Tag Archives: coral

Corals’ outer beauty belies fierce battles over territory

Published October 29, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott
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A coral micro atoll is formed due to encroachment by several species of clams. ©2016 Susan Scott.

Whitsunday Islands, Australia >> Among these famous islands, fish of every color, shape and size swim among corals of every color, shape and size. And squeezed into virtually every nook and cranny of these underwater gardens are sponges, clams, seaweed and countless other plants and animals.

Floating above this riot of life on a calm sunny day makes me feel totally at peace. But the creatures below me aren’t at peace. They live in a constant state of war.

As with nearly all living organisms on Earth, the fighting is about territory. Millions of offspring of thousands of species must settle down where they can get food, mature and make babies. But space in clear shallow water is mostly taken, making competition fierce.

Stony corals often hold prime spots, and are under constant attack by other coral species trying to get a foothold. Corals, however, can fight. Some use long stinging tentacles that sweep surrounding areas to kill early settlers. Others use guerrilla warfare at night, extending filaments that digest their new neighbors’ soft bodies.

While hard corals defend themselves with strings and strands, soft corals use chemical weapons called terpenoids to hold their borders. Some soft corals are particularly aggressive, growing right over hard corals and smothering them.

One bay here consists nearly entirely of such single-minded softies, mostly rubber and leather corals that are flexible to the touch. Between them are other soft corals, some with fluttering tentacles resembling dust mops and palm fronds. Others look like spilled pancake batter, lace doilies and pink pansies, all swaying in the current.

The pretty pastels and slow movements are so serene, it’s hard to remember that these creatures have knocked off an entire bay of stony corals to live there.

Stony corals are also under constant assault from noncoral organisms. Christmas tree worms, clams, sponges and snails set up housekeeping on hard corals. Starfish, butterflyfish and parrotfish eat them, and seaweeds grow over them.

As much as stony polyps fight back, the colony gradually loses ground over time and becomes what’s called a micro atoll. The original coral species struggles around the edges, but a mixed community thrives in its center. Eventually, a new species dominates, becomes king of the hill, and the cycle starts all over again.

Such winning and losing of space creates the diversity we see on coral reefs as well as on the entire planet.

Recalling that fighting for territory is a natural part of life on Earth helps me cope. Perhaps the end result of human warring will be something as beautiful as the Great Barrier Reef.

‘Pompom’ corals create a colorful ocean delight

Published October 22, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott
This soft coral contains no symbiotic algae to help feed it, as other corals do. The red polyps catch and eat animal plankton adrift in the current. ©2016 Susan Scott

This soft coral contains no symbiotic algae to help feed it, as other corals do. The red polyps catch and eat animal plankton adrift in the current. ©2016 Susan Scott

Orpheus Island National Park, Australia >> When a local sailor heard we were sailing to the Palm Island Group, he kindly fetched his cruising guide to show us the best places to go. The anchoring spots were fairly straightforward, but he added a gem. “There’s a channel between Orpheus and Fantome Islands that has a strong current always running the same direction. It’s a good place to take the dinghy for a drift snorkel.”

A good place? It was snorkeling heaven. As our 2-horsepower outboard slowly carried us up-current in our rubber dinghy, we donned masks and fins, ready to jump off the boat as soon as the motor stopped. “How does one check for salties?” I said to Craig, remembering last week’s advice to keep an eye out. Orpheus Island’s park sign also posted a crocodile warning.

“You go in first and look,” Craig joked.

Hands on our masks, we backflipped into the water and instantly forgot about crocs. The flow, going about 3 mph, sent us zipping down-current, an exhilarating sensation that felt like flying. More exhilarating, though, was the sight 5 feet below: a strip of soft coral bushes so red and fluffy it made me feel like shouting, “Thank you! I love you!” The highway-wide gap separating the islands has exactly what this soft coral species loves: a stretch of sparsely populated (with coral) water with swift, plankton-rich current. How the tiny drifting larvae got anchored in the white sand to start their eye-popping colonies is a mystery of the marine world.

The current was so strong I could not get a good look at the exquisite red corals, but that’s the beauty of pictures — if you can get close enough and hold the camera still. Kicking as hard as possible, I could stay over a red bush for only about one second before losing ground.

