My first ocean snorkel experience on the island of Guanaja, which is part of the Bay Islands of Honduras. I was lucky enough to be snorkeling with someone who was not only knowledgeable with regard to ocean marine life but also had the patience of a saint in dealing with my obvious lack of that knowledge. The minute my face went under the water, I was the proverbial “two year-old” in a candy store. Everything was so pretty and interesting but I didn’t know what anything was. I was constantly tapping my buddy and excitedly pointing at the cool stuff I was seeing (did I mention that my buddy had the patience of a saint).
My buddy would take a minute to let me know what the fish that I was pointing at was and even make a comment about the particular species, which helped me to remember it, just a little bit better. His additional explanations also made it much easier to explain to friends as to what I saw rather than saying something like, “I was about 2 foot long and green.” Description like that really don’t lend themselves to exciting, after snorkeling, conversations. They do however put you high on the list of receiving the most number of yawns and blank looks.
In an effort to keep you off the “yawn and blank look list”, I have decided to devote some blog space to highlight particular reef denizens that you, as a snorkeler might encounter. Though geared toward the snorkeling novice, I encourage any comments from people that might like to add any interesting information. This will hopefully help to develop a better understanding of those creatures as well as an increase in your appreciation.
The subject for this article will be the 2-foot long green fish mentioned earlier. The fish that I was actually describing was the Parrot Fish. This amazing fish is a multi-faceted member of the underwater world. The Parrot Fish has 80 different species that have been identified so far and spends its life in the more tropical regions of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which is inclusive of the southern regions of the Gulf of Mexico. Adults range in size from 1foot up to 4 foot in length. A male Parrot Fish will usually have a harem of females but if the male of the harem dies a female will take over. This is not a symbolic take over, as the female will actually change genders becoming what is called a super male making it the ultimate gender bender.
The Parrot Fish gets its name due to the similarity of its mouth to that of a parrot’s beak. The more common species even have colors resembling certain species of parrots. Their pectoral fins are used in an up and down wing like manner, which does give them the illusion of flapping rather than swimming. The snorkeler will often see the Parrot Fish in shallow waters feeding on algae attached to corals. It actually bites chunks of coral with its beak like mouth in order to get at the algae.
Those of you that love to feel the sand of a tropical beach between your toes may be interested in the fact that the Parrot Fish played a very important part in allowing you to enjoy that feeling. Parrot Fish help to make sand. The hunks of coral that they bite off, go through the Parrot Fishes’ digestive system and come out the other end as (honest-to-pete) sand. This is a fact that I try not to think about when on the beach. Those engaging in snorkeling at night may find a Parrot Fish bedding down for the night. This is quite a site to see because they spin a protective mucous cocoon, which apparently deters other carnivorous fish from disturbing its slumber.
Well, I hope that I have been able to help you develop a better understanding of at least one of the fascinating creatures of the underwater world. I look forward to any comments you might have and hope that you have enjoyed the read. Well all except the part about the fish poop that is. So next time you are near water, grab your snorkel equipment and jump in!