Staghorn and Elkhorn coral were once the most abundant corals in the tropical Atlantic. Until just thirty or so years ago. Now they are on the United States’ Endangered Species List. You know what else is on that list? Bison. There used to be lots of bison.
Can you imagine if there were groups who were growing little bison nurseries. How cute would that be? And possibly quite smelly. They’d be aiming to repopulate the plains of North America with bison. Except most of the land is used up now. It’s used for other things.
Bonaire’s Reef Renewal is trying to repopulate Bonaire with staghorn and elkhorn coral. This is the shallow-growing coral, the coral which acts as a nursery itself. It’s the coral which dampens down the effects of big waves on shore. It used to dominate this sea. The shallow water is lying empty now.
Yesterday, we had a heck of a current while helping Bonnie to clean the coral trees at Harbour Village. It swept in from nowhere like an underwater gale. Unfortunately for me, I was the first coral tree exposed to the flow. My tree, like the others, is anchored to the ground and suspended by a number of floats at the top, began to lose its upright position.
It took me a while to realise it wasn’t just me, faffing around with my buoyancy. The whole thing became more and more uncomfortable. I was struggling to get in the right position to wipe off the build-up of algae. Grabbing a fibreglass branch started to mean almost pulling it out from the other side. It was only when the suspended baby corals began to hang at a definite angle on their monofilament lines. Then I twigged. We were sailing. Everything had heeled over.
I kept wiping and scrubbing, but holding on was turning into a major challenge. I began to feel my fins touch the tree behind me. Urghh. Never a good idea to be kicking baby corals, when you’re trying to clean other baby corals. I’d try to tuck my legs in, but no joy. I began to feel myself sucked into the tree behind me. Once, twice. This was getting embarrassing. It was like falling over at Christmas. There go the decorations.
The third time I was pulled, a piece of coral in my own tree wrapped around my regulator hose. I was suddenly completely stuck. Fighting not to have a claustrophobic hissy, I carefully unwrapped the monofilament and extricated the elkhorn from my breathing apparatus. Thankfully, Bonnie came up from behind and physically moved me to the side of the trees. We looked at each other and shrugged. Grrr!
I slowly made my way back. This time I stayed at the lowest branches. I realised I couldn’t tangle myself as easily here in the tree behind. And then, as quickly as it started, the current stopped. I looked over at Lu. She was calmly finishing her own tree. Huh. We swam back to the dive shop, passing the coral frames, with more mature coral growing on them.