Tuesday, October 14, 2008

EP Oct15: The ocean cleaners

(photo courtesy of Martyn, fr Flickr)

Before taking off for Bauan Batangas, I got a text message about our shoot: a very boring dive clean-up (again!), and a natural water cleaner creature– the sea sponges. Now anyone who is fond of a more animated animal show would conclude that our shoot and resulting TV episode would be outright boring. ;)

And so riding my van on the way to the site, I was desperately looking for an alternative story. I’m fed up w/ garbage and clean-ups (I’ve done like 8 or 9 episodes with that!).
Why not - a story of cleaning animals!

And so it began, the search for the not-so-elusive sea creatures, responsible for maintaining a good, healthy and clean marine environment.

- Sea Sponges / sea squirts. These are filter feeders, sucking in water and ‘eating’ organic particles in the process. By that process, they actually clean the water of those particles that could promote too much bacteria, or simply ‘pollute’ the waters w/ particles. Very easy to see or to video these animals as they simply attached themselves to the reef (permanently, unlike the feather stars), but the only movement you can see is the constant whoosh-in and whoosh-out of their suction valves. Sea turtles feed on sponges, jellyfish, and other toxic food, so the latters' number are regulated by our friendly predators.

- Clams / Giant Clams. These too are filter feeders. These are normally poached and eaten for their meat (mostly as Korean sashimi), and their shells used for ornament or house fixtures (bathroom sinks, etc). Their number dwindled so fast that they became threatened; fortunately – a group launched a seeding program to increase their number, in Bolinao (the source) and in Batangas (and some other parts in the Phils).
- Shrimp and Crabs. Not just good for eating, they too play a role in cleaning the ocean floor. Cleaner shrimp clean their hosts (corals, other animals) by eating particle debris attached to their hosts. More like the shrimp in Nemo movie. Crabs are generally bottom dwellers, so they clean up the floor, more like an underwater ipis. hehe ;)

- Echinoderms. Urchins and other bottom-dwellers like the sea star/cucumber also play their janitorial roles. ;)

- Grazing fishes such as parrot fish and other herbivores maintain and regulate algae growth. Too much algae kills corals, and promotes growth of bacteria. Too much organic substance and bacteria in the water (lake or sea) can deplete the dissolved O2 which then kills fish. I saw a bad algae bloom in one area in my dive-shoot, a sign of an imbalance in the ecosystem. Maybe the fishes prefer diver-provided feeds/breads and do not like to eat algae anymore? Hahaha I’m exaggerating.

I thought my trip to a small cavern to ‘experience’ a first-class hand/nail clean-over by our friendly platoon of cleaner shrimps - is going to be my trip highlight. Nakakakiliti ung shrimps as they nibble the dirt in your skin.

I got lucky to spot a few ‘cleaning station’ and see our friendly cleaner wrasse busying their day, snacking on the little tidbits attached to their fish ‘clients’. It’s a symbiotic relationship wherein the cleaner wrasse (the picture above) gets food by eating organic particles attached to the other animals (be it fish, moray eel, even sharks), and in return the client gets a free wash-over. The “cleaning station’ are sort of designated area where the wrasses advertise their services around, and fish actually visit the place. I was amazed to see a school of big damsels visiting the place, taking turns w/ the wrasses. Of course, there is an assumed agreement that no fish client should eat their cleaner wrasse. That’s bad for the business. Hehehe..

While watching these creatures do their daily task, I can’t help but be amazed by yet, another of our nature’s remarkable ‘arrangement’ in maintaining our eco-system.

The little contribution we can offer? To hell w/ the aquariums, leave the wrasses and other colorful fishes in their natural home. Nobody wants to be caged in a small room, right?

No comments: