National Geographic : 1966 Nov
Marvels of a Coral Realm Article and photographs by WALTER A. STARCK II, Ph.D. OFF THE SHORE of southern Florida I dive to a world of fantastic richness and variety, a world unbelievable until you see it-the world of a coral reef. As I hover above the sandy plain of the reef's outer edge, I see a fish that walks on its fins and attracts prey with a lure dangling from its overhanging nose. Nearby, pencil-slim garden eels curl upward from their burrows, creating a cluster of question marks. Like goats grazing on stony pastures, indigo parrot fish, with teeth fused into birdlike beaks, scrape away the small plants that cover the rocks. If I imagine myself scaled down to the size of a small fish or a shrimp, monsters confront me at every turn. Nature's rule of eat and be eaten prevails here. Still, harmony exists, and some examples of piggy back living are miracles of cooperative existence. With in the shelter of the six-inch spines of a sea urchin lurk elegant high-hats, or jackknife-fish, formally clad in black-and-white stripes, with dorsal fins like tall sails. At dusk, a tiny transparent fish emerges from one end of its sluglike host, a sea cucumber, to seek its supper. After dark, a spiny lobster stalks across the scene, moving like an ungainly wind-up toy. With greedy ten tacles, the myriad coral polyps blossom forth to rake minute sea life into their gaping mouths. Diving here, one quickly senses the rhythms of the water world. Waving bottom grasses time the slow beat of the sea. Gliding sharks, sinuous moray eels, and stately groupers pick up the andante. Darting squid and smaller fishes add their glittering staccato. This is the world that holds me in thrall, for I am a marine biologist. As a research associate of the Univer sity of Miami's Institute of Marine Science, I head a Ghostly arms of elkhorn coral reach for the author as he kicks through shallow, sun-glazed waters of a reef. Stinging coral, nemesis of divers, sprouts beneath the elk horn. Dr. Starck, of the University of Miami's Institute of Marine Science, reports on 10 years of exploring an under water realm of bizarre shapes and vivid colors. The Na tional Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society now support his work. 710 EKTACHROMEBYJO D. STARCK N.G.S.