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…
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)
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!
This very short time-lapse video was posted on the always informativeABACO SCIENTIST website administered by Craig Layman of FIU (Florida International University). The site benefits from the wide knowledge of a variety of contributors in many different fields. As it says, “Abaco, just like all of the Bahamian Islands, hosts a wealth of natural wonders. From parrots to whales to blue holes to mangrove wetlands, it is no wonder that scientific research is thriving on the island. The Abaco Scientist is intended as your one-stop source for all things science on Abaco and throughout The Bahamas“.
The coral reefs of Abaco and the Bahamas (as elsewhere) are vital yet vulnerable eco-systems. The adverse effects of global warming (or however you describe it if you shy away from that specific term) are increasingly evident. To that damage can be added a slew of other major threats to coral survival – and to the marine life that thrives on the reefs. There are a number of research projects in progress in the Bahamas into the effectiveness of artificial reefs as a means of conservation of the ecology of reef waters. One of these is by FIU undergraduate student Martha Zapata. In her words, “We have recently been capturing time lapse video of the artificial reefs at night. Many reef fishes, like grunts, will leave the reef around dusk to forage in the nearby seagrass beds during the night. We wanted to be able to observe the fish on the reefs without influencing their behavior, so we used infrared light (which fish cannot see) to illuminate the reef. The image sequences have shown a stark difference in fish abundance from day to night. Also, we have been able to observe some of the more cryptic organisms that have made these reefs their home. Usually masters of disguise, urchins roam about the surface of the reef. Look out for the banded coral shrimp and crab that crawl up the side of the reef to graze on algae and detritus while the fish are away. Even a moray eel makes an appearance near the end!“
Besides specially constructed artificial reefs, other man-made objects provide good foundations for an artificial reefs and marine life – in particular, wrecks. There are many of these in the low waters of the Bahamas, some centuries old, others recent. Fred and Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, Freeport, take their diving schools to wrecks because of the profusion of marine life that gathers around – and indeed inside – them.