May 24th, 2019
Today we embarked on a lengthier project, measuring percent live coral cover in marine protected area reefs vs. reefs outside of them. After breakfast and a boat safety talk, we climbed into a whaler and travelled to our protected area reef. The weather was perfect for snorkeling, barely any wind and cloudy due to approaching rain.
Jumping into the water and swimming to the sandy center of the reef (where our groups met up), I already saw so many colorful corals with different little wrasses darting amongst them. I reeled out my groups transect line, swimming though different sea fans (a soft coral) and over top of the coral heads (careful to avoid the stinging fire coral). Swimming over the corals was just an amazing and surreal experience, seeing all the different colors in the crystal clear was breathtaking. After finishing our quadrats, we got a chance to swim around the reef and explore.
The reef was full of herbivorous fish. There were Blue Tang Surgeonfish, what species Dory is from Finding Nemo with their characteristic blue bodies and yellow caudal spines, munching on some algae that was in the coral. There were also a lot parrotfish swimming in and under the coral heads. A very prevalent species was the colorful Stoplight Parrotfish. Parrotfish are special in that they have two “phases” of coloring and can be hermaphroditic (can change sexes). The initial phase of the stoplight parrotfish has a red orange underbelly and speckled body scale. There were also terminal phase Stoplight Parrotfish, which have a green head and body with yellow scales at the base of the tail and have orange/red scales on their tail. They also have a pink strip near their pectoral fin. In both phases, Stoplight Parrotfish are quite spectacular, and often feed in groups so they are easy to see. I also saw more Ocean Surgeonfish and Three-spotted damselfish. I also saw an adult Dusky Damselfish swimming through the coral, with its brown/black coloration and its rounded, continuous dorsal fin.
After around fifteen minutes of swimming, we loaded onto the boat and went to the unprotected reef and performed the same task. Per usual, we ended the day with lectures.