Day 141, Year 5: Underwater in Uligan
Date: Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Weather: Sunny and Hot
Location: Uligan Island, Haa Alif Atoll, Maldives

We started our day with another snorkel. We realize that we are headed to Chagos and that there will be fantastic snorkeling there, but every place is different and we wanted to see as much as we could while here in Uligan. It was foggy in the early morning when we arrived on Sunday and again yesterday, but today it was bright and sunny, so we were in the water before 8:30 am. Both of our previous snorkels were in the afternoon and we know from experience that the fish are just never as prolific as they are in the morning. That held true today. Instead of one or two fish of the different varieties, there were many. The Powder-blue Surgeonfish were out in numbers as were the Collared Butterflyfish. These guys are about as big as my hand and have pearly gray scales trimmed in gold. The gray scales make them darker than most butterflyfish, but they have a bright red tail and a very distinctive vertical white band just behind the eye. This is the collar, thus the name ‘collared’. Mark spent time chasing a Big Long-nosed Butterflyfish to try and get a picture and he was successful. And then he came upon a mass of the Collared Butterflyfish hanging out with one lone Oriental Sweetlips. Sweetlips have horizontal black and white bold stripes with a yellow and black polka-dotted tail and dorsal fin. Mark was able to hover over the mass of Collared Butterflyfish and get photos of the Oriental Sweetlips. We saw Bluelined Snapper and Bluelined Surgeonfish, Black Triggerfish and Mustached or Titan Triggerfish, but the Clown Triggerfish did not show itself today. It is so distinctive with its big white polka dots on the bottom half, black on the top half, orange lips, and a yellow tail outlined in black. We’ll probably never see one of these again, but it was such a joy to see the ones yesterday. And we did not see those strange sea cucumbers today. Since our sighting of them yesterday was so unusual, I looked in our books to identify what we did see. Here’s what I found out:

Sea cucumbers are echinoderms. Echinodermata means ‘spiny skin’ and refers to the tough, sometimes rough and spiny outside. All types of sea stars, including feather stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers are classified as echioderms. The sea cucumbers every where else we have been on our voyage around the world simply lie on the bottom looking lifeless. You can pick them up and use them like squirt guns, and then gently put them back. But the sea cucumbers we are seeing here are active creatures. The first day we snorkeled we found one lying on the bottom looking lifeless as usual. Mark picked this one up and brought it to me to hold. But three of the ones we saw yesterday were very active. I thought I should try to identify this creature to make sure it is a sea cucumber and harmless. It is a sea cucumber and it is harmless. Glad to know that. Its scientific name is Bohadschia graeffei. From what I can find in the books we have, the movement indicates it was possibly getting ready to release sperm into the water. The sea cucumbers we saw were firmly attached to a bommie by one end with the other end reaching up and out and swaying in the water. When we swam over to investigate we could see that the end swaying in the water had tentacles that looked like a frilly black scalloped crocheted doily.

Mark and Ed spent most of this afternoon on the island checking out. It was a much longer procedure than checking in, but Mark reported that they did get a chance to talk to the locals and they got a closer look at how people live. They returned around 4:30 pm and we spent the next hour getting ready to leave here and head south. Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day and we will celebrate by beginning the 500 mile passage to the southern-most atoll in the Maldives, Addu Atoll. There is absolutely no wind being forecast, so our 500 miles will probably be a slow trip. It could take us a week to get there. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

100316 Day 141 Maldives–Uligan Underwater 2