cher chow 周馥溢

Amed’s mucky, sandy wonders

July 28, 2019

Amed has such a diversity of dive sites that the second half of my stay there looked dramatically different. If you haven’t seen the part 1 post on Amed, you’ll see the stark difference in the macro shooting at more “reefy” sites there. After my dive buddy left for Nusa Lembongan, I was stuck in limbo without another buddy of a similar certification level (I didn’t know that dive centers often pair buddies by experience and certification, which makes so much sense. I definitely recommend anyone on diving trips to request this if the dive centers don’t automatically do so!). So, lucky me, I had my incredible divemaster Bayu all to myself for the next two days. Read: dedicated critter searching with the House Reef/Muck all to ourselves!

After my first dives at the House Muck on my second day, I started getting the hang of the nuances of diving at basically the desert-equivalent of diving, especially when it came to octopus!

I kept finding these squat lobsters (Allogalathea elegans) in all the feather stars so I tried to shoot them as “elegansly” as possible.
It was so good to see this Reef Check regular here! A very whiskery banded coral shrimp.
Most octopuses were incredibly diver-averted. Such personalities.

The little frogfishes were some of my favorites seen at the House Muck Reef. Compared to the behemoths I saw at Bangka, these ones were marshmallow-sized at best, if marshmallows were fuzzy grumpy babies.

So….
grumpy!
Not all the frogfish in the region are as tiny as those in Tulamben!
Blue-eyed dirty cotton balls. Such unconventional cuteness in a small fish.
I actually came across this seahorse when I came too close to its tail while photographing the frogfish. It was so shy, hovering horizontally facing the black sand.
A more shy decorator crab than the one before, but still fully decked out.

Of course, the black sand being home to so many Costasiella kuroshimae nudibranchs meant that if I couldn’t find anything on my own, or if Bayu was working on his search magic, I was trying to get a good sheep face. I don’t think I could technically get to that level, but Bayu the next best thing– a party of sheep nudies! Both our eyes went huge behind our masks. I think I counted around fourteen just on that little blade. They also got busy. Similar to other nudibranchs, they lay their eggs in a concentric pattern, like a small labyrinth.

When divemasters find something interesting and point at it with their magic wands, you usually have an idea once you look harder. This Halimeda crab, was not. It was so well camouflaged I did not realize I was chasing a crab, not wave-tossed algae, until much later.
But best of all in the algae, were hairy shrimp! They were so small I thought it looked like.. underwater lint. This photo is already cropped! Just imagine this speck on top of the Halimeda crab above.
Luckily a much larger female was nearby too, and with eggs too!
The Indonesian long-arm octopus! This one had been elusive for days so it was great to finally meet one that would let me intrude for a minute or two.
An orange ladybug amphipod

The mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus), often confused with the wonderpus, was actually one I’d seen on almost every dive, but they’re incredibly fast and agile even with those long arms. Luckily, there weren’t any spare holes around for this one to escape into right away. They look really similar to the wonderpuses with the stark banding, but mimic octopuses are blurrier at their band edges. Shooting this one in black and white brought out the stark details against the black sand and looks even more enigmatic.

Between dives, I sipped lots of papaya ginger smoothies and Balinese coffee. Their coffee is truly a test of patience. I learned the hard way back in Bangka to never drink it right away or you would get a very exfoliating mouthful of grounds. Coffee aside, surface intervals were crazily picturesque.

A porcelain anemone crab, Neopetrolisthes maculosus

At first glance, sea hares are easily confused with nudibranchs, but you’ll find that they don’t have the protruding gills at the back like true nudies do. Sea hares definitely look more like their terrestrial slug counterparts, but this one was such a beautiful translucent amber and slightly pink! Lighting critters that are semi-opaque is quite tricky with strobes, especially when the surge was throwing me left and right.

