In March 2015, my friend and colleague Pooja Rathod and I were more in the water than out of it. We were both working with the Nature Conservation Foundation on a project on fish herbivory and coral recovery in the Lakshadweep islands. We had been doing two dives a day for nearly five months and had reached a point where, as a friend once succinctly put it, “data just happens to you”. We no longer knew why we were laying transects or counting fish and coral, but we were doing those things anyway. 

When you spend so much time in the water, especially with your head down counting and identifying coral juveniles (babies) as I was, previously stationary patches of reef inevitably begin to shiver with life. A stand of algae turns into the slow lurch of a nudibranch. Blennies appear from invisible wormholes in coral. Christmas Tree Worms curl and uncurl in the current.

These photographs were stolen in those minutes between work when small movements on the reef began to catch my eye – the gaze of attentive triplefins, the sudden purple flash of scallops between folds of coral. Deep inside coral colonies, a microworld of animals seemed to navigate a complex set of mazes only they could understand. I began to think of this place as the undercoral – the layer of life beneath the main canopy of a coral reef. 

Click through (above) to view the photo story.

Have you read the other stories from our World Ocean Day package?

The Real Tragedy Of The Commons: Why the private takeover of common ocean resources must be at the forefront of our conversations today. By Siddharth Chakravarty

A Lens On The Ocean: An underwater photographer shares his top tips on shooting in the deep blue. Dive in with Anup J Kattukaran.