Chitons are also known as sea cradles or coat-of-mail shells. On St. John they can often be seen adhering to rocks in shallow water. They survive by grazing the algae that grows on rocks, which is helpful in that a clean substrate can be used as a starting point for corals.
I just found out that one of my favorite hard corals, the Orange Cup Coral (Tubastraea coccinea), is considered an invasive species.
Orange cup corals are beautiful brightly colored orange corals with flower-like yellow tentacles that extend at night or in areas of low light.
Although the orange cup coral is a hard coral, it’s not a reef-building coral. Also, unlike other corals, the cup coral, does not depend on the symbiotic algae, which shares it’s photosynthesis-created food with the coral animal. Because of this, the cup coral can grow in dark places such as shaded walls, caves and underneath overhanging ledges.
I first noticed orange cup corals on the walls of an rocky indentation on the Tektite snorkel and again on the walls of the caves at Norman Island. Now I see them elsewhere even on the Trunk Bay Underwater Trail.
Cup corals do not seem to be a major problem here in the Virgin Islands as they seem to prefer the darker areas that other corals don’t like and I’ve not seen any great proliferation in all the years that I have been snorkeling around the Virgin Islands.
They are, however, a problem in the Gulf of Mexico where they tend to crowd out other native coral and sponge species. They especially like oil rig platforms where hundreds of thousands of colonies may be found attached a platform.
You’ll need to look carefully to see the translucent jellyfish in the above photo, but seeing it in the water is even more difficult. It has a dome shaped head and four tentacles. It’s a sea wasp. It stings hard and it’s hard to avoid. If you are unfortunate enough to get stung, pour vinegar on the the affected area and in severe cases seek medical attention.
I saw quit a few of these strange jellyfish while snorkeling the southwestern side of Maho Bay. They were resting on the bottom in about ten feet of water. While most jelly fish swim around with their head up and tentacles down, the Cassiopea spends most of its time with its’ head down resting on the sea floor and with its tentacles extended upward, hence the name, upsidedown jellyfish.
The upsidedown jellyfish can give divers a mild sting, which can be very itchy. According to Wikipedia: “The stinging cells are excreted in a mucus; swimming over the jellyfish (especially using swim fins) may cause transparent, essentially invisible, sheets of this mucus to be lifted up into the water column, where they are then encountered by unsuspecting swimmers,” but being that these jellies were in fairly deep water, this shouldn’t be a problem for snorkelers observing them.
This creature has always fascinated me. When I first saw one, I thought it was some sort of underwater flower, and I was certainly surprised to find out that it was not only an animal but a worm. What looks like the flower’s petals are tentacles, which filter plankton from the seawater for food and increase the amount of oxygen that the worm can absorb. When hungry fish or a snorkelers finger come too close the tentacles retract to the safety of the tube that gives the species the name, tube worm. If a fish is faster than the worm and bites off some tentacles, the worm will regrow the lost parts. The tube is fashioned from parchment, sand, and bits of shell that is permanently affixed to a rock, coral or some other substrate by a sticky mucus secreted by the worm.
TI photographed this banded coral shrimp along the eastern shoreline of Hawksnest Bay, heading out from Openheimer Beach.
Also known as barber pole shrimp, the banded coral shrimp are cleaning shrimp that eat the parasites off of passing fish, waving their antennae to attract any fish that want to be cleaned.
According to Paul Human’s Reef Creature Identification: “when approached, they retreat into protective recesses. If a bare hand is slowly extended toward the shrimp, it may leave its retreat and even attempt to clean fingers.”
The bearded fireworm is a slow creature, and is not considered a threat to humans unless touched by a careless swimmer. The bristles, when flared, can penetrate human skin, injecting a powerful neurotoxin and producing intense irritation and a painful burning sensation around the area of contact. The sting can also lead to nausea and dizziness. This sensation lasts up to a few hours, but a painful tingling can continue to be felt around the area of contact. In a case of accidental contact, application and removal of adhesive tape will help remove the spines; applying alcohol to the area will also help alleviate the pain. Cold water and ice soothe the pain of the poison that was injected from the bearded fireworm. More information
One of the attractions visitors seem to look forward to most is snorkeling with a sea turtle. In the past, this was a hit or miss thing. You needed a bit of luck. Now however, with a little patience, you’re just about guaranteed to have a turtle experience snorkeling over the Maho Bay seagrass beds.
St. John News
Starwood Caribbean Hotels & Resorts is offering a Sunsational Savings deal, with savings of up to 30 percent. The deal applies to four properties in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico (San Juan and Vieques Island). For example, at the Westin St. John Resort & Villas, pay $285 per night and receive a free fourth night plus a $100 food and beverage credit. Add 10 percent tax. Typical rate is $410. Book and travel by Nov. 20. Use promo code ZS4. At the W Retreat & Spa on Vieques Island, receive a free third night and a $100 credit. Rates start at $409 a night, $100 less than the usual price. Add 9 percent tax. Booking and travel dates: Aug. 13-Nov. 1. Use promo code SS3R. Info: 866-716-8147, www.starwoodcaribbean.com.