Blacktip Island scuba divers are blaming the island’s French angelfish for inciting a swim-off strike involving all the fish at all the Caribbean island’s dive sites. (photo courtesy of Barry Peters)
Scuba divers on Blacktip Island reefs Wednesday and Thursday were surprised to find the dive sites empty of reef fish, in what experts are calling a cross-species protest.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner. “As of yesterday morning it was hard to find any fish at all, and the ones you did see would taunt you, then dart away.
“It started with the French angelfish turning tail on photographers,” Latner said. “Then all the other fish followed suit. Guests thought it was funny at first, but now everyone’s pissed off. Every photo from today has been of bare coral or a fish’s butt. Even the sea slugs are hiding under the coral heads.”
Local marine biologists say the phenomenon is likely a form of piscine protest.
“Based on what data we have, our working theory is the fish are consciously spurning divers due to an environmental stressor,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip biology professor Ernesto Mojarra. “It happens a lot. You just don’t hear about it.
“Given the hostility displayed toward photographers, most likely the fish are tired of underwater strobes flashing in their faces all day,” Mojarra said. “They’ve made no demands yet. That we know of. They can be difficult to read, but we have our best biologists on site to mediate.”
Local resort owners, though, are not waiting patiently.
“I don’t care what they’re hacked off about, this is killing my business,” Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “It figures it’s the French angelfish behind it. Those bastards are always starting trouble.
“They demanded vacation time last year,” Bottoms said. “Got the idea from the grouper, who take off for a week on the spawning grounds every winter. Now all the other fish want entitlements. We need to cut them loose and bring in new fish who’ll be grateful to have a reef like this. You think the lionfish won’t jump at the chance?”
Experts, however, warned such action could escalate into violence.
“This morning a multi-species school circled Hammerhead Reef for hours,” Mojarra said. “A bunch of barracuda watched, but didn’t join in. If the barras, or the sharks, get involved, things could get ugly. Fast.
“We need to rachet things down a notch,” Mojarra said. “Banning cameras and strobes from the dive sites would be a good start. It’s drastic, but that good-faith gesture could be the thing that resolves this.”
While most guests were angered by the lack of marine life, some were unexpectedly supportive.
“I came here to look at the fish, sure, but it’s their right to not hang with divers,” said Blacktip Haven guest Maxie Fondé. “They’re wild animals, after all.
“Big picture, I support what they’re doing,” Fondé said. “I mean, if I don’t stand up for their rights, who, or what, will stand up for mine when the time comes?”