HAWKSBILL TURTLES: ENJOY THEM WHILE YOU CAN


Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: ENJOY THEM WHILE YOU CAN

Pliny the Elder (CE 23–79) was one of the earliest naturalists, besides being a philosopher, author and military commander. He wrote Naturalis 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 onHawksbill Turtle with French Angelfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

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.

Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

  • 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

Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

  • 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

Hawksbill T ©Melinda Riger + G B Scuba copy.jpg

Credits: wonderful photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 2, 5) & Adam Rees / Scuba Works (3, 4, 6); Widecast; Nature Conservancy; OneKind Planet

Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

* Do not believe this – I invented it. The quote that props up the pretentious stuff, that is – all the rest is true…

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (50): TOBACCO BASSLET


Tobacco Basslet (Serranus tabacarius) Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (50): TOBACCO BASSLET

Welcome to #50 in the Bahamas Reef Fish series. I chose this fish to honour the landmark before thinking about its features. Grumpy. Also, associated with a narcotic and dangerous drug. And a fish one probably wouldn’t bother to smoke (even if one could get it to light underwater). In the Bahamas you’ll find these little fish around the coral reefs where they play their part as reef denizens, which includes being prey to larger species. If one looks them up online, however, the overwhelming impression from the websites and images available is that they exist largely for the benefit of the aquarium industry.

Tobacco Basslet (Serranus tabacarius) Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Tobacco basslets (Serranus tabacarius) – more commonly just called tobacco fish or tobaccofish – are related to the HARLEQUIN BASS(LET), a species that was most unfairly included as #9 in my parallel WTF? series among all the seriously weird sea creatures that feature in that category. A wrong I must right one day.

Tobacco Basslet (Serranus tabacarius) Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Tobacco fish are considered to be hardy, unaggressive (except towards the tiny fishes and crustaceans they feed on) but apparently they need quite a large tank to hold them. The ocean might be suitably large for the purpose. Especially as it seems that in an aquarium there needs to be a cover on top: “these fish are expert jumpers…“, as one source puts it…

BESIDES THE BAHAMAS & AQUARIUMS WHERE ELSE DO THEY LIVE?

TOBACCO BASSLET RANGE MAP

APART FROM THE HIGH JUMP THING, ANY OTHER TRICKS?

Yes indeed. The Tobacco Basslet is hermaphroditic, like all other members of its genus.

DON’T LEAVE IT AT THAT… HOW DO THEY, YOU KNOW?

I didn’t want you to ask. All their FB pages say “It’s complicated“, but here’s a rough idea…

  • All individuals start life as simultaneous hermaphrodites (with sex organs of both sexes)
  • The largest fish lose their female functions and become active sperm-producing males
  • Each male leads a group of hermaphrodites and protects them from other males 
  • This gives them exclusive rights to the female parts of members of their ‘harem’
  • Sometimes hermies may use their male bits to join in & release sperm – ‘streaking’
  • There are rarer mating strategies… Oh heck, please look at the abstract of a scientific paper for details. I had to! And all because you, gentle reader, asked that question.

With some relief, here is very short video. It probably doesn’t accurately show how Tobacco fish might behave on a Bahamian reef. In captivity, from the look of it, they get pushed around by bigger fish. But maybe, if their co-residents are carefully selected, the bonus is that they don’t risk getting eaten.

OPTIONAL MUSICAL INTERLUDE

There are no songs ever that mention tobacco fish or tobacco basslets (though lots involve bass). And more oddly, apart from a couple of old blues songs the only truly mainstream song about tobacco by name (as opposed to content) is Tobacco Road, a song as frequently and thoroughly covered as an aquarium tank containing jumpy tobacco fish.

Rare photos from the actual sea captured by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Science Direct plus magpie pickings; Captive Aquatic Ecosytems (video)

I didn’t enjoy this article about me very much. I am NOT grumpy.Tobacco Basslet (Serranus tabacarius) Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (49): BANDED BUTTERFLYFISH


Banded Butterflyfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

BANDED BUTTERFLYFISH – BAHAMAS REEF FISH (49)

The banded butterflyfish (Chaetodon striatus) is one of several butterflyfish species found in Bahamas waters. There are links to some of the others at the end of this post. The reason for the name is obvious. The purpose of the patterning (striatus) is to act as an adaptive anti-predator defence when seen against the varied landscape of the coral reefs that are its home. 

Banded Butterflyfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

These little fish tend to be found either singly or in pairs. Two of them together may play a form of chase game among the corals and anemones of the reef. 

