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Marine Life Blog » Bonaire, Coral Spawning, Fish Spawning » Coral Spawning, Sponge Spawning and Fish Spawning… A night diving bonanza in Bonaire.

Coral Spawning, Sponge Spawning and Fish Spawning… A night diving bonanza in Bonaire.

Sept 7-12, 2009, Bonaire It is night diving time here on Bonaire as everyone eagerly anticipates the wondrous happenings of coral spawning week. There are few places in the world better for accessing the annual event than along the island’s calm western coast where shore diving offers unfettered access to the reef. Although 7 pm to midnight during the 6th through 8th nights following the full moons of September and October are your best bets for observing one of sea’s most splendid spectacles, we’ve learned long ago to begin our night excursions earlier in the week – nature always has a way of dishing up surprises on her own time schedule.

It’s not just the corals that find the time period intoxicating, even the libido of fishes and other invertebrates  slips into overdrive. On a Monday afternoon dive at Klein, we find hundreds of Brown Chromis down on the reef spreading invisible gamete trails in algae, much to the culinary delight of surgeonfishes and Scrawled Filefish, which join forces to scavenge the little damselfish’s fat-filled eggs. In the middle of the action the splendid 80-foot visibility begins turning into chalk. We trace the culprits down, and discover Bonaire’s ubiquitous Touch-Me-Not Sponges releasing clouds of smoky gametes.


Video of scrawled filefish and surgeonfish

1-sponge-spawn-copy

Sponge Spawning

Late that afternoon, just before sunset, Anna watches a brawny Peacock Flounder over-dosed on testosterone blazing around the sand flat in an attempt to cajole his harem of three coy females. His efforts pay big dividends, within the half hour he completes a successful high-flying spawning rise with each partner. Down on the reef slope I find Spanish Hogfish engaged in similar goings-on.


Video of flounder spawning

Spanish Hogfish

Spanish Hogfish

No coral spawning the first night, but we did find another treasure – a Princess Parrotfish sleeping inside a translucent cocoon. Although conventional wisdom holds that the bubble cloaks the slumbering fish’s scent from moray eels, the hypothesis has yet to be proven. Topping the evening off, on our way back to Buddy’s dock, a Caribbean Reef Squid, attracted and entranced by our lights, performs an enchanting eight-arm dance of undecipherable meaning.

Parrotfish Sleeping Inside a Self-made Cocoon

Parrotfish Sleeping Inside a Self-made Cocoon

Caribbean Reef Squid Dances in Our Lights

Caribbean Reef Squid Dances in Our Lights

The following evening a night diver’s nemesis settles around us in the form of a swirling cloud of planktonic life. Most distracting are the writhing worms that create buzzing halos around our lights and dodge in and out of our ears. Anna, whose dazzling video beams attract the most attention, is forced to switch them off to save her sanity. Experience has taught us to periodically expect these onslaughts and that the nuisance will soon pass. Such disquieting  events occur most often on moonless nights when banks of plankton are swept toward shore on the backs of current gyres and tides. It makes it easier for us to tolerate the madness knowing that the happening is nature’s way of refreshing the reef with a new wave of life. After the worms retreat, we turn Anna’s lights to our advantage,  attracting tiny post-larval fishes and crustaceans into their bright glow.

5-banded-coral-shrimp-copy

Post-larval Banded Coral Shrimp - approximately 1/2 inch

Mantis Shrimp Settling to the Reef – approximately 3/8 inch

Mantis Shrimp Settling to the Reef – approximately 3/8 inch

Post-larval Surgeonfish the Size of a Nickel

Post-larval Surgeonfish the Size of a Nickel

Two nights later sea cucumbers rise off the bottom like swaying cobras, releasing thick streams  of opaque spawn. Later we observe  a writhing cluster of Sponge Brittle Stars erupt in a shower of tiny specks. And not to be out done, another species of brittle star crawls out form crevices, rise on tiptoes, and liberates their stash of gleaming yellow eggs.

Sea Cucumber Raises Like a Cobra to Spawn

Sea Cucumber Raises Like a Cobra to Spawn

Sponge Brittle Stars Cluster to Spawn

Sponge Brittle Stars Cluster to Spawn

A Brittle Star Raises on its Tip Toes to Release Eggs

A Brittle Star Raises on its Tip Toes to Release Eggs

On night six following the full moon several heads of Giant Star Corals go into action. Male colonies spew dense jets of milky spawn, while the females eject golden globs. Finally, at 10 pm on the seventh night the long awaited mother load. We watch  wide eyed as the thousands of individual corallites encasing a four-foot mound of Lobed Star Coral begin to swell with packets. Each pinkish orb contains a mixture of male and female gametes that will rise to the surface and break apart creating a thick genetic stew. The strategy has allowed the stationary colonies to mix and remix reproductive material over the eons. After ten minutes or so, a simultaneous puff of BB-sized bundles lift free and linger briefly as one before drifting apart and ascending into the night. No matter how many times Anna and I have witnessed the spectacle, it retains an abiding sense of mystery and majesty pregnant with hope.  ~~Ned DeLoach

Male Giant Star Coral Smoking

Male Giant Star Coral Smoking

Female Giant Star Coral Releasing Egg Globs

Female Giant Star Coral Releasing Egg Globs

Egg Bundles Emerging from Lobed Star Coral

Egg Bundles Emerging from Lobed Star Coral

Lobe Star Coral Delivering the Mother Load

Lobe Star Coral Delivering the Mother Load

 

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One Response to "Coral Spawning, Sponge Spawning and Fish Spawning… A night diving bonanza in Bonaire."

  1. Bev Collins says:

    Awsome read! So much info! Thank you two for sharing your work and passion. Bev

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