You are on page 1of 97

Jacob Dafni

Jacob Dafni
Eilat’s Coral Reefs
The last decade has brought new dangers to the coral world. Global warming, coral
bleaching, over-exploitation, pollution and careless coastal development have affected
almost all coral reefs and sites around the world.
Eilat’s reefs have been spared the notorious bleaching effect, due to lower seawater
temperatures, but human-related stresses affected the reefs of the Gulf, where

Eilat’s Coral Reefs

scientists have recorded a notable decline of the diversity and degradation of coral
reefs in the northern Gulf of Aqaba.
Nonetheless, these reefs still show a high diversity of corals and reef organisms. The
text and pictures included in this book are testimony to the rich and diverse fauna of
Eilat’s coral reefs. Most of the photographs included in the book were taken there
during the last 5 years.
Nowhere in the world do coral reefs exist in such proximity to a fast-growing
city, to an oil port and to tourism-related development projects, and their mere
preservation is a stimulating challenge. We believe that increased local awareness
and utmost dedication of the community will ensure the survival of Eilat’s coral
reefs against all odds.
Dr. J. Dafni, a marine biologist who has been studying the northern Gulf of Aqaba
for almost a half of a century, started his work there as a local guide for the Society
for the Protection of Nature. He served initially as a warden in Eilat’s Coral Marine
Reserve, and later, during his Master’s and PhD studies, explored the diversity and
morphology of marine animals in polluted sites. In his scientific and educational career,
as a teacher of marine studies and as a director of academic studies in a local college,
he has never abandoned his faith that coexistence
between urban development for the benefit of
man and nature preservation is possible.
Dr. Dafni’s previous book, “The Gulf of Eilat,
from the Red Sea to the Red Line”, published in
2000 in Hebrew, is a comprehensive source book
and an account of the natural and human history
of the Gulf shared by four countries. The present
book is an updated pictorial summary of the coral
reef and adjacent habitats, within the boundaries
of Israel’s coast.
Cover photographs: The colorful diversity of
Eilat’s coral reef fauna
Photographers: I. Ben-tov, J. Dafni, M. Levin,
D. Weinberg Ye’ela Publishers 972-523-854981

To buy Dr. Jacob Dafni's book Photography: J. Dafni M. Levin

& Divers of the “Tapuz” Diving Forum
Press here
Eilat’s Coral Reefs
© 2008 Jacob Dafni
All rights Reserved By Ye’ela Publishers 2008
P.O.B. 14677, Eilat Israel 88580

‫אילת‬ Coral Reefs
‫האלמוגים של‬ ‫שוניות‬
‫במבט אופטימי‬
Jacob Dafni, PhD
Ben-Gurion University, Eilat Campus

Graphic Design: Lior Dafni
Cover Design: Lior Dafni J. Dafni, M. Levin
Printed and bound by El-Dan, Eilat and Divers of the “Tapuz” Diving Forum

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,

stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means,
electronics, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the
.prior permission of the copyright holder

ISBN 978–965–91252–1–0
Printed in Israel 2008

1. Introduction 4 Groupers 116
Preface 6 Basslets or Goldies 117
Genesis 8 Butterflyfishes 118
2. Habitats of Eilat’s coast 10 Angelfishes 120
Tide and intertidal 10 Damselfishes 122
Coral reef 12 Wrasses 124
The lagoon 16 Cleaning stations 126
The open sea 18 Parrotfishes 128
3. Algae and lower animals 20 Goatfishes and company 130
Algae and seaweeds 20 Hawkfish 131
Sponges 22 Flounders and Soles 132
Cnidaria - Hydrozoa 24 Keeping a low profile 133
Jellyfishes 26 Blennies 134
4. Corals, variety 28 Gobies 136
Coral main divisions 30 Gobies and other small fishes 137
Coral as a biotope 31 Surgeonfishes 138
Reef corals taxonomy 32 Rabbitfishes 140
Facts on corals 35 Sea breams 141
Coral forms 36-52 Nocturnal fishes 142
Hermatypic corals 53 Sweeper fishes 144
Ahermatypic corals 54 Living in the current 145
Soft but not Soft Corals 59 Triggerfishes and Filefishes 146
Soft Corals 60-65 Trunkfishes 148
Gorgonians and Fan corals 66 Porcupinefishes 149
Sea Pens 68 Pufferfishes 150
Organ-pipe Coral 69 Pearlfishes 151
Sea Anemones 70 Anglerfishes 152
5. Invertebrates 74 On the sand and beneath 153
Worms 74 Sea turtles 154
Mollusca 76 Dolphins and Whales 155
Shell-bearing snails 76 7. Pollution and human effect 156
Nude snails 80 High and low diversity 157
Bivalves 82 Pollution types and effect 158
Squid and Octopus 84 Coral predation 159
Shrimp and Crabs 88 Artificial objects 160
Echinodermata 90 Species dynamics 164
Sea Stars 92 Coral nursery 165
Sea Urchins 94 Artificial reefs 166
Sea Cucumbers 96 Ship wrecks 169
Brittle Stars 98 Underwater photography 170
Feather Stars 99 Diving sites 171
Tunicates 100 Eilat Coral Nature Reserve 172
Hemichordates, acorn worms 101 Underwater Observatory Marine Park 174
6. Reef fish & Vertebrates 102 The “Dolphin Reef” 176
Coral fishes 103 Underwater restaurant 177
Sharks 104 Um-Rashrash Educational Coral Reserve 178
Skates and Rays 106 Eilat’s coral reefs in the 21st century 180
Fishes as predators 107 Endnotes 182
Eels and Moray eels 108
Further Reading 183
Seahorse and relatives 110
Glossary 184
Indices 186
Pegasus 112
Photo credits 190
Lionfishes 113
Scorpionfishes and Stonefishes 114

2 3
About this Book Corals and Fishes in the coral reef
The aim of this book is to remind the reader of the presence of a living and active wildlife resource
in the shallow water adjacent to the urban region of the City of Eilat. This natural resource suffered
considerable damage during the last few decades, firstly because the main conservation efforts
were concentrated on the 1.5 km stretch of the Coral Nature Reserve coast. Secondly, it was the
common conviction of the local and national population that “there is nothing to see underwater
in Eilat - everything is already gone”. In recent years, while investing special efforts to regulate
the unprecedented large numbers of divers (who did not accept this doomsday prophecy), and
to reclaim the neglected and dwindling reefs, it became evident that it is in fact possible to
rehabilitate much of the damaged reefs and to establish a sustainable development program for the
northern tip of the Gulf and its Eilat beaches. This includes enforcing of environmental protection
regulations, and inserting artificial structures that will increase the shallow water capacity for
fish and other marine organisms and of course benefit the divers. This book aims to advertise this
blessed activity.

The reader will find in this book a description of the habitats and their living organism
inhabitants, and will see them as well as read about them. Various topics such as geological
background, reef formation, tide, currents etc. will be mentioned briefly in everyman’s language,
without burdening the reader with technical detail. Scientific terms marked in italics are explained
in a short glossary at the book’s end.
I am convinced that knowledge increases awareness, and public awareness is vital for the
struggle to preserve the marine environment for our benefit and that of our children for decades
to come.
The tourist will find here a concise body of knowledge about the origin of the Red Sea, its
geology, climate and tide regime. The diversity of coral colonies and their contribution to the
reef is discussed, with emphasis on the organisms that reside amongst them in the reef and its
environment, with abundant pictures, most of them taken in the last 5 years. Nevertheless, it is not
a guide. You will find a reference list of books and guides for plants, invertebrates and fish at the
end of the book. My previous book “Gulf of Eilat, from the Red Sea to the Red Line”, published
in Hebrew in 2000 is a comprehensive account of the natural and human history of the Gulf and
the northern Red Sea. Some of the included information has been incorporated into the present
Identification of many organisms, especially invertebrates, is not always as simple as it is
generally believed, since it must be done by experts for each and every taxonomical group,
using subtle microscopic details. A special effort was done to establish the identity of most of
the described species. I have also created an internet guide for the invertebrates of the Gulf of
Aqaba (Eilat). It contains a collection of ca. 1200 species of corals, molluscs, sponges, worms,
crustaceans and echinoderms.
The reader is encouraged to use it: Nevertheless, many scientific
names are arbitrary, waiting for taxonomists’ decision*

J. Dafni

* In uncertain scientific identifications you may often find the abbreviation cf., meaning
“confer”, or “compare with”. The abbreviation sp. means that only the genus is known, and spp.
means that several species may be included within this identification. Coral reefs are the most diverse and beautiful of all marine habitats. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin

4 5
Preface Sea and Life
Eilat is an ever-growing city with over 60,000 inhabitants. It was established in 1949, one mile Life depends on water, and in the sea, water is quite common. A miraculous form of matter, water
west of the historical site of Biblical Eilat, in the Jordanian side of the border. During its first two is the only compound found on Earth as solid (ice), liquid and gas (steam). Sea water is the cradle
decades, the town’s economy was based on copper mining in the surrounding desert, as well as of life on Earth. Water absorbs the sun’s energy on summer days, warming the Earth; Water also
on the development of a southern port for the state of Israel. An initiative to develop commercial radiates its heat to warm the air at night and throughout winter, and cools the air during daylight
fishing in the Gulf of Aqaba failed because of the limited level of organic productivity in the Gulf hours in the summer.
of Aqaba. In the mid 1960’s Eilat entered a new era as a tourist resort. Blessed by the relative Weather is all about water and air. Solar radiation causes evaporation, and in higher altitude
warmth of the desert winter, the cool and blue waters of the Gulf, and of course the lavish and the water liquefies, forming clouds that will be carried about by winds, and ultimately drop their
colorful coral reefs, Eilat has gained a worldwide reputation. A small stretch of shore was destined charge as rain or snow. Eilat, due to its warmer air, gets very small quantities of rain and can be
to be one of the first coral reef nature reserves in the world. Marine biological research and the defined as a desert.
Underwater Observatory Marine Park, established in 1975, brought millions of spectators closer In the warm climate of Eilat, rain and wind storms are very rare, and the climate is mild.
to view and observe the seascape, and many scientists carried study of the coral realm. SCUBA Although in summer temperatures rise to 450C, in the low humidity the heat is less inconvenient
diving and snorkeling are both well developed in Eilat and its neighboring towns. than in humid regions. Once or twice a year, southern wave storms hit the northern part of the
The last decade has brought new dangers to the entire coral world. Climatic and human Gulf. They usually last several hours (picture).
activities unite to cause global warming, coral bleaching; over-exploitation of fish and other Billions of years ago in the sea, chemical molecules arranged themselves into a simple
marine organisms, pollution and non-sustainable coastal development affected almost all coral organism, which was able to exploit the earth’s mineral resources and reproduce: the first living
reefs and sites around the world. In Bali, Indonesia, a world famous coral reef resource, only 6 creature. A further ‘invention’, photosynthesis, in plants, is the most important life-sustaining
percent of the reefs are now in healthy condition. process in evolution: a unique molecule – chlorophyll – traps solar energy and turns carbon
The Eilat reefs have been spared the notorious bleaching effect, but a dispute has been raging dioxide, a waste material, into glucose, the basic sugar that builds the living tissue of plants and
for years regarding the possible deleterious effect of cage-based mariculture of fish near the is consumed by all animals along the food chain. Water takes an important role in this process.
northern shore of the Gulf, where many scientists have recorded a notable decline of the coral
reef in the entire northern part of the Gulf of Aqaba. Sea water is always on the move. Solar energy that warms the sea causes it to form currents that
The appearance of coral reefs here is no less of a miracle. Favorable climate, clear water and shift water masses from the warm tropics to the high latitudes, thus making human life there
other environmental factors turn the coral reefs into an underwater oasis in a nutrient-poor sea, possible. Colder water currents move back to the tropics, sinking to the abyss. Due to topographic
justly named by marine ecologists a “blue desert“. Though, the content and pictures included here conditions – shallow sills in the southern entrance to the Red Sea – colder deep water does not
are testimony to the rich and diverse fauna and flora of the underwater environment of Eilat. enter it, and therefore its water temperature never drops below 200C (820F).
Most of the pictures included in this book were taken during the last 5 years at Eilat reefs. Sea level is constantly changing. The gravitational pull of the sun and the moon causes sea
Although we screened out many pictures showing damage and deterioration in the different level to rise in high tide, and drop down at low tide, six hours later. In Eilat, the tidal range is
habitats, the potential for healing is there, and measures combined with self-restraint of shore about 1 meter (3.3 feet) at most. Seasonal low tides cause the sea level to drop further and the
development entrepreneurs and divers will pay dividends in the future. Presently, measures coral reef top is exposed and many corals may die.
taken by the Nature Reserve Authority, such as closure of certain protected areas and strict rules
imposed on divers, are already showing results, but dangers still exist.
We face the challenge of preserving this underwater bounty for the generations to come. We
believe in the capacity of Eilat’s coral reefs to flourish. Against all odds, the coral reefs of Eilat
should survive.

