BALI, INDONESIA--I have descended only about 10 feet below the boat when I notice another diver pointing frantically at my feet. I look down to see a moray eel--giant, toothy mouth with tail--undulating quickly in my direction. A bubbly squeal escapes through my regulator as I squeeze my eyes shut and wait for the demonic creature to bore through my belly.
When I realize that my entrails are not scattered like tinsel across the branching corals below, I scurry after Stephen R. Palumbi, the Harvard University marine biologist who is leading this dive at Lembongan Island, just off the west coast of Bali. Eels are just as important to reef biodiversity as are pretty fish and corals, I remind myself--and that is what Palumbi and his colleagues are trying to protect. Saving coral reefs, they have found, may rely on the juvenile desires of its inhabitants.
This article was originally published with the title Aquatic Homebodies.