GRACE WITH ATTITUDE: SOUTHERN STINGRAYS IN THE BAHAMAS


Southern Stingray 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

GRACE WITH ATTITUDE: SOUTHERN STINGRAYS IN THE BAHAMAS

Southern Stingrays are often seen in Abaco waters. In the bay of Rolling Harbour at Delphi, we sometimes watch them admiringly from the balcony or beach as they lazily cruise along the shoreline in the turquoise water. If someone is in the water, they will make a leisurely detour round them – unfrightened in their own element, but unthreatening and disinclined to investigate human intrusion. Diving with them is a wonderful experience (though I have never got very close). Melinda Riger – a scuba expert with great camera skills – takes the most beautiful photos of the stingrays she encounters. Here are a few that I haven’t yet featured.  Notice the little striped CLEANING GOBIES going about their business. 

Stingray, Southern with cleaning gobies ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyStingray, Southern at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba  copySouthern Stingray © Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copy

Southern Stingrays are often encountered when one is bonefishing in the low waters of the Marls. I took the photos below while we were fishing in a channel between areas of mangrove. As the skiff was poled very slowly forward, I saw the stingray coming straight towards us. I wondered how it would react. Very elegantly, was the answer. It turned effortlessly and unperturbed to one side, then resumed its original course leaving a clump of mangrove between it and the skiff. 

Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 1)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 2)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 3)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 4)

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Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; RH

RED HIND GROUPER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (25)


Red Hind Grouper Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

RED HIND GROUPER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (25)

The Red Hind is one of several grouper species commonly found in  Bahamas waters. Commonly for now, anyway. There is less information available about this species compared with other groupers, but sources seem agreed that it is (a) abundant and (b) IUCN listed ‘least concern’ but (c) heavily fished and (d) delicious.

Red Hind, attended by Cleaner FishRed Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Red Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba copy

One problem arises from the fact that Red Hinds form spawning aggregations in particular areas, making them vulnerable to fishing exploitation in those locations, and consequent population decline. Already, some of their spawning areas are protected.

Another threat comes from the degradation of coastal habitats coupled with increasing commercial and recreational fishing.  Red Hinds are targeted with speargun, hook and line, fish traps and nets. They may also be by-catch of other fishing operations. Fortunately Marine Protected Areas such as the ones in Abaco waters provide localised protection but these are not found throughout the Red Hind’s range. Closed seasons have been imposed in a few areas, another conservation method that has recently been introduced in the Bahamas for the Nassau grouper. 

Female spawning Red Hind Grouper (Univ of Puerto Rico:NOAA)

Getting the right balance between traditional fishing for food, and stock conservation is inevitably a tricky calculation. For the Red Hind, the factors that may result in the population decline of a plentiful species are in plain sight and will continue to be monitored by the various scientific research organisations involved…

OTHER GROUPERS YOU MAY ENJOY…

NASSAU GROUPER

TIGER GROUPER

BLACK GROUPER

Red Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 3

Credits: All images Melinda Riger at Grand Bahama Scuba except (4) NOAA / Puerto Rico Univ; research from several sources, tip of the hat to SCRFA

CHERUBFISH (PYGMY ANGELFISH): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (23)


Cherubfish (Pygmy Angelfish) © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

 CHERUBFISH (PYGMY ANGELFISH): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (23)

Time for a bright little denizen of the not-so-deep. The Cherubfish Centropyge argi or pygmy angelfish is a very small (8cm) and distinctively coloured angelfish species. These fish are native to the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and flicker round the coral reefs happily feeding as they go (see the video below to see how busily they forage). Or maybe they are just having a good time…

Cherubfish (rare) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The Cherubfish is unsurprisingly a popular aquarium species. Don’t rush straight out and buy some though: a typical warning says “like other angel fish, they are not completely 100% reef-safe. Results vary among individual fish and tank qualities (size, feeding, tankmates, etc.), so caution is recommended when adding this fish to a coral tank“. You can read the whys and the wherefores HERE – sadly I lack the vibrant interest in aquaria to go into it myself…

Cherubfish Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Looking beyond Melinda’s lovely images of the species, I have found that these creatures will often show more yellow at the nose end. Here’s an example of a more two-tone Cherubfish in case you come across one. Cherubfish Centropyge argi  (Brian Gratwicke)

I mentioned that Cherubfish flicker around the reefs instead of proceeding serenely and in an orderly fashion.  Have a look at this short video to see what active little fish they are.