Photo: J. Dafni Southern storm waves hitting Eilat northern beach. Photo: M. Chen

6 7
Genesis: How it came into being The Red Sea Rift, the Dead Sea Rift is a transform rift, meaning that land masses along this
All open seas are interconnected directly or through sea straits. Therefore a change in one sea rift do not‫שבו‬
‫סוואנות‬ split, they move
,‫יבשתי‬ ‫עמק בקע‬ horizontally
‫תחילה היה זה‬alongside each other
.‫ומפרציו‬ ‫סוף‬-‫ים‬ “strike-slip
in a‫היווצרות‬ ‫ ”שלבי‬fault. The Arabian
‫ממחיש את‬ ‫האיור‬
affects other water bodies, either directly or indirectly. Eilat is situated at the remotest end of the Plate
‫ אך‬,‫קדום‬moves northwards
‫סוף‬-‫ים‬ ‫ שיצרו‬and the Sinai
,‫התיכון‬ plate is‫לבקע‬
‫מכיוון הים‬ shifted to the‫פרצו‬
‫הים‬-‫מי‬ south, in a movement
‫בהמשך‬ .‫וצומח טרופי‬ that ‫חי‬
Red Sea, in the northern Gulf of Aqaba (Gulf of Eilat). One glimpse at the map may reveal much for
‫כיאות‬105 km ‫לים‬
.‫טרופי‬ over‫והפכוהו‬
the course of the
‫מדרום‬ last ‫ההודי‬
‫נכנסו‬ 20 million years.‫ומימי‬
‫האוקיינוס‬ The Dead‫הקשר הזה‬Sea Rift ‫ניתק‬extends all the
‫מאוחר יותר‬
of the structure and origin of this sea, and the processes that created its shape and nature. It is way
‫אל‬-‫באב‬ from the Gulf
‫במצר‬ of Aqaba
,‫לאוקיינוס‬ ‫מוצאו‬ through the Arava
.’‫ מ‬3,500-‫ל‬ ‫ מגיע‬Desert
‫ עומקו‬.‫מאד‬ and the‫עמוק‬ Jordan
‫סוף‬-‫ים‬ Valley, forming
,‫גיאולוגי‬ ‫על בקע‬ sea‫שנוצר‬
common knowledge that the Red Sea is part of the geological rift system formerly known as the deeps
‫הוא “מיני‬and ‫אילת‬
the terrestrial
‫ מפרץ‬.’‫ מ‬basins 130 ‫על‬of‫עולה‬ the ‫אינו‬
Sea and,‫רדוד‬ other lakes.
‫מפתן‬ ‫ולו‬The
25-‫רוחבו כ‬ picture illustrates
,‫הוא צר‬ ,‫מנדב‬
“African-Syrian Rift”, a geological process that undoubtedly touched the early history of mankind this
‫מפרץ אילת‬ Initially,
‫במוצא‬the Red ‫מצרי‬
,‫טיראן‬ Sea was a terrestrial
‫עומקם של‬ .’‫ מ‬1860 rift ‫עומקו‬
valley,‫אך‬ like
‫ק”מ‬ the20-‫מ‬
present‫ קטן‬time
that evolved in Africa and spread to other parts of the globe. We will discuss here in short these valley.
‫ של‬the‫אופיו‬ sea‫בקביעת‬
invaded‫רבה‬ from the north,
‫חשיבות‬ and finally
‫לתכונות אלה‬ the northern
‫נראה כי‬ ‫ בהמשך‬connection
.’‫ מ‬250-‫ כ‬,‫יחסית‬ was closed and
‫ רדוד‬,‫סוף‬
pre-historic events, and figure out how they affected the marine environment of our area. the
‫הים‬Red ‫ מי‬Sea became an
‫בטמפרטורת‬ extension
‫שינוי‬ ‫לכך שיש‬ of the
‫גורם‬Indian Ocean. ‫סוף ים סגור שכיוונו הכללי‬-‫היותו של ים‬
Africa and the Arabian Peninsula are shreds of a larger tectonic plate that tore and its pieces .‫מעלות‬
The26Red ‫ רק‬Sea‫באילת‬ basin‫ואילו‬ is 3,500m deep, but
,‫מעלות צלסיוס‬ 30-‫כ‬its‫סוף‬-‫ים‬
opening to the
‫בדרום‬ ‫המים‬Gulf of Aden is,‫בקיץ‬
‫טמפרטורות‬ narrow, 25km,
- African and Arabian tectonic plates drifted apart as much as 300 km, in the “Red Sea Rift”, for and
‫נמוכה‬ shallow, only 130m
‫טמפרטורת מים‬ ‫שכן‬deep. The‫יותר‬
,‫קריטית‬ Gulf‫ומפרציו‬
of Aqaba – 1860m
‫סוף‬-‫ים‬ ‫בצפון‬deep,
)‫מעלות‬ has20-‫(ל‬
also‫המים‬ a narrow
‫ חום‬and
at least 35 million years. The rate of continental drift is too small to perceive visually, an annual opening,
.‫של ים סוף‬whereas
‫ לאורכו‬the ‫הים‬-‫מי‬ Gulf‫במליחות‬
of Suez‫עלייה‬is shallow
‫ ניכרת‬,‫כן‬ throughout
‫ כמו‬.‫אלמוגים‬ – only 80m ‫קיום‬
‫שוניות‬ deep.‫מאפשרת‬These properties
‫מזו איננה‬
3-5 cm, but if multiplied by the millions of years that have elapsed, the width of the Red Sea is deeply
.4.1% ‫לכדי‬affect‫מגיעה‬
the oceanographic
‫ובמפרץ אילת היא‬ nature of the,3.5%
‫בצפונו‬ Red Sea.– ‫בעוד שבדרום היא כמליחות מימי האוקיינוס‬
easily explained. ‫השפעה‬Being an enclosed
,‫והמליחות‬ ‫הטמפרטורה‬ sea with ,‫אלה‬a ‫לשני‬
.‫לאוקיינוס‬ orientation
‫מים המחובר‬ explains
‫ביותר בגוף‬ the summer temperature
‫המליחות הגבוהה‬ ‫זוהי‬
‫להתקיים‬from ‫מסוגל‬ 300C in the south,
‫ימי‬-‫הטרופי‬ ‫והצומח‬to 260C
‫כל החי‬ in the
‫ לא‬north,
.‫ומפרציו‬ dropping
‫סוף‬-‫בים‬ as ‫והצומח‬
low as 200C in Eilat‫על‬
‫תפוצת החי‬ during
The topography of the Arabian and African coasts and the obvious ‘fit’ - land heads against the winter (nearing the lower limit for coral reef existence). .‫קיצוניות‬ A similar‫כה‬ gradient
the salinity
bays in the other side - is a convincing evidence to such tearing. Geologists believe that the brings
‫ בירידה‬the Gulf of,‫קרח‬
‫שהתבטאו‬ Aqaba next to
‫תקופות‬ ‫כמה‬ a world
‫ הארץ‬record
‫על כדור‬for‫עברו‬ oceanic seawater
)‫האחרונות‬ ‫השנים‬ – 4.1%.
‫בעידן הרביעון‬ and
Red Sea is the early stage, manifestation of a new ocean, which will reach its final size millions salinity
‫להתכסות‬are,‫ואסיה‬ both factors
‫אירופה‬which ,‫אמריקה‬limit‫בצפון‬
the distribution
‫לאזורים נרחבים‬ of Indian ‫וגרמו‬Ocean
,‫בממוצע‬fauna ‫חום‬ flora along
and‫מעלות‬ 4-5-‫ כ‬the‫של‬
of years from now. Like most rifts, the Red Sea Rift has a smaller rift connected to it, which Red Sea,‫של‬and
‫תקופות‬ ‫בשיאן‬the cause
’‫ מ‬130for ‫בכדי‬the‫בהם‬high‫המים‬
‫את מפלס‬ of endemic species (up‫ממי‬
‫האוקיינוסים והוריד‬ to 50%
separates the small Sinai Plate from the Arabian Plate. It is called the “Dead Sea Rift”. Unlike families).
‫מלאה‬ In the Quaternary
‫חלקית או‬ ‫גרמה לחסימה‬Period ‫שבפתחה‬ the Earth
‫גובה המפתן‬ several glacial periods
‫סוף אל‬-‫בים‬ ‫מפלס המים‬ (ice ages),
‫ ירידת‬when
‫ גרמו‬,‫ בו‬global
‫המדבר הגובל‬temperature ‫ וחום‬dropped
‫מהקרינה‬by‫הנובעת‬ several‫הרבה‬ degrees Celsius,,‫זו‬causing
‫וההתאדות‬ ‫חסימה‬seawater
.‫ים לאגנו‬-‫מי‬to cool and ice
‫כניסת‬ ‫של‬
to accumulate in the .‫שבו‬world’s
‫של החי‬temperate
‫או חלקית‬regions.
‫בהכחדה מלאה‬ During ‫שהתבטא‬
the glacial periods
‫משבר‬ the land
– ‫סוף‬-‫ים‬ ‫של‬surrounding
the Red Sea
‫והצמחים‬ ‫החיים‬became ‫ בעלי‬more.‫ הים‬arid than before,
‫לתחייתו של‬ ‫הביאה‬ and,‫שנה‬the meager
6000-‫לפני כ‬ supply‫שחלה‬ of rain or river‫הים‬-‫פני‬
,‫האחרונה‬ water to the
‫את הים‬ while‫ואכלסו‬evaporations
‫ חזרו‬,‫סוף‬-‫ים‬ lowered
‫למוצא‬ the‫הסמוך‬
seawater level‫בים‬
,‫הערבי‬ beyond
‫מחסה‬the‫ומצאו‬ 130m,‫המשבר‬ sill, connecting
‫שחיו בו לפני‬ the
Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. It is believed that the Red Sea became.‫בו‬ partially or totally isolated,
‫המיטביים לשרור‬ ‫התנאים‬
possibly dried
‫והתחדשו‬ ‫המשבר‬ out‫בעת‬ and‫שמתו‬salt accumulated
,‫שוניות קדומות‬ in its
‫ הן‬bottom.
‫של אילת‬In‫האלמוגים‬the inter-glacial
‫האלמוגים בחוף‬ periods, ‫משוניות‬
between‫חלק‬ the
‫את‬ ‫שינתה‬seawater
‫סמוך לאילת‬ level ‫המפרץ‬
rose again, and connection
‫במפלס מי‬ ’‫ מ‬130 ‫של‬with ‫שירידה‬ the ‫לזכור‬
ocean‫יש‬ resumed.
.‫מפלס הים‬ It is‫עליית‬
assumed that
in the
‫אז‬ ‫שנחשף‬last ‫החוף‬
ice age, .‫יותר‬ 12,000-15,000
‫שנקבע מאוחר‬years ‫ הנוף‬ago, sea level
‫רישומה על‬ ‫את‬dropped
‫והותירה‬130m ,‫תקופה‬ below‫באותה‬ present
‫ מאד‬level.
‫מפת החוף‬The
more ‫מהווים‬
‫כיום‬ recent return
‫שחלקם‬ of ,‫עמוקים‬
the sea, some‫קניונים‬ 6,000 years‫המפרץ‬
‫חרצו בו‬ ago, brought
‫שנשפכו לתוך‬back most of the,‫מאד‬
‫והנחלים‬ animals and ‫התרחב‬
‫והעמיק‬ plants,
which sheltered in the Gulf .‫מבוקשים‬of Aden and‫יעדי‬
‫צלילה‬ the Arabian
‫ימיים שהם‬-‫תת‬ Sea throughout the climatic
‫ נופים‬,‫מימית‬-‫התת‬ crises, which
‫מהטופוגרפיה‬ ‫חלק‬ is
reflected by the high rate of endemism. It is also believed by some scientists that Eilat’s coral reefs
are rejuvenated pre-Ice Age reefs. The latest Ice Age topography has been transformed into some
beautiful underwater canyons and other attractive diving sites.

‫ים ומדבר נפגשים בראש מפרץ אילת‬

Desert and sea meet in the Gulf of Eilat (Aqaba)

Four stages in the creation of the Red Sea and its Gulfs. After S. Marco (1986). Photo: J. Dafni ‫ דפני‬.‫ י‬:‫צילום‬

8 9
Habitats: Tides and intertidal Intertidal rocks and tide pools
The phenomenon of cyclic oscillation of water level, the tide, is known in all marine and estuarine
shores. The link between the water level and phases of the Moon and Sun has been known since
ancient times. Observations show that high or low tide peaks lag by 52 minutes from one day to
the next, and that highest vertical tidal extension appear in the beginning of the lunar month (as in
the Hebrew calendar, which is based on the phases of the moon), and two weeks later, when both
the Moon and Sun, are in a straight line relative to Earth and their gravitational forces combine.

The intertidal zone is your introduction to the marine realm. It is a “hybrid” between marine
(in high tide) and terrestrial habitats (in low tide). For marine organisms the intertidal zone is a
forbidding terrain. They face twice daily extremely different conditions on a twice-daily cycle -
being submerged at high tide, and totally exposed to strong solar radiation and dry air heat and
high salinity several hours later when the water fall down. Furthermore, they have to withstand
frequently strong wave conditions. On the other hand, the animals that adapted to inhabit the
intertidal zone are less threatened by competition from other marine animals and usually develop
larger populations. Generally, the intertidal zone has a much lower diversity of organisms than the
submerged zones.

Animals in the intertidal beach rock and pools*: Chiton (Acanthopleura vaillantii), Barnacles (Tetraclita squamosa),
preyed upon by Whelks (Thais hippocastanum), Common Limpet (Cellana eucosmia), Polished Nerita (Nerita
orbignyana), Mangrove Prawn (Palaemon debilis), Blennid fish (Istiblennius edentulus). Photo: J. Dafni
Rocky Intertidal zone at Eilat: tide pools and beach-rock habitat. Small pictures: Shore Brittlestar (Ophiocoma
* Here, and throughout the book, the order of the pictures – if not stated otherwise – starts in the upper left, and continues in scolopendrina), Shorecrab (Metopograpsus messor) and Periwinkles (Nodilittorina subnodosa) at low tide, climbing on
a clockwise direction. top of each other to escape the scorching heat of the rock. Photo: J. Dafni

10 11
Habitats: Coral Reef
There are no creatures that better represent the shapes and colors of the underwater tropical
habitat’s diversity than corals. The ‘living flowers’ roles extend far beyond mere beauty and
splendor - they make up the underwater habitat itself.
The evolution of corals started a half a billion years ago, and is still acting constantly. Coral
individuals are called polyps. They reproduce both sexually, by emitting eggs and sperm into the
water, and asexually, by division of polyps which remain clumped together to form colonies. The
colonies, with their many identical polyps, may endure for thousands of years with no substantial
change in their DNA content. Coral polyps, especially the Hexacorallians, form a communal or
colonial solid limestone skeleton that remains intact after their death, and which should become,
part of the unique sedimentary rock – the coral reef. If we only could go back in time and visit the
Tethys Ocean 200 million years ago, we could meet similar underwater reefs, which limestone
secretions comprises the mainframe of many of the present-day’s mountain ranges. The key to this
evolutionary success is, no doubt, their cooperation with monocellular algae, the zooxanthellae,
which entered their host’s tissues eons ago, and established with them symbiotic relationships that
enables the corals to free themselves from complete dependence on external food sources, i.e.
predation. On the contrary, many corals – through their algal partners – produce more food than
they consume, the surplus of which feeds the surrounding fauna - worms, shrimps, mollusks, etc.
Even if we ignore the corals’ cooperation with the algae their trapping of atmospheric greenhouse What is a coral - What is a reef?
gas CO2 into their skeletons and ultimately into the reefs, we are still amazed by the richness and 1. A coral is a kind of small animal that reproduces asexually – by division or budding – to
diversity of their species that makes up the core of the tropical “jungle” of the sea. form large colonies of several to thousands of individual flower-like animals called polyps,
which feed on small organisms called plankton. The polyps also reproduce sexually, by either
The existence of a coral reef ecosystem in the northern Gulf of Aqaba is remarkable. Favorable internal or external fertilization. The juveniles called planules swim around for a while and
climate, clear water and other environmental factors turn the coral reefs into an underwater oasis settle on a solid substrate, starting new colonies. Many corals have a stony skeleton that
in the nutrient poor “blue desert”. The cooperation between corals and internally active algae grows gradually to immense size.
enables them to flourish and sustain thousands of species of fish and invertebrate animals of 2. A reef is a geological formation produced continuously by many solid skeleton bearing
great diversity. They exhibit an ideal answer to the challenge of living and prospering in an organisms, whose dead skeletons later consolidate to form a solid framework that turns into
impoverished sea. a sedimentary rock.
3. Coral reef is a limestone structure made primarily by stony corals, consolidated by calcareous
algae. A coral reef is usually three-dimensional, and has many fractures, crevices and caves
that provide living space for thousands of invertebrate animals and fishes. It is considered the
marine equivalent of the tropical jungle.
4. The Reef environment is colorful, teeming with life and activity. Predator-prey relationships,
symbioses between plants and animals or between animal species of different origin and
modes of life, all continuously interact in order to increase their survival and creation of the
next generations.

