Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Biodiversity Law In Paradise (1/16/2013)

A Moray Eel Next To Sea Urchins
This morning we drove to the farthest West end of Saint Thomas to explore Botany Bay, which is the last large tract of pristine rainforest on the island.  It was raining as we arrived, the tide was high, and we witnessed waves from the Caribbean and Atlantic clashing with each other over the isthmus that connects Saint Thomas proper with Little Saint Thomas island.  We surveyed the biodiversity present on the beach, and identified hard and soft corals, limpets, conchs, ghost crabs, sponges, sea urchins, calcareous algae, and a Brown Booby (dead, sadly).  On Little Saint Thomas, we spotted what we believe were mongoose tracks, a finding that may help explain why this Nature Conservancy sanctuary lacks the nesting seabirds found in abundance on nearby islands.  We also explored tide pools, sea grape thickets, and spectacular metamorphic rock outcroppings, where we found myriad juvenile fish, multicolored snails, and a curious lack of algae.
Hybrid Staghorn/Elkhorn Coral
After lunch sur la plage, and a lecture on the origins, magnitude, measurement, and importance to humans of biodiversity, we suited up in our snorkeling gear to venture into Mermaid's Chair Bay.  Once in the water, we saw a beautiful moray eel, blue tang, ocean surgeon fish, bluehead, parrot fish, yellow jacks, damsel fish, trunk fish, squirrel fish, a juvenile shark, lots of fan and brain coral, sponges, large sea urchins, fire coral, the occasional endangered staghorn and elkhorn coral, and even a rare staghorn/elkhorn coral hybrid.  Towards the end of our snorkel, we happened upon a medium-sized shark, which glided off into deeper water.  We left Botany Bay just as the sun set, exhausted, but delighted to have seen so much fascinating biodiversity in this unique corner of Saint Thomas.  Acknowledge that, as Jeff B. James would say.