Observations


During our first two years living on Reach, we hopped from place to place on a daily/weekly basis to “cruise” the Caribbean.  Soon enough, we learned more about what we liked and didn’t like and refined our style of cruising to suit those places.  Our favored destinations are remote, isolated islands ~ being self-sufficient with pristine waters, reefs and wildlife to explore.  Seemingly in contrast, we also love to spend time in historic cities and found that inland trips at least once every year or two help fulfill that culture-fix.


With the benefit of time, our preferred mode of travel includes staying for longer periods in places that we like to really get to know them and “live” for a while.  This adds a level of grounding to our existence, not having a home-base anymore.  Familiarity and an understanding of the environment develops slowly and it is oddly comforting to re-visit a reef (or jungle) to find a fish, reef creature, bird or habitat much as you expected.


This was the case recently in my underwater explorations in the Raggeds, where I went back to the exact reefs from last year to find three really cool, uncommon reef critters.  I’m not usually that great at eyeball navigation, but somehow was able to find the exact rocks to snorkel on…!








These geometric encrusting tunicates were in the same place where their distinctive appearance first caught my eye.  





They are so tiny (1/4”) and cluster into geometric patterns to share an outflow opening.















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The solitary gorgonian hydroids were still living on the same sea fan as before, the colony growing in numbers despite their name…

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Returning to the same rubble field where I saw my first jawfish, there were several burrows with banded jawfish watching me float above them.  



They line their holes with rocks and shells and you wonder just how they move some of those bigger rocks. 








This little banded jawfish was much smaller and lighter colored than the bigger ones (1/2” head vs. 1” head poking out) and appeared to be just starting to shape his burrow.







I came across a lovely blue/green/purple colony of warty corallimorphs recently to admire along with the pretty orange/green/blue colors of the previous island reef.






We had a week of decent weather to venture underwater where I was beginning to observe the coral a bit more closely after perusing my new Coral Reef ID book.  It is always challenging to learn classifications at first and there is also a section on coral disease that explains some observations over the years.







Timing snorkels for around slack high tide, the currents are still bringing in cool waters from the ocean.  




Clarity is great and I’ve noticed that the corals and other critters are wide-open, enjoying the inflows of fresh nutrients like this slit-pore sea rod and porous sea rod (purple).












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If we linger around until the tide starts to turn, you can feel and see the warm waters from the shallows start to get murkier…











…and the corals begin to close their polyps.














This clubtip finger coral is a unique lavender color that we see often in the Jumentos.  It too is starting to close its polyps.  A beaugregory fish was fiercely protecting it as I was photographing and I noticed that the tips of the coral were bitten down.  My coral book mentions that damselfish bite off polyps of coral to build algae gardens that they can eat so this guy is probably trying to grow his garden here.








A common feature of the Jumentos reefs are huge, old elkhorn coral heads that are dying or dead and have a red coloring.  I noticed a nearby blade fire coral had a pattern of red marking and believe it to be the red band disease that I read about in the Coral Reef ID book.  







Red band disease is a cyanobacteria and has been reported in the Bahamas.  


I can’t help but wonder if this disease is what has killed off those old elkhorn fields.  


Thankfully there is new hard coral growth around; time will tell if these will also succumb.





Another effect on coral health can be overgrowth, usually in the form of encrusting sponges, zoanthids or tunicates.  For the first time I noticed an encrusting fire coral.  This branching fire coral grew over a gorgonian sea fan and took on its shape completely.







I found my first octopus of the year by following the trail of empty shells that he left outside his hole.  This is usually a good telltale sign that one is nearby.






…and then sometimes the fish observe me…





© M&M 2016