The spectacular coral reef chains of the Bahamas include the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world. Abaco’s reef system stretches from Little Harbour to beyond the northern end of the mainland, as Sandy Estabrook’s map shows. Inside the reef: the Sea of Abaco. Beyond the reef and the next landfall east: Western Sahara, south of the Canary Islands.
A rainbow effect of filtered sunlight on sea fans
Since the devastation of Abaco by Hurricane Dorian last September, a number of surveys have been carried out. Some of these relate to the impact of the storm on the natural world – the damaged forest and coppice, the bird-life including the Abaco specialities, and the marine life including marine mammals, fish, and reef structures and environments.
A recent assessment by the Perry Institute for Marine Sciences (PIMS) in Abaco and Grand Bahama waters has been carried out on the coral reefs to determine the extent to which the vulnerable structure, ecology and environment has been damaged. Some details have just been published in the Nassau Guardian in an article by Paige McCartney. The LINK is below.
DAMAGE FINDINGS IN BRIEF
25 – 30% of the 29 reef sites surveyed are devastated
factors include damage from debris, silt burial, and bleaching
uprooted casuarina trees were caught in the storm surge, causing damage
in particular, corals have been smashed and reef structure destroyed
there is biomass loss – basically reduced populations of fish & other organisms
RAYS OF LIGHT
Although the reef systems of both islands have been significantly damaged, in other areas little damage was found. Moreover, in some areas the storm had washed away some types of seaweed that are harmful to the reefs. The hope is that restoration of the damaged areas can be achieved with careful management.
WHAT CAN BE DONE NOW?
Action towards restoration and future protection includes:
removal of debris and other deleterious matter (eg silt)
cutting back the non-native, invasive casuarinas from the shoreline
restoration programs (recent successes with ‘coral farming’ could be vital)
extending marine protected areas
developing a rapid response protocol to meet extreme situations
The reports ends with some welcome news: Government departments have recently proposed putting $5 million towards a coral restoration project on Abaco, including the establishment of a and-based aquaculture facility to support coral growth in nurseries. Let’s hope that becomes a reality.
Spot the trumpetfish…
The publication of the PIMS report and its findings gives some hope of recovery for the fragile reef environment of the northern Bahamas. Other factors may reverse the optimism of course, not least the accelerating warming of the seas and the exponentially expanding pollution problem such as this, recently reported
This has been an opportunity to revisit the clear waters around Abaco where Melinda Rogers of Dive Abaco took these astonishing photos of coral on the local reefs. If the coral is destroyed or dies, this is what our children and their children will be be missing.
Click the brain coral to link to the Nassau Guardian Article
All photos, Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco; Map, Sandy Estabrook; Nassau Guardian / Paige McCartney; Perry Institute for Marine Sciences (PIMS)
Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) is a widespread reef coral, an unmistakeable species with large branches that resemble elk antlers. The dense growths create an ideal shady habitat for many reef creatures. These include reef fishes of all shapes and sizes, lobsters, shrimps and many more besides. Some of these are essential for the wellbeing of the reef and also its denizens.
GOOD POST-DORIAN NEWS ABOUT ABACORAL
A recent report from FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT brings encouraging news about the reefs of Abaco post-hurricane, and an indication of the resilience of the coral to extreme conditions (with one exception for a reef too close to the shore to avoid damage from debris).
Shortly before Dorian hit, The Perry Institute for Marine Science and its partners surveyed reefs across Grand Bahama and Abaco to assess their health. Following Dorian, they were able to reassess these areas and the impact of the hurricane. Over the 370 miles that the surveys covered, minimal damage was found on the majority of reefs. Unfortunately Mermaid Reef, where FRIENDS does most of our educational field trips, sustained extensive damage due to debris from its close proximity to the shoreline. We are looking into how we can help with logistics to get the debris removed, and hopefully the recovery will begin soon.
