Interview with Sealife IV: Exploring the Rocky Subtidal Community

fish in shallow water
As summer draws closer, the springtime winds die down and the Caribbean waters begin to calm. The resulting flat seas open a completely new door in the sport of snorkeling. Accessible only when the ocean is like glass, the abundant ecosystem that defines the rocky subtidal community is a great place to visit. To find this gem, simply look along the Yucatan’s coastline; between each of the sandy bays, there is a stretch of rocky coastline. Most of the year, waves are crashing upon these rocks, however, when the opportunity arises, this is one of the pretties spots for some sealife appreciation!

sponge on the Mesoamerican Reef
From years of watching non-aquatic humans snorkeling, I need to first touch on the two major concerns when attempting to snorkel beyond the protected waters of the bay: currents and the actual swimming to the other side of the barrier reef. Only strong swimmers should consider leaving the calm waters of the bay. Before heading out, inquire at an area dive shop about the strength of the day’s currents as well as for the location of the ‘cut’ in the reef. Each captain in the area knows where the reef is lower, allowing safe passage for boats in and out of the bay. These ‘cuts’ are generally marked with a buoy and are the safest spot to swim out of the bay. It is important to NOT stop and sightsee while traversing the ‘cut,’ for boats will surely soon need to use the area.

Here in the Yucatan, the rocky coastline is actually the prehistoric reef remaining from when the sea level was much higher. Its jagged and abrasive surface only becomes more grueling for animal survival with the addition of crashing waves and constant turbulence. Only hearty marine animals and plants - that have a strong holdfast to the subtidal hard substrate - can survive.

coral on the Mesoamerican Reef
The result is a dense covering of low-growing plants and sessile (non-moving) animals creating a colorful patchwork of living organisms. A few of the creatures to look for are sponges, anemones (Nemo’s home), and hydrocorals (fire coral). Be sure to keep your distance from the fire corals, however, their red color with thin whitish hairs are sure a beautiful sight! In terms of the mobile creatures living in this zone, keep your eyes peeled for a large variety of sea urchins, crabs, lobsters, and starfish tucked in the niches and nooks.

In an area that receives constant wave action, it is amazing to see so much life! The rocky subtidal community never ceases to amaze me. For those seeking something a little challenging and a little different on the next calm day, take a snorkel outside the bay. It is incredible!


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