This past trip to Mexico we made sure we went when the whale sharks are known to migrate to the warmer waters of the Mexican-Caribbean Sea, usually mid May to September. This photograph was taken by our guide from Ocean Tours, of my husband next to one of these gentle and giant whale sharks. Unfortunately I didn’t make it into many photos because every time I jumped into the water, I was immediately transfixed by the majestic creature in front of me, that I would forget to channel my inner Olympic swimmer to keep up with them! The bus-sized whale sharks were slowly cruising through the water, sucking up plankton without a care in sight, and even with their slow motions easily outswam us. I really enjoyed going on this tour because it felt like Mexican authorities really care about these mysterious beauties. There are many rules and regulations in place to make sure that people are not infringing on the whale sharks natural behaviors, feeding and migratory habits. They limit the season length, the number of boats, and allow only two people with a guide in the water with the shark at any time. They really want to make this a sustainable attraction, and I feel that many countries could use this as a great example that nature should be prioritized over fast monetary gain. Although I am not in any way a comfortable boat person, and after a while was “feeding the fishes” rather than swimming with them, I would recommend this fantastic experience to anyone.
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This furry little creature is called a Teddy Bear Crab because its body and legs are covered in fur (setae). You can imagine my surprise to find a crab covered in fur, but there are actually many different species of this little crab. I took this photo in a very shallow reef off the coast of Vanuatu (a pacific island nation about 3 hours flight from the east coast of Australia). This shallow reef was partly exposed each day at low tide and was a great place to observe and photograph many weird and wonderful sea critters. This particular crab is covered in fur to trap sand and sediment which help it camouflage itself on the sandy floor. Some species of this crab have been seen carrying around mini stinging anemones in their two front claws to present to any potential threats it might encounter. A very ingenuitive way of forcing other marine creatures to be portable body guards.
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So these little fish are more amazing than I ever knew. They live amongst anemone tentacles protected by a layer of mucous that covers their body. This symbiotic relationship means that clownfish are protected from predators, and get left over scraps of food from the anemone. In exchange the clownfish drive off intruders and keep the anemone clean of parasites. Interestingly all clownfish are born male, but the largest clownfish in a group is female. If she dies, her mate increases in size and transforms into a female and subsequently mates with the next largest male. It is thought that because adult clownfish rarely stray from their homes, this evolutionary trait ensures that there is always a female and a male in the small group.
This small coral structure looks like a beautiful underwater castle. It is a hard coral which is home to millions of teeny tiny individual polyps in a castle constructed out of calcium carbonate. Other likely residents within this castle are single-celled algae. The algae use energy from the sun to make sugars and fats which they share with the coral allowing it to grow faster. The coral animals also make waste which feeds the algae. Together they make a very large and happy family of teeny residents in a beautiful castle. They even have a blue Christmas tree worm as a pet in the yard!
Watching clownfish swimming amongst a brightly colored anemone has always been a magical moment of any snorkeling trip for me. This photo actually has three of them, with the two smaller ones safely hiding amongst the stinging tentacles of their home, whilst the leader boldly sizes me up. Its very cute to watch, and always brings a big smile to my face (which usually means my mask fills with water and I momentarily drown). Common clownfish are seen in warmer tropical waters ranging from eastern Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia. The fish in this photo call the waters around Malaysia their home. They are such a beautiful sight to see, that I get so very disappointed and angry to hear that their numbers are decreasing due to the demand of the pet trade. I can imagine for some, that it might seem nice to watch them swimming in a tank in your home, but isn’t it so much more exciting to spot them happily swimming in their home in the ocean?
Imagine your day job consisted of rebuilding your home from scratch every single day. That’s exactly what this crab, along with millions of other crabs are repetitively doing. They empty out their homes of the destruction the tide brings in with it each and every day. Some of these tiny little crabs get quite creative with their designs of rolled up little balls of sand. For this particular crab, he always exited his home on the right, and placed all the little balls on the left, and walked all the way around to place them on the outside, getting progressively further away from the entrance. Every single pattern of sand balls around the homes of these crabs looked different, as was each of their methods. Maybe they each have a plan that I cannot possibly understand. Has any individual crab ever tried to do it differently? Or each day, every individual repeats their own distinct pattern? I guess I will never know, but it always interesting to wonder.
I love snorkeling. Mostly because the ocean floor feels like a completely foreign world, with so many interesting landscapes and weird creatures to explore. Every reef I’ve been to is quite different and unique in its corals and wildlife. Even the same reef can look different every time you look at it, with new creatures every day. Sometimes I feel as though the creatures are watching me as much as I am watching them, looking at me like I’m out of place. Large schools of fish will cluster around you, or swim past you like a large shimmering wall, wondering what you are. They give you just enough space, so that you could not catch them if you are a predator. Smaller fish, which live in soft corals and anemones are very defensive about their little garden. They will face you, and even get a bit aggressive if you get too close. I give them plenty of space in the hope that they know I am just there to watch. Its a truly fascinating world, and I hope to see much more of it in future explorations.