ABOUT

Avid outdoorsman and underwater photographer, Barry Brown has spent the last 12 years documenting life above and below water in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. He is currently working with the Smithsonian Institution documenting new Caribbean deep-water species and building a one of a kind database. His underwater images can regularly be seen in Sport Diver, Scuba Diver and on the Ikelite website. His image of a "Collage of Corals" seen under blue-light at night recently placed in the TOP 10 images for the 2014 NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) photo contest.

General

Archive for the ‘Endangered Species’

Jul 18, 17     Comments Off on Endangered Corals, Endangered Staghorn Coral, Corals

Here’s one very healthy colony of super endangered staghorn coral for you all today straight from the reefs of Bonaire. If you look closely at the two fish in the middle of the photo the little greyish blue damselfish is chasing away a much larger stoplight parrotfish that has ventured into his nesting/living area. I have written for years what aggressive little fish these are and apparently they fear nothing, I have seen them chase off everyone including divers.

Have to run..

Barry

Sep 30, 16     Comments Off on Endangered Corals, Elkhorn Coral Polyps Macro
Aug 9, 16     Comments Off on Endangered Elkhorn Corals, Healthy Corals
Aug 5, 16     Comments Off on Endangered Corals, Endangered Staghorn Corals
Jul 21, 16     Comments Off on New Healthy Staghorn Corals, Endangered Coral

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Good morning friends, while out searching the reefs last week I encountered a new area full of endangered Staghorn corals and they are beautiful! I ended up finding around 30 little patches or colonies and they are all looking great, this is a super endangered coral!

The dominant mode of reproduction for staghorn corals is asexual, with new colonies forming when branches break off a colony and reattach to the substrate. This life history trait allows rapid population recovery from physical disturbances such as storms. However, it makes recovery from disease or bleaching episodes (where entire colonies or even entire stands are killed) very difficult.

Sexual reproduction is via broadcast spawning of gametes into the water column once each year in August or September. Individual colonies are both male and female (simultaneous hermaphrodites) and will release millions of gametes. The coral larvae (planula) live in the plankton for several days until finding a suitable area to settle; unfortunately, very few larvae survive to settle and metamorphose into new colonies. The preponderance of asexual reproduction in this species raises the possibility that genetic diversity in the remnant populations may be very low. These uncertainties as to recruitment/recovery potential and genetic status are the bases for increased demographic concerns for this species.

Since 1980, populations have collapsed throughout their range from disease outbreaks (primarily White band disease), with losses compounded locally by hurricanes, increased predation, bleaching, and other factors. This species is also particularly susceptible to damage from sedimentation and sensitive to temperature and salinity variation. Populations have declined by up to 98% throughout the range, and localized extirpations have occurred.

I’m out…

Barry

Dec 13, 13     Comments Off on Diving with Endangered Hawksbill Turtle in Bonaire
Nov 25, 13     Comments Off on Endangered Elkhorn Corals, Fragile/Delicate Hard Corals

Good morning from Curacao, how was your weekend out there???? Mine was two days of non-stop fun from start to finish! Saturday morning I met Dorian and Stijn plus about 20 other riders for a three hour mountain bike ride to Porto Mari and back starting at Piscadera Centrum. The goal of the morning was to pre-ride this coming weekends “Curacao Extreme” course which is a team event that I will be doing with Dorian who is only 13. We will be doing the 60k race while Stijn and his team-mate are racing the 80k loop. The race course is a mixture of trails and road and should take around two and a half to three hours to finish. Our ride Saturday was more of a fun ride and we had to stop quite a bit to let others in the group catch up and we ended up finishing in around three hours, a long time to be sitting in the saddle! One of the best parts of this ride Saturday was learning about new trails that I never knew existed and will going back soon with Aimee and the dogs to do some more exploring.

