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Marine Life & Conservation

Is it anenome or anemone?

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Plenty of tongue-twisting words for underwater creatures exist.  Somehow mine for most of my life was simply anemone.  Even as I write this, spell correct just corrected the word anemone.  For me, it remains a conscious effort to say or write this word correctly.  Eventually I realized my mistake but it was only after moving to Norway and while I was learning Norwegian.  I am not exactly sure why I would have ever used the word before I started to scuba dive.  Anemones were not necessarily in my conscience prior to diving, and it was in a pre-Finding Nemo era.   Even then instead of calling him an anemonefish, most people just call him a clownfish, which he is also.

Anemone, however, is not the kind of word that comes up in casual conversation, nor are you going to learn it in language class, not ever.  When you are trying to learn a new language, you will read anything to become proficient (even advertisements are suddenly interesting) but luckily, a Norwegian diving magazine exists.  One of the ways that I would work on trying to learn Norwegian was to read the magazine.  Honestly, I learned some useful words from “Dykking” and among them was anemone.  It was then that I finally learned how to really say the word in English (which is easier to pronounce in Norwegian because of the syllable accent), and if you look at the name Nemo it is in fact a part of the right way to say the word.  In my dictionary it would have been Neno, which of course makes no sense at all.

Janice 3

I really do not know how my obsession with anemones developed.  I suppose they are easy targets for photography because you can readily identify them on your own as a new diver.  And because of the anemonefish, although it is nearly impossible to take the fish photos as they constantly move.  I like the fish, but I am more enamored of the anemone.  Any kind of anemone.  I will spot anemonefish hanging midwater and feel compelled to see the anemone over which they play.  It must be entirely annoying to the dive guides who are working feverishly to find rare, micro-macroscopic creatures to show me.   At the same time, I am easy to please.  I am probably the only person who has ever shouted anemonefish (rather than whaleshark or manta) at the end of a dive on approach to the liveaboard boat.

Anyone who knows me, knows of my obsession.  “Always looking at anemones,” a guide once said to me.  But even he admitted that they are beautiful.  I am constantly taking photos of them, and yet dive guides will still humor me by pointing out even more.  Sometimes there are some simple scientific principles that I do like to test on them – for example, that color diminishes with depth-because anemones exhibit such natural variation in it.  The strobe will change this depth effect, but by the time I reach the surface, I have often forgotten what their color was at depth!  You can also test your skills at taking dramatic, abstract shots by photographing the mouth because of shadows and variation in color.   Many of these photos end up not so innocent looking though, like a giant Georgia O’Keefe painting of a flower.

The underside scientifically referred to as the column (skirt in common use) of the anemone can be the biggest photographic surprise of all.  Textures are fascinating, and colors defy your imagination.  Sometimes they are even polka-dotted.  Other times the column is wildly uncoordinated with the color of the tentacles.  Purple column, red tentacles; yes, I saw this combination in Panglao Beach in the Philippines.  How does this color combination evolve and who is this anemone trying to attract or distract?

Janice 5

But what do I really know about anemones?  Not a whole lot apparently.  I only recently discovered that they are related to coral and that like coral, they also have a symbiotic relationship with algae, one that gives them their color.  I was shocked on a second cruise to Komodo within a two-month timeframe, to find a large proportion of “white anemones”.  A cruise director informed me that they were not new anemones (because anemones are known to live a long time – as long as 100 years) but instead bleached anemones.  Bleaching is the loss of symbiotic algae, which in addition to giving anemones color, produce nutrients for them.  I am in complete awe of the array of tentacle colors (even pink, orange, and red), but the color of the column is animal pigment so it is all in the DNA of the anemone.  Not only are anemones a mini-habitat to many different crabs, shrimp, and anemonefish, but a photosynthetic factory contributes to the support of all of it.

For all of that natural beauty though, an anemone is not exactly a hospitable habitat.  Anemones are animals that sting.  They harbor special miniature harpoon-like structures called nematocysts which inject poison/toxin into the flesh of prey, predators, and even other anemones where there are territorial disputes.  The anemonefish, however, manages to live amongst the tentacles unharmed as do a variety of crustaceans.  This ability is currently attributed to the mucus covering the skin of animals, and it is thought to prevent the triggering of the nematocysts.  What magic ingredient within the mucous prevents discharge of the nematocyst remains a secret.  Where the mucus comes from is even of controversy, probably because different species of anemonefish and anemones behave differently, but the protective mucus appears to originate from either the fish or the anemone.  However, it might be a bit like superman and Planet Krypton because the mucus shield is not an all for one.  In the right anemone, fish are protected, and in the wrong one, they can be just as vulnerable as another fish.

