The invasion of sargassum may be putting off tourists, but it is also bringing some interesting new visitors to Cayman’s shores.
Frogfish, pipefish, juvenile turtles and ocean triggerfish are camouflaged in the tangled mats of thick brown seaweed.
While hotels and tourism staff hustled to clear the beaches Thursday, inquisitive dive staff at the Lobster Pot in George Town cast a net amid the seaweed and found a thriving micro community of unusual critters.
Among the weirdest and most wonderful is the tiny sargassum frogfish. The creatures, which live their entire lives in the seaweed, have the capacity to change color and blend with the background. They jostle for shelter and nourishment with a variety of other inhabitants.
Dawn Clerkson, manager of the Lobster Pot Dive Center, said they had found juvenile pipefish – similar to sea horses – and juvenile ocean triggerfish in the seaweed pulled from the water in front of the shop. Juvenile turtles, as well as a variety of common reef fish, are also known to shelter in the sargassum.
“Tourism-wise, it is not so great, but it is nice to see there is a flip side environmentally,” said Ms. Clerkson.
The frogfish, rarely seen in Cayman’s waters and an item on many diver’s bucket list, was a particularly fascinating find.
“It made our day,” she added. “Giles Charlton-Jones, one of the founders of the dive shop, has been diving here for 20 years and has never seen a frogfish.”
The Cayman Islands Department of Environment says the recent seaweed influxes are related to massive sargassum blooms occurring in parts of the Atlantic where nutrients are available and temperatures are high. The sargassum consolidates into large mats and is transported by ocean currents toward and throughout the Caribbean
“Sargassum is an important nursery habitat that provides shelter and food for endangered species such as sea turtles and for commercially important species of fish,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Environment said in a press release.
The department has published guidelines on the safe removal of sargassum from beaches. For more information, visit www.doe.ky.