A close up of a rockcod at a cleaning station in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. The cleaner wrasse is the blue flash on the left just to the side of the rockcod’s eye. Top right of the photo are some cleaner shrimp. © Fionaayerst
Cleaner Wrasse often work in partnership with gangs of stripy legged Shrimp. These Shrimp are tiny, about the size of your thumbnail, and they look as if they are wearing red striped stockings over their nimble legs. Together, the Clearner Wrasse and gangs of Shrimp co-host the busy cleaning stations.
Sea fish approach these cleaning stations and will actually wait patiently in an orderly queue until it is their turn to be cleaned up. The fish waiting to be cleaned call a temporary truce while at the cleaning station, this counts for even normally aggressive and territorial fish too! The only time I have seen aggression at a cleaning station was when a Fish actually tried to queue jump and he was summarily sent to ‘the back’ by all the indignant fish already patiently waiting for their turn to be expertly attended to by the Wrasse and the Shrimp. Etiquette is the order of the day here!
To catch the attention of the Fish waiting at the front of the queue, the Shrimp perform a dance, rocking from side-to-side. The Shrimp can’t just approach their Client, they need reassurance that its safe to draw near. The Fish at the front of the queue swims forward and signals consent to the dancing Shrimp by tipping his nose downward, and opening his mouth wide. The theory, I suppose, is that if the nose is pointing downward and the mouth is open wide the fish can’t attack. The waiting Fish needs to signal that they are ready to be cleaned (and reassure the Shrimp that they won’t end up as a snack!). Once the Shrimp knows it’s ok to approach he will jump onto the Fish’s bottom lip and commence a thorough dental checkup, cleaning the teeth first, picking out lodged bits of food and embedded rubbish like mobile toothpicks, deftly working along the inside of the Fishes mouth. After the teeth are clean, the Shrimp moves on to the inner mouth and exits the Fish via the gills.
The little Cleaner Wrasse works his magic at the same time as the Shrimp. The Wrasse, however, does a flicking dance which makes the neon blaze on his body seem to flash. When the Fish takes up his ‘ready’ position the Wrasse swims alongside the outer body, scrutinising the scales and diligently picking off and cleaning gently as he goes.
Once their work is complete, the Wrasse and the Shrimp retire back tot heir posts on the reef and the cleaned Fish moves onward and away, making space for the next Fish that’s queuing for this premium valet service.
Reflection of a Mermaid:
The grace and elegance of the reefside cleaning station is something to behold and was something of a revelation to me when I first saw it for myself. I’ll never forget the remarkable courtesy which was extended between fish, a unifying higher purpose bringing out the best in all those that attended the Reefside ‘Spa’ and Service station. I was truly amazed at the temporary truce that was called between normally feudal fish and how underwater agendas were set aside in order to ensure that this important cleansing ritual took place. There are thousands of cleansing stations underwater throughout the Plant and they run with effortless ease and sublime efficiency.
Multi-dimensional skin polish
I was inspired to create a fabulous multi-dimensional body polish in honour of the reefside cleaning stations. Each of the ingredients has a special place in my heart and reflects what I observed underwater. My first and overriding inspiration came from the little cleaner wrasse who would oh so gently work at the layers of the Client fish’s surface ‘skin’, not for that client the aggressive scrubbing to reveal the layers beneath. I wanted to take a leaf out of the Cleaner Wrasse’s book and devise a skin polish that would gently work at the layers of the skin. Once polished away the new layer of skin cells would emerge into sumptuously nourishing and stimulating oils and body butters – a feast for the skin cells akin to the feast for the Wrasse and Shrimp.
You need roughly 1 part of runny oils to 3 parts of fine grained sea salt. I also melt down body butters to coat the sea salt crystals, mixing the butters into the salt before any of the oils are added in, you don’t have to do this but I adore the extra dimension it brings to the finished product. I use 22 drops of my favourite essential oil blends to each 100ml of runny oils.
Level of Experience:
Suitable for beginners
Buying the ingredients:
The Natural Salt Seller sells fantastic culinary and bathing salts. Choose from any of their dry fine sea salts.
Here’s my recipe:
300g unrefined dry sea salt – fine grained
10g/15g body butter
100ml of nourishing skin oils
22 drops essential oil blend
You’ll also need:
Plastic or China mixing bowl – 1 litre capacity
Small glass pyrex jug – 500ml capacity
Wooden or plastic spatula and spoon
Kilner Jar with a tightly fitting lid, labels and ribbons to decorate.
Pour the sea salt into your mixing bowl. Make sure that there are no lumps in the salt.
Melt the body butter in a bain marie (not microwave) and then pour the melted butters into the bowl of salt. Stir the melted butter and salt mix thoroughly until the butter is fully dispersed in amongst the grains of salt. It’ll take a slightly fluffy appearance once it’s properly blended.
Pour the runny oils into the pyrex jug. Add the essential oils. Mix throroughly with a plastic spoon.
Add the runny fragrant oil blend from the jug into the mixing bowl and stir thoroughly. Allow the mix to sit for 5 minutes then stir thoroughly again before putting the polish into your storage jar. Keep the jars upright.
Because of the large quantity of Vitamin E in this salt polish I recommend you store this product in the fridge and away from sunlight or heat. Use within 3 – 6 months. Stir thoroughly before each use. Make sure you label the salt product ‘do not eat’!
I aim to use salt which is as ‘whole’ as I can source. Full spectrum salt contains as many of its original trace elements and minerals as you’d find when when the salt is harvested from source. Using a great quality salt hopefully means that trace elements and minerals can be transferred to my skin as a nourishing treat.
Body butters come in all shapes and sizes. I adore cold pressed Cocoa butter, Coconut oil or Shea butters. You may be able to source Mango or Aloe butter too.
Nourishing oils include those such as almond, sunflower, peach kernel, avocado, jojoba or a blend of these oils. Vitamin E is fab for the skin.
When making skin-care products I like to keep bowls, jugs and utensils seperate from those I use for food preparation.