Alien Shallows.

A few weeks ago I had some time off during the day and realized that alot of the photography I had been doing was only during my dives. I thought I’d change it up abit and do some very shallow water photography, and when I say shallow, I mean tidal pools less that a meter deep with not great visibility, a nursery for small reef fish, a hunting ground for Lionfish, hiding places for Stonefish, and little hideaways for Grey Moray Eels as they wait the heat of the day out until nightfall and the hunt would begin.

Juvenile Scissortail Sergeants took small nibbles at me when I wasn’t looking. Small reef fish especially in their juvenile stages will often swim near larger organisms not perceived as a threat, however this proves very difficult when trying to photograph them, especially if you’re the bigger fish ion this case.

The water in this particular pool at low tide wasn’t more than 2 1/2 ft deep. armed with my camera, a small dive knife and my mask only, I took great care not to sift up too much sand when slowly pulling myself one-handedly across the bed of silt, concealing small cones and snails, afew Gobies and their maintenence-men shrimp counterparts. There were four small coral heads dotted about the pool, each one with a slightly different cast of characters. Aside from the small group of Butterfly fish, most of the inhabitants seemed unphased by my prescence and went about their business casually as I loomed in.

A pair of Bullseye Cardinals crept out of a crevice in one of the smaller coral heads in the pool. I noticed that some sudden movements would deter them from coming out into the open, so for this and the shots to follow I tended to stay as still as I could with the camera up and ready. Once still for a good 20 seconds or so, their initial fear had subsided and one even swam up to my mask for a closer investigation of the strange being that had invaded their world.
Giving me the evil eye as I snap this shot, The Cardinal remained very still, cautiously observing me as the gears and buttons from my housing buzzed and clicked.
Due to their rather unwelcoming nature, the Diadema setosum, or Needle-spined Urchin makes for a rather secure spot for juvenile Sergeants to defend themselves against predators of the shallows like Moral eels and Lionfish. The spines of the urchin made this shot rather tedious as the focus was set on the protruding spines and not the sergeants. However, the light and shadows at play inbetween the spines made for a dynamic shot, where I think a good amount of depth was captured without losing sight of both subjects.
Many different species of juvenile fish take refuge amongst the seemingly unwelcoming spines of urchins that inhabit the shallow pools of the reef.

One of the larger and more elusive inhabitants of the shallows, the Grey Moray, tend to hide during the day in small crevices, usually in twos or threes, sharing their abode with other eels and even small crustaceans and echinoderms.

Now although the main focus of this shot is of the ridiculously tiny juvenile Sergeants in the foreground, there are a gang of four Morays in the background under the coral head. In the next shot I got incredibly close to the individual on the far right.
Despite the fear of their inward facing rows of very sharp teeth and their serpentine appearance, Moray eels can prove to be rather curious and welcoming creatures, however knowing which boundaries not to cross is essential. Sudden movements are an absolute no-no, as is extending a finger or a hand as they might mistake this as an act of aggression, and lunge out in self defence. The larger species have been known to strike hands and arms before, however this little guy gave me a smile instead. How can you be scared of that sweet little face I mean C’mon look at him! 🙂

Whilst moving from Coral head to Coral head, I came across an odd phenomenon surrounding a rather deceased lump of brain coral. Urchins had surrounded its shore-facing side, and all round the bare face of the limestone monolith were small burrows, holes that had been bored into the walls of the Coral head. At first I took no notice but upon further inspection, I clocked on to eyes staring at me from the entrances of these many burrows, and the eyes belonged to a rather interesting collection of creatures, Mantis Shrimps.

Mantis shrimp are particularly aggressive creatures at times, each one either packing a nasty jab with their spear like serrated and barbed forelimbs, or wielding a ridiculously powerful punch with hardened spines, the blow from these being so fast and powerful that it can create it’s own light and energy know as a cavitation. Hiding in their burrows, Mantis shrimp lie in wait for small fish or crustaceans to pass by before either ensnaring them with their claws or bashing their hard outer shells open.
Despite being barbarically armed with a super-effective arsenal for ensnaring their prey, Mantis shrimp also posses some of the most complex and intricate pairs of eyes in the animal kingdom, being able to see with 16 different colour-receptive cones, whereas we humans only see with three. These little guys can see in colours that we cannot even imagine. When lining up the shot, staying still is key. Some of the mantis shrimps have no problem with a giant lens eclipsing them, but like most subjects any sudden movements will frighten them off into their burrows. Mantis shrimps tend to be rather curious and if you wait for a little while they might come out and investigate. Take care if your hands are anywhere near them though, the Aussies dont call them ‘thumb splitters’ for no reason.

After staring contests with creatures who probably thought I was some kind of halucination, I swam back towards the largest coral head in the pool, wanting to investigate the underside of it, which almost formed a cave big enough for me to get half of my body into it. However if I had done this and attempted to get right into the interior of it, I would’ve been met with a nasty surprise in the shape of the Indian Lionfish.

Pterois miles, the Indian Lionfish, is part of the Family Scorpaenidae which includes Scorpionfish and Stonefish. Being part of this family, Lionfish like their cousins are in posession of venomous spines which run along their backs, and when approached, these spines will move from side to side in a rippling effect and their pectoral fins will expand revealing a gorgeous pattern of white-mottled crimson, warning not to get too close. This display makes for amazing shots, however I must advise to exercise extreme caution when getting closer to these creatures. Lionfish can be incredibly territorial and large individuals have been known to lash out if cornered, but keeping a safe distance is key, and again, no sudden moves!



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