PREHENSILE TALES FROM THE REEF (2): HIPPOCAMPI


Seahorse (© Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

PREHENSILE TALES FROM THE REEF (2): HIPPOCAMPI

It is a statistical fact that no one in the world – not even the meanest despot or cruellest tyrant – fails to love seahorses. It would be fair to add that in certain parts of the world, some people love them too much. In more than 65 countries. To the tune of an estimated 150 million a year that are used in the ‘traditional medicine’ trade. An attrition rate that is unsustainable in the long or even the medium term – with the bleak consequence that it won’t be long before people must look elsewhere for their source for Genital Tonic Pills. 

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Medicinal use – of empirically vague benefit to its enthusiasts – is joined by the aquarium trade in accounting for the removal of very large numbers of seahorses from their accustomed surroundings. At least these creatures live on (rather than being dried out alive), though research suggests that the survival rate of seahorses in captivity is low. 

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Do you sometimes hanker for a plastic brooch or paperweight with a tiny seahorse embalmed inside it? It would be good to resist the temptation to buy such things in seaside shops or online. Your little specimen will be one of a million or so souvenir seahorses sold each year, alongside seashells, starfish, sponges and (protected) corals. 

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

As you contemplate your purchase, you may be reassured to find that the product is labelled ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘responsibly sourced’ or ‘from a sustainable source’. You can make up your own: ‘lovingly harvested from the bluest oceans’, maybe. In the words of the SEAHORSE TRUST: 

“Nothing could be further from the truth; there is nothing sustainable about this exploitation of the seas. You can make change by not buying them. If there was no market there would be no trade.”

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

USES FOR SEAHORSES: MEDICINE OR (WITH SCORPIONS) STREET FOOD  images-1 seahorses_scorpions_skewer

seahorse-adam-rees-scuba-worksSeahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

RELATED POSTS AND ONLINE RESOURCES

HIP HIP HIPPOCAMPUS!

PREHENSILE TALES 1

SEAHORSE TRUST

SEAHORSE TRUST FB GROUP

SEAHORSES: NAT GEO

                   Sustainable Seahorses

s-l225-2      s-l225-1

Credits: Adam Rees / Scuba Works for more stunning photos; Seahorse Trust for material; Wiki & open source for the random thumbnails

FAIRY BASSLET (‘MIND YOUR GRAMMA’): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (33)


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FAIRY BASSLET (‘MIND YOUR GRAMMA’): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (33)

The Fairy Basslet is a tiny brightly-coloured fish with a pretentious alternative name. It is otherwise known as the Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto). These fish are found  in the coral reefs of the (sub)tropical western Atlantic. They are also found in aquariums anywhere you like, being small, bright, placid and generally good-natured.

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Conveniently, the basslet is unlikely to be confused with any other species. Its striking two-tone colour scheme of purple and yellow is hard to miss. The purple front half (which is presumably where the ‘royal’ comes from, being a regal or imperial colour) may also be violet or even blue in some fish and / or in some light conditions. Another identification pointer is a black spot on the dorsal fin. 

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You’ll notice that the basslet above appears to be upside down. Which is because it is – this isn’t an inadvertent photo-flip. These little fish tend to orientate themselves to be parallel with the closest surface. This leads to them happily swimming upside down, or aligning vertically. As one article I read says severely, “this behaviour is not to be mistaken for illness”.

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Fairy basslets / royal grammas are also CLEANER FISH. They pick parasites and dead skin off larger fish that visit so-called cleaning stations to be attended to by tiny fish and cleaner shrimps, and in some instances to have their gills and even their teeth cleaned. The deal is that, in return, the large fish do not eat the cleaners. Even snack-sized ones rootling around inside their mouths.

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 WHAT ABOUT BREEDING?
I really can’t improve on this rather touching description from Wiki: “The male will build the nest among rocks using pieces of algae. The male will then lead the female to the nest, where she will deposit 20-100 eggs in the nest. During the breeding period, this behaviour is repeated almost every day for a month or longer (my italics). The eggs are equipped with small protuberances over the surface with tiny threads extending from them which hold onto the algae of the nest and keep the eggs in place. The eggs will hatch in five to seven days, normally in the evening…”

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HOW COME THE NAME ‘GRAMMA LORETO’?

This official name became a brainworm with me after I started this post. I had to check it out. The ‘Gramma’ part is unrelated to the fond name for a grandmother; rather, it simple denotes a member of the genus of fishes in the family Grammatidae.

The Loreto part is more mysterious. It is an an ancient town in Italy; and the name of several British schools, including – almost too good to be true – a school called Loreto Grammar. In a nutshell, the link between the town and places of education is that the Sisters of Loreto, founded in the c17 and named for a shrine in the Italian village, are dedicated to education in their Ministry.

How that ties in with a tiny Caribbean reef fish, I have yet to find out. I probably never will… Here’s a short video to alleviate the disappointment.

