Woodsy Perhaps, But Mangrove Forests are Essential Parts of the Reef

THREE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT MANGROVE FORESTS: 1) They aren’t swamps. They grow in shallow ocean waters along tropical coasts, surviving tidal fluctuations and thriving on the edge between land and sea.  2) Mangrove trees generate the freshwater they need for survival by using a variety of mechanisms to filter the salt out of the ocean water.  3) They’re essential parts of reef systems, key to the reef life. ABOVE AND BELOW    Above water,

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Seeing Sea Anemones – for Themselves

SEA ANEMONES ARE PROBABLY BETTER KNOWN FOR THE COMPANY THEY KEEP than for their unassuming, hard-working selves. On Caribbean dives, I rarely pass by one without checking it out for exotic little cleaner shrimps that might be in residence. If there aren’t any, I’m disappointed and move on. In the Pacific, of course, you hardly have to check them out to be aware of their frenetic, constantly on-the-move, high-visibility companions – clowns and other anemonefishes.

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The Lionfish Enigma: Atlantic Threat But Not Pacific

LIONFISHES HAVE BEEN AROUND IN THE INDO/PACIFIC FOR EONS, yet almost all talk about them focuses on their presence in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Google “lionfish” and you’ll find a zillion articles on them as an invasive threat in the Atlantic basin for each one about them in their native habitat. Okay. That’s a bit of hyperbole, but the idea is good. There’s an enormous disparity in Atlantic and Pacific lionfish articles. Almost all of

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Sea Pigs: Amazing Sea Cukes You’ll Never See

IF IT LOOKS LIKE A PIG AND IT WALKS LIKE A PIG AND IT’S UNDERWATER, THEN IT MIGHT BE A…SEA CUCUMBER. Specifically, a member of the genus Scotoplanes. Or, to its multitudinous fans worldwide, a sea pig. Whereas most of us are used to seeing sea cucumbers that actually more or less resemble cucumbers in body shape, Scotoplanes species like S. globosa really do remind people of pigs. Plump, pink and sporting rather porky “legs,”

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Octopuses & Squids: Support Your Local Cephalopod

TO BE SURE, CELEBRATING OCTOPUSES, SQUIDS AND THEIR COUSINS DOESN’T NEED A SPECIAL DATE. But it’s Cephalopod Week, so here are some awesome cephalopod facts, by the numbers:   1.   Cephalopods, best known by octopuses and squids, are remarkable for their braininess, and also their brains. Physically, their heads are often larger than their bodies, which perhaps explains why they’re very smart, as well. The term cephalopod is taken from the Greek for, literally, “head-feet.”

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Black Coral: Many Colors – But Rarely Black

BLACK CORALS ARE PROBABLY BEST KNOWN AS SHINY, JET BLACK JEWELRY. As living coral in their underwater habitats, they’re actually unlikely to be black. So what does black coral look like, actually? They’re most likely to be found in shades of soft reds, greens, yellows and other colors. They’re not stony corals – they grow in complex linear structures resembling trees, bushes or sea fans. The “black” part is the protein-based chitin that comprises the

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Balloonfish & Porcupinefish: Big Eyes, Mona Lisa Smile

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BALLOONFISH AND PORCUPINEFISH?  They’re both unobtrusive, usually little guys with an ability to inflate into spiny basketball-shapes when disturbed. It’s a defensive response to threats. And, divers are often confused as to which is which. First of all, when you see picture of them, they’re often inflated like stuffed pincushions. In fact, like this…. But the truth is that recreational divers who are minding their manners are unlikely to see them

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Stony, Soft or Gorgonian, They’re All Coral Polyps

WHEN PEOPLE SEE THE WORD “CORAL,” it very likely brings to mind the great mounds of star and brain corals that stand out on the reefs. In fact, “corals” include many organisms beyond the familiar stony formations, all built on similar, tiny, coral polyps. “Coral” itself is a flexible word. It applies to the coral exoskeletons that we see as the visible shells of hard corals, to the polyp animals that live within those exoskeletons

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Iguanas in the Galapagos: Here Come the Marines

FAMOUS AS LIZARDS THAT SWIM IN THE OCEANS, marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) are found in only one place: the Galapagos Archipelago in the eastern Pacific off Ecuador. Galapagos iguanas also include three species of non-swimming land iguanas. Some land iguanas found in the West Indies – like green iguanas (Iguana iguana) and rock iguanas (nine species in the genus Cyclura) – are also known to swim when called for, but not with the marine lifestyle of A.

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Sea Fans, Rods & Plumes: Thinking Outside the Calyx

NOBODY GOES TO THE TROPICS TO SEE GORGONIANS. The sea fans, sea plumes, sea rods and sea whips that make up Order Gorgonacea are just there, incidental bystanders on the “real” reefs of beautiful, stony corals. Sometimes, they’re in the way. While none of the 500 or so species of fans, plumes, rods or whips can compare to the exquisite beauty that hard corals achieve (although some sea fans make a good effort), they’re part

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