I would be frustrated to be just a fish. So I changed my mind.

We saw a hawksbill turtle that was busy eating and he ignored us completely. He was nudging the broken corals to look for food. Nearby there was a small nudibranch – Phyllidia varicose, I think it was.

There were also some moray eels. Wisang pointed out to me a lone unicornfish swimming above us and Fiona pointed out a huge triggerfish. I saw some dark coloured fish with bits of bright yellow at its tail. And the tail had two small blade-like additional side fins, later on I was told that they were surgeonfish.

In this dive I met my favourite marine creatures: Nemo – false clownfish living with an anemone. I loved watching them swimming in the anemone, darting in and out like playing hide and seek.

We dived for 59 minutes and my maximum depth was 21 m with 13.4 m average. A beautiful dive, I enjoyed it.

Night Dive
Our third dive that day was a night dive at Charlie’s Reef. Kathrin was our guide. She’s young, English, born in Hongkong, and owned a set of interesting tattoos on her right hip. Maria (that’s how we call Louie in this trip) decided not to come so there were only Wisang, me, my buddy Theres, Oudy and Fiona. We went in at 7pm after the boat guys finished their fast breaking. This was the last night of the Ramadhan month so the feast would be tomorrow. Already we could hear the Takbiran chants from the radios.

As soon as we touched bottom I saw a huge sea cucumber. It was white and pink in colour and at the mouth of its anus there’s a tiny crab. I wasn’t sure what it was doing there whether looking for food or hiding, maybe both. We watched it for a long time. It’s so funny that we were so fascinated by a sea cucumber’s anus :)

I like night dives. In night dives we can see many red eyes flickering in the darkness, like having hundreds of eyes watching us. Spooky but fascinating. The red eyes belong to shrimps and crabs and there were many that night. Some hermit crabs were running around here and there and we followed, hovering quietly above them. One ran to a place where we saw a spider crab, and near it a small bobtail cuttlefish was swimming. Great.

We also encountered banded boxer shrimps, a hinge-beak shrimp, some false fire sea urchins, a calamari sea urchin, some more hermit crab, swimmer crab and a reef lobster which were hiding from us so I could only see it’s long antennas.

When I was left a bit behind I looked back and pointed my torch to my body, covering its light. I was curious as to how black it could get. But the sea wasn’t completely dark. There were silvery points blinking here and there all around me, it was like swimming among the stars. Planktons? The sea was teeming with life, I told you.

Then just before surfacing we were given one of the most wonderful performances on earth, an underwater flamenco by a Spanish dancer. I was gobsmacked by its beauty, as it was swirling and moving its pinkish body in a wonderful ballet choreography.

This was the longest night dive I’ve ever done, 58 minutes. So I was happy. Then to top it all as I was surfacing I didn’t forget Kathrin’s advice to look up so when my head went out of the water the first thing I beheld was the beautiful beautiful gorgeous star studded night.

In the boat I continued to look up and saw a shooting star, a meteor, flashing by. I made a wish.

Fish Dinner
I thought that after taking diving and falling in love with the fishes and other marine creatures I would not want to eat fish again. But no, I still love sushi, sashimi and grilled fish. So that night along with the others I ordered fish and squid at Simple, a restaurant along the beach with rows of open-sided thatch-roofed huts with low tables and some cushions on it.

Anu and Maria were there as well and we ate and chatted and joked. At one point Wisang told Fiona that there’s a mosquito on her forehead and that he would’ve tried to kill it if it wasn’t on her forehead. Fiona gaped, then mentioned coolly that it was a mole on her forehead, not a mosquito. Wisang was totally embarrassed while the rest of us were paralysed with laughter. We told him we would compile for him a book on good chat up lines, and the do’s and don’ts when trying to appear heroic to a girl.

Poor Wisang, he couldn’t say a thing and was just sitting there with a face the colour of a boiled lobster. We wouldn’t let him forget this one for a long long time.

Sunday, 14 November 2004. The story teller

This was the first Lebaran day, so we couldn’t start too early. Everywhere in the island the resorts and dive centers were short of staff. Coconut still have staff though, so it wasn’t too bad for us.

Symbiosis
At Reefseekers the owners Ernest Lewandowski and his wife were back from their trip to the UK. Ernest loved to tell stories about the marine creatures and once he started there’s no way to stop him. That morning he sat with us and told us long stories about the symbiosis life in the sea. There were three main types of symbiosis and he asked us to watch out for them when we dived.

