100 feet down…

Mesmerizing

…calm blue and fish for days.

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A pair of crinoids

Underwater flowers?

On the left, looking like a sad flower waving in the breeze, a sea lily.

On the right, as though someone clenched a fistful of feathers, a feather star.

They’re part of the same class of creatures, the crinoids, that can either be stalked and attached to the bottom (lily) or free moving (star). And yes, I said creatures. Despite their resemblance to plants, they are part of kingdom Animalia.

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So many fish…

...so little time

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Staring at each other with suspicion…

Who is watching who?

Lionfish in a current make a diver uneasy. Unlike most fish, they’re not skittish. That means it’s possible to drift ridiculously close to those poisonous spines.

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Old joke: How do lionfish mate?

Lionfish interrupted

Very carefully.

The logistics seem difficult with all those spines… but I might have disturbed a tender moment between two poisonous, beautiful fish.

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Pull up to Jackson’s bar

How many different species do you see?

A riot of life surrounding a barrel sponge

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Not exactly the picture of vibrant reef…

Distressing

Meet a reef under stress, bleached and covered with brown algae. The reasons are varied and uncertain, but all have a central element: man.

The condition of this section of Minerva’s Ledge is likely due to some combination of warming waters, acidification and nutrient runoff. All three stress the ecosystem and the coral and favor the algae that is now killing the reef.

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A reef destroying invasive species…

Nightmare starfish

…that isn’t man. Let me introduce you to a Crown of Thorns, A voracious and difficult to destroy starfish, owing to its spiny carapace and neurotoxin defense. Rumors also abound that slicing it up causes it to regenerate in Hydra fashion, but that’s not exactly true.

They are the subject of campaigns to control or eliminate them, as they’re destroying reefs in many parts of the world, as they eat live coral. Australia has been particularly hit, though I’ve seen plenty in the Andamans.

Theories as to why they’re spreading include human-caused reductions in their natural predators and algal blooms (caused by fertilizer runoff) providing alternative food sources to the fish that might otherwise eat starfish larva.

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Toxic beauty…

Lionfish

Lionfish at Minerva’s Ledge.

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What oceans look like when we don’t take all the fish…

Abundance for the time being...

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