Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)


Hawksbills on their own, nosing around the colourful coral reefs of the Bahamas, are a beautiful sight. I don’t want to overdo the religious tendency of the title, but they are indeed wonderful to behold. Add FRENCH ANGELFISH and a QUEEN ANGELFISH and it’s as close to perfection as a reef scene gets. Click on the links above for more pictures and details about the two angelfish species seen here with the turtle. As ever, Melinda Riger was ready with her camera to capture these great images.

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

This astonishing photo was of course achieved by carefully balancing a GoPro on the turtle’s back, wrapping duct tape around it, and pressing ‘go’ (camera and turtle simultaneously). **

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

** This is not true. It’s just a cleverly shot turtle’s-eye view as it forages on the reef

This short video shot by Melinda’s husband Fred of a turtle ‘loving’ the camera is one of those wildlife events that cannot be predicted… but when it happens, it’s frankly a bit of a scoop.


As I was writing this, an earworm started up and grew insidiously in both ears and then inside my head… the dread words “Elenore, gee I think you’re swell”. Followed by “so happy together…”. And then “she’d rather be with me…” Yes, I’ve now got TURTLES in my head, the (?long-and-hitherto-forgotten) band from the second half of the 60’s, with their cheery anodyne soppy-poppy love songs. And dammit, they’ve stuck… Here’s a reminder for those whose memory I have jogged. For anyone under, say, 75, step away from this area. Nothing to hear here.

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Credits: Grand Bahama Scuba: all photos – Melinda Riger & video – Fred Riger; Turtle music – someone else’s music collection, not mine, honestly… (oh dear another lie I am afraid – cred gone)



One of the earliest posts in the Bahamas Reef Fish series was about Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliaris, and you can see it HERE. I make no apology for returning with some more recent photos from Melinda Riger – these fish deserve plenty of attention for their wonderful bright presence that stands out even amongst the colourful corals of the reef.

This first image is remarkable for its clarity and composition. What, I wonder, is the fish saying to Melinda as she presses the camera button? All caption suggestions welcome…Queen Angelfish © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Angelfish are quite happy  to swim round either way upQueen Angelfish (Juv) ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaQueen Angelfish (juv) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The juvenile of the species, nosing around the coral for tasty morsels,  is equally colourfulQueen Angelfish (juv) Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaQueen Angelfish Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

QUEEN ANGELFISH (Holacanthus ciliaris) – BAHAMAS REEF FISH (2)

Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliaris

QUEEN ANGELFISH (Holacanthus ciliaris)  – BAHAMAS REEF FISH (2)

The Queen Angel is one of several reef fish species where the difference in colouring between juveniles and adults is marked.  They are commonly found in the waters of Florida and the Bahamas, with a range extending to the Gulf of Mexico. Adults can grow to 3.5 lbs (to mix metric with avoirdupois) and they can live up to 15 years. Like all Angelfish, they rely on their pectoral fins for propulsion as they forage on the reefs for their mixed diet of sponges, coral, plankton, algae, and even jellyfish. As the photo below shows, they have no problem swimming upside down…

QUEEN ANGELFISH (JUVENILE) Juvenile Queen Angel ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba

Evidence suggests that adult Queen Angels may form ‘monogamous’ pairings. Brief research in the factosphere suggests that the proposition is somewhat tenuous. Maybe pairs just like hanging out – possibly to gain some territorial advantage – and anthropomorphising that into lifelong partnership terms may be overstating the relationship… Whether wed for life or not, the actual mating process is remarkably efficient. The pair snuggle up close, simultaneously releasing large quantities of sperm and tens of thousands of eggs. The fertilised eggs hatch within a day. Respect!

QUEEN ANGELFISH (ADULT)Queen Angel fish ©Melinda Riger GB ScubaQueen Angelfish ©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaQueen Angelfish (juv) ©Melinda Riger @GBS

Photo Credits for the amazing main images: ©Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba), with thanks; header image WikiPic



This post is the first of a planned series on Bahamian reef fish. Those who follow this blog (I thank you both) may recall with horror (or worse, pity) my own efforts with reef fish, using a tiny cellphone-sized video camera.  Misty stills culled from video footage. Enthusiastically wobbly movies as I struggle to swim and breathe simultaneously in an alien element. I am more underwater CLOUSEAU than COUSTEAU. However, thanks to Melinda Riger, who with husband Fred runs GRAND BAHAMA SCUBA, I have kind permission to borrow and display images from her stock of wonderful reef fish photographs.

The spotted drum fish (related to two other Caribbean drumfish, the High-Hat and the Jack-knife fish) belongs to a large worldwide family, the Sciaenidae. Besides other drum varieties, the family includes ‘croakers’. These species are all named for the repetitive throbbing or drumming sounds they make. This involves the fish beating its abdominal muscles against its swim bladder. If I find out the reason for this (Species communication? Food call? Alarm? Warning? A piscine ‘advance’? Happiness?) I will add it here in due course. Here an example of an atlantic croaker from the excellent DOSITS site (Discovery of Sounds in the Sea)

[audio http://www.dosits.org/files/dosits/croaker48.mp3]

The spotted drum is one of the few fish of the species to inhabit coral reefs – most are bottom-dwellers (often in estuaries), avoiding clear water. These fish tend to be nocturnal feeders, feeding on small crabs, shrimp and small invertebrates. As far as I can make out they are solely (or primarily) carnivore, and do not graze on algae of other reef plant life.



