22 August 2009

Night Snorkel

With Jessee out of town, I'm holding down the fort as the only American at the Center (and possibly on the whole island). Last night I went out on a night snorkel with two French Canadians, one Englishman, three Italians, and a French woman. This after a long day in the water with three other Britons.

The night snorkel was the most eventful. Such different things come out at night. As when night diving, we used high-powered underwater flashlights to see and left a strobe on the boat to find our way back. A brief list of the marine life I saw includes: a sleeping Hawksbill Turtle, a small Green Turtle (which had previously been tagged and which we caught to ID), a couple Beaded Sea Cucumbers (a nocturnal species of Cucumber), a spikey egg-shaped snail-type-thing called a Cowrie, something called blood worms that were attracted to my light and swarmed around me (yuck!), a large shrimp (possibly a Red Night Shrimp), a few crabs (Channel Crab, Hairy Clinging Crab?, Blue Crab), a Queen Parrotfish sleeping in its protective saliva cocoon, a couple Giant Basket Stars, a Feather Duster Worm, and a Spotted Moray Eel. Add five Sting Rays, two Eagle Rays, and two more Hawksbill Turtles to the list if you include what I saw during the day.

Parrotfish Sleeping in Saliva Cocoon

I got to hold and release the Green Turtle. It was impressively strong once it got its fins back in the water and impressively agile as it swam quickly through the crowd of snorkelers that had gathered to see it. Green Turtles are less common here while Hawksbills seem to be especially abundant, even though they are one of the most endangered worldwide.

I didn't know what a Cowrie was, but when I spotted one, somebody explained it to me. They are similar to the "Flamingo Tongue," I described in an earlier post. They're a mollusk that has a hard shell and fleshy mantle that it can extend over it. The picture below shows the mantle partially extended. The one I saw had it fully extended. The second picture shows a Cowrie shell, which might look familiar. Cowrie shells are apparently often used in beach jewelry. The one I saw, however, was about 5 inches across.

Cowrie with mantle partially extended.

Cowrie Shells

We also saw 3 or 4 small Spiny Lobsters. They are nocternal so we expected to see some, but Marta (who has been here for more than 4 years) said it was quite unusual to see so few. This echoes with what the fisherman have been saying, that this year's catch has been unusually low. Perhaps it's a normal fluctuation, but more likely, they have been overfished in recent years.

Giant Basket Star

One of the large crabs we saw had a flap extended on its underside with, what looked like, gills exposed. It seemed to be filtering water through. Maybe it was feeding. I'm not sure. The Beaded Sea Cucumber was the first of its kind that I've seen. My ID book says that they hide under coral slabs and rubble during the day, but often come out in the open at night. The Giant Basket Star was another interesting find. They too hide during the day, "coil[ing] into a tight ball ... and hid[ing] in dark recesses." They open up at night forming a large "fan-shaped plankton net." I might have mistaken it for a Gorgonian (a type of soft coral), if I hadn't gone down to take a close look. I had a close run-in with (what I think was) the Red Night Shrimp. It was attracted to, then confused, by my light. It nearly colided with my head at one point. The parrotfish had built what one of the others called a "saliva cocoon," which supposedly protects it from something while it sleeps. I didn't know they did this, but I had seen remnants of the gooey mass they create during and not known exactly what it came from.

No comments:

Post a Comment