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Sex on the reef: Coral Spawning

Bom chicka wow-woooow.
Coral might look all sturdy and boring, but a few nights a year about 75% of it gets together and has a big, sexy party. You see, rather than being all proper and taking the coral next door out for dinner first like any decent marine invertebrate would, the coral that reproduce sexually have a few nights a year when they just throw out all their eggs and sperm in one big reproductive party.
And it makes for some pretty awesome diving.
No one knows for sure when the exact date will be, but it’s always a few days after the last full moon in November. (Yes, I’m very behind on my blogging). All the corals get together when the sun goes down and mix all their bits to make more little coral babies (or planula, if we must be scientific) which will then settle down somewhere for the next hundred years or so and repeat the process.
I apologise now to all my friends reading this that have studied marine biology, I’m not even going to pretend that I didn’t get all of my ‘information’ off wikipedia.

This was to be my first ever night dive, but I wasn’t scared as I had the lovely Libby with me. She’s basically like a diving yoda and the lady who certified me for my advanced open water! Not content with being a pro diver, she is also very talented with a camera so all credit for pictures on this post go to her. Thanks Lib!
Rather than scamper off away far away from the boat we stayed within about a 20m radius and circled around. Thankfully it didn’t take us too long to spot some coral that was egging.

Rather than feeling scared and nervous in the dark water (although you are given a torch!) I found it to be one of the most relaxing dives I’ve done. Your world narrows down to whatever your spotlight hits. No distractions, no stress.

We took our time, stopping more than once to watch different corals releasing their eggs upwards.

Because the eggs are yummy fish food, you tend to find the reef has more hungry customers around than usual. And of course at night things behave very differently and you see the nocturnal critters running around.

Even the coral looks different, almost fluffy, as it sticks out it’s tiny tentacles to catch passing food (see below piccie). Hey, coral needs to eat too! It’s a reminder that coral is a living organism, not something that can be touched, prodded or stood on. It makes me cringe (and then rage) when I see people abusing coral. I once hit a Korean man underwater because he was trying to snap off part of a beautiful fan coral.

The water was warm, fish life plentiful and we kept coming across spawning coral.

It was an amazing dive, probably one of my all time favourites!

At one point we found a very strange creature. It was a translucent thin tube that spiraled around and around towards our lights. I think Libby may have got a video but if anyone has any ideas about what it might be from my dazzling description then let me know!

The below creature caught things with it’s arms then curled them down towards it’s ‘mouth’.

Look how happy I am to night dive! I’ve spoken to a lot of non or novice divers who say that they would be too scared to jump in to blackness, but everyone should try it at least once. You can snorkel the spawning too, but you really need to be able to get close to coral to fully appreciate the phenomenon.

Can you guess what this fish is called….? It’s a horse with a sword on it’s head fish! (Props if you got that reference).

One of the things I was dying to see was a parrot fish asleep.. Now I know what you’re thinking. (“A sleeping fish? Really?”) but when parrot fish sleep they do something pretty awesome. 
Certain types can create a little mucus cocoon when they fall to sleep at night. They secrete the mucus from their mouths, allowing them a little safe bubble to sleep in. Not only does this prevent predators from picking up their scent, it also acts as a warning system if the bubble is disturbed.
And we spotted one!!! Isn’t nature amazing?

After just under an hour my air was getting low so I had to surface and leave Libby to continue her explorations. After a hot dinner (which, given that the water was nearly 30 degrees, I didn’t really need) it was time for dive number two.
Don’t look at my shiny, shiny forehead. Look at my big smile!

On dive number two we saw less spawning but more critters. 
This big guy was having a snooze until we disturbed him…

And we got to see some ‘smoking’. This is the ‘boy’ part of the reproductive process. Ahem.

Along with eager divers we also had a film crew from ABC on board to film the event. Their equipment was enormous and lit up the entire area whenever they swam past. It made my tiny torch feel very inadequate.

Sadly after another wonderful hour it was time for us to surface back to the ‘real world’ once more. I can’t recommend not only night diving, but also seeing the coral spawning enough. It was an amazing thing to witness, and it’s a strange feeling to know that not that many people around the world will ever see it.

Thanks to the crew on T6 and to my dive buddy Libby for not only making me feel at ease for the whole evening, but also for taking and letting me steal her fantastic pictures.
I’m counting down to the Coral Spawning for 2014!
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