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The Real Enemy of the Coral Reef

October 2nd, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments


An excellent piece in the Independent shows how the true enemy of the coral reef is not climate change – although of course this is a contributory factor – but a particular coral eating starfish.

I had a wonderful time a couple of years ago snorkelling off the Belize coral reef, the longest in the Western Hemisphere and one of the most unspoilt in the world;  Charles Darwin described it as ‘the most remarkable reef in the West Indies’.


I had snorkelled before, off Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles which has some of the best walk-in snorkelling in the world. But this was altogether more satisfying, slipping from the side of a sailing boat into some nameless section of the reef, and seeing one’s fellow passengers transformed into weightless and floating mer-folk swimming with the fishes.


And what fishes:  large shoals of blue tang floating over and around the elkhorn coral;  yellow snapper and the striped school-master fish;  Nassau groupers and the odd pork fish as loners within the group;  a peacock flounder near the bottom.  And then the sting rays, swimming in majesty and leisure, or burrowing down into the sand, the best possible reason never to rest your flipper on the seabed if you could possibly help it.


At one point I felt someone swimming along beside me and turned to see which member of the group it might be, only to find a spotted eagle ray calmly keeping pace at almost arms length, the largest of the stingrays after the manta.


Much of the reef was still healthy compared to some of the deterioration that coral had experienced worldwide as sea temperatures rose.  But there was still a sense of elegy, a feeling that if I returned in ten, twenty, let alone another thirty years time I might not be able to see delicate blue damselfish nibbling around the polyps, the fan coral waving in the current or the squiggles of brain coral clustered on the bottom.


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