Cuttlefish_Mark Snyder

Shallow Water Paradise

Published May 24, 2013 in DIVING & SNORKELING, Snorkeling

“As a snorkeler, it is rare to find a dive resort that makes you feel so special; the attention here in that regard was wonderful. Our trip was incredible in every way, coral, fish and personal service from management to staff to dive and snorkel masters.” – Joan and Tom Woodward, December 2012

The moment you arrive at Wakatobi, seeing the sun reflecting off the ocean’s surface with its vibrant shades of blue and turquoise you become powerless to its call. Rather than finish unpacking, you round up your mask, fins and snorkel and head for the water. It’s time for a swim on the House Reef.

Conditions are picture perfect – blue skies with puffy white clouds and flat calm seas, the reef shimmers with an inviting allure. This is the beginning of what will be one of many wonderful days.

Birdseye view of Wakatobi

Birdseye view of the House Reef just off the beach. (photo by Didi Lotze)


(photo by Marcus Lindenlaub)

(photo by Marcus Lindenlaub)


Heading out over the shallows you’ve simply got to venture out a bit and see what lies over the edge of the House Reef. You take a breath and submerge.

“Wonderland I was very impressed with the great variety of corals and how shallow they were. Snorkelers could see a lot in Wakatobi. In the last snorkel at the Zoo, I saw eight turtles, a reef shark and a school of bumphead parrotfish.” – Trip Advisor: dimsum, Oct 2012

Dropping down to ten or fifteen feet you pause to listen to the silence; no phones, no television, no traffic.  Continuing along the edge the vibrant hues of the reef with its collection of colorful corals and exotic marine life grabs your attention. You remember that Wakatobi is situated within the region known as the “Coral Triangle” of undersea biodiversity – where there are more than 450 coral species, in excess of 1,000 varieties of fish, and even more invertebrate species.

Exploring the shallows you begin to see the cast of characters; some are more familiar, like this peacock flounder moving and hunting in the sand. Did you know the peacock flounder changes its color and the pattern on its skin to exactly match the sea floor? And each eye can move independently, seeing forward and back at the same time!

The peacock flounder's eyes can move independently, seeing forward and back at the same time. (photo by Alan Saben)

The peacock flounder’s eyes can move independently, seeing forward and back at the same time. (photo by Alan Saben)


Moseying along further you do a double take, turning around to spot two strange creatures in the coral.  Like a pair of bookends, the Leaf Scorpionfish, each scarcely three inches long, appear to be in the middle of a stare down contest.  Although their exaggerated rocking motion gave them away, their leaf shape body and neutral coloration might have kept them well hidden in plain sight. Your point and shoot comes in handy right about now, especially after you return to show off your exceptional find.

06-A 2leaf scorpionfish_photo WDR

The unique body shape and neutral coloration of leaf scorpionfish help to keep them hidden in plain sight.
(photo Wakatobi Dive Resort)


After bragging a bit at lunch you head out again; since your day has already gotten off to a very good start you ask yourself “what’s next?” Finning along you discover a plump Octopus looking as if he’s got nothing better to do than watch the world go by. Being a highly intelligent creature, more so than any other order of invertebrates, this charming fellow ponders with a watchful eye the odd shape with the yellow fins.

Bright colors jump out at you from every corner, and you find yet another pair of not so familiar critters. Snails without a shell, nudibranchs are some of the most vibrantly colored invertebrates on the reef. The number of species in all are simply too numerous to count. These two beauties, known as Chromodoris magnifica, so-named because of their striking, vibrant colors, warrant a closer look. You take a breath and pop down …  just a few feet.

Taking closer note of the bottom you see an alien creature gazing back at you with equal curiosity. The most colorful of all the mantis shrimps, this Peacock mantis behaves in a fitting manner to his name, parading around just like the bird itself.

“I saw seven species of anemonefish in the shallow reef areas off the beach and around the jetty. Never have I found such a treasure trove right at the doorstep of any resort!” – Walt Stearns, Feb 2013

Of course no snorkeling adventure in the Indo-Pacific is complete without a few chance encounters with Nemo’s family members. Beneath the jetty bar and around the surrounding House Reef you find at least eight species kin to the famous little cartoon character.

(photos by Walt Stearns and Rob Darmanin)

(photos by Walt Stearns and Rob Darmanin)

As you search and spot you think trivia; what kind of Anemone fish is Nemo? A False Clown Anemone Fish (Amphiprion ocellaris) like the two nestled in the green anemone (top left)? Or is Nemo a True Clown (Amphiprion percula) like the trio in the carpet anemone (top right)?

A few feet away there’s a similar pair, but in shades of dark orange and deep maroon. The two are Spinecheck Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus) (bottom left), named for the large spine on the side of the gill cover.

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 their white body bands, this is of course the Orange-finned Anemonefish (Amphiprion chrysoterus). And you’ve got great pictures of each one of them.

Sometimes it pays to take a closer look at things that seem a bit out of place. On the way in while wandering toward shore 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 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?

