Friday | August 5, 2005
The kingdom of the dwarfs
The shallow coral reefs on the protected side of Kiritimati are the kingdom of the microbes and the little animals living on the bottom. Well, maybe it is not as bad as it seems, but the bottom line is that some of these reefs look like a china store after the visit of an elephant.
Our team consists of specialists in microbes, algae, corals, other invertebrates, and fishes. After a full day of diving we met at the galley and, over dinner, discussed our impressions of what we saw. There were two completely different reactions. The fish team was unanimously concerned by the absence of large fishes such as sharks. However, the rest of the scientists came back from the sea with interesting collections and lots to do in the lab. Jen Smith, our seaweed expert, was fascinated by the large amount of algae growing on the bottom. Our microbial team was equally amazed by the microbial mat growing on top of seaweeds and on what used to be living coral. Liz Dinsdale, our specialist on coral disease, found many sick corals.
Our underwater photographer, Zafer Kizilkaya, also came back from diving with a big smile and many photos of extraordinary creatures with impossible colors that live between coral branches. Most of these creatures are virtual dwarfs, miniature examples of the incredible biodiversity of these reefs.
As Nancy Knowlton reminded us today, the bulk of the number of species on reefs lies on these little known and shy creatures that live in holes and tunnels, underneath the corals and between their branches. If these degraded reefs harbor such apparent diversity of small animals, what will the diversity be in healthy reefs such as the ones we expect to find in Palmyra and Kingman?