Starfish

Starfish

What is the correct name Sea stars or Starfish? Actually, both names are correct, neither is wrong. Even though there is a fish in the name, they are not really fish, they are related to sea cucumbers. Their body is shaped like a five point star (hence the name), but they can have more than 5 arms. They are usually yellow, orange, brown or red with contrasting pattern. Their circulatory system is pulsing six times per minute, the movement of the fluid is helping to carry nutrients through their body. The sea stars move very slowly, the average distance is less than 10 inch / 25 cm in a minute. They can move in any direction, following one of the five arms.

The starfish cannot survive when they are not in the water. You can see them sometimes on the beach, but if they do not get back into the sea quickly, they will die. They will have an electrolyte imbalance, because water has to constantly run through the tubes in their bodies. They are sea creatures, meaning they will only survive in salty waters, they cannot live in freshwater. There are over 1,500 types of starfish, the most common type is Cushion Sea Star and that is the one you can see when you go for a trip to Piscina Natural. When you see them, please do not lift them out of the water. We would like to show them to the next visitors too.

Lionfish

Lionfish

Lionfish are native in the Indo-Pacific region and the Red Sea, but not in the Caribbean. There are few theories how they spread everywhere, one of them is that they were released from home aquariums. The adults grow up to 13 – 16 inches / 33 – 40 cm and it takes them approximately 2 years. However the females are mature when they are about a year old and 7 – 8 inch / 18 – 20 cm long and they can release in warm waters between 10,000 and 30,000 eggs every 4 days, all year around. That means about two million eggs per year! The egg sac contains a chemical deterrent discouraging other fish from eating the eggs, so most of them survive. The lionfish usually don’t travel far, once they establish their territory, they stay there. They mostly hunt at night and eat probably every creature in their territory. Some studies say, they eat over 70 different species. One small lionfish can reduce the number of juveniles in the area by about 79% in just 5 weeks! They do have predators in their natural habitat, like groupers, large eels, frogfish, other scorpion fish and sharks and now, after being in our waters for few years, some groupers, gray triggerfish and large eels started eating them here too. But until the nature creates the balance again, we have to help to manage the invasion.

Did you know, that lionfish can expand their stomach up to 30 times its normal volume and they can eat prey just over 1/2 its own size, as long as they can get their mouth around the prey?

You’ve probably heard that Lionfish have venomous spines, 13 of them are located along the spine in the dorsal fins, one short spine is in each pelvic fin and 3 short spines in the leading edge of the anal fin. The spines can easily penetrate human skin, the sting is very painful because of the venom, which is a protein-based combination of a neuromuscular toxin and a neurotransmitter. In case you get stung, end the dive immediately, surface safely, remove any broken spines, disinfect the wound and apply hot water for 30 to 90 minutes. Seek a doctor immediately and check for any allergic reaction.

The good news is, 20 minutes after a lionfish is killed, the spikes loose the toxicity and they are not poisonous anymore. They are very tasty, if you like eating fish, you will love them! Some restaurants around the world sell them too, but they are quite expensive, so try some lionfish dishes for a much better price at the local restaurants when you come to Bayahibe for scuba vacation.

Lionfish hunting

Nurse Sharks around Bayahibe

Nurse Sharks around Bayahibe

Most divers love seeing sharks, some divers are afraid of them. Our new clients coming for a scuba vacation in Bayahibe for the first time usually ask : “Are there any sharks here? Are they dangerous?” There are many types of sharks around the globe, some of them might be dangerous, but we don’t have those around here.

While scuba diving in Bayahibe area, you can see a Nurse Shark by Saona Island and El Peñon. Nurse sharks are not aggressive, they usually swim away when you approach them. But as any wild animal, when they feel threatened, they might attack to protect themselves. Make sure you keep an escape route for them, don’t close them in, don’t get too close, make sure they can see you. If you follow all that, you have a fantastic experience!

The name “nurse” probably came from “Nusse”, the name originally used for catsharks. In the Caribbean waters, the nurse shark is still often called “tiburon gato” – “cat shark” in Spanish.

Nurse sharks are bottom dwelling sharks, usually from tan to dark brown color, average size between 8 – 9 ft, over 200 lbs. Nurse sharks have two spineless, rounded dorsal fins the first one much larger than second. They are nocturnal animals, resting on sandy bottoms or in caverns during the day and very active during the night, searching the sea bottom for crustaceans, mollusks and stingrays at night. In the daytime they will often lay together in groups, some of them as big as 40 sharks (in general, not around Bayahibe!), often lying over each other.

Coral Spawning in Bayahibe area

Coral Spawning in Bayahibe area

How do corals reproduce? Most corals are hermaphrodites (both male and female), only about one third are different sexes. There are few types of non sexual reproduction, one of them is budding – the corals create buds (like flowers) that break off and a new coral starts growing. Other one is a fragmentation, that happens naturally when pieces of corals break off due to waves, storms or marine life activities. When the conditions are right, the parts attach and develop into new coral colonies. There are two types of sexual reproduction of corals and one of them is spawning.
What is spawning? Once a year, at a specific day and a specific time, based on the moon cycle and the water temperature, colonies of coral reefs release their eggs and sperms into the water. They slowly drift to the surface where the fertilization process starts. When coral eggs and sperms join together as embryos, they develop into coral larvae and float in the water, some for days and some for weeks, before they drop to the seafloor where they attach to a suitable bottom and grow into a new coral colony. The growing process is slow, only about 4 inches / 10 cm a year.

