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Wakatobi Trip Reports

Keep the Wakatobi experience alive after you return home or build excitement for your upcoming adventure. Visit this page for regular reports from Wakatobi dive staff on recent marine life sightings.


Trip Report - (February 2011)
Report from Wakatobi Dive Centre

Did you know that more than 700 species of fish and more than 400 species of coral have been officially recorded at Wakatobi?

Diving along Starship wall and Fan 38 Wakatobi guests were able to spot Anthias, Butterflyfish, Triggerfish, Snappers, Wrasses, Parrotfishes, Angelfish, Lionfish and many more fish species' without moving more than 5mts!

Richard Smith photo

Richard Smith photo

According to marine biologists one can establish the health and diversity of the reef by the number of species of butterflyfish encountered. At Wakatob there's at least 40! - one of the highest numbers in the world!

Pyramid Butterflyfish - Richard Smith photo

Spot-tail Butterflyfish - Richard Smith photo

Spotbanded Butterflyfish - Ken Knezick photo

Some of the best spots to observe the different species and their behavior are cleaning stations - the one territory on a coral reef where so many species mix in harmony. The cleaning process includes the removal of parasites (both externally and internally), and can be done by different creatures such as cleaner shrimp or cleaner wrass.

Cleaner wrasse gills of puffer fish - Andrew Luff photo

Damselfish on Cleaning Station - Richard Smith photo

When fishes approach a cleaning station, they pose in a 'zen' kind of way, indicating to the cleaner fish that they want to be cleaned and pose no threat.

The cleaner fish then cleans the parasites from the fishes skin, even swimming into it's mouth and gills to complete this hygiene ritual. Even the most ferocious predators are docile at this time.

Slender Grouper cleaned by wrasse

Slender Grouper cleaned by wrasse

Cleaner fish portray some of the most conspicuous colors and patterns in the marine environment - one of them is even known as 'Cleaner Blue' by Scientists and is understood to be vital for fish to identify the cleaners.

Blue is the most spectrally contrasting color against coral reef backgrounds, whereas yellow is most contrasting against blue water backgrounds. Cleaner fish-such as wrasses-have a dark side stripe, accentuated by patches of blue and yellow which make them conspicuous and easy to distinguish on a coral reef, therefore attracting more clients to their stations.

Redbreasted splendour wrasse

Labroides dimidiatus

And its not only fish that do the cleaning! Cleaner Shrimp are also fixtures at cleaning stations. These shrimp advertise their services by waving their long antennae at passing fish, inviting them to stop for a clean. On sighting the cleaner shrimp waving madly, fish stop, open their mouths wide and invite the shrimp to enter their mouths to remove parasites, dead skin and bacteria.

Trumpetfish Cleaning Station - Ken Knezick photo

Shrimp Cleaner - Doug Richardson photo

Moray and Cleaner Shrimp - Anne Owen photo

Skunk Cleaner shrimp

Many of Wakatobi's cleaning stations can be found in the shallower areas of the reef, allowing divers to spend a long time observing.

Blacksaddle Grouper - Ken Knezick photo

At Table Coral City, some very busy Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasses were cleaning the vibrant Bignose Unicornfish, which was changing color (getting lighter) as the wrasses advertised, as if to show they were ready for cleaning.

unicornfish bignose - Paul Sutherland photo

Batfish cleaning

Later on the dive the same happened with Batfish, but this time the fish took on darker colours when approaching the cleaning station. Like the other fish, their 'trance-like' position was very different to when they are swimming along normally.

With the help of their private Dive Experience Managers, the guests observed more reef species and more varied marine life behavior than ever before.

diver cleaning station

divers watching cleaning behavior


Trip Report - (January 2011)
Report from Wakatobi Dive Centre

From the biggest to the smallest
The beginning of January 2011 - one dive!

Wakatobi's waters spoiled us with an even more astonishing variety of fish than usual. It is a perfect time to reflect on size.

Wakatobi residents and the smallest sea horses in the world: the Pygmy sea horse.

Richard Smith photo

Pygmy Seahorses were discovered for the first time when a specimen of a Gorgonian sea fan was brought into a science lab for research! Just like their larger cousin, the Pygmy Sea Horse belongs to the genus Hippocampus. Less than 2cm in size, this shy, miniscule, yet beautiful little fish is the smallest Seahorse in the world.

