Muck diving is one of the most popular diving activities among underwater photographers and marine-life aficionados. These habitats can be found anywhere from the muddy bottoms of mangrove swamps to river spillways to beneath harbor piers. The protected areas of lagoons and outer reefs are also prime locations. Divers are finding that some of the most interesting and colorful marine creatures can be found in these often-overlooked places.
Manta Ray Bay Hotel and Yap Divers, based in Colonia, Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia, hosted a unique month of exploration to discover new creatures in Yap. Led by famed muck-diving expert Larry Smith and MRBH founder Bill Acker, daily dives to find the out-of-the-ordinary on the reef were both fun and productive, yielding sightings of some fascinating creatures among a variety of marine inhabitants.
Acker dived with Smith in Smith's backyard of Komodo and western Papua in Indonesia. Amazed by the muck creatures Smith consistently found there, Acker decided to bring his talents to Yap.
Yap has large inner lagoons and deep channels leading to open ocean, and there are more than 1,500 species of fish in Micronesia. Add to this an even larger number of invertebrates, and Yap becomes prime ground for observing unusual marine life. Rainbow Reef is an inner-lagoon coral reef area near the mangrove forest, where the exquisitely colorful, but tiny and reclusive, mandarinfish live, coming out at dusk to breed and mate. In the same area, sea grasses, sandy shallow channels, deep main channels, outer hard-coral reefs and even the remains of an 1800s copper-plated and wooden shipwreck harbor unique critters.
Among the finds was a pipefish that has not yet been identified a beautiful little gold and blue creature known only by the common name "barrier reef pipefish." Other finds included capped razor coral shrimp and robust and ornate ghost pipefish.
"What a wonderful, diverse, thrill-a-minute experience here in Yap!" Smith reflected. "I had my nose in the reef looking for strange and beautiful small critters and a squadron of five or more manta rays was flapping all around overhead! It was tough duty."
The diving excursions in Yap included surveying some new spots and looking for the unusual in the tried-and-true spots. Some of the dives also included encounters with Yap's famous big animals.
"We even stumbled across the wreck of a WWII landing craft with some kind of big torpedo or bomb not far away from it," Smith recalls. "This site will be one of the main attractions in the future for Yap macro photographers but they might have to get that bomb out of the way first!
"We observed mandarinfish mating on almost every dive there, males fighting and locked in combat for over 20 minutes, and pajama cardinalfish eating the 'smoke' that appeared at the spectacular climax of the
mating ritual," Smith declared.
Smith celebrated a personal milestone during this trip, making his 17,000th (that's right, three zeros!) logged dive at the beautiful Yap Caverns. Dolphins accompanied the boat to the site, making for a fitting scenario.
It was a rewarding experiment by the Acker-Smith team and the Manta Ray guests. Next year's Critter Hunt will surely reveal even more of Yap's special treasures.