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Massive Ancient Coral Head New Caledonia
New Caledonia

Massive corals, like this 6 meter sphere of Porites, grow between 5 to 10mm per year making this one somewhere between 600 to 1200 years old. It appears to be in excellent health although many of the other corals inhabiting this patch reef in Ilot Mato's inner lagoon are showing clear signs of distress. When I first saw this massive coral head some twenty years ago there were a large number of fish of various species making their home under and around the colony. Over the years, the population of fish has steadily declined - decimated by spear-fishing enthusiasts.

In 1970, I was the lead scientist investigating coral reef ecology during one of the scientific missions in the Tektite II underwater habitat program. We spent up to 8 hours a day diving on the coral reefs surrounding the habitat in the Virgin Islands. One day when taking close-up photographs of coral polyps I saw - and photographed - a coral polyp eating a fish faecal pellet. I immediately realized that fish droppings, like bird droppings, were a rich source of phosphates and nitrates - perfect fertilizers for the zooxanthellae symbiotes that make up 2/3 of the tissue weight of most reef building corals. During my 30 day stay in the underwater habitat I took hundreds of photos of corals eating fish droppings and followed the schooling reef fish out onto the grass flats at night and watched them return to their places on the reef during the day where they digested their night's catch and dropped fertilizers onto the corals. I saw this as a very important part of coral reef development and wrote about it in Scientists in the Sea (Miller et. al. 1972) and Living Corals (Faulkner and Chesher 1979). Judy Myer and Eric Schultz, then at the University of Georgia, expanded on these early observations, gathering very convincing data to prove corals grow faster and have more symbiotic algae in their tissues when fish schools are present. Other researchers have since conducted population studies of coral reef fish showing that corals suffer more diseases and decrease in abundance when people overfish an area.

There are still fish around the patch reef where I took this underwater panorama, but very few of the larger ones; the ones people spear. So I took this underwater sphere image of this ancient creature, doing my level best to give you a little of "wow" that I feel when I look at it; an appreciation of the hundreds of years it has lived right here in this sheltered inner lagoon in New Caledonia. It was growing right where you see it in this image long, long before humans had the technological capability of diving underwater and seeing it at all. It is a great pity I can't show you the schools of fish that lived in association with this coral - the ones I saw only a paultry two decades ago. Coral reefs where visitors don't shoot the fish look much different to this image. Have a look at a similar patch reef in a protected marine sanctuary to see what a healthy coral reef fish population looks like.

So the objective of this image is to try to share with you a feeling of "wow" at the size and age of this giant of the sea leading to a sad "oh no" as you notice the absense of the larger fish that support the long term health of this creature. My hope is that it might possibly prevent some of you who look at this image from spearing everything that swims next time you go for a snorkel - anywhere.

By the way, the diver with his fins towards the camera is Frank Taylor, another 360Cities.net sphere photographer who is sailing around the world providing images and information for Google Earth aboard the Catamaran Tahina. Frank is also the author of the famous Google Earth Blog.

Copyright: Richard Chesher
Typ: Spherical
Upplösning: 13612x6806
Uppladdad: 02/10/2011
Uppdaterad: 26/05/2014
Visningar:

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Tags: coral; underwater; porites; marine ecology; coral reef; underwater panorama; environment; conservation; symbiosis; fish
  • mark newton over 1 year ago
    awesome pics and nice info on all of you photographs. all of your panoramas ,especially the tritonieating the starfish and the lemon shark with the remora perfectly centered on his back put the viewer on the reef perfectly. i remember diving off buckner bay in okinawa in the early 80s and saw some huge coral heads there with some close to this one in size. plus tons of these thick toilet seat size starfish were everywhere. maybe you can dive and film there in the future. at that same spot i actually saw a blue-ringed octopus, about palm size. luckily, something told me not to touch it, because i remember not knowing it was venemous until seeing the james bond flick octopussy sometime after that. thanks again and nice work
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