Ho`okena Beach Park

On Saturday Marla and I met up with our buddies Jeff and Sandra for a snorkel at Ho`okena Beach Park.  Ho`okena is almost two hours south of us, and we don’t get down there much, but it’s one of the Big Island’s premier snorkeling sites. Here you can find fish species—Potter’s angelfish, flame angelfish, Hawaiian garden eel—at snorkeling depths that are only found at greater depths at other sites.  Jeff and Sandra are much more familiar with this site than we are, so they gave us a tour.  It was quite productive…

Flame angelfish are something of a Holy Grail for Hawaiian snorkelers, and are regarded as a nice find even for scuba divers. Jeff took us out to where they’re usually found and sure enough, we quickly spotted a pair of these shy little beauties. Water depth was around fifteen feet.

Gilded triggerfish spend most of their time midwater in water depths of thirty feet or greater (at least according to Hoover).  This handsome male was in about twenty feet.  We see gildeds at similar depths at Mahukona.

This is a male bridled triggerfish. A not uncommon, but uncommonly camera-shy species, at least wherever I’ve seen it. I managed to get close enough to this guy for a reasonable photo. Maybe he was distracted—notice (click on the photo) how his eye is directed backward as if maybe it thinks he’s being followed.

Bali—anemones and friends

The relationship between certain tropical sea anemones and the group of damselfish called anemonefish is a textbook example of symbiosis.  It’s not clear if the relationship is commensal (only one of the participants benefits) or mutualistic (both participants benefit).  It is clear that anemones provide shelter to the fish, who are immune to the anemone’s poisonous stings—anemonefish are virtually never seen away from their invertebrate hosts.  Benefits to the anemones is less obvious, but there’s evidence that they receive nutrition from the fish’s waste (both feces and food scraps) as well as protection from certain species of butterflyfish that eat the anemones.  It’s also been speculated that movement of the fish within the anemones’ tentacles helps clean and feed the anemone.  And there may be other benefits to either or both species.

Balinese reefs are home to at least ten species of anemonefish, offering abundant opportunities to observe this fascinating interaction.  I posted photos of four anemonefish species in my 12/24/17 post.  On our most recent trip we spotted two additional species.  But anemonefish are not the only animals that cohabit with anemones…

This is a magnificent sea anemone (I’m not being descriptive—that’s the common name of this species) in about 25 feet of water at Tulamben. The purple bulb is its “column,” the base of the animal from which the tentacles protrude. It’s hosting a family of pink anemonefish (again, the name of this fish species).

A closer look at a pink anemonefish.

We found this anemone on a sandy bottom about 20 feet deep right off the beach in Pemuteran. The little brown fish sheltering around the anemone are Moluccan cardinalfish. The larger fish are juvenile saddleback anemonefish, a new species for me.

The adult saddlebacks left the protection of the anemone when I approached, instead choosing to swim up into the water column and attempt to chase me away.

Here’s a false clown anemonefish at about 40 feet at Menjangan. Fortunately, Marla went in for a closer look. The two photos below show what she found.

Marla spotted this gorgeous little anemone shrimp—about an inch in total length—sitting on the anemone’s oral orifice (that’s mouth to you). I can’t get over the delicate beauty of this tiny animal. What purpose do the cobalt color highlights serve (other than to provide a lovely contrast to the anemone’s green)? Why is most of the body transparent and how does it do that? What is this thing doing there, anyway? If you look closely (click on photo) you can see an egg cluster inside the transparent abdomen. It’s a girl shrimp!

Okay, let’s go back to our childhood—Highlights for Children magazine in the dentist’s office. Remember the feature with two nearly identical pictures challenging the reader to find the differences? So, what’s the difference between this photo and the previous one, taken seconds earlier? The answer is easy. The little shrimp has two sets of pincers (“chelae” as the zoologists call them). All four chelae are extended in the first photo, but only three are in the second photo. In the second photo the shrimp has moved one of its smaller chelae to its mouth—it’s eating! Whether or not it was aware of the giant ogre with a camera leering over it, this tiny creature took this moment to decide to have something to eat. (Yeah, maybe too much anthropomorphism here.) The thought of it gives me mental vertigo.