The first was symbiosis mutualism, which was the ultimate symbiosis where the two kinds of creatures working and living together would not be able to survive without each other. He likened it to a marriage. The example he cited was the symbiosis of goby fishes and shrimps. The goby provided the shrimps with eyes and danger alarms. As they sat on the bottom of the sea they watched out for predators and gave the shrimps signals when they saw one. The shrimps, or the wives as Ernest put it, dug holes for both of them to hide in. They also caught little animals for the goby to eat.

Ernest joked that some shrimp and goby couples lived like normal married couples, one shrimp to one goby near one hole. But some were polygamists and some even polyandrous, while others were complete swingers.

The second of the symbiosis was commensalisms, which according to Ernest meant ‘eating together’ and therefore the two types of animals lived together to eat better. My encyclopedia defined this symbiosis as an interaction between two kinds of creatures, in which one member of the association benefits while the other is not affected, which was the description I remembered from my biology lesson in high school.

But anyway, Ernest cited the example of anemone and clownfish. He asked us to open the guide-book on fish types on the page of clownfish and blink and try to look for the pattern and general similarities. It turned out that most of them have white stripes across their bodies, contrasting with their colour. According to Ernest most sea creatures saw contrasts better. With the contrast coloured bodies, the clownfish would dance and wiggle above the anemone and look like lures to fishes. When these fishes lunged to eat the lures the clownfish darted back into the anemone to bait them in and get them poisoned by the anemone. These then become the dinner for both the anemone and the clownfish.

The Wikipedia by the way, cited the relationship of the clownfish and anemone as an example of a symbiosis mutualism, whereby the territorial fish protects the anemone from anemone-eating fish, and in turn the stinging tentacles of the anemone protects the anemone fish from its predators. Maybe just like in Geology (I’m a geologist, by the way), in Marine Biology it’s also all about interpretation and educated guess.

Ernest didn’t have time to explain details about symbiosis parasitism, as his wife and Kathrin kept reminding him that we were there to dive not only to listen to him :) But he did mention a type of fish, which attached itself onto a bigger fish and suck its blood out.

Reading more about symbiosis from the web, I remember that one of the hermit crabs we saw during the night dive had several small anemone clumps on its back. Apparently it was also a type of symbiosis mutualism, with the crab benefiting from the camouflage and the anemone benefiting from the hitchhike ride to get more food.

Chalkies Reef
Ernest’s stories lent some more colours to the marine creatures that we saw in the dive. Everything started to look like they had personalities and we got more interested in them. It’s like we came to their world to look for some more gossips about their life.

When we dived that morning in Chalkies Reef (east of Gili Air) and descended slowly to the gently rolling white sandy bottom immediately my eyes were drawn into a goby sitting quietly in the sand. I hovered slowly over him and saw its shrimp partner pushing sands out of the hole it was digging. After watching this pair for some time I hovered to another pair and then went down quietly to look at them more closely. The goby immediately flicked its tail and the shrimp stopped the digging, hiding inside. The goby had obviously noticed me and conveyed the danger sign to the shrimp.

I spent quite a while watching the pairs of goby and shrimp and as I hovered away to the clumps of reef build-ups I noticed a group of two goby fishes with one shrimp and a group of two shrimps with one goby, the ‘polyandrous’ and ‘polygamist’ ones :)

Nearing the reef growth, which was good in this area, I saw some grey boring looking dascyllus. But to me then they weren’t boring anymore because just before we boarded the boat Ernest still managed to tell us to watch also for these boring looking fishes which he said would appear dancing above clumps of coral growth. He said some would be doing mating dance whereby the male danced to attract the attention of the females and when he got one, both would be dancing together and then the female would be putting the eggs under the clump and the male fertilised them. He would attract some more females and repeated that and then when he’s tired he would be swimming around guarding his offspring. What a bloke – a promiscuous playboy with many women, but very responsible afterwards, taking all the children with him :)

So I hovered some distance away from a few couples of dascyllus and watched them dancing. Some seemed to be darting in and out from under the clumps of corals but I wasn’t sure if they were mating or not. Still, to me they looked more interesting now.

What more did we see down there? I noted a silvery coloured trumpet fish, swimming quietly above some algae growth. Then there were lots and lots of Moorish Idols, with their bright yellow colour darting here and there among the corals. Many lionfish were around waving their ribbons and I like it very much to make their sign with my two hands.

