The underwater critters of Samal

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Saturday, June 14, 2014


THERE is something about underwater and photography that keeps you going back for more. As is often said, it’s always a new dive. Never mind if you are diving in one place over and over again.

Underwater critters recognize no territory or space, and so they will be there today and gone tomorrow, and show not a sign of its presence today and come in droves a year later. For example, just last year, Dayang Beach in the Talikud Island of the Island Garden City of Samal had lots of harlequin shrimps (Hymenocera picta). Now, we can’t find even one.

We particularly like the sandy bottom of Dayang Beach, just off Babusanta, which the regular divers may shun simply because if you’re not out critter-hunting and do not know what you are looking for, sandy bottoms will look like such a bore. It’s a long sloping stretch down there with just bits and pieces of coral rocks. It’s definitely not a coral garden, nothing to ooh-and-ahhh about. But for those who know, even a sandy bottom (or rubbles or muck) hold a world that is just as fascinating.

In this kind of site, your imagination and sight is stretched to its limits as you single out well-camouflaged critters from its habitats, like my first-ever spiny tiger shrimp (Phyllognathia ceratophthalmus).

Unlike the shrimp that lands on your plate all curled up and pink, tiger shrimps are a cute study of lines and colors; spiky with a predominantly white body with tiny yellow, orange, and blue dots, you either study hard their habitat to recognize where they are hiding, or get a good spotter to spot them for you. We had Maeng that day, and he spots well, thus even though it was relatively quiet in terms of critter presence on that way, he still managed to find us a tiger shrimp hidden in a crack of a coral rock.

I also caught my favorite flounder (Bothus mancus), the flat fish that blends well in the sand and whose only giveaway is a pair of eyes checking you out this way and that like a periscope.

We found a couple of coleman shrimps (Periclimenes colemani) too, in its usual hiding place – the fire urchin, and one robust ghost pipe fish (Solenostomus cyanopterus)that found some fascination on my camera lens, I got several close-up shots of its face as it was peering at me.

The dive was topped with a tiny fingered dragonet (Dactolypus dactolypus) that was well camouflaged in the white sand and tiny leaves of sea grasses.

All throughout were tiny colonies of cardinals and damsels gathered around tiny outcrops of coral rocks, breaking the otherwise monotonous underwater terrain and putting in some obvious movements far different from the nearly invisible camouflaged critters that lurk around.

By the way, we’re not trying to be geeky when we put scientific names never mind if it does sound like that. In identifying species, it’s best to attach the scientific names because these remain constant wherever the species is found. Common names change depending on where you are, what the language is, and even who gave the nickname.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 15, 2014.

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