Richard Smith photo

Pygmies have an extraordinary ability to camouflage themselves with their host plant or animal, such as Gorgonians or algae and it requires a very good eye to spot them !! With the head of a horse, a tail like a monkey, a pouch like a kangaroo for carrying its young and an eye said to be like a chameleon, this is one of the favorite subjects of all for macro photographers!

Richard Smith photo

Although the Pygmy Seahorses make an excellent photographic subject that one could easily become obsessive about, they are hard to photograph perfectly. Pygmies are extremely delicate and can be easily harmed, damaged or even killed by a large camera strobe, so Photographers need to take their time, make sure they don't touch the habitat at all and limit the photographs they take. Pygmies can't close their eyes, so if you imagine being subjected to a powerful, blinding flash from something perhaps a hundred times bigger than you, to which you are forced to keep eyes wide open, you can imagine the impact our perfect photo can have on their eyes.

Richard Smith photo

Moving up in size, Giant Trevally, Big Eye Trevally (also known as Big Eye Jacks) and various other members of the family were hovering over the reef tops en masse. Giant Trevally are the largest members of the genus Caranx. This large marine fish can grow to a maximum size of 170cm and weigh 80kg.

James Watt photo

They are apex predators, meaning that they reside at the top of a long food chain, and have a crucial role in maintaining the health of their ecosystem.

James Watt photo

A Turtle pottered around the dive site, intrigued by the camera, unafraid.

Richard Smith photo

Did you know:-
Estimates of sexual maturity in sea turtles vary not only among species, but among different populations of the same species. Maturity has been quoted as ranging from as early as three years in hawksbills; 12 to 30 years in loggerheads; to 20 to 50 years in green sea turtles and sexual maturity is said to often relate to carapace size. Imagine, some turtles only become sexually mature at 30-50 years old!

Sea turtles lay their eggs in the sand and can lay over 100 eggs at a time. Turtle hatchlings are carried out to sea on ocean currents, and can travel thousands of miles before they are fully grown. When they reach breeding age, they return to the area where they hatched to lay their own eggs. Marine turtles breathe through lungs, coming to the surface to take oxygen. Many come to Wakatobi to lay their eggs and are not shy of the divers who share their waters with them.

Richard Smith photo

All species of sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered and the leatherback, Kemp's Ridley, and hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered. One of the most significant threats now comes from by-catch due to imprecise fishing methods. Long-lining has been identified as a major cause of accidental sea turtle death. Sea turtles must surface to breathe. Caught in a fisherman's net, they are unable to surface and thus suffocate.

Beach development, the black-market trade in eggs and meat and the black-market demand for tortoiseshell for both decoration and supposed health benefits make life a little precarious for these beautiful creatures.

And not to be outdone, from the smallest to the largest, the waters decided to spoiled us completely.

While surrounded by multicolored schools of fishes, admiring the amazing coral formations, about 10 meters away the largest fish on the aquatic realm cruised gently by : The magnificent Whale shark !!

Measuring up to 9 m long and weighing up to 25 tonnes, the whale shark is a slow-moving, plankton feeder. A whale shark is capable of diving to a depth of 700m/2300feet - but in Wakatobi, our big friend was cruising along with us at only 12m/40feet depth!

His skeleton, composed entirely of cartilage, and a tough, leathery, scaleless skin, attaches the whale shark to the family of sharks, while his enormous size attaches his name to the 'whales'. However, the whale shark is a fish, he "breathes" oxygen by filtering water through his gills, whereas a whale is a mammal who has lungs and breathes air. Unfortunately guests were so astonished, only one photo was taken!

Eric Cheng photo


Trip Report - (November 2010)
Report from Wakatobi Dive Centre

Stonefish shuffle themselves into the sand to look completely inconspicuous, revealing just a toothy frown and a pair of eyes. In the marine world, one commonly used survival tactic is Camouflage. Fish either use this to eat, or avoid been eaten. It's not only the tiny critters - some bigger creatures are hidden in plain view, right in front of our eyes. Guests in November concentrated on the various camouflage tactics of Wakatobi's common residents and share their collection of findings.