Banded Butterflyfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Banded butterfishes, like their cousins, have a varied diet that includes small crustaceans, worms, and coral polyps. They also have a valuable role on the reef by acting a cleaner fish for larger species like grunts, tangs and parrot fish. This sort of relationship, where one party benefits from this kind of interaction , is known as ‘commensalism’, one of the 4 types of symbiotic relationship.

Banded Butterflyfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

RELATED LINKS

LONGSNOUT BUTTERFLYFISH

BUTTERFLYFISHES (RH guide to reef, banded, four-eyed & spotfin)

REEF FISH INDEX gateway to loads of colourful finny species

WHAT’S THAT FISH? A handy resource

FLORENT’S GUIDE A ditto

Banded Butterflyfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

PURPLE VASE SPONGES: BAHAMAS REEF ORNAMENTS


Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

PURPLE VASE SPONGES: BAHAMAS REEF ORNAMENTS

The Purple Vase is an unmistakeable sponge, a colourful reef creature (for they are animals, of course) that stands even out amongst the bright corals that surround it. And like corals, sponges are vulnerable to all the usual threats (mainly human-generated).

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Catch them while you can in the clear waters of the Bahamas while stocks last. I say this because as study after study concludes, the prospects of reef-mageddon get closer each year. When the corals die off, so in all probability will the sponges and anemones…

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

After such a depressing intro, let’s move on to take a positive look at the purple vase sponge. As with all sponges, once a newborn sponge is wafted by the current to a place on the reef, it takes root there throughout its life. There, these attractive sponges exist by filtering the water that surrounds them, separating out plankton to feed on. Static filter-feeders, if you will.

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

You’ll notice that in some of the photographs, the sponges have guests. These are BRITTLE STARS, and they are often found on – and indeed in – purple vases. This is a form of symbiotic relationship known as commensalism, in which one species benefits and the other is neither benefitted nor harmed. The brittle star gains a shelter and a safe base for feeding; the vase gets a harmless companion. Small fishes benefit from the vases in a similar way.

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Besides the impact of damaging human interventions (which may be permanent), extreme weather events also affect reef life and the static inhabitants adversely. Storms and hurricanes can cause localised havoc, but the damage is not necessarily permanent. The reef can in time repopulate naturally and flourish again. Humans can even promote this recovery. The photograph above shows a purple vase sponge that was detached from the reef by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Melinda Riger in effect replanted it on the reef and it reattached itself and grew. In due course it even acquired its brittle star occupant. 

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

*JIMI AND ‘PURPLE VASE’ – A VOLUNTARY MUSICAL DIGRESSION

In an interview with NME Hendrix is reported to have said that Purple Haze “was about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.” Originally the song was intended to be ‘Purple Vase’, and reflect the psychedelic experience of life on a coral reef. Realising he was getting bogged down by sub-aquatic imagery (he was a non-swimmer), he toked for a while and then ‘Purple Haze’ emerged almost fully formed. He was always far happier kissing the sky than wandering about under the waves. Most covers of the song are pale imitations of the original, but here’s a rather unusual take that succeeds by trying a different approach…

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba for all great photos; magpie pickings for bits and pieces, with a shout-out to ‘Critter Squad’ for its informative site aimed at kids. And amateur grown-ups can benefit too… commensalism in humans; Friend ‘n’ Fellow audio

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (48): SCHOOLMASTER SNAPPER


Schoolmaster Snapper (Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (48): SCHOOLMASTER SNAPPER

November 1st already, and the first time I am prepared to consider the possibility of the onset of Christmas, with its attendant joys yet complications… Meanwhile, I thought I might have run out of types of reef fish to feature in this series long before I got to 50. Yet here we are, two short of that target, with a species of snapper I haven’t even mentioned before. I am (frankly) a rather feeble swimmer, and do not possess a viable underwater camera. So there’s no way I could show these denizens of the not-especially-deep without heavy reliance on others, in particular the outstanding photos of diver Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; and the memorable ones from Adam Rees of Scuba Works that include some of the more obscure species that appear in my WTF? (What’s That Fish) series. 

Schoolmaster Snapper (Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba)

The schoolmaster snapper (Lutjanus apodus) lives among the coral reefs and mangroves of the Caribbean and further north to the northern Bahamas and Florida. Generally they are quite small, not much more than 12- 18 inches. They tend to hang out in ‘schools’, which several sources suggest as the reason they got their common name. But schoolmasters don’t really move around in large groups, do they? It’s school pupils that do that, but ‘Pupil Snapper’ wouldn’t cut it as a fish name I guess.

Schoolmaster Snapper (Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba)

10 SCHOOLMASTER SNAPPER FACTS TO PONDER

  • One pair of upper teeth are so large they protrude when the fish shuts its mouth
  • Their side scales are so arranged that diamond shapes are produced
  • There’s plenty to learn about their fin arrangements, but not necessarily to remember
  • Their jaws don’t open very wide, so their prey tends to be quite small
  • Unlike fish that change sex as they grow, these ones retain their birth gender for life
  • When they spawn they produce their gametes simultaneously, and swim away
  • The fertilised eggs sink to the bottom, where they have to take their chances
  • Though small, they are good to eat and are fished for recreation and commercially
  • Regionally there are specific regulations as to catch length & limits, hook type, bait etc
  • Like all snappers and many other fish species, these fish are associated with ciguatera

Schoolmaster Snapper (Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba)

RECIPES

For those who enjoy cooking (whatever that is), you probably know exactly how you like to cook your snappers. For anyone else, here’s a site that proposes several different ways to cook them, with helpful tips. These seem to apply to all snapper species, most of which are available free in the Bahamas. http://www.allfishingbuy.com/Fish-Recipes/Snapper-Recepies.htm

My favourite schoolmaster snapper photo of those featured hereSchoolmaster Snapper (Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba)

POSSIBLE MEDICAL BENEFITS FROM EATING SNAPPERS

These are alleged to include (except when fried): protection against certain types of stroke, reduction of heart arrhythmia, and defence against certain types of cancer. Don’t take my word for it, though. And definitely don’t rely on a snapper-based diet regime. I think the most that can safely be said is that eating snapper will do you no harm (except when fried) and may conceivably have a marginal benefit on health along with a balanced diet, exercise, minimal alcohol intake and all the routines that we strictly adhere to for a healthy life. In our dreams, anyway.

Schoolmaster Snapper (Albert Kok)

Credits: All great pics by Melinda Riger / GB Scuba except #6 Albert Kok; range map, Wiki. Magpie pickings.

Schoolmaster Snapper (Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba)

 

FOLLOWING DOLPHINS IN THE BAHAMAS…


Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

FOLLOWING DOLPHINS IN THE BAHAMAS…

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) is based at Sandy Point, Abaco. The principals Diane Claridge and Charlotte Dunn with their team cover not only Abaco waters but the whole of the Bahamas. Their research work is complex, and some of it is carried out in conjunction with partners on specific projects or more generally.

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

Which brings me to SailorDolphin Research, a project that involves the meticulous mapping, photographing, and recording of the details of each sighting. Much of the work is carried out in the Bahamas in partnership with BMMRO. The link will take you to the homepage, which notes “This website provides a list of Dolphins that I have documented on the US East coast and the Bahamas. It includes details (with photos & notes) for each dolphin and lists of their sightings from my personal database.” If you have an interest in dolphins (and who does not?), it will repay exploration – and you will see some awesome photographs. Here are a few of them to admire. 

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

Now imagine yourself in the water, with these wonderful creatures cutting through the water in front of you, working their sleek bodies just below the surface, jostling and cavorting, occasionally letting a fin cut through the water. Hold that thought… Right, get back to work!

All photos courtesy of SailorDolphin / BMMRO

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

BLACK DURGON: A TRIGGERFISH OF DISTINCTION


Black Durgon Triggerfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

BLACK DURGON: A TRIGGERFISH OF DISTINCTION

The Black Durgon (Black Triggerfish) seems to be a fairly rare triggerfish in Bahamas waters. I say that not because I know, but because there is very little mention of them in a Bahamas context. In fact, the (not especially profound) research I have done suggests it is not (originally?) really native to the Bahamas region at all. Correction of this impression welcome!

Black Durgon Triggerfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

These fish have the ability to change colour, according to their surroundings. Mostly, they seem completely black. However they have intricate blue markings to the head, and regular patterning on their flanks that resembles the sort of thing one idly doodles during a long and less then attention-holding phone call (or the ‘hold music’) – see Header Image. They also have dramatic pale stripes where their fins join the body.

Black Durgon Triggerfish (Getty Images)

These fish have a varied diet that includes small fish, squid and shrimps, with side-helpings of algae, zooplankton and marine plants. And…

FUN FACT (REALLY!)

The Black Durgon has been studied, of course. One piece of research discovered that they… erm… ingested the feces and vomit of a species of dolphin. Other reef fish in the area did so too, but the Black Durgon was much the keenest on this distinctive  diet. So these are ‘offal-eating’ fish… and welcome to it. Here’s a short video to take your mind off it all…

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has encountered these fish in Abaco waters. I ought to look further into their prevalence. Maybe they just don’t get much publicity. They need a new agent.

Black Durgon Triggerfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Credits: Photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba except #3, Getty Images; Kwik-Viddy, Cassandra-Tel; inadequate research, Author