Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Belize: So many corals!

Aquarium coral biologist Randi Rotjan, PhD, is in Belize studying changes in the reefs off Carrie Bow Cay along with diver Sarah Taylor and aquarist Pete Gawne, both also from the Aquarium. Over the next couple weeks, they'll be posting stories from the tropics, including lots of pictures from this familiar spot. Learn about previous expeditions in 201320122011 and 2010.

Today's post comes from Sarah.

After spending many hours looking at field guides to learn coral species for this expedition, it was great to get in the water and see them in real life. Honestly, being more of a “fish person” I hadn’t given corals much consideration in the past. Now I realize what I’ve been missing! I brought my camera along for a dive so I could take pictures of some of my new favorite animals on the reef:

Here is a photo of Porites divaricata, a species of stony coral that forms finger-like branches. Isn’t it amazing that this is a colony of tiny animals growing together?

Porites divaricata, stony coral known for its finger-like branches 

And here is Diploria labyrinthiformis, a brain coral that is easily distinguished from others in its family by its characteristic double valley form. See how it looks much different from the other brain coral (Diplora strigosa) on the left? The species name labyrinthiformis seems fitting for this coral…

A bright Diploria labyrinthiformis, known for its double valley

Here is Agaricia tenuifolia, a coral that forms thin leaves that reach upwards towards the sun. It almost looks like heads of fossilized lettuce. Some of the colonies are really big - more than one meter across – and are really beautiful.

Beautiful lettuce,  Agaricia tunifolia
And finally, here is Dendrogyra cylindrus which forms tall columns (hence the species name, cylindrus.) It looks soft and fuzzy because the polyps are extended:

Dendrogyra cylindrus with its polyps extended

These are just four of the 30+ stony corals that we are monitoring for this research. I’ll explain the methods we use to gather our data in another post (I just need to take my camera along for another dive!)

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