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DAMSELFISH

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Credits: all images Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba except the last, Brian Glanville

PEACOCK FLOUNDER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (21)


  Peacock Flounder ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

PEACOCK FLOUNDER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (21)

PEACOCK FLOUNDER or PLATE FISH Bothus lunatus

I have briefly featured this fish before in the context of its extraordinary camouflage abilities; and also its interesting ocular arrangements. Time to give it another swim around, I think, with some additional photos that I have collected.

Peacock Flounder

Bothus lunatus is the Atlantic / Caribbean version of a species also found in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Adults may grow up to 18 inches long. The species is a ‘lefteye’ flounder, with both eyes on its left (top) side & its right side underneath.  However a baby flounder looks & swims like normal fish, with bilateral eyes. As it grows, the right eye gradually ‘moves’ round to the topside, and it becomes a flatfish.

Peacock Flounder

A flounder’s eyes can move independently of each other. One may look forwards, the other backwardsPeacock Flounder Eye ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

‘NOW YOU SEE IT…’ CAMO-FISH

The Peacock Flounder has extraordinary  colour-changing powers, and can rapidly vary its background colour to make it closely resemble that of its surroundings. This enables it camouflage itself as it lies on the seabed. It can change coloration completely in between two to eight seconds.  

Four frames of the same fish taken a few minutes apart showing the ability of flounders to change colors to match the surroundings (Wiki)Peacock Flounder Brocken Inaglory

Check out these imitative patterns in Bahamas waters…Peacock Flounder (f) ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Flower_flounder_in_Kona_wiki

There are two advantages to the ability to camouflage (‘cryptic coloration). One is obviously to avoid detection by predators. The other is to enable the flounder to ambush its meals. They feed primarily on small fishes, crabs and shrimps, lying concealed on the seabed and grabbing any unwary prey that ventures too close. They will even partially bury themselves in the sand, leaving just their eye-stalks keeping watch…Peacock Flounder ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

HOW CAN THEY POSSIBLY CHANGE COLOUR SO QUICKLY?

Scientists are still puzzling this out. In a conch shell, it seems the flounder can coordinate its amazing all-round vision with its hormones, instantly releasing certain pigments to its skin cells and suppressing other pigments to make the colour match. Not convinced? Then watch this short video and prepare to be impressed. 

Fred Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, who kindly keeps a benign eye on my reef fish posts (he’s the expert), adds a third excellent reason for coloration changes: sex… “the male peacock flounder can, and does greatly intensify his colors, presumably to declare territory and attract females to his person. When doing this the males will also signal with the left pectoral fin, sticking it straight up and waving it around.” Maybe that is what is going on in the photo below – intensified, non-camouflage colours, and a raised fin…Peacock Flounder ©Melinda Riger@ G B Scuba

Peacock Flounder on a plate – Kim Rody Art983829_10154948988290716_6633206689277673329_n

Credits: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba for almost all photos; wiki for 2 illustrative images

NASSAU GROUPER: VULNERABLE, ENDANGERED… & NOW PROTECTED


Nassau Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

NASSAU GROUPER: VULNERABLE, ENDANGERED… & NOW PROTECTED

The Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus is one of a number of Caribbean grouper species found generally in the Northern Bahamas and specifically in Abaco waters. Others include the Black, Tiger, and Yellowfin groupers, the Red Hind,and the Graysby. The Nassau grouper is special, however, not least because (unlike the others) it is on the IUCN Red List as an Endangered Species and is also a US National Marine Fisheries Service Species of Concern. It is considered the most important of the groupers for commercial fishing in the Caribbean, and the IUCN listing data suggests that a population decline of 60% occurred over the last three generations (27-30 years), a startling rate. The current population size is estimated at >10,000 mature individuals.

