MAKE FRIENDS WITH ANEMONE (2): SPECTACULAR REEF LIFE
Going snorkelling? Planning a scuba day on the reef? You’ll see wonderful fish and amazing coral for sure. But sometimes the beauty of other life on the reef can be overlooked. Check out the anemone in the header image, with the camouflaged cleaner shrimps playing around it. You wouldn’t want to miss a sight like that. The many and varied forms and colours of anemone on the reefs of the Bahamas make up a vital component of a spectacular underwater world.
ADDED NOV 2016 Capt. Rick Guest adds this interesting material (& thanks for correcting my erroneous reference to anemones as ‘plants’. My bad. They are of course animals!):
“Anemones are living animals of the invertebrate type. Basically living corals without skeletons. All have stinging cells of several varieties to sting or entangle their prey such as small fish, or various invertebrates. A few can even, painfully, penetrate human dermal layers. Most host varieties of cleaner shrimps,and snapping shrimps that can stun their own prey. Some Dromidia crabs even pull some species of anemone off the reef, and attach them to their carapace (their back) apparently for camouflage, and perhaps protection”.
All photos: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks
The reefs of the northern Bahamas, as elsewhere in the world, are affected by two significant factors: climate change and pollution. Stepping carefully over the sharp pointy rocks of controversy, I’ve avoided the term ‘global warming’ and any associated implication that humans (oh, and methane from cows) are largely to blame for the first factor; but on any view, ocean pollution is the responsibility of mankind (and not even the cows).
That said, an exploration of the reefs of Abaco or Grand Bahama will reveal not just the astounding variety of mobile marine life but also the plentiful and colourful static marine life – for example the beautiful and Christmassy orange cup coral in the header image. Here are some more corals from the reefs, with a mix of sponges added in.
This rather intriguing photo shows a hermit crab’s conch home that presumably the occupant grew out of and left behind in the delicate coral branches as it went search of a more spacious shell dwelling.
Credits: All these wonderful photos are by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; tendentious reef health observations are mine own…
Hawksbill turtles are found throughout the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. They avoid deep waters, preferring coastlines where sponges are abundant and sandy nesting sites are within reach. They are normally found near reefs rich in the sponges they like to feed on. Hawksbills are omnivorous and will also eat molluscs, marine algae, crustaceans, sea urchins, fish, and jellyfish.
Hawksbill Turtle Range (Nat Geo)
WHY ARE HAWKSBILLS CRITICALLY ENDANGERED?
Despite the protection of their shells, turtles are predated on by large fish, sharks, octopuses, and (unlawfully) humans.
Hawksbills are slow breeders, mating only every 2 or 3 years, which is the first drawback to species survival.
Having laid the resulting eggs on a beach, the female returns to the sea. The eggs hatch after a couple of months. Unless, of course, some creature – and that includes humans – has got to them first…
Hatchlings are hugely vulnerable as they make their way from the nest site to the sea. However fast they scurry along, crabs and in particular flocks of gulls are faster. Also, they may have to negotiate impossible obstacles washed up onto the beach (see below). The attrition rate of tiny turtles at this stage is very considerable.
SO, HUMANS ARE BASICALLY IN THE CLEAR, RIGHT?
Humans can take most of the credit for the turtles plight leading to their IUCN ‘critically endangered’ listing, in these mostly illegal ways:
Killing adult turtles for food or…
…for their beautiful shells
Digging up turtle nesting sites to take the eggs as food
Catching turtles in fishing nets as unintended but often inevitableBYCATCH
Providing a rich stew of plastic, styrofoam & other dietary or physical hazards in the ocean
Degrading or destroying the nesting sites, & indeed the reefs on which turtles depend
A hatchling tries to clamber over beach rubbish to get to the sea
A straw is extracted from a turtle’s nostril (small pics on purpose – I spared you the long video)
This poor creature was found just in time
Assorted plastic effects (the turtle trapped in the beach chair was off Man-o-War Cay)
PLEASE CAN WE GO BACK TO HAPPY PICTURES?
