Coral reefs are some of the most magical places to dive at. Coral reefs are home to countless colorful species and the warm waters make diving a pleasure. There are however many other environments that can be equally fascinating to dive in for a true naturalist diver. Such environments include kelp forests, Africas great lakes and northern cold water reefs. In this article we are going to focus on coral reefs since they remain the most popular places to dive. I do however want to recommend to everyone to try diving in other environments as well if you get the chance.
Coral reefs are present in tropical waters all over the world. A lot of reefs around the world have been damaged due to coral bleaching, destructive fishing and littering. There are however still a lot of healthy reefs out there to dive on and damaged reefs can be fascinating to dive on to. They also host a myriad of species and it can be fascinating to follow a reef and how it is recovering after a damaging event.
Thing to think about
There are some things you should always think about when diving on a reef.
- Many of the creatures on the reef such as sea fans and corals are slow growing. Great care has to be taken not to cause damage to the reef. A careless kick can break a coral structure that taken several hundred years to form. Stay a few meters of the reef until such time that you have acquired the skills necessary to swim closer without accidentally touching or kicking the reef.
- A lot of corals and other species on the reef are venomous and full of stinger cells that can burn your hands and skin if you touch them. Coral reefs are also home to many potentially deadly creatures. Potentially deadly species ranks from sea snakes to nudibranch species. Try to never touch anything on the reef. The risk to hurt yourself or the reef is to great.
- The first time you dive on a new reef we recommend that you simply swim around and let the sights overwhelm you. There is a reason that millions of people try to bring coral reefs into their homes in the form of reef aquariums. The multitude of species and colors will simply take your breath away and every time you dive on a new reef you will see new species that distracts you. After a few dives on a location you will likely start to get used to the easily spotted fauna and that is when you can start focusing on smaller things and discover new worlds on the reef.
- Remember that there still are a lot of species of fish that has not yet been described by science. If you find a species that you can not seem to find in literature or species databases such as fishbase it might be because the species hasn’t been described yet. If that is the case you might want to consider describing the species scientifically for a chance of immortality in the world of biology. There is nothing to prevent you from naming the species after yourself or a loved one. If you want to know more about describing a species I recommend that you read “Describing Species: Practical Taxonomic Procedure for Biologists” by Judith Winston (ISBN: 978-0-231-06825-3). I would like to encourage all naturalist divers to contribute pictures to fishbase to help build the biggest database of fish in the world. Fishbase is a cooperation between scientists and universities world wide.
The hidden Gems of the reef
With so much to see on the reef it is very easy to miss many of the hidden treasures that are all around. Among these treasures you find fascinating octopuses, menacing moray eels, colorful nudibranches, well hidden toadfish, delicate tubeworms and hidden crabs and shrimp. There are two main reasons that some species goes unnoticed to the untrained eye.
- They are small and can only been seen if you allow yourself to focus on a smaller section of the reef rather than the magnificent panorama views.
- They are well hidden and camouflaged. Some species can be hard to spot even though they are several meters long. Among these species you find moray eels. Gigantic eels are often hard to spot in their caves. Other fish like toad and frogfish melt seamlessly into the reef even though they are very colorful and when you spot one it can be hard to imagine that such a colorful creature can blend in so completely in their surroundings. The master of camouflage is the octopus that can sometimes be impossible to see from just a few inches away. Sometimes an entire section of rock just seems to come alive when a octopus decides to de-cloak and flee.
Finding the hidden gems often comes down to simply know where to look for them. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Don’t be in a hurry and allow yourself to focus on a small part of the reef. A regular diver often swims around on the reef. As a naturalist diver you might want to choose a spot and simple hover above it motionless. This will allow you to see small creatures and allow all the creatures that hide when you come swimming to come out again. Stay in the same spot at least 15 to 20 min.
- Bring a flashlight and always look in caves and crevices. Especially small caves can maintain species you seldom see out on the reef. Dark spots in larger caves are also often home to more secretive species.
- Learn how to diver deeper so that you can see species that are not present near the surface.
- Place yourself under an overhang with your back towards the surface and your face towards the overhang This allows you see species that hides in this protected spot and will also change and hide your silhouette so that reef will return to normal around you. This is not only a great way to see species hiding under the overhang but also to get to see larger shy species out and about. Spending an entire dive under one overhang can be a fantastic experience unlike any normal dive.
- Look deep into the corals. You might be surprise at the amount of live that dwells within each coral from ant sized shrimps to colorful crabs and small fish.
- If you have a favorite group of fish or other wildlife you should learn as much as possible about them to maximizes your chances of seeing them when you dive.
- Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Sometimes fish might lurk in the weirdest place. An example of this is a wrecked shipload of toilets that sits on the bottom of the Red Sea and that has create a environment where countless species thrive in the artificial caves the toilets create. Shipwrecks also usually become home to countless animals that seeks shelter and protection in the wreck. Diving in wrecks can be dangerous.