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)

REAL THREATS, ALARMING PHOTOS: OSPREYS IN PERIL


THE THREATS ARE REAL AND THESE PHOTOS SHOULD ALARM YOU!

I rarely – in fact almost never – lift an entire article from elsewhere and plant it wholesale here. I make an exception today. Ben’s article is so relevant, so well put together, so compelling and so scary in its implications that it can’t be ignored. No individual is to blame. We all are. Mankind generally – and pretty much all of it in my lifetime. Walk any beach in Abaco, however secluded. There it all is, under your feet. Find a dead seabird? Chances are it will have significant amounts of plastic inside it. Seen those wretched images of turtles with plastic bags hanging out of their mouths? It’s going to get worse…

Now see how things are with our bird partners in New Jersey and their beautiful ospreys.

DOCUMENTING THE PRESENCE OF PLASTICS IN OSPREY NESTS

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager http://www.conservewildlifenj.org

U.S. Coast Guard assists NJ Fish & Wildlife with recovering an entangled osprey on a channel marker in Cape May Harbor, Summer 2018. photo by Kathy Clark/ENSP

BEN WURST WRITES As I work to finalise data from this summer’s osprey surveys, I wanted to look back and highlight an important observation: more plastic is being found and recovered from active osprey nests. I guess it’s no surprise when you hear that “18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions.

The alarming trend is also becoming more deadly for ospreys, and other marine life who ingest it. While it might not seem like a lot, this year a total of four young ospreys were found dead from being entangled in plastic. In my books, one dead osprey is too many! This is not a natural cause of death! Luckily, there were several other entanglements that were prevented, but this trend is likely to get worse. We hope that these photos will help you to do all that you can to help prevent it from becoming a growing threat to ospreys and other marine wildlife, who might ingest plastics.

Ospreys are an indicator species. We can’t stress that enough. The health of their population can be directly linked to their surrounding environment. When we poisoned the land with persistent pesticides, the ospreys told us. When we overfished menhaden, the primary prey item of ospreys during the nestling period, the ospreys told us. When we use and discard plastics with no care, the ospreys will tell us…

From the land, where they collect nesting material, to the water, where they forage for prey. The growing presence of plastics on land and in water, highlights need to restrict single use plastics, balloon releases, and for any single use plastic fee to directly fund cleanups of plastic waste. It’s no surprise that ospreys use plastic items in their nests. It’s now become a common resource for them which looks similar to natural nesting material and collects in the same areas where they gather nest material. The more plastics in the world means more plastics in osprey nests!

When out on the marsh or on the beach, if you look around you’ll find plastic. According to the Clean Ocean Action 2017 Beach Sweep report (for the first time since the sweeps began in 1985) 84.45% of items collected on the beach were plastic (including foam). Another alarming trend is the growth in balloons found on the beach. In 2017, a total of 4,137 were found. Next time your down the shore, try to determine the difference between a white single use plastic bag and bleached sea lettuce, or white balloon ribbon and bleached eelgrass… Please don’t ever release balloons!

The most deadly piece of plastic litter for ospreys this year was monofilament or fishing line. The four ospreys that were found dead died from being entangled in monofilament. Fishing line is typically brought into a nest while attached to a stick or branch. It then becomes part of the nest and can easily get wrapped around a nestlings leg, foot or wing. This is not an isolated event. It happens throughout the range of ospreys (here are just a few that made the news). Please dispose of your fishing line appropriately! Single strand monofilament can even be collected and mailed to Berkley (a manufacturer of fishing line) for recycling/reuse!

