On our first dive, our guide Rowena pointed to something. We looked and looked and finally saw what it was she was showing us. Pygmy seahorses, we discovered, are so masterful at mimicking their surroundings they are almost impossible spot. Without Rowena's help we would have happily moved on, oblivious that one of the most exquisite little creatures I have ever seen was skulking there. On another dive, amongst coral rubble on a sandy slope, we found six seahorses in close proximity. Significantly bigger than the pygmy, they were just as cunningly camouflaged and again, we could easily have missed them.
We quickly realised that the diving here requires a different approach. Here the underwater stars are not the big charismatic show-stoppers like sharks or manta rays. There are no giant schools of fish, no dramatic drop-offs. Yes, we saw turtles, the occasional yellow-fin tuna and sleek, sharp-nosed barracuda, but here the underwater world is dominated by the small, the weird and the masters of disguise. There are pipe fish that look exactly like the tattered scraps of weed they swim amongst. There are scorpion fish and frog fish that change colour to render themselves almost invisible. There are sand-coloured flying gurnards that will lie undetected until you get too close for comfort and then they take off, spreading beautifully patterned concertina 'wings' like those on the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car. There are sea moths - funny little long-nosed creatures that look as if they were designed to be in Star Wars. There are arrow-head crabs, orang-utan crabs - so-called because they really are orange and hairy - transparent shrimp, burrowing fish and tiny octopus exquisitely decorated with blue rings.
But not everything blends seamlessly into the background. As a fan of nudibranchs, I am always excited to see one and always amazed by their sheer variety of colour, patterns, feelers and plumes. In many places finding a nudibranch is an occasional treat. In Bohol's waters there appears to be a permanent nudibranch carnival taking place. On the wall of the Magic Ocean dive centre is a montage of photographs of all the different nudibranchs that had been photographed by staff and guests over the last year. There were almost two hundred of them.
For underwater photographers and divers who love the macro world, Anda should definitely be on your wish list.