Sulawesi, Indonesia – Ned was working on a slide presentation, so I buddied up with our friend Jessica Hatsfelt for the afternoon dive. The boat moored in the center of a small sandy bay that had very little in the way of critter habitat – only an occasional small patch of sea grass. Hanny, our Eco Divers guide, led us over the sand and along a slope, pausing for a pipefish and nudibranch or two until we ended up in a shallow reef where we happened upon a shoal of Bigfin Squid mating and laying eggs – oh boy! Hanny showed us a pair of Ornate Ghost Pipefish nearby; we gave him the OK sign and turned back to the squid. He politely got our attention and pointed out a gorgeous yellow-green Leaf Scorpionfish. Beautiful…but…back to the squid. He indulged us patiently but the moment we realized we had stayed beyond the allotted dive time and signaled to him that we were ready to go, the race back to the boat was on. He took the direct route back and we, not knowing where we were, booked across the sand to keep up. His stop was so sudden that our momentum propelled us past him. Looking back, we saw him pointing excitedly at a Chocolate Chip Sea Star (Protoreaster nodosus). Sitting on top, almost the exact color and size of the knobby spines, was a tiny frogfish! We were torn between keeping the boat waiting and staying to take pictures of the extraordinary find so we stayed a few extra minutes then resumed our swim back.
The next day, we returned with a search team of 10, including Ned. The Eco Divers team was familiar with the area of the bay that had the large population of sea stars and led us directly to them. What we didn’t realize the day before was how quickly the sea stars were moving around the bottom. What Hanny saw the day before from 10 feet above during a fast swim, eluded 10 sets of eyes, searching for 30 minutes. We found lots of interesting sea star hitchhikers, including tiny juveniles of several species of lionfish, but alas, no frogfish! Take a look at the video here or click on it at the end of this post.
This post modified on 2/14/2012 to add photos by Jessica Hatsfelt. Thank you!