Critter getaway in Bangka

Mangrove view

Mangroves at Bangka Island

At the moment I am back in Lembeh Strait for what will be the last visit to Indonesia during my PhD. So I am making the most of it, enjoying every moment and taking time to visit friends spread out across the archipelago. A few days ago I went to Bangka Island to visit Sophie and Simon, who own Nomad Divers, a very pleasant small dive resort. I wrote about Bangka before, so check it out here if you want to know what the island is all about.

I enjoyed a few very relaxed days, playing (and losing ) board games, teaching their kids how to behave badly and philosophising about science while enjoying gin-tonics. But I also got to appreciate the abundant critters that live in the mangroves and jungle of Bangka Island. Those few days of not working (not a single dive done and no computer in sight), and just enjoying nature reminded me why I fell in love with the tropics in the first place. The beauty of Indonesia (and much of the tropics by extension) is that there is so much wildlife all around you, as long as you just keep your eyes open…or just get plain lucky.


Tarsier in the ceiling! I never realised how long their tails were…

On my first night, while we were catching up and sharing stories about science hobbits, a small tarsier decided to have his dinner in the restaurant. These small primates are rare and vulnerable to extinction, they are only active at night and are usually very shy. If you want to see them in the wild, your best bet is to find yourself a good guide who knows where they roost during the day, so you can see them waking up and moving out to hunt when night falls. Just seeing one is great, having one sitting just above you, while eating a gecko is dumb luck and freaking amazing. For Sophie and Simon, this was a first in 4 years on Bangka!


Nomnomnom. Tarsier (Tarsius Tarsier) eating a gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) in Bangka Island

There was plenty to see by day as well. I had a great time wandering through the mangroves, looking around for interesting crittersAs you may or may not know, mangroves are important nursery areas for all kind of fish, so it was no surprise to see lots of baby snappers, damsels and other small fish darting around in the shallows. But there was a lot more, loads of mudskippers (skipping around in the mud, as they do), kingfishers in the trees, and the always busy fiddler crabs in the intertidal zone.


Two male fiddler crabs facing off

Fiddler crabs are colourful little crabs, and are named for the males’ disproportionally large claw. One claw is small and used like any other crab uses its claws, the huge claw is used to show off (what did you expect?). The males wave their big claw around to get the attention of females, and to ward of other males encroaching on their territory. If you  ever find yourself in a mangrove with plenty of time on your hands, I can highly advise watching these little guys at work for a while, it’s pretty captivating and highly entertaining.

While I didn’t go into the jungle, there were plenty of little lizards to spot while strolling along the beach or heading to my room. Apparently, there are quite a few snakes to find in the jungle, and legend has it there’s even deer around, maybe I’ll have to bring shoes next time and go have a look.  If mangroves or jungle or jungle trekking aren’t your thing, you can always just chill out, have a beer and watch the geckos on the wall eating bugs or fighting each other. The tropics really are accommodating for any life style 😉


Sophie and Max enjoying the ocean view

The story of a science hobbit

Luke, science hobbit

Luke, science hobbit

The research project I am working on might be one I designed and that will (hopefully) result in me getting a PhD degree, but I could never succeed in this without the help of many other people. I have got three supervisors in Australia, local counterparts here in Indonesia, connections in the dive world, friends and family who provide moral support,… And then there’s my trusty science hobbit, Luke. As much as everyone else has supported me and helped out so far, I could not have achieved a fraction of what I have in Indonesia without Luke’s help. So I am using this blog to thank him and to tell his story (and to shamelessly promote his awesome photography work while I’m at it).

Luke and I met in 2011 where we were both working for Coral Cay Conservation in Napantao, Philippines. He was one of the two science officers, while I was responsible for making sure everyone was diving safely. Luke and Jen (the other science officer) were amicable kown as science hobbits, a title that I have kept on using ever since. We shared a room for months, so we got to know each other very well. Besides sharing a passion for nudibranchs and by extension any other ocean critter, it turned out we also make great dive buddies.

Luke and me in Philippines, 2011

Luke and me in Philippines, 2011

As most divers will know, diving with some buddies just works better than with others. It’s more than just safety and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how well you get along on land. I have dived with partners and friends who were great divers, but which just didn’t work as a buddy. Vice versa I’ve dived with people that I hardly knew on land, but with whom diving just went super smooth. Anyone who has ever had the chance (or bad luck) to dive with Luke and me will contest to the fact that we work well underwater. We not only know each other’s dive style, air consumption and intentions, we actually manage to have proper conversations while we’re diving. I have vivid (and hilarious) memories of us discussing which species of nudibranch we found on a dive in Komodo, ignoring the ripping currents because we needed to settle that particular point right then and there 😀

Photographing manta rays in Ecuador

Luke photographing manta rays in Ecuador

So who is this science hobbit really? I can tell you that he is not only a great diver, he is also one of the most knowledgeable field marine biologists I have ever met. You need coral identified? Ask Luke. Not sure what fish it is? Ask Luke. Need to know more about coral nurseries? Ask Luke. Want to build a coral reef aquarium, do fish surveys, know more about conservation, diving in Fiji, Madagascar or Philippines? Luke’s your man! I even have to admit that he might be better at spotting baby frogfish than I am. On top of all that, he is also genuinely a nice guy who is great fun to work with. All of this is probably why he has been asked to work with so many NGOs and researchers in places like Fiji, Philippines, Maldives, Madagascar, Ecuador, Indonesia,… It is definitely the reason why I asked him to come and help me in Indonesia for the past 3 months.

To add to those skills, he is also not half bad as a photographer. When I say not half bad, I mean pretty bloody amazing! Most of the pictures on this blog are his work, so go back, read through some of the posts and have a look at the pictures. Even better, check out his website or facebook page. You can even order prints of his pictures as well, so check it out! On the site you can order prints of some of his best shots. At the moment Luke is giving 50% off prints for the first 20 prints ordered, just use the code FROGFISH when ordering your prints. If anyone is still looking for Christmas or birthday present ideas for ocean lovers, it’s your chance to get a good deal.

Luke in action, find the black frogfish

Luke in action, find the black frogfish

Unfortunately I had to say goodbye to one of my best friends and greatest colleagues ever. He has been whisked away to Australia by his girlfriend to go and explore that part of the world. In all fairness to Katie, she did let me use him for a good 3 months, significantly postponing their Australia plans. Besides that, she is just as amazing a person as Luke is, so I am wishing both of them all the best on their new adventures. I sincerely hope they have the best of times together and that they get all the good luck they both deserve.

Once again a massive thank you Mr. Luke, hoping our next dive together will be sooner rather than later!