In a barrier reef system like the Florida Keys or Australia the reef track is slightly off the coastline and the coral reef is a boat’s drive from shore. However, Bonaire is surrounded by a fringing reef meaning that as soon as you walk into the water from the land you are at the reef! No need for a boat at all. And Bonaire has some of the best shore diving in the world.
The yellow-painted rocks shown below mark the names and locations of each dive/snorkel site. So all you have to do is drive your car or ride your bike 😉 and get in!
The coral reef is incredible! Notice the long trumpetfish and round angelfish hiding in the coral sea rods on the lower right photo below. Looking very close at the branching staghorn coral on the upper left, each little bump is an individual coral polyp or coral animal. At night time the coral polyp will extend their tiny tentacles from these little bumps to grab food floating in the water.
I love free diving down to photograph fish. The silver bar jack on the top left turns dark black when it is hunting (lower left). The bar jack often hunts over the shoulder of a goatfish and picks up small invertebrates that the goatfish may stir up from the bottom.
Watch out for sea urchins! The round animals below are covered in sharp spines and usually live on the ocean floor in the tidal zone where you enter the water. But if you simply look down and are careful about where you step these animals are easy to avoid. There are many different species of sea urchins and their spines may look like white tacks, long needles or even thick pencils.
Can you spot the little animals in the photo below? The first is a peanut-size mollusk (related to a snail) called a Flamingo Tongue shown in the photo on the left. This little animal feeds on sea fans and will eat large holes in the sea fan shown below. The second is a small transparent shrimp living in the anemone on the right. The shrimp and the anemone are symbiotic partners.
All the photos above were taken with a GoPro Hero 3 and a red underwater filter with an added macro lens.
Palawan, Philippines is known worldwide as an amazing dive location. While visiting Coron I dove 4 different WWII wrecks and also saw an abundance of marine life including my first cuttlefish!
The Cuttlefish is a mollusk, meaning it has a soft, squishy body, and more specifically a cephalopod related to squid and octopus. This cuttlefish was rapidly changing color almost like waves rippling over its body, due to specialized cells called chromatophores, which allow it to change color. Cuttlefish and other cephalopods also have highly developed eyes and relatively large brains.
I found this sea cucumber while diving at my site. It is an echinoderm, due to its spiny skin and tube feet, related to seastars and sea urchins. April and May are the summer months here in the Philippines, which also means that the ocean water is calm and perfect for SCUBA diving. Next month and during the summer I will be working with my office to survey the reefs in Romblon…more diving!
Last week, I was served Giant Clam. How did an endangered species find its way to my lunch table?! This particular clam was one of many marine casualties from a recent boat grounding. I was called in to conduct the damage report after a large tugboat ran aground inside of a protected fish sanctuary, and left a large hole where there was once reef.
Assisted by three Filipino free divers, we surveyed the area taking underwater measurements with a large 50m transect line of the damage area. Secondly, I took many photos with my underwater camera to document the destruction. Finally, I conducted a visual survey of damaged species including displaced fish species, sea stars, corals, sponges and most notably the Giant Clam.
The Giant Clam can live to be over 100 years old, reaching sizes of up to 4 feet and more than 440lbs. Luckily, the clam damaged in our boat grounding was only about the size of a basketball, but that is still much larger than any clam I had ever seen in the Atlantic Ocean! Giant Clams attain such impressive sizes through a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, an algae that lives inside of its tissues, giving the clam its color. This is the same algae found inside the stony corals which build coral reefs. Zooxanthellae captures light energy and produces food for the clam through photosynthesis, while the clam provides a home for this algae. Did you know that no two Giant Clams have the same color pattern?!
This past weekend, I traveled to Sibuyan Island, considered “the Galapagos of the Philippines” for its endemic terrestrial diversity. While I hope to return in the summertime to hike the infamous Mt. Guiting Guiting (6,752ft), the objective of this trip was distributing materials for seaweed farming to local fishermen as an alternative livelihood project. These materials are provided for free to the fisherfolk families as compensation for damages to the fishing industry in response to Typhoon Yolanda and also as a means to reduce pressure on declining fishing populations.
Rope, twine and floatation rings were distributed to fisherfolk after a training session on seaweed farming methods. Here is the basic construction of the farm: a net system that has seaweed seedlings tied in rows, and grows in the ocean just off shore.
In 2009, seaweeds were the 3rd largest fisheries export from the Philippines after tuna and shrimp.* The seaweeds grown are often shipped to France, Denmark, Japan, USA or UK after processing in the Philippines. Although raw seaweeds are used for consumption, died seaweeds are often processed for carrageenan, commonly known as seaweed flour, or kelp powder and in a huge variety of products.
What everyday goods are made from seaweed components? Toothpaste, shampoos, ice cream, yogurts, pill capsules, paints and much more! Eucheuma seaweed is a commonly farmed red seaweed, however many different types of seaweeds can be farmed. Check out the link below for more info.
The past day we were on a field trip to Candelaria, where we snorkeled an effective MPA (marine protected area), walked through a mangrove nursery, and stopped to visit a sea cucumber breeding center. The photos were taken at the sea cucumber center and I am holding almost full grown sea cucumber as well as red algae. The sea cucumbers take 8 months to grow from eggs to adults. They feed on dead algae and are exported for food in Asian markets. The red algae, I am holding is also sold as food and can be used for the production of various other products including toothpaste and cosmetic procedures. I collected several different species of sea cucumbers while snorkeling in the seagrass and coral reef habitats just off the shore where I am currently living. I used my samples for demonstration during our recent youth camp. More updates and another video coming!
SJ Byce as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. And Intern at CIEE Bonaire '17