Zooxanthellae - algal symbionts of stony corals and other reef organisms. Right: coral colony and an individual polyp of the Two coral types: Hickson’s Fancoral (Anella hicksoni), a gorgonian (above), and a stony coral (Montipora cf. stilosa)
same species. Photo: H. Schuhmacher, J. Dafni displaying its violet polyps. Photo: I. Ben-Tov

12 13
Coral Colony vs. Coral Reef

Gigantic coral colony of only one species: Boulder Coral (Porites columnaris). On the right, a large Organ pipe Sponge
(Siphonochalina siphonella) protrudes from a crevice. Photo: J. Dafni A coral reef is made of many coral colonies of various species and accompanied by a diverse fish fauna. Photo: M. Levin

14 15
Habitats: the Lagoon Lagoon inhabitants
Between the intertidal slope and the coral reefs of Eilat, stretches a narrow strip of shallow sand
patches, strewn with rocks and occasional coral heads. This is the lagoon. At first glance, nothing
attractive appears to exist there, and the snorkeler, swimmer or diver moves through it to reach
the richest part – the coral reef flat. Yet, the lagoon has much more to offer. Many invertebrate
animals live here, but their survival depends mainly on their ability to dig into the sand and
hide from predators or in the case of predators, they have to camouflage themselves in order to
approach their prey. Footprints and other markings in the sand disclose intensive activities there,
mainly at night and early mornings.
The lagoon floor is partly overgrown by sea grasses, several species of grass-like
monocotyledon plants who invaded the shallow sandy areas and established there a lush cover
of grass-like vegetation. Only two out of the 5 seagrass species known from the southern Gulf
of Aqaba are found in Eilat shallows – Scaled Seagrass and the Oval Seagrass. The former is
the main plant of the lagunar and reef front meadows, whereas the latter grows mainly around its
margins. A large variety of fishes – mainly juveniles – and many invertebrates thrive among these
plants’ leaves.

Green meadow of Scaled Seagrass (Halophila stipulacea) and Oval Seagrass (H. ovalis) (inset). Photo: J. Dafni Typical residents of the lagoon: Leather Anemone (Heteractis crispa) with a juvenile Clownfish. Photo: M. Levin

Long-spine Sea Urchins (Diadema setosum), Anemone carrier Hermit crab (Dardanus tinctor) and sand paste, emitted Sand dwelling Comb Sea Star (Astropecten polyacanthus) markings on the sand, crawling about and righting itself after
by an Acorn Worm (Ptychodera flava) (see page 100) hiding in the deep sand. Photo: J. Dafni accidental overturn. Photo: J. Dafni

16 17
Habitats: the Open Sea Open Sea life
The open sea is surprisingly close to the shore at Eilat. Because of the great depth of the Gulf
(1860m), the outer slope of the reef and the external sand bottom flats descend steeply to deeper
water. At a distance of 150m from the shore, the sea floor may already be 20m deep, and your
full attention turns towards the clear blue water. What is there to see in these waters? Towards the
shore the forereef slope towers upwards and along the sea floor itself several coral heads and reef
knolls are teeming with thousands of small plankton-feeding fish.
Fear of sharks? L arger sharks very seldom venture close to the shore. More frequently they
visit the fish farms in the north shore, hoping to catch fish straying out of the nets. The only
case of attack by a dangerous Mako Shark was 30 years ago, and since then there hasn’t been a
single incident. All the same, be careful while swimming out to the open sea. Especially beware
of speed boats. More common fish predator is the Barracuda. It is quite large and its silhouette
blends with the coloration of the seawater, and it wanders close to the reef, lurking for straying
reef fish. Apropos sharks, once or twice a year a lone Whale Shark, 10m or more in length
swims all the way along the gulf to Eilat and can be spotted from the shore, or met in shallow
water, attracting divers to touch or preferably, take pictures. It is a harmless plankton-feeding
shark, and a welcomed visitor. The rarely seen Manta Ray (pages 106), another plankton-feeding
cartilaginous fish, is also a giant, measuring over 6m across its ‘wings’. The only encounter I
personally had with this creature at Eilat was as I was aboard a commercial aircraft about to land
at the Eilat airport. Looking through the window, I saw it directly beneath, swimming majestically
along the shore at about 300m from the beach.

The open sea is a route, along which fish and invertebrate wander, with minimal contact with the shore. Some open sea fishes,
such as the Whale Sharks swim along the shore, while reef fish prey upon the planktonic organisms like the delicate Comb
The largest midwater top fish predator, a Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). Photo: B. Tamir Jellies (Unknown sp.). Photo: M. Levin, J. Dafni

18 19
Flora: Algae and Seaweeds A variety of Seaweeds
Plants are the foundation of all living systems. By means of photosynthesis - light energy
and transforming it into organic matter – they economically sustain the entire food chain. The
most common marine plants are algae, varying from microscopic single-celled algae to large,
multicellular benthic algae called seaweeds. Except for the primitive prokaryotic (having no
cell nucleus) blue-green algae, all algae are eukaryotic (i.e., having a cell nucleus). All algae
also lack the vascular system, typical of land plants, as well as leaves, roots, flowers or seeds.
They draw their water and minerals directly through their “skin”. Photosynthesis is carried out
by organelles called chloroplasts. Since the chloroplasts’ shape and DNA structure is similar to
that of the prokaryotic algae, it is believed that they evolved within the eukaryotic algae through
a form of endosymbiosis.
The algae are divided into divisions based on their pigments, Red algae, Brown algae, and
Green algae etc. A group of one-celled eukaryotic algae, akin to the Red seaweed, are the free-
swimming (planktonic) dinoflagellates and the related zooxanthellae. This last group’s role in the
coral world cannot be exaggerated: They inhabit the body of most corals and many other marine
organisms, carrying out their photosynthetic activity, providing their host with energy in the form Codium arabicum, Dictyosphaeria cavernosa and Neomeris annulata – common benthic Green seaweeds in Eilat’s reefs.
Photo: J. Dafni
of sugar and other carbon compounds. In the case of corals, they provide up to 90% of the host’s
energy requirements, in return for protection and shelter, as well as their host’s respiration waste,
the carbon dioxide, raw material for photosynthesis. Reef-building corals in particular depend on
these endosymbionts both for nutrition and for calcium carbonate secretion.
In the Gulf of Aqaba, both free-swimming algae and bottom dwelling seaweeds become abundant
in the late winter and early spring, following the seasonal vertical mixing of nutrient rich water
from deeper water, in the so-called Spring bloom.

Gracillaria sp., Asparagopsis taxiformis and Lithophyllum sp., benthic Red seaweeds in Eilat. Photo: J. Dafni

Turbinaria elatensis, Sargassum sp. and Padina gymnospora – common benthic Brown seaweeds in Eilat. Photo: J.

Green algae (Chlorophyta): Enteromorpha clathrata covering the coral reef during the spring bloom, and Saw-tooth Alga
(Caulerpa serrulata) from the lagoon. Photo: M. Levin, J. Dafni

20 21
Fauna: Sponges More Sponges
Sponges (Porifera) are a diverse group of about 10,000 unique animal species, primarily
inhabiting marine environments. In the past, they were mistaken for plants, because of their plant-
like appearance, and their attachment to the rocks. Sponges are the oldest existing multicellular
animals, and the simplest group, retaining a cellular level organization: similar cells do not
combine to form tissue, and sponges have no body organs. In terms of gross morphology, sponges
have no mouth or inner stomach, rather inner chambers interconnected by canals, open to the
exterior. They have no muscle or nerve system, nor sensory organs. Feeding: seawater enters the
body through tiny pores (ostia) in their outer surface, driven by the beating of whips (flagellae),
located on specialized “collar cells” (choanocytes), that line the surfaces of chambers and the
pore entrance. Food particles or micro-organisms are retained and ingested by the sponge cells.
The flow of water through the canal system is unidirectional, exiting through larger openings
(oscula). Sponges are either radially symmetrical or shapeless. Most sponges are supported by
skeletons made up of the protein collagen and hard spicules, either calcareous or siliceous. The
skeletal elements, collar cells and other cells are imbedded in a gelatinous matrix. The substance
Spongin, in the form of flexible organic mesh, is present in most larger sponges.
Reproduction is either sexual or asexual. Sponges are either male or female (some are
hermaphroditic). In sexual reproduction, male gametes are released into the water and enter
the pore systems of its neighbors. Spermatozoa are “captured” by collar cells, which then lose
their collars and transform into specialized, amoeba-like cells that carry them to the eggs. In most
sponges the fertilized egg develops into a blastula, which is released into the water. The larvae
may settle directly and transform into adult sponges, or they may spend some time drifting as
plankton. Asexual reproduction is by means of external or internal buds, which can survive
unfavorable conditions, when the rest of the sponge dies.
Most sponges are highly noxious, and only a few animals, mainly nudibranch slugs (page 80),
manage to overcome their poison and feed on them.
Sponges may have peculiar shapes, from a simple coating of the rock to well-defined
tridimensional structures. They are usually scientifically identified by the shape of their

Sponges: Fire Sponge (Negombata magnifica), with its specific predator, Pajama Slug (Chromodoris quadricolor),
Red Keyhole Sponge (Mycale fistulifera) with parasitic polyps of a jellyfish Nausithoe sp. and Boring Sponge (Cliona More sponges. Grey Sponge (Crella cyathophora) a common sponge of the lagoon, found also on artificial structures and
vastifica) Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin reefs, Tube Sponge (Siphonochalina sp.) and the Orange Sponge (Acanthella carteri). Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin

22 23
Cnidaria: Hydrozoa Hydrozoa: Division Hydrocorallia
Formerly known as Coelenterata, the Cnidaria are possibly the most important animals of Here is a unique hydrozoan type that cannot be overlooked: the common Fire Coral. It is the
the tropical marine environment. Including the classes Hydrozoa, Scyphozoa (jellyfish) and only hermatypic (reef-building) hydrozoan genus. Its colonial calcareous skeleton adds to
Anthozoa (corals and sea anemones), the Cnidaria are the most primitive multicellular animals. the stone-building effort of corals and other reef-builders. Like true corals, fire coral is heavily
They appear both as colonies of sessile individuals called polyps, or in the form of a medusa. laden with symbiotic zooxanthellae that give away their photosynthate products to its host.
The class Hydrozoa is the most primitive cnidarian group, consisting of small solitary or Typically, a fire coral has polyps and medusae in its life-cycle, whereas Anthozoans – the true
colonial polyps that usually grow in subtidal areas or as marine fouling (organisms growing corals and sea anemones – have only one life form, the polyp. In addition, fire coral has three
on submerged boats and artificial surface and piers). They show a large variety of shapes and polyp types: mouthless dactylozoids that sting the prey, feeding polyps, called gastrozoids that
life-cycle forms. Most hydrozoans have an alternate stage life-cycle (not unlike the caterpillar- ingest it, and the medusa-producing ampullae. As a rule, you can touch them (although it is not
butterfly relationship) – of a feeding polyp stage and an almost non-feeding modified stage, the recommended) with your finger tips, but beware not to contact them with your bare chest, arm
medusa (hydromedusa), released to the water by the colony for sexual reproduction. Asexually, or legs. Hydromedusae are released in season, at which time they reproduce and die, leaving
the polyps form – through budding – large colonies, that are either Leptothecata, having a solid, behind their planula larvae. Two species of fire coral are found in Eilat: Net Fire coral and Plate
transparent cover (theca), into which the polyp’s tentacles retreat, or Anthoathecata, lacking this Fire coral. The aforementioned species, typical to the wave-beaten forereef is very sensitive to
cover and therefore more flexible and less protected. Like all other Cnidaria they have stinging breakage by storms or humans – unwary divers and boat drivers.
cells, cnidocytes, to paralyze their planktonic prey – shrimp, prawn or worm larvae, upon which
the hydrozoans feed. At certain times they release to the water the hydromedusae, missioned
to propagate the species by sexual reproduction. The spawned eggs and sperm develop into a
planula, the typical cnidarian larva. It settles, after drifting a while in the open sea, on solid
substrate, developing into a polyp. Several species are venomous to humans. The polyp stages of
most hydrozoans are benthic, i.e. confined to permanent attachment to the substrate.
The hydrozoan polyps are normally overlooked by divers. They are usually small, mostly
transparent, and less conspicuous than the corals or sea-anemones. In most cases they are mistaken
for algae or bryozoans – other fouling organisms. The hydromedusae are rather felt than seen: at
certain seasons they swarm in the water, and swimmers are stung by their piercing sting.
Tubularia is an anthoathecate hydrozoan solitary polyp, while the Hydractinia appears as
nude polyps covering many sea snail shells, like dense hairs or felt.
Another order of the Hydrozoa is the Siphonophora. These swimming animals superficially
resemble jellyfish, but they differ in several aspects. Jellyfish are single medusa-like animals,
whereas siphonophores are transparent colonies made of several polyps and medusae bound
together, drifting in midwater, carried afloat by small gas-filled bubbles - floats. The long tentacles
carry numerous stinging cells, and when they are seasonally abundant, their stinging touch is felt
like whip lashes. Fortunately, our local species are less venomous than oceanic species