The scientists were also able to visit four of the Reef Rescue Network’s coral nurseries and assess out-planted corals in national parks in both Grand Bahama and Abaco. The great news is that all of the corals on these nurseries survived the storm and will be used to support reef restoration. Also from the surveys, it appears that our offshore reefs around Abaco sustained minimal damage, including Sandy Cay Reef in Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park (pictured above). This gives us hope for the recovery of our oceans post-Dorian and proves how resilient these amazing ecosystems are.
Examples of species vital for healthy corals include several types of PARROTFISH, the colourful and voracious herbivores that spend most of their time eating algae off the coral reefs using their beak-like teeth. This algal diet is digested, and the remains excreted as sand. Tread with care on your favourite beach; in part at least, it will consist of parrotfish poop.
Other vital reef species living in the shelter of elkhorn and other corals are the CLEANERS, little fish and shrimps that cater for the wellbeing and grooming of large and even predatory fishes. Gobies, wrasse, Pedersen shrimps and many others pick dead skin and parasites from the ‘client’ fish including their gills, and even from between the teeth of predators. This service is an excellent example of MUTUALISM, a symbiotic relationship in which both parties benefit: close grooming in return for rich pickings of food.
Formally abundant, over just a couple of decades elkhorn coral has been massively affected by [climate change, human activity and habitat destruction] inexplicable natural attrition in many areas. One cause of decline that is incontrovertible is damage from storms, which are empirically increasing in both frequency and intensity, though apparently for no known reason.
Physical damage to corals may seriously impact on reproductive success; elkhorn coral is no exception. The effects of a reduction of reef fertility are compounded by the fact that natural recovery is in any case inevitably a slow process. The worse the problem gets, the harder it becomes even to survive let alone recover.
SO HOW DOES ELKHORN CORAL REPRODUCE?
There are two types of reproduction, which one might call asexual and sexual:
Elkhorn coral reproduction occurs when a branch breaks off and attaches to the substrate, forming a the start of a new colony. This process is known as fragmentation and accounts for roughly half of coral spread. Considerable success is being achieved now with many coral species by in effect farming fragments and cloning colonies (see above, Reef Rescue Network’s coral nurseries)
Sexual reproduction occurs once a year in August or September, when coral colonies release millions of gametes by broadcast spawning(there’s much more to be said on this interesting topic, and one day I will)
THE FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHS
You may have wondered in which healthily coral-infested waters these superb elkhorn coral photographs were taken. Did I perhaps source them from a National Geographic coral reef special edition? In fact, every image featured was obtained among the reefs of Abaco.
All except the recent Perry Institute / Friends of the Environment photo were taken by Melinda Rogers of Dive Abaco, Marsh Harbour. The long-established and highly regarded Dive Shop she and her husband Keith run was obliterated (see above) less than 3 months ago by Hurricane Dorian, along with most of the rest of the town. It’s a pleasure to be able to showcase these images taken in sunnier times.
ROCKET MAN: MORE MUSKY GIFTS TO ABACO’S PRISTINE BEACHES
THE STORY SO FAR
In early December a SpaceX (prop. E. Musk) Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral. As it sped off purposefully into Space, the usual associated bits and pieces were jettisoned to fall with great precision into (a) open ocean and (b) a part where shipping was fortuitously absent. In due course (very quickly in fact), chunks of rocket debris turned up on the peaceful shores of Abaco. This is not unheard of: for example in 2012 we had a 12-foot fairing from the Curiosity Mars launch on the beach at Delphi (HERE); and in 2015 other space debris was found on Elbow Cay:
A CHUNK OF SPACE HISTORY, ELBOW CAY, ABACO, BAHAMAS (2015)
The latest space-debris festival on Abaco’s shorelines in December was first discovered at Bahama Palm Shores. ID was established from the partial red SpaceX / Musk logo visible in the below. The new arrival added to the ongoing excitement there of a huge 50′ and (sadly) dead sperm washing back onto the beach in a state of unattractive and ‘stay-upwind-at-all-costs’ decomposition…
Falcon 9 Rocket Fragment on the beach at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (2018)
This was quickly followed by a report from Tahiti Beach, Elbow Cay. You can read the details of these 2 events as follows: BPS HERE and Elbow Cay HERE.