Back to Bali

Marla and I just returned from a fantastic three-week trip to Bali.  Like last year, our primary objective was to get in as much diving and snorkeling as we could while enjoying Bali’s delightful people and culture.  Like last trip, we divided most of our time between Amed on Bali’s northeast coast and Pemuteran—with day trips to nearby Menjangan Island—on the northwest coast.  Both of these face the warm, calm Java Sea.  On this trip we added a couple of days in Padangbai, which faces the colder, wilder Indian Ocean.  There were also the mandatory couple of days in Ubud, often described as the cultural heart of Bali, the setting for the novel and movie Eat, Pray Love.  For Philistines like us it’s more like Eat, Pay, Leave. (Actually, we quite like Ubud despite its crowds and touristiness.)

I took a lot of photos of a lot of different species of fish and invertebrate.  I’ll restrict myself to just a couple of posts though.  Well, maybe three.  Four, tops.  Starting with this  selection of a few of my favorites:

Golden damselfish like this one at Menjangan were common pretty much everywhere we dove or snorkeled in Bali. Like many of its damselfish brethren, this species is not shy. It will rush at intruding divers in an apparent effort to drive them out of its territory. Or maybe just out of curiosity.  In contrast to most divers and underwater photographers, I have a thing for damselfish.  They’re a diverse, abundant, and beautiful group. Most divers seem to forsake the lovely and common for the rarer, usually weirder-looking trophy fish.  I like the latter group too, and will post some of them later.

We spotted this dwarf hawkfish at about forty feet in Pemuteran. It shares those peculiar dorsal fin fringes with some of its Hawaiian relatives that show up elsewhere in this blog.  As far as I know, this fish is not common.

A small blacktip grouper staring me down at Pemuteran. The common name comes—duh—from the black tips of the dorsal fin.

We saw these young golden spadefish snorkeling at Jemeluk on the Amed coast. Spadefish, also known as batfish, are quite common on Balinese reefs. Hovering midwater, they’re the picture of serenity.

This splendid creature is a tasseled scorpionfish, among the more common of several scorpionfish species in Bali. This one was at Jemeluk, also photographed while we snokeled.

A school of oriental sweetlips at the Liberty Wreck in Tulamben, a few miles up the coast from Amed. These and other similar looking species of sweetlips and fixtures throughout the Indopacific.

One of the best dives of our trip was at a site called Liberty Dropoff in Tulamben. A highlight was this enormous school of yellowstripe scad. I was able to swim right up to them as they milled in a dense ball maybe twenty feet in diameter consisting of at least several hundred fish.




More from Paniau

Some more of what we saw at Paniau last weekend.

Early in the dive I came upon two enormous yellowmargin morays poking their heads out from recesses in the reef at about forty feet. These are among Hawaii’s most common morays, and one of the two most likely to be seen during the day. If you click on the photo you can see the two sets of nostrils found on this and other moray species. (The second is over the eyes.) And, yes, I got pretty close to those teeth for this photo. These guys are supposed to be safe to approach.

Spotfin squirrelfish were all over the place on this dive. This is the only Hawaiian squirrelfish that is not red—at least not in the daytime. Hoover says they are absent at most reefs in Hawaii. I’ve seen them at most of the spots I’ve dived or snorkeled in North Kohala, but they’ve usually been hunkering in dark recesses rather than in the open as in this photo.


Tobies, turtles, psychedelics

Marla and I had a couple of great dives last weekend with Blue Wilderness.  The crew were very knowledgeable about fish and showed us some really nice stuff.  We went to two South Kohala sites, both off Puako:  Twin Peaks and Paniau.  Paniau, a fairly deep dive, was especially interesting.  I had a lot of fun with my “better” camera: a Sony RX100V with housing.

A lantern toby nervously keeping an eye on me as it moves off. This new-to-me fish was at about 70 feet at Paniau. Hoover calls this little puffer “uncommon.”  Kevin, our boat’s captain, says they’re fairly common around Puako.

A little better look at this pretty but cartoonish-looking little fish. The fish was solitary, which Hoover says is usually the case with this species.  Most other tobies—such as the crowned tobies in an earlier post—usually occur in pairs.

To this fish geek’s delight, there were two tiny psychedelic wrasses directly below the boat at Twin Peaks. I was surprised to see that individuals this size—under two inches long—already had adult female coloration. Like most juvenile wrasses, these fish were in almost constant motion and were damned hard to photograph.

