All photographs are the original work of Nishan Perera, and cannot be used without the written consent of the photographer. Unauthorized use of images is a violation of intellectual property rights and may be subject to legal action.
The sea is calm and the monsoon winds have abated. We visit the Cargo Wreck off Dehiwela and meet many familiar friends including the pixy hawkfish that scurry about the top of the wreck. Visibility is only around 10m but the sea is full of life. Hopefully it is the start of a productive new dive season on the west coast.
Like the colorful damselfishes that bring life to a tropical reef during the day, cardinalfishes take over the night shift, emerging from their daytime shelters to hunt for small invertebrates. They may not look like it but they are truly the damsels of the night.
A juvenile trevally escorts a jellyfish through the clear blue waters off Sri Lanka's east coast: As we completed our final decompression stop after a deep wreck dive we noticed numerous jellyfish swimming around us, each with its retinue of juvenile fish. Often overlooked, these fascinating and beautiful creatures were an amazing sight and wonderful distraction during a long and otherwise boring deco stop.
Like trees with colorful leaves of change in autumn, soft corals can create colorful underwater vistas in tropical seas. But despite their beauty, soft corals may sometimes indicate a turbulent past in a reef ecosystem. Soft corals are successful colonizers and are often among the first species to appear on damaged reefs. Several areas in the Indo-Pacific have seen an increase in soft corals since a major coral bleaching event destroyed many of the hard corals that dominated shallow coral reefs. Similarly, they often dominate reefs that have been subjected to dynamite fishing in the past.
The blue ring angelfish is the most common angelfish in Sri Lanka. It is particularly common on the western and southern coast where it prefers shallow inshore reefs. Juveniles of this species can be found near estuaries and on silty coastal reefs while large adults are often found on rocky reefs and shipwrecks. In Sinhalese, this fish is sometimes called 'manamaalaya' or bridegroom on account of its vibrant colors.
"But Pontos, the great sea, was father of truthful Nereus who tells no lies, eldest of his sons. They call him the Old Gentleman because he is trustworthy, and gentle, and never forgetful of what is right, but the thoughts of his mind are mild and righteous." — Hesiod, Theogony 233
Mandarinfish are small colorful reef fishes (often 3-5 cm in length) that are known for their elaborate courting behavior. At dusk, males and females begin an elaborate courting ritual before swimming together off the reef substrate in a final mating embrace.
Colourful soft coral, sponges, gorgonians and pristine hard corals adorn the walls of Napantao in Sogod Bay, Philippines. Thousands of golden anthias and damselfish cloud the water along the reef edge and clownfish play hide and seek among their host anemones. Larger fish such as sweetlips, snappers and groupers can be found sheltering behind large corals and in small caves, and if you are lucky you may even see a whale shark swim past. Not surprising that this is considered by many as the best dive site in Southern Leyte.
From November to May each year, whale sharks gather for feeding in the sheltered, deep waters of Sogod Bay in Southern Leyte, Philippines. A well managed eco-tourism industry has been established by several dive operators together with the local community. Regulations including a ban on SCUBA diving and flash photography, a minimum distance from the sharks, and time limits have been enforced. Locals have been employed as spotters and guides, and a sanctuary fee charged from tourists supports the local village. A successful model that benefits the local community and the tourists, while minimizing the impact on the sharks ensuring that they return to Sogod Bay in the future.
As the dive season draws to a close the visibility is low at the Bar Reef but its good enough for some relaxed snorkeling after a few dives on the deeper ridges offshore. All around, hundreds of butterflyfish and damselfish dart around the coral. Schools of snappers and parrotfish congregate around deep sand patches and surgeonfish graze on algae, while in the distance adult blacktip reef sharks cruise the reef edge looking for a mid day snack.
Its a typically hot, sunny day in late March on the northwest coast of Sri Lanka. The light breeze that refreshed us earlier in the morning has disappeared and everything around us is still and silent. Above us, a few white clouds hang like cotton wool in the clear blue sky, their reflection visible on the flat mirror like surface of the ocean. The calm preceding the monsoon storms that will soon batter the coast for six months before a new season starts in an endless cycle that works with near clockwork precision. We laze around on the boat between dives, scanning the horizon hoping for the sight of a dolphin as it breaks the surface of the water, or perhaps a whale shark feeding on the abundant plankton. The silence broken only by flying fish escaping from an unknown predator.
We return to Deranagala for a relaxed weekday dive. The sea is calm but visibility is only around 15m due to the heavy rain the previous day. But its a great dive, with lots of schooling fish and old friends from previous dives like the large porcupinefish, moray eels and lionfish. We then explore Goda Matthegala, which is a typical Negombo reef with lots of small fish and macro life. Cleaner shrimps, gobies, hermit crabs and sea shells abound providing plenty of opportunities for macro photography.
