Biscayne National Park


A Sanctuary for Birds
Birds are drawn to the bay year-round. Each follows its own instincts for survival. Brown pelicans patrol the surface of the bay, diving to catch their prey. White ibis meander across exposed mud flats, probing for small fish and crustaceans.

Large colonies of little blue herons, snowy egrets, and other wading birds nest seasonally in the protected refuge of the Arsenicker Keys. The extremely shallow waters surrounding these mangrove islands in the south bay are especially well suited for foraging.

Fishes of the Reef
"In variety, in brilliance of color, in elegance of movement, the fishes may well compare with the most beautiful assemblage of birds in tropical climates," Louis Agassiz 19th century French naturalist, wrote after visiting the Florida reefs.

Reefs are in fact host to the ocean's most spectacular galaxies of fish. Along Biscayne's reefs more than 200 types of fish can be spotted. Each holds its own fascination for us. Some are impressive in size, others in color. Some are grotesque, others dangerous... or are they? Many behave in bizarre, unexplainable ways, at least to humans. Few places on earth can match the diversity of life that inhabits the reefs' underwater wilderness.

Imagine the most colorful scene you have ever seen—a field of wildflowers, the glittering lights of a city at night, a desert sunset. Whatever it may be, the dazzling spectrum displayed by the reef fish will equal or surpass it. The range extends from the most flamboyant—the angelfish, the wrasses, the parrotfish, the neon gobies—to ones that are quite drab and ordinary.

There is much speculation about what role the colors play. The answer differs for each fish. An eye grabbing wardrobe may serve as a kind of billboard, advertising a fish's presence. Vividly colored wrasses attract other fish in this way so they can clean them of parasites and dead tissue and, in return get a free meal. Multicolored bars, stripes and splotches blur the outline of other fish, making it difficult for predators to see them against the complex background of the coral reefs.

While morays are sedentary creatures, most fish swim freely about the reefs. Some, like the solitary angelfish, move with deliberate grace. Others dart about in schools of thousands of fish, moving together with the precision of choreographed dancers. Each close knit group offers protection to its members.

Reef fish are noted for their eccentric behavior. One interesting inhabitant is the sharp-beaked parrotfish. It can be seen, or even heard, munching on coral. An odd meal for a fish? Not really, because along with the rock the parrotfish is devouring algae and coral polyps, too.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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