Sadly, this is only the beginning. Plastics don’t biodegrade and this is becoming a chronic issue. Almost all osprey nests in New Jersey contain some type of plastic (next year we are planning to add data fields to our nest survey datasheets to keep better track of how many nests contain plastic). It’s still too early to see the effects of plastics as as they bioaccumulate in the food chain of predatory animals, like the osprey, but we hope that we can prevent this. We can all help by reducing our use of single use plastics. Here are some simple ways that you can help:

  1. Never release balloons! Talk to your friends/family about where balloons actually wind up.
  2. Reduce your dependence/consumption of single use plastics: bring your own reusable bag, water bottle, and coffee cups. Buy beverages in glass or aluminum containers. When eating out or getting take out, ask for no single use plastic items and/or bring your own container for leftovers. Support a Surfrider Foundation Ocean Friendly Restaurant!
  3. Reuse or repurpose things that can’t be recycled. Opt into free recycling programs for hard to recycle items through Terracycle, a NJ based waste reduction company.
  4. Pick up plastic litter. Participate in coastal cleanups (the next COA Beach Sweep is on 10/20!). Dispose of trash responsibly.

Thank you to all of our volunteers, especially our Osprey Project Banders, and those who’ve helped to reduce plastic debris in our environment!

CREDIT: Ben Wurst and his team at http://www.conservewildlifenj.org for the article. Photos as credited in the text. We are Bahamas partners of this organisation in Piping Plover research on the shores of Abaco and our annual Abaco Piping Watch

https://www.facebook.com/Abaco.Piping.Plovers

MANATEES IN THE BAHAMAS? WE GOTTEM!


MANATEES IN THE BAHAMAS? WE GOTTEM!

Not so long ago, most people had no idea that the waters of the Bahamas in general – and Abaco in particular – contained a small population of these curious, gentle, trusting creatures. When I first wrote about them and their adventures, there was surprise – maybe disbelief. A few years later, all that has changed thanks to the BMMRO and an outreach program that raised awareness – and consequently the sighting and reporting – of manatees. They are now widely recognised as they nose their way round harbours, docks and landing stages – and quite rightly they still excite delight and a degree of wonderment. 

You can find out more – lots more – about Bahamas manatees on my page HERE. I have a post in progress about recent manatee developments with a rescue one but alas I have found I have already run out of week through some kind of bizarre time / space continuum dislocation (specifically, flagrant time-mismanagement). So I am posting a few adorable images to be going on with. 

And remember, if you happen to see one, please do report it to the BMMRO or let me know. Useful data includes date, location and a description if possible of any damage – notches and nicks – to the paddle (= tail). It’s a good method for ID. Photos a bonus.  Every sighting adds to the database of knowledge about these strangest of creatures of the Bahamian seas. And you’ll be pleased to know that they are undoubtedly managing to breed in the Bahamas: there are baby manatees to prove it…

All photos: BMMRO

CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS: SEASONAL SPIROBRANCHES


Christmas Tree Worm (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS: SEASONAL SPIROBRANCHES

music-notes-clip-art-png-musicDeck the Reefs with Worms Like Christmas Trees… Fal-La-La-etc-etc ” is a traditional Carol familiar to all. Well, most. Ok, some, then. Oh right – maybe with different words? Anyway, now is the perfect time to take another look at these remarkable subsurface symbols of seasonal good cheer (nb they are animals not plants).

christmas-tree-worm-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

10 CHRISTMAS TREE WORM FACTS TO PONDER

  • The 2 colourful spirals are not the worm, but complex structures for feeding & respiration
  • The spirals act as specialised mouth extensions for ‘filter-feeding’
  • Prey is trapped by the feathery tentacles & guided by cilia (microscopic hairs) to the mouth
  • The tentacle things are radioles and act as gills for breathing as well as prey traps
  • It is not believed that prey slide down the spiral to their doom, like on a helter-skelter

Christmas Tree Worm (Neil Hobgood Wiki)Christmas Tree Worm (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

  • The actual worm lives in a sort of segmented tube, with extremely limited mobility skills
  • It contains digestive, circulatory & nervous systems – and a brain in the middle of it all
  • The worm also has a tiny drainage tube (I think I have this right) for excretion etc
  • They embed themselves into heads of coral such as brain coral. And stay there
  • And yes, the Christmas trees are retractable… (see below for some action)

spirobranchus_giganteus_orange_christmas_tree_worm-nick-hobgood-wiki

HOW DO THE WORMS… YOU KNOW…  ERM… REPRODUCE?