A huge starry pufferfish lay quietly on the sand; the pale grey and white colour blended it with the environment. Its eyes watched us warily for our every movement. There was a yellow boxfish as well, and some pallete surgeonfish, also a lot of regal angelfish.

In the reef build-up we found some anemone clumps, big and small, with the false clownfish, pink and clarke anemonefish. As usual it’s fun to watch them darting in and out from among the anemone dancing tentacles.

In a cavity below a clump of brain coral we spotted a moray eel, bluish in colour. It opened and closed its mouth, breathing. Then there was something that excited me very much – a blue spot mask ray swam by us and I watched it, fascinated. This was better than watching rays in the Sea World aquarium.

As you can probably tell, I’m still new to diving. This was only my 30th dive and before Lombok, all I have ever dived in were around Java – the Thousand Islands (Kotok and Sepa), Krakatau, Sanghyang Island, Tempurung Island and Ujung Kulon. This is why everything was so exciting to me. This was even the first time that I really took care to learn the underwater hand signals of the fish, how to make signs for lionfish, trumpetfish, pipefish, angelfish, butterfly fish, turtle, moray, cuttlefish, octopus and all that.

Even the concept of spotting the types of marine biota during a dive and noted them down was still comparatively new to me. I used to just dive for the sake of dive. I liked swimming among bright coloured fish and floating pass clumps of colourful reef buildups, but most of all I just loved it to be underwater. Just to be able to hover and pretend I was flying was enough for me. I felt like Harry Potter already. Just like when I still did lots of volcano hiking – for me I didn’t have to reach the top to enjoy the hike, top pocketing wasn’t the point at all; it’s the walk outdoor that mattered. This was the same, I didn’t have to experience anything exciting or meet some exotic creature because I just loved it to be underwater. But now I began to understand the rules of the game, and enjoyed the spotting of the creatures. And one thing I learned from Ernest – I got to enjoy watching their habits and activities. Not to just spot these underwater celebrities but to gather gossips about their lives and learn their habits. So now diving became much more exciting to me.

Anyway, we dived for 68 minutes here in this site, with 18m of visibility. The weather was sunny and the sea calm. As we sailed back to the beach Oudy’s red t-shirt was blown by the wind and couldn’t be recovered.

Pedaties Reef
There was no restaurant opened that day, everywhere in the island people closed their businesses, wore their nicest outfits and went around visiting. This was the Lebaran day. So we ate the sandwiches that an Australian lady sent us, while filling in our logbook. Kathrin had put the data on the board and we tried to identify and discussed the fish and other creatures we met during the dive.

Of course we also continued to tease Wisang and made him embarrassed. He wasn’t too happy about it and tried to make us stop but we continued to mercilessly remind him of Fiona’s ‘mosquito’ :)

Then Ernest sat with us and told us stories about how divers had taught the animals to be aggressive. He said that when he first came to Lombok with his wife many years ago the triggerfish were not as aggressive as now. Continued close encounters with divers who weren’t sensitive enough to understand to back off when the fish tried to shoo them away made the fish learn to attack. Only the attacks would keep the divers away, that’s what the fishes had learned from us.

Ernest also cited an example of anemonefish. When we got near a clump of anemone the resident clownfish would protect it by darting out to shoo us away. If we didn’t back off when they did that then the anemonefish would learn that their efforts were fruitless and they would learn to run away and left the anemone unprotected. While originally they would be fearless and persevered, and continued to attack, like some clownfishes which Ernest observed one day attacking and biting the neck of a turtle that was trying to eat their anemone home. So he rammed home to us the message to care more about the marine creatures and their habits. And I promised myself I would from now on only watch clownfishes from afar and would not play with them with my hands again.

The site we dived that afternoon was called Pedaties Reef and was located in the west of Gili Trawangan, so it was quite a while before we reached the place. It was very sunny and I applied more sunblock to cover my skin. The sea was a bit wavy but there was no current and the visibility was around 20m.

The bottom was coral covered, or to be more precise, dead coral covered. It’s sad to see all the dead coral branches covering the gently sloping bottom. But here and there we could find clumps of live coral growth, mostly acroporas and brain corals.

We saw another hawksbill turtle that was busy eating and ignored us completely. We also saw some starry pufferfish, yellow boxfish, spotted boxfish, yellow trumpetfish, and some different kinds of sweetlips – harlequin, oriental and giant sweetlips.