Nassau Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

The Nassau Grouper is a creature of the coral reefs in the Caribbean and adjacent seas, though it can also be found in deep water. It feeds in the daytime on small fish and small crustaceans such as shrimps, crabs and lobsters. It lurks in caves and recesses in the reef, sucking in the prey that passes unsuspecting by. The coloration of an individual fish may vary considerably with conditions, and it can adapt its colour to its surroundings as camouflage.  

Tiger grouper meets Nassau grouperNassau & Tiger Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba  copy

Spawning takes place in December and January as the seawater cools, always at full moon, and always in the same place. In the moonlight, huge numbers of the grouper gather together to mate in a mass spawning aggregation. This may continue for several days. However, the species is slow breeder, which is why overfishing is particularly damaging to the population as the depleted stock cannot readily be replaced.

3846_aquaimages Wiki

CONSERVATION ISSUES

There are other besides factors commercial overfishing that make the Nassau grouper so vulnerable, including fishing during the breeding season; taking undersized fish; pollution and reef decline; habitat loss; and invasive species. The spawning areas are especially vulnerable to exploitation. In the Bahamas, as elsewhere,  the government has now instituted a closed fishing season for the Nassau grouper. Here is the BREEF  flyer, just circulated – and in fact the reason for this post, which reminded me that I had planned to write about this fish! 10382222_10152869346685953_7443797899832698038_o

THREATS

The Bahamas National Trust sums up the multiple threats in this uncompromising way:

Nassau grouper is eaten by barracudas, lizard fish, dolphins, sharks and other large predators of the reef community. But the predators that have the biggest impact on the grouper population are humansPeople are fishing groupers before they can grow to maturity and reproduce. Sex change may also cause a problem. In undisturbed areas there are usually equal numbers of male and females. In heavily fished areas there are often three or more times more females than males. This means many eggs will not be fertilized during spawning. Other threats include, habitat destruction, coral breakage from divers, siltation from construction, runoff from logging and agriculture, dredging, sewage, oil spills and other contaminants that harm coral reefs where Nassau Groupers live.

grouperEpinephelus_striatus_2

There’s an extent to which a country can be judged on its attitude to wildlife from the stamps it chooses to issue. It’s something to do with appreciation and promotion of the country’s natural resources. For example, North Korea rates nil in this respect, with stamps involving scary weaponry, flags, marching and eerily glowing leaders – not a single sparrow to be seen.  By fortunate contrast the Bahamas and its Postal Service score very highly in celebrating the diversity of the wildlife of the islands. The Nassau Grouper was first featured on Bahamas stamps as long ago as 1971, some 25 years before the IUCN Red Listing, and probably before the sharp decline in population numbers had even begun.

bahamas-1971-nassau-grouper-sg-363-fine-used-19448-p

In 2012 the Bahamas Postal Service released ‘a new definitive 16 stamp series’ depicting the marine life of The Bahamas. The Nassau has been promoted from 5c in 1971 to 70c in 2012. That’s inflation for you.

bahamas-marine-life-stamps2

Finally in 2013 BREEF’s 20 years of marine conservation was commemorated with a distinguished and colourful set of 8 stamps, noting in their release: ‘Two of the new stamps feature the Nassau Grouper, a now endangered species that has experienced severe population decline throughout the region… BREEF is well known as an advocate for an annual closed season for the iconic Nassau Grouper during its winter breeding period. The push for the closed season was based on scientific evidence of population collapses throughout the region due to overfishing. BREEF is calling on the government to implement a fixed closed season for the Nassau Grouper in order to protect the species and the fishing industry. The closed season traditionally runs during the spawning season from December 1st until February 28th, to allow the fish to reproduce.  BREEF is calling urgently for the announcement of this year’s Nassau Grouper closed season….’ And so it came to pass… Not only is the Nassau grouper now worth 2 x 65c; it is strictly protected for 3 months during its breeding season. Maybe philately even had a hand in getting somewhere…

BREEF_Comemorative_stamps_PastedGraphic-3

Nassau Grouper (Rick Smit wiki)

Credits: Melinda Riger, Rick Smit, Open Source, BNT, BREEF, Wikimedia, Bahamas Postal Service