Fire corals: Net Fire coral (Millepora dichotoma) form large colonies on the reef edge and Plate Fire coral (M. platyphylla),
Hydrozoans: Tubularia sp., solitary polyps, and Eudendrium cf. ramosum a colonial anthoathecate hydrozoan common in in the protected lagoon, the latter species is often infested by a Parasitic Barnacle (Wanella milleporae) and tube dwelling
the lagoon, found also on artificial structures and reefs. Photo: J. Dafni Christmas-Tree Worms (see page 47). Photo: J. Dafni

24 25
Cnidaria: Jellyfish
Jellyfishes belong to the Cnidarian class Scyphozoa. They are found mainly in open seas
throughout the world. The body of an adult jellyfish is bell-shaped, made up of up to 98% water.
The ‘bell,’ in addition to the basic layers of epidermis and gastrodermis, consists of a thick layer
of compact jelly, termed mesogloea. In the lower part of the bell is the mouth, surrounded by
longer or shorter tentacles. Each tentacle is equipped with many stinging cells, cnidocytes, which
wound or kill their prey.
As their shape is not hydrodynamic, jellyfishes swim slowly by pulsing their bodies and
jetting water from beneath their bells. By definition, jellyfish are considered planktonic animals,
passively drifting along, carried by the currents for long distances. They feed on fish and
zooplankton paralyzed and caught by their tentacles. The mouth is used both to take in food and
to expel waste.
Like the hydrozoans, they practice alteration of generations, and most species start their life as
planulae, developing into a polyp that divides or buds asexually, and later forms and expels plate-
like ephyrae which develop into adult medusae. So, contrary to hydrozoans, whose medusae are
small and inconspicuous, Scyphozoans have tiny polyps and large medusae.

Most jellyfish have a lifespan of few weeks; few live longer. Most pelagic jellyfish invade the
Gulf from the Red Sea, form large swarms pushed northward by the tidal currents, ending their
life either by being devoured by fish and turtles, or thrown ashore by the waves.

None of the local common jellyfishes are dangerous to humans although now and then a
migrating species may appear and inflict a painful sting. The Moon Jellyfish is the most common
planktonic species, appearing in huge numbers in springtime, whereas another common species,
the Upsidedown Jellyfish, belonging to the order Rhizostomae, does not have tentacles and
is adapted to benthic life by turning its bell upside down and harboring large numbers of
zooxanthellae closely packed in its mouth arms and many appendages around its mouth. Actually,
in the adult Upside-down Jellyfish the mouth is closed and the animal totally depends on the
algae’s sugar product as food.

Jellyfish: Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), and Upsidedown Jelly (Cassiopeia andromeda), at rest and turning to swim
about. The dark appendages contain zooxanthellae. Photo: A. Colorni, J. Dafni The Nettle Jellyfish (Chrysaora sp.), is an infrequent visitor in Eilat waters. be careful - It stings! Photo: O. Lederman

26 27
Cnidaria: Corals Coral Variety
Corals are the “trees” of the underwater tropical forest. All other organisms are in one way or
another associated with them. A coral head is commonly perceived to be a single organism, but
it actually consists of thousands of individual, genetically identical polyps, derived from asexual
division or budding of a single individual polyp, that settled on hard substrate and its one-parent
offspring remained attached to it. Coral species differ by their polyp size and shape, by their
communal arrangement in large colonies and other related properties. The most important facts
you should consider when thinking of them are:
The shape of the growing colony depends on polyp type, available space, and environmental 2
factors, like available light, currents and interaction with neighboring corals or other sedentary
organisms. The same coral species may show different growth forms under different conditions.
Coral classification is tricky – lots of technical terms are involved. To make identification simpler,
we will try to arrange them in a convenient way, while conveying relevant information about

Hard or soft?
Two main coral sub-classes exist: Hexacorallia which have polyps with six-fold radial symmetry, 3
i.e., 6, 12, 18 or more tentacles. It includes the order of stony corals, Scleractinia, the “reef-
building corals” (hermatypic). The hard coral polyps have a fixed colony shape, and the polyp
resides in a 6-fold external solid calcareous cup, either solitary or in a larger colony (this subclass
includes also the skeleton-less sea anemones and the black corals). In the other subclass, the
Octocorallia (=Alcyonaria), known also as soft corals, polyps always have only 8 tentacles,
fringed with secondary branches (pinnules), and an internal skeleton made of needle-like 7
spicules. They are termed, with respect to their contribution to the reef, as “non-reef builders”
(ahermatypic). Several other coral families are included among the Octocorallia, namely the 1
gorgonians, the fan corals and the sea-pens.
All coral polyps are predators, catching planktonic organisms and organic debris. They
withdraw back into their skeletal or dermal surface in response to movement or disturbance, 4 5
protruding later to feed. The polyps of stony corals usually extend their tentacles at night to
capture the zooplankton that rises up from a depth of 200-400m. During daylight most of their
tentacles retract, while their algal symbionts carry on their photosynthesis.

A typical coral reef view, displaying the variety of coral types cohabiting the same habitat: 1, Hydrocoral (Plate Fire coral),
Hexacorallian polyps have 6, 12 or more tentacles, while Octocorallian polyps carry always 8 tentacles. Photo: J. Dafni 2-6 Stony corals, 7-9 Soft corals and 10 an Corallimorpharian anemone. Photo: J. Dafni

28 29
Corals Division: Hexacorallia vs. Octocorallia Corals as Habitat
Apart from being the main contributors to the coral reef framework, branched or pillar shaped
corals offer living space for many invertebrates and fish. These inhabitants have to overcome the
stinging of the polyps’ cnidocytes that provide their security against predators. It has been proven
that these inhabitants pay back their host by enhancing water circulation at night – when the algae
do not produce oxygen – as well as chasing away coral predators.

Similar but different: Above, Bird’s Nest Coral (Seriatopora hystrix), a branched stony coral (Hexacoral), and Fingered A branched Staghorn Coral (Acropora sp.) colony shelters Christmas tree worms (Spirobranchus giganteum). Below:
Soft-coral (Sinularia sp.) (Octocoral). Photo: J. Dafni Coral Crab (Trapezia tigrina) and Damselfishes (Chromis viridis). Photo: L. Dafni, I. Ben-Tov, J. Dafni

30 31
Variety of corals: Families Variety of corals: Genera
The variety of stony corals in Eilat’s reefs is something you do not see at first glance. Superficially, The variety of stony corals in Eilat’s reefs can be perceived by looking at the various genera that
many corals look similar. Only after getting closer and paying attention to smaller details, does make up the family Faviidae: no less than 12 different genera, with up to 15 species to each genus,
the immense diversity become clear. In the next few pages we will demonstrate this variety at totaling about 50 species. The six genera showed here exhibit well the variety of this family. For
the family level, at the genus level in one family, and among species within one genus, Favia the variety in the genus Favia we will look in the next page (arrow).

Stony corals of the families Pocilloporidae, Poritidae, Mussidae, Pectinidae, Faviidae and Agariciidae. The diversity Stony coral genera in the family Faviidae: Diploastrea, Echinopora, Erythrastrea, Goniastrea, Favia, and Platygyra. The
within the family Faviidae (arrow) will be shown on the next page. Photo: J. Dafni variety within the genus Favia will be shown on the next page. Photo: D. Weinberg, J. Dafni

32 33
Variety of corals: Species Facts about Corals
Favia is a most variable genus. It shows a high similarity among its various species. We chose After discussing and displaying some of the morphological variability of the stony corals, it might
here to show six out of at least 15 species recorded from the Gulf of Aqaba, and Eilat’s reefs. Only be helpful to present the main features by which the coral genera and species differ from each
a dedicated expert will be able to identify each and every species. Since I do not pretend to be a other. Obviously, it will be only in short paragraphs, and illustrated in the next few pages:
coral taxonomist, identification of these corals is arbitrary, open to comments and correction. The • Polyps of stony corals are divided into six types by their corallite morphology (page 36).
charm of the subtle differences in relative polyp size, coloration and sculptural design achieved • Asexual reproduction by means of accretion of new polyps occurs either inside or outside
through evolution cannot be denied. the existing polyp’s tentacle circle (intra- or extra-tentacular budding) (page 36).
• Since the grouping of species is basically according to corallite shape, sometimes branching
and prostrate colonies may be grouped together as different species of the same genus (page
• The same principle can be observed within a single coral species – and even colony – which
may show much different morphology in different parts of the colony or under different
ecological conditions (pages 41, 49).
• Stony corals are either solitary polyps or colonial. Some species, mainly those related to the
mushroom coral family, of typically solitary polyps, are actually colonial, with only several
polyp mouths opened along a longer furrow (page 38).
• Even solitary corallites may result from a small colony. A mushroom coral (Fungia sp.)
begins sometimes as small buds on a wounded polyp that grows and breaks off to lead a free-
living life style (page 39).
• Mushroom Corals are not always detached from the substrate. The coral genus Cantharellus,
although of the same family, is known to live permanently attached to the rock, sometimes in
a vertical position (page 38).
• The branched corals are probably the most important contributors to the spatial nature of the
reef. Among their branches many invertebrates and fish find temporary shelter or permanent
lodging. Many of these lodgers contribute to the welfare and security of their host-coral. Coral
dwelling crabs chase away predatory sea stars, and damselfishes aerate the inter-branched
space at night, which helps the coral to survive oxygen-poor conditions (pages 31).
• Some massive coral colonies are no more than branched corals with their branches densely
packed, each corallite riding on top of a ‘handle’-like branch. When the colony breaks, the
individual branches are exposed (page 45).
• Most colonies owe their gross morphology to the type of peripheral division or polyp accretion.
Colonies in which all corallites divide equally will result with a ball shape, whereas those that
divide or bud new polyps at their margin will produce plate or fan-like colonies. The same
applies to branched colonies, such as plate-like colonies of Acropora cf. hyacinthus (pages
40, 51, 52).
• Stony coral coloration normally results from the chlorophyll of symbiotic algae within the
coral tissue. Under low light their number increase and the coral is darker. Chromo-proteins
in the coral tissues add red, yellow or blue colors that mask the algal coloration (page 41).
• Not all stony corals are reef builders. Unlike the reef-building hermatypic corals, corals
that lack symbiotic algae, as well as soft corals with no calcareous skeleton, are termed
ahermatypic, i.e. not reef builders (pages 54, 55).
• Most stony corals are nocturnally active. During daylight their tentacles are retracted. A few
species such as Goniopora and Alveopora have their polyps extended during the day (page

Favia species from Eilat reefs: Favia cf. veroni, Favia stelligera, Favia cf. pallida, Favia laxa, Favia favus, and Favia cf.
rotundata. Photo: J. Dafni

34 35
Stony corals: Corallite types Corals: Shapes of Corallites
The shape of individual coral cups, the corallites, is primarily determined by their heredity as Most of the corals’ skeletons show clearly during the day, when the polyps retract into the corallite
well as by their mode of asexual reproduction to form the colony. Stony corals are divided into cups. Their beauty is best appreciated when the bare skeleton is exposed. In this book we try
six basic corallite types: cerioid, plocoid, phaceloid, meandroid, flabellate and hydnophorid. however to concentrate on the morphology of the living tissue, just as we would not care to
A further complication relates to the manner of asexual division of the polyps. It is either characterize our friends by their bare skeletons. The variability among species of the same genus
intratentacular or extratentacular. Intratentacular division, most typical among massive coral is well demonstrated by the genus Echinopora. The next display (below) shows the delicate
types, starts by deforming the round corallite into the shape of the number 8, with the appearance morphology and color of two related species.
of a small partition inside the polyp’s tentacle circle that ultimately develops into a permanent
dividing wall. A vertical section will show that they still retain this connection below the surface.
In the extratentacular division, the colony produces buds outside the tentacular circle, attached to
the adult polyp cup’s outer side.

Variability among the Echinopora genus: Echinopora fruticulosa, branched, Echinopora gemmacea, and Echinopora
forskaliana, encrusting colonies. Photo: J. Dafni

Corallite types: cerioid, plocoid, phaceloid, hydnophorid, flabellate, and meandroid. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin, I. Ben-

Polyps’ division: Intratentacular division in Favia (left) and Extratentacular budding, in Echinopora polyps (arrows).
Photo: J. Dafni Corallites of exquisite beauty: Favia cf. pallida and Diploastrea heliopora. Photo: J. Dafni, D. Weinberg

36 37
Types of corals: Solitary Solitary corals: Mushroom corals
Most coral colonies start with one initial polyp that multiplies many times to form a colony. One Mushroom Corals (family Fungiidae) are free-living individual stony corals. They form at youth
has to be experienced to differentiate between a species that always consists of individual polyps, a small sessile stalk that breaks off after a time and the polyps emerge to live individually. They
and an initial polyp of a new colony. Furthermore, some seemingly single polyps are in fact small live on the shallow sandy bottom, and even on a rock or reef surface. Mushroom corals, living on
colonies with inadequate borders between the polyps. The Fungiidae are typically free-living sand, are able to get rid of fine sediments by emitting mucus, upon which the sediment particles
solitary polyps with some attached relatives (next page). are carried away. Mushroom corals also have the capacity to rehabilitate from breakage. Further,
from fractures and denuded areas small stalks (called anthocauli) develop into new polyps.
Fungiids are known for their ability to move across the substrate.