There were different types of residents of anemones – pink anemonefish, Clarke anemonefish, clown and false clownfishes. There were some small crabs and shrimps as well in between the anemone. I tried to think about the type of symbiosis between these crabs and shrimps with the anemone. If I followed the definition from Wikipedia this could be classified as a symbiosis commensalisms since the crabs definitely benefited from living in the anemones safety wise and probably also food wise, while I couldn’t see how the anemone benefited from them.

I saw some nudibranches from the Phyllidia genus, and we spotted a mantis shrimp, greenish in colour. There were some titan and boomerang triggerfish, a lot of angelfish (emperor & regal), and a lot of butterfly fish. And of course, the ever present Moorish Idols.

Among the brownish coloured dead coral branches Kathrin saw a creature that looked like a skinny nudibranch, but a closer look revealed that it had no antennas like nudibranch. So she asked our camerawoman Oudy to take pictures of it. Later in the surface we checked the books and found out that it was a kind of holothurian that mimicked a toxic nudibranch. Wicked!

Then we spotted a young white-tip reef shark. It was scared of us strange big black fishes with colourful fins, and preferred to hide in a cavity under a table coral. Poor thing. And we continued to try to peep into the cavity and shine it with our torches. I saw the thing looking at us worriedly and I took pity and swam away.

Another creature got scared of us - a blue spotted fantail ray, which immediately hid under a brain coral as soon as it saw us. We could see part of its body sticking out from the small cavity, and the two eyes that were watching us.

After that we took group photos underwater. By that time though my tank was very low on air and I had difficulties going down to get near the group. I kept floating up and then my mask was also filled with water, which made it difficult for me to concentrate and control my buoyancy, while the others kept pulling me down. As a result we got very funny pictures with me appearing to struggle with my hands and legs all over the place and they told me I got Hanoman style :)

After 72 minutes underwater we surfaced. This time Fiona’s weightbelt fell down and Kathrin had to dive in to recover it. Wisang went after her. After that we teased Wisang about it and we set about matchmaking him and Kathrin. As usual he was embarrassed but couldn’t do much. He tried earlier to take our things and hold them in ransom, hoping to exchange those with us stopping to tease him. It didn’t work. We just laughed and continued to make fun of him.

That night we had dinner in Coconut, which restaurant turned out to serve good food, better than Simple, the restaurant we visited the night before. After the dinner we looked at the photos that Oudy took, both the marine creatures and us. We laughed at our funny underwater photos. Then we watched the DVD that Ernest lent us. It was a video shot about the underwater creatures in Komodo, where Ernest’s other dive center is located. It looked really wonderful and we talked about planning to go there next year.

Monday, 15 November 2004. Frogfish’s Lure & Romantic Octopus

That morning Theres and I woke up late. Earlier I heard Theres moving about and saw that it was still dark so I went back to sleep. Apparently Theres did as well and none of us had the alarm on. At 8 am Wisang woke us up and told us to get ready as soon as possible. So we changed while he ordered our breakfast. Then after breakfast we took the horse carts to go to Reefseekers.

Another storyteller
At Reefseekers Elaine had been waiting for us. We prepared our equipment then sat in the porch for her briefing. It turned out that Elaine was also a storyteller. She told us about the underwater dentists, the shrimps, which found leftover food from among the teeth of the fishes. There were flosser types that floss the teeth, and clipper types which clipped parasites from under the scales. I wished I could see them at work; it should be interesting.

Then she told us that if we’re lucky we should spot a frogfish that day. Frogfishes had fins that looked like the feet of frogs, complete with what looked like painted toenails. They also moved about by hopping, hence the name.

According to Elaine a frogfish was a type of anglerfish, from angling which meant fishing. At the top of its head there’s a bump, which could pop out a fishing rod-like structure, with the fish line and a lure at the end. A frogfish could have a lure resembling a shrimp while others had lures resembling crabs or fish, both in form and smell. This lure would be used to lure fish and as soon as the fish got near the frogfish would grab and eat it.

Listening to stories like this made me marvel at the wonder of evolution. How many thousand or million years of mutation and adaptation finally created a rod and lure structure like this? How many thousands of years did it take for the simple tiny sea cucumbers to “learn” to mimic poisonous nudibranch to survive? Obviously a long long time ago those sea cucumbers that had colours like the toxic nudibranch were the ones that survived. And these were the ones which produced offsprings, which as time passed by more and more resembled the nudibranch. However, what had triggered the genetic mutation in the first place, so that one sea cucumber ancestor suddenly had a small likeness to a nudibranch? The creativity of nature always makes me wonder. This creativity must be born out of the need of life to survive. Like Ernest said, it’s a jungle out there, it’s difficult to survive.

