Snorkelling in another country is certainly exciting as you always end up spotting creatures that you don’t usually or haven’t seen before. It most certainly is the case with me having been snorkelling at the reefs and mangroves of Mauritius the last two months. I have even seen some creatures that I never knew existed. When it comes to the marine world it’s always a learning day even if you are a Marine Educator!
The first one I want to talk about is the dusky damselfish. Damselfish are a family of fish that are common all around the tropics. Many species are known to ‘farm’ the algae that they feed on and aggressively protect their patch even against a snorkeler who dares to swim too close. The dusky damsel, which is abundant in Mauritius, is the biggest bully that I have come across. They are the size of your fist and will swim right up to you for a face off while making loud clicks to warn you.
- I have never seen a flounder in the wild, but here was one, lying motionless on a sand patch by the reef. It is a fish with a very interesting life cycle. When they are born, they look and swim like any regular fish. However, as they develop, one eye migrates over to the other side and they start to lay flat on the seafloor on the side with no eyes. Lying flat and being the colour of sand, they go unnoticed by prey that they snatch up.
- Most people don’t expect to spot cool creatures at a sandy patch. But in fact, there are plenty of creatures in those areas buried in the sand. One such creature is the marbled snake eel that buries completely except for its head. I have never seen one before, and there it was during a snorkel going in and out of its burrow as we swam closer and further to it.
- Worms usually do not catch the attention of people, but marine worms can be very conspicuous with beautiful appendages and flamboyant colours. Marine flatworms are one of the most primitive creatures. They come in lots of colours and patterns and are often confused with nudibranchs (more below). Flatworms aren’t always easily spotted as they like to hide rocks and inside crevices. This beautiful bright orange fellow is the second flat worm I have ever spotted, luckily, I had the camera!
- Nudibranchs, although similar looking to flat worms, are in fact a sort of slug. They get their name because of their exposed tuft of gills at their rear end. These guys come in some of the most flamboyant colours as they are not too bothered to be discreet. They can be quite toxic because of their diet, mainly sponges, so most fish avoid eating nudibranchs. Other species transfer the stinging cells from their prey, hydroids, to the rear of their bodies and use it as their own defence; another reason to avoid eating nudibranchs. I have of course seen plenty of different nudibranchs, but this one is a first and was spotted during an invertebrate survey.
I saved the strangest for the last. This one was spotted in the mangroves. I had absolutely no idea what it was; I wasn’t sure how close I could get to it, how it would react if it felt threatened by my presence. I took pictures of it maintaining distance getting a little closer with every shot. Once back from my snorkel, amazed and confused, WiseOceans team member Lindsay helped to identify it as a limpet, commonly known an umbrella slug! I was even more amazed and confused as limpets are something I had learnt about as a child and this one looked not the slightest bit like any other limpet I have ever seen!
The marine world never disappoints. You can spot new and interesting things even if you keep exploring the same site. But of course, going to new sites is always nice. So if you dived or snorkelled somewhere that blew your mind, don’t stop there; there are countless places to explore and even more marine creatures to spot and observe!