Unusual mushroom corals: Typical Mushroom coral (Fungia fungites), serrated septa, short tentacles and a central
Solitary polyps: Cynarina lacrymalis, Lobophyllia cf. pachysepta, Trachyphyllia geoffroyi and Fungiid corals – Fungia mouth (see previous page), a mushroom anthocaulus emerging from underneath an adult corallite, Sharp mushroom coral
fungites, Ctenactis echinata, and Cantharellus doederleini – the latter is an attached species of the mushroom coral family. (Ctenactis echinata) and Sandal coral (Herpolitha limax), a colony with several mouths. Photo: M. Levin, J. Dafni, A.
Photo: R. Cohen, J. Dafni, M. Levin Colorni

38 39
Growth forms: Branching More Branched Corals
Staghorn coral Acropora is the most common circum-tropical Other branched corals are Stylophora, the most common coral in Eilat’s reefs. It has rounded
coral genus. Acropora includes hundreds of species, most of blunt-topped branches with ca. 1 mm wide polyps. Coloration ranges from the usual cream-
them branched. Their typical feature is the single large polyp, yellow to pink and violet. Under shaded conditions it turns dark, due to excessive accumulation
or rather corallite cup, in the tip of each branch that grows of zooxanthellae in its tissue. It is the first to settle in a new habitat, offering shelter to crabs and
faster than the other corallites along the branch, hence the fish. The other genus, Pocillopora, less commonly named Cauliflower Coral, is a pink or violet
scientific name (Acro=tip, Pora=hole). Although they engage in dense bush with thicker branches that offer less access to epifauna. Another rare coral genus of
relations with zooxanthellae that provide them with food, they the same family is Seriatopora. As implied by its scientific name the needle-hole size polyps are
hunt plankton using their stinging cells. In the Pacific Ocean, arranged in straight vertical lines. Colors range from cream to pink or blue. All three genera are
Acropora often forms ‘forests’ of long and thin branches, highly opportunistic, rapidly growing corals (termed r-strategists), but poor competitors, short-lived,
vulnerable to breakage by storm waves. In the Eilat reef they often replaced by longer lasting K-strategist corals.
usually mingle with other species. A notable exception are
plate-shaped Acropora cf. hyacinthus that inhabit the lagoon
areas closed to the public in the Eilat Nature Reserve (middle
lower row, picture below).

Left: live Stylophora, Pocillopora, Seriatopora and Right: Seriatopora skeleton displaying the vertical arrangement of the
polyps. Photo: J. Dafni

Environmental factors alter the shape and coloration of the coral colony. In the picture below,
Stylophora, bright colored in an illuminated habitat compared with a much darker form growing
in a shaded habitat (right). The effect of wave action upon two Pocillopora colonies: colony from
an undisturbed back reef habitat (right) vs. a strongly flattened colony from a wave beaten reef

Acropora is the most common branched coral genus with over 15 species in Eilat’s coral reefs. They differ both in corallite
size and form and of course in the colony shape*. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin
Stylophora in illuminated vs. shaded habitat. Photo: Pocillopora in a wave-beaten vs. protected habitat.
* For an updated guide to the Eilat coral species: J. Dafni Photo: J. Dafni

40 41
Growth forms: Massive Interaction between corals
Massive or Hemisphere corals are globular or boulder-shaped coral colonies that grow only Corals, like any other sedentary or territorial organism, compete to gain and protect their living
on their outer periphery. They are known to be slow-growing, and their polyps divide equally space. Opportunistic branched corals succeed better in settlement on vacant rock. They find
in all directions. Because of their very stable profiles and strong attachment to the substrate, it difficult, however, to avoid being taken over by slower growing, sturdier massive corals. In
they are more immune to strong wave action. Unlike the branched corals, the massive ones live interactions between corals of different species both rivals emit chemicals that affect their rivals’
longer; growing to very large sizes, and are better competitors (K-strategists). Massive corals growth and welfare, some of which are more effective than the others. Colonies of the same
produce annual density bands in their calcareous skeletons. The skeleton carries isotopic and species are usually compatible, and in many cases merge.
geochemical tracers that can be used for age determination and reconstruction of the past sea
surface temperatures (SST’s), and other seasonal climatic variables, such as precipitation and
evaporation. From such evidence it was found that individual massive coral colonies may reach
the age of several thousands years. Since it is known that Eilat’s reefs rehabilitated from the Ice
Age sea level drop of over 100m about 6,000 years ago, it is probable that some of the oldest
massive coral knolls’ age may date back to this event.

Above: a massive Brain Coral (Platygyra daedalea) interacting with a Branched Table Coral (Acropora cf. hyacinthus).
Massive coral colonies: Boulder Coral (Porites cf. lutea), Moon Coral (Favia stelligera) and a related coral (Goniastrea It is obvious who is winning. Bottom: Merging of three adjacent Brain Coral (Platygyra daedalea) colonies which retain
peresi). Photo: J. Dafni their individual, somewhat different coloration. Photo: J. Dafni

42 43
Brain Corals Colonies: Brain or branched?
Brain corals are unique in the sense that neighboring polyps share a common groove, and the Superficially, a Lobed Coral (Lobophyllia) looks like a brain coral, and is named so by many
entire coral head is shaped like a folded human brain. The large colonies are often termed boulder divers. Only when broken is the real nature of the colony revealed: each polyp rests upon a long
corals. dead ‘handle’ which is connected at its base to neighboring polyps (hence the Hebrew name
– “torch coral”). This makes it very sensitive to breakage. A single broken polyp, glued to the
substrate, will rehabilitate, and regenerate a new colony. Fragmentation under natural conditions
of corals and regeneration is recognized as an alternative mode of asexual reproduction.

Above: Folded partitions and deep grooves characterize the various species of Brain Corals (Platygyra spp.). Below: Huge Lobed Coral (Lobophyllia corymbosa): entire colony and broken, exposing the individual polyp ‘handles’. Photo: J.
Brain corals (same genus) dominate the lagoon view, Eilat Nature Reserve. Photo: J. Dafni Dafni

44 45
Growth forms: Encrusting Encrusting juvenile colonies
Encrusting corals cover the rock with little or no upward growth, but rather encompass the surface Most massive or branched colonies have an initial encrusting stage, when the colony covers
upon which they grow. They might differ in their polyp size or shape, but they never rise over the a given stretch, before starting to grow upwards. Sometimes, the entire nature of the coral is
substrate. It is important to note that massive or even branched corals have an initial encrusting concealed by the prostrate appearance of the colony. It is more pronounced in variable shaped
phase, in which they form their colony’s basis. Encrusting corals have the advantage over other coral species (page 50).
types in wave-beaten reefs (next page).

Above: Two encrusting juvenile coral colonies: Staghorn Coral (Acropora sp.), Tubercle Coral (Montipora sp.), center
and below: Galaxy Coral (Galaxea fascicularis) with a Coral Ghostfish (Solenostomus paradoxus). Photo: J. Dafni, M. Initial stages of Brain Coral (Platygyra sp.), Staghorn Coral (Acropora sp.), flat colony showing branch buds, Boulder
Levin Coral (Porites cf. mayeri), Platygyra daedalea, and juvenile stage of Plate Coral (Turbinaria sp.). Photo: J. Dafni

46 47
Growth forms: Columnar Growth forms: Foliaceous
Several massive corals show distinct “branching” of the large colony into pillars of variable Foliaceous corals are leaf-like colonies whose main growth increment is at its margins, thus
height. In the picture below such a colony is shown. In the lower part of the pillars other species forming thin plates that tend to fold and form curved surfaces. Most Foliaceous corals have their
of corals more adapted to lower light intensities, and sponges, settled. Larger and medium sized polyps on one (upper) side of the flat surface.
fish seek shelter between the columns. The columnar shape is maintained by excessive growth of
the upper, distal part.

Above: Plate Coral (Turbinaria sp.); Middle: Lettuce Coral (Pavona cactus). Below right: Elephant-ear Coral
Columns of Boulder Coral (Porites cf. columnaris). Photo: J. Dafni (Mycedium umbra), left: Cup Coral (Pachyseris speciosa). Photo: J. Dafni

48 49
Growth forms: variable “Hybrids” More “hybrids”
The Horn coral shows much different colony shapes in various parts of the colony. Below it Two Lettuce corals (Pavona) also show mixed morphological characteristics. Maldive Lettuce
appears as foliose or plate shaped, whereas above it appears as branches or pillars, making it Coral is partly flat foliaceous, partly columnar, while another Pavona sp. shows a buttressed
difficult to identify by appearance only. foliaceous morphology.

Vertical variability in the shape of a Horn Coral (Hydnophora exesa) colony. Photo: J. Dafni Two growth forms of the coral genus Pavona: P. maldivensis and Pavona sp. Photo: J. Dafni

50 51
Growth forms: Laminar Hermatypic Corals
Laminar corals are very thin horizontal leaf-like colonies. Corallites concentrate mainly in the All the stony corals shown above are hermatypic, participating in the construction of the coral reef,
upper surface. This characteristic is common to several families: Siderastreidae, Merulinidae, together with the calcareous products of other invertebrate organisms - mollusks, polychaetes and
Agariciidae, Pectinidae etc. other skeleton-bearing animals. Calcium carbonate secreted by calcareous red algae consolidates
them into a solid, geologically stable framework.

Live coral reef: the hermatypic organisms provide the framework, the symbiotic algae harness light energy to produce food,
Laminar colonies of various coral species: Pavona cf. varians, Merulina cf. ampliata, and Leptoseris explanata. Photo: fed by a multitude of fish and other reef inhabitants. The fish seen around the reef use the reef as base for plankton hunting
J. Dafni in the incoming currents. Photo: M. Levin

52 53
Ahermatypic Corals More Ahermatypic corals
Unlike the hermatypic corals that are the main contributors of calcareous material to the reef Corals of one order in the Hexacorallia, the Zoanthidea, are ahermatypic: they lack stony
structure, ahermatypic corals do not contribute much to the coral reefs due to a lower rate of framework, but unlike sea anemones, they form dense colonies that encrust stones and artificial
calcium carbonate deposition. In this definition are included hexacorals living in darker caves surfaces with living cover. Zoanthids are highly toxic, protecting them from being eaten by
or in deep water, azooxanthellate (lacking the symbiotic algae that provide corals with their animals.
nutritious products), and octocorals whose main skeletal elements are calcite spicules imbedded
in their soft tissue. The spicules disperse after the octocorals die, and enrich the sand with calcium
carbonate. Many of the octocorals have zooxanthellae, but all the same their calcium carbonate
contribution to the reef structure is negligible.

The ahermatypic hexacoral Sun Coral (Tubastrea coccinea) lives in darker undercuts and caves, and relies on plankton
feeding. It is azooxanthellate, and its coloration is derived from pigments (inset: the same, with stretched out tentacles);
other species of the same family, Dendrophyllidae, are Tubastrea micrantha (left) and two Cladopsammia spp. Photo:
M. Levin, A. Colorni, I. Ben-tov Zoanthidea: Three Eilati ahermatypic Zoanthid corals. Photo: J. Dafni

54 55
Types of corals: Black Corals More Black Corals
Black coral is a term that defines the Antipatharia, another order of azooxanthellate Hexacorallia. Barbed wire is the first impression divers get from seeing it hanging or standing out from the
They are either tree-like, elongated like a whip, or bent into a spiral. The living tissue may be coral reef towards the open water. It is hard, flexible and wiry.
colorful, but the flexible durable skeleton is black or dark brown. Two main types occur in Eilat’s
deeper reef – Tree Black-corals and Barbed-wire black-corals. Their contribution to the reef
structure is limited. Black Coral skeleton was used for the production of high quality polished
black prayer beads in Yemen. It was also rumored to have been produced in old-time Aqaba.

Two species of Black-coral: Brown Barbed-Wire

Coral (Cirripathes anguina) and Spiral Whip
Coral (Cirripathes cf. spiralis). Photo: I. Ben-Tov,
A full-size colony of Tree Black-Coral (Antipathes cf. dichotoma). Photo: M. Levin O. Lederman

56 57
Coral shapes: Microatolls Shapes: Soft but no Soft coral
Microatolls are environmentally-induced bagel-like massive coral colonies in the lower intertidal Most corals hunt at night. Only a few, like the Flower pot Coral, extend their polyps to feed
or subtidal reef environments. Their unique shape indicates that vertical growth is constrained by during the day, and are therefore misidentified by many observers as soft corals. The picture
frequent exposures to lowest spring tides, killing the uppermost polyps. As a result, microatolls below shows that they are definitely hexacorals, like all other stony corals. This becomes more
usually grow laterally. The upper eroded surface of the colony is often densely grazed by sea obvious when examining their solid skeletons.
urchins, limiting the settlement of algae and coral polyps. In Eilat microatolls are found mainly
in the reef flat and in the inner lagoon. Microatolls found in deeper water may indicate lower sea
level in the past. The name microatoll implies its resemblance to an atoll reef.

Flower pot Coral (Goniopora sp.) is an extraordinary example of a stony coral with long extended polyps during the day.
Photo: J. Dafni

Above: Microatoll, a giant Brain Coral (Platygyra sp.) eroded in its middle. Note the exposed concentric growth-line
pattern, the black-spine sea urchins, and the resettlement of other coral species – small massive, branching, and soft corals. Left and center: Goniopora usually has 24 tentacles, twice the number of its closest relative genus, Alveopora (right). Photo:
Below: upper reef flat, where microatolls are usually formed. Photo: J. Dafni J. Dafni, A. Colorni

58 59
Corals division: Soft corals Pulsating Soft corals
Soft corals are octocorals which do not produce massive calcareous skeletons. Their rigidity is Soft corals of the family Xeniidae are unique among corals because of their “pulsing“, pushing
obtained by the internally-contained liquid pressure (hydro-skeleton). Unlike the stony corals water away from the colony in a constant rhythmic motion. This action, once believed to help in
that secrete an external rigid skeleton, to be consolidated with the hard bottom below, soft corals catching food, is now thought to increase oxygen availability in low circulation environments.
skeletons constitute of minute needles or spines called sclerites or spicules, imbedded inside
their soft tissue. They are considered non reef-building corals. After they die their sclerites join
the sand grains in the lagunar sand.
Octocorals are divided into two main orders, Alcyonacea and Gorgonacea, and several small
groups. The soft corals thrive in nutrient-rich waters or settle upon artificial structures, growing
rapidly. Many alcyonarians harbor zooxanthellae that provide their energy requirements, and their
colors are green-yellowish, the color of the symbiont. Some species overcome oxygen shortage
by rhythmic pulsation of their tentacles. Gorgonians are mostly azooxanthellate, feeding on
drifting food particles and plankton. Accordingly they prefer deeper water or darker caves, and
their colors are brilliant.