On Sunday I left the house at 6:30 in the morning with the dogs and a whole lot of water and went to work on the new mountain bike trail that I started a month or two ago. At around 7:30 Stijn surprised me by showing up and with his help we got a lot done in two hours. At one point the trail work came to an abrupt halt as the shrub I was about to cut through had a nest in it with two new bird eggs. We quietly backed up and I made a temporary trail around the nest and just continued building the trail behind it, we will wait until the babies are hatched before we mess with that area. As we continued to work the momma bird, a beautiful little dove, came back and laid on the eggs the whole time and could have cared less about the dogs or us walking by. Later in the day Stijn and I went back and even took a photo of the two little eggs in the nest but because of the sun now shining on the eggs momma was not to be seen, would still like a photo of her sitting on them. At around 11:00 Stijn and I went for a dive and carried with us some plastic bottles attached to strings to mark some of the corals I shot the other night with the blue-lights. The goal for this week, starting tonight is to start marking the corals we shoot with blue-light and go back later with normal white light and re-photograph them so every out there in cyber-land can see a before and after photo, great idea right??

So I had a few folks ask me this week or actually wondering just how shallow the Elkhorn corals live and why they are in so much danger. I think the deepest Elkhorn corals we have on the Sea Aquarium reef is at around 20 feet and most of the others are at 10-15 feet. The corals in the shallows do much better than the deeper ones as they seem to love an area with constant water movement meaning the love areas with waves passing directly overhead with plenty of circulation. Most of these corals are in water that is so shallow that even just snorkeling through them or over them can cause them severe damage! I can’t even tell you how many times I have seen a person accidentally kick a coral with their fins, they break so easily! The #1 biggest threat to these fragile corals at the moment is global warming. If the temperature in the ocean changes by just a few degrees the corals start to bleach and if it gets too warm they will die! We also have the constant threat of storms which has destroyed countless endangered elkhorn colonies, they love normal waves passing overhead but only to certain extent, if they are too big the delicate arms will break. Once an arm breaks new colonies can re-grow from these broken pieces but those broken chunks must quickly get wedged tight into the reef and not move in order to grow, otherwise if it’s moving around it will die. So besides global warming, storms, human impact and coral diseases, we also have runoff which here in Curacao is almost as bad as changing water temperatures. We have two kinds of runoff here, one is raw sewage being pumped into the ocean and the other is caused from tropical downpours. During a big rain think about how much silt and sand, human contaminates, trash and especially gas and oils get washed into the sea, it’s unbelievable! After any big rain here in Curacao the ocean turns into a muddy mess and if you were to look underwater you would see all that sediment falling onto our delicate coral reefs! My wife and I have spent countless dives “fanning corals” after the big storms trying to remove as much sand off the top of them as we can but really it’s like to trying to rid the ocean of lionfish!!

I have to run, need to get registered for the big race this weekend.

Have a great day all, Barry

Nov 10, 13     Comments Off on Live and Dead Endangered Elkhorn Coral Colonies

Good morning from wet Curacao, it looks like our rainy season has arrived and is here to stay! So how was your weekend out there?? Mine was consumed with building my new mountain bike trail around the salt pond area in Jan Theil and I can proudly say I got a lot done! Now that the rains have started our ponds will quickly rise which means many of the trails we ride weekly will soon be underwater. So what I have been trying to do for years is put in a trail above the water line that will keep us all out exercising even if the floods come! The hardest part of this project is getting through the brush here, it’s about as unforgiving as it gets because everything has thorns!! When I walked into work this morning everyone asked if I was attacked by a wild cat because of the insane amount of cuts and scratches on my body, and you can bet I’m not looking forward to getting into the salt water today!

Here’s a crazy story for you all today, a friend of ours was sailing along the coast on their way back from Klein Curacao, about a mile offshore and they came across a swimming dog???? Can you believe it??? They quickly pulled the dog in and from what I last heard he is doing very well, one of our dolphin trainers adopted it!! We all are guessing it fell off some boat but who knows, talk about something you would never think of seeing out in the ocean!!