I failed to be able to resist finding out whether any country of the world has a purple and yellow flag. The answer is, no. However I am delighted to be able to report that the flag of the Independent Party of Uruguay is basslet-coloured.

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Credits: all fantastic photos by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; magpie pickings of an unacademic sort for facts and speculation

SILVERSIDES: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (32)


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SILVERSIDES: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (32)

I have no idea if there is a collective noun for a large group of silversides. ‘Frenzy’ would cover it, but that is reminiscent of ‘feeding freezing’ which has a specialist meaning – and anyway, silversides are crazy even when they aren’t feeding. 24/7/12/365 as far as I can make out. I think ‘a panic of silversides’ might be the answer. They are just… all over the place at high speed. Sometimes swirling around pointlessly, other times moving in unison and suddenly all changing direction simultaneously, like a single creature made of tiny shards of silver.

silversides-school-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba-copyfish-frenzy-melinda-riger-gbs

There are quite a few silverside species around the world. The ones in the Bahamas are Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia), also known in the north east of the United States as ‘spearing’. They seem to exist for two purposes. The main one is to be breakfast, lunch or dinner for larger fish, sea birds and shore birds. The other is for their usefulness in scientific research because of their sensitivity to environmental changes. 

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In one sense they are easy prey for predators. A determined fish will always manage a snack by swimming into the middle of a panic and (probably) simply by opening its mouth wide. On the other hand, their sheer numbers coupled with the speed and randomness of movement mean that a single may find a degree of safety in numbers. It’s hard for a predator to target any individual fish in the general melee and confusion. Silversides also favour seagrass beds, which give some shelter and protection – and a reasonably safe place to spawn. Or, as some of these photos show, they will hang around wrecks or squeeze into rocky spaces in the reef.

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A panic of silversides apparently pouring like a waterfall down through a gap in the reefsilversides-waterfall-abaco-kay-politano

WHAT DOES A STATIONARY ATLANTIC SILVERSIDE LOOK LIKE?

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Some time ago we used to go to the reef at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve with Kay Politano, and I would snorkel with a small and very basic lo-res underwater camera. I was hampered by being a disgracefully feeble swimmer; by not having snorkelled for a length of time calculable in decades; and by being a complete novice at underwater photography.  Despite these not inconsiderable disadvantages I managed to cobble together a few short movies on my computer (I was new to that too). Here’s one that nearly works, in that it gives an idea of what happens if you ‘swim with silversides’. I know you scuba guys all swim with sharks, but cut me some slack here please…

Photo Credits: Main photos Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Silverside Waterfall by Kay Politano; motionless silversides by FISHBASE.ORGMusic: Goldon Giltrap, ‘Fast Approaching’

UNDERWATER ANGELS: ANGELFISH


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UNDERWATER ANGELS: ANGELFISH

We are away for a few days, so I have planned a few posts that won’t fall apart courtesy of being done on a phone. Hopefully.

Angelfish are fabulous and come in various ‘colorways’, as designers say. Queens are my favourite, with grays not far behind. The third type here, the French, is in bronze medal position on my piscine podium but this could change were I ever to meet one in real life…

QUEEN ANGELFISH

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GRAY ANGELFISH

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FRENCH ANGELFISH

The middle fish is a juvenile

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Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

HOGFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (31)


Hogfish at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @GB Scuba

HOGFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (31)

Hogfish. Fisherman’s delight… getting ‘high on the hog’. This wrasse species Lachnolaimus maximus is a reef denizen, especially where gorgonians are found. It has the distinction of being the only known member of its genus, and because it is IUCN listed as vulnerable, there are strict regulations governing bag, size, and gear limits to protect the species from overfishing.

Hogfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The hogfish gets its name from its long ‘pig-like’ snout, coupled with its rootling behaviour on the sea floor for crustacean prey.

Hogfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy ed Hogfish foraging ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

GENDER STUDIES: IT’S COMPLICATED

The hogfish is a sequential hermaphrodite, meaning it changes sex during different life stages. Juvenile hogfish are female, but mature into males at around 3 years old.

Hogfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaHogfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Hogfish social groups are organized into harems, where one male will protect a group of females in his territory and mate with them.

Hogfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba Hogfish with isopods ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

CAUTIONARY NOTE Capt. Rick, a loyal follower, has made another of his pertinent comments: “A bit of caution is necessary here! There is some history in the Bahamas of mild to severe Ciguatera poisoning from Hogs. Our M.O. was to only eat Hogs no larger than 5 or 6 lbs. Temporary or permanent blindness, paralysis, and even death is possible with bigger Hogs”. Ciguatera is also a problem with, for example, ‘cuda on Abaco. Those caught on the Marls (west) side are ok to eat; those from the east side have to be treated with circumspection…

Hogfish (with isopod above eye) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Credits: all fantastic fish fotos – Melinda Riger at Grand Bahama Scuba

SPONGES ON THE REEF: A COLOURFUL MISCELLANY


Brown Tube Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

SPONGES ON THE REEF: A COLOURFUL MISCELLANY

It’s time to take an up-close look at some of the sponges you may find as you snorkel or scuba round the reefs of the Bahamas. I am always amazed by how bright and colourful they are, and by their many different shapes and sizes. Even the unpromising sounding (slightly medical, even?) BROWN TUBE SPONGE turns out to be fascinating to examine closely. Here are some more sponge species. 