Leather Coral (Sarcophyton sp.) shows the typical octocorallian eight-tentacle polyps emerging from its upper surface. The
lower surface lacks polyps. Photo: J. Dafni Pulsating soft corals, Heteroxenia (above) and Xenia (Ovabunda microspiculata). Photo: J. Dafni

60 61
Broccoli Soft corals Colored Broccoli soft corals
It is hard to believe, but this green ‘broccoli’ is an animal, a coral. This shape is a common
growth form shared by several soft coral species. Some, like the Green Broccoli Coral, are
zooxanthellate, whereas other, or rather most soft corals are azooxanthellate, and of vivid colors
(facing page). When in good shape they are swollen, maintaining vertical firmness. Under stress
they become limp and hunched.

Red and Violet Broccoli Corals (Dendronephthya sp.), mingled with sponges, ascidians and other sedentary invertebrates
Green Broccoli Coral (Litophyton arboreum), accompanied by a sponge and a Black coral, is commonly growing upon at Moses Rock, Eilat Nature Reserve. Below: Close look at another broccoli coral, showing the red polyps and spicules in
artificial metal structures, like the one attached to the underwater restaurant. Photo: J. Dafni their transparent tissue. Photo: J. Dafni

62 63
More Softies Encrusting and Branching
The eight feather-like tentacles are typical of all octocorals, but in one coral, the Waving hand Like stony corals, soft corals may show various growth forms: branching, encrusting, mushroom-
coral, the pinnules, or leaflets of each tentacle are large and wave in the current. A pale, almost like etc. They interact with each other and with stony corals to compete for living space. Chemical
colorless variation of the Broccoli coral is the Azooxanthellate Pallid broccoli coral. Independent warfare plays an important role in this struggle.
of the light, it grows in darker deep water. Through the transparent ‘skin’ the calcareous spicules
are clearly shown.

Pallid Broccoli Coral (Dendronephthya sp.) grows in deeper

water; Waving Hand Coral (Anthelia sp) (inset) loses its Zooxanthllate Fingered Leather Coral (Cladiella sp.) spreading over the rreef surface competing with algae and corals for
zooxanthellae in aquarium. Photo: M. Levin, J. Dafni space. Tree-Coral (Paralemnalia sp.), typically showing long and dense soft digits. Photo: J. Dafni

64 65
Octocorals: Gorgonians Fan Corals
Gorgonians deserve more elaborate attention than the few words we can offer them here. This is The largest gorgonian coral colony here is the fan coral; found mainly in the lower forereef,
because their habitat is well beyond the reach of the common visitor, or even diver. The smallest where they spread their erect and flat branches to filter out planktonic organisms from the currents.
ones hide in deep and dark nooks and crannies, and the large ones, deepwater gorgonians, are A beautiful fish species inhabiting this coral is a pointed-muzzle Longnose hawkfish (see also
easily ignored since their reddish colors turn black at depths of over 30 meters. The most common page 131) that finds shelter among the coral’s fine branches.
gorgonian genus in Eilat is Acabaria, with several species, mostly red, yellow or violet. The
skeleton is flexible, but feeble. Polyps are usually white.

Three Acabaria species, three colors: Splendid Acabaria (Acabaria cf. splendens), Red Sea Acabaria, (A. cf. erythraea) Hickson’s Fan Coral (Anella hicksoni) prefers deeper water (15-40m) where it reaches the size of 5 m. Inset: typical fish
and Fair Acabaria (Acabaria cf. pulchra). Photo: M. Levin, J. Dafni inhabitant, Longnose Hawkfish (Oxycirrhites typus). Photo: I. Ben-tov, B. Tamir

66 67
Organ Pipe Coral Sea Pens
The Organ-pipe coral is an Octocoral, related to the soft corals, but is often referred to as a hard Sea pens are nocturnal colonial soft corals belonging to the order Pennatulacea. Unlike other
coral because of its solid skeleton. Its scientific name, Tubipora musica, refers to this coral’s Octocorallia, sea-pens’ polyps are specialized: one polyp, axial polyp, develops into a rigid, erect
colony shape formed from many vertical calcareous red tubes bound together by horizontal stalk (the rachis), with a bulbous peduncle, or “root“. Other polyps branch out from this central
platforms: the entire skeleton resembles a pipe organ. Each tube is occupied by a single polyp stalk, forming siphonozooids, water intake and feeding polyps (autozooids). The entire colony is
that can retract into it, and the entire colony is covered by a thin and flexible horny cover. When in some species fortified by calcium carbonate spicules.
its polyps are extended they entirely cover the skeletal structure. The pictures below show the
red skeleton, the platforms, and the greenish polyp tentacles. It is zooxanthellate and reproduces
asexually by sending extensions (stolons) and forming buds.

Organ Pipe Coral (Tubipora musica) overview: Colony and tentacles (above), with some polyps retracted, exposing the The common Sea Pen (Pteroides sp.): and an unknown relative species (below). They emerge at night, retracting into the
solid skeleton. Below, bare skeletons, in situ and cast ashore. Photo: J. Dafni sand by morning. Photo: M. Levin

68 69
Sea Anemones Largest vs. Smallest Sea anemones
Related to the reef corals, sea-anemones are predatory animals differing from their stony coral By definition sea anemones are single polyps, and as with corals, sea anemones may be of varying
relatives by (1) being predominantly solitary, although they may congregate in large aggregations, size. The adhesive sea Anemone is probably the largest polyp among the Cnidaria. The smallest
and (2) not producing calcareous skeletons. Sea-anemone sizes range from 5 mm to 40 cm. They locally are the Crab-carried Anemones, associated with small crabs that carry them in their
reproduce either sexually or asexually, through division or budding. Large sea-anemones are pincers (chelae) as weapons.
inhabited by fish or shrimps, forming symbiotic relations with them.

A variety of sea anemones: Sunray Anemone (Heteractis aurora) (above) and below, right to left: Leather Sea Anemone Adhesive Short-arm Anemone (Cryptodendrum adhesivum) - up to 40 cm, compared to the smallest Crab Carried
(H. crispa), usually accommodating juvenile clownfish; Commensal Anemone (Calliactis polypus), mostly associated Anemone (Triactis producta), 5 mm across (below right, arrows) held in the pincers of a small Anemone Carrier Crab
with Hermit Crabs (see page 16) and Clownfish Anemone (Entacmea quadricolor), hosting the clownfish adults. Photo: (Lybia sp.). Left: a Squat Cleaner Shrimp (Thor amboinensis) is a commensal shrimp associated with large sea-anemones
J. Dafni, M. Levin and sea cucumbers. Photo: L. Dafni, J. Dafni, O. Lederman

70 71
Tube Anemones Wrapper Sea-anemone
Coral anemones are a unique division – order Ceriantharia - of sand-dwelling solitary corals These small Wrapper Sea-anemones, known also as Tiger anemones are always found
with anemone-shaped, elongated bodies and pointed ‘sole’ to enable burrowing in the sand. enwrapped on branches of dead gorgonians or black corals. They are sometimes crowded on the
The body is covered by a cylindrical sheath and is usually hidden in sandy or muddy substrate. gorgonian stalk to the point where no piece of the underlying coral skeleton is visible. Most of the
Usually only the tentacles are visible above the ground. The mouth, placed on a central disk, is anemones have uniform brown to orange color, while a few are whitish spotted with dark stripes.
surrounded by two crowns of tentacles: short labial tentacles and longer marginal tentacles. The It is unknown whether they kill the coral or settle on the dead skeletons.
external ones, variously colored, capture the prey and pass it to the internal (oral) tentacles that
pass it to the mouth.

Ceriantharia: Tube Anemones (Cerianthus or Pachycerianthus sp.). The pictures were taken in the lagoon and in the
sand flats among the reef knolls. Right, the membranous tubes, surrounded by a school of tiny Mysid Shrimps (Idiomysis
tsurnamali), planktonic crustaceans that seek shelter among their tentacles. Photo: M. Levin, B. Tamir

Coral anemones
Corallimorpharia, or Disk anemones, are another group of sea anemone-like polyps with short
or missing tentacles, and a flattish appearance. Their muscles are weak, and they cannot retract
when threatened.

Corallimorpharian sea anemones: (right to left) unknown species; Actinodiscus nummiformis and Discosoma sp. Photo: The Wrapper Anemone (Nemanthus annamensis) covering a dead sea whip and a fan coral showing both color patterns.
J. Dafni Photo: I. Ben-Tov

72 73
Marine Worms Flat Worms and Tube-dwelling Worms
The term “worm” has been misused for many years as a common name for many kinds of animals, One group of flatworms, the Polyclad Turbellaria, shows a high diversity of crawling and
mostly drab and uninviting. Tropical marine worms, either Flatworms (phylum Platyhelminthes) swimming beauties. Here are two chosen representatives.
or Bristleworms (phylum Annelida class Polychaeta) are diverse and beautiful, adorning the
coral reef environment. The polychaete class is divided into two main groups – Errantia and
Sedentaria. The errant worms are subterraneous, or hide inside reef crevices and seldom met
by the casual diver, whereas the sedentary worms head carries long tentacles some of which
convey to us their sheer beauty. They hide in soft organic or rigid calcareous tubes from which the
tentacles emerge to catch plankton. Some species like
the Eilat tubeworm, build a “reef” structure combining
thousands of worm tubes into a magnificent flower-
like bounty. Another highlight is the Christmas-tree

Two worms, two life modes: swimming, Pseudobioceros sp. and crawling worm Pseudoceros. Colors are used for either for
disguise or as warning coloration to deter predators. Photo: M. Levin

An undetermined errant worm, found among coral

debris in the lagoon. Photo: J. Dafni

More Sedentary polychaetes: The “reef-forming” of Eilat Tubeworm (Filogranella elatensis), firstly described in Eilat,
common to many Indo-Pacific localities; the same, at closer look. Another reef tube worm, Striped Tubeworm (Sabellastarte
Sedentary Polychaetes: Indian Tubeworm (Sabellastarte indica) and the variably colored Christmas-tree Worm cf. sanctijosephi.) and an unknown Sabellid (Sabella sp.). All radiate exquisite beauty. Photo: M. Levin, A. Colorni, J.
(Spirobranchus giganteus). Photo: J. Dafni Dafni

74 75
Mollusca: Gastropoda Samples of Gastropod diversity
Gastropods (snails) are the largest class in the phylum Mollusca, which includes three other The Spider conch uses its operculum as weapon. It is sharp, claw-like and the animal pushes
common classes – Polyplacophora (chitons, see page 10), Bivalvia (clams) and Cephalopoda it against intruders as well as using it to turn itself upside down. The cowry shell is always kept
(squid and octopus) – well-represented in Eilat’s reefs. Over 800 gastropod species live here in shining because it is completely enveloped by the two-fold mantle that covers it constantly with
a variety of habitats, from the intertidal to the deeper water. The gastropod shell is usually an fresh enamel layers. The Striped engina is a modest small snail, one of many inhabiting the
external spiral or coiled shell, from which the snail body emerges and crawls on a flat “foot”. The lower intertidal zone.
shell is formed by calcium carbonate secreting glands in the mantle, adorned by color pigments
that produce typical species-specific patterns. Commonly the word snail is restricted only to those
species which have an external shell. Those without a shell or with only a very reduced or internal
shell are termed slugs.
Primitive gastropods, such as limpets, Top shells and Conchs are herbivores, scraping algae
from the rock, whereas more advances species, like Frog shells, Helmet shells and Cones are
carnivores. Cowries have mixed diets. Some predatory snails specialize on coral flesh (page
The mollusk shells are no less beautiful than the living animal. Yet the sea slugs, shell-less
crawling and swimming gastropods, are splendid, showing astonishing colors and patterns (pages
80-81), which apparently serve as warning coloration to notify predators that they are distasteful
or poisonous.

Spider Conch (Lambis truncata sebae) a vegetarian, and the Arabian Cowry (Mauritia arabica immanis) a scavenger
Turban Snail (Turbo radiatus) equipped with a calcareous operculum known as ‘cat’s eye’. Frog Snail (Tutufa rubeta), – both are endemic Red Sea species, whereas Striped Engina (Engina mendicaria) is common throughout the entire Indo-
with a horny operculum, and a Top Shell (Trochus dentatus). Photo: J. Dafni Pacific. Photo: J. Dafni.

76 77
“Spider” strategy in Worm snails Snail Reproductive behavior
Below, a unique group of specialized snails of the family Vermetidae is shown. Their calcareous Snails reproduce internally – males and females meet and copulate. The eggs are liberated in
tubes are permanently attached to the rock or merge into massive coral colonies. Their mode of egg strands, or in a variety of capsules, to protect the eggs from being eaten by fish and other
feeding is similar to that of spiders. They produce silk-like mucous strands, and spread them in browsers. Sand-dwelling snails produce a unique protecting device – a ‘sand collar’ - in which the
the vicinity of their tube aperture. Tiny plankton is entangled in the web. Every now and then the entire egg mass is mixed with sand grains and glued together with mucous.
web is drawn in and the planktonic organisms and organic debris are ingested.