Here are two photos of Elkhorn coral for you all today that I found on my last trip to East point. The top photo shows a beautiful healthy colony and the bottom photo shows a dead colony flipped upside down during one of the many storms we have had here. If you look carefully at the top photo you will see the reef floor is completely littered with dead Elkhorn skeletons!! Crazy huh?? These beautiful corals are so fragile and can only survive in shallow water which means they get a lot of abuse! Storms are the main cause of breakage and coral death here in the Caribbean but they also have to survive dropping boat anchors, fishing line, divers and snorkelers, runoff from topside pollutants, drastic water temperature changes which cause coral bleaching and small coral predators like coral eating snails and different algae’s, it’s no wonder this stuff is on the endangered list! Many times after a big storm we see the broken Elkhorn pieces/arms laying on the reef, if these pieces get wedged into the reef just right and they don’t move around from the passing waves/surge overhead they will start to regrow again and believe it or not this happens pretty fast. The only positive thing to come from these big broken pieces that don’t survive is they will now become home to so many different species of invertebrates and small fish, it’s like a coral condominium with so many places to hide. When I first found the upside down colony (bottom photo) I swam in close and looked inside and saw it was filled with all kinds of medium sized fish, I mean what a perfect home!

Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) is considered to be one of the most important reef-building corals in the Caribbean. This species is structurally complex with many large branches. The coral structure closely resembles that of elk antlers. These branches create habitats for many other reef species, such as lobsters, parrot-fish, snapper shrimps and other reef fish. Elkhorn coral colonies are incredibly fast-growing, with an average growth rate of 5 to 10 cm (2.0 to 3.9 in) per year and can eventually grow up to 3.7 m (12 ft) in diameter. The color of this coral species ranges from brown to a yellowish-brown as a result of the symbiotic zooxanthellae living inside the tissue of this coral species. Zooxanthellae are a type of algae which photosynthesize to provide the coral with nutrients. The zooxanthellae are also capable of removing waste products from the coral. Historically, the majority of elkhorn coral reproduction has occurred asexually; this occurs when a branch of the coral breaks off and attaches to the substrate, forming a new colony, known as fragmentation. The degree to which local stands reproduce by fragmentation varies across the Caribbean, but on average, 50% of colonies are the result of fragmentation rather than sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction occurs once a year in August or September when coral colonies release millions of gametes by broadcast spawning.

As many of you know in 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity requested the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) place all Elkhorn Coral (Acropora Palmata) on the Endangered Species list. In 2005, NMFS decided that Elkhorn coral qualified as an Endangered Species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. On May 4, 2006 Elkhorn coral and Staghorncoral (Acropora Cervicornis) were officially placed on the Endangered Species List.

Busy day ahead, keep your eyes on www.seesubmarine.com and you might see us today!!

See you tomorrow, Barry

Oct 11, 13     Comments Off on Endangered Corals, Elkhorn Coral, Acropora palmata
Aug 2, 13     Comments Off on Goliath Grouper, Endangered Fish, Giant Sea-Bass

Good morning from quiet Curacao. I have so many people ask me what it’s like living on a Caribbean island and my reply is always the same, “it’s like being on vacation every day”!

I have a monster fish for you all today called a Goliath Grouper or Epinephelus itajara that has been spotted at dive sites around Curacao in the past six months!!

The Atlantic goliath grouper or itajara (Epinephelus itajara), formerly named and still commonly referred to as the jewfish, is a large saltwater fish of the grouper family found primarily in shallow tropical waters among coral and artificial reefs at depths from 5 to 50 m (16 to 160 ft). Its range includes the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, most of the Caribbean, and practically all of the Brazilian coast as well as in Azores, where they are known as mero. On some occasions, it is caught in New England off Maine and Massachusetts. In the eastern Atlantic Ocean, it occurs from Congo to Senegal.

Young Atlantic goliath grouper may live in brackish estuaries, canals, and mangrove swamps, unusual behavior among groupers.They may reach extremely large sizes, growing to lengths of up to 3 m and can weigh as much as 360 kg (790 lb). The world record for a hook and line-captured specimen is 309 kg (680 lb), caught off Fernandina Beach, Florida, in 1961. They are usually around 180 kg when mature. Considered of fine food quality, Atlantic goliath grouper were a highly sought-after quarry for fishermen. The grouper’s inquisitive and generally fearless nature makes it a relatively easy prey for spear fishermen. They also tend to spawn in large aggregations, returning like clockwork to the same locations, making them particularly vulnerable to mass harvesting. Until a harvest ban was placed on the species, its population was in rapid decline. The fish is entirely protected from harvest and is recognized as a critically endangered species by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The US began protection in 1990, and the Caribbean in 1993. The species’ population has been recovering since the ban; with the fish’s slow growth rate, however, it will take some time for populations to return to their previous levels. Many conservationists are concerned that size-selective harvesting (seeking large fish and throwing back the small ones) may have inadvertently selected for smaller size, and fish of the size encountered so often in the mid-20th century may be lost forever.