The Bar Reef is a large patch reef off Kalpitiya, on the northwest coast of Sri Lanka. In 1992 the Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary was established covering an area of 306 square kilometers that included shallow patch reefs, deep sandstone reefs and seagrass beds. For many years the reefs remained in a near pristine state due to the small human population and very limited fishing in the area. And although the shallow coral patches were completely destroyed by a largescale coral bleaching event in 1998, many of the corals have since recovered, as can be seen from these pictures taken in February 2007. However the last five years have seen a rapid increase in fishing within the sanctuary including the use of dynamite and illegal nets. The recent popularity of the Kalpitiya area among tourist has also resulted in boat anchoring and reef walking which are destroying the fragile reef. Unfortunately, the relevant authorities have shown little interest in managing this unique marine region, and destructive activities continue to increase. The Bar Reef is an important part of Sri Lanka's natural heritage that should be experienced by future generations and not seen only through historical photographs.
A few kilometers off the coast of Katuneriya lies the wreck of a small plane that crashed in 1945. Our boatman today is the son of the fisherman who rescued the pilot on that eventful day and we listen to his story as he guides us to the location of the wreck. The plane is broken up and only a few metal parts remain but next to the mangled remains is a small reef blanketed with glassfish and cardinalfish. These are the favorite prey of lionfish. And we are not disappointed. A group of six are hanging out close to the anchor. Just as the big cats on the African plains these predators hunt with stealth, relying more on ambush than on pursuit. They are also curious and seem fascinated by our presence and the cameras, often getting too close for our comfort. In fact, it seems that Sri Lankan lionfish are particularly interested in cameras judging by sudden but inquisitive charges at several dive sites in Sri Lanka. Maybe its another similarity to the lions of the Serengeti that like to play with and pose for the cameras of NatGeo film makers
White-tip reef sharks are nocturnal predators that feed on small fishes, mollusks and crustaceans. They have slender and highly flexible bodies and adults reach a length of around 1.8m. This allows them to get into small cracks and holes in the reef in pursuit of smaller fish which they track down with their acute sense of smell. White-tip reef sharks tend to rest in caves or channels between reefs during the day and often congregate into large hunting groups around dusk. This behavior has been observed and made famous in places such as the Cocos Islands, off Costa Rica, where over a 100 sharks have been seen hunting in a group.
Cleaner wrasses perform an important function on reefs by removing parasites from larger fishes. Many types of fish seek out the services of cleaner wrasses and in some instances may lead to the establishment of "cleaning stations" where larger fish will queue up to be cleaned by several cleaner wrasses. Many of these cleaning stations are permanent and most fish will return to the same place to be cleaned. Cleaner wrasses advertise their availability by swimming in a quick jerking motion which is recognized by potential clients. In this symbiotic relationship of trust and mutual benefit the small wrasses will even enter the mouth and gill cavities of predatory fishes, just as this wrasse has done with a large honeycomb moray eel.
Yesterday we explored Deranagala and Tantirigala off Negombo. The first is a narrow ridge with prolific fish life. In addition to the usual reef dwellers there are schools of snappers, trevally, barracuda, large sweetlips, stingrays and moray eels . Many of the shallow reefs off Negombo have an abundance of small fish, shrimps and nudibranchs and provide great opportunities for macro photography. Photographing macro subjects underwater requires a a good eye, patience and a good understanding of fish behaviour, especially when working with small animals that are difficult to approach. And as with any type of photography a healthy dose of good luck always helps!
With nearly 1200 islands spread across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is a true marine wonderland. Hard and soft corals, colourful reef fish and passing pelagics make diving in the Maldives a magical experience.
After a one hour boat ride we scan the seabed with an echo sounder but cannot find anything except an empty expanse of sand. We have nothing but an obscure GPS point obtained from a fisherman. We drop anchor and after some time it snags on something. Its either the wreck we are looking for or a deep reef. Trusting our instincts we enter the water and descend in a heavy current. It takes nearly 8 minutes to reach the bottom 45 meters below the surface, but finally, in front of us is a small wreck sitting upright on a sandy floor. This is the Battery Barge. Known only to a few and the reason for our curiosity. Time is limited. We have only 5 minutes on the wreck as we have not planned for long decompression stops. The objective is to confirm the presence of the wreck and evaluate its potential for future photography and exploration. At this depth and fighting against the stiff current we feel the effect of nitrogen narcosis. Simple tasks such as focusing the camera and adjusting a strobe take more effort and concentration than usual.
The wreck is broken into two parts. Its entire length covered in colourful soft coral and sea fans. Black coral bushes sway in the current as cardinalfish dart among the corals. A few small groupers are on the hunt and four large lionfish hover motionless in an attempt to ambush an unwary fish. All around, a school of snappers zig zag the wreck like rush hour traffic. Despite its small size the barge is an oasis of life in a vast sandy desert. If only we had a bit more time.............
Sandperches are small benthic fishes found on reefs and adjoining sandy areas. They are territorial fishes and feed on small invertebrates and fishes. Males often maintain a harem of several females. Sandperches are extremely common but are often overlooked due to their small size and cryptic behaviour. This one was photographed at Degalmeda reef off Mt. Lavinia, Sri Lanka.
Damselfish hover above a coral head in the fading evening light off Mabul Island in Malaysian Borneo. Dusk is an active time on the reef as diurnal and nocturnal animals end and begin their respective days, and predators lurk in hope of an ambush. On Mabul, is is also the time when the beautiful mandarinfish emerge from hiding to perform an elaborate courtship dance.