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The Coral Triangle

Aerial view of Rinca Island, Komodo National Park snorkeling tour coral triangle adventures

Thriving Reef Fragility in the Land of Dragons

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Colorful corals in shallow water photographed while snorkeling in in Komodo, coral triangle adventures

Colorful Shallows of Komodo

It has long been thought that coral reefs, one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems, are among the most fragile natural systems on Earth. The myriad creatures that compose reef food webs live in a very small range of temperatures and require quite specific habitats, food sources, and reproductive cues. Thousands of delicate species, such as sponges, corals, hydroids, anemones, bryozoans, echinoderms, tunicates, and more, strive to settle and suceed in shallow water where prevalent sunlight drives the reefs’ energy input. After snorkeling for years through the Coral Triangle we’ve wondered whether we should consider these reefs truly “fragile” or are they more robust as a whole then it appears?

Table corals photographed while snorkeling in in Komodo, coral triangle adventures

Table Corals Komodo

On Coral Triangle Adventures’ latest voyage through Komodo National Park we witnessed a plethora of amazing coral reefs growing within centimeters of the low tide line. Along with seagrass and mangrove habitats, large swaths of reef-building and soft corals served as home terratories for hundreds of small fish species, from the tiniest of gobies, blennies, damselfish, anthias, butterflyfish, angelfish, etc., to the larger Giant Trevally, Giant sweetlips, Napolean wrasse, and Bumphead parrotfish. Wherever we explored among the volcanic islands between Flores and Sumbawa, we saw health and vitality, though sometimes in stages of succession.

Reef diversity photographed while snorkeling in in Komodo, coral triangle adventures

Reef Diversity in Komodo

Change over time is constant and continual, that is for certain, but over the 15 years of snorkeling in this region we have perceived the reefs within Indonesia’s protected areas have not only withstood the beginnings of climate change but they seem to be flourishing. Yes, there are times when we come across localized Crown of Thorns outbreaks or bleaching events but those same reefs have virtually all returned to their splendid amalgamation of vibrant marine life. Of course we craft our snorkel sites to be in areas away from human population centers where overfishing and damaged reef communities would be more expected.

So the debate of whether coral reefs are truly fragile or robust is still in question but we believe that the two terms are not mutually exclusive. Reefs can be both, depending on the definition of the two terms. From our limited perspective of snorkeling through these magnificent underwater gardens we see many delicate individuals that compose vigorous underwater ecosystems. These natural marine systems, which have a long evolutionary history, may suffer setbacks over short periods but there is definitely the tendency for resilience and rapid recovery when geographically situated away from large human settlements. Reefs may have the potential for survival as climate change proceeds, though undoubtedly reef communities will look different. This is not by any means an argument against working towards slowing climate change but you could say we’re reasonably optimistic after we have witnessed so many outstanding coral reefs throughout this most recent Komodo trip.

Our next Komodo departure is in Sept, 2020!

Coral whip goby photographed by coral triangle adventures while snorkeling in Indonesia

Something fishy is going on in Eastern Indonesia

By The Coral Triangle, Trip Reports No Comments

 

I really enjoy the challenge of trying to take photos of colorful tropical fishes while snorkeling and free-diving. It began in 2012 when I started writing my first book on marine life that can be seen while snorkeling in the Philippines and continues to this day. Even years after finishing my second book, I still find myself challenged by capturing the ‘perfect’ image of some of the more colorful (and elusive) tropical fishes that inhabit diverse coral reefs.

The best places in the world to find these dazzling residents of the reef are, of course, in eastern Indonesia where locations such as Alor, the Banda Islands, and Raja Ampat exist. Below are just some of the photos I managed to capture while visiting these magnificent destinations.

