FLORAL CORAL: REEF GARDENS IN THE BAHAMAS


Reef Corals, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

FLORAL CORAL: REEF GARDENS IN THE BAHAMAS

Like many of the blues musicians who covered Robert Johnson’s originals, we got ramblin’ on our minds. Specifically to ‘Delphi East’ in Ireland, thus stupidly exchanging 82F sunshine in southern UK for 46F rain in the Emerald Isle. Good for the fishing, if nothing else… So (always remembering that corals are actually creatures and not plants) here’s a bouquet of coral to be going on with until we next meet with wifi!

Reef Corals, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)Reef Corals, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)Reef Corals, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)Reef Corals, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)Reef Corals, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)Reef Corals, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

OPTIONAL MUSICAL RAMBLING

Robert Johnson’s output – a meagre 29 songs in all – formed the bedrock for later bluesmen and the blues / rock crossovers that followed. They mined Johnson’s talent and formed their own new material from it. Here’s the original – you’ve probably heard it or variations of it with different names, a thousand times – some good, some bad, most so-so. 

Entire coral pot pourri by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

‘CURIOUS GEORGE’ THE INQUISITIVE BLACK GROUPER


Black Grouper Bahamas (Curious George) - Melinda Riger / GB Scuba

‘CURIOUS GEORGE’ THE INQUISITIVE BLACK GROUPER

Fish, like humans, have a wide variety of temperaments, or so it seems. Resorting to anthropomorphic analysis of animal behaviour is a favourite pastime for humans. Who really knows if a creature is actually feeling shy or confident or playful or aggressive or indeed inquisitive. Often it just seems that way and we are happy to categorise dolphins as playful, sharks as vicious, angelfish as serene, small darting fish as timid and so on. 

Black Grouper Bahamas (Curious George) - Melinda Riger / GB Scuba

Occasionally a creature displays a ‘human’ characteristic that seems undeniable. One such is Curious George. He has become used to the divers around the reef where he lives, and greets them. He enjoys the photography sessions and the equipment, even though they may be for recording other fish. He demonstrates inquisitiveness for the strange-looking black-suited creatures that visit his patch. Like many groupers, he likes to be gently patted and stroked. 

Black Grouper Bahamas (Curious George) - Melinda Riger / GB Scuba

All this curiosity and friendliness evidences a benign interspecies relationship of symbiotic mutualism, through which both species (man and fish) benefit from the interaction. The mutually beneficial feeling might in broad terms be described as ‘pleasure’.

Black Grouper Bahamas (Curious George) - Melinda Riger / GB Scuba

Or maybe I am just indulging in a bit of over-anthropomorphisation (if there is such a word)…

All photos by one half of the symbiotic mutualism here, Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (45) THREESPOT DAMSELFISH


Threespot Damselfish (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (45) THREESPOT DAMSELFISH

The threespot damselfish Stegastes planifrons is one of several damselfish types found in the Bahamas and more generally in the western Atlantic. As with so many reef species, there is a marked difference in coloration between juveniles (bright yellow) and darker-hued adults (above).

Threespot Damselfish (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)Threespot Damselfish (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

These are bony little creatures, equipped with both spines and ‘soft rays’ on some of their fins. This perhaps make them unappealing to potential predators; and maybe the very brightness and ‘hi-viz’ of the juveniles is aposematic, a coloration thats acts as a warning or repellent to potential predators.

Threespot Damselfish (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

On the reef it seems threespots favour staghorn coral as a daytime base. Their diet is mainly seaweed, with small molluscs, gastropods and worms for variety. At night they retire to crevices and caves.

Threespot Damselfish (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Adults are, for such small fish, vigorously protective of their territories. They will chase and nip intruders into their domains, even far larger creatures (up to and including humans).

Threespot Damselfish (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

A breeding pair will both be involved in egg care. Once the female has laid her eggs, they adhere to the lower reef and seabed. The male guards them and rather sweetly fans them with his fins to keep them oxygenated. And then another generation hatches and the threespot life cycle repeats.

Threespot Damselfish (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Credits: All fantastic photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

SHARKS! APEX PREDATORS IN THE BAHAMAS


Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

SHARKS! APEX PREDATORS IN THE BAHAMAS

Immersion in current affairs these days brings inevitable acquaintance with sharks of various kinds, and all best avoided. Let’s have a look the real thing, the apex marine predators that in the Bahamas are all around you once you leave the safety of the shore. I haven’t featured them for ages, and it’s always a pleasure – a slight thrill, even.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

I don’t do scuba, indeed my swimming would easily be outclassed by a competent four-year old. But I see these creatures when I’m out fishing; or as they hang in the breaking waves off the Delphi beach, watching intently for a meal.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

We watch them (and stingrays) from the balcony as they lazily make their way round the margins of the wide bay, from little ‘uns to (recently) a huge bull shark. We watch as, when someone is in the water, they change course slightly to pass by them. So far, anyway…

Feeding sharksSharks feeding in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The one that got away… (a sad sight)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

I once took a rather primitive underwater camera with me while snorkelling in Fowl Cays National Park. This was several years ago, when I believed a cheap 2mb camera might turn me into one of the Blue Planet team. I was wrong. The shark I saw, apparently some 20 miles away (when I examined the image) – well, that’s its tail, top left…

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Just to look at these images is to understand that when you are in the sea, you are in the sharks’ environment. They are the masters of it. They have their rules, and they are not much interested in you… unless you break them. Or so the theory goes.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

This fine shark below exemplifies the power and the menace of the shark. A creature to be admired, but also to be respected.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

All fantastic photos: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (44): PORKFISH


Porkfish (Grunt), Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (44): PORKFISH

Behold the porkfish Anisotremus virginicus, the slightly unattractively named representative of the (arguably) even less attractively named grunt species. These small, bright-coloured reef dwellers are rarely more than 12 inches long. They are mainly nocturnal fish, feeding on small crustaceans, mollusks and so on. Juveniles have been observed acting as cleaners to larger species, feeding on parasites – an example of mutualism between species, in which both sides benefit from the arrangement.

