More Than Your Everyday Fish Tale
Text and Photography by Bill Harrigan
If you are into fishwatching, St. Lucia is the easy place to find those hard to spot fish. The reefs here are favorites with fish photographers because so many of the more exotic species are seen regularly. Even divers with years of experience can see two or three new species on a single dive.
On one of my first dives in St. Lucia I hadn't been in the water 30 seconds when I came across an Atlantic Guitarfish, Rhinobatos lentiginosus, in the sand. I had just entered from the beach and had barely gotten my fins adjusted. After shooting a few frames of this cooperative fish, a four foot long Goldspotted Eel, Myrichthys ocellatus, swam by. It looked more like a rare jungle snake than a fish and it was not the least concerned with my presence. As I watched it from only inches away, it casually rooted in the sand for food.
Still only a few minutes into the dive, I left the eel to its dinner and swam over to a small coral ridge. Another unusual eel was waiting there, this time a Viper Moray, Enchelycore nigricans. Fortunately these eels are not large, because they are endowed with a set of wicked, needle sharp teeth. Through the viewfinder of my macro lens the Viper Eel looked like a Hollywood monster.
This was destined to be a dive for peculiar eel encounters, as the very next thing I saw was a Spotted Moray, Gymnothorax moringa. Of course, Spotted Eels are not particularly rare but this one had both a Neon Goby, Gobiosoma oceanops, and a Banded Coral Shrimp, Stenopus hispidus, cleaning it at the same time.
The rest of the dive was more normal;if you consider a lush coral reef and hundreds of tropical fish normal. Near the end of the dive, though, I noticed what looked like the end of a small log sticking out of the sand at an angle. Up close I realized that it was the head of a Spotted Snake Eel, Ophichtus ophis. The rest of the animal was buried in the sand and it remained motionless while I shot a series of photos.
Not every dive off St. Lucia produces so many sightings of rarely seen animals but there is a good chance of seeing something unusual. Anse Chastanet Reef, in particular, seems to be home to an extraordinary number of the more unique undersea creatures. One of the reasons may be that there are so many different physical habitats on the reef. In the shallows there are rock ledges, sandy bottom and coral ridges. There is a middle reef composed of hard corals living on fossil limestone and there is a deep coral wall. The entire reef is perched on the deep edge of the Caribbean Sea, with access from the Atlantic Ocean.
The nighttime inhabitants of Anse Chastanet Reef are just as exotic as the day dwellers. The Red Banded Lobster and a nearly translucent form of the Orange Ball Corallimorph are rarely seen elsewhere. Pairs of Reef Squid can usually be found in the shallows. Then there is an unidentified, snake-like invertebrate called the Thing for lack of any other name. Extremely sensitive to light, the Thing will quickly recoil from the glare of a dive light.
Naturally there are many other fascinating but somewhat less rare fish off St. Lucia. Yellowhead Jawfish hovering over their burrows are found in many places along the reefs. Occasionally, a male can be seen carefully incubating the eggs in his mouth. Colorful Harlequin Bass will hold their ground even when an inquisitive diver approaches. Needle-nosed Houndfish hunt their prey just below the surface and Stoplight Parrotfish use their sharp beaks to scrape polyps from the coral heads. Wherever you turn, St. Lucia can be magic for fishwatching.
For more information about diving in St. Lucia, contact any of the St. Lucia resorts or dive operators listed in the sidebar accompanying this article.
St. Lucia Dive Operators
Marigot Beach Club
Royal St. Lucian