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Night snorkeling with the Ambon Toby

  • Terry Lilley / Contributed photo

    The Ambon Toby is a pufferfish and they grow to about six inches long, very common in shallow Hawaiian waters.

Going out on a night snorkel is like visiting a whole new planet! It is safe to do a night snorkel in shallow, calm water when the surf is very small. Calm lagoons are best like ‘Anini Beach on Kaua‘i or Pupukea tide pool on O‘ahu. What you see at night is completely different then in the day, as there are more marine-life species active at night. The day-active species sleep at night, so they are easy to approach and look at up close. One of those amazing creatures is the ambon toby.

The toby is a puffer-fish, and they grow to about six inches long. They are very common in shallow Hawaiian waters, and they also are very common in Australia, Indonesia, Palau, all the way into the Indian Ocean. The ambon toby is also known as the sharp-nose puffer-fish or spider-eye toby. Like all puffer-fish, these small reef fish have a very-toxic layer of poison under their skin so most predators will not eat them. This allows the toby to come very close to divers, and we usually see them swimming slowly, picking at the sea floor for algae and small invertebrates to eat. They are super fun to watch because they can swim forwards, backwards, sideways, and turn on a dime, very much like a little underwater helicopter.

The ambon toby has psychedelic colors, and these colors get brighter at night. Since they are active and feed during the day they sleep at night up on top of the reef, totally exposed. With the bright dive lights you can slowly approach them and look right into their blue-green eyes and see the star-like pattern on their faces. They have vivid blue colors that are easy to see at night but hard to see during the day.

Night snorkeling is super fun because many of the fish species are easy to approach because they are sleeping, and you can see their bright colors that are hard to see during the day. At night there are also many other cool creatures that come out, like the moray eels, sea cucumbers, 711 crabs and octopus. To find these creatures you only need to be in water that is two-feet deep! As a general rule, the sharks that come out at night will not go in that shallow of water, and out of over 100 night snorkels I have done in calm lagoons here in Hawai‘i I have only seen one, small, harmless, white-tipped reef shark.

No need to go to Mars to discover new life, as there are all kinds of wild and crazy marine creatures just waiting to be discovered!

You can see the ambon toby in action in the underwater education movie “The World’s Guide To Hawaiian Reef Fish” at underwater2web.com. You can also follow my weekly marine life post on my Facebook and Instagram just under my name.

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Terry Lilley is a marine biologist living in Hanalei Kauai and co-founder of Reef Guardians Hawai‘i, a nonprofit on a mission to provide education and resources to protect the coral reef. To donate to Reef Guardians Hawai‘i go to reefguardianshawaii.org.

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