The photos above are of adult spotted drums. The ones below are of juveniles, and show the remarkable growth-pattern of these fish, from the fragile slender creature in the top image, through the intermediate phase of the one below it (with the amazing brain coral), to the striking adult versions above. People like to keep these pretty fish in aquariums; fine, I’m sure there are plenty to go round, but these ones look pretty happy to me in their natural reef environment…

Juvenile Drum Fish (pre-school)Juvenile Drumfish 2 ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba

Juvenile drum fish (school-age)

Juvenile Drumfish ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba(Header image credit: Wiki-Cheers)

Finally, I’ve just come across this short video from a “Florida Aquarium”, showing how these fish swim. It rather looks as though it has been fin-clipped for some reason… or just damaged, maybe

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqEWqfLeqOw]


Octopus (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)


The correct plural of ‘octopus’ is a singular mystery wrapped in tentacles and hidden beneath a rock. Shall we have the grammatical discourse first, or save it for later? Let’s have some octopi  octopuses octopodes to look at first… [oh, and it’s definitely not ‘octopussies’, not even for 007] 

 Melinda Riger GRAND BAHAMA SCUBAOctopus 2 ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba


  • Their 8 ‘arms’ come in pairs ( the back two act more like legs) and they are bilaterally symmetric
  • Their beak is hard, but they have no internal or external skeleton (so they can squeeze into tight crannies)
  • They paralyse their prospective meals with saliva from their beak; or drill holes in molluscs, stun them with venom and rip them out
  • They defend themselves with squirted ink, jet propulsion, camouflage or venom
  • All species are venomous; only one species is deadly to humans (not found in the Bahamas)
  • They are able to detach an arm (autotomy) to distract predators with the wriggling shed limb
  • The male’s 3rd right arm is the one used for reproduction… (stop giggling at the back)
  • Well, you asked: 1. special hidden extra arm 2. packets of sperm 3. into the female’s ‘mantle cavity’
  • No, I don’t know any more than that – ask your father.
  • Oh, and the males tend to die within months of mating, deftly using death to sidestep parenting 8-limbed offspring
  • They are unlikely to make a good pet for your family. Those who try, fail
  • They are eaten throughout the world, sometimes alive (e.g. Korea)

Another photo of Melinda’s, showing how an octopus can tuck itself away inside a small gap in the rocks.  It can still keep an eye on you, thoughOctopus ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba


There’s much debate about this comparatively unimportant question. Not even an octopus would care. The viable candidates are: octopuses; octopodes; and octopi.  Since all are in common usage, none is ‘wrong’, though some are more correct than others…

1. OCTOPUSES An anglicised grammatical progression of a latin-sounding word to a logical plural, similar to ‘virus’ and viruses’. Only an extreme pedant would want to argue for ‘viri’ or ‘virii’. Similarly with bonus: “We all got boni for Christmas”. No, you didn’t. They were bonuses.

2. OCTOPODES the origin of ‘octopus’ is a Greek word ὀκτάπους, later latinised. The correct plural in Athens would have been ‘octopodes’. It is not derived from a 2nd declension latin noun, as often assumed, in which case the plural might indeed be ‘octopi’ (cf annus / anni; year / years). Using this etymologically accurate form in conversation might lead to a lonely life as people begin to move away from you. But you would still be in the right, if that matters to you so much…

3. OCTOPI see above. In a picky world, this is the least correct of the 3, being a pluralisation based on the wrong root origin (i.e. on latin, not greek), and therefore etymologically unsound. In practice, it’s quick and easy, and everyone knows what you mean, which is largely the point of language, I guess. Personally, I’d use octopuses if I ever used the word.

SUMMARY: 2 is the most technically correct, and also the most likely to get you chucked off the side of the boat. Fully clothed. 1 is a logically correct anglicisation. 3 is a technically incorrect form, but long usage has made it acceptable to all but verbal Luddites. Push them off the boat too.

If you bothered to plough through that, you deserve some quality recreation. Even if you gave up in despair, you deserve these 2 videos (both taken in the Bahamas), which show the incredible way that these creatures move. Those who have never seen a live octopus will be amazed at their bodily transformations. If you only have time for one, see the top one – professionally done, and shorter. The lower one is a good amateur video, with a certain amount of diver  heavy breathing and gurgling.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKAIzFEo75M]

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/13280607]

ADDENDUM This was never going to be easy! What about ‘cactus / cacti’, do I hear? Yes, cactus was known to Greeks as κάκτος (kaktos); but it was equally known to the Romans as ‘cactus’, not as a word that had to be imported by them from the Greeks and adapted. So the word’s root is as much latin as greek. No doubt that explains similar latin-origin ‘i’ plurals such as alumnus / alumni and stimulus / stimuli.