Janice 6

How anemonefish find an anemone to live in is another question with diverse answers.  In fact, some anemonefish are less discriminating in terms of which type of anemone they can live in, whereas others have a distinct species that they inhabit.  It seems that to some degree the fish are attracted by specific chemical signals originating from the anemone and less so by visual cues.  This ability seems to be partly due to genetics, which is greatly enhanced if fertilized eggs are located within close proximity of their typical anemone home.  It is believed then that the anemone makes factors that subtly influence the eggs predisposing them to responding to the cues and thus, finding a similar home when they grow up.

When you look at an anemone, you do not have to think too much about why the fish might want to live there.  It is a beautiful house, you can easily hide in it, and if there is a real threat, the anemone can close itself around you.  But anemones also look like they could just feel nice… as long as you are able to avoid the problem of engaging the nematocysts.  Research actually shows that fish may engage in certain hedonistic behaviors.   Anemonefish in a tank, when isolated from the anemone, for example, will bathe in the bubbles originating from the aerator.  Real scientific measurements have been made, however.  Cortisol, which is an indicator of stress, is actually found to be decreased in fish that are in contact with certain tactile sensations.

Janice 7

What exactly does an anemonefish do for the anemone?  Apparently other people have had the same question (and fortunately got grant money to study it).  I had zero ideas for the answer to this question so I did what we all do, I literally typed that question into Google.com.  The first link that popped up was “Dancing Nemo: Clownfish wiggles do an anemone good”.  No joke and who could resist reading an article with a title like that?  This short paragraph led me to the real research article, which has the title “Anemonefish oxygenate their anemone hosts at night”.  The bottom line is that the movement of the fish, which are especially active at night, keeps nutrient and gas flow (oxygen) constant over the anemone.  Hmm, so maybe as an underwater photographer I may actually be helping the anemone because the fish move constantly when I try to take a photo.

Additional reasons have been proposed for why the fish is beneficial to the anemone as well.  The anemone can snack on scraps from the fish, and it is even thought that nutrients from the fish waste are also good for the anemone.  Furthermore, the fish protect the anemone from predators, that I would never have guessed, are the lovely butterfly fish.  Apparently these fish are also impervious to the stinging by anemones, and without the anemonefish, anemones are quite vulnerable in the natural coral reef habitat.  I have myself undergone direct attack by anemonefish (very scary), but I always thought they were protecting their eggs.

Janice 8

There are a thousand lessons to learn about relationships in nature just by looking at an anemone.   And I am sure there are many others that we can not see.  But this is why there has been so much research performed on them.

The fact that some very violent stuff is taking place within anemones does not change my opinion about them.  Perhaps, their beauty is also viewed by other fish, and it is one of their ways to attract prey.  It seems like that would be enough to attract me to an anemone, but maybe I was just an anenomefish in another life…

What burning question do you have about symbiotic relationships of sealife???

Janice Nigro is an avid scuba diver with a PhD in biology.  She is a scientist who has studied the development of human cancer at universities in the USA and Norway, and has discovered the benefits of artistic expression through underwater photography and story writing of her travel adventures.

Marine Life & Conservation

Caribbean Conservation in Action: Tagging Turtles in the BVI

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For centuries, the Japanese artisans have used hawksbill turtle shells to make a variety of trinkets such as eyewear, combs and cigar boxes. By the 1800’s, a fad had spread to the America’s and Europe to obtain hawksbill shells and green turtle soup had become a delicacy around the world. It wasn’t until the late 1970s when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the body that regulates cross-border trade in wildlife banned the international commercial trade of sea turtles and in 1978, the United States banned the intentional killing of all sea turtles under the Endangered Species Act.

However, In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Japan tried to lift restrictions under CITES to reopen the trade of hawksbill turtle shells with Cuba. Because sea turtles are a regionally shared resource due to their highly migratory range over an individual’s lifetime, many Caribbean countries became concerned that Japan and Cuba’s proposal would undermine some of the long-standing conservation efforts that had already been implemented. This prompted the United Kingdom to launch the Turtles of the UK Overseas Territories (TCOT) project in 2001 to address critical gaps in the knowledge of marine turtle populations found in all their Caribbean territories (Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman, Montserrat and Turks & Caicos Islands).

Although the BVI was already monitoring nesting leatherback sea turtles, this 3-year UK-funded project brought a new dimension to turtle monitoring to the BVI and other UK Territories. In-water turtle tagging of foraging populations commenced which identified healthy populations of juvenile to sub-adult (teenage) green and hawksbill turtles in the BVI. Through genetic sampling of those turtles tagged, green turtles were identified as coming from as far away as Ascension Island, Venezuela and Costa Rica with hawksbills coming from Brazil, Barbados, and Cuba. Subsequently, some of the tagged turtles have migrated from the BVI on to their adult foraging grounds and travelled as far as Nicaragua, Bonaire and Guadeloupe.

Although the TCOT project ended many years ago, in-water turtle tagging of foraging populations continued over the years. Now, with an extensive baseline of information and a growing need for changes in local sea turtle management, the BVI was awarded a Darwin Plus grant worth over US$300k from the UK’s Overseas Territories Environment & Climate Fund in June 2020. This newly implemented STEEL Project (Sustainable turtles, environments, economies & livelihoods) is aimed to ramp up tagging efforts to better understand changes in the status of BVI turtles based on nearly 20 years of data collected. Additionally, foraging turtle habitats will be assessed on how to build resiliency in areas that were impacted by the 2017 hurricane events. An educational programme to provide the community with a better local understanding of turtle conservation will be implemented and, using the MCS Community Voice Method (CVM) of engagement, the project will engage BVI communities to develop new legislation recommendations and a conservation action plan to safeguard BVI’s turtle populations for future generations.

The STEEL Project is being led by the Marine Conservation Society UK alongside local organisation, the Association of Reef Keepers (ARK) and partnerships with the BVI Government’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration. Additionally, local dive and tour operators such as Sail Caribbean Divers are participating in the project by providing boats and assisting local turtle scientists in capturing, tagging and releasing of sea turtles.

For more information see www.bviark.org

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Marine Life & Conservation

Beers raise cash for ocean clean-up

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The Driftwood Spars Brewery, a pioneering microbrewery based on the North Cornwall coast, is donating a percentage of all profits from its Cove range of beers to Fathoms Free, a certified charity which actively cleans the ocean around the Cornish peninsula.

Each purchase of the small-batch, craft beers – there are four different canned beers in the Cove range – will help generate funds to purchase a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and fund retrieval dives; every brew will raise the equivalent cost of a fully-funded dive. 

Fathoms Free is a Cornwall-based charity whose day-to-day mission involves dives from their fast-response specialist vessel to recover ghost fishing gear; abandoned nets, pots, angling equipment and other plastic causes severe damage to the marine environment and the death of countless seabirds, seals, dolphins and other sea life.

The campaign to raise funds for an ROV is a new initiative which will take the clean-up work to a new level; the highly manoeuvrable underwater vehicle will be used to scour the seabed, harbours and remote parts of the coastline for abandoned fishing gear and other marine litter.

Project Manager Natallia Paliakova from Fathoms Free said: “Apart from helping us locate ghost gear underwater, the ROV will also be capable of recording underwater video which is always great for raising awareness about marine pollution issues.”

She added: “We are really excited to be partnering with The Driftwood Spars Brewery and appreciate the proactive support of Mike and his team in bringing the purchase of an ROV a step closer to reality.”

Head Brewer Mike Mason personally approached the charity after their work was featured on the BBC 2 documentary, ‘Cornwall with Simon Reeve’.    

He said: “As a keen surfer I am only too aware of the problem of marine litter and had heard about Fathoms Free, but seeing them in action prompted me to find a way of contributing. The scale of the challenge is scary, but the determination of organisations like Fathoms Free is inspiring.”

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

The Driftwood Spars Brewery was founded in 2000 in Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes; the microbrewery is just a few steps away from it’s co-joined brewpub, The Driftwood Spars; both pub and brewery are well-regarded far beyond the Cornish cove they call home. 

You can hear the waves and taste the salt on the air from the door of both brewery and pub, and the rough seas along the rugged North coast often throw up discarded nets and other detritus; Louise Treseder, Landlady of The Driftwood Spars and a keen sea swimmer, often collects washed up ghost gear on her daily beach excursions.     

Louise commented: “This is a great partnership to support a cause close to our hearts – I know the money we raise will have a positive and lasting impact. The Cove range was inspired by our unique surroundings and the artwork – by local artist Jago Silver – reflects that. Now donations from each purchase will contribute towards the vital ocean clean-up taking place right on our doorstep.”

The Cove range can currently be purchased online here, and is available in good independent bottle shops in Cornwall.

To find out more about Fathoms Free visit their website here.

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