I was absolutely in love with Bali’s dry season weather (a sort of winter?). But, because it was dry season, the wind started picking up and generated quite a bit of surge in the area above 10 meters. I thought I was comfortable shooting in the surge… until the sand and silt got kicked up all over the place, and I found myself watching nudies flop left and right like there was an invisible Hulk smashing them around. The nudie below looks tilted not because I wasn’t level with the bottom, but because this poor thing was getting Hulk smashed around by the surge. I had a good chuckle with myself in the regulator. In normal conditions, I’m still very slow and focused photographer (Hong Kong diving does that to you!), so I called the dive pretty soon after this sparkling nudie.

Batuniti

On my last day, all the divemasters and instructors at the center pooled together for a short boat trip up towards a site between Amed and Tulambed called Batuniti. It’s truly a muck site with a fine layer of silt covering everything but interestingly also had corals and sponges growing in sparse patches around. And it was covered in nudies.

Two extremely tiny sparkly grey nudibranchs.
The famed Pikachu nudibranch. I think Bayu had some sort of unspoken guarantee about getting divers Famous Nudies, and he was waiting my whole stay to show me this beautiful local celeb.

Flabbies! Their actual name is Flabellina sp. but divers just end up calling them flabbies. I prefer the nickname Hong Kong divers give this genus of nudies more though: hedgehogs, if hedgehogs were marine and tripped out.

Funnily enough, I actually saw this orange and blue hedgehog in Hong Kong right before my trip. During my last week of work with CityU the field team got bored out of our minds, and we were just laying on our aquaculture raft looking at the potato cods and damselfish. My coworker stumbled upon maybe ten of these hedgehog nudies nestled in the sponges growing on the sides of the raft, and it turned us all into kids around a tide pool. I actually gently transported one over to a dive site to give it a better life on some soft coral.

Eubranchus ocellatus. Bayu brings with him a slate to show me the names of everything he’s spotted, and this transparent nudie had a “Very Special” note next to it, double underlined.
I shit you not. This shrimp is called the sexy shrimp and is also named Thor (specifically Thor amboinensis). Don’t ask me why. All I saw was it dancing and bobbing with its high strung tail.

I generally omit a lot of photographs for missing focus by even a hair’s width, because in the world of macro shooting, sharpness down to micrometers reigns supreme. But, I couldn’t leave out this skeleton shrimp. If you look closer, there babies perched all over its pole-like torso. With the babies on board, the skeleton shrimp was extra defensive and would not stay put. Sometimes I do feel like I’m a sports photographer with a magnifying glass.

The harlequin crab, Lissocarcinis laevis
Ceratocoma teneu. Sometimes, you’ll find emperor shrimps taking a ride on these absolutely giant nudibranchs. It was so large that I had to switch over to shooting at 24mm to fit the whole slug into frame!

One of the biggest things I had to get used to transitioning from shooting with an Olympus TG-4 to my new setup with the Sony RX100 V (anyone want a gear breakdown??) was dealing with size limitations. The TG-4 is incredibly well-known for its nearly unlimited microscope mode, so nothing was too small for its lens (I’ve shot 0.5 mm nudi babies with them before. It’s really a magical compact camera.). I thought I’d seen the smallest of small, but sometimes, Bayu points things out to me that are hard to see with my own eyes. My duuuude. That is actually microscopic.

And this unknown nudi, let’s call it bubble wrap, was one of those insanely small critters he found. It was at most 3 mm long, and I just do not understand how super macro photographers go about shooting anything at this scale.
A school of eeltail catfish
The camera sensor could not do this fluorescent black coral justice, but it’s still one of my favorite shots from my last day of shooting. Who knew neon green crabs were so fun?

I said goodbye to everyone at the Two Fish dive center and left for Nusa Lembongan. It’s three and a half hours away from Amed for a completely opposite kind of diving– megafauna and wide angle everything. Mantas, huge reefs, and hoping for Mola mola‘s! The super blue photos are coming up next 🙂