Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I can see the bottom

Off of Nuku Island in Tonga, we snorkeled in the clearest water I have ever seen. We could see the bottom more than 40' deep.

We snorkeled amongst patches of coral strewn across a sandy bottom. Tucked into rocks I spied sea urchins the size of beach balls in a variety of colors, from jet black to black-and-white striped to a deep maroon so dark it was nearly black. Along the sandy bottom, sea cucumbers made their slow journeys, some dressed in dark velvet green with ruffles and others in a smooth bing cherry red with bubble gum pink bellies.

Throughout the shoreline, were massive sea stars with legs nearly a foot long and the color of Concord grape juice. We also found a new (to us) variety of sea star in burgundy and forest green with more than a dozen legs and covered in fat, yellow spikes. On the way back to shore, I eyed a final chubby pink sea star with tentacles reminiscent of the legs on my childhood cabbage patch dolls.

We also saw our first eels in the South Pacific. A brown one with yellowish pin-sized dots and a bright white mouth. The second eel was nearly the inverse of the first, cloaked in white with dark freckles. Both hid in their holes, revealing just their heads and a few inches of their creepy bodies.

The most unusual thing we discovered was a Christmas red snail-like creature with a white pattern across its top that reminded me of lace It was about six inches long, a couple inches wide and sported two floppy antennae. As we watched, it army-crawled along at a pace so slow we questioned whether it was actually moving.

As for fish, there was quite a variety although few in number. My favorite was a two-inch long neon-blue fish with iridescent fins and a neon orange stripe down its back. We also saw more long, skinny flutemouths, yellow and black striped moorish idols, multicolor parrotfish, blue-beaked bird wrasse, and black-eyed threadfin butterflyfish.

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