The Case for Parrotfish
By Katherine Mena, expedition guide on the Safari Voyager
This morning at Canal de Afuera Island, the water was spectacular. It was clear, the visibility was fantastic, and I had the feeling we were about to have an amazing day of snorkeling.
As soon as we got in the water, colorful panamic sergeant majors (Abudefduf trocscheli), barberfish (Johnrandallia nigrirostris), and blue-and-gold snappers (Lutjanus viridis) swam around us. It was the best welcome to this beautiful snorkel site.
After a few minutes of looking around, I identified different species of corals and even more species of fish. Then, I explained and showed to the guests the amazing relationship between parrotfish (Scarus rubroviolaceus) and the white sand beaches around us.
Parrotfish “beaks” and their fused-together teeth are used for scraping and biting dead coral, while additional teeth in their throats help to break it all down into sand (we were actually able to hear them chomping!).
Because parrotfish don’t have stomachs, their meals pass straight through the long intestine, exploding in a cloud of sand out the backdoor. Larger parrotfish are like sand factories, producing as much as 840 pounds of sand per year. That’s one of the reasons why parrotfish are so important for marine ecosystems.
Snorkeling here allows me the opportunity to share the importance of parrotfish with our curious guests. We continued to swim with the fish for quite some time, enjoying the crystal-clear waters and colorful sea life. It was yet another extraordinary day in Panama.