A zebra dartfish photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Zebra Dartfish

Yellowtail wrasse photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

A juvenile yellowtail wrasse

Yellowtail Damsel photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Yellowtail Damsel

Yellow-spotted scorpionfish photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Yellow-spotted scorpion fish

Trumpetfish photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Trumpetfish

Threadfin anthias photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Threadfin Anthias (female)

Tailspot Blenny photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Tailspot Blenny

Spinecheek anemonefish photographed in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Spinecheek anemonefish

Regal Damoiselle photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Regal Damoiselle

Robust ghost pipefish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Robust ghost pipefish

Regal angelfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Regal Angelfish

Reef pipefish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Reef pipefish

Orange stripe goby photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Orange stripe Goby

Pinktail triggerfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Pinktail triggerfish

Orange shoulder surgeonfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Orange shoulder surgeonfish

Masked dottyback photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Maked dottyback

Mandarinfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Mandarinfish

Longnose filefish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Longnose filefish

Longnose butterflyfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Longnose butterflyfish

Juvenile star pufferfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Juvenile star pufferfish

Juvenile black snapper photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Juvenile black snapper

Flying gurnard photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Flying gurnard

Flagfin Goby photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Flagfin Goby

Emperor angelfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Emperor angelfish

Copper-banded coralfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Copper-banded coralfish

Clown triggerfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Clown triggerfish

Female blue devil photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Blue devil (female)

Clown blenny photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Clown blenny

Blue girdled angelfish photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Blue girdled angelfish

Male blue devil photographed while snorkeling in Indonesia by coral triangle adventures

Blue devil (male)

We plan to offer another Heart of the Coral Triangle snorkeling adventure in the near future, but in the meantime, we have full departures dedicated to just each specific location, their links are here:

Alor: https://coraltriangleadventures.com/alor-indonesia-may-5-18-2020/
Banda Islands: https://coraltriangleadventures.com/banda-islands-snorkeling-tour/banda-islands-snorkeling-tour-oct-25-nov-7-2021/
Raja Ampat: https://coraltriangleadventures.com/raja-ampat-snorkeling-tour/raja-ampat-snorkeling-tour-nov-22-dec-5-2020/

Komodo National Park

From Sea Slugs to Seascapes: Komodo National Park

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Bornella anguilla - coral triangle adventures

Nudibranchs…

By the end of the recent Coral Triangle Adventures trip to the Komodo National Park and surrounding islands the intrepid guests would have no doubts about the propriety of my self-designated “nerdibranch” moniker, as I effused endlessly about nudibranchs and other sea slugs. These shell-less relatives of snails exchanged the protective coverings of their ancestors for the deterrent effect of toxic or noxious chemicals. Many announce this line of defense to would-be predators with brilliant warning colors, a phenomenon known as aposomatic coloration, while others use camouflage to avoid detection. Despite their often-conspicuous markings, the small size of many nudibranchs and other sea slugs admittedly makes it challenging to find them while snorkeling. Understandably, the manta rays, giant cuttlefishes, sea snakes, and the dazzling diversity of tropical reef fishes observed in the Komodo NP area are well deserving of our guests’ attention and appreciation, but it can also be satisfying to occasionally engage in a sea slug scavenger hunt. Once a nudibranch is discovered one can then wonder at the other-worldly beauty of these sometimes-bizarre life-forms that seem like they would be more expected in the underground seas of Europa than in the oceans of our own planet. The bumpy Phyllidiids and the sea squirt-eating Nembrotha species were among the nudibranchs most commonly observed by guests on this recent trip. Highlights included Bornella anguilla, a psychedelic-patterned nudibranch that can swim like an eel, spotted by Ethan at Sangeang volcano, and a pair of leopard-spotted nudibranchs, Gonibranchus leopardus, observed at Satonda.

Lush reefs can be found throughout Komodo National Park - coral triangle adventures

Sunbeams…

But as a coral reef ecologist who has seen first-hand the devastation that coral bleaching, crown-of-thorns seastars, sedimentation, and overfishing have wreaked on reefs in some parts of the Indo-Pacific, the breathtaking undersea vistas we encountered were also soul-stirring. One could spend hours marveling not just at the myriad forms, colors, and behaviors of the reef’s denizens, but also at the enveloping beauty of the sites and sounds that wash over you. The dance of light on the seafloor; the extensive, tangled thickets of staghorn corals; the pulsing schools of irridescent Chromis; and the profusion of pops, snaps, and grunts visually and audibly announce to visitors that this reef community is thriving—and from the coalescence of these elements emerges the intangible, indescribable gestalt of a vibrant coral reef. These stunning seascapes manifest in innumerable forms, each influenced by the unique environmental conditions and assemblies of life found at each site. Beyond experiencing the spectacular beauty of hard coral-dominated reef areas one would expect from the Coral Triangle, like those at Gili Davat and Gili Banta, visitors to the Komodo NP and surrounding islands also get to take in the striking contrast of colorful hard and soft corals against the black sand at Sangeang volcano and wind between the astoundingly rich sea grass beds and mangroves of Tatawa. The beauty of these diverse habitats, and the profusion of life they support, are what draw us to Coral Triangle locales such as the Komodo National Park and surrounding islands. From sea slugs to seascapes, CTA’s Komodo trip has it all.

