Tag Archives: staghorn coral

Walking Coral Head Discovered On Blacktip Island

walking coral head

The colony of Blacktip Island walking staghorn coral, found this week by island divemasters, is the only-known specimen of the once-believed-extinct species. (photo courtesy of Gage Hoase)

A rare subspecies of staghorn coral, native solely to Blacktip Island and thought extinct for more than 30 years, was rediscovered by members of an island resort’s dive staff, island marine biologists said.

“We went to show our divers one of the only stands of staghorn on the island, and it wasn’t there,” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Gage Hoase said. “We thought some yahoo’d torn it up for a souvenir, then we spotted it—the exact, same, tangle of coral—50 feet away, about 15 feet deeper, by the drop off.

“We’d heard stories of Blacktip Island walking coral, but passed them off as a local myth,” Hoase said. “But this coral head uprooted itself, then re-rooted in a completely different place. That’s the only explanation. There was no drugs or booze in us at all.”

The discovery stunned island old-timers.

“Walking staghorn used to be all over the place here, before climate change and ocean acidification and human refuse took its toll,” island historian Smithson Atschul said. “The last known sighting was back in the early 90s. We thought it was extinct. But now, this is exciting news.

“Firstly, it tells us the environment’s healthier than we thought, if walking coral can re-establish itself,” Altschul said. “Since it moved to deeper water, that also tells us the water quality, or temperature or both are more conducive to growth at that depth. Divers’ll be looking for more coral there along the wall’s edge.”

Local biologists praised the find.

“Blacktip walking staghorn was, is, a migratory sub-species,” marine cryptobiology professor Ginger Bass said. “They can perambulate, like sea anemones, but are harder. We’ve long suspected there were colonies down deep over the wall—this is one of the most resilient corals in the world, and would never be killed off so easily.

“If you study those long, thin arms, you can see they’re made for gripping sand and substrate,” Bass said. “The corals were obviously threatened in the shallows and moved to safer waters. With this resurgence, our goal now is to install underwater video cameras all over the wall to record the migration.”

The island’s business community is promoting the coral.

“A one-of-a-kind thing like this, it’ll put us on the diving map,” the island’s Chamber of Commerce president Piers ‘Doc’ Plank said. “There’s gonna be people from all over coming to see it and film it and study it. That means lots of business for dive companies, hotels and restaurants. Well, restaurant, singular, since that’s all we have.

“We’re gonna put a fence around this bit we know about so it doesn’t wander too far away,” Plank said. “Eagle Ray Divers is also offering rebreather courses so people can go sit in the sand for hours and wait for the coral to move.”

Eagle Ray Divers is not disclosing the coral head’s location until it can be safeguarded.

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Tensions High For Blacktip Island’s Coral Bonsai Show

coral bonsai

Blacktip Island Coraliculture Society president Rupert Basslet’s staghorn coral bonsai is one of the favorites to win this year’s Coral Bonsai Show Saturday at Blacktip Island’s Pinnacle Reef. (photo courtesy of Nick Hobgood)

Security is tight above and below the water at Pinnacle Reef this week for Saturday’s Blacktip Island Coraliculture Society’s quinquennial Coral Bonsai Show.

“Last time around there was all sorts of skullduggery to make competitors’ bonsais look bad for the judging,” society president Rupert Basslet said. “Rascals silted the coral, toppled sculptures, and there was one instance of an underwater heater being placed next to a bonsai to make it bleach the day before the show.

“The coral bonsai world can be incredibly vicious,” Basslet said. “We put our collective foot down this year. We have divers with spears patrolling underwater, and spotters on shore to make sure no one slips in unnoticed.”

The show is staged every five years to allow the coral sculptures to regrow after pruning.

“Coral grows so slow you have to wait ages post-prune to see the full effect,” said show chair Chuck DelKorn. “We tried to have the show annually, but the results were not esthetically pleasing. Lots of bare limestone where the coral polyps hadn’t grown back over.

“It takes decades to get one looking right,” DelKorn said. “Most of these bonsais have been passed down from generation to generation.”

