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THE MACRO LIFE OF WAKATOBIWakatobi Dive Resort has reefs to suit everyone. Snorkellers can see fishes up close and personal in the shallows, while divers easily burn through their 70-minute dives pouring over luscious coral growth deeper below the surface. The resort also offers rebreather diving, which is beyond my remit but sure to deliver mesmerising marine life encounters too. Whichever depth is your preference, macro life flourishes from the shallowest reefs to the deepest ridges.STARTING SMALL | Pygmy seahorses obviously initially attracted me to this remote corner of Indonesia. Wakatobi is one of the best places in the world to see these diminutive fishes. Three species are commonly encountered there: Bargibant’s, Denise’s and Pontoh’s. All of these are shorter than the diameter of a two pence coin, and Pontoh’s is even shorter than a five pence! Never fear, if critter spotting isn’t your forte, a knowledgeable and eagle-eyed guide, who will find a huge variety of macro life on your trip, leads each dive group. If there’s something you’d specifically like to see, within reason, you need just ask.
If the abundant pygmy seahorses are too small for you, then the reefs also accommodate multitudes of other macro critters. Pairs of Halimeda ghost pipefish blend effortlessly into their namesake algae; here even the weeds have eyes. Unlike their seahorse relatives, females brood developing eggs in fused pelvic fins (male seahorses brood their young in a pouch). If you see a pair of ghost pipefishes, keep an eye out for the larger female fanning open the paired fins on her belly. If you’re very lucky, you might just catch a glimpse of the eggs within. Another newly discovered member of the seahorse and pipefish family is the thread pipehorse, Kyonemichthys rumengani. It’s as long as a pygmy seahorse, but very much thinner, it’s hardly surprising that these fish went undiscovered for so long. Wakatobi is also a great spot for nudibranch aficionados. Year-round there are many species that you can find on the reef. It helps if you know their food sources, or have a good eye for these gaudy slugs.
There are also a variety of species that come and go seasonally, which makes sightings different each time you visit. Guides carry a slate and can often help with identification if you’re interested. This is true of any creature you see during your dives.
CRITTER HUNTINGEvery invertebrate at Wakatobi seems to accommodate a tiny hitchhiker; you just need to know where to look. Crinoids (also known as feather stars) accommodate a multitude of creatures from squat lobster to shrimps and even tiny clingfish. The nocturnal counterpart of the crinoid, the basket star, also has a stunning little shrimp hitchhiker, found only on their arms.
Most recently, the giant clams revealed their own residents in the form of jewel-like spotted shrimps living deep inside and exposed only to the most patient and observant of divers. The dive guides at Wakatobi are trained not just to help spot all these tiny creatures, but to assist with your interaction too. Sometimes it’s not the easiest trick to get in and have a proper look at the smallest animals. Your guide can provide a steady anchorage if you’d like to stabilise yourself, while they use a pointer to indicate the animal’s location. What I love about the guides is that they never manipulate or harm the creatures while showing it. If you’ve read my Critter Hunting series, you’ll know that I’m very much in favour of leaving animals undisturbed. I’m always so happy to dive with resorts that respect and value their marine life.