Goliath grouper eat crustaceans, other fish, octopuses, young sea turtles, sharks, and barracuda.

Have a wonderful day, Barry

Jun 10, 13     Comments Off on Endangered Staghorn Coral, Acropora cervicornis
May 17, 13     Comments Off on Hawksbill Turtle, Endangered Species, Sea Turtles

It’s Friday gang!! I have a 40k mountain bike race on Sunday which starts at 2:00 in the afternoon and for those of you living here you know how stupid that is!! By 2:00 on most days here in Curacao it’s in the 100 degree range so that should be fun???

On yesterdays dive we came across this very majestic, very endangered, Hawksbill Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata at around 85 feet out in front of the Substation on our very own reef. We have seen this guy quite a bit but I never have the right lens on my camera and for once I did. The hawksbill turtle grows to lengths of 3.5 feet long and weights of up to 180 pounds. Hawksbill turtles were named for the shape of their beak, which looks similar to the beak of a bird like an eagle, parrot or hawk just to name a few.

Recent studies showed that 95% of a hawksbill’s diet is made up of sponges. In the Caribbean, these turtles feed on more than 300 sponge species. This is an interesting food choice as sponges have a skeleton made of needle-shaped spicules (made of silica, which is glass, calcium or protein), which essentially means, a hawksbill’s stomach is filled with small glass shards. And although sponges are their favorite food they also eat sea squirts, soft corals, shellfish, sea-grasses and seaweeds.

A female Hawksbill turtle can travel up to 2400 kilometers (1500 miles) between feeding and breeding grounds. They only breed once every two to four years but during the breeding season they may nest up to six times, laying about 130 eggs in each clutch. The sex of the hatchlings depends on the temperature in the nest.

After hatching, the baby turtles swim out to sea for several days. They then spend the next five to ten years drifting around in surface waters at the mercy of ocean currents, and they feed mainly on plankton. They are often found in huge rafts of drifting sargassum, a type of brown seaweed, where they are probably best able to hide from potential predators. Once they reach lengths of 30 or 40 centimeters they settle in one particular area around coral or rocky reef.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, I have tons to as usual including going to another beach-cleanup at Caracas baai.

See you soon, Barry

Mar 12, 13     Comments Off on Dead Hawksbill Turtle, Endangered Animals, Sea Turtles
Good morning readers, here’s something we hate to see and makes me feel sick every time I see one, a dead Hawksbill sea turtle! This was found on the East side of Klein Curacao just a few weeks ago when Nancy was here but I had actually found it a week or so before that. The last time we were on the island with the submarine I found this recently dead animal floating in the water and dropped everything to drag it’s shell onto shore and then the plan was to come back with a camera at a later date. How did it die you ask?? Good question, my two guesses are it either got hit by a boat or local fisherman caught it and ate it, I guess we will never know. Aimee and I have found many turtles along the shores here that have been caught and used for food, the word endangered means nothing here as it does around the World. The weirdest thing about this is the way the head is sticking out of it’s back, talk about eerie!! In the nine years we have been here we have noticed a major decline in these turtles, we just don’t see them very much anymore and at this rate the numbers will continue to fall.
 
The hawksbill turtle grows to lengths of 3.5 feet long and weights of up to 180 pounds. Hawksbill turtles were named for the shape of their beak, which looks similar to the beak of a bird like an eagle, parrot or hawk just to name a few.
Recent studies showed that 95% of a hawksbill’s diet is made up of sponges. In the Caribbean, these turtles feed on more than 300 sponge species. This is an interesting food choice as sponges have a skeleton made of needle-shaped spicules (made of silica, which is glass, calcium or protein), which essentially means, “a hawksbill’s stomach is filled with small glass shards.” And although sponges are their favorite food they also eat sea squirts, soft corals, shellfish, sea-grasses and seaweeds.
A female Hawksbill turtle can travel up to 2400 kilometers (1500 miles) between feeding and breeding grounds. They only breed once every two to four years but during the breeding season they may nest up to six times, laying about 130 eggs in each clutch. The sex of the hatchlings depends on the temperature in the nest.

