marine Animals of Vanuatu
Vanuatu is home to a number of reefs that are teeming with colourfully rich corals and diverse species of marine animals. These include your large and majestic mammals such as dugongs, dolphins and whales to the passive and docile sea turtles to the weird and wonderful nudibranchs, octopus, sea cucumbers, starfish, moray eels and many many more. Here are some marine animals that you might happen to come across while swimming, snorkelling or wading through the waters of Vanuatu.
Corals are living animals that grow, eat and reproduce. They are made up of hundreds to thousands of tiny organisms called 'polyps'. These polyps have developed a symbiotic relationship with tiny plants cells called 'zooxanthellae', that live within the polyp. It is this relationship that contributes to the vibrant and diverse colours of a coral reef. A healthy and biodiverse reef are not only important for tourism but also contribute to rural incomes, nutrition, shoreline protection and the self reliance for the people of Vanuatu. Please, help us to protect our reef and reduce the impact of current Coral Reef Threats.
Nemo (Clown Fish)
Clown fish or more commonly known as Nemo, have a symbiotic relationship with anemones, meaning that they live together in each others favour. Anemones protect clown fish from their predators with its stinger-like tentacles, and in return clown fish provide a source of food for the anemones as well as ward off predators such as the butterfly fish. This is just one example of the many interactions between different species of marine animals in a coral reef environment.
The iconic Coconut Crab is the largest arthropod in the world, growing up to 1m in length and 4kg in weight. The claws of these unique hermit crabs are powerful enough to crack open coconuts, from which they are aptly named, but as omnivores they also feed on animals including rats and birds. It may come across as strange to consider them a marine animal, but although they spend most on their life on land, they release their eggs in the ocean. Once the larvae of the coconut crabs have completed their development, they will once again return to land.
Known as a Kowfis in the national language of Vanuatu (Bislama), these herbivorous marine mammals feed on seagrass meadows throughout the Shefa Province. They can grown up to 3m in length and weigh as much as 400kg. These magnificent creatures are regularly seen in the waters of Mele Bay, Havannah Harbour and at Pango Beach on the main island of Efate. But, remember these are wild animals and although they are seen on occasion, the opportunity to swim with one in the wild is extremely rare.
There are a number of different species of sea turtles found in Vanuatu. These include; Green Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle and the Leatherback Turtle. Over the last few decades, the numbers of sea turtles have declined around the world. This is largely associated to ocean pollution, coastal development as well as poaching and illegal trading of their eggs, meat and shells. In Vanuatu, there are a number of communities and villages that have supported their protected and offer the opportunity to see them in the wild in their natural habitat. The best place for this is in Lamen Bay, Epi Island. If you are lucky you might even come across the resident dugong there as well.
Nudibranchs come in all different sizes and are some of the most colourful creatures on earth. These animals are surprisingly a mollusc, meaning that they are closely related to sea snails. Their shell, however, is lost early on in their development leaving behind their iconic feather-like gills positioned on top of their body. As a consequence of losing their shell, which is a very important defence mechanisms, their colourful nature wards off any potentially predators through the appearance of being either poisonous or very distasteful.
The most commonly seen starfish while wading through the rock pools or swimming in the shallow waters is the blue starfish. They feed on both plants and animals by extruding its stomach through its mouth, covering its food and digesting it externally. Like many other starfish they can also regenerate their arms if lost or damaged, growing back into a full seastar.