Another fish identification dive?
This was my thought during my first week at TRACC (Tropical Research and Conservation Center) after we had performed a few fish ID dives and were getting ready to head out for yet another ID dive. Honestly I didn’t realize how important they were to the project until I started asking questions.
Fish identification is much more than going out and taking pictures of every different fish you see. It’s actually a big part in rebuilding the reef.
Because positively identifying all the different species of fish in the area, shows how healthy the reef is.
The more diverse the reef the healthier it is!
A healthy reef has marine animals ranging from the highest in the food chain to the lowest. It needs the small algae eating animals all the way to the top predators like larger fish and sharks.
Without this balance, the reef would be struggling to survive.
That is why fish identification is so important. It can tell us what species there are and where they are living, as well as, what species are lacking.
Right now sharks are still missing from the area, but hopefully they will make their way back. One good sign is that we have seen large fish in the area that are usually found near sharks…..so keep your fingers crossed!
Performing a fish identification dive is pretty simple. We take slates to jot down any information about the fish we see and photograph all the different species so we can positively identify them after the dive.
Lucky for me I always have my camera on me, so I can take photos of all the fish. When you have a bad memory, a camera is key!
After the dive, we will then go back to camp and go through the data that was taken and check the photos to positively identify the fish we just saw.
Another way to check the diversity of a specific species of fish is by doing a fish survey. This sounds like the same thing as fish identification, but it is not.
A fish survey is going out and surveying a specific family of fish and all of its species.
For instance, we might choose to check all the different angelfish in the area while out on a dive.
There are literally dozens of species of angelfish that live in the area from the commonly seen Bicolor Angelfish to the very shy Juvenile Emperor Angelfish.
By doing a survey of all the angelfish, we can learn what areas they are more commonly found, what they are eating, what coral attracts them, how many different species of angelfish are in the area, and if the ratio between adolescent and adult angelfish in each species is balanced.
If there are substantially more adult angelfish, it might be a sign of a problem in reproduction and breeding. If the numbers of the adolescent angelfish are outweighing the adults, there might be a problem with overfishing in the area.
All of this information is crucial when trying to rebuild the coral reef and keep it healthy.
Just like every ecosystem, there has to be a balance in place for the environment to thrive.
If an imbalance is found, we can try to figure out how to fix the problem before it starts to do permanent damage to the area.
Another big reason fish IDs and surveys are really important is to bring in more money.
If TRACC can prove they are creating a positive effect on the reef, they might attract bigger organizations to help fund or even join in the program.
There is also the matter of tourism, which can bring money to Pom Pom Island. Obviously you wouldn’t want to pay to go snorkeling or diving somewhere that has nothing to look at. Believe me I’ve been there and was extremely disappointed.
The more fish we can show live near Pom Pom the more people will want to pay to visit the reef.
Now that I know how important the surveys and identifications are I won’t be questioning why we need to do them anymore.
If you would like to learn about fish identification and volunteering at TRACC, you can find more info on their website.