National Geographic : 1971 Aug
Ralph Hunter to study sedimentary processes on the sea floor. As habitat engineer, Chuck Kubokawa was more restricted to home base, but he frequently served as alternate diver on one of the teams. Ian's and my study was not as esoteric as it sounds, for the spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) is an important source of food as well as of income in the Caribbean. Moreover, the lobster catch of the Virgin Islands has been declining over the past few years, for reasons not yet explained. A thorough knowledge of the lobster's life cycle and habits will one day help to reverse this trend. During our first week on the sea floor, Ian and I spent many daylight hours surveying and marking the reef's lobster population. The latter job involved attaching color-coded tags to the carapaces of various specimens, so that we could recognize them as they trav eled about the reef. For night-tracking pur poses, we fitted several lobsters with minia turized sonic pingers that we could home in on with portable direction finders. The ping ers helped us develop new theories about the way lobsters navigate across the bottom in total darkness (page 284). Despite many years of diving, I never cease to marvel at the color and variety of life on a Caribbean reef. Each morning as Ian and I emerged from the habitat, a great escarpment of coral loomed before us with its shimmering schools of fish, like some medieval fortress festooned with thousands of bright pennants. Mortised into the dark slopes of the coral, groups of brilliant anemones, sponges, and gorgonians spattered the living stone with intricate designs. The behavior of reef creatures is equally colorful. One morning as Ian and I skirted the edge of the great undersea barricade, we encountered a small creature known as a smooth trunkfish, excavating a sizable crater in the bottom. The fish hung suspended head down above the sand, drawing water through its gills and squirting it in a pinpoint stream, exposing minute crustaceans that it would gobble for breakfast. Poised to pounce, a trumpetfish hangs head down, mimicking an arm of a sea whip. When a victim swims toward the supposed safety of the coral branches, the foot-long hunter lunges to engulf its prey. EKTACHROME © N.G .S.