Stonefish shuffle themselves into the sand to look completely inconspicuous, revealing just a toothy frown and a pair of eyes.

Like Scorpionfish, Stonefish Synanceia verrucosa are ambush predators. They sit and wait, remaining motionless often for hours at a time. When a small fish swims past they open their huge, crooked mouth, and suck the unsuspecting fish, crustaceans or cephalopods in, whole, with lightning speed!

For defence, they have extremely poisonous spines running along their dorsal ridge. If stepped on, as a last resort to save themselves, the pressure squeezes the toxin out of the sack at the base of the spine.

Cuttlefish and cephalopods like the Cuttlefish, Octopus and Squid are the best colour changers in the world. Combining the use of Irridophore cells (to reflect ambient light - very much like little mirrors), Chromatophore cells (little bags of coloured pigments, which can be stretched or contracted, to achieve desired colours and patterns) and leucophore cells, this intelligent invertebrate changes colour for camouflage against predators,.. to be inconspicuous for hunting,.. and for complex communication with others.

Another well camouflaged animal is the Whip Coral Shrimp Pontonides unciger. This tiny shrimp is only found on the black coral (Whip coral) Cirripathes then camouflaged with polyps. They feed on parasites, algae and plankton. They are very looks similar to Zanzicar shrimp Dasycaris zanzibarica but they usually living over 30m/100ft deep and they have a bump on the head.

Trip Report - (September 2010)
Report from Wakatobi Dive Centre

In the Indo-Pacific, many animals have symbiotic relationships. Some hitchhikers find a host, often to go for a "free ride". Throughout September, this has showed itself time and again.

Photo by Luca Gialdini
Photo by Asti Livingston

The Longfin Batfish, (Platax teira) has two isopods near their eye. (Photo above left) The isopod (Anilocra nemipteri) attaches itself to their tissue to feed on leftovers from Batfish. They look mean, but will only leave few visible scars, so no harm done.

Photo by Luca Gialdini

Another free rider seen this month is the tiny emperor shrimp, (Periclimenes imperator), riding on the Granulated sea star (Photo above). The shrimp feeds the gastropod's fecal pellets - Lovely!

Photo by Walter and Josi Nihot

Arguably, the most well known hitchhiker is the Suckerfish, (Remora sp) (photo above and right. They love to attach themselves with larger marine life, such as turtle's, shark's or even divers! Different species grow to form 30 to 90 cm long (1-3 ft) and their head is a flat, oval sucking disk.

Photo by Rene Fritschi

Photo by Luca Gialdini

Photo by Luca Gialdini

With a passion for photographing the reefs "hard to find" critters, guest photographer Luca Gialdini was happy to get a great shot of a Harlequin Crab (Lissocarcinus laevis) beside an anemone. A few dives later, to his Surprise, his guides expert eyes spotted the same species on the tip of a soft coral. Only this time it was a Juvenile, around one tenth of the size! (Photo above right). They usually live in symbiosis with tube anemone or on the sand or rubble area, feeding on plankton.


Trip Report - (August 2010)
Report from Wakatobi Dive Centre

It's not only Divers that are attracted to Wakatobi's pristine and diverse underwater ecosystem. Over the last month, Wakatobi Dive Resort has hosted more than 27 snorkelers, some of these returning to the Resort for the second or third time!

Whilst husband and father Fabio enjoyed the scuba diving, two avid Italian snorkelers, Paola Ruggiero and her daughter Chiara explored Wakatobi's healthy shallow reef system. "Chiara and I are snorkelers; Fabio is a diver. Wakatobi is the perfect place for both and the only place we have ever found where the snorkeling and the diving are both so good. We were in the water all the time, there wasn't even enough time for reading!" said Paola.

Keen for new underwater experiences, Paola and Chiara were thrilled to be the first guests ever to try Wakatobi's Fluo Snorkeling experience. Aside from the abundant fluorescent corals, they saw Goatfish, Scorpionfish, Moray eels, slipper lobster and many more, all displaying their bright fluo colors!

