Why you should learn to fish ID


Do you know the difference between a rock hind and a graysby grouper? Or a longspine and a reef squirrelfish?

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Well, before the start of my time as an intern at WSORC in Utila, I definitely could not…. My fish identification skills consisted of anything I had picked up from the movies (e.g. Finding Nemo, Jaws) or from growing up near the beach in Sydney spotting the odd fairy penguin, whiting, sting ray or dolphin.

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Biodiversity within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System

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The MBRS is the second largest barrier reef in the world and stretches over 1000 km from Isla Contoy at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula down through Belize and Guatemala to the Bay Islands of Honduras (where you can find Utila).

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The reef system has a rich biodiversity, including 60 types of hard corals that form a vast network of reef which provides a home to over 500 species of fish, 5 species of marine turtles and of course our much beloved whale shark.

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Ignorance is bliss or is it?

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Up until about a week ago, the only marine life that I could tell the difference between was whether the fish was big or small, light or dark, multi-coloured or monotone and long and thin or small and round. After a week of fish, invertebrate and REEF.org ID tests, I feel like a whole new underwater world has been opened up for me and I have front row seats. Now I can tell the difference between a four-eye, longsnout, spotfin and banded butterflyfish and that is only one family!

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What have I been able to identify so far?

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I have been lucky enough to take part in two WSORC Ocean Safaris and have been on about 8 dives within the first 2 weeks of the Intern Program. On these 10 outings I have seen the following marine vertebrates and invertebrates (to name a few):

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Whale Shark Toadfish Snapper Filefish Gobies
Spiny Lobster Cardinalfish Butterflyfish Wrasse Barracuda
Angelfish Damselfish Chromis Grouper Crabs
Squirrelfish Loggerhead Turtle Trunkfish Blenny Shrimp

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More informed = more interesting

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Now that I have learnt the basics of fish identification I am more excited about future dives and snorkelling trips. Maybe next time I go out I may spot a critically endangered turtle such as the hawksbill turtle, or an endangered scalloped hammerhead shark. Over the next few weeks of the Intern Program I will also be taking part in reef surveys where I will be required to identify and count different species of marine vertebrates and invertebrates over 20 metre transects.

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Why is monitoring the biodiversity of reefs important?

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Anthropological impacts such as overfishing, unsustainable tourism and coastal development, climate change and runoff from agricultural activities have all resulted in considerable negative impacts on coral reef ecosystems around the world. By monitoring the health of coral reefs over time we are able to more accurately determine the impact that humans are having on these fragile ecosystems and hopefully ensure that they will stay healthy for generations to come.

 

Author: Connor McCauley (16 May 2015)