Falcon 9 Rocket Fragment on Tahiti Beach, Elbow Cay Abaco Bahamas
As I mentioned in the Tahiti Beach post, a report from the west side of Abaco had just reached me from Charlotte Dunn, Director of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) at Sandy Point, Abaco. This was a surprising location because – with space-junk washing up on both sides of Abaco – an inference might be that the ‘drop’ area for nose-cones, fairings and the like might be somewhat wider than expected. Possibly wide enough to include a direct hit on land? Anyway, as promised, Charlotte has now had time to take some photos of Sandy Point’s involvement in the saga.
The top photo shows a long strip of space rocket, curving at one end. It’s obviously part of a larger part that was ejected after launch. In the Falcon 9 image below (note the logo matching the BPS part), the eye is drawn to the booster rocket fairings. Maybe it’s part of one of those. It’s not my area, so correction is invited, and probably welcomed if polite…
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad
WHERE ARE THE LOCATIONS IN RELATION TO EACH OTHER?
WILL THERE BE ANYMORE SPACE TREASURE WASHED UP ON ABACO?
With 3 sites now involved, and on both sides of the island, it seems very likely that more has washed up. However, there is so much unfrequented or inaccessible shoreline on Abaco that there may be no further reports from this launch. High tides will most likely take debris back out to sea and relocate it elsewhere.. We’ll have to see…
CAN I ‘BORROW’ A BIT OF ROCKET TO JOIN MY SEA GLASS COLLECTION?
That’s a very interesting question, thank you for raising it. We are in a grey area here, somewhere between things that (seem to) have been thrown away / discarded / abandoned by their owner (res nullius), which may be fair game; and items where it is safest to assume that – despite the careless and indeed haphazard nature of their ‘loss’ – they might still be of value, use or significance to the owner. Each case has to be looked at on its merits; overall, I suspect Mr Musk would like his parts back; alternatively that he may not want anyone else to take possession of them… He is litigious. Your call! In the UK people are bidden to take lost property to a Police Station. You could try that.
WHAT OTHER SPACE-X FLIGHTS OVER / NEAR ABACO ARE PLANNED?
Thanks to Jack Bowers who sent me the link to the SpaceX schedule. Here are some recent completed missions. Note the top one, a launch on 11th January. Now check your local beach…
DO YOU HAVE ONE OF YOUR MUSICAL DIGRESSIONS?
CREDITS: Jack Bowers & others at BPS; Mary McHenry (Elbow Cay); Sandy Walker (Delphi); SpaceX / Space News + Spaceflight Now (unclassified) online material; random debris from OS material
Mars Curiosity Launch: fairing on Delphi beach, Abaco 2012 (Sandy Walker)
Pliny the Elder (CE 23–79) was one of the earliest naturalists, besides being a philosopher, author and military commander. He wroteNaturalis Historia(Natural History), a wide-ranging work that became a model for later scholarly works, including forms of Encyclopedia. And, as he so nearly wrote, ‘si non amas testudines, vacua anima tua est’ (he that loves not sea turtles, has an empty mind)*.
Hawksbill turtle grazing while a French angelfish looks on
There can be few better ways to start the New Year than with some gorgeous Hawksbill Turtles Eretmochelys imbricata, plus a sprinkling of turtle facts to give 2019 a good push into orbit. Fortunately still available in Bahamas waters, the continued existence of Hawksbills is under serious threat. Make the most of your opportunities.
Guesstimates of the world Hawksbill Turtle population suggest that there are 5 main groups in the oceans, with few enough individuals – especially breeding females – to warrant an IUCN listing of the species as critically endangered
I doubt that many will forget that the next IUCN category is… extinct (≠ ‘fun fact’)
The largest Hawksbill colony in the world nests on an island in Queensland Australia
Turtles leave the sea to lay eggs in a hole dug on the beach, before returning to the sea.