There should be some octopus around as well. The octopus, according to Elaine, could appear romantic while mating. The male would put one of its long tentacles around the female and then it would gently shove a scoop of sperms with another tentacle into the inside of the female’s mantle to fertilise the eggs. Very much unlike the energetic human lovemaking. However after the romantic gesture it would just bog off and leave the lady and its eggs. Very much like human playboys :)

The female octopus will then put the eggs in a den and waited for them to hatch, which could take 42 weeks. All that time she wouldn’t leave the den, and would not hunt for food. Therefore at the end of the time she would become very weak. Just before the eggs hatched, the lady octopus would leave the den, and of course in her weak condition she would be devoured easily by the predators. This according to Elaine, was some sort of way for luring the predators away from its children. Very touching.

Moray eels were octopus’ main predator and a struggle between the two could get very brutal. The eel would use its body to wrap around the octopus in a knot while its head tried to lung and snap the octopus’ head. Scary. I don’t like to hear or see stories about predators at hunt.

Henry’s Reef
That morning Elaine took us to a place called the Snapper Point west of Gili Air, which actually wasn’t too far from the south beach where Reefseekers was located. However since the wave was strong and it was difficult to sail west, we had to circle the island taking the long route to the east.

Once we got there Elaine checked the current while we geared up readying for our dive. However suddenly one of us found out that he had left his fins in the dive center. It was a very embarrassing moment for him obviously, considering his experiences in diving and all that, so to save him from further embarrassment I won’t mention his name :)

Because of this fin incident, we had to go back south of the island to the dive center to retrieve the fins. So there we were sitting in front of the boat completely geared up baking in the sun all the way back to the island. We decided we wouldn’t ever let him forget this incident :)

After retrieving the fins Elaine decided that we should dive east of the island instead of going all the way back to Snapper Point. So we went to Henry’s Reef at the northeast of Gili Air. The weather was sunny but the sea was rather choppy. Fortunately no other incident happened so we didn’t have to stay too long on the boat. We back-rolled and met at a point in front of the boat and immediately went in.

The bottom was a gently rolling white sandy area with clumps of coral growth here and there. The visibility was great, around 18m and there was no current, so although the surface was choppy underwater it felt like a huge calm aquarium. We dived to a maximum depth of around 22m.

We spotted a green turtle from afar. I wondered why it was called a green turtle it didn’t look green to me. Later Elaine explained that the inside, which appeared when somebody cut them up, looked green. Ugh, that’s horrible. People shouldn’t eat turtle. They’re so cute and they look old like grandfathers. Like a very ancient animal, one of our ancestors.

There were schools of yellow coloured 5 lined snappers, lots of lionfish, small starry pufferfish, and some oriental sweetlips. We also saw a black robust ghost pipefish.

We met a big greenish purple mantis shrimp, which was lying on the broken coral covered bottom. It went scurrying away hiding in a cavity in a coral growth when it sensed that we were all hovering above it.

I watched amusedly at some garden eels at the sandy bottom at the foot of a coral growth. There were three garden eels peeping out of their respective holes, which formed a line. There’s another hole beside the three, but no eel head peeping out of it. The garden eel kept popping in and out as divers went near, while I just hovered above them. Suddenly one of them swam out of its hole and backed into the other hole. It was fun to watch them popping in and out it was like that game in the game centers where plastic creatures popped in and out of holes and we were supposed to knock them with a big plastic pickaxe. Unfortunately suddenly Wisang swam by and all the garden eels disappeared into the holes :(

Then in a gap between two coral build-ups about a man’s height we saw thousands and thousands of tiny baby fishes. They were transparent with some flickering eyes. It’s fascinating to watch them and I tried to swim among them. Wow.

In this place we also saw a leaf fish, and behind the coral growth a big grey sea cucumber – Thelenota anax, was lying calmly. I couldn’t stop my laughter watching what it was doing. It was poo-ing! Behind it there were trails of long curling faeces and as I looked again, it was calmly secreting a long faeces out of its anus :) No manner!

