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Netted Barrel Sponge in Grand

Cayman, B.W.I.

A Caribbean barrel sponge is essentially a host to a colony of animals. Made of several cell layers, barrel sponges construct a wall of spicules in the shape of a large tube or bowl. The sponge's cells then pump water through its permeable wall, allowing the sponge to capture microscopic plankton for food. Because of this process, other invertebrate filter feeders and reef fish are attracted to the siphon-induced current of water initiated by the sponge. This Netted Barrel Sponge (Verongula gigantea), photographed at a depth of 8 m in the Cayman Islands, is surrounded by a community of polychaete feather duster worms (Anamobaea orstedii), bryozoans (Schizoporella sp.), tunicates (Eudistoma sp.), hydroids (Gymnangium sp.), zoanthids (Palythoa caribaeorum), and various other sponges.

The reefs in the Cayman Islands are managed under strict marine conservation laws establishing a zoned system of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). While the health of several reefs have declined throughout the Caribbean, the diversity and abundance of reef species appears to have remained quite high along the Caymans. One area of concern is the threat of powerful hurricanes during the late-Summer/Autumn seasons. This photograph, taken after Hurricane Ivan had passed over the island, showed that certain species were able to withstand the force of such an event. In fact, it has been postulated that a tropical cyclonic event can even trigger a new generation of colonization among benthic coral reef species, similar to the fire-induced pollination of certain terrestrial forests.

This underwater photograph was captured by Chris Makowski ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) , Vice-President of the Coastal Education & Research Foundation, during a research trip to the Cayman Islands.


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