It’s almost like a rodeo out there.
Seahorses used to be rather uncommon in Cayman, but over the past year or so, divers seem to be finding them more and more. At a dive site in West Bay alone, just a few meters apart, three of the shy creatures were spotted this week.
When news of the sightings of two of the long-snouted seahorses – one black and one yellow – spread over the weekend, many divers turned up at Divetech at Lighthouse Point in hopes of catching a glimpse or photo of the creatures they were in about 25 feet of water.
Then on Monday, Cherie-Anne Henderson Dam thought to herself, if there were two seahorses there could be three, and kept her eyes open as she walked back to shore at the end of the dive. In fact, she came across another yellow seahorse with its tail wrapped around a piece of coral in three meters of water.
She said that compass She plans to do another dive there soon because “I bet if it’s three it’s definitely four.”
There is an abundance of theories as to why seahorses appear to be found more frequently in local waters these days, from being affixed to the drifting Sargassa blankets to less boat traffic and divers due to the COVID-related border closure, simply because there are more macro photographers who underwater and encounter them as they search for even smaller creatures.
Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, director of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute based in Little Cayman, at a request from the compass on the recent abundance of seahorses in local waters, said, “My immediate suspicion is that macro photography has increased relatively recently due to the local diving community.”
She said, “This increased focus on finding small things, rather than pointing out big things to guided divers, could be one of the main reasons we see more, which means there may be no more seahorses, but we just see them. “More often.”
She found that this year, by chance, frogfish were also spotted quite frequently. These tiny creatures have rarely, if ever, been recorded on Cayman, but macro photographers have been taking regular photos of them lately.
“The second most likely reason, in my opinion, would be the reduced traffic, both for divers and boats, resulting in animals that normally hide in the open, which in turn would mean that the numbers may not have changed, but they are. “more visible,” said the CCMI director.
“The final reason would be an increase in recruitment,” she said. “Recruitment is the influx of new individuals into a community, typically as adolescents, and it varies annually and seasonally. It may be that there was a very successful reproductive year / season that resulted in a larger than normal heart rate of baby seahorses settling on our reefs. Without data on this, I can’t even begin to speculate whether / why we would see increased recruitment this year. However, this last scenario would actually mean that the increased sightings correspond to an increased number of seahorses. “
Goodbody-Gringley said she thought all of these scenarios were “possible” and “positive”.
The three seahorses at Lighthouse Point have generated a lot of interest in the past few days and are possibly the most famous sea creatures on Cayman right now, with dozens of photos on Facebook and Instagram feeds.
Divetech owner Jo Mikutowicz said, based on her observations while diving in Cayman waters for more than 10 years, “I feel like we’re seeing more of them after Sargassum rolls in”.
“I think it’s a nice place to live in, and when it washes on our shores, so do they,” she said.
Mikutowicz said that during the breeding season – from February to October – seahorses “bond”, “so the months when you can find one, you can usually find two”.
Since they blend so well with their surroundings, she estimates they’ve probably been in Cayman waters the entire time, but now “so many trained eyes are out there looking for them”.
Sergio Coni, who runs Don Foster’s Dive in George Town and often leads guided dives where he points out tiny underwater animals, also supports the theory that seahorses are more common because a new cadre of macro photographers learns to look for them and find creatures .
“A smaller area is spending more time looking at every detail and improving visual recognition of shapes and objects – especially smaller objects,” he said. “In that regard, is my opinion [seahorses] were there all along; we just swam on it. “
However, he doesn’t think the theories about less boat traffic and fewer divers during the closure of local borders can explain the increase in seahorse sightings far from here – Blue Heron Bridge in Florida, Bonaire, Honduras – have lots of seahorses and also boat traffic, Divers and pollution. “
Coni wonders if perhaps the marine food chain has changed for some reason, making the shallow waters off Cayman a more attractive habitat for seahorses.
“When I think of marine life, I think of food that is carried along the water column and activates the food chain. Maybe something has changed in terms of food availability, like more tiny shrimp, and seahorses are finding the right environment to thrive, ”he said.
Whatever the reason they’re here, every time there’s a new sighting, there is excitement among divers and photographers as the news spreads like wildfire across social media and WhatsApp dive groups. Specific directions are sought and exchanged, along with information on the exact depth at which the animals were seen and a detailed description of the surrounding corals and other points of interest.
As Goodbody-Gringley puts it: “Increased sightings of unique and special creatures not only make diving on Cayman even more exciting and attractive, but also suggest that despite all the challenges facing our coral reefs, there is still hope for the little guy.”
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