Craig saw me struggling and pushed me forward, no small favor given that he was towing the dinghy. The brief boost allowed me to get off a few snaps. Seawater and visible white needles of calcium carbonate support the clear flexible stems of this soft coral that also comes in pink, purple and yellow. It has no common name, but since its genus name, Dendronephthya, is so unfriendly and clumsy, I call it pompom coral.

The genus has several species, so similar that scientists can identify them only by examining the supporting calcium bits.

During our fourth pass over the crimson coral clusters, the current swept us over a slightly different spot, and we found another pompom garden we hadn’t seen before.

What a wonderful world.

Reading about coral biology is a difficult, rewarding slog

Published July 16, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott
A healthy, budding coral branch is shown in Bait Reef, Queensland, Australia. ©2016 Susan Scott

A healthy, budding coral branch is shown in Bait Reef, Queensland, Australia. ©2016 Susan Scott

A reader emailed that he has “coral empathy fatigue” from so many reports about bleaching. It happens. A person can take only so much bad news.

This week I had coral biology fatigue because another reader asked me to explain how heat stress causes embedded algae to damage corals’ natural sunscreen. While researching this biochemistry topic, I wished I had a second computer monitor, one to read the studies and the other to look up molecular biology terms. But slow-going as it was, the answer renewed my energy and my empathy.

Reef-building corals, as we know, host plants in their tissues. The corals get food from the plants, called dinoflagellates, and the plants get a place to hang their hats or, in this case, their swim fins. All dinoflagellates have two wiggly structures that propel them through the water.

One-quarter coral head bleached, three-quarters normal. Kailua Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. ©2016 Susan Scott

One-quarter coral head bleached, three-quarters normal. Kailua Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. ©2016 Susan Scott

Baby corals inherit dinos from a parent or get them on the run as both organisms drift through the water looking for a good place to settle down. To accommodate their plant partners, reef corals must set up housekeeping under the tropical sun in clear, shallow water. Such conditions would normally fry, with UV radiation, immobile animals. Corals survive, however, because they make their own sunscreen.

Researchers report that several chemicals in the sunscreens used by people can damage reef corals, but an elegant solution is in the works. Australian scientists are working with a cosmetic company to manufacture corals’ natural sunscreen for human use.

But back to when algae go bad. Embedded dinos multiply when the coral settles down. Corals can control the number of algae in their tissues, but they can’t control how much oxygen each plant produces. Higher-than-normal water temperatures cause some algae species to photosynthesize like crazy, making oxygen four to eight times faster than its coral host can use.

At this rate, oxygen molecules change chemically to a form called oxygen radicals, which interfere with the production of corals’ sunscreen. Radical indeed. Without UV protection the animals will die.

Bleached Coral, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii. ©2016 Susan Scott

Bleached Coral, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii. ©2016 Susan Scott

Coral bodies can’t simply spit out their over-excited tenants. Most often the corals shed the inner layer of stomach cells that contain the algae. When (if) the water cools, the coral bodies that survived catch dinos swimming past, deposit them in newly grown stomach linings and carry on.

Best case: The corals get a new plant species that’s more heat-tolerant. (This is the subject of much current research.)

I hope this answers my reader’s question. It didn’t answer mine. My sources say that coral bodies are transparent and the dinoflagellates color them brown. Why then are some reef corals green, pink, purple and blue?

Purple Green
Two corals of the same species in different colors

In the journal Molecular Ecology, I found a 2015 paper titled “Fluorescent protein-mediated colour polymorphism in reef corals; multicopy genes extend the adaptation/acclimation potential to variable light environments.” This article might or might not answer my question.

I’ll have to buy another computer monitor to find out.

When it comes to coral, the story is complicated

Published July 2, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott

DSCN3313News reports about the demise of the Great Barrier Reef are so pervasive that before I left Hawaii to sail there, several people asked me why I wanted to go.

Then I arrived and for six weeks enjoyed the most glorious corals I’ve ever seen.

So what’s the story? It’s complicated.

