As we have mentioned before the diving in the BVI is amazing. I have told you about our beautiful dive sites, but what about the marine life on those sites? The BVI has a whole bunch of marine life and critters to offer. As the seasons come and go so do some of these incredible underwater creatures. I think it is about time that we give these wonderful animals some credit and tell you a bit more about them.
Starting at the bottom we have our smallest friends such as Red Banded Coral Shrimp and Blue Cleaner Shrimp. These shrimp are often found cleaning bigger critters such as moray eels and fish like Grouper or Hind. Often when you put your finger close to them and just wait, they will come and clean your fingers for you. Flamingo Tongues are little sea snails that live on sea fans and whips. Amazingly the pattern on the shell is actually the animal itself and when the animal dies, the color disappears and the shell is plain white. Nudibranch is another little critter that likes to attach itself to walls or coral. So small and well camouflaged these are very hard to find. Their name is Latin and literally means outside lung, as the poor thing caries its lungs on its back.
The list of smaller reef fish is endless and goes from Sergeant Majors, Grunts, Blue Tangs, Butterfly fish, Basletts and Hamlets to Squirrelfish and much more…Most of these fish likes to hang out up in the shallows in big schools. Some of them, like Butterfly fish, will use you and your shadow by swimming under you to get closer to the eggs of other fish.
One of my favorites is the Smooth Trunk fish, these gorgeous triangular black, white and yellow guys are part of one big family of fish such as the Cowfish, Spotted Trunkfish and Boxfish. They have a hard shell and can produce toxic venom which can kill predators as big as Nurse Sharks, when ingested.
Slightly bigger fish we see around although they really do come in all sizes are Sand diver, Trumpet fish, Parrot fish and grouper or at least family of the grouper. Trumpet fish come in all sizes and try to camouflage themselves by coloring their top blue or yellow, depending who or what they are hanging out with. Parrot fish do this really cool thing and leave something behind for us to show our divers. At night out of their own saliva they build a slimy cocoon and wrap it around their body. They sleep in this cocoon undisturbed by predators as the cocoon makes it harder to sense them. In the morning they wake up and swim out of the cocoon, leaving just a small balloon of slime behind on the ocean floor.
Octopus and jellies do get spotted but especially the octopus is hard to find. During the day they like to hide in their holes and at night they venture about looking for food. This is one of Shon’s favorite creatures and you can tell because he’s the one who finds the most! Jelly fish are some of the very seasonal visitors. Certain times of the year we don’t have any, mainly the winter months. As the water warms up and summer kicks in they come in big groups and search our waters for food. Most of them are absolutely harmless, like the beautiful Moon jellies and Bell jellies, they don’t sting. The Box jelly fish however does sting. Don’t worry, he is not the crazy Australian one, but if you get stung by him he does have a nasty sting.
Barracuda is one of the bigger boys around. Even though they look scary they are absolutely harmless. Once adults they like to hang out alone, but when juvenile they hang out together in schools of up to 40, moving simultaneous as one ball of fish. Saying that, on one of our dive sites, the Chikuzen, we see big schools of adult barracuda hanging out together.
Ben’s favorite fish are sharks. Nurse sharks are about the only shark we see out here though. Reef sharks, Lemon Sharks and Black Tips get spotted but that is, unfortunately, definitely a rarity on our dive sits. Nurse Sharks can grow fairly big, but the ones we see here in general are not much bigger than 5-6 feet. They are nocturnal animals who go out at night to find prey. During the day you will find them under coral heads or on sands flats sleeping, resting and recovering from their nightly activity. Normally Sharks breathe by moving water and oxygen over their gills and therefore have to keep on swimming. Nurse sharks are quite amazing and are one of the sharks who can change its breathing pattern when laying and resting so it can still breathe and doesn’t have to keep on swimming.
Their family members the Southern Stingrays and Eagle rays, who we see out here, do the same. Southern stingrays are gray and mostly found towards the bottom. Eagle rays are black and white spotted and like to cruise by near the surface.
Sea turtles we see around here are mainly Hawksbill turtles, but we do occasionally see a Green turtle which can get pretty big and looks ancient. The Invisibles is the place to see turtles at night. Every time we head out there we see no less than 3 sleeping turtles, hiding under the crevices of the pinnacle.
Sadly one of the new fish we see around these days is lionfish. These guys are absolutely beautiful, but unfortunately they are an invasive species to the Caribbean. This is not where they belong such as the Indo Pacific where they originally live. They eat all the juvenile reef fish and can lay up 30 000 eggs every four days. With no natural predators here and therefore nothing to stop them they are out of control.
So now you know what you are looking for while you are diving here, make sure to tell our critter spotters who guide you what you would like to see. We will make sure we call them the night before and tell them to be home so we can show them to you!