Scuba Diving

Animal Spotlight: Sea Urchins

 

These cute little creatures are abundant on some of the beaches in Grand Turk. We all know you should look with your eyes and not your hands and urchins make that even more clear- they have a body made up of barbed and sometimes poisonous spines. Yikes! 

These little sea hedgehogs feed primarily on algae and have to watch out for starfish, otters, eels, and triggerfish lest they become lunch. Sea urchins move along slowly using their five tube feet. Urchins belong to the same family as sand dollars, sea cucumbers and sea stars which all boast five-fold symmetry.

There are separate male and female species but it is incredibly difficult to tell them apart. Males tend to hang out on higher, more open ground and females prefer to hunker down in crevices and on the sea floor.

If an urchin has intact spines it is nearly impervious to most predators but when the spines are damaged they become a slow-moving feast for many fish and crustaceans. They do not have any eyes but or central nervous system but can sense touch light and chemicals with either their eye spots or the entire body. Their mouths are located on the bottom and their anus on the top.

The urchins in Grand Turk have mostly black spines so they are fairly easy to spot through the clear water against the white sand. So watch your step and enjoy watching them with your snorkel mask on.

Animal Spotlight: Nassau Grouper

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When diving in Grand Turk there are a lot of critters you run into. Some are locals, some invasive, some shy and some are very friendly. The Nassau Grouper is a medium to large sized fish (up to that 55 lbs) falls into the local friendly neighbor category. They have no qualms about following you around your dives. They are handsome fish and range in color from red at deeper depths to beige in the shallows with black spots and forked stripes around the eyes. They are usually solitary and gather once a year to breed in massive groups. During these times, they are more susceptible to overfishing so the Bahamas put a restriction on fishing them during their breeding season.

Threatened Species

Nassau Groupers are considered threatened because of commercial and recreational fishing along with reef destruction. Their curiosity and size make them a great catch for locals. They can be found in the western Atlantic between Florida, Bahamas, Brazil and in a few locations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Neighborhood Watch

They are bold enough to swim right up to you on a dive. I have even had one follow me around for the entire 40 minutes. When we surfaced the dive master told us that they are waiting to see if he catches any lionfish. Lionfish are an invasive species and a big problem for reefs. They can outcompete, out eat and outsmart their competitors. They also happen to be full of poisonous barbs. The barbs make them an off the menu item for most predators when they are alive. But once dead, the barbs relax and the like of the Nassau Grouper are in for a treat. Divemasters carry small spears to kill any lionfish they find on the reef. The Groupers follow along with the shadow of a promise for a meal. Aside from fine dining on lionfish, the solitary creatures also eat other fish, lobsters, and crabs.