Lifou – Coral heads at Droueoulou

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Every animal on the reef has its own personality, and the constant interactions over territories and food are fun to watch. I snorkeled with Frank and Lisa Coale from the catamaran MANGO MOON on the three large coral heads that are located between the beach and where ADAGIO is anchored, near the village of Droueoulou in Lifou, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia.

The water depth must have been about 10 meters, so the deep blue water around and between the coral heads was too deep for me to explore. Clouds obscured much of the sun’s rays, but there was enough light on the top of the reef to allow for photography. The big plus is that the water is very clear. No rivers on land so no sediment in the water.

Each coral community is a unique collection of living organisms. Each time I snorkel, I discover creatures I have never seen before, and also familiar creatures behaving differently from what I have seen or read about. Highlights from today were: a green sea turtle, an anemone hosting two different species of Anemonefish, a small Octopus, several beautiful Lemonpeel Angelfish as well as lots of other fish, large spherical golden-orange coral heads, brilliantly colored corals of all types and sizes, large swirling schools of small fish, and an assortment of colorfully patterned Giant Clams.

As we approached the first reef, a Green turtle appeared from the depths, exhaling a stream of air bubbles which gave away her position. She “flew” away when she saw us.

Frank and Lisa free dived down into the blue canyons and took flash photos, but the top of the reef was plenty of an adventure for me, where the light is best. I have never seen such pristine, large, orange brain corals, that dotted the top of the reef.

Giant Clams are becoming more and more rare in the Pacific, but there were an abundance of different species on our reef. The giant clam’s mantle colors come mostly from symbiotic photosynthesizing zooxanthellae algae in the tissue. These algae are the same that are also used by reef corals for nutrition and give the corals their color. A fascinating discussion of the source and purpose of mantle coloration can be found at:

An octopus is a master of camouflage, but I spotted one when it moved to a safer place in the reef, after it saw me coming. It did not completely disappear into the hole that it hides in, but depended upon its coloration. Its shape was a giveaway, as was its movement as it lowered itself into its hole as I approached. I never saw it in its entirety but it must have measured two feet in length.

There were many types of fish on the reef, and my favorites were the Lemonpeel Angelfish (Centroopyge flavissimus Cuvier), the Eastern Triangle butterflyfish (Chaetodon baronessa Cuvier) and the Barrier Reef Anemonefish (Amphiprion akindynos). I admire the first two fish for their beauty and the Anemonefish for its living arrangements.

I did not realize that a single anemone can host more than one species of Anemonefish. But I found one that does. The dominant Barrier Reef Anemonefish and its two juveniles appeared to be tolerating the presence in and among the tentacles of the anemone of a Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion Bleeker). It remained in the lower regions of the anemone and did not parade around in the tops of the tentacles as the Barrier Reef Anemones did.

The two juvenile Anemonefish were of distinctly different shapes and colors. I have been unable to identify them, but will continue to look into it.

Crinoids are wonderful to see, if you realize that the living specimens on the coral reef are living relatives of fossils that are 450 million years old. They resemble a flower and are variously called a sea lily or a feather star. They are members of the same phylum as starfish, sea urchins and sand dollars. As animals, they feed by sweeping plankton out of the water with their “feathers”.

All photos were taken with our tried and true Canon PowerShot SD800 IS digital ELPH, in its underwater housing.


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