Monday, October 4, 2010

A revelation revisited

Today we reached the Source. The lushest, most vibrant and colorful coral reefs in Fiji: the dominion of Vatu-i-Ra. Work on fluorescence was put on hold to examine, study and remember what a reasonably healthy west Pacific coral reef looks like. Spilled paint of all colors, crazed architects gone wild in the countryside, Disney denizens of sea-bottom grottoes.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

At a site called Cat's Meow I came full circle, returning to the place where colleagues and I began to study the beautiful Fiji clownfish Amphiprion barberi (Allen, Drew, Kaufman, 2008), a species that we ultimately discovered to be unique to Fiji, the first of a great many.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

In a small clearing atop a jewel-studded pinnacle and surrounding by dense coral branches are clumps of day-glo red bubble-tipped anemones. In the anemones cavorted three different species of clownfishes, including the aforementioned Fiji clownfish--recently described by two colleagues and myself. Seven or eight years ago I worked the top of this very pinnacle to hand catch six red clownfish in order to clip bits of tissue off their fins to determine whether they were a new or a known species. Each fish was then gently replaced in its home anemone.

(Photo: Stacy Jupiter)

Boston University graduate student Joshua Drew performed the ensuing tedious laboratory work on clownfish genetics. The results? The Fiji clownfish was sufficiently distinct in appearance and genetics to merit being known to science under a new species name.

There are probably many new fish species yet to be discovered here in Fiji. However, these may remain obscure except to a few frequent divers unless more young scientists join the thinning ranks of taxonomists: the bibliographers of life on earth. Very few young scientists are going into this field, yet aided by powerful new digital tools the capacity to identify species and the urgency of doing so have never been greater. We are in danger of losing most of life on earth before even knowing it was ever there.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Tonight’s night dive was used to extend the exploration of fluorescence patterns in Fiji’s corals. (I dare not commit here). Bailey compared (via excessive whining) the process to a form of torture, involving the use of a pulsing blue light, listening for the signal of the camera, bright twin strobes lights blasting, followed by stunned darkness. He alleges that all involved had migraine headaches by the 20th minute of the dive.

-Les Kaufman PhD

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the info and research - I've posted an excerpt here: