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Marine Life Blog » Bonaire, Coral Spawning » Bonaire – Always Something New

Bonaire – Always Something New

Forty-two years now I have been going to Bonaire—an arid mountain tip of a southern Caribbean island with the best shore diving on the planet. The rocky 25-mile stretch of her protected western coastline grants us the rare freedom to access marine life on our own terms. And best yet, even after 30 extended visits spanning four decades Anna and I are only beginning to scratch the surface of what the island’s waters have to offer. Allow me to present a few images from this year’s annual September visit as testament to Bonaire’s unending capacity for underwater discovery.

Longhorn Blenny, Hypsoblennius exstochilus.

Longhorn Blenny, Hypsoblennius exstochilus.

 Longhorn Blennies at Last

I have long thought of our series of marine life field guides as bountiful wish lists for incurably curious naturalists with an appreciation for weirdness. Flipping through the pages over the years my eyes have repeatedly been drawn to the image of a perky little blenny with cirri extending from its head like a pair of telephone communication towers. But search as we might over the decades, we never once laid eyes on the elusive Longhorn Blenny. That is until we were enticed to explore the island’s “wild side” with Bas Tol, premiere dive guide and king of Bonaire’s lionfish slayers, with a promise of finding our long-sought prize hiding in the surge-swept shallows lining a blustery bay.

It takes two weeks before the winds calm sufficiently for us to tackle the shore entry into the rocky cove where the blennies make their home. Burdened with air-heavy tanks and extra weights we stumble our way through the shallow minefield of ankle-twisting rocks until we can at last plunge into the relative safety of waist-deep waves. As the bubbles clear we find ourselves swimming over a field of algae stretching as far as our eyes can see. Within ten minutes we find our first blenny poking its head out of a rock hole half hidden among the billowing fronds. But such glimpses are brief as swell after swell lift us up and away kicking and tumbling and struggling for control. Fighting our way back to the holed-up blenny we cling to a nearby rock waiting for a snippet of calm to focus our lens before being wrenched away once again. We find the blennies semi-common at depths from three to ten feet. With three of us hunting we locate one about every ten minutes. An hour-and-a-half later we make it back to shore safe and sound and only slightly worst for wear. As things turn out, our blenny hunt is the perfect mission with conditions hovering at the edge of do-able, yet sufficiently daunting to make for a lively tale. Three days later we’re still a bit bruised, stiff, but happy—fond reminders of a calm day on the Bonaire’s wild east side.

Check out Anna’s video of the dive at the BlennyWatchers Channel:

YouTube Preview Image
Longhorn Blenny, Hypsoblennius exstochilus.

Longhorn Blenny, Hypsoblennius exstochilus.

New Camera, New Images

Hardware is not my long suit. What I know about photographic technology could fit comfortably inside a thimble. Patience, persistence and a bit of knowledge of animals are more my game. However, after years of satisfactorily using a Canon 5D camera sporting 12.8 megapixels, I made the switch to a Nikon D800 with 36 megapixels, providing almost twice the image area. I seldom need such capacity for enlargements; what I need is the ability to occasionally crop an image radically to show detail. So off I go to Bonaire with my new toy encased in a diamond-bright Ikelite housing outfitted with an indispensible Nauticam 180 degree viewfinder and my tried and true, ol’ faithful Sigma 50 mm macro lens (Almost the only lens I ever use underwater.) Let me share a few results from the switchover.

Only days after fertilization a Sergeant Major nest explodes with new life 30 minutes after sunset. The brood’s patriarch, exhausted from continually nursing and guarding the clutch of poppy seed-sized eggs from predators, will take a few days off before advertising for a new set of brides to refill his nest.

Sergeant Major male tending egg nest.

Sergeant Major male tending egg nest.

Sergeant Major eggs.

Sergeant Major eggs.

Sergeant Major eggs hatching.

Sergeant Major eggs hatching.

Sergeant Major eggs hatching.

Sergeant Major eggs hatching.

The release of gametes from sea rod, brain coral and star coral.

Sea rod gamete release.

Sea rod gamete release.

Brain coral gamete release.

Brain coral gamete release.

Star coral gamete release.

Star coral gamete release.

New Critters

For two months before jetting off to Bonaire I spent much of my time chained to a computer laying out an enlarged edition of Reef Creature Identification. I’m not complaining, it’s a joy piecing together an ID book, watching it grow animal-by-animal and word-by-word. Here are a few portraits of some new invertebrates taken this year in Bonaire that will appear in the pages next fall.

Whiteclaw Coral Shrimp, Odontozana sp.

Whiteclaw Coral Shrimp, Odontozana sp.

Crimson Coral Shrimp, Microprosthema semilaeve.

Crimson Coral Shrimp, Microprosthema semilaeve.

Tawny Coral Shrimp, Microprosthema manningi.

Tawny Coral Shrimp, Microprosthema manningi.

Orange Marginella.
Orange Marginella.
Cowrie with eggs.

Cowrie with eggs.

 New Fish

A Chain Moray makes it home on the pilings supporting a small dock fronting a condo complex.

Chain Moray

Chain Moray

For some time now I’ve wanted to photograph a Viper Moray’s dramatic set of teeth.

Viper Moray

Viper Moray

Cherubfish, one of the world’s smallest members of the angelfish family, typically live below 60 feet. Occasionally the one-to-two inch beauties are found as shallow as 25 feet in Bonaire.

Cherubfish.

Cherubfish.

Juvenile Coney sea bass wear one of two wardrobes: either a solid gold suit or a white and brown coat patterned with bold back and white markings. Evidently this little fellow just couldn’t decide which look it liked best.

Juvenile Coney.

Juvenile Coney.

Cleaning gobies, immune from predation because of their beneficial parasite-picking habits, are about the only creatures that would dare dance around this set of teeth.

Cleaning Goby in mouth of Great Barracuda.

Cleaning Goby in mouth of Great Barracuda.

A pair of Sharpnose Puffers duke it out for the rights to romance a female watching the brawl from the wings.

Sharpnose Puffer fight.

Sharpnose Puffer fight.

 Octopus Encounter

A pair of eyes catches my eye as they peer out from a sponge. After a brief wait the eyes attached to a Reef Octopus slip out and dash away across a rainbow encrusted pier piling.

Caribbean Reef Octopus

Caribbean Reef Octopus

Caribbean Reef Octopus

Caribbean Reef Octopus

Caribbean Reef Octopus

Caribbean Reef Octopus

 Hermit Crab Revisited

Eighteen years ago, under the same cargo dock and almost at the exact spot where I’m presently kneeling among a jumble of abandoned truck tires, I photographed a hermit crab dragging a long-dead coral remnant. The elongate branch struck me as such an awkward choice for a home. I watched the hermit labor with its burden for some time until, out of the blue, it tilted the coral piece skyward and pranced away effortlessly. My photos of the innovative hermit, published in Ocean Realm magazine, elicited several amused comments. Yet here I am nearly two decades later at the same dive site watching the same curious event, which I have never seen elsewhere. Like I love to say, “The sea never ceases to amaze.”

 Hermit crab in coral fragment.

Hermit crab in coral fragment.

 Hermit crab in coral fragment.

Hermit crab in coral fragment.

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The images and text in Marine Life Blog, unless otherwise noted, are the property of New World Publications, Inc. You may not copy entire posts or any of the images. The YouTube videos have been created to allow embedding. Quotes, using a few lines or a paragraph may be used, as long as credit is given or a link back to this blog is used.


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8 Responses to "Bonaire – Always Something New"

  1. Jerry C Logon says:

    Ned, Anna: always reading your blogs and njoying every one. I have a question that I think some diligent investigation just might answer. I truly believe that when a male Sargeant Major brings forth a clutch of youngsters, that he has totally spent himself, and does not want to even think about sex for a long time. The males literally guard the clutch of eggs 24/7 for the approximately 10 days it takes them to incubate. If we could only cat h and mark a male during his defense of the clutch, and see when that same individual had a clutch again, we would be surprised. But does any one know?

  2. Great shots Ned. Thanks for sharing all you do, looks like the new camera is treating you well!

  3. Bud Gillan says:

    Outrageously cool pics and detail. I, for one, am really glad you got more pixels. It makes your wonderful work…well, even more full of wonder.

    I particularly like the clutch of eggs with the cowrie..how rare is that. Hope you find another Tamoya too…

  4. Bob Stuke Jr. says:

    Hi Ned, Next time you talk to Paul, tell him Fred Finnegan said hello. I spoke with Fred, a lifelong friend of mine, for about two hours, and he talked quite a bit about diving with you all.

  5. Johnny Larsen says:

    We were diving in Bonarie May 29th for a Night dive and we, my brother Kirk and I saw a most incredible sight. We entered the water at 7:15pm twilight time. After dark about 7:35 pm we turned off our lights and noticed a bioluminescent display. It appeared like strings for pearls about 7 in a string, all dimly lit with ascending sequence of a brighter lights then they would fade out. We saw a few then more and more and they appeared to be rising. We were at about 45 feet deep at the small wall (dive site) sight slightly north of the Black Durgon Inn. This was not just bioluminescence that is triggered by waving your hand around in the darkness, this was light emitting strings. They gradually numbered in the thousands appearing from the depths and all around. It was a breath taking incredible sight like something in outer-space / out of this world. We left the water at about 7:50pm and went and got my wife to join us but by the time we got back in the water it was over. I was not able to get a video or picture with my sea and sea 2 g camera. We went back the next night at the same time taking my wife with us also and noted the same phenomena. We also noted as it began to fade some if we would turn on a light then off it would re activate the incredible display. When we would turn on the light to see if we could visualize what was emitting the bioluminescence but could not see any organism. It tried to photograph with iso 1600, 4 sec exposure and was able to be a minimal picture of a few strands with a lot of noise artifact.
    We wonder if anyone else has noted this phenomena. We don’t know if this occurs regularly or if it was a rare event. Any feedback would be appreciated.

  6. fishid says:

    Hi Johnny! What you witnessed are the bioluminescent courtship displays of male ostracods. Also known as seed shrimp, ostracods are tiny crustaceans that live in the sand and spawn after certain full moons. How wonderful that you were able to observe this incredibly beautiful event. I talked about it last year on our sister blog, Blennywatcher but like you, could not photograph it. It is in this post: http://blennywatcher.com/2012/09/30/bonaire-spawning-2012/ Thanks for sharing your observation ~ Anna DeLoach

  7. Johnny Larsen says:

    Anna, thank you so much for your answer to our “mystery”. it was fantastic. my brother , being an artist , was able to put together a similarity to the display on the computer. looking up bioluminescense, edith widder has a TED talk 2011. she has managed to photograph and record a number of ev ents.. probably has the right equiptment .

  8. Kirk Larsen says:

    The “light show” my brother and I witnessed was humbling, fascinating and more over profound. When i tell the story i reference James Cameron’s film “The Abyss” as a similar type of light show. Johnny has since returned to Bonaire and with some advanced setting and time exposure has captured some images. However the time lapse makes the pitch black background read blue. It is something we definitely hope to catch in video soon.

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