A photo journey through Filipino reefs after the sun goes down

By Kyle Gillespie

When the sun goes down in the Central Philippines the reefs come alive as crabs, snails, cuttlefish and other creature emerge from hiding. Meet the marine creatures that crowd the reefs at night and the fishers who collect them.
(All photographs by Kyle Gillespie/Project Seahorse)

The village of Bilang-bilangan West is several miles off the west coast of Bohol. Fishing is a major source of food and income. Several of these boats will set out for the reefs as the sun goes down as creatures like crabs and squid emerge.

A fishing boat is readied for a night of fishing. Lanterns help the fisher see down onto the reef and also attract curious marine life to the boat. Note that this is not the type of lantern fishing that is used for seahorses – this boat is much bigger and the lanterns more impressive.

The sun sets over Jandayan Island as fishers prepare to dive the reefs to collect crabs, and other marine species. Invertebrates, which mostly emerge at night, provide about third of the protein in local diets.

Fishers near Matabao, Bohol, ready their nets for an evening of fishing.

As the reefs darken, an aeolid nudibranch emerges from the coral to hunt.

Scavengers, like the spotted porcelain crab also appear and search for morsels of food.

The squat shrimp, another scavenger, may be small but it certainly adds a splash of colour to the reef.

Hand-made crab traps dry in the sun on Batasan Island, Bohol. Crab fishing has become a major source of protein and income on Danajon Bank in the Central Philippines.

KMG_Phils_9.jpg

Once snails and crabs are caught, meat is removed and prepared for meals. Here, marine snails are removed from their shells. Batasan Island, Bohol.

A flamboyant cuttlefish is one of the more curious (and colourful) creatures on the reef. This one watched from a distance for several minutes before coming to investigate. Apparently, we did not appear to be a threat.

Many species depend heavily on a specific type of habitat on which to live. This type of coral shrimp hides in crevasses during the day and spends its nights in amongst soft corals.

The white spotted hermit crab cannot make its own shell and must find a new one every time it out grows its home. The reef is a competitive real estate market, with crabs often battling for a new shelter.

KMG_Phils_13.jpg

Sea cucumbers are laid in the sun to dry on Batasan Island, Bohol. These creatures have become a popular item in the fish and medicine markets of Hong Kong. Sea cucumbers now sell for up to 25 times the price of lobsters in China.

Nudibranchs, like this chromodoris, use bright colour patterns to warn potential predators that they are poisonous or distasteful. Chromodorids feed on sponges.

The sapsucking slug gets its name from its ability to suck the juices out from algae. Some species can even integrate the chloroplasts from the algae into their own tissues become “solar-powered sea slugs”.