Sea Plumes in the Caribbean

Caribbean Sea Plume (Pseudopterogorgia sp)
A Caribbean Sea Plume (Pseudopterogorgia sp.)
by B. N. Sullivan

In earlier posts (such as this one about the Red Sea) I have noted that underwater scenery varies a lot from one region to the next.  Fauna characteristic of a given area can provide instantly recognizable clues to the location of a photo.  For the Caribbean and adjacent tropical waters, one of those clues is the presence of Sea Plumes like the one in the photo above.

Sea Plumes can be found on patch reefs and along dropoffs throughout the Caribbean, as well as some areas of the south Florida coast, the Keys, and in the Bahamas [which are technically in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean].  They are a type of Gorgonian soft coral, in the same taxonomic Order as Sea Fans and Sea Whips.

The polyps of Sea Plumes tend to be arranged in rows along their branchlets.  The colony has a furry or fuzzy appearance when the polyps are extended, as in the photo above.  When the polyps are retracted the branchlets have a smooth, stick-like appearance.  Sea Plumes like to establish themselves in areas where there is some tidal current or other flow that facilitates feeding.  To feed, the polyps catch plankton and other nutrients that pass over them.

Sea Plumes come in an assortment of colors -- mostly greens and browns, but also purple.  The color depends on the presence or absence of zooxanthellae in their tissues.

Some species grow more than a meter tall.  The one in the photo above, which I photographed at Cayman Brac, was about a half meter tall and its branches spread nearly a meter wide.

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