This is a delicate area. They don’t tend to talk about it much, but as far as I can make out they eject gametes from their what-I-said-above. There are mummy and daddy worms, and their respective gametes (eggs and spermatozoa) drift in the current and presumably into each other to complete the union. The fertilised eggs develop into larvae, which settle onto coral and burrow into it, build their protective tubes and the process begins again.

christmas_tree_worm-nick-hobgood-wiki

YOU DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND THESE CREATURES, DO YOU?

I won’t lie. I found it hard to work out how the CTWs function in practice. There are plenty of resources showing them in their full glory, but that only takes one so far. Then I came across a short video that shows it all brilliantly simply (except for the reproduction part).

The worms, in their coral burrows, hoist their pairs of ‘trees’. You can easily see small particles – possibly zooplankton – drifting in the water, and the radioles swaying to catch potential food. Suddenly it all makes sense (except the repro bit – I haven’t found footage of that).  Next: the New Year Worm (there is no Easter worm).

A WHOLE FESTIVAL OF CHRISTMAS TREE WORMSChristmas Tree Worms (Neil Hobgood Wiki)

Credits: Melinda Riger (G B Scuba); Nick Hobgood; Betty Wills; Video by ‘Super Sea Monkey’;Reef Collage by RH; MarineBio; Wikibits & Magpie Pickings

Happy Christmas to all those who put up with RH with such fortitude
blue_christmas_tree_worm-betty-wills-wiki

NASSAU GROUPER: ENDANGERED… AND PROTECTED


Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

NASSAU GROUPER: ENDANGERED… AND PROTECTED

Most creatures need some space for creative activity of one sort or another. Especially one particular sort, namely breeding. And for vulnerable and endangered species, this is especially important in order to maintain a sustainable population, and preferably to increase it year on year. Which is why there are closed seasons for certain fish, ensuring a time when they can be left alone to breed in peace and to perpetuate their species.

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

The Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus is just one of a number of grouper species that inhabit Bahamian waters. They are mostly found in the Northern Bahamas but only the Nassau grouper is on the IUCN Red List as an Endangered Species in need of protection.

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

WHY ARE THESE FINE FISH ENDANGERED?

Sad to say, mankind is the main cause of the population fragility that has led to the official listing, and the imposition of a strict closed season for 3 months between December 1st and February 28th. Scientific studies have shown that commercial overfishing has reduced a thriving population to fewer than 10,000 mature fish. That may sound plenty to be going on with… until you consider that a net annual loss of only 10% would lead to extinction in a decade.

Nassau Grouper Infographic (Royal Defence Force)

10 CONVENIENTLY COLLECTED NASSAU GROUPER FACTS TO PONDER

  • An adult can grow to more than a metre long, and weigh 25 kg
  • They tend to be solitary daytime feeders, eating small fish & crustaceans
  • Their large mouths are use to ‘inhale’ or suck in prey
  • The colouring of an individual can vary from red to brown
  • These fish have little black spots around the eyes (I’ve no idea why).
  • Their habitat is in the vicinity of coral reefs, from shallows to 100 m deep
  • Spawning occurs in Dec & Jan during a full moon
  • Large numbers gather in a single location to mate in a mass spawning
  • These groupers are slow breeders, which compounds the overfishing problem
  • They are easy mass targets at spawning time; hence the need for a closed season

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

Department of Fisheries information sheet (interesting if you have the time)

A Nassau Grouper glumly contemplates the possibility of extinctionNassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

RELATED POSTS

BLACK GROUPER

TIGER GROUPER

RED HIND

NASSAU GROUPER 1

CLEANING STATIONS

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / . Grand Bahama Scuba)

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger; Infographic by Royal Defence Force (tip o’ the  hat to Char Albury); Info Sheet, Dept of Fisheries

BELTED KINGFISHERS: PROFICIENT PISCATORS


Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

BELTED KINGFISHERS: PROFICIENT PISCATORS

The belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) is an unmistakable winter visitor to Abaco. With its impressive crest and an adult wingspan approaching 2 ft, these fine birds are far larger than the irridescent kingfisher species found in Europe.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

CARL LINNAEUS himself first documented the belted kingfisher in the mid c18, giving the specific name ‘alcyon’, a word of both Latin & Greek origin. The familiar phrase ‘Halcyon days‘, meaning a time of calm, is used more than once by Shakespeare; it references a calm period of weather supposedly occurring at kingfisher nesting time.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue) Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

The breeding grounds of the belted kingfisher are in Canada and the northern US, on coasts or near inland waters. They migrate further south in winter, to the southern US, Central America and West Indies. However vagrants have been found as far afield as the UK.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

WHERE CAN I FIND THEM ON ABACO?

I have seen BKs when fishing out on the Marls, either perched on dead branches looking for fish, or in the mangroves, or in flight. There’s quite often one to be seen at Gilpin Pond, but always – for me, anyway – on the far side and out of practical range of my somewhat modest camera… Sandy Point is another place I have seen them. But these are common birds in winter, so anywhere near water where there are good perches to prospect for fish could be promising for a sighting. Sadly I’ve never actually seen a kingfisher on Abaco plunge-dive for fish, let alone eating a fish. And NB they are exceedingly hard to photograph at the best of times, especially in flight. Which is why I am very pleased to feature some more wonderful shots by photographer Phil Lanoue.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

GENDER IDENTIFICATION

The kingfishers shown so far are all males, and basically blue and white. The (slightly) larger adult females can easily be identified by their very visible russet chest band. This colouring in fact extends under the wings, where it is harder to see in a perched bird.

Belted Kingfisher (Teddy Llovat) Belted Kingfisher (Michael L Baird)

AUDUBON:  A GUIDE TO THE BELTED KINGFISHER

Birding folk are familiar with the excellent presentations of individual bird species in the go-to guides such a Sibley and Peterson. However it always interests me that the images in my small and incredibly cheapo book of Audubon illustrations often give a very good depiction of a particular bird. He was the first naturalist to portray birds in action as opposed to rather stiff poses. Check out the plate below with the photos here.

Belted Kingfisher (Audubon)

BIRDORABLE’S TAKE*

Belted Kingfisher (Birdorable)

Belted Kingfisher (Bruce Miller)

* BIRDORABLE cartoons are seriously good at reducing birds to their essentials. Try out their many warblers and you’ll see what I mean.

Photo Credits: Phil Lanoue (1 – 6), with thanks as ever for use permission; Teddy Lovatt (7); Michael L Baird (8); Audubon (9);  Bruce Miller (10); Birdorable – Cartoon

DOLPHINS: JUST AS SMART AS YOU ARE…


Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

DOLPHINS: JUST AS SMART AS YOU ARE…

Anyone watching David Attenborough’s astounding new Blue Planet 2 series will already have got the strong message that dolphins are smart, sociable, and joyous creatures. Brian Lockwood from Porquoson VA – and recently become an Abaco resident – knows a smart way to get out on the water to watch them at close quarters: a jetski. Here are a few of the outstanding photos he has recently taken of dolphins doing what they love to do, and what humans love them to do. 

Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

The hint of a quote in the heading of this post is based on something the inimitable Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, once claimed: “When I see a dolphin I know it’s just as smart as I am…”.  The only slight problem with this comparative assessment is that there may have been times when the good Captain was conceivably on, or adjacent to, a different planet. Times when the dolphins might actually have got the intellectual upper hand.

Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood) Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood) Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood)

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION FOR THE WEEKEND

There are plenty of excellent songs name-checking dolphins somewhere in the lyrics. Rather fewer with ‘dolphin’ in the title. Yes, there’s the Tim Buckley song (or the Beth Orton version of it). The insipid Firefall one? Nah! Then I remembered the Byrds and their ‘Dolphin’s Smile’. Never a single. Originally buried on “Side 2” of Notorious Byrd Brothers. Slightly obscure? Makes a change, so here it is, complete with its evocative yet synthetic ‘dolphin chatter’ intro.

Credits: all the wonderful dolphins taken by Brian Lockwood, with thanks for use permission

Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood)