IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?


Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?

I wrote the original post on this theme, with its somewhat Bohemian and rhapsodic title, a while back. It was put together at a time of sunshine, normality and optimism. The 2019 hurricane season was far in the future, and the prospect of one – let alone two – of the finest islands in the Bahamas being virtually eradicated overnight was unthinkable.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Right now, in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian, and as the communities gradually start on the long road to recovery, the priorities remain personal and community safety, food, fresh water, medical supplies and access to all the other necessities that the major relief operation has so effectively enabled. However, as gradual improvements to daily life are achieved, so a degree of interest in the natural world is returning.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The despoliation of the land is there for all to see, visible even from space. As yet – as far as I know – no one has had the time or opportunity, or even a boat and the right equipment to investigate below the surface of the sea. What of the reefs: the bright darting reef fish; the larger denizens of the deep; the corals, sponges and anemones? The massive Cat 5 storm caused an unprecedented 23′ surge. It’s hard to see how the reefs can have remained unaffected, and there must be the possibility that the THIRD LARGEST BARRIER REEF in the world will have been altered irrevocably.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Since Dorian, the related organisations have been unable to operate. Abaco’s ‘Dive Abaco’ was virtually annihilated along with the rest of Marsh Harbour. Grand Bahama Scuba has just reopened, although it may take a while before dive trips are anywhere back to normal. This post contains beautiful photos from both the Melindas concerned, taken in happier times before the dark cloud swept over the islands just one month ago.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

NOTES FROM THE PRE-DORIAN PAST

The waters of Abaco teem with myriads of fish that depend on the coral reefs for shelter and safety, for breeding, for growing up in, and for nourishment. Sea fans (or gorgonians, to use the technical name) are animals too. They may look like plants and stay rooted to the spot, but like anemones these ‘soft corals’ are creatures of the reef and essential indicators of its health.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

At the moment it can still be said that the static (‘sessile’) members of the Abaco reef community are relatively unscathed by the impact of (and I don’t want to get into any arguments here) whatever causes mass bleaching and the death of reefs elsewhere in the world.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

The purple sea fan Gorgonia ventalina (classified by Linnaeus in 1785) is one of the most common species of sea fan, and a spectacular one at that. The main branches are linked by a lattice of smaller branches. Below the ‘skin’ is a skeleton made of calcite compounded with a form of collagen. 

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Sea fans are filter-feeders, and have polyps with eight tiny tentacles that catch plankton as it drifts past. They develop so that their orientation is across the prevailing current. This maximises the water passing by and consequently the supply of food as the fans gently wave in the flow.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Gorgonians have a chemical defence mechanism that protects against potential troublemakers. The main effect is to make themselves unpleasant to nibble or uproot.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One species impervious to this deterrent is the fascinating FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL (more of which quite soon). Other ‘safe’ species include the fireworm and BUTTERFLYFISHES.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One benefit of sea fans to mankind is that their defensive chemicals have been discovered to provide the basis for drug research and development, specifically in the field of  anti-inflammatories. Another benefit, of course, is that they are very beautiful to look at. And in bad times, that can only be good .

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)    Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Most of the photos featured are by courtesy of Capt. Keith and Melinda Rogers of the well-known local scuba dive and snorkel centre DIVE ABACO, located in central Marsh Harbour. As prime enablers of reef exploration in Abaco waters, it can truly be said that they too have plenty of fans.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Credits: Melinda and Keith Rodgers / Dive Abaco, Marsh Harbour; Melinda and Fred Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 3, 4, 5)

** The answer to the questions in the Title is… it’s both!

FINALLY, A SPECIAL FAN FOR ABACO AND GRAND BAHAMA

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

HIDDEN DEPTHS: LIFE ON ABACO’S CORAL REEFS


Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

HIDDEN DEPTHS: LIFE ON ABACO’S CORAL REEFS

Nearly 4 weeks after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, the island and its cays are beginning to emerge gradually from the wreckage and the desolation. The extent of the disaster on the ground is clear, not least from the aerial photos – first drone, then plane, and now Google – of ‘before’ and ‘after’. 

Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

At the stage, it isn’t possible to determine the extent to which the underwater world has been affected. The storm surge was huge and the waves were savage. The progress of the storm was slow (and it went on to stall over equally damaged Grand Bahama). Who knows the effect on the corals and other reef life for which Abaco is renowned.

Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco) Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

This pictorial post is a reminder of how things were below the surface of Abaco waters before Dorian struck. If it lifts spirits to any degree, I shall be glad.

Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco) Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

All these photos are by Melinda Rodgers who, with Capt Keith, are DIVE ABACO. Many will know how badly they have fared, being in the heart of Marsh Harbour. We wish them a speedy return to the wonderful enterprise they have run for many years. I’m pleased to be able to show the beauty of the reefs in happier times from their archive.

Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

Credits: Melinda Rodgers /  Dive Abaco

Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

BLUE CHROMIS: A FLASH OF COLOUR ON THE REEF


BLUE CHROMIS: A FLASH OF COLOUR ON THE REEF

I’ve gone pictorial for today because I have only got my phone with me while we are away. Composition is slow, close to decomposition – and the comms connection is close to disconnection

Blue chromis (Chromis cyaneus) belong to the same group of fishes as damselfishes. These unmistakeable, bright reef denizens are very visible despite their tiny size. These fish are shoalers, so out on the reef you can enjoy them flickering around you as you swim along or hang in the water to admire the corals.

Like many a pretty and easily captured small fish that can be monetised once removed from its natural home environment, the blue chromis is popular for aquariums, and for humans to keep in their own home environments, unselfishly feeding them concocted food.

Blue chromis are adaptable and sociable, and will happily swim with other small reef fishes (as above). My own favourite combo is chromis mixed in with sergeant majors. But a shoal of them (mostly) alone is pretty special too….

I cynically mentioned ‘concocted’ food earlier. Here is one online care instruction for looking after them: “They are omnivores, meaning that they eat both meaty and plant based foods. They are not difficult to feed and will eat a variety of regular aquarium fare, frozen, live, and sometimes even dry food. Feeding them a variety of foods will help them retain their color in captivity. They sometimes feed on the algae in the tank”. 

If you are tempted to rescue some from their reef habitat, rest assured that: They have been known to spawn in captivity. Blue chromis can usually be obtained for about $10-15. And don’t hold back on the frozen food (though maybe warm it up a bit before feeding time).

Credits: Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco; Melinda Riger / G B Scuba

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (53): YELLOW GOATFISH


Goatfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (53): YELLOW GOATFISH

GOATFISHES belong to the mullet family, a large group of species with a flexible membership. In other words, there is disagreement as to whether certain fish are mullet or not. For present purposes, it’s not our problem – no one doubts that the goatfish is a mullet.

Goatfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

SO WHY ARE THESE CALLED GOATFISH? WAS SOMEONE KIDDING?

These fish get their name for the pair of so-called ‘barbels’ below their mouths (see image below), thought to be reminiscent of a goatee beard. The name has Latin origin, ‘barbula‘, meaning a small beard. Linnaeus may have had a hand in this choice of description.

Goatfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF THE BARBELS?

The barbels are sensory organs which, depending on the creature, may be located on either side of the mouth, on the chin, or even extending from the nostrils. In broad terms, the barbels are where the taste buds are located. They help a fish to find food even when the water is stirred up or murky or at night, and are used to probe into sand or into holes in the reef for prey.  

Goatfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

WHY ARE THEY OFTEN SEEN WITH YELLOWTAIL SNAPPERS, GRUNTS & PORKFISH?

Goatfish have limited means of self-protection. They are not poisonous or venomous, they have no spines or razor-sharp teeth, nor ink to squirt. They do have an ability to change colour rapidly to blend into their surroundings – e.g. over pale sand – to make them less conspicuous to predators. Overall, however, they are docile and probably delicious to many other species. Their bright hues may have some function as aposematic colouring to warn, scare or repel potential predators, but this is possibly of limited use among the familiar reef denizens. So instead the goatfish goes in for so-called protective mimicry, as shown in the image above.

Goatfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

PROTECTIVE MIMICRY?

Goatfish and yellowtail snappers (in particular) are similar in size, appearance, coloration and behaviours, though the feeding patterns differ. The reason they are often found in mixed groups on the reef is for the individual protection they gain in a larger mixed school. This really amounts to taking advantage of safety in numbers (especially for the fishes in the middle). Here’s a very recent photo that shows exactly this scenario – a large mixed shoal of two almost indistinguishable fish species.

Goatfish & Yellowtail Snappers shoaling (Melinda Riger, GB Scuba)

IS THIS A ‘SPOT THE DIFFERENCE’ TEST?

If you’d like to make it so! (click on the image to enlarge it). Look out for the fish with the barbels (Goatfish); and the fish with the larger, more deeply forked tails (Snappers). A predator won’t take a great deal of notice of the finer points of difference of course, but overall this large mixed shoal gives a degree of protection to individual fish in the unit as a whole

Goatfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

ARE GOATFISH EDIBLE?

Goatfish are eaten in many ares of the world, though I can’t recall seeing it on a Bahamian menu. The Romans ate the local mullet / goatfish species, but then they ate many things that we do not now consider as permissible food – dormice in honey for example. Rather revoltingly, the goatfish were served live so that guests could watch them die and see the amazing change of colours in the process. Barbaric? But don’t we cook live… well, never mind that.

Goatfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Photos: all great photos from Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; magpie research pickings inc. the abstract of a scientific paper with about 23 authors; tip ‘o the hat to Wiki, no seriously

Goatfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (52)


ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (52)

I last featured the cheerfully-coloured Rock Beauty Holacanthus tricolor 2 or 3 years back. Time has passed; new photos exist; new people have signed up to follow this eclectic menagerie (thank you both). Time for another look at these beauties, which also happen to be cuties.

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Look at the little guy above –  posing for Pixar, adorably hoping to star in Part 3 of the Nemo / Dory trilogy

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

These fish are a small species of angelfish. Seen swimming around the reefs they are unmistakeable, not least because of their bright yellow hi-viz jackets, remarkable blue eyeliner and blue-black lippy. 

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Rock Beauties look like prime candidates for anyone’s aquarium, but their picky dietary requirements and tendency for aggression make them unsuitable.

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

They are highly specialised feeders, needing marine sponge in their daily diet. They are also prone to chase their tank-mates and nip them. On balance, they look more fetching nosing about the coral anyway.

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

WHAT DO JUVENILES LOOK LIKE?

Juvenile rock beauties are cute mini-versions of the adults, only more yellow and with yellow lips. In some development stages, they have a smart blue circle around the dark patch on their sides (bottom image).

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Rock Beauty, Bahamas (Living Oceans Foundation))

NOTE Rock Beauties have no known kinship with Chrissie, Debbie, Lita, Joan, Jennifer, Stevie, Madge and the rest of the accredited ‘Rock Beauties aka Chicks’ 

NOT A TRUE ‘ROCK BEAUTY’ (no offence, Lita)

A TRUE ROCK BEAUTY

Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; WP

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?


Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?

The waters of Abaco teem with myriads of fish that depend on the coral reefs for shelter and safety, for breeding, for growing up in, and for nourishment. Sea fans (or gorgonians, to use the technical name) are animals too. They may look like plants and stay rooted to the spot, but like anemones these ‘soft corals’ are creatures of the reef and essential indicators of its health.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

At the moment it can still be said that the static (‘sessile’) members of the Abaco reef community are relatively unscathed by the impact of (and I don’t want to get into any arguments here) whatever causes mass bleaching and the death of reefs elsewhere in the world.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

The purple sea fan Gorgonia ventalina (classified by Linnaeus in 1785) is one of the most common species of sea fan, and a spectacular one at that. The main branches are linked by a lattice of smaller branches. Below the ‘skin’ is a skeleton made of calcite compounded with a form of collagen. 

