Get to know the fish and their habitats
Get to know the names of the fish and you will feel more connected. Linger at the reef to observe more closely and your experience becomes richer still. Species tend to have very specific habitat requirements and so are nearly always found in particular places on the reef.
Dr. Charles Anderson, the all-round Maldives marine life guru, gives the example of the triggerfish family. The Picasso triggerfish is found in lagoons, the orange-lined triggerfish on reef flats and along the reef edge, and the clown triggerfish on the reef slope. Red-toothed triggerfish are also found on the reef slope, but they are usually seen in large aggregations hovering in mid-water over areas of sand and rubble where they have their burrow.
In contrast the clown triggerfish is most often seen singly on coral areas. The titan triggerfish is seen most commonly along the reef edge and upper slope, but it is more wide ranging than other species and may be found anywhere from the lagoon to the lower slope. Triggerfish lay their eggs in burrows or crevices, which the parents defend.
After the coral bleaching event of 1998, divers started to complain about the absence of something that they hadn’t really noticed before or that they had taken for granted. The reef sides covered with broken grey corals was a desperate sight. There was a concern that a tipping point had been reached and the reefs would never recover.
But recover they have to prove their importance, their resilience and their beauty. A field of young, pink, soft coral swaying in the current is a new delight, as is pristine, white, juvenile hard coral, and new growth in the cracks of an ancient brain coral. You can read more about the diversity on the reef in the magic of snorkelling.
Interestingly, not every species that suffered has come back equally, and there are also new species not noted before.
Not every reef has returned strongly. It is a bit of a mystery why, but in general those under continued stress – from diving, resort building and sand pumping, for example – have struggled the most.
Drift diving often makes it difficult to look closely at the reef, but stop and look whenever you can, because invertebrates are a weird and funky family that will delight and repel you. A fascinating variety of shapes, textures and colours keep you guessing why they are as they are.
They far, far outnumber the fish. Molluscs, crustaceans, sea urchins, sea squirts, starfish, sponges, cucumbers, nudibranchs and on and on; the more you look the more pleasure you will get. The nudibranchs are the favourites of many a dive instructor and marine biologist. It’s as if every season’s Paris catwalk has been predicted in the colours and shapes of these beauties.