We must start when we see his flamboyant dress orange and blue patterns, because the second after, it has disappeared into the depths of the coral substrate. (Pulau Bangka, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2010)
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It is a rarity. A small shy fish which shows itself only at the end of the day. It is on the house-reef of the resort Mimpi Indahon Bangka Island, that I found the mandarin fish. It was during my stay in Sulawesi (Indonesia), in July 2010.
Flamboyant tangerine dress, electric blue stripes, waving flippers ... So early glimpse, so soon disappeared. The Mandarin fish is lively, elusive. Almost impossible to photograph.
It prefers to stay hidden under the protective interlacing of the coral, of course. Where the lens of my Canon Eos 7D has a hard time focusing.
Especially since underwater the light declines even faster as night falls.
But Jemi, my Indonesian guide, promised me a Mandarin to finish my stay. And I, the chilly one who usually refuses to go back in the water after dusk, agreed to a night dive!
I do not regret.
We spent an infinite amount of time at shallow depths, suspended above the reef, motionless, staring, eyes wide open, lulled by a gentle surf.
At regular intervals, Jemi sweeps the cluster of coral branches with the brush of his flashlight. He has taken care to dim the bright light with a red plastic bag. He proceeds without abrupt gesture, sparing dark pauses.
Our patience ends up paying. We see several.
Without being too persistent, I try to draw their portrait, to these little mandarin fish frightened by our presence.
Result: a lot of failures and only one vaguely showable picture. Which hardly translates the enchantment of this long wait in weightlessness, of this game of patience in a twilight subaquatic atmosphere.
This is the second time, in my diving life, that I have the chance to meet mandarin fish: there was, in 2008, this other dive in the Philippineson the reef of the island of Siquijor, which I had loved so much.