Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bonaire Report #2: Longsnout Seahorse (Hippocampus reidi)

Longsnout Seahorse (Hippocampus reidi); Finding a Seahorse can be a very challenging task. Diving with Bonaire's premier dive master Bas Noij, we were told that they could be found at the "***NOT GONNA SAY**** " dive site. Bas knew that "a" seahorse could be found at this site in the 20-25 foot depth, but couldn't guarantee that we would find it. After less than a minute I found it! What really baffles me about finding this animal, was that it was the only one in the area and Bas said that he has never seen a mate. What a boring life!

Only two species of Seahorses occur in the Caribbean, the Longsnout, Hippocampus reidi and Lined Seahorse, Hippocampus erectus. General information on the abundance of Longsnout Seahorse is lacking and the species has been categorized as data deficient indicating a need for further studies. The Lined Seahorse is currently listed by the IUCN as a vulnerable species. In 2007, three single individuals, H. reidi have been repeatedly sighted at three different shallow reef dive sites. Although seahorses nearly always occur in pairs and the home ranges for the species is rather small, as of yet no pairs have been sighted. The reefs are mixed habitat with corals, sea grass beds, and sponges present. Later habitats are often associated with seahorses. Previous longsnout seahorse sightings dating back to 1993 have over the years been inconsistent and restricted to only one of the sites. The recent frequent sightings and identification of a new reef site could indicate an increase in the local seahorse population size. Further studies are needed to estimate the local seahorse population size and habitat characteristics.

One of the most desired species in the aquarium trade, it is imported quite often. Long, thick snout, narrow body, and no spines or cirri. Can be found in a range of bold, bright colors and usually is covered with tiny black or white spots. May also have pale splotches on lateral surfaces. 16-19 dorsal rays and 11 body rings.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bonaire Report #1: Flamingo Tongue Cowrie

Flamingo Tongue Cowrie(Cyphoma gibbosum)

Cowries are a group of snails that are of great interest to shell collectors because of their beautiful designs. The shells are very polished and shiny and feature a wide range of colorful patterns. They are nocturnal and eat algae and dead animals. Some species will feed on both hard and soft corals. The flamingo tongue is not recommended for the aquarium, as it tends not to live long in captivity.

These cowries were photographed in about thirty feet of water at the Alice in Wonderland dive site. At times I came across literally hundreds of these on gorgonians, sponges, soft and hard corals.

Although beautiful, the cowries appear to me to be as destructive as the Crown of Thorn Starfish found in the Hawaiian Islands.

The waters of Bonaire are protected by the Marine Environment Ordinance, an Island Ordinance approved and passed by the Island Government of Bonaire in 1991 for the purpose of protecting the marine environment around Bonaire from the high water mark to the 60m depth contour. The Ordinance includes all provisions on the statute books for protecting the marine environment (protection of turtle nests and eggs, protection of corals from collection etc) and the exploitation of fish stocks (prohibition on spearfishing, restrictions on use of nets etc). It was revised in April 2001 to take into account the inclusion of the uninhabited island of Klein Bonaire under the management of the Bonaire National Marine Park. STINAPA Bonaire National Parks Foundation oversees both the Bonaire National Marine Park and Washington Slagbaai National Park.

So removal of these animals is strictly prohibited.

And...although the Flamingo Cowries are quite beautiful, I personally think the Pink Flamingo's on Bonaire are a bit more beautiful.One thing about Flamingo's though, which I did not know until I went to Bonaire, is that they are very difficult animals to photograph. They will run when spooked and have a have a very keen sense of danger from a far, which makes photographing them tough.