Funny things happen when I’m doing the coral cleaning.
Number one, the world’s biggest pencil, the trumpetfish, likes to come over to have his/her tummy stroked. I swear, fish might not laugh like we do, but piscine mirth is right there in my dive face. The trumpetfish hangs upside down – right next to you. Very suspiciously like they’re waiting for you to tickle them.
Underwater work has this flip-side advantage. Fish come to check you out. I’ve discovered they have different agendas. Sometimes fish want attention, like the trumpetfish. Sometimes they want to help you. They start pecking at the trees too – with their little funny circle mouths. Eyes all winky, especially the blue tang fish. Are they flirting with me? If they are, I’m in.
Then last week, I had a couple of sergeant majors who wouldn’t leave me alone. They weren’t exactly attacking me, but it felt close to it. Right up to my hands and face – even undergoing the threat of my metal toothbrush. They didn’t care.
These sergeant majors are the stripy fish who lay patches of purple eggs on smooth surfaces and voraciously protect them. I wondered if they were checking out the neighbourhood. I don’t think it was going down – big dive lady with her scrubbing brush. Or maybe they were just messing with me. They definitely weren’t scared. I could touch their flanks and they didn’t swim away.
As I’m cleaning the coral trees, I can’t help thinking too about how the coral grows. It’s hard to believe this stony, orange stuff is actually an animal. They are cut with small shears from larger pieces to hang and grow into their own coral palms, ready to out-plant.
These newest pieces of elkhorn coral don’t look so good though. You can see that some of them are pale and mottled. I wonder if this is because we cut and hung them when the sea was still very warm. When there was all that coral bleaching – before the recent swing towards cooler temperatures. Maybe, like plants, there is an optimum time to cut coral. A pruning equivalent.
From there my brain starting firing. To find the best growing conditions, we could really tinker here. You could see if there was a difference with growing seasons. Planting seasons. Perhaps it’s already been done on the island already – with Bonaire’s big nature group, Stinapa. I haven’t heard anything about it. And probably not here at Harbour Village either. After all – this is an extreme site – with all the silt coming out of the marina. Changes here would likely be exaggerated – and seen.
It’s a bad habit I picked up working in a lab. You always want to optimise the best growing conditions. Here you could set yourself free. I think Mendel – and his peas, would approve.
I shook myself. Just here to clean. Going home soon. Keep your head down, Hannah. The trumpetfish came back to my tree. It had been hovering at the outplanting zone.
It hovered as close as it could while pretending to be an upside-down, enormous pencil. Ok. I stopped brushing. Another tickle.