‘WTF?’ IN BAHAMAS WATERS (3) : LETTUCE SEA SLUG


Lettuce Sea Slug ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

  ‘WTF?’ IN BAHAMAS WATERS (3): LETTUCE SEA SLUG

The ‘WTF’ series so far has covered Bahamas reef fish on the bizarre end of the unusual-to-completely-weird appearance spectrum. And it has stood, of course, for ‘What’s That Fish?’. Today, it doesn’t. The feature creature isn’t a fish at all; it looks like a plant; it is in fact a SACOGLOSSAN – specifically the Lettuce Sea Slug Elysia crispata

The head end is on the left…Lettuce Sea Slug ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

The name ‘sacoglossan’ literally means ‘sap-sucker’ (the sapsucker bird has a different latin name, however). And the slug’s frilly edges supposedly resemble certain types of curly lettuce. I’ve no idea where the ‘crispata’ comes from, but I am sure it doesn’t relate to crisp lettuce. These are creatures of shallow, clear waters such as the sub-tropical reefs of the Bahamas.

Lettuce_Sea_Slug_LASZLO ILYES

 ‘SOLAR POWERED SLUGS’

This isn’t a technical forum and too much science hurts my head. This species primarily lives off algae. However I give you the word KLEPTOPLASTY to drop into your conversation. In a sentence, algae is eaten but only partially digested; certain elements are stored to produce photosynthesis by which light is converted to energy and the slug can live without food. But baffle your neighbour at dinner, why not, by summarising the process as “chloroplast symbiosis”. Meanwhile, I’m fetching a beer.

Lettuce Sea Slug ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

My research suggests that very little is known about the mating behaviour of these slugs. The pair shown below may be exploring the possibilities, or at least trying to work out which end is which. One is easy to tell, but the other? Time to make our excuses and leave…

Elysia_crispata_(Lettuce_Sea_Slug_pair) Nick Hobgood

HOW FAST, EXACTLY, DOES A LETTUCE SEA SLUG MOVE?

This rather beautiful video from ‘CORAL MORPHOLOGIC’ will reveal all. You’ll soon see that progress is very slow. I recommend watching the first 30 seconds and you’ll get the idea. If you choose to persist, you will see the slug sort of turn a corner to the left.

Credits: Melinda @ Grand Bahama Scuba, Laszlo Ilyes, Nick Hobgood, Coral Morphologic, Wiki

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 2: STRANGE BAHAMAS REEF FISH


Scorpionfish Close-up ©Melinda Riger @GBS copy

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 2: STRANGE BAHAMAS REEF FISH

WTF 1 concerned the REMORA, the upside-down looking fish with the trainer-sole sucker on its head with which it attaches itself to sharks and other large undersea creatures. If you’ve ever seen a picture of a shark with one or more grey passengers hitching a ride, those are these.

Remora ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

WTF 2 features some creatures found in the reef waters of the Bahamas that make you wonder just how and why they are as they are. They look unnecessarily complicated, and the design is somewhat outlandish. See what you think of these…

BURRFISH

Burrfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

SLIPPER LOBSTER

Slipper Lobster ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scub.

SCORPIONFISH (& header image) camouflaged against coralScorpionfish camouflaged against coral ©Melinda Riger copy

COWFISH

Cowfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba   Cowfish 2 ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

TRUNKFISH

Trunkfish ©Melinda Riger @GBS copy 3

PORCUPINE FISH 

“Watch this…”Porcupine Fish (Virginia Cooper via G B Suba)

“Ta Daaaaaa”porcupine-fish

 AIRPLANEFISH*

Airplane remains ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

*Well, it’s really airplane wreckage. Besides a few other planes and a variety of ships that can be explored underwater, there are also two locomotives in Abaco waters that “fell off” a ship while being transported. Now recreate in your mind the subsequent conversation with an insurance company…

APOLOGIES Header image repeated to sort out FB visuals problem that’s driving me nutsScorpionfish Close-up ©Melinda Riger @GBS copy

Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba;Virginia Cooper;  itsnature.org