Sea stars have their role to play

Big honking sea star

Sea stars (that is the correct name what for we commonly call starfish) are slow-moving relatives of sea cucumbers and urchins. They’re voracious eaters (though very slow) and will consume anything they creep across. Because of that, they’re often keystone species in an ecosystem, preying on other species that have no predator, to maintain ecological balance or stop an invasive species or pest.

This Panamic Cushsion sea star lives off North Seymour in the Galapagos Islands.

Humans, unfortunately, also find them beautiful when dried and place on a shelf, mantle, table or counter. So they’re sold on beaches the world over as souvenirs and decorative items. This leads to overharvesting of sea stars and disrupts entire ecosystems.

(Ironically, another sea star — the Crown of Thorns has thrived in places like Australia and southeast Asia because of the removal key stone species like mollusks and shrimp. The Crown of Thorns, however, is destructive to coral reef, which in turn can lead to ecosystem collapse.)

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A living creature, not something for your mantle

Not a souvenir

Large shelled creatures often play an important role in maintaing and controlling an ecosystem’s growth; but they also frequently end up as decorations for shell collectors.

Please don’t. This guy, hanging out off North Seymour, in the Galapagos Islands, has his part to play in his underwater environment.

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Awesome, tiny ocean creature

Tiny little buggers

Meet the nudibranch, about the size of the tip of my smallest finger. It’s an underwater sea creature whose exact scientific classification is still under some debate as new species are discovered regularly. Nudibranchs are known for their vibrant colors and are often referred to commonly though not quite accurately, as sea slugs.

The are shell-less and frequently tiny (though not all) and many of the common types breathe though unprotected “lungs,” hence the name: nudibranch means naked gills. They are typically carnivorous, eating sponges and other stationary creatures on the reef.

Most nudibranchs are also hermaphroditic, though they mate with others, with both parties producing egg strings.

The above nudibranch was shot off North Seymour. These are common throughout coastal Ecuador and particularly the Galapagos Islands.

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Remembering good times and a birthday, from India

In India, guy friends hold hands


We interrupt my recent string of ocean, diving and ecology related posts for an important announcement.

My shenanigan wallah, partner in crime and damn good friend, Joel, celebrates a birthday today, though he probably won’t mention it.

But I will.

He and his lady, Katie, came to visit India last year. They had some good times, some hot times and a few sick moments in between. Above are photos to remember the trip.

Happy birthday, brother.

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Butterflies, butterflies, everywhere

Ocean shallows and reefs are full of fish. Full. As a diver, I sometimes get focused on seeing the big, rare, charismatic fauna. But in reality fish are almost always swirling around.

That’s because the ocean represents a vibrant, complete ecosystem, with many more moving and visible parts than most of what we see up on land. Forests, deserts, savannas and meadows are also ecosystem, but the integral parts are often hidden, so that all we see are grasses and trees and dirt.

The butterfly fish — pescados de mariposa — pictured are part of the many, many fish flitting about reef and rock on almost every dive I’ve made. These are from the coast of North Seymour in the Galapagos Islands.

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Lazy moray eel

Morays in the Galapagos are cheap

The Galapagos Islands deserve their renown as one giant underwater aquarium. Moray eels — creatures that are normally a uncommon sighting and delight to see elsewhere in the diving world — are everywhere here. I consider them cheap and easy, lazing about without concern for me or my camera.

But they’re still amazing to look at.

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Seafood tonight? Don’t order the grouper

What I believe is a blacktip grouper off the coast of North Seymour, Galapagos. Though this fish might earn a reprieve from heavy fishing because it lives in national park waters, groupers the world over are under threat from catches. They’re valued as a tasty meal leading to over-fishing and habitat destruction.

Source your seafood, people. Yes, fishing is a livelihood for coastal people in developing and developed countries a like, but we need better measures to conserve fish and, more importantly, their ocean ecosystem. That’s a major reason why I’m applying even now to marine conservation and sustainable development graduate school programs.

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Fish in a hole

Hiding

Another skittish gobi fish hangs out in a hole at the approach of a scuba diver. This one off the coast of North Seymour, in the Galapagos Islands.

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Prowling for a meal

On the hunt

A Galapagos shark out for a meal. The water quality and visibility was less than stellar, hence the grain when this photo was leveled in production. These guys are no real threat to humans, but at close to two meters long, they still have a commanding presence from 15 feet away.

Off the coast of North Seymour, in the Galapagos.

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This fish stings

Still working on his camo

A scorpionfish who is still building his camo in dramatic light off the coast of Isla de la Plata.

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