Friday, May 9, 2014

Bahamas: Night Diving

Aquarium staff recently returned from an expedition to the Bahamas. They've been sharing pictures and stories from their time exploring the turquoise blue waters of Caribbean—complete with pictures, video, conservation notes and a taste of life on board a working boat. 

This final post from the series about a night dive comes to us from Austin, who normally cares for the shorebirds on Central Wharf.

On March 28, we completed the last dives of the trip. We did an evening dive and then a night dive at the wreck of the Sapona, which is a concrete-hulled cargo steamer that ran aground during a hurricane in 1926, and before then was used as storage for supplies of rum and whisky during Prohibition. The Sapona is always a favorite dive spot on our collecting trips.

Interior of the Sapona wreck

My favorite aspect of this dive site was the amazing invertebrates. On the night dive we saw many impressively large sea urchins and sea cucumbers. The hull of the ship was covered in corals and basket stars that are curled up and inconspicuous during the day but unfurl their branching arms at night to capture plankton. The most beautiful coral we observed on the wreck was Tubastrea, commonly called sun coral. This coral has huge yellow-orange polyps which open up at night in order to feed. You can see a fiberglass replica of this coral in the Giant Ocean Tank that looks just like the real animal.

Unfurled Tubastrea with a large urchin seen during night dive 
We also saw this awesome redeye sponge crab climbing on a column in the interior of the wreck. Sponge crabs wear a “cap” of living sponge as camouflage. They cut and shape the sponge and hold it in place with their rear legs. Sponge crabs usually hide under their sponge during the day, so this night dive was a great opportunity to check out this crustacean when it was active.

You will probably notice many white particles in the water in these clips. These particles are living plankton of all sorts that was attracted to the light from our flashlights. We scooped up some of this plankton from the water surface while we on the boat to take a closer look. We saw a fantastic diversity of tiny animals – shrimp, fast-swimming polychaete worms, amphipods and larval fishes. If you look carefully you might be able to spot a larval crab and a tiny pipefish!

The Sapona night dive was a really amazing experience and a great finale to our collecting dives.

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