One dark and starry night in January a local college professor was ready to quit fishing off the deep-water docks in Gorontalo City. As he reeled in his empty hook, suddenly he snagged something. After patiently bringing his catch to the surface, he discovered that his empty hook had snagged the eye socket of a huge, strange fish. It looked like a silvery, flattened disk with long upper and lower fins but no tail. It measured two meters long! A remora stubbornly stuck to the strange fish�s face. The catch was taken to Gorontalo Provincial Fisheries Department. No one had ever seen such a creature, so they decided to preserve it in a local cold storage facility.
Last week during the Coral Preservation Campaign, local fishermen told Miguel�s Diving staff about the strange catch. After seeing its picture in the Fisheries Department office, we immediately realized it was an Oceanic sunfish (Mola mola). Seen in the oceans since the time of ancient Troy, its Latin name means millstone, since it looks like the flat round stone used for grinding grain into flour. The Oceanic sunfish is the largest bony fish in the ocean, measuring up to three meters and weighing up to two tons. It swims by flapping its long dorsal and ventral fins from side to side. Although pelagic, it is often near the surface. It is most often observed in the wild whilefloating motionless on its side, basking in the sun.
Its huge surface area is an ecosystem for thousands of parasites. Mola molas will come close to coral reefs for cleaning by tropical fish, including bannerfish. Once observers saw a huge sunfish floating on the surface, so that seagulls could pick it clean. The huge fish then flipped over, giving the gulls its other cheek. Mola molas mainly feed on jellyfish and plankton but can blow water to search for food along the substrate. Its hide is up to 15 centimeters thick! Causes of its eventual death are parasites, nets, and great white sharks. It is found in all oceans both tropical and temperate. One of the best places in the world to see this unusual fish is off Nusa Penida in Bali during the summer months. Click this link for great photos of this swimming millstone.
In conjunction with World Environment Day, Miguel?s Diving is sponsoring a public awareness campaign on coral reef preservation. The target audience is fishermen whose livelihood depends on a healthy marine environment. The biggest threat is the practice of making fertilizer bombs to blast fish. Although this results in a huge catch initially, many fish and marine life unsuitable for market die as well. Live coral formations are ruined. This loss of habitat has had dramatic, negative impact on fish catches elsewhere. Fortunately, along the coastline where Miguel?s Diving bring divers, damage is confined only to certain places with many locations untouched.
Our emphasis is the need for local fishermen to guard their own reefs. Along this coastline of Gorontalo, those who fish with bombs are no longer locals but outsiders. As a direct result of this campaign in past years, local fishermen have rowed out to meet outsiders who have entered the area to blast fish. They deliver the message that blast fishing is not allowed in this area designated for marine tourism. They also mention that the governor likes to dive here. As a result, the intruders quickly leave without throwing their bombs. This is a clear victory for local fishermen and their families.
Miguel?s Diving visited five villages this week accompanied by representatives from the Provincial Fisheries Department and law enforcement. Our part of the campaign involves a great flip chart on marine environments courtesy of North Sulawesi?s Bunaken Marine Park, plus a house-of-cards demonstration on the effects of bombing, and samples of different kinds of coral where the coral polyp skeleton is clear. We also leave behind several cartoon, color posters telling the story of a coral reef that is destroyed by bombing. The caption in Indonesian and Gorontalo languages reads, ?Destroying coral reefs destroys the livelihood of fishermen. Don?t let it happen here!?
An unpredictable but annual visitor to Gorontalo is what we affectionately call the Blue chip plankton. Seen only in the first couple meters of the water column, this marine creature looks like a chip of iridescent blue paint. It measures about five millimeters. If you approach one with your finger, it will swim away a bit before extinguishing its color and disappearing into transparency.
Gorontalo is close to Sulawesi diving hot spots of Bunaken Marine Park, Lembeh, and the Togian (Togean) Islands. However, we are often finding things unknown to those familiar with diving in these adjacent locations. One striking example is what Phuket?s dive guru calls White foxtails after a recent visit. These are colonial tunicates whose translucent white members grow from a central basal stalk. These foxtails are found in Gorontalo hanging from sheltered overhangsand deep pinnacles where they are protected from the current. Some colonies are almost a meter in length.
Tunicates are marine animals that have an incurrent and an excurrent siphon for pulling in food and releasing waste. Tunicates are also called ascidians or sea squirts. Most of our marine biologist buddies had never seen these until diving here. You are only likely to see these beautiful foxtails by diving in Gorontalo, Sulawesi?s newest location for finding unusual marine life.