It’s true that warmer-than-normal water due to El Nino and climate change is seriously stressing the Great Barrier Reef’s corals. It’s not true, however, that over 90 percent of them are dead.

False impressions come from coral bleaching studies with startling titles, confusing statistics and locations that mean little to those unfamiliar with Australia.

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In April, for instance, the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies issued a media release with the headline, “Only 7 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has avoided coral bleaching.” From this the Huffington Post ran the headline: “93 Percent of the Great Barrier Reef’s Coral is Practically Dead.”

Not so. I sailed and snorkeled in the central section of the reef and saw only one bleached coral patch about 2 feet square.

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Part of the confusion is the term bleaching, the name of a phenomenon involving corals’ embedded algae. Corals host about 10 species of algae, the source of corals’ lovely colors.

Several events occur when ocean temperatures rise, one being that the corals’ algae produce more oxygen, consequently breaking down the creatures’ chemical sunscreen. And so to prevent death from sunburn, the corals oust their algae. Coral colonies look white then because the transparent animals sit in white calcium carbonate cups of their own making. Hence the word bleached.

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Bleaching doesn’t always mean death. Corals also get food by stinging passing animal plankton and can survive on that for some time depending on species and conditions. When the water cools, the colorless corals still alive catch the algae they need from surrounding water. Surviving corals might grow slower after a bleaching event or not reproduce well for a while, but they’re alive.

Coral bleaching and its rapid increase worldwide is a dire warning to the world that the oceans’ plants and animals are in trouble and, therefore, so is every living thing on Earth. As to how many of the Global Barrier Reef’s bleached corals will recover, how many will not and how to best help them get growing again, no one knows for sure. We have no previous experience with what happens when we heat up the entire planet.

The areas in the northern Great Barrier Reef have been hit hardest with bleaching, but all is not lost. I’ve seen some of the central area’s healthy, breathtaking corals. And that’s why I go.

Huge sea life of great reef is too incredible to see solo

Published June 18, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott
A giant clam about 4 feet long was just one of the oversize specimens spotted in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. ©2016 Susan Scott

A giant clam about 4 feet long was just one of the oversize specimens spotted in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. ©2016 Susan Scott

BOWEN, Queensland, Australia >> Where fishing is prohibited here in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, I can describe the animals in one word: big.

I’ve seen turtles, invertebrates and fish so large I was happy I had Craig beside me as a witness or I would have doubted my own eyes.

One day off a Haslewood Island beach, Craig and I saw in the distance a mound of charcoal-black coral. We had never seen such a coral color and swam toward it. Then the hulk rose up and disappeared into deep water. As the enormous creature departed, we saw, to our astonishment, a pair of giant flippers. We both believe our “coral head” was a leatherback turtle.

Although leatherback turtles swim off most of Australia’s coasts, no nests have been found here since 1996. Maybe biologists will find a leatherback nest on a Haslewood beach.

In another area of the massive reef in Waite Bay, Craig and I each followed our own marvels and got separated. When I looked up he was barely visible in the distance, but I could see him motioning for me to come see what he found.

This had better be good, I thought, as I swam and swam, because I was passing some eye-popping-beautiful giant clams nestled in beds of corals as stunning as the most exquisite flower gardens.

We later laughed about my worry of missing the clams, because Craig had found the biggest giant clam either of us had ever seen, so old it had its own coral reef growing on its shells. The gaping mother of all clams was, we guessed, 4 feet long. We weren’t far off. The record shell size here is 3.7 feet long.

On another reef we spotted the father of all stingrays (clams seem female; stingrays, male) resting on a sandy patch in a shallow cave of corals. Stingrays aren’t aggressive, but seeing that the ray could escape its space only by swimming toward us, we slowly back-paddled. Never startle a snoozing stingray, especially one as big as an area rug.

And, oh dear, the fish. Schools of huge, rainbow-colored parrotfish roam the reefs. I’ve seen three 3-foot-long humphead wrasses and once found a giant black trevally hanging out under the boat. Even the squirrelfish are supersized, their dark eyes set like jewels against their brilliant red-and-white striped skin.

