The Magic Show

Published July 27, 2016 in DIVE YACHT, DIVING & SNORKELING

A cruise aboard the dive yacht Pelagian is a ticket to some of nature’s most memorable underwater experiences

The setting sun ignites the western sky in shades of orange and red as you step into the dive tender, ready to embark on a long-anticipated adventure. As always, the crew has your dive kit secured, and all you need do is make final adjustments during the short ride towards shore. Adjacent to a concrete pier, you roll overboard to discover a shallow coral plateau that slopes gently downward from a depth of five meters. You level off a meter above the bottom, and begin a slow swim along the underwater structure of the pier. At first there’s nothing, just a few unremarkable coral heads scattered among the rocks and sand. Then you see them. Though scarcely 6 cm in length, there’s no missing the half dozen small fish that hover over a pile of coral rubble. They display a riot of colors: vivid blues, bright yellows and oranges, electric greens and purples, all mixing together in swirls, stripes and spots, as if graffitied by an abstract artist.

Another highlight to the unique marinelife found at Magic Pier include blue-ringed octopus, which often reveal themselves with a flash of their neon blue rings. Photo by Nigel Wade

Another highlight to the unique marinelife found at Magic Pier include blue-ringed octopus, which often reveal themselves with a flash of their neon blue rings. Photo by Nigel Wade

From the pre-dive briefing, you recognize this as a group of male mandarinfish. They jostle among themselves, their enlarged pelvic fins fluttering like hummingbird wings. As you settle in to watch, a pair of slightly smaller mandarinfish come into view, and the males take immediate notice. The ladies have arrived, and the show begins. The males swirl about, strutting their stuff, and two lucky bachelors are singled out for companionship. Two females nestle up to a larger male’s extended pelvic fin, as if taking his arm. The mandarinfish then align themselves belly-to-belly and begin a slow, swirling dance that caries them upward a meter above the reef. At the apex of their ascent, they release simultaneous clouds of egg and sperm into the water. The dance is done, but the show has just begun.

Among the nocturnal cast of characters at sites like Magic Pier are white-eyed eels, which entertain with their comical expression and buggy white eyes. Photo by Nigel Wade

Among the cast of characters at sites like Magic Pier are white-eyed eels, which entertain with their comical expression and buggy white eyes. Photo by Nigel Wade

Cast of characters

This dive site, known as Magic Pier, is famous for the courtship displays staged by amorous mandarinfish each evening, and that alone is reason enough to visit this otherwise unremarkable bit of sea floor. But there’s more. As dusk turns to full darkness, dive lights are switched on to reveal a nocturnal cast of characters. White-eyed, moray and Napoleon snake eels slither through gaps in the coral rubble, bizarre mantis shrimp emerge from their burrows, their eerie, chromium-tinged eyes reflecting in the beam of your light. A pile of sediment seems to move, then reveals itself as a perfectly-camouflaged blue-ringed octopus. Schooling razorfish flash silver, then scatter as a trio of pulsating cuttlefish appear. Turning your attention back to the reef, you begin a close-up search of a stand of gorgonians, where you hope to discover the tiny form of an ornate ghost pipefish hiding among the branches.

Pelagian is liveaboard diving at it's finest; with a max 10 guests and a crew of 12, your every need and expectation is met with the highest level of service available. Photo by Wakatobi Dive Resort

Pelagian is liveaboard diving at it’s finest; with a max 10 guests and a crew of 12, your every need and expectation is met with the highest level of service known in the diving community. Photo by Wakatobi Dive Resort

The dive stretches on for more than an hour, and the cast of characters continues to entertain. Back on the surface, a short tender boat ride takes you home to the inviting sight of your dive yacht, riding serenely at anchor, with cabin lights aglow. On deck, you enjoy a refreshing shower and a warm, minty towel, knowing that the crew will have your kit rinsed, filled and ready for tomorrow’s dives. Within a few minutes, you’re enjoying a nightcap in the salon while recounting the evening’s adventures.

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