"Fluo-snorkeling was really such a beautiful and special experience - so dark, the blue, blue light.. and a world of colors. We saw 2 big lobsters fluorescing orange, really close by, so we could see all the patterns on his shell. We saw a fluorescing orange Slipper Lobster, a fluorescent Scorpionfish with a bright orange fluo ball in the middle of his head! A world first! We saw a Crocodilefish fluorescing lime green - another world first, a moray eel brilliant yellow, tube worms, fluorescing like a Christmas decoration, really beautiful, in the middle of the sea grass - and all around the sea grass was a deep purple-red fluorescent - really so beautiful."
Paola Ruggiero August 2010


No El Nino @ Wakatobi
Report from Wakatobi Dive Centre - (June 2010)

At a time when the world is experiencing what's been called the worst 'El Nino' yet, Wakatobi's reefs are not only flourishing, but with the recent drop in water temperature last month, are thriving - the most rare of marine critters are suddenly repopulating the reef and numerous diverse marine creatures are reappearing en masse!

Severe coral reef bleaching and even mortality has been reported worldwide, from The Maldives to Thailand's outer islands; the Caribbean to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

The waters in Wakatobi have been warmer for a longer period than normal. Yet only this last month was a very tiny amount (less than 1%) of bleaching noticed over a huge area of many kilometres of coral reef. Now, with the drop in water temperature now, these few corals have an optimal chance of full recovery.

PEPPERED MORAY - (Siderea picta)
GIANT MORAY - (Gymnothorax javanicus)

ORNATE GHOST PIPEFISH - (Solenostomus paradoxus)
ROBUST GHOST PIPEFISH - (Solenostomus cyanopterus)

Not only are the corals doing fine, but it seems just a couple of degrees drop in temperature is all that is needed for Wakatobi already busy reefs to be flooded with new critters. Rare and wonderful marine animals are literally appearing out of nowhere! The waters are crystal clear. Wakatobis famous resident pygmy seahorses have gone from being present on 2-3 specific dive sites, to being visible on multiple dive sites, Ghost pipefish seem to have multiplied, hairy squat lobsters have come out of hiding... Orang-utang crabs are everywhere! All the sponges seem to have re-attracted their own moray eels. And numerous rare and unusual nudibrancs are visible at every turn.

ORANG UTAN CRAB - (Achaeus japonicus)

NUDIBRANCH - (Ardeadoris egretta)

PONTOH'S PYGMY SEAHORSE - (Hippocampus pontohi)

The reefs in Wakatobi are protected fiercely. Used as a baseline by Scientists as 'what coral reefs should be', they are so pristine, unaffected by pollution or damage and untouched, that they are in optimal health to begin with. Other than the warmer waters, there is absolutely no other risk factor to influence their survival. It looks like Wakatobi's protected haven, a 'coral reef oasis', is the very difference between life and death.

Wakatobi's Ultimate Macro Sites
Report from Wakatobi Dive Centre - (June 2010)

During a dive to one of Wakatobi's ultimate macro sites, Kollo Soha Beach, a special creature decided to make an appearance. First discovered in Wakatobi in 1999 by the resorts Founder Lorenz, in the center of a large red Gorgonian in the midst of a hydrozoa on the gorgonian, and next identified off Bunaken Island in 2002, the extremely rare and cryptic Brown Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus Severnsi), was discovered by one lucky Guest, Shaowen Lin.

In just 9m/27ft depth, camouflaged amongst the Halimeda algae, this tiny member of the Syngnathid family was seen actively jumping around in front of our very eyes. Shaowen hovered motionless with his private guide, before snapping this fantastic shot of the Pygmy, perched atop a Halimeda branch.

It was also a busy week for the Anemone fish. Beside the Anemones, many eggs were seen. The caring parents use their fins to bring fresh water to the eggs, removing debris and dead eggs with their mouth with great precision, and keeping other fish away. This close up shot is of a cluster of Clark's Anemone fish eggs.

At the Dive Site, Dunia Baru, we found beautiful Pinnate Batfish juveniles (Platax pinnatus), hiding between in the Cabbage coral. This picture shown is a large juvenile with a brilliant orange margin around body, already with the white bar of its adult stage appearing on the side.

All photo are taken by Shaowen Lin at Wakatobi Dive Resort this week. Thank you very much for sharing your great photos!!

Brown Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus Severnsi)

Clark's Anemone fish eggs

Pinnate Batfish juveniles (Platax pinnatus)

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