The weather has been so calm for snorkeling most of the past five weeks that my mask has given me face-ache. But now we’re having a different kind of adventure: knock-down wind. Honu is holed up at the friendly North Queensland Cruising Yacht Club as we wait out rain and impressive blasts of 30-35 knots. But I’m not complaining. On the Great Barrier Reef, even the tradewinds are big.

Great reef’s coral array, sea castles still awe explorers

Published June 11, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott

coral1HOOK ISLAND, GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK >> While snorkeling here this week, I found myself thinking that there’s too much coral.

Capt. Cook thought so, too, in 1770, and he didn’t even know that the lagoon he was exploring was a vast channel paralleling the Australian mainland.

The concept of a barrier reef forming a passage came later. The open stretches of this so-called passage are about 100 feet deep. But sprinkled among them are coral-rimmed islands, free-standing reefs, atolls and peaks. Some reefs are visible, but many lie just below the surface.

Today we have GPS charts that point out most of them. But not all. Last week I came within yards of crashing Honu, at speed, into a tiny, uncharted pinnacle.

“Turn right!” Craig shouted from the bow. We avoided disaster only because he was securing the anchor and saw waves breaking ahead.

Today, corals are much loved and a frequent topic in discussions of global warming. But in the early years of exploration, no one knew what they were. Eng-lish Capt. Mathew Flinders speculated that corals were “animalcules” that lived on the ocean floor. When they died, other animalcules (love that word) grew atop, and so on, thus building “a monument of their wonderful labors.” The creatures’ care in building their walls vertically was to Flinders a “surprising instinct.”

What he didn’t know was that stony corals grow upright because they host algae that need sunshine to survive. That fact came to light 30 years later from another explorer, Charles Darwin.

My problem with the corals here isn’t running the boat into one of their “monuments” (although I’m more watchful now), but that I can’t take them all in.

The corals on these reefs look like mushrooms, wheat fields, brain tissue, antlers, cabbage leaves, chicken skin, grassy knolls and endless other shapes, colors and textures.

Some corals are hard; some are soft. Many cover their space like rugs; others wave greetings like anemones.

Among all the coral splendor here, one in particular stands out for me. On a white-sand beach I found pieces of a bright red structure of tubes known as organ pipe coral. In admiring the tiny pipes, which remind me of fairy castles, I’m in good company. Capt. Cook’s naturalist, Joseph Banks, wrote about being overwhelmed by the variety of corals, too, especially one he called Tubipora musica. That’s the scientific name of my organ pipes.

It’s clear to us modern sailors that this labyrinth of coral shoals must have been a nightmare to early explorers. It’s also clear why mariners, past and present, admire them so. What other animalcules build monuments?

Whitsundays offer preview of outer reef, more to come

Published June 4, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott

CoralWHITSUNDAY ISLANDS, Australia >> Our cruising guide calls these 74 islands “a tropical paradise in the heart of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.”

It’s no exaggeration.

The Whitsunday Islands, so named by Capt. James Cook because he arrived here the seventh Sunday after Easter, or Whit Sunday, are two mountain ranges cut off from the mainland by ancient geologic events. The teeming coral reefs that now surround the islands can keep a snorkeler busy for months. But beyond the Whitsundays lie the platform reefs most people picture when you mention the Great Barrier Reef. The islands, therefore, are a leg up for sailors who want to visit the outer reef. The nearest, called Bait Reef, is about 20 miles east of the easternmost island, a three- to four-hour voyage for our 37-foot ketch, Honu.

Bait Reef hosts the famous Stepping Stones, 18 flat-topped coral pinnacles lining the southwest side of the reef. Each round tower rises 50 to 80 feet from the ocean floor and stops 3 to 6 feet below the surface.

It’s easy to swim from one backyard-size coral head to the next, and each is a snorkeler’s dream. Confetti parades of tropical fish swim at the pillar tops, and enormous fish such as giant trevally and Napoleon wrasse hang near the drop-offs.

The Great Barrier Reef hosts about 350 species of light-loving coral, making competition for space fierce. When coral-eating fish and invertebrates leave bite scars, the larvae of sponges, worms, crustaceans, clams and corals quickly claim the space.

Every imaginable shape and color of stony corals cover the flat column tops, with soft corals and giant clams elbowing their way between.

