Dominica 2014

Balloonfish Dominica Ned DeLoach
Young Balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus) were everywhere!

Dominica! When Ned and I were asked to lead a 2014 REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) field survey, we suggested the lush tropical island in the eastern Caribbean. Our 2011 visit with friends, including the Wilk family (of ReefNet fame) and Dr. Ben Victor, had been so productive that we were eager to return. The eastern Caribbean has some interesting diving and the region has plenty of unusual fishes to lure avid fishwatchers looking to add a few more species to life lists. Dominica has fishy reefs and easy access to alternate habitats like black sand plains, grass beds and rocky shorelines – great for exploring.

Starburst diving is what Ned calls our dive style: we all jump in and scatter in different directions, meander a bit, stop occasionally to watch something interesting or peer into crevices and under ledges for cryptic fishes, then wander back to the boat. Fish surveyors don’t have to swim fast or travel far down the reef and our crew at Castle Comfort Lodge and Dive Dominica got it and join the spirit of the hunt.

Balloonfish face Mike Poe via
Besides being cute, Balloonfish have such interesting eyes.
Red Banner Blenny Ned DeLoach
You can see why it is called the Red Banner Blenny (Emblemariopsis ramirezi).

During six days of surveying, our group counted 216 species of fish including the Red Banner Blenny, Yellowcheek Wrasse, and Lesser Electric Ray. We saw at least seven different Shortnose Batfish and many Balloonfish – they were everywhere – hovering under docks in tight little groups or tucked down into the grass where someone likened them to spiky little Easter eggs. Very young Coneys, just an inch or so long, moved nervously in and out of low-lying coral and once in a while we caught sight of a tiny blenny in the genus Starksia, darting around the urchins that they seem to favor as shelters.

Juvenile Coney yellow variation Ned DeLoach
We saw a number of tiny Coneys, some in this yellow variation; others were bicolored
Lesser Electric Ray Ned DeLoach
It was unusual to see this Lesser Electric Ray (Narcine bancroftii) cruising along a wall at 100′

There were plenty of Orangespotted Gobies, the Caribbean’s only species of shrimpgoby, keeping watch while their commensal shrimp plowed burrows in the mucky bottom. Googly-eyed Cardinal Soldierfish, nocturnal feeders and normally very shy could be seen on almost every reef dive, even during the day. Our guide pointed out a tiny Trumpetfish, so young that its body was nearly translucent.

Shrimp Goby & Shrimp Orangespotted Goby, Nes longus Dominica
Orangespotted Goby, Nes longus, stands guard while its commensal shrimp maintains the burrow.
Cardinal Soldierfish (Plectrypops retrospinis) by Mike Poe via
The googly-eyed, very shy Cardinal Soldierfish (Plectrypops retrospinis).
Trumpet Fish juvenile Mike Poe via
At 3 inches, this Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus) was so small, it was still translucent.

It was a successful two-week trip both for fishwatching and invertebrate hunting. Since we have so many images to share, including a number by our friend Mike Poe who joined us for both weeks, we are going to upload several posts, including one devoted to invertebrates and one about all the fun we had in the grass beds. We’ll be back in a few days with our next post: Dominica Invertebrates.

Blackcheek blenny Starksia lepicoelia Ned DeLoach
A tiny Blackcheek Shy Blenny, Starksia lepicoelia, darts from its urchin shelter
Yellowcheek Wrasse Ned DeLoach
Yellowcheek Wrasse (Halichoeres cyanocephalus) were another exciting sighting.