April 7, 2012
Diversity on Bunaken

“Situated in the very midst of an Archipelago, hemmed in on every side by islands teeming with varied forms of life, its productions have yet a surprising amount of individuality…Poor in the actual number of species, it is yet wonderfully rich in peculiar forms, many of which are singular and beautiful…absolutely unique upon the globe.”

Alfred Wallace writing on diverse Sulawesi, The Malay Archipalego, 1869.

Sitting in a damp tent somewhere in the wilds of Sulawesi, shivering through a malarial fever, this lesser known founder of theory of evolution came up with the brainwave of biogeography.

If he had ventured underwater to see any of the surrounding reefs though, I believe that the confusion of diversity would have pleasantly slowed the progress of science.

To be totally honest, I don’t know if Wallace did peer below the waves or even if the snorkel had been invented by his time. What is clear is that Wallace doesn’t mention the coral reefs near Manado in his travel tome, The Malay Archipelago.

Through the generous birthday gift of Brian’s parents, we visited the coral reef walls of Bunaken Island, thirty minutes outside the old Northern Sulawesi capital of Manado over this last week. On the risk of sounding cliché, we really did see all the colors of the rainbow among the fish along these reef walls. Sometimes, it almost seemed like the whole range in single fish alone. 

Squatting on the beach, watching the tide come in, each eddy seems to teem. Flounders camouflage against the sandy bottom, only to be given away by only their eyes, awkwardly popping up on one side of their bodies. Hermit crabs wave bright blue pincers at one another in a territorial dance. A palm sized eel or sea snake challenges my big toe.

Past the sandy shore and down the walls of the reef, the creatures only get weirder. Worms look like Christmas trees. Fish have beaks, many change gender over thee course of their lifetime and others have burrows cleaned by symbiotic shrimp. Green sea turtles launch off the wall and seem to fly (in slow motion) into blue depths beyond.

Musing on this newfound understanding of “diversity” on the beach beside a tall, fossilized reef with the texture of crusted sourdough, I’m joined by four kids that add another lesson in the diversity of “play.”

They’re looking for toys that have washed up on the beach. Now distracted, they demonstrate their somersaulting skills. One five year old stuffs a toy truck in his underwear, reminding me of why shorts with zippered pockets are one great invention of mankind.