An Australian researcher recently surveyed an area of coral reef off Port Douglas, about 300 miles north of the Whitsundays, and reported that 90 percent of the corals he observed have bleached (turned white). I’ve seen no bleaching here, but the study is a stark reminder that this largest living organism on Earth is at risk from climate change.

At the outer reefs, weather is everything. Being submerged and patchy, the coral heads offer no protection from wind and waves. Skippers head out when the wind is light, and keep an escape plan in mind should the weather change.

So, fingers crossed, out we sailed. Soon after our arrival the wind stopped completely, leaving the water so flat and glassy, we were able to spend the night. As we sailed back the next day, two humpback whales, up from Antarctica for the winter, put on a show of breaching.

Our cruising guide for this area is called “100 Magic Miles of the Great Barrier Reef.” I couldn’t imagine a better title.

Wrasses and parrotfishes are good for our coral reefs

Published February 29, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott
The humphead wrasse is a friend of coral and eats crown-of-thorn starfish. ©2016 Susan Scott

The humphead wrasse is a friend of coral and eats crown-of-thorn starfish. ©2016 Susan Scott

At Hanauma Bay I often see and hear parrotfish chomping on living coral, their beaverlike teeth leaving distinct scars in the coral head’s skeleton. This can’t be good for the coral, yet natural populations of parrotfish are essential to healthy reefs.

To look into how this works, I found a 2014 study on the roles of parrotfish on tropical reefs. But as often happens when delving into the intricacies of marine systems, I got sidetracked by something unexpected: “The most corallivorous (coral eating) of all parrotfishes,” the researchers wrote, “is the bumphead wrasse.”

What? Are the terms “wrasse” and “parrotfish” interchangeable in Brazil and Australia, the authors’ home bases? No. The writers made a mistake in calling the coral-eating bumphead parrotfish a wrasse. But wrasses and parrotfish are so closely related, and regional common names vary so widely, it’s easy to get them mixed up.

The wrasse family has 450-some species, including one that grows 6 feet long called the humphead wrasse. The giant fish’s other names are Napoleon wrasse, Maori wrasse and Cheilinus undulatus.

The parrotfish family has about 100 species. The biggest at about 4 feet long is the bumphead parrotfish, or Bolbometopon muricatum.

Hawaii hosts 45 wrasses and nine parrotfishes but neither of the above giants.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the humphead wrasse as endangered and the bumphead parrotfish as vulnerable, because they’re slow-growing and overfished in most places. I’ve been lucky. I’ve seen the fish in French Polynesia, in Palau and at the Great Barrier Reef, but only in protected areas.

You can easily tell the fish apart by their lips: The humphead wrasse has large, plump lips. The bumphead parrotfish barely has lips at all, just skin stretched tight over jutting, fused white teeth.

But back to my original inquiry. Except for the bumphead parrotfish and a few other parrotfishes that eat live coral, most parrotfishes eat algae growing on dead coral rock. While feeding, the fish bite off pieces of old calcium carbonate skeleton, digest it into tiny pieces and expel it as sand.

Algae-eating parrotfishes, therefore, not only help keep algae growth in check, but also load reef floors with clean white sand. Even though the humphead wrasse doesn’t eat algae or manufacture sand, it’s still a friend of coral. The big fish eats, among other things, crown-of-thorn starfish.

A friend recently asked whether I ever run out of column topics. Never. Marine life is so interconnected that looking up a subject is like wandering a maze with a treat at each turn. And the subjects are virtually endless.

Captivating stony corals get a reluctant au revoir

Published April 7, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Coral, lionfish, urchin, in the Marina on Raiatea, 2006. Courtesy Scott Davis

Honu is once again moving west through the Society Islands. Although I’m happy to be sailing again, it was hard to say goodbye to Tahiti, with its jagged green mountains, friendly people and perfect french fries. But what I really hated to leave was Papeete’s Marina Taina, a boat basin that made me feel I was floating in a world-class aquarium.

When I was sweaty, tired and frustrated from boat preparations, all I had to do was step from the boat to the pier to get a spirit lift. The rock of the boat and my shadow on the water sent a confettilike shower of fish scurrying for cover. If I waited there motionless, out peeked those busy little color chips to see if the danger had passed. Deciding it had, the fish emerged and went back to grazing.