Here’s an even smaller psychedelic at Paniau. This one still has most of its juvenile coloration but the caudal (tail) fin is just starting to turn from the juvenile white to the adult red. Again, a fish geek’s delight.

Puako is full of turtles. This one is at a cleaning station—the little cleaner wrasses and raccoon butterflyfish in this photo are here to clean the algal growth and parasites off this big fellow.

Eye to eye with another turtle at Paniau. What’s going on behind this placid fellow’s eye? My guess is not too much, but what do I know.

More to follow…

Los Arcos

Marla and I spent some time in Mexico last month, including a few days in Puerto Vallarta, a pretty resort town about half way down Mexico’s Pacific coast.  A few miles south of town lie a handful of small offshore islands known as Los Arcos—the arches.  The name comes from the fact that two of the islands form natural rock arches surrounding cavernous tunnels created through erosion over the eons.

One morning we booked a boat ride with a local dive outfit—Chico’s Dive Shop—to this popular dive/snorkel site.  We spent more than two hours snorkeling around three of the islands.  The water was not as clear as in Hawaii, but there were plenty of fish.  Most of the species we saw looked sort of familiar, but not exactly like anything from Hawaii.  Hawaiian reef fish communities share more species with the Central and Western Pacific than with the Eastern Pacific, a reflection of the vast, relatively island-free expanse of ocean separating the Americas from the major Pacific island groups and Asia.  There is at least one good book on tropical Eastern Pacific reef fish identification, but I don’t own it, so I had to resort to the web for fish IDs, and some species we saw went unidentified.  None of the fish shown below are found in Hawaii or the Western Pacific.

The Los Arcos islands can get quite crowded with tour boats. Here you can see boats moored in front of the entrances to the tunnels that bisect the two largest islands. We swam through both tunnels.

The best fish we saw on our snorkel, and also one of the smallest. This red head goby, maybe an inch long, was hunkering under a ledge a few feet below the surface. I only spotted it because of its bright red head.

A palenose, or freckled, moray (Echidna nocturna). We saw at least three of these handsome eels.

Marla spotted this jewel moray (Muraena lentiginosa), a normally nocturnal species.







Giant damselfish are a among the most common fish at Los Arcos.  Like many damselfish species, they can be quite aggressive.

Spotted or tiger snake eel.  Not to be confused with the tiger snake moray found in Hawaii.  The tiger snake eel seems to be quite common around PV—I saw three during our snorkel.








The terrestrial biota were also interesting. This spiny iguana had gotten itself lost on a very urban Puerto Vallarta street. I caught it and brought it to the to the well-vegetated grounds of our hotel. It didn’t seem very grateful, but it posed for this photo as it recovered from its ordeal.


They’re back

We returned from a trip to Mexico (more on that later) last week, just in time for Hurricane Lane.  Finally got back in the water at Mahukona yesterday.  The park was still closed due to the hurricane, so we had to walk in.  The short walk from up near the highway dissuades most visitors (or could it be the prominent “Park Closed” sign?), so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.  Conditions were great, considering that a class three hurricane had been less than a hundred miles offshore just a day or two earlier.  As soon as we jumped in at the swim ladder my eagle-eyed wife called to me. She’d spotted a pair of juvenile threadfin jacks, also known as African pompano.  These infrequent visitors are among our favorite fish, and their appearance always occasions excitement.  We had only planned to swim, not snorkel, so we didn’t have fins.  But I was packing my trusty little Olympus camera, so managed a photo.

These little guys seem to like it in the murky surge channel right in front of the swim ladder. Since the park was closed there were no thrashing kids to spook them.  The timing of the threadfins’ appearance—late August—is consistent with previous years’ timing, although we sometimes see them in other months.

The threadfin jacks weren’t the only pleasant surprise—these two bandtail goatfish were also hanging around in the surge channel. Hoover calls these fish “uncommon” and I concur. We’ve seen them a couple of times at Hapuna, and once on Lanai, but never at Mahukona. They apparently prefer shallow, sandy areas, something Mahukona does not provide. I can’t help but wonder if their appearance here has something to do with the hurricane.  I like the open-mouth, extended-barbel pose of the fish on the right.