What was your best experience during this assignment?
I especially loved diving at night, when I'd encounter a world quite different from the familiar daytime one. Night fish, such as needle-toothed moray eels, came out of their crevices, while day fish either hid or changed color. I was most fascinated by the changes in a fish called the butterfly perch. By day these little beauties are a delicate candy floss pink with a large dark spot near the tail. At night, they become maroon in color, and the spot turns lighter than the surrounding skin—almost a negative image of their daylight appearance. Whereas in the daytime they flitted among the branches of black coral trees or nosily schooled around me, at night they found perches among the rocks, where they'd rest, sometimes sideways or even upside down. When I shone my underwater flashlight on one of them, it awoke, fell from its perch, and darted away.
What was your worst experience during this assignment?
I was often saddened by the fact that fishermen and conservationists adopt extreme and antagonistic positions on the issue of marine reserves, while completely missing the opportunity to help each other. Fishermen have a vast wealth of knowledge about the sea that could be harnessed in the planning and positioning of marine reserve networks. But conservation officials typically leave them out of the planning process. On the other hand, fishermen should realize that marine reserves are a long-term asset, benefiting the species that support their livelihood. Both sides would benefit from actually talking to each other, instead of engaging in shouting matches.
What was the oddest experience you encountered during this assignment?
During a dive at one of the country's newer marine reserves, which protects part of a long underwater boulder bank, I encountered an intriguing starfish behavior I'd never seen before. A particular type of cushion star, bright mango-orange in color, appeared to stand on tiptoe—on the very tips of its five arms—while lifting the webbing between its arms off the rock. It had the appearance of a five-sided tent with the flaps raised. Apparently, this is a hunting technique. When a creature walks or crawls under the "tent," the sides drop down and trap the victim inside.