Location: Coral Gardens, Great Dog Island, Virgin Gorda, BVI
by Wayne & Karen Brown
Yorktown Clipper is still docked at Leverick Bay. Today we taking a boat from Dive BVI out to go snorkeling. We are with Dive BVI divemaster Cori, again. We are going snorkeling at Coral Gardens where we made our first scuba dive in the Virgin Islands over two weeks ago (Day 2). Joining us are our student explorers, Thomas, Nathan and Michael. On this visit to Coral Gardens will not be visiting the plane wreck that we explored on our first visit here. We will only be snorkeling, not scuba diving, so we can only dive as deep as we can hold our breath. The plane wreck to too deep for everyone to snorkel on.
On this visit we will only be exploring the shallow areas close to the rocky cliffs of Great Dog Island. This will give us a chance to compare the shallow reef areas to the deeper reef areas we visited before.
Remember on our first visit Cori told us about the special boat moorings that are here to protect the coral reefs? After we jumped in the water we snorkeled over to the front of the boat (bow) to see how the moorings are attached to the bottom. From the large orange mooring ball on the surface a long, thick nylon rope is attached to a metal ring on the bottom. The metal ring is the top of a large bolt that has been drilled and cemented into the coral reef. The coral reef has only been damaged a little by drilling into it. This mooring ring will prevent damage to the coral reefs from anchor damage now and in the future.
We snorkel over the reef. The bottom is about 20 feet below us. The corals rise up as high as 8 feet off the bottom. We see all the many different corals that we saw on our first visit here. The corals look healthy. They look healthier than the corals we saw at Peter Island (Day 15 - PM).
We swim further from the boat and closer to the island's cliffs. The bottom is now about 15 feet below us. We notice something we did not see during our first dive here. We see algae covering some corals. These corals in shallow water were affected by storms and changes in the environment that did not affect the corals in deeper water. The algae in the shallow water probably had more nutrients that had washed off the island into the sea during storms.
Algae on the reef can be food for many different kinds of fish, crabs and snails. If more of these algae-eaters will survive and grow they will eat the algae before it seriously damages the corals here. Because this is a protected area we hope that in the future, if we visit this reef again, we will see more algae-eaters and less algae covering the corals.
As we snorkel along we see some big eyes staring up at us from under a coral head. We hold our breath and swim down for a closer look. It is a large porcupinefish (a type of pufferfish)!
Porcupinefish are funny-looking fish. They are kind of boxy-looking with large eyes. When they get scared they puff up full of water. This type of pufferfish is called a porcupinefish because it was sharp spines that stick out when it inflates. Pufferfish blow-up when they get scared so bigger fish can't put them in their mouths. This porcupinefish must not be too scared of us because it is not blowing up. We may have surprised it as it was looking under corals for its favorite food. Porcupinefish love to eat snails. With powerful jaws and teeth like a parrot's beak the porcupinefish can crack open the snail's hard shell.
Even though the porcupinefish is not really scared of us it is nervous about us being so close. When we hold our breath and swim down to see it the second time it swims out from under the coral and quickly swims away across the reef. It's funny to watch it swim. It does not swim as gracefully as other fish. When it swims quickly its body shakes from side to side.
Cori is calling us back to the boat, so it's time to leave. Even though we have swum a long way from the boat going back will be easy. There is a little current and we have been swimming into the current the whole time. Now the current will help push us back to the boat!
We had a small problem going back to the boat. Thomas took off his mask to adjust it and dropped it! When we went to help him look for it he had drifted past where he dropped it. We all looked for about 15 minutes and never found it! (Warning: Anytime you are in deep water, never take off your mask because you may drop it and it will sink!)
Tomorrow join us for scuba diving!
Wayne & Karen Brown
Coral Gardens, Virgin Gorda
Position: 18º 28' N / 64º 27' W
Air Temp: 85ºF
Weather: light breeze, sunny with scattered clouds.
Sea Conditions: calm seas, slight current
Water Temp: 81ºF
Thomas (one of our student explorers) ready to join us snorkeling at Coral Gardens.
Our Dive BVI snorkeling boat is tied up to this mooring line. The mooring line is attached to a metal ring that is screwed and cemented into the reef.
We can see the garden of corals that gives Coral Gardens its name.
The corals in front are covered with brown algae. This algae can smother the corals and kill them.
We found this large porcupinefish watching us from under a coral head. It is about one foot long. (Enlarge the picture and look for its spines that are laying down, pointing toward its tail.)
Nervous about us being too close, the porcupinefish quickly swims away across the reef. (You can see its boxy body.)