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Finding the smallest of creatures in the largest of environments

Updated: Jun 12, 2022

Small marine life
Cleaner shrimp at work (photo by Courts)

My old dive students will recognise this saying when I describe scuba diving like going on an

underwater safari ride. You just never know what you might float across on a dive. While not every dive might involve a manta ray or an epic bait ball (remind me to tell you about that in another post), I think we can all agree that there is a certain thrill that comes with finding the charismatic creatures out there.

I have never met a diver who didn’t get out-of-this-world excited about seeing a big and beautiful manta ray, shark, or a turtle on a dive. I think a lot of this comes from seeing something quite so large and being so close to it without any physical barriers. But I find there is another kind of thrill that comes from finding the tiniest of critters on a reef. This somehow feels like a bigger achievement. It’s hard to swim past a whale shark and miss it, but how many of us have swam right past a young cuttlefish only to have our fin yanked back by our buddies calling attention to it. Whenever my mum and I are out on a dive we seek out the smallest, most juvenile, teensiest little specs getting tossed about in the mini-currents and flows in the water column. While there are so many different memories to choose from, I have three absolute favourite finds:

My all-time favourite is the juvenile spotted trunkfish (Lactophrys bicaudalis). No larger than a pea, this youngster looks like something straight out of a Disney animation. Spotting one of these on a dive takes a keen eye and good control over your buoyancy. You won’t find them swimming freely in the water column as they prefer to be close to the reef floor. Stumbling across one of these feels like a real accomplishment, as you could so easily swim by and miss out on the show of seeing them try and keep themselves upright!

My mum is the sea-horse whisperer, meanwhile it took me years of searching before I found one of these exquisite creatures by myself. They might not be quite as minute as our young trunkfish but their ability to blend in with their surroundings makes finding one of these an exciting challenge. We have spent many hours underwater keenly searching in the hopes of seeing a tail coiled around the base of a throng of soft coral.

Finally, when I was first working as an open water scuba instructor in the south of Spain, I was

introduced to the exquisite class that is nudibranchs. These psychedelic sea slugs are real eye-catchers. I have seen some no larger than a sliver of a fingernail and while they might not be the most active of creatures, seeing those bright reds, purples, and turquoise colours out there in the big blue is a real treat. Be sure to have your underwater camera at the ready to capture their magnificence – most of my non-diving friends don’t even believe they are real!

How about you? What is your favourite miniature find on a dive?


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