It wasn’t much longer before I was able to check out Mafia’s muck diving. The dive-site was right in front of the centre, so we kitted up and waddled the few metres to shore – though had I been feeling lazy I could have accepted the offer of one of the guides to carry my kit for me.
From top: Yellow-horned phyllidia (Phyllidia elegans); caramel nudibranch (Glossodoris rufomarginata).
Waist-deep in the water, we put a little air into our BCs, sat down and donned our fins before starting our swim out.
I soon realised what the others had been talking about. We were only 6-7m deep, frog-kicking behind our guide to avoid disturbing the sandy bottom. Visibility was already down to a few metres, so we didn’t need to make it worse.
What could we see? Sand, twigs and bits of seagrass. When would we reach the dive-site? I wondered.
A couple of minutes in, our eagle-eyed guide pointed to a muddy brown patch of seagrass. I looked but there was nothing there, just sand and grass. I looked harder, blinked, looked again.
Like a magic-eye picture, the jumble of muted shapes before me suddenly became clear, and a tiny brown seahorse appeared. Had it not been pointed out, I would certainly have swum right past it.
Not long after this, a couple of photographers started taking photos of a patch of rubbish I’d glanced at briefly and finned past.
Remembering the seahorse, I knew all wasn’t as it seemed, and swam over.
I hovered nearby to figure out what they were looking at, and a small pipefish popped into view. I’d been staring it in the face the whole time.
Suddenly the photographers bubbled with excitement, strobes trained on a tiny patch of seagrass. I glided over to see what the fuss was about.
I looked around, followed the direction of their lenses, swam around and looked from the side. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
I tried to relax my eyes and not focus too specifically on one section of the seabed in case it might help the magic-eye picture come into view. Still nothing.
When they had finish taking their photos, I came closer for a hard look from all angles, but still couldn’t make anything out. It was only when we were back on shore that the others explained that they’d found another tiny seahorse.
If I’d known what I was looking for, I might have seen it. Or perhaps not.
On subsequent dives I examined every patch of seabed studiously to see if I could spot a critter hidden in plain sight. Sometimes these hunts were successful, with cowfish, frogfish, shrimp, crabs and cuttlefish revealing themselves to me, but I was always convinced that I’d missed a lot too. Chatting after the dives confirmed my suspicions.
I’d been tipped me off about a friendly resident octopus that lived at a particular dive-site. It had been frequently seen in a beer-bottle, emerging to show off when divers arrived.
We found it out in the open, and it was more than accommodating. Unlike many of the critters found during the dive, this was no magic-eye puzzle; the octopus seemed to enjoy the attention as it puffed up and swaggered across the sand.
It readjusted itself, looking to left and right as if asking: “Did you get my best side?” I’d have loved to know what it was thinking, surrounded by three intrigued divers and their camera equipment.
After several minutes it decided we weren’t that interesting after all, and had far better places to be. As it shimmied away, the sass in its step hinted that it was aware that it still had an audience.
Its exit was as prolonged as that of a Broadway star and signalled the end of the dive.