After hatching, the baby turtles swim out to sea for several days. They then spend the next five to ten years drifting around in surface waters at the mercy of ocean currents, and they feed mainly on plankton. They are often found in huge rafts of drifting sargassum, a type of brown seaweed, where they are probably best able to hide from potential predators. Once they reach lengths of 30 or 40 centimeters they settle in one particular area around coral or rocky reef.

Well, busy day ahead, we have two sub dives to start the day!!

See you tomorrow, Barry

 

 

May 17, 12     Comments Off on Divers with Turtles, Hawksbill Turtles, Bonaire
This is a beautiful Hawksbill Turtle we found on the East coast of Bonaire a few years back and lucky Jen (diver with light) got to swim right alongside. The Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a critically endangered sea turtle belonging to the family cheloniidae. It is the only species in its genus.  The species has a worldwide distribution, with Atlantic and Pacific subspecies. 
 
The hawksbill’s appearance is similar to that of other marine turtles.  It has a generally flattened body shape, a protective carapace, and flipper-like arms, adapted for swimming in the open ocean.E. imbricata is easily distinguished from other sea turtles by its sharp, curving beak with prominent tomium, and the saw-like appearance of its shell margins.  Hawksbill shells slightly change colors, depending on water temperature.  While this turtle lives part of its life in the open ocean, it spends more time in shallow lagoons and coral reefs where it feeds on its primary prey, sea sponges.  Some of the sponges eaten by E. imbricata are lethally toxic to other organisms.  In addition, the sponges that hawksbills eat usually contain high concentrations of silica, making them one of few animals capable of eating siliceous organisms. They also feed on other invertebrates, such as comb jellies and jellyfish. 
 
Today is a big Curacao holiday and it’s an official day off. I most likely will go into work and dive with the dolphins again, it’s just too much fun!
 
Have a wonderful day all, Barry
Feb 23, 12     Comments Off on Coralliophila abbreviata, Elkhorn Coral Eating Snails

Good morning friends, I found these coral-eating-snails the other day attacking this Elkhorn Coral so I did what any concerned diver would/should do, I stopped to help. Elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, was once the most abundant stony coral on shallow reef crests and fore-reefs of the Caribbean and Florida reef tract. In the Florida Keys, this fast-growing coral with its thick antler-like branches formed extensive habitat for fish and marine invertebrates. By the early 1990s, Elkhorn coral had experienced widespread losses throughout its range. A similar trend was seen in a close relative, staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis. Multiple factors are thought to have contributed to coral declines, including impacts from hurricanes, coral disease, mass coral bleaching, climate change, coastal pollution, over-fishing, and damage from boaters and divers. In 2006, the two species were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The recovery strategy, developed by NOAA Fisheries, included designating critical habitats in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and called for further investigations into the factors that prevent natural recovery of the species. One of the main predators of Elkhorn coral include coral eating snails Coralliophila abbreviata, as seen here below. They tend to congregate in groups of 2-20 starting at the base of the coral eating their way to the top. These snails here were so embedded into the coral that I had to dig them out with a knife and once gone they left these terrible deep wounds which were completely white and open. I felt so bad for this coral that was under attack that I spent the whole dive removing every single one of them, I think I dug out at least 100! I then picked them up from the ground and swam them away from the corals and dropped them in the sand. Other predators such as the bearded fireworm and damselfish are also a main concern, both can do great damage to these endangered corals. Predation by these organisms reduces the corals growth and ability to reproduce. Predation can eventually lead to the death of the coral colony.

Our friend Arjan and Rixt arrived in Curacao yesterday after being gone for a few years, it was great to see them again! Arjan used to be my old riding buddy and you can bet we will be out tearing it up this week!

Aimee had a great Birthday, it started with a two hour hike along the coast with Emily and the dogs, then they went snorkeling, shopping and dinner at 7:00.
 
That’s about it, I have three dives again today with the sub and I was supposed to do a photo shoot with two Swedish girls in bikini’s but not sure if there will be time. See you soon, Barry

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