Today was our first full day of collecting and everyone did a great job! Our first dive site was at Great Heads, a sandy reef that runs along a long rocky outcropping. We saw a beautiful Southern stingray on the sandy bottom surrounded by yellowhead jawfish poking their heads out of the sand.
Yellowhead jawfish surveying their territory
Yellowhead Jawfish poking out of its burrow
We also spotted some lionfish on this dive. Lionfish are a big problem in the Caribbean as an invasive species. This means that they are not native to the waters of the Bahamas, but rather are a Pacific species that was artificially introduced. Lionfish are problematic because not only are they a hazard to divers with their poisonous spines, but they have no natural predators so their numbers go unchecked. (Learn more about lionfish and some interesting ways to address the problem of this invasive species here and here.)
Lionfish perched on a large coral
There was a significant current which made the dive slightly challenging – once you got around to the right position to hover with your nets, you got swept down into your partner! At the end of every dive, on the way back to the boat, we clip our collection bags to a barrel that is floating about halfway between the boat and the sea floor. Fish are very sensitive to changes in pressure and so they have to be brought up from depth very slowly. From the surface, we can raise the barrel five feet every five minutes until they reach the surface.
Captain Lou and Sarah identifying fish collected on the dive
Once at the surface, it is a mad dash to identify everything and put it in its temporary home aboard the boat. I caught another sharpnose puffer – a more robust specimen – that is now one of our well-cared-for residents aboard the R/V Coral Reef II. I was most proud of another catch though: Sam and I caught a smooth trunkfish about the size of a NERF football!
Smooth Trunkfish in a holding tank on board the R/V Coral Reef II
Spanish hogfish (yellow and purple) with some wrasses
Sam and Sarah caught a goldentail moray, to everyone's delight! Other highlights included a trumpetfish, French grunts, and even two juvenile Spanish hogfish (one who had been masquerading as a fairy basslet). All in all, a very successful day!
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Aquarium divers go on several daily dives to care for the animals in the Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) as well as lead expeditions to the Bahamas.