Each bonsai master has their own idiosyncratic mix of preferred tools for coral sculpting.

“Coral’s fragile. Keeping a bonsai small and trim, one tiny slip can be irreparable,” Basslet said. “I use a child’s tack hammer and set of jeweler’s screwdrivers. All it takes is a tap here, a chip there. And sometimes years go by without my doing anything to my bonsai.

“Any hard coral is eligible, but the branching species seem to catch the judges’ eyes,” Basslet said. “Though Alison Diesel won the last show with her miniature pillar coral. I think it was the extended polyps waving in the current that put her over the top.”

On shore, local businesses are bracing for the influx of coral bonsai enthusiasts the event brings to Blacktip Island.

“These fans are hard core, and the reef’s cordoned off during the judging,” said Christina Mojarra, manger of the Tail Spinner Lounge, overlooking Pinnacle Reef. “We installed underwater video cameras and doubled our number of TVs so fans can watch at the bar. Parking’s tight, so we’ll have valet parking, and a shuttle van for guests at the island’s resorts.

“They award the Golden Polyp trophy here in the dining room,” Mojarra said. “So we’re letting Dermott Bottoms and James Conlee drink free in exchange for to maintaining order. Last bonsai show the runners-up caused such a ruckus, it was a week before we could reopen.”

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Singing Coral Heads Discovered on Blacktip Island

Blue chromis school above a stand of Blacktip Island’s singing staghorn coral on Jawfish Reef. (Photo courtesy Amanda Meyer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Blue chromis school around a stand of Blacktip Island’s singing staghorn coral on Jawfish Reef. (Photo courtesy Amanda Meyer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Blacktip Island researchers this week documented coral heads on the Caribbean island’s Jawfish Reef interacting with other corals via harmonic resonance.

“There’d been tall tales from scuba divers about singing coral,” Tiperon University-Blacktip professor Ernesto Mojarra said. “On a hunch, we installed one of our new Broadband Datalogging Sound/Vibe Monitoring arrays on the reef. The BDSM tests showed the staghorn polyps flagellate to create high-frequency vibrations.

“It’s more of a high-pitched hum than actual melody,” Mojarra said. “Like Tuvan throat singing, but in the 16740 hertz range. Near as we can tell, that lets polyps communicate coral-to-coral. It also explains why more people hear the tones as the staghorn recovers from near extinction.”

The discovery settles a debate that’s raged among Blacktip’s divers for years.

“There’s always that annoying whine at Jawfish” Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Marina DeLow said. “Like The Chipmunks singing ‘Good Vibrations.’ I chalked it up to doubling up on Sudafed, or vodka hangovers. Now we know better.”

Some experts, however, dispute the finding.

“This is textbook wish fulfillment, fueled by alcohol and who knows what else,” Island Psychological Association president Sigmund Skinner said. “Every scuba hippy wants to anthropomorphize the reef. They want to believe coral flagellates to communicate, and hey! What do you know? They discover coral flagellates. And sings while it does it!”

Local business owners, however, embraced the discovery.

“If coral can communicate with other coral, it stands to reason it can communicate with other organisms, even humans” said Elena Havens, owner of the Blacktip Haven resort. “Elephants communicate over vast distances with ultra-low frequency sounds. This is really no different.

“We’ve started underwater meditation sessions on the reef,” Havens said. “The effects have been stunning. It’s like our guests have become one big polyp colony.”

Researchers, meanwhile, are scrambling to catalogue the coral sounds.

“Ernesto brought us in to decipher the individual tones and tone combinations,” TU-B linguistics department chair Porgy Chomsky said. “We’re testing whether this is simply a species-specific vocabulary, or if we’re dealing with a pancorallic semiotic. It’s potentially ground breaking. Staghorn coral’s the Chatty Kathy of the reef.”

TU-B’s Mojarra concurred.

“If these harmonics are fueling coral growth, it could be key to restoring coral populations worldwide,” Mojarra said. “We have plans to regenerate individual coral heads with recorded music. And a crack team of marine geologists is working up plans for underwater coral topiary.”


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