Octopi are the masters of camouflage. Despite this, they’re still pretty easy to find.
It’s a funny twist. Even though they can blend into any background with their ingenious colour-changing skin cells, their underwater homes are usually covered in shells. These shells are the debris of their dinners. So, if you find a pile of empty shells by the rocks, the likelihood is you’ll find the collector nearby. Got you, octopi.
I love this nature game. Yesterday, Lu and I were back coral cleaning. I discovered a tiny fish in my coral tree. There are lots of juvenile fish near the Harbour Village shallows – but they usually live in the rocks and the out-planted staghorns.
This fish was different. This baby fish was using the nursery trees to hide in. And for something just slightly longer than my fingernail, it was sneaky smart.
I started to get my pocket camera out. Bonnie had brought her big camera with her too. She needed some shots for the Christmas newsletter to her Reef Renewal sponsors. Bigging you up Charlottesville Women’s Dive Club and the Sherwood family. We see your name tags every time we clean.
As Bonnie was getting ready, the clementine-coloured fish saw me. By the time I was ready to take a pic of it, the fish had flitted to another piece of coral. I began to click at it, but as I moved, it also moved. Then I was distracted for a second – and the fish was gone. It only takes a second. As smart as a miracle.
In the meantime, Bonnie had put a cheery Christmas ribbon on our coral tree – and began organising us for our photo. I am a terrible underwater communicator. There could be a tsunami going on. I’d still be shrugging. Bonnie was busy pointing and gesturing at the ribbon and the tree. Nada. I had nothing. In fairness, Lu was pretty perplexed too. Both of us were scratching our heads with our metal toothbrushes in our hands.
Eventually we got there. Bonnie with her professional set-up, and us for a Christmas coral snap. I can still feel Bonnie’s underwater eye roll. We laughed afterwards over our comedy of errors, washing our dive gear in the Harbour Village dive sinks.
‘Why wouldn’t you let me hold your camera when I was taking a photo of you?’
Bonnie grinned sheepishly. ‘No one holds my camera.’
‘Yeah, but you’d only just given it to Lu to hold,’ I said.
‘Only because she was right next to me.’
Aha. That makes sense.
This coral growing experience is becoming so special for us. I’m hoping – in vain – it never ends. When it’s time for us to go, I might try and hide along with the octopi shells. Or hide in the coral with the tiny fish. Turns out they’re slender file fish. Slender file fish can also change their colour to match their background.