feature shallow water paradise

Shallow Water Paradise

Published January 29, 2016 in DIVING & SNORKELING, Snorkeling

Discover the adventures that await snorkelers at Wakatobi

The reefs of Wakatobi are calling. As the charter flight descended toward the resort’s airstrip, you peered out the window to catch glimpses of sun-lit coral walls shimmering just below the surface of the clear turquoise water. As an avid snorkeler, you seek out those rare destinations where vibrant marine ecosystems lie close to the surface. For years, you’ve read about Wakatobi’s House Reef, which is said to be not only one of the world’s best shore dives, but also a highly rewarding destination for snorkelers. You are about to find out if these stories are true.

Step in off the beach in front of the restaurant and fin across a 40-yard expanse of grass-cover shallows to an oases of coral heads teeming with color reef fish. Photo by Walt Stearns

Step off the beach in front of the restaurant, fin across an expanse of grass-covered shallows and you’ll find a series of coral heads teeming with colorful reef fish. Photo by Walt Stearns

At the top

During a hasty unpacking at your oceanfront bungalow, you could see the vivid aquamarines and blues of the House Reef, just steps away. Now, after a light lunch, you’re ready to heed the call, and you won’t be using scuba gear.  Starting from the beach, you fin your way across a 40-yard expanse of grass-cover shallows punctuated by a oases of coral heads. The coral growth intensifies, then suddenly, you are hovering over the edge of the world.

 Approaching the House Reef drop off for the first time can take your breath away. Photo by Norbert Probst

Approaching the House Reef drop off for the first time can take your breath away. Photo by Norbert Probst

Actually, you have arrived at the outer edge of the reef, where the coral wall drops abruptly from depths of a meter to more than 40. With a final inhale, you drop below the surface and glide towards the edge of the wall. You pause to enjoy the silence; there are no phones, no television, no traffic, just sheer beauty.

“As snorkelers at Wakatobi we saw hundreds of different kinds of fish and coral, and the density, extent and health of the coral was far better than we had seen elsewhere. A real feast for the eyes.”
Ralph and Renata Muller

As you begin your exploration of the reef crest, something a bit out of the ordinary catches your eye. A closer look reveals two strange-looking creatures cloistered in a coral recess. Facing each other like a pair of bookends, two Leaf Scorpionfish, each scarcely three inches long, appear to be in the middle of a stare down contest. Had you not noticed the exaggerated rocking motion, their leaf shape body and neutral coloration might have kept them well hidden in plain sight. You pause to take a quick photo, then move on.

Leaf scorpionfish are often found in the shallow coral recesses at the edge of the drop off, as well as in the shallows just off the beach. This pair was having a stare down contest. Photo by Wakatobi Dive Resort

Leaf scorpionfish are often found in the shallow coral recesses at the edge of the drop off, as well as in the shallows just off the beach. This pair was having a stare down contest. Photo by Wakatobi Dive Resort

Bright colors jump out at you from every corner of the reef, and you son discover yet another pair of not so familiar critters. These are snails without shells—nudibranchs. These two beauties, known as Chromodoris magnifica, so-named because of their striking, vibrant colors, warrant a closer look and a couple of photos. You take a breath and pop down a couple feet. Your duck under reveals yet another colorful and alien-like creature. It’s a peacock mantis shrimp, resplendent in bright colors, and parading around just like the namesake bird itself. You can’t believe you’ve found all this just a few fin kicks away from your bungalow.

Snorkelers can find at least eight species of clownfish, like these spinecheek anemonefish, around the jetty and Jetty Bar. Photo by Walt Stearns

Snorkelers can find at least eight species of clownfish, like these spinecheek anemonefish, around the jetty and Jetty Bar. Photo by Walt Stearns

Of course, no snorkeling adventure in the Indo-Pacific is complete without a few chance encounters with Nemo’s family. You’ve been told that you can find at least eight species kin to the famous little cartoon character within a few feet of the Jetty Bar. Searching the area, you wonder what kind of anemone fish is Nemo? A false clown anemone fish like the two nestled in a green anemone, or a true clown like the trio inhabiting a carpet anemone. A few feet away there’s a similar pair, but in shades of dark orange and deep maroon. The two are spinecheck anemonefish, named for the large spine on the side of the gill cover. A bit later, you happen upon yet another variety behaving a bit bolder and more territorial. Darting madly out from its home in an attempt to run you off, he seems to be telling you to “get out of my yard!” Brilliant orange with a distinct blue tint to its white body bands, this is of course the orange-finned anemonefish.

Eventually, it’s time to head to shore. On the way in, you realize that a blade of turtle grass is not what it appears to be and is actually a fish mimicking its’ swaying motion. Your excitement increases as you notice there is not one but two Robust Ghost pipefish drifting side by side. After snapping a few shots and observing the well-camouflaged pair you are eager to return and share your discovery. Where else could you spot these rare creatures just a few feet from the surface?

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