Porcelain crab photographed by coral triangle adventures

Crabs and anemones

By The Coral Triangle No Comments

 

Here’s a bit of reef irony, the porcelain crab (Neopetrolisthes maculatus) lives on carpet anemones where they can hide from potential predators. Their carapace protects them from the harmful nematocysts that might otherwise deliver a painful sting to the crab. Unlike most crabs, they do not scavenge for food, rather they have bristle-like hairs on modified appendages around the mouth that allows them to filter feed plankton. Their name derives from their desperate attempt to escape predators; they can detach their claws and leave them behind as decoys while they quickly retreat. Ultimately, they will regrow new claws. The crab, though is not one to run at the first sign of trouble. Along with any anemonefish that may share their host anemone, they will aid in protecting the anemone from predators such as butterflyfishes.

Boxer crab or pom pom crab photographed in Komodo National Park - Coral Triangle Adventures

A boxer crab

The porcelain crab, however, is not the only type of crab that has a relationship with sea anemones. The boxer crab (Lybia tessellata), sometimes referred to as the pom-pom crab, enjoys a symbiotic relationship as well, but quite opposite from that of the porcelain crab. Instead of residing inside the disc of a larger anemone, the tiny crab (a shell of just 2.5cm across) finds and uses even smaller anemones for his defense. By picking a single anemone in each claw, they effectively have a painful punch. Plus, they often strip the anemone for food if nothing is immediately available. It may sound like this is not the balanced relationship that the porcelain crab has with the anemone, but the anemones, being as small as they are, are easy prey for a lot of reef creatures such as fishes, shrimps, other crabs, and nudibranchs. If they remain sessile, they must find a spot that allows them to be exposed to good water flow so they can capture food and maximize gas exchange.

Researcher taking a photo ID of whale sharks in Donsol, Philippines. Coral Triangle Adventures

CTA supports Whale Shark Research in the Philippines

By Latest News, The Coral Triangle No Comments

 

Coral Triangle Adventures supports Whale Shark Research in the Philippines

Large Marine Vertebrates research Institute of the Philippines Logo - coral triangle adventuresPart of the origins of Coral Triangle Adventures began in the small, coastal village of Donsol, Sorsogon, Philippines. Dubbed the ‘whale shark capital of the world’, Donsol has been the place to go for exceptional encounters with whale sharks since the late 1990s. We have been bringing groups there for over a decade and over the years have grown to appreciate the local efforts to protect the whale shark and promote their conservation.

Working in the country since 2010, the Large Marine Vertebrate Research Institute of the Philippines (LAMAVE), registered as a Filipino non-profit NGO (non-government organization) to boost its work to promote conservation of marine biodiversity in the Philippines through scientific research. Of course, as their name implies, their main focus was, and still is, on the conservation of large marine animals such as whale sharks, rays, dolphins, and whales. Given their focus, the whale sharks of Donsol was an ideal place for them to learn more about the biology and ecology of whale sharks in the Philippines. They further compliment their scientific endeavors by providing their findings to local managers and also contribute as scientific advisors towards best management practices.

In 2016, CTA had a snorkeling trip to Sogod Bay, southern Leyte where we met up with our good friend Gonzalo Araujo, the executive director of LAMAVE. During his presentation, he talked about future projects in the Philippines and mentioned their proposal to study the movements of the whale sharks, in combination with the effort required by the local tour operators (in terms of time spent and distance traveled) to find whale sharks for their guests in Donsol. Their approach was elegant (as most good studies are); they wanted to secure 33 GPS trackers and place them on the 33 licensed tour boats that bring guests out to swim with the whale sharks. This would allow them to track the time spent and distance traveled for each boat and also get an idea of where whale sharks were spending their time during the day. At the time, the proposed research was in the funding stages and that’s where we came in :-)!