CANDELABRA SPONGECandelabra Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

STOVE PIPE SPONGEStove Pipe Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

PURPLE VASE SPONGEVase Sponge, purple ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

BRANCHING TUBE SPONGE WITH ROPE SPONGESponges - Branching Tube Sponge with rope sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

PURPLE TUBE SPONGEPurple Tube Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

PURPLE SPONGE WITH GIANT ANEMONEPurple Sponge : Giant Anemone ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

VASE SPONGEVase Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The above sponges represent a fraction of the sponge varieties found on Bahamas reefs. I’ll post some more quite soon. All this has made me want to go for a snorkel. But right now I am 30 miles from the sea. And I have no gear…

HANG ON A MOMENT! WHAT IS A SPONGE WHEN IT’S AT HOME?

It’s really very simple: if you are ever asked the question, just reply “a sponge is a primitive sedentary aquatic invertebrate with a soft porous body that is typically supported by a framework of fibres or calcareous or glassy spicules. Sponges draw in a current of water to extract nutrients and oxygen”.

AND WHAT, PRAY, IS A SPICULE?

You’re having a laugh… if you seriously want to know, read the abbreviated version about them HERE. And admire this microscopic collage of ‘demospongiae spicule diversity’ made available by the wonders of Wiki and the research of about 20 credited scientists.

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All photos: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba. Tip of the hat to Wiki and scientists

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: A RARE FIND & SWIMMING WITH ANGELS


Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: A RARE FIND & SWIMMING WITH ANGELS

There is something unusual about this juvenile hawksbill turtle peacefully noodling round some impressive elkhorn coral with the grunts and sergeant majors. He’s a rarity. He was found at West End, Grand Bahama (just 67 miles swim from West Palm Beach Fl.), a place where hawksbills are very scarce. Loggerheads, they have. And there are plenty of hawksbills elsewhere in Grand Bahama waters. But not at the western tip. So finding this little guy and getting some good photos was a particular pleasure for Linda Cooper. And maybe the presence of a juvenile is a sign that hawksbills may begin to populate the reefs of West End, as perhaps they did historically.Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

Linda and her husband Keith run West End Ecology Tours. They have a comprehensive website HERE and a Facebook page HERE. Check it out to see how much there is to explore at West End. The birds, the corals and reef life, the starfish – and a speciality, swimming with rays. To which can now be added the chance of seeing a hawksbill turtle…Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

A DOZEN HAWKSBILL FACTS TO CHEW OVER

  • All sea turtles are classed as reptiles (something that always surprises me, somehow)
  • The top shell (carapace) consists of scales that overlap like roof shingles
  • The yellowish bottom shell is called the plastron
  • Adult hawksbills weigh around 100 pounds
  • Sea turtles sleep at night, and can stay underwater for a hours without breathing
  • Hawksbills are omnivorous, eating algae and seagrass but also sponges, urchins and small fish
  • Females lay about 100 eggs like ping-pong balls, and then at once return to the sea for good
  • The sex of baby turtles is determined by relative nest warmth – females from the top eggs
  • Baby turtles hatch almost simultaneously: all must work to dig their way out.
  • They tend to hatch at night and head straight for the sea’s phosphorescence…
  • …except that artificial lights confuse them & lead them away from the sea to likely death
  • Threats: predation, coastal development & habitat destruction, pollution, & illegal collection

SWIMMING WITH ANGELS

As I was writing this, another fact about hawksbills popped into my head. I checked through my archive – mainly Melinda Riger’s wonderful shots from elsewhere on GB – and yes, it is true. There seems to be some sort of symbiotic relationship between the turtles and angelfish. They are often found feeding together. A bit of research confirms this general observation, without giving a clear cause for it. Maybe it is simply that they eat some of the same food; and that there is plenty of it on healthy reefs so there is no cause for aggression on either side. It’s fine for a hawksbill to share with an angel.

10245Green Turtle, Gray Angelfish ©Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copyTurtle with Gray Angelfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyHawksbill Turtles, French Angelfish eat sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copyHawksbill Turtle eats sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

NOTE The Hawksbill is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN red list of Threatened species as its populations have declined dramatically throughout the world and especially in the Caribbean region. It is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on the InternatIonal Trade of Endangered SpecIes (CITES) meaning that Hawksbills are near extinction or very endangered. All marine turtles are now protected under Bahamian law, as is the taking of eggs.

Credits: West End Ecology Tours / Linda & Keith Cooper (photos 1, 2, 3); Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba, all other images; BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST  for their very useful fact-sheet (one of many) which I have adopted and adapted; Aquoflite for the vid.