Healthy hawksbills happily living the northern Bahamas reef life
Credits: Melinda Riger & Virginia Cooper of Grand Bahama Scuba for the main photos; Melissa Maura, Nathan Robinson, Friends of the Environment and other FB sharers for the small images; National Geographic for range chart and information
Albert King, Lead Belly and Mike Bloomfield are prime examples of foremost bluesmen guitar-slingers who, in their own distinctive styles, favoured the key of… I’m sorry, what did you say? Oh yes, quite right. My misunderstanding. Apologies, I’ll take it from the top…
Deep blue sea. Deep blue fish. *Deep breath*. All better now. The fish below may all readily be found nosing around the coral reefs of the Bahamas in a leisurely manner. Mostly, they are feeding. Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, Abaco, is a great place for watching them. No need to have all the gear – a simple snorkel, mask and flippers, and an ability to float a bit, would be sufficient.
BLUE CHROMIS Chromis cyanea
These dazzling little blue fish will be one of the first you’ll meet (along with the omnipresent yellow and black striped sergeant majors, so friendly they will come right up to your mask). You can’t miss them. Though very small, their electric blue colouring cuts through the water even on the dullest of days up-top. They can reach 5 inches in length, but most that you see will be tiddlers. They are frequently seen in the company of larger fish.
BLUE PARROTFISH Scarus coeruleus
Parrotfish play a vital part in the ecology and health of the coral reef. They graze on algae, cleaning the coral and grinding the surface with their teeth. They take the nutrients and excrete the rest as… sand. This helps to form your beach! To find out more about their uses and habits, click PARROTFISH. You’ll find a great deal of interesting info about the species, conveniently compressed into factual bullet points.
BLUE TANG Acanthurus coeruleus
The blue tang is a type of surgeonfish, all-blue except for a yellow spot near the tail. The blueness can vary considerably, from very pale to dark. They tend to swim elegantly around in large groups.
Here are some images of schools of blue tang that I took with a cheapo underwater camera at Fowl Cay. They are a lovely sight as they drift slowly past alongside the reef. The top one also has a sergeant major (see above).
CREOLE WRASSE Clepticus parrae
This wrasse can grow up to a foot long, and may be found at considerable depths on deep-water reefs – 300 feet or more. They are active by day, and hide in rock clefts at night. This species is sociable, moving around in shoals. They develop yellow markings with age.
QUEEN TRIGGERFISH Balistes vetula
There are several species of triggerfish. The queen is capable of changing colour to match its surroundings, or (it is said) if subjected to stress. I think we have all been there. It is an aggressive and territorial fish, and its favourite prey is the sea urchin, a testament to its courage…
QUEEN ANGELFISH (JUVENILE)
I have featured this species before HERE, and strictly it as much yellow as blue. But the blue earns double points, surely, for its startling vividness. Anyway, I like the way it hangs casually upside down, and the bubbles in this photo.
Credits: Good photos – Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Poor photos – RH
From time to time I end a post with something musical. Just for fun (toxic concept). So here is a real “Slow Blues in C” from the fantastic guitarist Stefan Grossman off his eclectic ‘Yazoo Basin Boogie’ album. 22 quality tracks. Buy from Am*z*n – much cheaper than iT*nes.
Butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) belong to a large worldwide family of small, colourful reef fishes. There are several sorts to be found in the Bahamas, of which 4 are shown below. These creatures resemble small angel fishes, and are invariably vividly coloured, strikingly patterned, or in many cases, both. Apart from that, the most interesting fact about them is that their species name Chaetodontidae derives from a Greek compound noun meaning ‘hair tooth’. This unsettling description relates to the rows of tiny, fine filament-like teeth inside their protuberant mouths. If I ever get a photo of a butterflyfish showing its teeth while feeding or yawning, I will add it here…