It's a small world after all
03 August 2017
Whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks, mola-mola and other larger marine creatures are big drawcards when we consider destinations for our next diving adventure. And for good reasons. They are extraordinarily unique and capture the hearts of many. Long-term observations in their natural habitats and longer-term studies have provided a deeper understanding of their behaviour, including migratory, seasonal feeding and breeding patterns. As an example, in the Coral Triangle Blue Whales reside in the Banda Sea for up to 3 months each year while mola-mola are observed on the east coast of Bali only in the dry season. With combinations of local observational knowledge and research studies it is possible to predict the movement of these creatures and plan trips accordingly.
In sharp contrast let us look at the other end of the scale. The Little Leaf Sheep nudibranch (Costasiella kuroshimae) calls a small leaf its home, feeding on a certain type of green algae (Avrainvillea). Small marine animals like this tiny nudibranch make up a vast empire of marine species. We know so little about this small world and it would be correct to describe it as a complex one. Over time we observed that some creatures appear only at night, with others only after the oceanic upwelling of nutrients. Some are seen at certain times of the year or may only live for very short periods. Others are only present in certain habitats while some creatures such as the Starry Night Octopus (Callistoctopus luteus) move across the seafloor freely with a variety of food sources at their disposal. With the increasing popularity of macro-photography and technological advances in photography, observational knowledge of the macro-marine environment is also advancing. As a result global longer-term research studies of our small world are beginning to grow in number. Therefore as more people begin to explore the fragile small world of the Coral Triangle we should aim to increase our environmental awareness. For instance, as divers we can learn to make minimum contact with the bottom. This will prevent damage to small creatures and their habitat while all care should be taken to leave behind nothing but bubbles.
Species richness in the Coral Triangle is a gold mine for macro-enthusiasts. It presents a whole new world of exploration and discovery. As pointed out, innovations in underwater macro-photographic technology have led to an increased interest in this strange underwater world of marine creatures. In the Coral Triangle, harbour seafloors are suddenly transformed into areas of discovery while popular dive spots have become areas of re-discovery. As macro-technology progresses we are beginning to explore and discover more strange and beautiful marine life, sometimes smaller than our eyes can see. But again, with new discoveries comes responsibility to take care in these fragile aquatic environments where even a misplaced fin kick can cause damage. Good buoyancy skills are vital in these sometimes barren looking landscapes. As the Coral Triangle is the global epicentre of marine biological diversity it comes as no surprise how much this region has to offer. Here, more marine species are being discovered, highlighting this colourful, breathtaking and sometimes bizarre environment. No wander it is becoming a small world after all!