It is great to be back diving the reefs of Wakatobi Dive Resort. I have spent a couple of months here every year for the past few years, and you really get a sense of how the reefs change when you have time away from them. This year ornate and Halimeda ghost pipefish are much more common than I have seen previously. Conversely, there seem to be fewer Pontoh’s pygmy seahorses and robust ghost pipefish. I am usually here around the same time of year, so there must be some other factors affecting their population dynamics.

My studies have been going well, and I have completed nearly 20 hours of observations on my group of Denise’s pygmy seahorses (Hippocampus denise) living on the House Reef. Both pairs have given birth, and one pair has mated again since my last blog. One of the females has been giving me cause for concern due to her habit of sitting on sections of her gorgonian coral host that are dead and covered in mucus. This mucus sticks to her head, body and tail and prevents her from moving around easily. Often the mucus will adhere her to the gorgonian, and only after several minutes thrashing about is she able to free herself. Each time, I am nervous she will attract the attention of a passing fish!

My evening presentations have been particularly busy this trip, and after a full house one evening, I presented my pygmy talk again the next night for those that missed it the day before. As well as explaining about my research, I also take the opportunity to emphasise how delicate pygmy seahorses are, and that great care should be taken when photographing them.

Reaching less than 2cm in length and restricted to their gorgonian coral, pygmies have little opportunity to escape overzealous photographers. Taking great care not to touch any part of the delicate gorgonian coral, avoiding the use of bright lights, limiting the number of shots taken, and looking out for stress-related behaviours exhibited by pygmies are all important.

When stressed, pygmies will turn their back to a photographer, which will result in bad images and is indicative of a stressed animal. Due to their extremely small size, excessive stress can even kill them, and so under no circumstances should a pygmy be touched in anyway. Unfortunately I have seen some awful guiding in other areas of Indonesia where guides will bend back the gorgonian in search of pygmies and use pointers to move pygmies to a “better” position for photography.

It is imperative that divers explain to their guides the damage they are causing and hopefully break this habit. What is required in order to get nice images of pygmies and other marine organisms is patience and an unobtrusive approach.

I have been able to upload many new images to my website so have a look at some of the amazing creatures we have been seeing recently!