Life Underwater

Egypt

The Red Sea was recently called one of the Seven Wonders of the Underwater World by a group of experts, but the many underwater highlights of Egypt have long been a magnet for divers and snorkelers.

red-backed butterflyfish
Red Sea garden eels

The reason for the Red Sea's popularity rests in its unusual geography, almost completely enclosed except for a small gap at its southern end, and with no rivers flowing into it to ruin the clarity of the water.

This isolation, and unusual conditions caused by it such as high salinity, has led to a high concentration of species which are found only here and in the neighbouring Gulf of Aden, such as this masked or blue-cheek butterflyfish, one of many endemic butterfly species.

masked or blue-cheek butterflyfish

Fiji

sea snake

Fiji is a world famous diving destination, with many dive sites scattered around the country, all with colourful fish and vibrant reefs.

Some locations are washed by strong currents, allowing visitors  to see unusual numbers of soft corals as well as pelagic fish like sharks.

There's also a lot of less active wildlife, like this Bohadschia graeffei sea cucumber waving in the current from its perch on a reef.

Sea cucumbers like this are widely harvested in Fiji for sale in the Orient where they're eaten as the delicacy Beche de Mer.

clown triggerfish
closeup of Crown of Thorns Starfish

There are also villains on the reef, like this large crown of thorns starfish busily eating its way across a coral head.

Wherever it goes it leaves behind a destroyed landscape of bleached, dead coral.


Indonesia

Indonesia is at the heart of global biodiversity, with more species of coral, fish and other marine life than anywhere else on earth.

Some of these animals are found nowhere else, like this Banggai cardinalfish which is found only in isolated areas of the island of Sulawesi.

large school of krill
octopus on top of mussel bed

If Indonesia is the heart of biodiversity, then the small area known as Lembeh Strait is the world epicenter of weirdness, with numerous bizarre creatures like this striped frogfish.

Lembeh Strait is also home to a wide variety of invertebrate life, like this Mexichromis multituberculata sea slug caught in the process of laying eggs.

brittle star and sea star

The Philippine Islands

I was attracted to the Philippines by the prospect of being able to snorkel with whale sharks at the town of Donsol, twelve hours drive east of Manila.

It's one of only two places in the world where you're guaranteed to see these creatures, the largest fish in all the ocean, the other being Ningaloo Reef in western Australia.

I made this trip in 2006 with a new camera, and after only two days I decided to learn to scuba dive, rather than free diving with a weight belt as I'd done for the last ten or so years.

My new ability to go deeper than I was previously able certainly paid dividends, with many sightings of things I hadn't seen before, like a cuttlefish, frogfishes and a sleeping parrotfish.   These were some of the highlights of the trip, along with old friends like this moray eel.

The new camera provided me for the first time with the ability to do underwater macro photography, allowing me to fill the photo with very small critters.

Like many other underwater photographers before me, I set about finding nudibranchs, beautifully patterned and colored sea slugs which put their terrestrial counterparts to shame.


Thailand

Thailand is one of the most perfect tourist destinations on earth, with friendly people, fascinating ancient architecture and plenty of opportunities to view the local wildlife in the many national parks scattered around the country.

It also has excellent underwater areas off both its west and east coasts, with all the usual beautiful fish that you'd expect in the tropics of the Indo-Pacific ocean, like this powder blue surgeonfish.

There are scary critters here too, like this banded sea snake, stingrays, lionfishes and scorpionfishes; however almost all of them are entirely unaggressive towards people, except for the occasional titan triggerfish which will vigorously defend its nest when breeding.

So, properly understood, even these scary critters are part of the highlights of Thailand underwater.

And don't forget the small and less conspicuous life, like these Durban hinge-beak shrimps, whose bright red and white patterns and colors epitomize the phrase "eye candy".

You can see lots of interesting crustaceans here, and a swag of other invertebrates like sea stars and sea slugs.