The Coral Triangle

Porcelain crab photographed by coral triangle adventures

Crabs and anemones

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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

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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!

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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

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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

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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!

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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!

A colorful bristle worm at night in Palau

The Worms Came Out at Night in Palau

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Bristle worm near the surface on a night snorkel in Palau

Bristle worms are

Ok, so I’m probably overemphasizing the worm density in Palau’s inner lagoon waters but I needed to grab your attention. In early April, Coral Triangle Adventures had a chance to explore the various marine environments throughout Palau’s amazing archipelago. During the trip we were able to do a couple of night snorkels during which a plethora of bristle worms showed up. These beautiful, nocturnal polychaetes have adapted to virtually every imaginable marine habitat around the world and we were treated to at least one unidentified species with beautiful iridescent coloration. Bristle worms have a bizarre head, tail, and segmented body with each segment containing spiny bristles. The bristles not only help the animal to crawl and swim but also make it difficult for predators to swallow, though none of us in the water decided to test this attribute.

Big fin reef squid visits during a night snorkel in Palau

Also out at night were Big-fin reef squid. Our lights seemed to mesmerize these gorgeous cephalopods that hovered in shallow water and allowed close inspection of their alien-like morphology. Overall, our night snorkels turned up a lot of interesting marine life that were often out of sight during diurnal hours. We can’t wait to do more night explorations on upcoming CTA trips!

butterflyfishes of palau, a poster by lee goldman and coral triangle adventures

Butterflyfishes of Palau

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Butterflyfishes are some of the most popular reef fishes in the world. They are colorful, active during the day, and can be found on shallow reefs in a variety of marine habitats. Palau has 35 species of butterflyfishes and most are easily accessible for snorkelers. Our goal on our recent snorkeling trip was to see as many as we can and make a poster of those we saw.

butterflyfishes of palau poster

Butterflyfishes of Palau

I built the poster template that included 24 spaces, and off we went to collect our photos. After the first snorkeling, I realized we might have a problem. We had 24 spaces available, but the accessibility to butterflyfishes in Palau is so incredible that we could have made most of the total number without much stress! In the end, we decided to have the poster revolve around butterflyfishes in the genus Chaetodon, forgoing the inclusion of the bannerfishes (genus Heniochus), but did include the long-nose butterflyfish (Forciper flavissimus) and the ever abundant pyramid butterflyfish (Hemitaurichthys polylepis).

Our poster turned out to be pretty good! We photographed almost all of the butterflyfishes in the genus Chaetodon (missing out on the deep dwelling C. burgessi for obvious reasons) and a couple of others for lack of sightings. Not too bad for 10 days of snorkeling and we cannot wait to return in 2019 to build another poster, this time perhaps making it a bit larger…

The poster measures 28 x 42 and is about 5 MB in size. Click on the image to download…

Green colonial tunicates photographed in Raja Ampat

Alyui Bay, Raja Ampat

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Nembrotha kubaryana photographed in Raja Ampat

Kubaryana’s nudibranch

The February/March 2017 Coral Triangle Adventures trip to Raja Ampat brought the group of intrepid snorkelers up close and personal to a stunning array of coral reef habitats, and to the myriad marine creatures that can be found in each. While these distinctive reefscapes – from clear water mangroves skirted by lush hard and soft corals to walls steeply plunging from just a few feet below the surface – each possessed its own appeal, the reef encounters in Alyui Bay, in western Waigeo, seemed to generate the most discussion. So what makes Alyui Bay so special? I could, of course, mention unforgettable encounters with tassled wobbegongs, Raja epaulette sharks, Pewter’s angelfish, seahorses, and spiny devilfish, but more than the sum of its parts, Alyui Bay allows snorkelers to experience unique assemblages of marine life in a mosaic of reef environments like no other. Beyond the allure of its more charismatic fauna, snorkelers are also awed by the kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and patterns painted on the steep slopes they drift along. The visually rich seascape is a patchwork of hard and soft corals, sponges, and sea squirts, with colorful anthias and damselfishes hovering above the seafloor and sweetlips, butterflyfishes, and angelfishes moving among the corals below. When peering more intently into the reef, snorkelers are treated with macro life encounters typically experienced only by divers, such as brilliant yellow wentletrap snails feeding on the sun-burst orange polyps of cup corals, the glowing green fluorescence of moon corals, or the elegant hues of a splendid dottyback. But not all of the bay’s inhabitants are so flamboyant, instead living a stealthier existence – a scorpionfish donning the palette of its surroundings or a stonefish buried eyes-deep in the sand. Also notable are the large black corals that in most reef environments occur much deeper than even divers typically venture, but in Alyui Bay snorkelers have to carefully maneuver around large colonies that nearly reach the surface. These special corals, their name owing to the dark coloration of their flexible and spiny skeleton, often have lightly-colored polyps, with some especially beautiful white colonies resembling wispy, snow-dusted saplings. Snorkelers are also likely to see an abundance of my personal favorite type of marine creature…nudibranchs! These garish sea slugs are commonly found in the shallow waters of Alyui Bay, with the some of the more colorful (and relatively easy to see) sponge- and sea squirt-eating varieties frequently spotted along steep, current-swept walls.

Orange-banded butterflyfish (Cordon chrysozonus) photographed in Raja Ampat

Orange-banded butterflyfish

While I can’t claim to be an expert on the area, I suspect the rewarding snorkeling experiences of Alyui Bay ultimately result from the bay’s geology, biogeography, nutrient-rich waters, and tidal currents. The sites in Alyui Bay visited by CTA are set far enough away from the bay’s headwaters to avoid excessive sedimentation but close enough to benefit from the organic matter and nutrients that make their way into the bay through rivers that drain the vast watershed. The tidal currents gain speed as they move through narrow passes, bringing this abundance of food to the millions of tiny mouths that populate these well-fed reef communities. The steep terrain above and below the water line creates a partially shaded environment, with even less light making it into the narrower passes between the tall, steep-sided islands. Enough light is still present

Corkscrew wire coral (Cirripathes spiralis) photographed in Raja Ampat

Corkscrew wire coral

to allow a diverse community of hard corals to occur at many sites, but the usually prolific growth of branching and plating corals that dominate the more light-drenched reefs is tempered by the shade, making way for a menagerie of sponges, sea squirts and other types of shade-tolerant benthic organisms.

But all of this is really just a taste of what Alyui Bay has to offer. There is much more to discover in Alyui Bay, and with each visit snorkelers are rewarded with new, memorable experiences.

Join us for more adventures in Raja Ampat on our 2018 departures! Click here for more information.