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Sea fans are filter-feeders, and have polyps with eight tiny tentacles that catch plankton as it drifts past. They develop so that their orientation is across the prevailing current. This maximises the water passing by and consequently the supply of food as the fans gently wave in the flow.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Gorgonians have a chemical defense mechanism that protects against potential troublemakers. The main effect is to make themselves unpleasant to nibble or uproot.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One species impervious to this deterrent is the fascinating FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL (more of which quite soon). Other ‘safe’ species include the fireworm and BUTTERFLYFISHES.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One benefit of sea fans to mankind is that their defensive chemicals have been discovered to provide the basis for drug research and development. It’s tempting to say that by way of gratitude, we pollute the waters they need for their very existence. So, consider it said…

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)    Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

All the photos featured are by courtesy of Capt. Keith and Melinda Rogers of the well-known local scuba dive and snorkel centre DIVE ABACO, located in central Marsh Harbour. As prime enablers of reef exploration in Abaco waters, it can truly be said that they too have plenty of fans.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Credits: Keith and Melinda Rodgers; Dive Abaco @DiveAbaco, Marsh Harbour, The Bahamas ** The answer to the questions in the Title is… it’s both!

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 17: YELLOWHEAD JAWFISH


Yellowhead Jawfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 17: YELLOWHEAD JAWFISH

It’s been a little time since I added to the WTF? series, in which some of the more outlandish reef denizens come under close scrutiny. Jawfishes (Opistognathidae) come into this category, not least because of their interesting ways with their eggs. Also, they tend to stick upright out of the substrate, which is not especially fishy behaviour.

Yellowhead Jawfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

More than 50 species of jawfish are found around the world. In the Bahamas, you are most likely to encounter the Yellowhead (or Yellow-headed) variety. And if you think they look slightly… primitive, that’s because they are. In fact, their forebears (forefishes?) originated in prehistoric times, specifically the Miocene era (a lot of million years ago, I didn’t count exactly).

Yellowhead Jawfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

These rather extraordinary little fish superficially resemble certain types of BLENNY. Their modus operandi is to burrow down into sandy, gravelly or other loose substrate. They do so by cramming their mouths with sand and spitting it out to one side. By this means they form a tunnel of sorts in which they can live, and from which they can emerge, or half-emerge and take a look around them. As they do so, they hoover up passing food, mostly plankton and suchlike.

Yellowhead Jawfish (Virginia Cooper / Grand Bahama Scuba)

If something looks threatening while they are feeding or having a look around, they can simply duck down into their burrow for safety. They guard their patch against rivals, and behave ‘territorially’ in the jawfish community. One method is to ingest and and then eject sand or gravel at a would-be intruder.

Yellowhead Jawfish (Michael Wolf Wiki))

YES, BUT WHERE IS THE REAL ‘WTF?’ FACTOR HERE?

Good question. With a good and original answer. These little creatures are so-called MOUTHBROODERS‘, meaning that they carry their eggs in their mouths. Depending on the species, females, males or even both parents (don’t try this at home) will do this at or after fertilisation. In effect the eggs are safely incubated until they hatch as fry. Then they are on their own.

Yellowhead Jawfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

ARE THERE ANY DRAWBACKS TO THIS UNUSUAL GESTATION METHOD?

Apart from accidentally swallowing the occasional potential junior, the eggs need aeration from time to time. This is achieved by expelling the eggs from the mouth, and quickly sucking them back in again. Try this very short video to see this rather improbable behaviour in action. It’s only 8 seconds blink and you’ll miss the action. The eggs hatch into fry in 8 – 10 days, after which both parents can relax. Until the next time.

Yellowhead Jawfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)
Photo Credits: all images from Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba except (4) Virginia Cooper / GBS; (5) Michael Wolf / Wikimedia; video, Alan Keller. Research: magpie picking, not excluding yet not limited to Wiki…
Yellowhead Jawfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)