One More Reef Before We Go

Ailuk atoll is bounded on the west by a string of small islands that stretch for 15 miles.

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There are channels between each pair of islets that are fed with cool clear ocean water that comes with the surf crashing over the barrier reef on the offshore side.

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These channels are like mall-sized aquariums with crystal clear water and thriving coral communities.  A perfect spot for a last snorkel before we leave the tropics behind us.

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There was a fair amount of current and surge due to the breakers that feed the channel but it wasn’t going to slow us down in our last days of remote atoll fish watching.

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There were lots of new fish for us. This tiny yellow boxfish looks nothing like the adult he will become.

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The mature version is about 12 inches long with bizarre fins and a hinged snout.

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These tiny juvenile leopard wrasses were pretty exciting until we realized that they were very common in Ailuk.

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There were lots of skittish clown corises.

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Others were uncommonly friendly. The local clan of peacock groupers were almost domesticated.

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The stately freckled hawkfish  (or as we call him, a frecklefaced coral sitter) is always a good subject.

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Lots of these fish showed little fear of humans. This normally means that they have little exposure to spearfishing or that they carry ciguatera fish poisoning and are not taken for consumption. Some are consistently off the human menu for toxicity and are almost always tolerant – like this black spotted puffer.

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We try to look around in spite of all the near field action and take in the reefscape.

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There were some really excellent reefscapes.

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There were corals we’ve never seen…

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and lots of perfectly framed aquarium sized coral portraits.

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But then something new would swim by and attract all the attention. Like a leopard wrasse.

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Or a three spot wrasse.

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The dependable stalwarts of the fishwatcher still claim their share of airtime. These longnose file fish were doing a crazy three dimensional spiraling tango.

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Juvenile checkerboard wrasses are hard to ignore.

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Who doesn’t  love a bird wrasse/goat fish combo.

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We’ll always stop for a group shot of some pan-pacific little guys.

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In the fun category we have big hermit crabs,

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and a pillow star.

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The weird award goes to this juvenile rock mover wrasse. He swims around like a drift leaf and confuses predators with his confusing antenna fins on the top of his head that emit some kind of defensive jamming signal (we think). 

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10°21.00′N 169°58.00′E 26-June-11 00:00 UTC

One Response to “One More Reef Before We Go”

  1. Tim Crone says:

    Wow. A fitting finish. You really outdid yourself here. I mean really. Pillow star? Black spotted puffer? My oh my oh my. That guy looks a little like my pup Marz. Or any other bird dog with a penchant for holding its breath. Awesome!

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