I DON’T PROPOSE to traipse you through the dive-sites one by one and catalogue the many creatures I saw (even though I just did exactly that with the house-reef night-dive, one of many sites I could have picked to kick off this feature).
It’s especially tempting to get into critter-catalogue mode in Coral Triangle hotspots in which the animal cast-list can be jaw-dropping, as it was in Anda, but it would be easier to tell you what I didn’t see (flamboyant cuttlefish, anybody? I’m sure they were there – I was probably just looking the other way at the time).
Squid in full display mode at J Eden.
Nor do I usually tend to be a wishlist type of diver, instructing the guide on what I expect to see next day. Just as I don’t consider a hill-walk on which I fail to see a golden eagle a waste of time, so I’m generally happy to take dives as they come and see what turns up – it’s the surprises and happy accidents that make diving the joy it is.
The blue-ringed octopus was an exception. I had mentioned to Larry that I’d never seen one, but had then forgotten about it, and had been amazed when he delivered one at the last minute on that night-dive, like a conjuror producing a dove from his sleeve (though keeping a BRO up your sleeve would be a seriously bad idea) .
If I made it sound as if all those night visitors had just appeared before my very eyes, it was Larry who had made sure I noticed them.
What you need to know about the diving at Magic Oceans is simple. The bangka outrigger dive-boat is moored in sheltered water just off the steps, close to the spacious and well-equipped dive-centre, which is itself close to where you breakfast.
You wade out to the boat to which your assembled kit has already been taken, though they may well have finished building a retractable jetty by the time you go, so getting on and off will be even easier.
Drive left (east) towards Anda town to find an astonishing range of critters at the various sand-channel sites there, or head west and into the bay for gentle drifts on the Wonderwall, finding more critters and decompressing on the reeftop in coral pastures awash with large turtles.
There are some 30 named sites between Pogaling to the west and the excellent Lamanok Island, which we visit twice, in the other direction. Currents are generally on the mild side. Sound good? It is.
Stable, spacious bangkas are always a pleasure to use. Climb back onto yours after the dive, refresh yourself with the sweetest mangos and pineapples you’ve ever eaten, scroll through your pictures, check your fresh tankful of nitrox and go back for more. What could be simpler?
I’ll tell you what’s even simpler – forget the boat and enjoy the Magic Oceans house-reef, day or night.
Anda is the sort of place where photographers will have their hands full deciding which way to turn. At some sites such as Laconak you’ll find more nudibranchs in more colourful garbs than you thought existed, and not all tiny ones but those big enough to let you know which way they’re pointing while you’re still at a distance.
You can then position yourself accordingly, and avoid photographing another slug’s backside.
Ghost pipefish, beloved of snappers, are commonly encountered, both the ornate variety that’s so difficult to separate from its frondy background and the robust ones – we found three of those together on one occasion, a male and two pregnant females, according to Larry.
Some species are rarer. Larry knew where to find a single reclusive harlequin shrimp, the photographer’s friend, and as luck would have it this shy celebrity was busy trying to upend a brightly decorated specimen of the starfish they like to eat.
But everything else seemed to be in generous supply. Tiny shrimps present themselves photogenically on bubble corals and anemone tips; pugnacious mantis shrimps peek out of their holes.
Every whip or wire coral had its resident xeno crab or gobies – great for black backgrounds. There are frogfish everywhere if you have an eye for their giveaway fins, from tiny red-and-yellow clowns to huge grey-pink gargoyles guarding the wall – and one bright orange specimen the size of a fingernail.
SEAHORSES ABOUND – big ones out on the white sand at the sandy sites such as those facing Anda town, and pygmies in numbers on sea-fans at the start of the gentle drift-dive to the west that takes you from Wonderwall to Turtle Point, not far from Magic Oceans.
That dive, which we did several times, is astonishing. It’s one thing to start a wall-drift with a shoe-in pygmy photo-op (five shots maximum, as per a code of conduct), but when you have numerous diversions along the way, including large soft corals enjoying the current, and can decompress at a site like Turtle Point, it’s something else entirely.
I would venture to suggest that the reeftop, with its beautiful hard corals and green turtle population grazing in unruffled tranquility, would qualify in many parts of the world as a prime attraction in its own right. Here, it’s more icing on an already tasty cake.
You want mimic octopuses? They are shy, and we had more success with the very similar but more golden-coloured wunderpuses.
Larry, I’m pleased to note, didn’t resort to scooping them from the sand as I have seen attempted elsewhere – his technique was one of patient seduction, waving a homemade rag octopus on a fishing line gently above a barely visible hole in the sand until the wunderpus, presumably driven into a state of sexual frenzy, was tempted into the open.