by Max Appelman
I’ve dived before. I’ve snorkelled dozens of times in the beautiful reefs of the Caribbean, lush with corals and schools of fish. I’m now on the fourth dive week of my expedition in Andavadoaka, Madagascar, and I’m starting to notice a delightful change in the water. Yea, I’m becoming skilled as a diver. Yea, I’m much more graceful than I was on the open water course. But it’s something else. Some sort of transformation has taken place that’s making these dives far more enjoyable than in the past. Suddenly it hits me. It’s obvious. For the first time ever, I know what I’m looking at! Fish, corals, sponges, molluscs, echinoderms, crustaceans. I can put a name to almost everything.
There’s some sort of euphoria gained from knowing what’s swimming past you other than “a fish.” As I swim through a school of Copper Sweepers, I admire the structure of a giant tabular coral formation while a monster spotted trunkfish swims out of its hole in the rock and into my peripheral, no more than a meter or two away. Bullet head and blue barred parrotfish pick at the corals around me. A crocodile fish lays still beneath me, cryptic with the surrounding rocks. I could not have identified those species before coming to Andavadoaka. Surrounded by fish underwater, I point my finger and say the name in my head. Crescent wrasse, pale damsel, thread fin butterfly, peacock grouper. It’s awesome! Obviously the reefs of Madagascar differ substantially from the reefs in the Caribbean; however, you need nothing more than a fish book and the ability to distinguish between the families to identify a fish. I encourage all ocean lovers to learn to identify what you see in the water. Make an effort to learn the families. In the end you’ll thank yourself.