Where else could you spot the rare Robust ghost pipefish just a few feet from the surface? (photo by Adam Middlemass)

Where else could you spot the rare Robust ghost pipefish just a few feet from the surface? (photo by Adam Middlemass)


Your snorkeling adventures are by no means limited to just daylight hours. Heading out again at sundown you immediately discover several pairs of pipefish, right at the base of the jetty’s steps to the water. About the size of a small worm moving across the bottom, they look like a straight-bodied seahorse with a tiny mouth – in fact, the pipefish is a close relative of the sea horse.

The sun might be down, but the carnival is just beginning. In the beam of your underwater light you spot something round about the size of a dinner plate skirting across the sand. Moving closer reveals the animal in question is a blue-spotted stingray with its telltale collection of iridescent blue spots dotting its back.

Moving back in over the turtle grass beds, you spy a small octopus out on its nighttime foraging. Shining your light on the cephalopod triggers a game of peek-a-boo as the little guy quickly vanishes then reappears amongst the green and brown sea grass blades.

Colorful octopus are found in the turtle grass beds just off the beach. (photo Walt Stearns)

Colorful octopus are found in the turtle grass beds just off the beach. (photo Walt Stearns)


“We are snorkelers not divers but this place is superb! It was usually just the two of us snorkeling and a guide is provided each trip, the divers seem to dive for 70 minutes so we were in the water about 90 minutes each trip!” – Trip Advisor: mickw952, Nov 2012

Now that you’ve gotten into the swing of things (and are fully unpacked and settled in) don’t think for a second your snorkeling adventures end with just the House Reef. Time to solicit the expertise of a private snorkel experience manager and head out to some other sites.  The majority of Wakatobi’s forty-plus named dive sites provide exceptional snorkeling opportunities, each offering long stretches of reef shallows you will explore. You hop on a boat and head for a site fittingly called the Zoo.

(photo by Didi Lotze)

(photo by Didi Lotze)


With the divers down, the boat idles in closer to the reef for you and your private snorkel experience manager to drop in. The bubbles clear, you suck in your breath and say to yourself “wow!” as you scan the rich blue depths below, with the reef’s vertical face cresting a few feet from the surface.  In the sun-dappled shallows, the reef with its garden of hard and soft corals presents a virtual wonderland of strange shapes and color. You can’t help but notice their covering resembles minute flowers swaying in a breeze. Although a live coral polyp looks like a flower, it is not a plant; it is actually an animal. In order for it to survive it snatches tiny organisms that happen to float within range of the polyp’s tentacles. While you peer down on the surface you’re thinking “didn’t I see something like this in the movie Avatar?”


20-Reef drop off_photo Norbert Probst

At many sites the reef’s vertical face crests just a few feet from the surface. (photo by Norbert Probst)


“Wakatobi has been a total paradise for us – both diving and snorkeling! And the service is excellent in all areas!” – Virpi Lauri and Janne Heinonen, March 2013

Floating weightless with your dive guide, the warm rays of the sun on your back, you feel at peace. Some buy an aquarium and fill it with colorful tropical fish to find relaxation. You on the other hand are in an aquarium. With just minutes in the water you spot a hawksbill sea turtle making a meal of some sponges. He is unfazed by your presence as your guide brings you in closer using the opportunity to take a few pictures. With such a willing subject, you’re sure to capture that perfect profile.

23-2 Hawksbill_photo Frank Owens

(photo by Frank Owens)


A little further away, your guide motions for you to “come have a look,” his outstretched hand pointing to a spot a couple feet down in the corals. At first you don’t see, then you do as this broadclub cuttlefish suddenly changes its color pattern in the blink of an eye.

Broadclub cuttlefish. (photo by Walt Stearns)

Broadclub cuttlefish. (photo by Walt Stearns)


Back on the boat your guide explains the cuttlefish is a close relative to the octopus and squid. Cuttlefish are sometimes referred to as “chameleons of the sea” because of their remarkable ability to alter the color and pattern of their skin. The color-changing function is produced by groups of red, yellow, brown, and black light-reflecting cell pigments in the skin. In addition to using this ability to camouflage themselves or to warn off potential predators, researchers are finding their more rapid switching of color between light and dark (like a flickering strobe light) is used to communicate to other cuttlefish.

Sunsets at Wakatobi can only be explained with one word: Ahhhhhhh. (photo Wakatobi Dive Resort)

Sunsets at Wakatobi can only be explained with one word: Ahhhhhhh. (photo Wakatobi Dive Resort)


“Incredible in every way, coral, fish and personal service from management to staff to dive and snorkel masters.”  – Joan and Tom Woodward, Dec 2012

Another day winds down as you contemplate the wonders you have seen snorkeling about the reefs. Each opportunity has presented a dazzling and sometimes bizarre array of aquatic animal encounters. Your holiday is not yet over and already you find yourself dreaming about the adventures that will be the next time you are at Wakatobi.