• WHAT-ER World!
Intro: Dancing fairy bassets, cows with fins, fish that walk or play dead, slugs that are always dressed up for funerals...these aren’t fictitious characters plucked out of a sequel to Alice in Wonderland, but just some of the incredible creatures that actually inhabit the pristine waters off the southern tip of Manila. Underwater Photographer and diver, Digant Desai takes you on a tour of the magical world at the apex of the coral triangle.
Surrounded by muck, discarded tyres and toothbrushes somewhere between a busy jetty and a fishing village, I slipped on my SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) gear and prepared to dive into an unknown world. Diving ...view middle of the document...
Then, there’s the spectacular presentation.
A teaser, directed by Nature
Just three hours drive from Metro Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, an area that’s often referred to as the apex of the world’s coral triangle, a teensy little fish, less than a centimetre long, seemingly as charged up about exploring new worlds as we are, slips and slides around an old shoe. It’s a juvenile lionfish, disarmingly delicate in its appearance with seemingly soft, silken extensions in beautiful shades of brown, white and orange, but its beauty and grace is just a teaser for what’s still to come.
We’re just five metres under the surface of the water and the seabed is dotted with many souvenirs from the human world. The jetty, it’s fairly evident, is nearby. My dive-companion signals enthusiastically from the distance. Swaying his arms excitedly, he gestures towards what looks like a brown rock. I’m incredulous. Could it be? I lift my camera and take aim. The focus light on the device sweeps over the still brown lump and lo! Instantaneously, it rises and walks away. This is a brilliant discovery! We had hoped to, yet hardly expected to, spot the elusive hairy frogfish, and now here it was, right before us, skulking off like an embarrassed child. Hitherto completely camouflaged in this sandy and mucky environment, it had given away its position – typically, it had lowered its hairy pectoral fins to literally walk away from us intruders.
More than meets the eye
The frogfish isn’t nearly the only inhabitant of these waters who’s a master of disguise. The cockatoo leaf fish often plants itself in the sand and swaying, mimics an autumn leaf. Little plastic balloons that stream out of dancing sea anemones catch our attention and upon close examination we discover these to be tiny translucent shrimps. Pipe fish swim by and brightly coloured box fish demand our attention, but even as we turn to look, a moray eel grows curious about our camera and gapes right into it with its bright white eyes. Click! That’s one for our wall!
The excitement has only just begun. A large reddish rock seems too round to be real, and despite its disguise, we, of course, recognise the reef fish. Harmless as it seems, sitting so still, the fish is biding its time. Wait and watch and you’ll get to see it strike sharply out at some poor unsuspecting prey, in an all-too familiar drama that plays out in every sphere of life. The hapless victim won’t stand a chance. Armed with extremely venomous spines, this seemingly passive species can act quickly and cause great pain or even death. Nearby a pair of lizards seem far more threatening though, watching us carefully with their ruby eyes. Resting on a green patch, so closely do the lizardfish resemble their earthly twins that it’s easy to forget where you are, but in sharp contrast to their lookalikes, these slender masters of camouflage have a mouthful of needle-like teeth.
Up on terra firma