The eggs hatch after c60 days… the turtlings emerge and are then on their own
Hawksbills are omnivorous, mainly eating sponges (& immune from sponge toxins)
They also eat sea anemones, mollusks, and jellyfish
Their grazing lifestyle is an important component of a healthy coral reef ecosystem
Though their shells are hard, Hawksbills are prey for sharks, crocodiles, octopuses and “the biggest predator of all, humans“.
Despite international Hawkbill protection and conservation measures, they continue to be illegally hunted – including, in some places, for food.
Their lovely shells – tortoiseshell – are illegally traded for use for ornaments and jewellery
Japan makes its own rules (as with whales) for traditional & no doubt research purposes
‘Tortoiseshell’ is the illegal item most frequently confiscated by custom officials
Reef and beach degradation, development, light pollution (confuses the baby turtles trying to paddle to the sea), ocean pollution / marine debris, and illegal practices are among the greatest dangers to the survival of the species. All are caused, directly or indirectly, by you and indeed me
Credits: wonderful photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 2, 5) & Adam Rees / Scuba Works (3, 4, 6); Widecast; Nature Conservancy; OneKind Planet
*Do not believe this – I invented it. The quote that props up the pretentious stuff, that is – all the rest is true…
ROCKET SCIENCE ON ABACO (2) / ELON-GATE: MORE SPACE DEBRIS
Having seasonally gifted Bahamas Palm Shores the benefit of the debris from his recent Falcon 9 rocket launch (see last post from BPS HERE) it turns out that Mr EM has spread his munificence rather wider on Abaco. And there may be still more to come.
I pressed the ‘publish’ button re BPS a couple of days ago. Within hours, a further report was posted on the resulting FB thread. From Elbow Cay came the news that more space-related debris had washed up on beautiful Tahiti Beach. Mary McHenry posted 2 photos of a strange chunk of junk. I think we can reasonably assume that is from a rocket; and the timing is consistent with it being related to EM and his recent SpaceX program activities.
Mary’s photos show both sides of the gently curved item. I’ve no idea what part this is or what it does, but I hope that we can find out. It looks like a bit of fuselage, and presumably it is one of the parts that detach in the aftermath of a launch and falls back to earth to make an attractive and thought-provoking addition to the ocean and to whichever beach it turns up on.
In this case, it was Tahiti Beach (above), one of the most beautiful locations on Abaco. It is a beach in which I have a particular interest, because each year rare piping plovers hang out there in singles and pairs. It doesn’t seem to be their home, more like a little short-break destination for some quality foraging away from their usual stamping grounds. And to check out any space-based embellishments, of course.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad
ANY MORE ASTONISHING ABACO SPACE HQ REVELATIONS IN THE PIPELINE?
Yes indeed. Within a few more hours I was contacted by Charlotte Dunn, Director of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) at Sandy Point, Abaco. They too had found some space stuff on their beach. This is interesting because, whereas Bahama Palm Shores and Tahiti Beach are on the east side of mainland Abaco, Sandy Point is on the west side. Somehow the debris seems to have spread surprisingly far and wide to both sides of Abaco
I’m waiting for some photos from Charlotte, then I’ll post Part 3 of what may be quite a long sequence. I say that in particular, because yesterday day there was news that another SpaceX Falcon 9 had been launched from Cape Canaveral carrying military hardware into space. I think we can guess where some of the components of this enterprise may wash up – those large pieces that detach over the ocean as the rocket ascends through the earth’s atmosphere into space. Keep your beach-combing shoes** handy… and a camera, maybe.