Cluster of Large Tube Snails (Dendropoma maxima) totally covered by the mucous web and an Opercleless Tube Snail A whelk (Nassa situla) female, and two Spindle Snails (Fusinus polygonoides) laying their egg in leathery. Moon Snail
(Serpulorbis inopertus) (inset), with an emitted mucus strand. Photo: J. Dafni (Polinices mammilla) egg mass inside a “sand collar” (inset: bare shell) Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin

78 79
Opisthobranch snails - Slugs Spanish Dancer
In this subclass of Gastropods there is a tendency to lose the shell and adopt a bilateral symmetry, Spanish dancer Spanish dancer is the largest (up to 40 cm) nudibranch gastropod. It is known
which shows best in the order Nudibranchia. As their scientific name implies these opisthobranchs for its swimming behavior, gracefully flapping its mantle edges – in a manner similar to the
replaced the fore gills (prosobranchs) with a ‘bouquet’ of modified gills around the anus. To dress lifting of Spanish flamenco dancers. The blood-red coloration is often adorned with a white
compensate for the loss of the protective shell they are equipped with a poisonous mucous coating margin to their mantle, and is considered a warning pattern, indicating to its enemies of having
and vivid color patterns to advertise their being unpalatable. Some carnivorous slugs, of the sub- poisonous substances obtained from their food – sponges. They are hermaphroditic, and deposit
order Aeolidina, prey on hydrozoans and store their cnidocytes secondarily in special club-like their eggs within a gelatinous spiral strand.
cnidosacs, in order to use them to defend themselves against predators.

Spanish Dancer, or “bloody six-gills” (Hexabranchus sanguineus) exhibited here, shows in the front are two modified
Several nudibranchs, the most advanced opisthobranchs: Shield Slug (Phyllidia undula), the Aeolid Favorinus tsuruganus, tentacles (rhinophores), two oral flaps, and on the rear - a cluster of six branched gills. Spiral egg strand (inset). Photo: Y.
and the Doriids, Ceratosoma magnificum, and Hypselodoris infucata. Photo: J. Dafni Aharoni, A. Gur

80 81
Mollusca: Bivalvia Bivalvia: Giant clams
Bivalves are mollusks of the class Bivalvia. As their name implies, their shell consists of two
valves or half-shells, hinged by an elastic ligament. Usually the two valves are similar and equal
in size, but in some forms such as the oysters they attach to the substratum by one valve. Muscles
run between the inner surfaces of the valves, enabling the shell to close rapidly and tightly. The
mantle cavity hides the hatchet-like foot, used for burrowing in free-living species. Burrowing
bivalves have two siphons, long or shorter tubes extending from the rear end, one for intake of
oxygenated water and food, and another siphon for the outflow of wastes. The gills, within the
mantle cavity, function in filter-feeding as well as in respiration. As water passes over the gills,
tiny organic particles are strained out and carried to the mouth. Some bivalves attach themselves
to surfaces by means of organic threads (called byssus), or by cementation. There are over 200
species of bivalves in the Gulf, among which you will find scallops, clams, oysters and mussels.
Since the head is hidden, most bivalves have lost their eyes. Only a few, like the Coral clam
shown here, have developed secondary eyes along the mantle edge.

Giant clams, Tridacna maxima (above) and T. squamosa (center) are both symbiotic bivalves,
harboring zooxanthellae that provide the clams with their produced food, mainly sugars. A 40 cm
large clam is probably more than 20 years
old. Protecting them from collectors and
fishermen ensures their survival in the
Eilat Coral Nature Reserve. Below Right:
a Swimming clam (Lima sp.). Photo: J.
Dafni, O. Lederman

Three bivalves: Coral Burying Clam (Pedum spondyloideum), displaying many eyes at the mantle’s margin, Sand buried
Sand Pen Shell (Pinna muricata) and Egyptian Pearl Oyster (Pteria aegyptiaca). Photo: J. Dafni

82 83
Cephalopods: Cuttlefish and Octopus Cephalopods: Octopuses
The Cephalopods are the most advanced class of the phylum Mollusca, both in their swimming, The octopus has no internal skeleton or outer shell, which enables it to squeeze through narrow
crawling, “jet propulsion” and other behavioral aspects. They are characterized by bilateral spaces. It is very intelligent, and preys upon fish and invertebrates. Like other cephalopods, the
symmetry, carrying a distinct head, and an attached mollusk foot which has been modified octopus male uses one of its eight arms, called Hectocotylus, to transfer his spermatophores
into 8-10 tentacles (hence the name cephalo=head, pod=foot). The class includes squids and (sperm-containing capsules) into the female’s mantle cavity during copulation. Octopuses have
cuttlefish which have an internal skeleton in the shape of a boat or flexible rod, whereas members a highly complex nervous system, only part of which is localized in its brain, and an outstanding
of the octopus class lack any kind of hard skeleton. Cephalopods are regarded as the most learning capability. They often break out of their aquariums in search of food. Some octopuses,
intelligent of the invertebrates and have well-developed senses. They have special skin cells such as the Mimic octopus (next page), move their arms in ways, that emulate the shape and
called chromatophores that change color and are used for communication and camouflage. All movements of other sea creatures. A unique open sea octopus is Paper nautilus, of which the
cepahlopods spurt black ink to ward off predators and as “smoke screen”. Octopuses have 8 arms, female secretes a special thin external shell by the greatly extended web of one pair of modified
while cuttlefish and squid have an extra pair of longer tentacles, with which they grasp their prey, arms to contain itself and her hatched brood.
and a powerful sharp beak.

male female

A pair of White Spotted Octopus (Octopus macropus) copulating, and (below) in food search. Note the different and
Cuttlefish (Sepia aculeata) female has its egg mass attached to the underside of stones. Squid (Sepiotheuthis sepioidea) variable coloration. Female of a Paper Nautilus (Argonauta argo), cradled in its egg case. Photo: A. Gur, J. Dafni, N.
sometimes swim in large schools. Photo: J. Dafni Shashar

84 85
Octopus : Behavior Mimic octopus
Octopuses show a wide range of behavioral patterns: aggressive postures, changing their shape The exceptional mimic octopus uses its arms, in their many arrangements, to mimic the shapes
to mimic patterns, as well as modes of movement – such as “jetting“ or even imitating other of sea stars, sea snakes and even fish (lionfish and flounders). It was discovered in Indonesia, and
animals’ “walking” or “running”. Many of these behavioral patterns are unexplained. They use has been found lately in Eilat.
their environment to hide or ambush their prey. The octopus female displayed here usually enters
empty bivalve shells to lay her eggs, but has been observed doing so in plastic cups.

Unidentified octopus in an aggressive or ‘intimidating’ posture. Shell inhabiting octopus (Octopus marginatus) sheltering Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) in its natural habitat, among sea grasses: towering over its burrow, peeping out
in a bivalve shell, apparently to hatch its eggs. Photo: D. Weinberg, I. Ben-Tov from inside, imitating a sea-snake and a brittle-star. Photo: J. Dafni

86 87
Crustaceans: Lobsters and prawns Crustaceans: Crab variety
Lobsters, prawn and shrimps are grouped in the order Decapoda Macrura, “Ten-legged, long The Brachyura, the short-abdomen crabs are the most advanced order of the Decapoda. Their
abdomen”, shown on this page, whereas the “short abdomen” Brachyura are shown on the short abdomen folds against the head-chest (cephalothorax), being widest in females, to store
opposite page. They are too many to count here and only a representative few will be discussed. their eggs in the space between them. The coral crabs (page 31) reside between the coral branches,
The Clam-killer slipper lobster is a nocturnal predator of giant clams, and the Marble shrimp has taking part in their defense. The Variable Coral crab strolls around the reef, feeding on anything
excessively long chelipeds. Hermit crabs are an intermediate group, Anomura, of crustaceans that crosses its path. The Sponge Carrier crab uses corals, sponges or ascidians to hide and
which hide their long soft abdomen in a dead snail’s shell, carrying it along. protect it from predators. In the coral gall crabs the female imprisons herself in a gall created by
the branched coral. The dwarf male enters into this ‘cage’ to fertilize her, and she remains there
to care for her offspring.

Macrura and Anomura: Clam-killer Slipper Lobster (Scyllarides tridacnophagus), Hermit Crab (Dardanus lagopodes) Decapoda Brachyura, Above: Variable Coral Crab (Carpilius convexus), largest brachyuran in Eilat’s reef, a male (the
in an empty cone shell (Conus tessulatus); Marble Shrimp (Saron sp.) with long pincers. Photo: M. Levin, I. Ben-Tov, R. female color is uniform brown). Below right: coral Gall Crab (Hapalocarcinus marsupialis) gall and a female with big
Biran abdomen (inset), Carrier Crab (Dromia sp.), carrying a large sea squirt. Photo: B. Levi, J. Dafni, J. Poupin, D. Weinberg

88 89
Echinoderms Echinoderm Predator
The animals’ name, echinoderms, implies strangeness - “spiny-skinned”. Taxonomists grouped Many fish crave the internal organs of spiny echinoderms. The best-known are the Blue triggerfish,
together several thousand animal species that sometimes differ from each other very much into shown here. It blows water and exposes the sea urchin, turning it over to reach the less protected
the eccentric phylum Echinodermata. A deeper examination of their morphology and anatomy part of its body. Large wrasses are known to prey on brittle stars; they even seize long-spines sea
proves this to be the right decision. They share among them exclusive characteristics, shown by urchins by their spines, carry and smash them onto rocks.
no other group. Their most distinctive trait is being exclusively marine – no echinoderm species
ever ventured into inland waters or onto land. Moreover they are always considered – in history,
art and lore – as symbols of the sea.
The biology and physiology of echinoderms are also quite unique. Although they are invertebrates
- lacking skeletal backbone - they show advanced anatomical peculiarities that group them in the
Deuterostomia division, together with the better-known vertebrates. They show however many
“primitive” phenomena: their symmetry is round, five-fold (pentaradial) and they have no legs
or other locomotor appendages– yet they move around using tubefeet, long tiny pipes carrying
an adhering disc, which are activated by a hydraulic mechanism termed water-vascular system,
unique to echinoderms. They have no eyes, yet they show remarkable ability to tell light from
dark, through light-sensitive pigments in their skin, and light plays an important role in the diel
activity cycle of many echinoderms (e.g. feather-stars, sea-urchins, etc.).
Their breeding is also different from any other animal group: they release eggs and sperm from a
series of genital pores to produce swimming larvae. This reproductive behavior is ‘contagious’:
once one animal has started, all sexually ripe individuals in the vicinity contribute their eggs
and sperm. The fertilized egg develops into a floating larva (named pluteus in sea-urchins and
brittle-stars, or auricularia in sea stars and sea cucumbers) that spends some weeks or even
months drifting in the open sea before descending to the sea floor to settle down and develop into
a crawling adult.
The five classes differ in many aspects. While sea urchins are mainly grazers, sea stars are
predators, able to prey on animals of their size or even – if the prey is strongly attached to the
bottom – envelope their prey with the frontal part of their stomach, smothering it and starting
to digest it externally. Feather stars and basket stars filter small planktonic organisms from
the current, and sea-cucumbers eat ... sand! They move on the sea floor, ingest large amounts
of sand, dig out the organic particles and excrete ‘sausages’ of cleaned sand. There are many
more peculiarities in the morphology, anatomy and physiology of the echinoderms which justify
the saying “strange is their middle name”. So strange that a famous American zoologist, Libby
Henrietta Hyman, once wrote, that it seems that echinoderms were specially created in order to
baffle the zoologist.

Five classes of echinoderms: Sea-cucumbers, Sea-urchins, Brittle-stars, Sea stars and Feather-stars. Photo: J. Dafni, M. The ultimate echinoderm predator Blue Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes fuscus), crushing a Sand Dollar (Clypeaster humilis).
Levin, A. Diamant Inset: half-buried (arrow) and exposed sand dollar. Photo: M. Levin; J. Dafni

90 91
Sea Stars Sea Stars
Do not be misled by the innocent beauty of the sea stars of the class Asteroidea, or as many
erroneously call them, starfish. The serenity of this geometrically perfect creature hides a vicious
predator of mollusks and other living creatures. They typically have five or more arms which
radiate from an indistinct central disk. The mouth is in the lower center of the disk, but there is no
anus. Sea stars do not rely on a jointed, movable skeleton for support and movement, but instead
possess a hydraulic system for locomotion, based upon tubefeet on the lower part of the sea star’s
arms. The Sea stars usually hunt for shelled animals such as oysters and clams. They have two
stomachs, a frontal cardiac and a posterior pyloric one. The last one is used for digestion, while
the cardiac stomach can be extended out of their mouth or even everted to engulf the prey. This
feature allows the sea star to hunt prey that is much larger than its mouth would allow. Sea stars
are known for the ability to regrow lost or damaged arms. In some sea stars, an entire sea star may
be regenerated from a single arm attached to a portion of the central disk.
The most influential tropical sea star – with a long term effect on entire reefs – is the Crown-
of-thorns sea star (COTS in short); referring to the crown of thorns that Jesus wore before his
crucifixion. Having multiple (12-20) arms and a large size (up to 40cm), this sea star is well
equipped with long venomous spines for protection. The COTS is a coral predator that preys
upon coral colonies by climbing onto them, extruding its cardiac stomach over them, releasing
digestive enzymes, and ingesting the decaying tissue. The COTS’s main enemy is the huge Triton
trumpet snail (Charonia tritonis). The small Harlequin shrimps bite small pieces from the sea
star, and may even kill it. Coral crabs (Trapezia spp.) are known to chase the COTS away from
their host coral.
COTS populations strongly fluctuate, and since the 1970s large outbreaks of this species
have caused the near demise of many Indo-Pacific coral reefs. These outbreaks are believed that
to be caused by over-collection of the sea star predator, the tritons, while others blame pollution-
induced algal blooms that increased the survival of the COTS larvae. The Red Sea suffered several
outbreaks. In the last one, in 1998, many thousands of Acanthaster sea stars were removed from
Ras Mohammed Natural Park, Sinai. At Eilat they are relatively rare, but their population is
monitored to avoid damage.
From the largest to the smallest: Pigmy sea star is ca. 1-2 cm large, and has usually more
than 5 arms. As the picture overleaf shows, it is the result of deliberate fission of the sea stars and
regeneration of new arms, a form of asexual reproduction. They live unnoticed on the reef wall,
scavenging coral and small sea anemone polyps.

