By Wei and Teddy
On May 16, 2019
Our study abroad trip to Curacao has given us the opportunity to explore the vast biodiversity of coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea. There were three species of fish that we observed with particular interest: the Peacock Flounder (Bothus lunatus), the Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans), and the Western Atlantic Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus). The three species we observed each had their own behaviors that emulated patterns discussed in the textbook.
The observed Peacock Flounder was interesting for camouflaging itself within the sand. Its blue rings stuck out, making it easy to spot. However, the rings were most likely used to blend in with rocks and abstract light reflections in the water. According to the textbook, Peacock Flounders are ambush predators that tend to defend their territory from other males. If threatened, they will attempt to hide underneath the sand or remain stationary, hoping for the threat to go away. With our encounter with the fish, the textbook’s description was similar to what was seen. The fish was not alarmed by our presence most likely because it did not want to give away its location.
The lionfish also ambush their prey but the behavior is nocturnal. They move slowly through the water column by gently waving their fins, conserving energy in the process. It was interesting finding the fish hiding at the bottom of coral rocks, enacting behaviors as described in the textbook. A recently introduced invasive species from the Pacific Ocean, it is difficult to remove the lionfish from Atlantic coral ecosystems due to the lack of natural predators. Its defensive, venomous spines and slow mobility made the lionfish secure enough to be in our presence.
The Western Atlantic Trumpetfish are slow, docile creatures that also boast similar feeding methods to the previously stated fish. They spend their days facing their slender bodies towards the sand bottom, waiting for the moment to strike when an unlucky fish swims below their vacuum-like mouths. However, they also need to change locations to gather the most food possible. The Trumpetfish we observed showed behavior that deviated away from our knowledge about the fish’s feeding methods. Swimming along the water column, the trumpetfish we encountered was possibly searching for a new area of corals to continue gathering food. As we approached the fish, it grew more anxious, eventually fleeing as we reached an arms-length distance.
Being able to study and observe these fish in their natural environments makes the understanding of marine organisms immersive and interesting. The trip so far has made our learning experience of the coral reef environment more personal than a lecture could ever teach.
The authors of this blog are students enrolled in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, field courses run in the Caribbean by the University of South Florida. During these courses, students learn scientific diving techniques over a 10-14 day period and carry out research and monitoring of coral reefs at various sites. Many of these courses are done in partnership with local environmental organizations, like the Union Island Environmental Alliance and the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.