Tahiti Beach (drone’s-eye view)
CREDITS: Mary McHenry (1, 2); Samantha Regan; Bruce Hallett (bird); SpaceX + Spaceflight Now (unclassified) online material; David Rees (drone view); cartoon, OS; festive Christmas Tree Worms, the wonderful Melinda Riger (without whom… etc etc)
** Mmm. I don’t think these are a ‘thing’ at all; in this context I probably just mean ‘feet’
FINALLY, A VERYHAPPYXMASTO ALLTHOSETHATTOLERATETHISBLOGANDKINDLYCOMEBACK FORMORE
December has seen two remarkable events on Abaco. First, a huge dead sperm whale (estimated 50′ long) washed up at Bahama Palm Shores. Sharks had already had a go at it, and it was beginning to putrefy. An autopsy was unable to determine the cause of death (ship-strike is presumably a contender). It continued to decompose on the shoreline, becoming extremely… well, best kept at a distance. And upwind of it. I’ll post about the sad end of this magnificent creature – the largest marine mammal in the Bahamas – in a couple of weeks, after the festivities at Rolling Harbour Towers have calmed down.
STOP PRESS 🚀 you haven’t even reached the rocket part of this yet, but just to say that a few hours after posting this article, other reports of bits of Mr Musk’s rocket debris washed up on beaches are coming in – Tahiti Beach EC, and just now from BMMRO at Sandy Point. I’ll update tomorrow. 🚀
The second big news event for South Abaco was the discovery of a massive piece of (formerly) airborne debris drifting onto the BPS beach. Everyone was hoping the item wasn’t part of a plane fuselage, as it initially appeared to be. From the initial photos it looked to me like something from a rocket launch, maybe part of a booster rocket. It reminded me of the 12 foot part of a booster rocket fairing from the Atlas 5 rocket which launched Curiosity on its Mars mission, that washed up on the Delphi beach in early 2012. The men in black eventually came to reclaim it… More on that HERE
THIS REALLY IS ROCKET SCIENCE THEN?
Quite soon the mystery of the object’s purpose and origin began to get clearer. Luc Lavallee was quick to recognise the red external markings as matching Elon Musk’s logo, as used by his SpaceX venture. Events moved quickly. Contact with Musk’s operation confirmed that this was indeed “one of theirs”, a part from the latest launch a few days before.
AFTER a large chunk of strange space debris of (initially) unknown origin
BEFORE Elon Musk’s complete Falcon 9 Rocket – note the red ident
SO WHAT ON EARTH* WAS THIS CHUNK OF SPACE DEBRIS?
In the end the item was identified as part of the shroud from a Falcon 9 rocket. There was plenty of opportunity to take a good look at some of the workings. There’s potential here for some quality beach-combing (who would not want an ‘Actuator Latch Right’ rod in their living room?). There are interesting legal considerations in this type of situation… [Worried reader: please, no, I beg you]. Moving on, here’s a selection of rocket bits for contemplation.
More info was gathered, including the discovery of an astounding video from a camera fastened to a Falcon 9 rocket’s payload fairing, showing the nose cone spinning through space after its separation on a satellite launch earlier this year.
WHAT DOES A ROCKET SHROUD DO?
The nose shroud shields satellites during final preflight preparations and the early stages of launch. Once the rocket reaches space — an altitude above 100 kms / 62 miles — it jettisons the payload fairing to fall back into the ocean. The Falcon 9’s fairing is released in two halves, like a clamshell.
*This is the sort of occasion when people write ‘no pun intended’, though in fact they generally intend one, just rather a feeble one. Like mine, in fact.
CREDITS: Jack Bowers and others from the BPS community for photos, info and investigative acumen; SpaceX + Spaceflight Now (unclassified) online material + videos generously posted on YT; USA Today
Of all the sea creatures in the limpid waters of the Bahamas, turtles are rightly among the most loved. These days, what with habitat degradation below the waves and the destruction of nesting sites on land, turtles have a hard time simply fighting for survival. And that’s before they have ingested the plastic garbage that mankind pours into their living quarters, by now probably beyond effective remedial action forever. So here are some gorgeous turtles to admire, while stocks last…
Hawksbill Turtles enjoying life around a still-healthy reef
A hawksbill snacking on a sponge
Interaction with other underwater species: gray angelfish and a rock beauty