An important part of natural resource management is measuring exactly how much of that resource is present to determine how it changes over time. For a marine biologist this means scuba diving and counting all the live hard coral and soft coral under a transect line (a huge 50m tape measure)
The second part of our assessment is a fish population survey, where we swim along the transect line and count every fish and record the species and size class. The problem of overfishing in the Philippines means that most fish are <10cm in size, big fish are rare.
The manta ray photo above did not happen during our coral reef surveys in Romblon. These creatures are a rare find, but Manta Bowl dive site in Donsol, Sorsogon is a great place to find one if it is also on your life list.
Dive assessments and manta rays…if only that was the happy ending, instead our team of scuba divers emerged from our last dive with a super itchy full body rash!
After some investigation we determined that our unfortunate participation prize was “Sea Bather’s Eruption,” a rash caused by invisible jellyfish larvae that get caught in your clothing and become stressed. The stress triggers their stinging cells to fire, which condemned us to two weeks of intense itching! 😦
Jellyfish spawn in the warm waters of summer. We were particularly unlucky because there was no current whatsoever on our last dive. My best advice to avoid 2 weeks of scratching: stay low in the water column if it is the season for jellyfish larvae. I was feeling somewhat cold and tried to stay in the higher warm water, but if you dive below the thermocline you may avoid the worst of their itchy wrath.
Check out some photos from my recent diving adventures along reefs outside of Dumaguete City and off of Malapascua Island in Cebu.
The above photo was taken using a red filter on my gopro camera. When shooting underwater a red filter is useful because water absorbs and scatters light as it passes through. The long wavelengths of light (especially red, orange and yellow) are absorbed first. As you travel deeper in the ocean, there are no red wavelengths of light to reflect off various fish or corals. All of the marine life looks blue or green, because these colors are shorter in wavelength and able to penetrate to greater depths. Therefore when I looked at the algae-covered mooring line that the Longfin Spadefish above are swimming by it appeared blue, because that was the color reflected back to my eye. However, when my red gopro filter added back in the red wavelengths you can see the beautiful colors of the marine life growing on this rope.
Below is a photo taken without a red filter, demonstrating the blue underwater world seen by a SCUBA diver. For any aspiring underwater photographers, I would recommend buying the red filter! (Note: all other photos in this post used the red filter)
The lionfish above falls in the family Scorpaenidae or Scorpionfish. These fish are so named for their venomous fin spines, particularly the dorsal spine along their backs. Toxins are produced by glands on either side of the spines and embedded into long grooves along the spines. Fortunately, scorpionfish do not actively try to spear divers with their venomous fins. In fact, most fish (sharks are fish too!) tend to swim away from you.
Some scorpionfish, like the one shown above, are master’s of camouflage. I recommend not touching anything while underwater because it is deceivingly easy to place your hand on the rocky ground only to realize you discovered a scorpionfish’s hiding spot. The pain from a scorpionfish sting may very from uncomfortable to intense. Immersion in hot water may offer some relief. Best practice while snorkeling or diving: “Take only pictures and leave only bubbles.”
The fish shown above can change to almost any color including black, red, pink, orange, yellow and brown. Frogfish have extremely large mouths which can open to the width of their bodies to engulf prey. Also known as Anglerfish, frogfish possess a stalk-like first dorsal spine, equipped with a lure (esca) which they wiggle like a casting rod to attract prey. The esca may be shaped like a small fish, shrimp or just a nondescript tuft depending on the species.
The cuttlefish is a mollusk, classified by its soft body and closely related to the squid and the octopus. It has specialized cells called chromatophores, which allow it to change color almost in a continuous radiating pattern. Want to eat flamboyant cuttlefish for supper?? No! The muscle-tissue of the flamboyant cuttlefish is highly toxic. Fun Fact: This cuttlefish is considered poisonous because it must be eaten to cause damage, while scorpionfish are venomous because their toxin is injected through spines. Want more examples: Frogs, mushrooms and plants are poisonous, while snakes and spiders are venomous.
This male/female pair of pipefish is considered an indicator species, because they are fragile creatures easily threatened by small changes in the ecosystem. Therefore finding this pair is a good indication that the marine ecosystem at this dive site is still healthy.
Source: Allen, G., Steene, R., Humann, P. & DeLoach, N. (2012) Reef Fish Identification Tropical Pacific. New World Publications, Inc. Jacksonville, Florida, USA.
SJ Byce as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. And Intern at CIEE Bonaire '17