Boat harbors aren’t usually equated with excellent fish watching because their water is often dark and dirty. Not this one. In most places inside the breakwater, I could see the bottom of the pilings. (I could see fairly deep at night, too, due to the nearby superyachts’ underwater lights.)

But it wasn’t bare pilings that attracted all those fish. The posts and piers that secured our boats looked like candy dishes of marine goodies. With water temperatures 80-some degrees year-round, visibility to 50 feet and daily tides moving water in and out, the conditions in and around Marina Taina are ideal for growth of stony corals.

Stony corals don’t care about boats, people or even floating paper and plastic. All they want is clear warm water, lots of sunlight and a space to stick to. Leave them alone in those conditions and off they go, building the bases of the most diverse and concentrated gatherings of marine life on the planet.

Coral clumps start small. Each head, branch or plate begins as one individual produced by the union of an egg and sperm. Typically fertilization takes place in the water where the parents release their sex cells.

If it isn’t eaten, the fertilized egg develops into a larva that drifts for days or weeks as it matures. When full grown, the tiny pioneer settles down, sticking to one spot where it immediately begins secreting a protective calcium carbonate skeleton around itself.

The coral expands its new homestead by making clones of itself, budding off genetically identical roommates that remain attached to each other. The clones make more clones, and on and on it goes with individuals growing up, out and over one another. As a result, only the outermost layer of a coral head is alive.

All clones in a colony are connected by a thin layer of tissue that allows them to share food. That’s why stepping on, or grabbing, living coral damages the entire colony.

Stony corals get their colors from tiny plants that live inside the skeleton cups. The corals in and around Marina Taina included blue rice, yellow lace, pink cauliflower and brown antler, so stunning it was hard to walk without stopping.

I felt sad saying goodbye to Tahiti with its charming marina full of coral heads packed together like a farmers market display, complete with pushy fish shoppers. My consolation is that more magic lies ahead.


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott

 

Wana spines offer refuge for tiny domino damselfish

Published October 14, 2013 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2013 Susan Scott

Baby damselfish sheltering among the spines of each of these wana are black with white spots. ©2013 Susan Scott

Interesting, yes, because I have never seen a fish that looked like a pipefish or a trumpet fish hiding among wana spines. I have, however, seen lots of baby damselfish sheltering among those needlelike spines.

While snorkeling in about four feet of water, I spotted several long-spined sea urchins (wana in Hawaiian) with iridescent blue patterns so dazzling in the morning sun that I stopped to take their picture. Only after I downloaded the photos to my computer did I realize that a couple of “spines” had spots on them. Without realizing it, I had photographed two tiny domino damselfish.

The disklike, black-and-white-spotted damselfish that showed up in my picture are common in the South Pacific. Their common name is three-spot or domino damselfish.

Hawaii has its own similar species, called the Hawaiian domino damselfish or Hawaiian dascyllus (pronounced da-SILL-us). (Dascyllus is the scientific name of this damselfish group.)

Domino damselfish swim in small schools on the reefs of Hawaii, the South Pacific and Indian Ocean like perky poker chips, hovering in the water column as they eat passing plankton. The largest are about 4 inches in diameter; the smallest are thumbnail-size.

Juvenile domino damselfish are fun to play with. At the approach of a snorkeler, the entire school rushes into the folds of a branching coral head. First there are dozens of cute little fish in front of you; then there are none.

Looking into the coral’s arms, all you see are pairs of dark eyes peeking out. Hold still a moment and the curious fish venture out. Any fast movement, though, will again send them into hiding.

Domino damselfish will also take cover among crown-of-thorns starfish spines, bury themselves in sea anemone tentacles and seek protection between wana spines.

I don’t know which creature Gordy meant when he wrote that his fish looked like a sea urchin spine, but I think he might have seen a long, narrow shrimp commonly found on wana.

I’ve never spotted these shrimp or anything that looks like a pipefish among wana spines, but you can bet I’ll be looking more carefully in the future. Thanks, Gordy, for the heads-up.


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2013 Susan Scott