We had the spawning time in Bayahibe area between August 9 and 21 and of course Mark and Iris from Go Dive Bayahibe team, along with other divers, volunteered again their time to monitor the spawning process of 11 different coral species. Not only it’s exciting to observe it, but who wouldn’t love to go for a fun night dive? At night you see some marine life you cannot not see during the day! Our team is helping to protect the corals and volunteering their time to help with reproduction of the corals in Bayahibe area all year around, not only during the spawning time. You can see how it’s done when you go for a dive at Coco Reef and Coral Garden. Help a protect the corals while scuba diving in Bayahibe area, as you can see it’s a long time process for them to grow bigger. While diving, do not touch any corals, make sure your equipment, fins and tank is not making any damage.

Southern Stingrays

Southern Stingrays

Southern Stingray is one of the stingray family you can see in the waters while scuba diving in Bayahibe area. They glide beautifully above the sea grass beds and in the sandy bottoms, looking for their food – soft-bodied creatures like snails, small squids and octopuses, clams and oysters. The same as sharks, the string rays have skeletons made of cartilage, their gills are not on the side as some other underwater creatures, they have them on the bottom of their body. They have openings behind their eyes called spiracles, they use these as their mouth, passing the water through them to the gill chambers. The spiracles are also used to spit the inedible parts of their food. To do that, they open the normally closed spiracles to inhale and while exhaling the inedible fragments go out. The adult males are smaller than females, they grow to about 2 ft / 60 cm in diameter, some females grow up to 5 ft / 2.5 m!
Southern Stingrays are pretty tame a most of the time will ignore the divers around, some of them are curious and can come very close to see who is around. However they have a venomous, saw-like spine on the tail which they use for defense if they feel threatened. When you see them, do not surprise them, always approach them from the front so they can see you, do not chase them, because their sting could be quite painful.

Turtles around Bayahibe

Turtles around Bayahibe

Can we see any turtles while scuba diving or snorkeling in Bayahibe? The answer is yes, you can see Hawksbill, Green Sea or Leatherback turtles.

Hawksbill Turtles have hard brown and yellow shells, covered in plates with serrated edges, and have two claws on each fin. Their heads have two pairs of plates between the eyes and a sharp beak. Their size is 24 – 45 inch / 61 – 114 cm and can 100 – 150 lbs / 45 – 68 kg, the lifespan in wild is 30 – 50 years, they feed on algae, seagrass, shellfish and marine sponges. The nesting season is between June and December, each nesting usually has between 160 to 250 eggs. The Hawksbill Turtles are endangered Species !!!

Green Sea Turtles are named by the color of their body tissue, not by the color of the shell. They have flattened upper shell with four shields on each side, dark gray-green head with two scales above the eyes. They grow up to 5 ft (60 inch) / 152 cm and up to 700 lbs / 317 kg. Their lifespan in wild is 80 + years, they feed on seaweeds and shellfish. Their nesting season is from May to September and each nesting has between 115 to 150 eggs.

Leatherback Turtles are the only sea turtles with soft shells. They have five lengthwise dark gray or black ridges with light spots, they don’t have scales on the head and have a prominent upper jaw with a sharp, curved beak. The leatherbacks are the largest turtles on Earth, growing up to 6 – 7 ft / 1.8 – 2 m and some of them weigh more than 2,000 lbs / 910 kg. The can dive deeper than any other turtle (up to 4,200 ft / 1,280 m) and can stay down for up to 85 minutes. Their lifespan in wild is around 45 years Leatherback turtles feed mainly on jellyfish. Their nesting season is from May to July and each nesting has between 80 to 90 eggs.

Unfortunately the population of turtles even in Dominican republic is shrinking, the major threats are not only catching, collecting the eggs and selling the meat for human consumption, but also fishing nets, in which they get accidentally caught and for leatherbacks plastic bags they see as jellyfish. To help to protect the turtles, please don’t throw any garbage overboard on your excursions and do not buy any souvenirs made of turtle shells.

Parrotfish (2 of 2)

Parrotfish (2 of 2)

Is sand actually parrotfish poop?
Parrotfish are one of the most important reef fish, eating algae and keeping the reefs clean. While cleaning the corals and eating the marine plants, they eat corals too, actually up to 75% of their guts is non organic. After they digest all the nutrients, the rest of the “food” gets out as sand. Believe it or not one single adult can “make” up to 1 ton / 2,200 lbs of sand every year! So next time when you come to Bayahibe (or any Caribbean island) and lay down on the beach, you will be actually laying on a fish poop hahaha.
But on a serious note, because of their job, the parrotfish are protected and are banned to catch in Dominican republic and the whole Caribbean. Please do not ask the locals to serve you a parrotfish lunch or dinner at the beaches please, because in the future we might not have enough sand to lay on.

Parrotfish (1 of 2)

Parrotfish (1 of 2)

Did you know most parrotfish are born as females? Most juveniles grow into females, when their leading male dies, the strongest female from the group turns into a male.
They live in small groups up to dozen females, each group is ran by a single strong male. The males defend their position from other males and protect their “harem”. When the male dies, the strongest female from the group turns into a male and takes the “harem” over, protecting the rest of the females. The change from female to male takes very short time, sometimes not even two weeks. Female parrotfish release many tiny, buoyant eggs that freely float in the water and settle into a coral until hatching.
Parrotfish are one of the most colorful reef fish in the Caribbean, the name comes from the shape of their mouth that looks like a beak of a parrot. They live up to 10 years and sexually mature when they are about 3 years old. Through every phase of their life they change colors, from juvenile, to large female, up to the final supermale period. They have the nicest and most beautiful colors when they reach their final stage.

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In the Sea