Reef fishes and their habitats
Published on Nov. 1, 2016 by Jonathan A. Anticamara, Ph.D.
Summary: Reef fishes are among the most diverse vertebrates on our planet, and their diversity is dependent on the diversity and health of their habitats - the coral reefs. Here, we present series of photos showing the variety of relationships between fishes their habitat, and how these relationship are destroyed by destructive fishing and various stresses that Philippine reefs are experiencing over the last few decades and in recent times.
Photo by: J. Anticamara

Coral reefs are shallow water habitats that are formed by tiny organisms - the corals. Coral reefs are typically found in clear water areas where corals and their symbiotic algae can thrive. The diversity of habitats formed by corals and other habitat-forming organisms living on coral reefs contributed to the great production of fish biomass and fisheries in most of Philippine coastal areas. However, these production have been decimated by destructive fishing such as the use of dynamite and cyanide, which have been practiced by Filipino fishers since the end of world war and still in recent times. There is a great need to stop destructive fishing and reduce overfishing activities to allow Philippine reefs to recover and become productive again - to support the need of the growing Filipino population and their demands for food and coastal livelihood.

Photo by: J. Anticamara

A picture of intact, but overfished reef. Here, the variety of available fish habitat can support high density and diversity of fish communities, if only fisheries in most of Philippine fishing grounds is regulated at sustainable levels. To ensure sustainability and high production and profitability of Philippine fisheries, the number of fishing boats and amount of fishing effort per unit area need to be monitored and managed. Thus, investment in fisheries monitoring, management, and recovery is very important part of Philippine fisheries. Allowing fishers to fish without limits, even in the face of depleted fisheries will only generate more hardships on Filipino fishers and will render Philippine reefs unproductive.

Photo by: J. Anticamara

The base of reef fish productivity are the corals and the small fishes. The small fishes need the corals for shelter from predators, and the small fishes are the food sources of many large predatory fishes. Therefore, to produce more large fish, there needs to be healthy reef cover, and abundant small fishes.

Photo by: J. Anticamara

Here, a Butterflyfish seeks shelter in a specific Acropora coral - its favorite hiding place and also source of food. This Butterflyfish feeds on coral polyps of this Acropora coral. If this Acropora coral is decimated, then then Butterflyfish will also die of starvation.

Photo by: J. Anticamara

Shelter is very important for fishes. Even the venomous Lionfishes sometimes aggregate and seek shelter inside a Barrel Sponge. Without shelter (e.g., in most dynamited reefs), most of reef fishes simply cannot survive and maintain healthy population sizes.

Photo by: J. Anticamara

Similarly, for a predatory Grouper, shelter, such as coral branches or crevices (holes) are important as hiding place from larger predators.

Photo by: J. Anticamara

For an Anemone fish (remember Nemo), the Anemone is a very important shelter, and they have developed special tolerance to Anemone sting, which most other fishes cannot tolerate. Without the Anemone, the Anemone fish will be more vulnerable to predation by larger predatory fishes.

Photo by: J. Anticamara

For Cardinalfishes, the spines of Sea Urchins are perfect shelter from predators.

Photo by: J. Anticamara

To date, most reefs in the Philippines, especially those that are unprotected from unlimited fishing, are already in degraded state - a product of destructive fishing, siltation from land, and coral bleaching from super warm water during the summer. There is a great need to invest in finding the best scientific solutions to monitor, manage, and recover the health of Philippine reef habitats and thereby increase the productivity of Philippine reefs for the benefits of many Filipinos.