Given our close connectivity to LAMAVE, the focus subjects, and the community of Donsol, as well as our desire to see best management practices based on solid science, this was a no-brainer for us. We immediately decided to fund their work and helped them purchase the needed GPS trackers. The project is currently moving forward with great zest and we look forward to seeing the results. We are proud to support LAMAVE and their goals of increasing knowledge through scientific research, and are confident that it will lead to best management practices so that both the whale sharks and local stakeholders have a successful relationship for years to come.

Please click here to learn more about LAMAVE and how you can donate to their organization. In most cases, donations directly support local Filipino students and researchers in their endeavors to protect and conserve populations of large marine vertebrates in the Philippines.

Please also keep an eye out for our special Philippines snorkeling tour in 2020!

nembrotha kubaryana, Raja Ampat Indonesia, Coral triangle adventures

Surrounded by nudibranchs!

By The Coral Triangle No Comments

 

Setting up marine life ‘themes’ on our snorkeling tours is something we’ve been doing for many years. Whether it would be butterflyfish, scorpionfish, or shells the goal for us and the guests is to find and identify as many as we can during our snorkeling expedition. We then collect all of the photos and present them to everyone in a poster format. Raja Ampat has always been one of the best places for snorkelers to see nudibranchs. Many nudibranchs feed on tunicates, sponges, and cnidarians and in Raja Ampat many of these organisms can be found in high abundance in usually less than 0.5m of water! The poster was set up with 24 slots to be filled by the species that we find and photograph, and admittedly, in the beginning of the trip, 24 slots might have been a bit ambitious. I say this because the last time we did this poster, we found a total of 17 species of nudibranch and ended up including sea slugs to ‘beef up’ the number of sightings. At the end of this trip, however, 24 slots proved to not be enough! We saw a total of 31 different species of nudibranchs (true nudibranchs, so the number goes much higher if we include sap-sucking slugs, head-shield slugs, etc…). Raja Ampat always amazes us and never fails to raise the bar on so many levels. Here is the fruits of our labor, a full size poster of some of the more colorful and engaging nudibranchs found on shallow tropical reefs..

We visit Raja Ampat again in Jan 2019!

Juvenile ocellated parrotfish taken in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Being Juvenile in Raja Ampat

By The Coral Triangle No Comments

 

Snorkeling in Raja Ampat gives us the chance to see not only a huge diversity of adult reef fishes, but also dozens of juvenile fishes as well. Many juvenile reef fishes spend their ‘early years’ on shallow, protected reefs where they can hide amongst the variety of corals, sea grasses or mangroves. More often than not juveniles are more colorful than adults, or display color patterns that can be described as aposematic (warning colors), or mimic other fish as a potential defensive strategy. Here’s my collection (not complete by the way, there are just too many) of juvenile fishes we saw on our recent trip to Raja Ampat

Click on the photo to learn a bit more about juvenile coloration and behavior…

A juvenile regal angelfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile regal angelfish

A juvenile semicircle angelfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile semicircle angelfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

A juvenile twinspine angelfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile twinspine angelfish

A juvenile freckled hawkfish taken in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile freckled hawkfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

A juvenile sailfin tang photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile sailfin tang

A juvenile ornate butterflyfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile ornate butterflyfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

A juvenile pacific longnose parrotfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile parrotfish

A juvenile mimic surgeonfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile mimic surgeonfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

A juvenile leopard wrasse photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile leopard wrasse

Juvenile Javanese damselfish taken in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile java damsel

 

 

 

 

 

 

A juvenile yellow boxfish photographed in Raja Ampat, Coral Triangle Adventures

Juvenile yellow boxfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

We will be visiting Raja Ampat again for sure (click here for more information) and I am already excited to see many more of the juvenile fishes!

Being Juvenile in Belize

By The Coral Triangle, Trip Reports No Comments

 

After being away from the Caribbean for 20 years, I was incredibly excited for the return. Ironically it would be to Belize, the last place I had been in the Caribbean prior to moving the Indo West Pacific. Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, the Mesomaerican Barrier Reef (or Mayan Barrier Reef). My personal goal for the trip was to see the variety of colorful and amazing juvenile reef fishes, especially from the angelfishes, damselfishes, and the highlight, a juvenile spotted drum that can be found in the Caribbean Sea.

