Acropora Everywhere!

Two white-spotted filefish swimming above the staghorn coral patch
PC: Leah Wessler

By: Liza Hasan

On November 17th, the Coral Reef Ecology class took a snorkel trip to Lac Bay. As Lac Bay is the hub of windsurfing, this may seem like a peculiar place to snorkel, as much of the bay has a smooth, sandy bottom. However, there is a gem hidden amongst the clear blue water. Lucky to us students, our professor brought us to it: a massive patch of Acropora cervicornis, otherwise known as Staghorn coral. According to Dr. Elmer, this is the largest patch of Acropora spp. on Bonaire, and the largest she has seen anywhere.

The entire island used to be surrounded by these corals, but it is now a rarity to see more than fragments. Seeing the A. cervicornis patch was an awe-inspiring experience. It was so much bigger than I had imagined, in the best of ways. While snorkeling the perimeter of the patch, we saw three octopi. Two of which were under coral and the third was on the sand, demonstrating its defense mechanism of “being big” as I swam over. The patch serves as a habitat for many juvenile fish; juvenile Foureye Butterflyfish could be seen almost everywhere I looked. As long as you move slowly and look between the gaps in the coral, you will see hundreds of bright, colorful reef fish.

Octopus demonstrating a defense mechanism
PC: Liza Hasan

As we moved further from the patch towards the reef crest at the edge of the bay, we came across Acropora palmata, otherwise known as Elkhorn coral. These corals were the size of large tables, branching in every direction just below the water’s surface. We swam between the mighty corals and were careful not to let the waves push us into them. It felt like there was a wrinkle in time as we weaved through age-old corals sprinkled with tiny juvenile fish that will soon move to the reef for their adult life. Acropora spp. are major reef-building corals and it is vital to preserve what is left of them on Bonaire. This experience revealed the importance of these corals to the future of reef ecosystems and truly was one of the most memorable experiences I had on Bonaire.

 

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