Again Oudy took some group pictures of us. We tried to form a cheerleader triangle formation in the sandy bottom area, but it proved to be quite difficult. We dubbed ourselves the Mosquito Cheerleading Squad, to honour Wisang’s mosquito incident :)

Snapper Point
We had a big lunch that day. Four big fried fish for the 6 of us. Afterwards we felt too full to dive.

Elaine took us to the place we originally about to dive at, the Snapper Point. Along with us Kathrin brought a Greek guy who were doing a refresher course.

The weather was still sunny and the sea still choppy. We went in right away, descending into a sandy gently sloping bottom. The visibility was around 15m and we could see that there were several groups of live coral build-ups around. The biggest was a big coral build-up at a maximum of 24m depths.

As we came near it Elaine pointed to us a big cuttlefish hovering near a soft coral growth. I watched it for a while but then my eyes caught Kathrin signaling for frogfish. I swam near them and tried hard to look at the area she pointed at but couldn’t find anything that looked like a frogfish. In fact, I wasn’t even sure how it would look like though I had seen it in the picture at Reefseekers. All I saw there was a clump of sponge. After a while finally I saw it. It looked like the sponge it was resting on. But as soon as you made out the outline you could see the “legs” and their cute tiny toes. The purplish blue coloured frogfish was just sitting there quietly while we observed it.

After that I hovered away and saw a starry pufferfish lying quietly on the sand. In a big cavity under a table coral Elaine pointed out multibar pipefish. There were several sweetlips swimming around.

We also found some nudibranches – the usually found around this area Phyllidia varicosa and some more exotic ones – Reticularia halgerda with a big black body that had orange cross stripes, and Roboastra gracilis.

There was one octopus as well. It was sitting among coral clumps and changed its colour from light to dark, again and again as we watched it. We couldn’t see its tentacles as they were kept under him. Later on that day after the dive as we were standing around the dive centers we heard some commotion and the word “gurita!” which meant octopus. Then we saw some kids running towards the village. Behind them two teenagers carried between them a pole, with an octopus hanging from it. I wanted to cry when I saw that.

After leaving the last big coral build-up we just drifted with the current above a gently rolling bottom covered with algae. Just before we surfaced though, we found some sandy area again with small clumps of coral growth. In between them as we did the safety stop I saw several juvenile false clownfish swimming with no anemones nearby. I was quite surprised since I recalled that in one of the books it was said that clownfishes were never found without anemone. Later I asked Ernest about that and he said not to trust every book totally. We should read several sources for a subject. He then explained that the anemone could get too crowded once the fish bred. So the juveniles would be kicked out to find their own anemone homes. Made sense to me.

On the boat we found out that the Greek guy and Kathrin saw a white tip shark that we didn’t see. But it was still a fun dive for me with lots of things to observe, and I was happy. So that was our last dive. Before we left the boat Kathrin gave us a message on reef conservation, how we should take care when we dive not to touch anything because our touch may kill something that took a very long time to grow.

Drinking Night
After washing our equipments and hanging them to dry we went back to Coconut. Again we had dinner there and looked at the photos. It turned out that the triangle formation we made underwater was quite decent. And of course funny.

We planned to get some drink in the pub further south after the dinner but Oudy was not feeling well so we just ordered our drinks there and sat and watched another DVD from Ernest. As the night wore on and we got more drunk we started to tell stories about ourselves. I couldn’t remember exactly what I said I hope it wasn’t anything embarrassing :O

Tuesday, 16 November 2004. The Road Home

That morning I woke up early, packed and left my bag with Theres. Then I walked with my camera on. Snapping the beautiful landscape. I intended to walk from Coconut, which was at the east coast of the island, to Reefseekers, which was at the south of the island. Normally we used horse carts but I wanted to walk so that I could capture some portraits of the people as well.

The dirt path was dusty and dry. So were the coconut and mango groves along the path. Rain rarely reached these strings of island. But they’re hoping it would arrive later in December. I hope it would. It’s sad to see the dry grass and leaves. They need water.

On the beach in the southern part of the island near the jetty I managed to take some human-interest photographs – fishermen busy working on their boats and some little kids playing.

Then I had to wait for some time in the beach near Reefseekers for the others to arrive. After they arrived we packed our gears, said goodbye to the storytellers from Reefseekers and headed to the boat that would bring us to the mainland Lombok. After that it was a car ride across the hills and the monkey forest, and two plane rides before we were back to the real world. And thus ended our lovely tropical dream.

Jakarta, 21 November 2004


Posted at 08:11 pm by koeniel

 

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