If you’re new to diving you may have wandered what on EARTH your dive guide was doing: pointing at a colourful dot on a rock, getting super excited and then showing the group one by one in bemused wonderment. You want to see turtles, sharks and dolphins, right? Well, it’s true. The big animals take your breath away when they arrive suddenly with no warning and majestically enter your personal space to say hi. It’s why we dive.
But on the coral reefs of Zanzibar, and in deed the coral reefs around the globe, there also exists smaller under-stated critters: ‘Marco’ life. These are highly unusual looking aliens that blend in so well to the background you may never have known they were there: sea horses that look like leaves, fish that look like stone, colourful slugs that slide from coral to coral of the same colour. Suddenly the obvious big fish take a back seat as this new world presents itself more and more with every dive.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t go into my garden every morning and excitedly call my neighbours over to observe a slug making its way along the path. But there’s just something so cool about how beautiful and varied a ‘nudibranch’ sea slug can be.
I like to point out macro to my dive group to show them that animals exist that they cannot obviously see. The coral reef itself is a living animal. This should be your primary reason to have good buoyancy and not touch the reef. To get the best out of looking at smaller animals it’s a responsible idea to take a buoyancy course beforehand.
Some of my favourite macro critters include:
Found inside certain corals or on animals such as Moray eels. Didn’t have time for a pedicure? No problem. Hold out your hand near enough to the shrimp (not a good idea if they are cleaning a Moray eel’s mouth by the way) and they will jump on your finger tips and immediately start cleaning your cuticles. Very cool.
Always a crowd pleaser and often found hooked onto a coral, blending in very well. The female deposits eggs onto the male who carries them for the gestation period. What a nice guy!
An animal so ugly it’s actually strangely beautiful. These anglerfish are ambush predators and they lie in wait for their prey with a lure dangling in front of its mouth. They are identical to the surrounding coral and are very hard to spot. If you are lucky enough to see one on the move they actually ‘walk’ around on their pectoral fins.
To make sure you get to enjoy some macro life on your dive you could book a fish ID course. Take courses in underwater photography and go on a macro hunt with your instructor. This is a great way to see these animals and study them back after the dive. Perhaps the best way to enjoy macro on a whole new level is to night dive. The small animals in the corals come alive at night in a way they aren’t seen during the day.
Welcome to the new world of macro diving!