Rescuing the Reef

Coral reefs all over the world are dying, and those in the Maldives are no exception. There are lots of reasons for this, most of which can be tied to global warming, and marine biologists across the globe are trying to figure out a solution. One strategy is to grown baby corals in a nursery, which will eventually be attached to structures on and around the reef.

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Another way to work on saving the reef is to keep coral predators away. So my sister and I spent an afternoon helping the marine center employees on Vabbinfaru Island (the sister of Ihuru Island) with a reef cleanup expedition. This involved snorkeling around the reef and looking for crown of thorns starfish, which eat live coral at a prodigious rate (the crown of thorns is the venomous alien-looking purple thing):

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We also went in search of pincushion starfish, which like to snack on young coral.

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To pick these things up, we were given a wooden rod with a long hook on the end. So the reef cleanup process is easy — it’s finding these starfish themselves that’s a challenge, because they like to hide in the rocks. When you find one, as my sister did here, it feels like a real accomplishment (and no, she’s not standing on the coral; that’s just a trick of the light):

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All sorts of starfish inhabit these coral reefs, from the very small …

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… to the very large:

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Even more of them come out at night:

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Most of the starfish we found came in shades of red, blue, or beige — and since these guys move around a lot, we never saw them in the same place twice.

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The coral reef itself usually looks pretty rocky, which is generally a sign that the coral is dead. So it’s always a delight to come up coral that’s actually alive:DCIM100GOPROGOPR0166.JPG

It’s not always easy to tell whether you’re looking at a live coral sample or not, especially since some corals only come out at night.

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But you know you have live coral when you see little flower-like polyps waving in the water:

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Corals come in all sorts of formations …

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And while we traveled to the Maldives to look at the fishfullsizeoutput_5182.jpeg

… I started to spend much more time studying the reef itself. In addition to giant magnificent anemones like these …

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… I found sponges …

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… and sea cucumbers …

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… and sea urchins (best seen at night, when they come out like a giant spiny armada) …

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… and feather stars (which can walk, roll, and even swim) …DCIM101GOPROGOPR1577.JPG

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… spider conch shells …

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… the tunnels of calcereous tubeworms (which use mucus nets to catch their prey) …

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… and clams!

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Oh my, did I find clams! Giant clams and crocus clams, clams of every color.

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They burrow into the coral and sometimes line up in groups of two or three:

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I love these things — and I may have photographed every single one within a snorkeling diver’s reach around Ihuru Island.

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If you watch carefully here, you can see how the clams react when they’re startled:

There are dozens of islands in the Maldives. We chose Ihuru for its house reef, and we weren’t disappointed!

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I don’t usually do product placements in my posts, but I have to give a shout out to the GoPro HERO 7 that my school let me borrow. I’ve never taken underwater pictures like these before, and the GoPro made it easy.

 

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