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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The "The Turks & Caicos Islands: Part II - The Sea" Story

Sting Ray glides across the living coral reef in T&C (Tom McDowell)
It was an ordinary day.  Sitting with Tom, talking about the photo- graphs he is loading onto my flash drive from the many dives he has taken since his arrival on Providenciales two months ago.  I met Tom and his friend Randy, who owns a beachfront condo on Grace Bay Beach, three years ago when we stayed at Ocean Club Resorts.  The two good friends dive almost daily, either off the beach at Ocean Club, or off the coast of any of the many islands that make up the Turks & Caicos chain of islands.  The islands offer some of the best world-class diving that feature an abundance of underwater flora and vibrantly colored fish and other marine life.  
One of many sharks that inhabit the reef. (Tom McDowell)
The reef system which surrounds the islands is 250 miles long which is the third longest in the world and is one of the top ten diving destinations in the world.  At one point on the islands, the reef wall drops off 7,000 feet.  Off Salt Cay is the wreck of the HMS Endymion which went down in a storm in 1790.  Off the shore of Middle Caicos is a reef which has a depression known as the "Blue Hole" which is an almost perfectly round depression that is home to sharks, stingrays, giant groupers and sea turtles.  Right along Grace Bay Beach are a few great snorkeling trails where you can see many of the colorful fish which are less threatening than the large scary fish of the deep.  
Fish feeding on healthy reef. (Tom McDowell)
As Tom shows me photo after photo he has taken along the reef system, we talk about the health of the reef.  His photo- graphs feature many sharks which are vital to maintain the balance of marine life and keep the biodiversity of the reef intact.  Without the sharks controlling the food chain, algae would smother and kill the coral reefs.  Since shark populations have been declining all over the world, the Turks & Caicos Islands have begun a shark awareness program and are helping to protect the many species of sharks that inhabit the waters of the T&C Islands.  Then Tom showed me a few photos that featured beautifully colored coral reefs which feature thousands of tiny animals living in limestone homes.  
A Lion fish which came from the Indo-Pacific. (Tom McDowell)
These tiny animals, or microorganisms, are photo- synthetic and provide the color, but when water pollution occurs or the water becomes murky, the micro- organisms can be threatened and die, thus turning the once colorful coral a blanched white color.  Algae can also kill the microorganisms so the fish population is necessary to maintain the algae.  Another big factor in the health of the reef is climate change.  Climate change is causing sea temperatures to rise and corals are very sensitive to temperature changes.  The microorganisms leave the coral when the water temperatures rise too high, thus causing bleaching of the coral.  Overfishing also can do damage to the coral since many fish species eat the algae that can damage the coral and with the loss of certain fish to overfishing, the coral can die.  
Severe bleaching as seen in a reef that is dying.
The Turks and Caicos Islands have also been threatened by the invasion of lion fish which have arrived from the Indo-Pacific oceans.  The lion fish eat just about anything and everything and the Parrotfish is one of their favorites.  Seems the Parrotfish is one of the main fish that keep algae under control on the reef and if they become extinct, the coral will die.  New housing developments along the coast of the island also can cause pollution which is a threat to the coral reefs.  And, divers, snorkelers and boaters need to be careful that they don't damage the coral reefs.  I'm sure the seas and oceans of the world will not die during my lifetime, but without conservation methods, they may die and create a vast loss for all of mankind.  Here's hoping the peoples of the world take action before it's too late.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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