Porkfish (Grunt), Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

WHY IS A ‘PORKFISH’ A ‘GRUNT’

The terminology seems to be somewhat confused by local usages, but in general terms all porkfish are grunts; but not vice versa. Yet I notice that the term ‘porkfish’ is used to describe other types of grunt. A good rule of thumb is the the Atlantic Porkfish is the only grunt with two black vertical bars and yellow stripes… Note that grunts differ from their cousins the snappers by having a different dental arrangement – no canine teeth.

Porkfish (Grunt), Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

AND WHY ‘GRUNT’ ANYWAY? DO THEY SOUND LIKE PIGS?

Well, perhaps a bit. All grunts, including porkfish, are capable of producing grunt-like sounds from some kind of grinding of their back teeth that is too technical to go into here**. The sound is associated with ‘situations of duress and danger’ – such as being caught and unhooked…

Porkfish (Grunt), Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

DO YOU HAPPEN TO HAVE A RECORDING?

As it so happens I do. This is taken from a rather longer Youtube video in which a grunt was caught, unhooked and returned.You’ll hear a couple of grunts as the fish was unhooked, and some (perhaps understandable) hilarity on the boat. I guess you had to be there.

Porkfish are gregarious, and also mix with other speciesPorkfish (Grunt), Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

ARE PORKFISH EDIBLE?

Like most if not all grunts, they are, with the proviso that there is some association with ciguatera. I’ve never knowingly eaten one myself, but I gather that “grits and grunts” is a popular culinary combo in some places. For those that might want to know more, a quick look at a couple of threads reveals the following:

  • They taste great, a bit like ham
  • Their white meat cooks very well
  • They taste better than black margates (another grunt species)
  • Eat them in enchilado or breaded fillets
  • ‘Big-ass head’ on them so not much if you filet
  • If you scale and cook whole you get a better yield on them
  • When fishing for supper, ‘shoot ’em up and hold off for the bigger ones’

Porkfish (Grunt) - Brian Gratwicke (wiki)

Credits: all great photos by Melinda Riger /  Grand Bahama Scuba, except the last by Brian Gratwicke (wiki); soundbite from Youtube video 2010 by peachyree; research from seaworld.org; britannica.com and the usual suspects…

** Subtle code for “I haven’t really understood it…”

GRAYSBY (GROUPER): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (42)


Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

GRAYSBY (GROUPER): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (42)

The Graysby Cephalopholis cruentata is a small, spotty grouper, which grows to a maximum of around 16 inches. These rather unassuming and solitary fish have a preference for coral reefs, where they can blend in with their surroundings on ledges and in caves and crevices during the day. At night, they become active – that’s when they feed on feed on small fish, crabs and shrimps. 

Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaGraysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

The graysby has variable colouring in a range from light brown to pale gray, with all-over spots that may be red, orange or brownish. Often, they have 3 to 5 contrasting spots on their backs, along the base of the dorsal fin, as below:

Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaGraysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

The long erectile dorsal fin comprises both spines and ‘rays’ – spines at the front, rays at the back. Like this:

The spots of a graysby can change in colour (at least to a limited extent), becoming either paler or darker. I imagine this is a protective feature to enable the fish to blend in more easily with its reef surroundings. 

Graysby (grouper) - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Signalling to turn right…

I wondered if they are edible. I believe so – but then I also read that the larger adults carry the risk of ciguatera and raised mercury levels. So I’ll give it a miss thanks.

Photo & other credits: all photographs by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; aqua.org; SAMFC (drawing)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH


Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH

Yellowtails are just one of several damselfish species in Bahamas waters. These small fish are conspicuous not just for the bright tails that give them their name. More striking if anything – especially if seen underwater in sunlight against the coral – are the electric blue spots visible in both adults and juveniles.

Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The body of adults is dark blue to brownish to almost black 

The body of juveniles is blue

Yellowtails are a common and widespread variety of damselfish. They have a limited ability to change colour according to their surroundings, but with their bright tails and luminous blue flecks, it’s hard to see how they can look, to a predator, anything other than a tasty snack.

I have enjoyed seeing these little fish at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, Abaco. The reef there makes for easy and rewarding snorkelling, with a wide variety of small and medium-size reef fishes to be seen. It’s an expedition I would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to see a healthy and active reef in a completely natural protected area.

I found that a video I took with a tiny camera was sadly of use only to myself. No one else would be able to make anything out due to the marked camera shake. Novices, huh? You are spared that: here’s a brief example of yellowtails swimming instead, showing the difference between juveniles and adults.

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; video from Desert Diving