While fact-checking – a rare pleasure for me – I discovered a cheerful ‘Merriam-Webster’ video dealing authoritatively with the vexed ‘octopus plural’ debate (best skip the terrible ad)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFyY2mK8pxk]

Octopus (Adam Rees)


Lionfish, Abaco (FotE)


I recently put some lionfish details and images on my MARINE LIFE page. I wrote: “…their existence and rapid increase in the waters of the Bahamas is a cause of great concern, and they are keenly hunted. Last year’s inaugural Lionfish Derby on Green Turtle Cay brought in more than 1400 of these creatures in the day, ranging in size from  a 57mm juvenile to a 349mm fish. Here, from THE ABACO SCIENTIST is where in the world the 2 species of Lionfish ought by rights to be. Well away from the Caribbean, that’s where!

 Photo credit: Brigitte Carey of Tilloo Cay

Two great lionfish photos from GRAND BAHAMA SCUBA  (thanks to Fred & Melinda Riger )




  • A genus of  spiny venomous fish indigenous to the Indo-Pacific area, of which there are 9 species
  • In the mid 1990s 2 species were introduced to the US Atlantic coast and Caribbean (see below)
  • Unaccountably popular as aquarium fish; cooked and eaten by people (though not by me)
    For recipes see LIONFISH HUNTER
  • An adult can weigh 1/2 kilo and may live up to 15 years
  • They have ‘complex courtship and mating behaviour’, presumably to avoid each other’s spines
  • Females release two egg cluster bombs every month containing up to fifteen thousand eggs…
  • Lionfish prey voraciously on small fish, invertebrates and molluscs which they gooble up in one gulp
  • They have bilateral swim-bladder muscles to alter their centre of gravity to attack their prey better
  • Apart from a tendency to species cannibalism, they have very few predators. The spines work well…
  • Sharks are not affected by the venom, and attempts have been made to train them to feed on lionfish 

LIONFISH STINGS are painful and can take several days to resolve. Tests on frogs, clams and rabbits… well, you don’t want to hear about those. In humans the venom causes systemic symptoms ranging from nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing difficulties and dizziness to convulsions and paralysis. For the very young, the elderly, the allergic or those with immune system weakness the sting can be fatal. TREATMENT: If stung it is recommended that you remove the spine(s) if possible and immerse the wound in hot water for at least 15 minutes… and seek medical treatment as soon as possible

THE CARIBBEAN INVASION supposedly started in the mid-1990s, perhaps following hurricane damage to an aquarium in southern Florida. A few earlier sightings had been recorded, possibly the result of  deliberate aquarium releases. Two of the 9 species are involved: the red lionfish P. volitans (93%) and the common lionfish P. miles (7%). It’s a measure of their rapid breeding, habitat adaptability and near-immunity from predation that the first recorded lionfish in the Bahamas was as recent as 2004. A mere 8 years later they’ve spread throughout the region. 

POPULATION INCREASE AND CONTROL The population is increasing exponentially despite efforts at control. Their voraciousness and territorial aggression must certainly be affecting the indigenous populations of reef marine life. The problem is already extreme. It is now unlikely that lionfish can ever be eradicated. Even to confine the population to its current level would require more than a quarter of the adult population to be killed monthly. Lionfish are able to reproduce throughout the year, so there is no seasonal respite. In this conservation-minded era,  official encouragement of  organised hunting bucks the trend towards creature protection. Lionfish do have food value, if natural human reluctance to eat a venomous species can be overcome, and there are now many lionfish recipes. Whether killing lionfish for sport or for food, humans are their only effective predators. Below is an example, from Oceans Watch, of the sort of campaign that will surely become commonplace throughout the region. Time to reach for the speargun…


The above is the orthodox view, widely held throughout the region. Some will ask whether the arrival of the lionfish in the Caribbean has any positives; whether they actually make a contribution to the ecology of the area; whether there is a convincing case to put forward in favour of the species; whether there is evidence to back it up. So to redress the balance I commend these 4 short videos from the enormously experienced Grand Bahama diver Fred Riger, in which he cogently demonstrates the value of this imported species. In short, the videos reveal that the adverse effect on endemic fish populations is not merely overstated but wrong; that the spreading menace to the coral reefs of choking algal growth is actually reversed by lionfish; and that important grazing crab species are thriving as a result. 
I posted the bad lionfish stuff last night; by this morning Fred had rightly taken me to task for only giving one side of the story: “Far from being a pest, lionfish are solving a huge problem created by the mother of all invasive species HUMANS, who have over fished the ocean, wiped numerous species out of existence, killed most of the world’s coral, the very stuff we in the Bahamas live on. Targeting lionfish sets conservation efforts back thirty years or more and contributes to the decline of the coral reef”. So here are the videos giving the case in favour of lionfish, and they certainly provide a fresh perspective and plenty of food for thought…