by Alex Lichtblau

Coral Spawning...Tight Schedule

 The milky way splashed across the night sky above Roatan, Honduras on a perfect night for coral sex.

The milky way splashed across the night sky above Roatan, Honduras on a perfect night for coral sex.

Recently I joined a few ocean-nerd friends of mine on a very special night dive in Roatan, Honduras. The group was comprised of the photo essayist responsible for this recent viral coverage of plastic pollution in the ocean, the author of my go-to fish ID book Caribbean Reef Life, the director at the Roatan Marine Park, and myself. Our dive needed to take place between September 11th and 14th, from 9pm through around 10:30pm on any one of those nights. We had to stick to that schedule because the coral spawning prediction chart for the year said so. The coral spawning chart said so because those dates would be approximately one week after the full moon. Corals choose 2 to 3 hours per night, within 2 to 3 nights per year, to do all their doin’ it for the year, and we wanted in on the action. We agreed to meet at the dock at 8:30pm, where our boat was only a quarter mile from the dive sites.

(Spawning is one of the final steps in the process of coral mating. Hard coral colonies release both egg and sperm into the water at the same time, where fertilization must take place by sheer chance collision. The ocean is quite large a place to meet; hence the strict adherence to a schedule.)

Island Time

 This reef scene in Roatan, Honduras, shows a dazzling array of corals, sponges and other marine life all vying for the chance to mate.

This reef scene in Roatan, Honduras, shows a dazzling array of corals, sponges and other marine life all vying for the chance to mate.

If you have ever spent any time in a small island community, you probably understand what it means to be on "island time". This refers to the general disregard for strict schedules, because... 'cool out brah'. So at around 9 the four of us arrived, boarded the boat (a small fiberglassed inflatable) and began setting up our dive equipment. The captain and fourth member of the group tried pull starting the engine, once, twice, three times and on the fourth pull, the cord snapped. We all simultaneously looked at our watches and saw 9:06pm.

The captain and I jumped out of the dingy into the thigh-high water and both grabbed the bowline. We walked the boat to belly high water and then swam the 100m to the nearest buoy. With the clock reading 9:15pm, and time running out for our chance in the reef madness everyone geared up quickly and began the 200m swim through the boat channel to the nearest dive site.

When I finally caught my breath and started to descend, it was 9:23pm, but when I looked in the water, I didn't see any dramatic sexual eruptions or the snowy aftermath drifting the water. We hadn't missed it yet.

 A black spotted moray emerges from a group of star corals, the exact species of coral we intended to watch have sex.

A black spotted moray emerges from a group of star corals, the exact species of coral we intended to watch have sex.

 This octopus is perched on a star coral (seen in the lefthand side of the frame), one of their favorite places to hunt.

This octopus is perched on a star coral (seen in the lefthand side of the frame), one of their favorite places to hunt.

Sex On The Reef

We all hung in the water, neutrally buoyant, swaying in the surge and hovering over the star corals. Shortly thereafter at 9:35pm, the corals began to swell in a very subtle way that only someone who looks at coral all day would notice. 10-15 minutes after the swelling, the corals began erupting, the whole reef’s worth, releasing their eggs into the water by the thousands. Each coral head would suddenly materialize their gametes from nothing, like a strange biological rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick. I swam about feverishly trying to see the trick again and again, trying to understand the magic of reproduction and life displayed perfectly and succinctly in a dazzling mad-dash display. The whole reef was coral sex...and we were swimming in it. This, oddly and magically enough, was my favorite dive.

Coral Spawning Fever

With all of the excitement in the water happening all at once, I nearly forgot I had my camera in tow. I was able to capture a few brief seconds of the act on film ... WARNING: NSFW

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by Alex Lichtblau

I first dived in the Galapagos in 2011. It inspired in me an unmatched passion...the ocean. Since then I've travelled the world, diving, exploring and building my own dive travel and dive instruction business, Inside Under Dive & Travel. To learn more about me and my passion, see my bio. Also, learn more about dive certifications and courses, or going on a dive trip with me.

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