Friday, October 10, 2008

Fish Bombs

A couple of weeks ago , I felt two bombs go off underwater. I was diving off Olango island near Cebu in the Philippines. The second of these was so loud that it spooked the shoal of fish I was watching, and made my adrenaline run hard for a few moments. Yet on the surface, there was no evidence of nearby bombing at all - indeed we were in a marine protected area with several dive and snorkelling vessels and a community patrol boat with no story to tell; the bombing must have been miles away, yet its underwater effect reached out way beyond its immediate impact.

Here in Sabah, something similar seems to be happening. Whilst I have never heard fish bombs in TARP, I have been told by others that they sometimes hear them - not exploding in the Park itself but several miles away up or down the coast. It is illegal in Sabah. But three days ago, newspapers report that a man killed himself and his estranged wife with one here in KK. And now it seems the Police will step up their efforts to enforce the law against fish bombing. They say they have caught five fish-bombers already this year; here's hoping this sad tale will truly mark the end of a not only hugely destructive and unsustainable livelihood practice, but a humanly dangerous one. An instructor friend of mine in the Philippines was near a bomb when it was detonated underwater and nearly killed, but challenging the boatmen involved was physically risky and he says the police are themselves afraid of the violence of fish bombers in the Philippines. Let's hope it is different here when (if) the police step up their campaign.

Here's a regular friend at Hanging Garden off Gaya island, photographed on 28th December 2006 ,who's cousins elsewhere in the state might benefit: the giant reef dwelling Broadclub cuttlefish Sepia latimanus (Mollusc Family SEPIIDAE).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Crazily named Damsels

A macro shot of an anemone tentacle shows some fascinating detail - one can almost imagine that each nematocyst sack is visible in this photo taken on Plate Coral Reef off Sapi island on 11th July 2008.

This weekend I've been able to catch up on feedback from Gerry Allen regarding several Damselfishes I questioned him about recently. It turns out that as I suspected, two are actually new species to me: Pomacentrus armillatus and Pomacentrus burroughi. In addition, he confirmed my diagnoses for several colour morphs - the adult Neoglyphidodon melas and Neoglyphidodon oxyodon, and an intermediate form of Pomacentrus cuneatus.

I was also pleased to hear back from Jeff Williams regarding a new species of Blenny for me seen earlier this week whilst snorkelling - Nannosalarias nativitatis. In total now, my Checklist for TARP fish species has reached 383.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Beautiful Monster

Like a troll under the bridge, this potential killer of a Box jellyfish (Family CHIRODROPIDAE) loiters under the gangway down to the floating pontoon and the speedboats at Jesselton harbour; departure point for TARP.

As well as this beautiful monster, Eid (Hari Raya to Malaysians) on 1st October 2008 also offered up several new fish specimens to me whilst out snorkelling at Sapi island. First off the Parrotfish Scarus oviceps. Next, a shoal of Sweepers Pempheris oualensis. Last but by no means least, a couple of majestic juvenile Batfish Platax teira. Still awaited is the diagnosis of a Blenny new to me, not yet identifiable in any of the sources I have access to. For now then, my total of species photographed in the Park and logged in my Checklist rises to 380.

In addition, I am pleased to have much improved photos of two Damselfishes which I have habitually only managed to photograph blurred blotches of before: Dischistodus melanotus and the juvenile form of Neoglyphidodon melas.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Olango tango

Olango island is opposite Mactan island on which is housed the international airport for Cebu in the central Philippines. It's only an hour and a half away from KK by plane and can be expected to share a significant ocean fauna with us here. I had a chance to explore last weekend, but I will try to connect my comments to TARP:

First of note is that I recorded 79 species of fish in 1 hour and 35 minutes underwater (two dives) in a single location called Talima. In comparison, it took me 3 hours and 6 minutes to do the same in TARP. My initial feeling is that the species density is much higher at Talima, although I could just have attended an amazingly diverse site (not the impression given by our dive leader who said he had chosen Talima because it was sheltered from big waves but not that good). The size of the larger fishes shoals in Talima was obviously greater than TARP: continued fishing of larger fish in TARP could conceivably have had an impact on species density in proportion to shoal densities.

Secondly, 34 (43%) of the fishes I recorded at Olango were never recorded by me in TARP despite diving or snorkelling here with a working camera for over 75 hours. Even if all other fish species were identical, there is a minimum of 9% unique to Olango compared to TARP (but more likely the figure is around 40%: my 2 dives in Talima are akin to a statistical sample). Possibly, it is because Talima represents an ecosystem not exactly matched in TARP - eel grass with scattered coral bommies and a very deep drop off. But a number of species I have not seen in TARP but are found at Olango were seen in a 1992 survey in TARP by Gerry Allen. It makes me wonder whether Olango represents a more healthy reef in general now - more like the TARP of the early nineties? In that case, given the pelagic nature of many reef fish larvae, it makes me wonder if the coast and near shore reefs of western Sabah will ever be rehabilitated sufficiently en masse to return TARP to the best it could be - it will take more than preserving TARP by itself.

Thirdly, four interesting groups appeared at Olango which have not turned up in my experience in TARP: Hawkfishes (an example photographed under a wrecked boat spar from the family CIRRHITIDAE Cirrhitichthys falco is shown here), Unicornfishes (Genus Naso), Drummers / Sea chubs (Family KYPHOSIDAE), and Anthiases (Genus Anthias). Why? Unicornfishes appear to prefer to be near deep drop-offs - and we have none in TARP whereas off Olango, the slope drops off steeply in a coral wall at around 15-20 metres. But as for the other groups, I have no idea although the beauty of Hawfishes and Anthiases does make me feel that TARP is poorer for not having any.