Tag Archives: sea cucumber

24/05/19 Piscivorous fish are more metal than herbivorous fish. Periodt.

We took the boat out for the first time to survey two patch reefs. The first one, Marisol, was within a marine-protected area (MPA). The second was not within a marine-protected area (non-MPA). There were some grey clouds in the sky as we drove out to the first patch reef, but I did not feel the sprinkling as I was snorkeling in the cold water. I saw snappers as usual, and what I thought to be a foot-long grouper that quickly swam away before I could fully process its presence.

In the afternoon, the class geared up to wade into sea-grass off of the island. We were looking for creatures to capture and keep in a ‘touch tank’ briefly for our observation. As a class, we caught many queen conchs (and one conch shell occupied by a crab), two donkey-dung sea cucumbers, a sea egg urchin, a pencil slate urchin, a red heart urchin, an octopus!, two fire worms, a damselfish, several brittle stars, two sun anemones, several types of coral and algae, and many hermit crabs—no piscivorous fish though! The water is too shallow for these big boys. It was interesting to feel and observe the organisms from other taxons though. The donkey dung sea cucumber was particularly interesting as it molded into your hand as you squeezed it.

Me touching a West Indian Sea Egg (Tripneustes ventricosus), a type of urchin

We ended the night with lectures on herbivorous fish, piscivorous fish (given by yours truly), and how competition, predation, and environment shape coral reefs.

Day 6: Perspective Shift (05/21/2017)

It can take very little to shift a perspective.

Five days ago when I snorkeled for the first time, I felt overwhelmed with the entire situation. My mind was overloaded – unable to find the balance between managing my fins and mask, observing my surroundings, staying afloat, and not getting water in my snorkel tube at the same time.

Each day marked an increased fluidity in the water, but this morning, I felt much more capable than ever before. I could focus less on the technical and more on the experience. This, in addition to the abundance of lively fish at the backreef, created an extremely rewarding explorative experience.

Today’s reef was shallow with large mounds of coral, saturated with brightly colored fish swimming in every direction. The fish were juveniles and adults, swimming individually or in schools, and represented every shade of color imaginable.

I encountered many noteworthy creatures today at the reef – two more donkey dung sea cucumbers (Holothuria Mexicana) covered in algae, as well as urchins (Class Echinoidea) and many brittle stars (Class Ophiuroidea) underneath rubble. The sea cucumber and urchins were sedentary, but the brittle stars scrambled to conceal themselves as soon as they were exposed. Size-wise, the urchins were on the small side, hovering about two inches in diameter, while both sea cucumbers were over a foot long. The brittle stars ranged from two-inches in diameter to about seven inches in diameter.

Holothuria mexicana and Homo sapiens

I spotted another porcupine fish (Diodon hystrix) concealed under a rocky ledge. There were also many yellow-tail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus) swimming around in groups. Today’s most vivid sighting was a scorpionfish (Genus Scorpaena), cryptically colored in shades of brown and beige to assimilate into the seafloor.

Today, I realized my own perspective shift. Snorkeling no longer felt foreign to me, and I could fully immerse myself in the rich aquatic life surrounding me, creating my most fulfilling experience yet.

I am more excited than ever to see what tomorrow will bring.

Day 3: Transformation (05/18/2017)

“Preservation of wildlife populations depends on changing human behavior.” Alex Tewfik, an expert benthic biologist, had this quote on one of his final slides during a presentation he gave our class.

A change in human behavior can mean many different things. I made an active choice to disrupt my busy summer work routine to engage in an explorative field biology trip, something that strongly deviates from my status quo.

This change has been engrossing. Through today’s endeavors – exploring a nearby seagrass bed and a patch reef accessible by boat – I immersed myself in the rich aquatic diversity only tropical marine ecosystems can offer.

I encountered a variety of species, including a beaded sea cucumber (Euapta lappa), about six inches in length, concealed by seagrass and a large West Indian sea egg (Tripneustes ventricosus) resting on a seagrass bed. Neither were in motion nor interacting with other animals. At the further patch reef, I came across a small chocolate brittle star (Ophioderma cinereum), a large-polyp coral (Eugmilia fastigata), and a donkey dung sea cucumber (Holothuria Mexicana), just under a foot long. The brittle star was found under rubble, and the donkey dung was found in deeper water on the seafloor. Today’s most noteworthy site was a school of surgeonfish (Genus Acanthus) swimming in a school of about one hundred fish.

My class also collected urchins from the reef. Urchins often hide under ridges or rocky overhangs, making them difficult to spot. After scouring for an urchin, I noticed an odd juxtaposition of hues – tiny white rings encircling fiery orange spines projecting from a dark fleshy body. This was the first of three (Echinometra viridis) I collected from the reef. Tomorrow, my class will be recording each urchin’s dimensions and returning them to the sea.

Echinometra viridis

I realize my participation on this trip will not accelerate the “preservation of wildlife populations.” However, for my own personal commitment to preservation causes and my proactivity to advocate for them, this trip has been transformative.