Alor’s field of anemones and anemonefish – 2

 In marine life, Travels
written by Janice Nigro

That I loved anemones was no secret at this resort either. My dive guide Olivia from the UK smiled wryly, and joked,“I’ll show you a “Nemo” if I find one.”

After a 30-minute ride from the resort, the boat parked near the shore of the small, palm tree overpopulated island of Pura. We geared up and did our backward rolls into Anemone Fields with an audience of a few local children. With the ocean seeping into my wetsuit, I felt the stress from travel dissipate. No sound, no modern life, I am back in a time before humans walked the earth.

I see nothing; I just watch my dive computer and focus on equalizing my ears as we descend. And then the life starts to become clear, as if I was just waking up. Anemones were spread out all over below me like discarded glass blown art objects.

Anemones were attached to anything. I was immersed in a Dr. Seuss illustration of imaginary creatures secretly peering at me from every ledge and crevice. I got to work immediately, capturing them in macroscopic detail.

For some divers, the site was a big yawn. But I was in heaven. A sea star, locked in an apparent anemone tentacle massage, looked like he might agree.

A little bit more information about anemones

Volcanoes long ago laid the foundation to the reef now covered with anemones of the species Entacmaea quadricolor, more commonly known as the bubble-tip anemone. Different colored ones were neatly packed together like sushi in a bento box. I later learned that they do asexually reproduce, potentially contributing to their ability to thrive at this site.

Anemonefish flourished in parallel and filled the sea above the reef, like schools of any other common reef fish. But none were Nemo. Olivia’s joke about finding a Nemo was not really a joke.

Anemone fish hiding by Claudine Daigneault

Each type of anemonefish tends to be associated with a specific species of anemone, known as the host anemone. The Nemo-type anemonefish (as well as some others) weren’t that common in Alor. But neither was their host anemone, Heteractis magnifica. The bubble-tip anemone does host a broader range of species of anemonefish, but in Anemone Fields, many were Amphiprion clarkii, or Clark’s anemonefish.

These anemonefish didn’tseem to be especially loyal. Or afraid, depending on your perspective. I spotted several unattended anemones.

Natural predators might be scarce here because both anemones and anemonefish can be vulnerable in an open reef without each other. Field research performed in Japan attributes other areas of high density anemones and anemonefish to reduced predation for both animals. Anemonefish, at the sites in Japan, were also found to wander. At 20 meters maximum, Anemone Fields is not a deep site, which may reduce access for some predators.

An unforgettable dive site

Anemone Fields was a playground for everyone living (and diving) there. The absolute proof of the extraordinary health of the reefs at this site and around Alor was the absence of bleached anemones.

Bleaching is often associated with increased temperatures and the expulsion of their algal symbionts, zooxanthellae, which produce nutrients through photosynthesis. The water was cool at the site with my dive computer recording a temperature as low as 21°C due to thermoclines, but anemones still have access to sunlight as the reef is shallow. Maybe Anemone Fields just hits the sweet spot between temperature and sunlight.

I continued to inch along taking photographs to the great annoyance of my dive buddies and relished in the grandeur of nature not so far from shore. The site was hypnotizing, like a shopping spree in Paris.

Bubble anemone by Claudine Daigneault

But the clock is winding down from the moment a diver hits the water. Air consumption is our enemy. I looked at my computer, checked my air and time. I was only 50 minutes into the dive, and I had plenty of air, but Olivia gave me the signal to go up. All the divers reluctantly followed her orders, protesting through their regulator, “It’s too early.”

Anemone Fields turned out to be one of the shortest dives of the trip. I still surfaced with my fingers tingling. Because any day you get to photograph anemones and anemonefish is a good day.

For more information on our trip to Alor, click here.

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