It is not exactly clear as to why many juvenile reef fish possess gaudy colors, patterns, or shapes. Perhaps it is a form of aposematic coloration, where the bright colors serve as warning to all predators that the potential prey item may be toxic. Or it could be some sort of camouflage, or simply a phenotypic display as a function of some other type of genetic combination that codes for a specific behavior. No matter the case, the end result for us is the chance to see rarer and more colorful versions of common reef fishes that we are excited to see on any given Caribbean reef.

Adult spotted drum photographed in Belize

Spotted drums…

Juvenile spotted drum photographed in Belize

Juvenile spotted drums…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A colorful rock beauty photographed in Belize

Adult rock beauties…

Juvenile rock beauty photographed in Belize

Juvenile rock beauty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adult blue tang photographed in Belize

Adult blue tangs…

Juvenile blue tang photographed in Belize

Juvenile blue tangs…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

yellowtail damselfish photographed in Belize

Adult yellowtail damselfish…

juvenile yellowtail damselfish photographed in Belize

Juvenile yellowtail…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

adult french angelfish photographed in Belize

Adult French angelfish

Semi-adult french angelifish photographed in Belize

Semi-adult french…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We will be visiting Belize again in 2018! I am already excited to see many more of the juvenile fishes of the Caribbean.

chocolate chip sea stars in Komodo National Park

Colors of Komodo

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Reef quid at night in Komodo National Park

A reef squid…

Color is a major part of what we, as snorkelers, experience in the underwater world, especially in coral reef ecosystems. As the various wavelengths of natural light reflect off shallow fish and invertebrates we are treated to a thousand different shade variations on color, more than one would ever hope to find at the Home Depot paint center. And, the colors are continually changing due to the diffusion of sunlight as well as the use of marine organisms’ chromatophores. During our latest trip in Komodo National Park we were treated to marine habitats and their inhabitants that displayed extraordinary colors so we thought a short blog devoted to color would be appropriate. From the ever-present anemonefish and their host anemones to Peacock mantis shrimp, vibrant nudibranchs of every shape, and hue-morphing cephalopods – squid, cuttlefish, and octopus, the many underwater habitats we explored were ripe with color. But, it wasn’t just the colors that made Komodo’s surrounding reefs so eye-popping, it was also the patterns, textures, and the behaviors associated with all the crazy vertebrates and invertebrates that thrive in this area. All in all, coral reef life is always depicted with bright colors yet Komodo’s marine organisms surpassed any expectation in regards to this. We cannot wait to get back to this part of the Lesser Sunda Islands to experience once again the layers upon layers of reef life and the underwater kaleidoscope there.

Peacock mantis shrimp photographed in Komodo National Park

A colorful peacock…

A feather duster worm in Komodo National Park

Feather duster worm

false clown anemonefish in Komodo National Park

False clown anemonefish…

typlical reef scene in Alor Indonesia

Fish Galore in Alor!

By The Coral Triangle No Comments
anthias hover above a colorful patch of coral in Alor, Indonesia

Anthias converge

The title really says it all. We have yet to visit a snorkeling destination where the reefs possess literally thousands of fish on any given snorkel. Sure, many of our destinations have snorkel sites that promise (and deliver) thousands of reef fish, but no one place be it Raja Ampat, Komodo, or even Palau can match the consistency and, at times, the number of reef fish on any site, at any time.

Blue-green chromis in Alor Indonesia

Chromis hover

We were flat out amazed every time we got in the water. Anthias and damselfishes, usual suspects along reef margins that catch a lot of current, were in concentrations that sometimes created a seemingly impenetrable wall in the water column. Snorkeling beneath the dense clouds fish would shade out the sunlight!

This was our second trip to the area and as we continue to learn more about it and the snorkeling opportunities that it offers, one thing seemed to be true: there are a lot of fish in the Alor archipelago and for anyone who loves to see colorful reefs alive with fish, visiting this destination should be at the top of the list. We cannot wait to return in 2018 to see fish galore in Alor!