National Geographic : 1966 Nov
program investigating the coral-reef fishes. Coral reefs-among the oldest and richest animal communities on this planet-have been the subject of surprisingly little scien tific investigation. What species live on a reef? How do they live? What are the rela tionships among the many sizes, forms, colors, and ways of life of reef inhabitants? Diving by night as well as by day, we have sought to answer such questions in studies supported by both the National Geographic Society and the National Science Foundation. In another project of the Institute of Marine Science, Dr. Gilbert L. Voss and Dr. Frederick M. Bayer have been studying the ecology of coral reef populations in Florida waters. Sup ported by the Society since 1960, their re searches center on shallow reefs of Margot Fish Shoal, about 24 miles south of Miami. (So much work has been done under the Soci ety's auspices here that institute faculty and students now call it the "Geographic Reef.") Skiff Makes a Journey to Another World Our own study, for the most part, has focused on Alligator Reef-a mile-long pile of submerged coral at the edge of the indigo Gulf Stream, almost four miles off the Florida Keys (diagram and maps, pages 714-15). From the beginning we knew that in the sea, as in space, ordinary terrestrial hardware will not work. Thus we became involved in a secondary research effort, developing appa ratus we required: photographic equipment, underwater lights, collecting devices, sound and optical equipment, underwater transpor tation, and submarine firearms. When we leave our boat slip on Lower Matecumbe Key in our 23-foot outboard skiff and steer for the reefs, we literally head for another world. Two miles offshore, the dark lagoon bottom, shadowed by turtle grass, abruptly gives way to the white scoured sand of the back reef-the landward side of the coral formation. Our speeding boat seems suddenly to take wing through oily-smooth water of unflawed aquamarine, and the green band of the keys falls rapidly astern. Pirate-fighting Ship Left Its Bones Here Gamboling porpoises, nose to tail, flee be fore us. On the ocean floor, weed patches and scattered shells appear. The water shoals to the pale green of six feet or less, and we sweep across the living corals and graceful sea fans of Alligator Reef. The reef takes its name from the schooner Alligator, a naval vessel that had been suc cessful in fighting pirates in the area, but sank here in 1822 after striking the reef. Occasion ally we have dug into the sand and uncovered cannon balls, parts of gun carriages, bronze spikes, and pottery from Alligator and other victims of the reef. At several places, piles of ballast stones from Alligator and from 18th century Spanish ships form artificial havens for marine life. The racing shadow of our boat and the whir and wash of our propeller send droves of multihued fishes streaking for the depths, First life portrait: Pre viously known to scientists only from dead specimens, a rare deepwater squirrel fish, Holocentrus bullisi (left), matches crimson bril liance with a sponge that roofs its home-a cranny in brain coral. In the blue gloom of the deep reef, the five-inch fish normally ap pears drab, but here glows in the white light of the author's flash. Among fish at Alligator Reef, Dr. Starck found 19 new species and 60 others hitherto unknown in North American waters. Gilded pin on sea-fan lace, the arrow crab (life size) usually hides its beau ty in a rock-hole den. rllrln_ rr . EKTACHROMES WrALTE A. STARHC (ABVE) ANU RuEt . SCnEK R N .G.S.