When the tide recedes from Pulau Sekudu, narrow basins of clear, still water form at the foot of many boulders. These trenches provide a refuge to small fish, shrimp, crabs and mysids, nigh-invisible crustaceans that form a cloud of haywire dots, which mull about between a rock and a harder place – the former being a wall of slime, squirts and stinging bodies, and the latter a slope of sand and weed, insurmountable to life aquatic – as they await the return of high water and benthic hopes.
In some pools, the largest visible threats are gobies with fat heads and flattened bellies, miniature giants stuck in a rut with halfbeaks, cardinalfish, silversides, perchlets and young mullet that never acquire the ease of mind possessed by paleomonids, which continue to forage and frolick in a cloak of glass. The air of nervousness is not unjustified, for these waters may also harbour sundry predators – octopuses, portunids and scorpionfish that make the most out of modest trappings and unhappy meals. Three-spined toadfish also lurk in some of these diners, lounging on the sediment or peeping from the captivity of a stony hollow, which usually has room to spare for a measly torso but not the forequarters of a beast with a borrowed name and the face of an ogre. Small decapods are reported to account for the bulk of their diet on a nearby beach, but an individual confined to a furrow on the eastern fringe of the island took potshots at fish that swirled near it, having nothing to lose but its train of thought, which it recovered in a flash of artificial lightning that put paid to the hunt and pressed it into hiding.
Toadfish have evolved physiological responses to stress that may account for their ability to thrive in polluted coasts and offer applications for mental health. These contributions to mankind are unlikely, though, to trump the case for coastal developments aimed at sustaining an enterprise with few limits to its ambition and no room for those who can neither afford nor survive such progress.
Another inhabitant of Pulau Sekudu, one with even fewer claims to existence in a world of purely human natures, clings to the recesses between sundered rocks, where sponges, tunicates, barnacles, sea anemones and hydroids occupy a rug of coarse filaments. In this tilted landscape of colours dark and dull, naked eyes are wont to slough off the hides of sea toads, whose broad, pear-shaped carapaces and hairy legs serve as dirt magnets. Ill-defined eyes on short stalks flank a 'rostrum' of two prominent spines, a meagre structure compared to the snouts of other, smaller majids, which also boast gracile proportions that allow them to ford coral heads and bridge submarine gulfs. The limbs of Schizomys, though stout in comparison, are still well-adapted for underwater mountaineering, having short dactyli that help the animals secure a grip with minimal effort. These spider crabs have no reason to make haste, feeding as they do on even slower things and staying largely still, even when berried shrimp trot about their faces, to save their own skins. It's a strategy that works as long as there are reefs and rocky shores for these climbers to pick their way through a company of soft bodies trapped within tense, turgid lines.