Beyond the black sand beaches of Tulamben, a small village on the north east coast of Bali, tufts of coral and brightly coloured sponges cling sporadically to the otherwise sparse volcanic slope. For those taking the time to look, these are the best places for divers to find the weirdest and most wonderful critters. Seahorses are just one of the many bizarre creatures that carve out an existence on this unremarkable topography.
Punch his Lights Out
Peacock Mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) pack the most powerful punch in the animal kingdom. Their club like limbs hit with the force of a bullet, striking so fast they produce a flash of light as the water around the claw boils.
The Ambush Predator
With highly effective camouflage, Weedy Rhinopias (Rhinopias frondosa) lie in wait for their unsuspecting prey, quick to snap up any creature that will fit inside their unusually large mouths. On the rare occasions they do change position, they tend to walk across the seabed on their fins rather than swimming.
Veteran of Two World Wars
The USAT Liberty served as a cargo vessel in both world wars before being torpedoed in 1942 and subsequently beached at Tulamben. Around 20 years later, tremors from a volcanic eruption pushed the Liberty into the sea where she has become an iconic dive site and thriving reef.
Masters of Disguise
Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus) can change both their colour and texture, allowing them to hide against any background.
They also use colour to communicate. An angry cuttlefish will pulse bright red or purple as it splays its limbs towards the threat. If this display fails, a quick burst of black ink will cover their retreat as they disappear in a jet propelled blur.
These two pictures were taken just seconds apart.
Cryptic sponge shrimps (Gelastocaris Paronae) perfectly match the colour and pattern of their host sponge.
Can you see this shrimp?
Hint: Look for the eyes and the white spots on its legs and the edge of its body. It's also casting a shadow.
Diving Tulamben's Underwater Temple
A resort in Tulamben created this underwater temple to add an extra point of interest when diving their house reef. Fern-like hydroids and zig zag clams are just some of the many animals that have made their home on these statues.
A Match Made in Heaven
The near-blind snapping shrimp (Alpheus randalli) excavates the hole while the sharp eyed goby (Amblyeleotris yanoi) stands guard. The shrimp keeps one antennae in contact with the goby at all times, ever alert for the signal to retreat into the safety of their shared burrow.
The Hermit's Guide to Home Defence
Venomous harpoons are the hermit crab's weapon of choice when it comes to protecting their mobile homes. These crabs place anemones on their shells so the stinging tentacles will keep predators at bay. This also gives the anemones a mobile platform and access to plenty of food scraps so the arrangement works well for both parties.
A Wall of Fish
Oxeye scads (Selar boops) stick together in a huge school, patrolling the shallows during the day. At night they go their separate ways to feed.
Ribbon eels (Rhinomuraena quaesita) are all born male, changing colour from black to blue as they reach maturity. Later in life they all change sex, becoming female, and turn yellow in the process.
Many thanks to Scuba Seraya Resort for their kind hospitality. We loved waking up to views of sunrise over the ocean. We also had some of our best critter encounters while diving on Seraya Secrets, the house reef.