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Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

(How To Grow) A Floating Forest

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

In order to understand what’s going on in the video, you’re going to want to read the post below!

One of the most innovative, practical, and functional coral nurseries on the planet can be found just a few miles off the shores of Key Largo. The nursery consists of thousands of neatly organized colonies of the critically important staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) grown by the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) for the purpose of transplantation back to the reef. Staghorn corals have been decimated by disease and extreme weather here in Florida over the past 30 years, resulting in a seriously degraded reef ecosystem. Fortunately the CRF has developed methods that maximize the growth potential of these corals in their nursery, demonstrating that coral aquaculture is a realistic and effective way to restore beleaguered wild populations.

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‘Unidentified Ricordea Shrimp #1’

Monday, January 4th, 2010

‘Unidentified Ricordea Shrimp #1’
Unidentified commensal shrimp on Ricordea florida corallimorphs
Music, Video, and Aquarium
2010 Coral Morphologic

Shown above is the first documented video of a currently unidentified shrimp commensal with Ricordea florida corallimorphs. The nearly invisible shrimp measures only 9mm in total length. The ricordea polyp is about 30mm in diameter for comparison. We first reported and photographed this shrimp in October 2009. Subsequently, we sent a preserved specimen to taxonomist Dr. Richard Heard at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. Dr. Heard was unable to match the specimen with a described shrimp species. We will be sending additional specimens in the near future to confirm this shrimp’s newness to science.

Unidentified Caribbean Palythoa sp.

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Unidentified Palythoa sp.

Unidentified ‘Butterfly’ Palthoas.

Recently while diving off of Key West, I was fortunate to come upon a rare and unidentified species of Palythoa.   This was the first time that I have come upon this type in five years of frequent diving throughout the Florida Keys.  Apparently it is less rare elsewhere in the Caribbean, but as of now has yet to be properly identified by a zoanthid taxonomist.  On its particular patch of reef it was relatively abundant, despite being completely absent in seemingly identical reefs in the surrounding area.  And while it might seem logical that it only takes one lucky zoanthid larvae to ultimately colonize a large area, it seems that there were at least 2 separate morphs cohabiting the area, which makes its  complete absence from other nearby reefs compelling.  And while Caribbean Palythoa display morphologies that seem to overlap, these particular Palythoa have a few traits that make it noticeably distinct:

  • Small size (1/4″-3/8″ disc diameter)
  • Translucent oral disc, often with teal-bluish iridescent sheen
  • Distinctive white splotch, often butterfly shaped
  • Eyelash-like tentacles

But considering that the morphologies of Caribbean Palythoa species seem to blur together, genetic analysis will be the most reliable way to determine species-hood. Fortunately our friend James Reimer is a zoanthid expert in Japan’s Ryuku Islands with access to such equipment and expertise.  In addition to sending him samples of this Palythoa morph, we will also include a variety of other local Palythoa morphs to see just how distinct the individual species are.

Unidentified Commensal Ricordea Shrimp

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Unidentified Ricordea Shrimp

Pictured above is a very tiny (10mm) shrimp that lives commensally with Ricordea florida polyps.

Over the past several years I have occasionally encountered fleeting glimpses of tiny shrimp that live amongst the pseudo-tentacles of Ricordea florida.  On all the previous occasions that encountered one, I had never been properly equipped with a super-macro camera  kit. A dive this past September finally warranted a good photo.   Ricordea shrimp are tiny (8-12mm) and nearly transparent, making them very difficult to detect.  It is unlikely that these might be juveniles of a more common commensal species (e.g. Periclimenes pedersoni, P. rathbunae, or P. yucatanicus), as it is clear from the photo above (and from recently collected specimens) that they are mature egg-bearing females at this small size. If you look closely at the photo, you’ll notice in the upper left-hand side of the photo that there is another pair of eyes.  At the time of the photo I didn’t notice that there were several other tiny and completely clear shrimp living with this female.  It was only while viewing the photos close-up that I noticed these other shrimp.   Most likely they are male or juvenile females living colonially.  On subsequent dive trips I have found several groups (3-5) of these tiny shrimp all living on the same R. florida colony.

Today we are sending off a preserved specimen to Periclemines shrimp expert Dr. Stephen Spotte for taxonomic inspection.  He will be able to determine whether this shrimp has been previously identified, or whether we are dealing with a new species altogether.

Aberrant Tissue Inflation of Diploria clivosa

Friday, July 10th, 2009

July 9, 2009

The brain coral (Diploria clivosa) colony pictured above featured several areas ranging in size from 3-6 cm that exhibited very unusual cauliflower-like tissue expansion with warty protuberances.  The photo was taken offshore of South Beach, Miami, Florida.

July 7, 2009

Pictured above is the normal ‘meandroid’ growth form for the brain coral Diploria clivosa.  The tissue is relatively compact against the skeleton and  the tentacles are visible along the inner walls of the grooves.

Summer Solstice Birthing

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Baby flower anemones attached near the base of "momma"

Two new-born Epicystis crucifer anemones are attached to Valonia sp. bubble algae at the base of their “mother” anemone.

On the evening before the summer solstice, we noticed that several of our favorite flower anemones (Epicystis crucifer) were exhibiting classic signs of stress (gaping mouth, regurgitation, decreased turgor pressure).  However, all the water parameters suggested nothing out of the ordinary, so we simply decided to leave them alone, while monitoring them closely. The following morning we began finding tiny flower anemones attached to the aquarium bottom nearest to  the anemones that had appeared stressed.  By this time though, the adult flower anemones had returned to their normal, healthy condition as if nothing had occurred. It was clear that the ‘stress’ that they were going through was a precursor to birthing dozens of 2mm babies from their mouths.  As you can see from the photos, these babies are practically fully-formed, miniature versions of the adults.

To our knowledge, this is the first documented case of Epicystis crucifer birthing in a captive (or wild) environment. Live birth is not uncommon for many other anemone species, and given the local abundance of this species, it makes sense. It still remains unclear whether these babies were brooded internally from sexual reproduction, or whether they are asexual clones.   Every little piece of information that we can gather on the life cycle of these beautiful animals is an important advance…

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