Ronald Flores Jr. exploring Mona underwater • Photo: Supplied

Isla de Mona Redux, Part 2

A World Underwater

I admit to having no knowledge of what lives under the surface of the sea. The closest I have ever been to tropical fish has been in aquariums and on a few (spectacular) snorkling trips off Icacos, an islet near Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

My son, Ronald Jr. explored the southeast of Puerto Rico’s uninhabited Mona Island in 1998, more than a half century after my own expedition there. But he went one step farther: he and his friends captured images of underwater wildlife and explored an underwater cave during a four-day Scuba dive adventure there.

I don’t think he was able to research and record many specifics about the marvels he saw and photographed. After all, 24 years ago few resources existed to make it easy to identify what he saw. And most of those 24 years he was otherwise occupied above ground as an Army NCO in Germany, Iraq and Saudi Arabia!

Banded butterflyfish (Chaetodon striatus) • Photo: Ronald Flores Jr.

He shared his photos with me recently and I set myself the task of identifying the sea life in them. The banded butterfly fish (above), I discovered, is common in the waters of the Caribbean and in many parts of the world. I didn’t know the name of the fish until now but I at one time I kept several in a salt water aquarium in my home. (According to the American Oceans website, the practice poses no threat to this particular species.)

A Longspine squirrelfish (L) and a Stingray • Photo: Ronald Flores Jr.

The silvery red Longspine squirrelfish (Holocentrus rufus), is also a popular aquarium fish. It is both edible and tasty. It can be noisy: it uses sounds called “grunts” and “staccatos” to defend its space, says Wiki. Why “squirrelfish?” It’s the huge eyes, of course!

The stingray, a relative of the shark, deserves an equal amount of repect thanks to its venomous spinal blade. Steve Irwin, the Australian “Crocodile Hunter,” was stabbed by a stingray 100 times within seconds — his death was famously captured on camera. It might be a good idea to avoid them, although one source called them “curious and playful” as long as you respect their personal space! Ronald Jr. saw (and repected) several during his dives off Mona.

It isn’t necessary to know the names of the marine species to enjoy Ronald Jr.’s photos, of course. But it is a delight to contemplate how it must have felt to fraternise with fish in the cool waters of the tropical sea!

Searching the sea bottom and finding a white chub (Kyphosus sectatrix) • Photo: Ronald Flores Jr.

It’s interesting how similar it is to search for the identity of a fish as it is for a bird. Dennett, a Medium editor and writer, introduced me to Google Lens and since then I have used it to ID most of the birds I have photographed in Puerto Rico. (Here is a link to my favorite of the series: Bird couples.)

I then found I could identify such things as landmarks and monuments in places I had visited (and forgot about) during long-ago trips. It is truly amazing that you can place a photo taken anywhere in the world (including undersea) onto the Google homepage and seconds later learn all you want to know about it!

A mysterious box on the bottom of the sea • Photo: Ronald Flores Jr.

This barnacle-covered box is possibly a remnant of the guano-extracting industry that flourished off the shore of Pájaros beach in the 19th century — maybe. The captain of the diving charter boat pinned it with a GPS location and it was left undisturbed, my son reported.

What was also undisturbed (and surprisingly identifiable) is an angelfish. However, this species, Chaetodontoplus, identified as such by Google Lens is usually found in the Indo-Pacific region, so it could be as case of mistaken identity.

Stoplight parrotfish? Photo: Ronald Flores Jr.

This is a parrotfish, most likely the Stoplight parrot fish (Sparisoma viride). The name comes from the marked yellow spot near the pectoral fin, according to Wiki. I saw many large parrotfish feeding off the coral reefs in Mona during my 1964 expedition and some became part of a delicious dinner at the lighthouse. Ronald Jr. related that one of his friends during his 1998 trip speared a three-pound parrotfish that he then cleaned and cooked. The flesh is considered a delicacy: it tastes more like shrimp or lobster than fish.

Porites, or stony coral (L) and another errant Angelfish
Finger coral? and Brassy Drummer (Kyphosus vaigiensis) • Photo: Ronald Flores Jr.

Coral is a fascinating marine feature — or creature — but, as I have admitted, I am no expert. Coral, I knew as jewelry, or interesting objects to place in an aquarium, and something you should not step on. Coral and coral reefs are endangered and should never be damaged or collected. That is the extent of my knowledge. (My wife once decided to bleach the coral in my saltwater aquarium — with catastrophic results. She will never live that one down!)

Black triggerfish or black durgon (Melichthys niger) • Photo: Ronald Flores Jr.

As Ronald Jr.’s photos attest, coral often creates phantasmagoric forests in the the sea. The varsity-sweater striped fish is either ignoring the trees or feeding off them. The ID is by Google and Wiki, but the black triggerfish is not listed as found in the Caribbean. It is common in Hawaii, polynesia and across the Indian Ocean. So it is also a guess.

Ronald Flores Jr. • Photo supplied

Ronald’s most exciting underwater adventure was to follow an experienced guide in the group into a vast underwater cave. The divers entered in single file through a narrow passageway and emerged in a hidden cavern where for 15 minutes (the maximum safe time) their lamps illuminated formations eons in the making.

Before one of another of the group dives, a nearby Coast Guard cutter radioed the captain of the boat to verify his itinerary and confirm the safety procedures and life vests aboard. It was a similar CG patrol boat, the USCGS Aurora, that we boarded at Pájaros (near Mona Light) to return to Puerto Rico in 1964.

Small island; small world!

In case you missed it:

Coming soon: Isla de Mona Redux, Part 3: A Cavernous Conclusion

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Ronald C. Flores-Gunkle

Ronald C. Flores-Gunkle

An aging humanist hanging on to the idea that there is hope for humankind — against all current indications. You can see his published work on Amazon.