Common local sea stars: Cushion Sea star (Choriaster granulatus); Pearl Sea star (Fromia monilis); Pigmy Sea star
Crown-of-thorns Sea star (Acanthaster planci): juvenile and an adult, devouring a branched coral. Right: Sea star predator, (Asterina burtoni) fissiparous half (arrows point at the newly regenerating arms), and Ghardaqa Sea star (F. ghardaqana).
Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocera elegans). Photo: J. Dafni, O. Lederman, A. Diamant Photo: L. Dafni, M. Levin, J. Dafni, B. Tamir

92 93
Sea Urchins Sea urchins: Regular or Irregular
Sea urchins (class Echinoidea) have a circular body, either globular (as in the subclass Regularia) The regular sea urchins are globular, and radially symmetrical. Sea urchins of the other group,
ovate or extremely flattened (as in the Irregularia). Their body is totally covered by an internal the Irregularia, are bilaterally symmetrical and have a distinct length axis and orientation. They
rigid shell (called test), made of close-fitting calcareous plates, with two openings: for the mouth are divided into (1) the flattened Sand dollars (order Clypeasteroida), whose mouth is in the
in the lower (adoral) side, and the anus in the upper (adapical) side. In the regular sea urchins, ventral (lower) middle of the skeleton, but the anus is far behind in the ventral side, and (2) the
five radii made of smaller plates, called ambulacra, stretch along the longitudinal axis, marked by almost globular Heart urchins (order Spatangoida) whose mouth is in the frontal ventral side
tiny holes in the test, through which the ambulacral tubefeet emerge. These tubefeet adhere to the (M, in the picture below) and the anus is in the posterior edge. Since all the irregular sea urchins
hard substrate and are either used to anchor the urchin in position, move it and even turn around. burrow in the sand, the tubefeet system is much reduced and used mainly as respiratory organ,
The test carries many large primary spines and more slender secondary spines, which in many in a flower-shape petaloid. They use their spines as oars or paddles to move beneath the sand
species encircle the primaries. Special minute spines, equipped with three armed jaws called surface. The urchins of the former group are flat and move slowly at shallow depth; it is easy to
pedicellaria, may be mildly venomous. The sea urchin feeds with a specialized chewing device locate them through their wide sand marks, whereas the heart urchins dig deeper and move faster,
called “Aristotle’s lantern” made of five hard teeth, to scrape algae from the rock and erode the leaving no trace on the sand.
mineral rock into sand. Five sex pores encircle the anus, the gonopores, whence the sperm and
eggs are released. A popular old joke asks: “How do sea urchins mate?” The answer is “Very,
very carefully, because of the spines”. In fact, the spines are the main obstacle which prevents
us from totally engrossing ourselves in the beauty of the reef. The long and sharp spine ‘forest’
of the Long-spine urchin is a haven for many creatures - fish, shrimps, prawns, small cuttlefish,
nocturnal fish who seek shelter during daylight and many more. Paradoxically, another black
urchin species, Double-spined urchin, with blunt primary spines, is the most fearful urchin. The
secondary spines hidden between its primary spines are needle-sharp and their sting causes acute
pain. They are apparently the most efficient of the reef protectors: they keep away many evil-
doers. Anyway, if your intentions are good, just avoid touching them!
In contrast to the above mentioned species, most sea urchins in Eilat reefs are harmless. Even
the poisonous Fire urchin is so rare that its menace can be easily overlooked. A toxic sea urchin
of the tropical family Toxopneustidae is the Short-spined velvet sea urchin. It is the largest and
one of the most variable species. This species has been subject to bizarre deformations due to sea
pollution (page 158).

Irregular echinoids: Common Sand Dollar (Clypeaster humilis) half-buried in sand and another one, fully exposed; a
Fissured Sand Dollar (Echinodiscus auritus). Bottom left: Spiny Heart Urchin (Lovenia elongata) ventral face and a
Helmet Shell (Casmaria sp.) killing this urchin. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin

A gallery of regular Sea urchins: Ten-lined Urchin (Eucidaris metularia), Velvet Sea Urchin (Tripneustes gratilla
elatensis); Double-Spined urchin (Echinothrix calamaris); Fire Urchin (Asthenosoma marisrubri), Geometric
Urchin (Microcyphus rousseaui) and Slate Pencil Urchin (Heterocentrotus mammilatus). Photo: J. Dafni, M.
Levin, I. Ben-Tov

94 95
Sea Cucumbers More on Sea Cucumbers
Sea cucumbers are echinoderms of the class Holothuroidea that have an elongated worm-like
body covered with thick skin. They crawl on the sea floor ingesting sand, digest the organic matter
and excrete their droppings as sausage-like sand strings. Their skeleton is reduced to typical
imbedded calcite ossicles, whose shapes are species-specific, by which the precise identification
of sea cucumber species is made. Most common sea cucumbers of the order Aspidochirota
(=shield-hand), are favored food in the Far East, under the name “trepang”. A fish parasite,
pearlfish (Carapus sp.) enters the cucumber through its anus, and feasts on its intestine. A
probable means of protection against this pest are the five anal teeth that surround the anus of the
sea cucumber Actinopyga (see opposite page).

Behavior: When disturbed, the half-buried Sticky Sea Cucumber (Holothuria impatiens) ejects
sticky threads called Cuvierian tubules, to deter and obstruct enemies. Left: Upright posture of
the sea cucumber Actinopyga bannwarthi, shared by all ripe members in the area at reproduction,
when they synchronically eject eggs and semen. A semen string is shown in the far right corner of
the picture. Fertilization takes place in the water. Photo: J. Dafni, K. Levy

The second order of cucumbers is Rope cucumbers, Apodida. These flexible, elongated
snake-like creatures lack tubefeet, moving about by peristaltic contraction of their peripheral
muscles, using their skin’s anchor-like ossicles to hold to the ground, gathering food with their
long oral tentacles.

Sea Cucumbers: Black Sea Cucumber (Holothuria atra), sea floor feeding and with excreted sand string; Tubercle Sea
Cucumber (Stichopus sp.); Noble Sea Cucumber (Holothuria nobilis); Tigertail Sea Cucumber (H. hilla) and Edible Black Rope-Cucumber (Synapta reciprocans), Grey Rope Cucumber (Opheodesoma grisea), and Greenish Synapta,
Sea Cucumber (H. edulis). Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin (Euapta godeffroyi). Photo: B. Tamir, M. Levin, J. Dafni

96 97
Brittle Stars Feather- and Basket Stars
Brittle stars, class Ophiuroidea, are closely related to sea stars. They generally have five long, Feather stars represent the echinoderm class Crinoidea. They are nocturnal animals that spread
slender, whip-like arms. Unlike sea stars, they use the flexible arms, consisted of vertebra-like their arms against the current to trap small planktonic organisms and carry them to the mouth
calcareous disks, to crawl or cling to solid objects, such as sponges or corals. The tubefeet are in its center. During the day they hide in shaded crevices with folded arms. At late afternoon
used mainly to collect food and move it to the mouth, situated in the lower middle of the disk, and they emerge, crawl upwards and hold fast to the reef top by the short flexible finger-like cirri,
there is no anus. Reef inhabiting stars are small, and readily overlooked. They resist predation by spreading their arms against the plankton-rich current. The Basket star is similar in its behavior,
self-amputation of arms, and their later regeneration. but belongs to the brittle stars (class Ophiuroidea – see opposite page). Although both have no
eyes they are able to sense the light, and their diel activity is triggered by light or darkness.

Subtidal Brittle Star (Macrophiothrix hirsuta), Speckled Brittle Star (Ophiocoma valenciae) and Reef Brittle Star
(Ophiothrix propinqua) associated with a large Tube Sponge (Callispongia sp.). Another bizarre ophiuroid is the Basket Reef Feather Star (Lamprometra klunzingeri) with extended, or with folded arms. Below left: Juvenile Basket Star
Star, shown in the opposite page. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin (Astroboa nuda) reposing among soft coral branches. Photo: I. Ben-Tov, M. Levin

98 99
Sea Squirts Tunicata: Salps
Sea squirts or Ascidia are the most primitive group in the phylum Chordata, and at the same Salps are planktonic barrel-shaped tunicates, swimming by contraction, pumping water through
time they are included among the invertebrates. They possess a central nerve chord (notochord) their transparent gelatinous bodies. They strain the pumped water and feed on phytoplankton.
at their larval ‘tadpole stage’, losing it later in life when they are developed into sac-like solitary Salps reproduce asexually, forming long living colony chains seen in the water column at Eilat.
sessile animals or complex colonies of the same, often mistaken for sponges. They extract their
food from seawater, taken in through an oral siphon, flowing through mucus-covered gill slits
into a chamber called the atrium, and exiting through the atrial siphon. They are covered by a
tough outer “tunic”, hence their alternative name Tunicata.

Giant Salp string (Salpa maxima), an infrequent visitor. Inset: a solitary salp invaded by a Pram Bug Amphipod (Phronima
sp.). Photo: M. Shpigel. Y. Esh.

Hemichordata: Acorn Worms

Hemichordata is a sub-phylum related to the chordata. The only representative of this group in
our area is the Acorn worm. It lives buried deep in the sand, using its smooth proboscis and gill
slits to sieve organic particles from the wet sediments in which it is embedded. The acorn worm
is very seldom seen on the surface. More commonly found are its excreted sand strings emerging
from below, like toothpaste from its tube.

Above: A Solitary Sea Squirt showing its oral and atrial siphons. Below: Two color variations of compound or Social
Ascidian (Botryllus eilatensis) showing many small oral openings and larger atrial siphons. Photo: J. Dafni Acorn Worm (Ptychodera flava) sand paste emerging from the bottom. Photo: J. Dafni

100 101
Reef Fish Reef Fish
Of all the creatures dwelling on coral reefs, none are more colorful and vivacious than the
fishes. The high diversity of the fish communities in the coral reefs is maintained mainly by the
reef’s complexity, which translates into many different types of foods, shelter, and motion and
reproduction opportunities. Of the more than 1200 species living in the Red Sea, approximately
half have been recorded at Eilat, most of them in the reef environment. Below we will show the
most common, interesting or exceptional species. Contrary to the invertebrate planktonic drifters,
fish are termed nekton, meaning “swimmers.

The high reef fish diversity is well illustrated in the above picture. Six fishes each of a different species are gathered in one It is hard to imagine a coral reef without the colorful and lively coral fishes. Without them this seascape would have been
frame: Broomtail Wrasse, Klunzinger’s Wrasse, Parrotfish, Snake Eel and a Speckled Sand Perch showing interest in a dull and uninviting. Two main fish families are shown in these pictures, the Groupers (Serranidae) and the Damselfishes
Blue Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes fuscus) burrowing in the sand for sea urchins. Photo: M. Levin (Pomacentridae). We will address them in more detail in the coming pages. Photo: M. Levin

102 103
Sharks Batoidea- Skates and Rays
Sharks are fish of the subclass Elasmobranchii, with a cartilaginous skeleton and a typically Skates and rays are also of the Elasmobranchia. Their pectoral fins merge with their heads,
streamlined body. They extract oxygen from seawater as it passes over their gills, exiting through forming frontally large disc-like bodies. The frontal part is flat to facilitate resting and preying on
five gill slits. The shark’s body is covered by small dermal denticles that are also used as replaceable the sea bottom, while the posterior part is reduced, in some cases ending with a long thread-like
larger teeth. Unfortunately, reef sharks are entirely missing from Eilat - they obviously lost in the tail. Unlike the sharks (order Selachii) having lateral gill slits, fish of the order Batoidea always
competition with man. Yet several sharks are met occasionally: in deeper water the small Hound have their gill slits in the ventral (lower) surface of the flat body.
Shark (Iago omanensis) is rather common. In shallow water Whale Sharks – the largest fish on
earth - visit the shore once or twice a year. This shark feeds on small plankton oraganism like the
crustacean Krill, the favorite food of baleen whales, which are abundant in temperate seas, and
infrequently become stranded on the beach.

Recent shark encounters (Above): Two photographs of a welcomed Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus), photographed
while swimming along the shore in the summer of 2005. Below right to left: an unidentified Mako Shark (Isurus sp.), an
infrequent visitor, attracted to the fish cages near Eilat northern shore and Krill (Euphasia sp.) Photo: J. Grinfeld, A. Kendler, The common reef Sting Ray (Taeniura lymma) usually rests in the lagoon, occasionally half-buried in the sand. The Electric
M. Levin, J. Dafni Ray (Torpedo sinuspersici) uses its electric organs to stun and hunt its prey, and as a weapon. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin

104 105
Batoidea- Skates and rays Fish as Predators
Among the largest rays there is an evolutionary tendency to return to swim in midwater, shown by Most of the fishes are predators, and only a small percentage eats plants. A vegetarian diet requires
Eagle rays. Their pectoral fins are pointed sideways, and the eagle rays use them in a way similar anatomical adaptations such as longer intestines, specialized teeth, and in many cases symbiotic
to birds’ wings. A step forward was made by Manta rays who adopted midwater swimming and bacteria in the gut. None of the sharks, the most primitive fish, are herbivorous. For most fish,
plankton feeding similar to the whale shark. predation is the rule. Large-prey predators hunt either singly, ambushing their prey, or in schools.
Some, like lionfish and groupers, swim among their prey, waiting for an opportunity to pick off
sick or weak fish.

Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari), a good swimmer hunts animals buried in the sand, such as hiding fish, also using an
electro-sensory mechanism; and Manta Rays (Manta birostris), a midwater plankton feeder. Below: Oral lobes of the Two predators, two tactics: Above, Common Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus) ambushes passing fish. Below: Pigmy
Manta Ray. The picture shows also several Suckerfish (Echeneis naucrates) hitching a ride close to the manta ray’s ventral Sweepers (Parapriacanthus guentheri) keep a safe distance from a Redmouth Grouper (Aethaloperca rogaa) that swims
surface. Photo: B. Tamir, I. Ben-Tov among them. Photo: I. Ben-Tov, J. Dafni

106 107
Eels and Moray eels Sand Dwelling Eels
The eels (order Anguilliformes) have many representatives in tropical waters. The most Adapted to subterranean life, the Snake eels (Ophichtidae) have a narrow body and pointed
common are Moray eels (family Muraenidae). They are large, multi-colored and resourceful head. The common Marbled snake eel is known to divers by its head popping out of the sand.
nocturnal predators, hiding daily in crevices or meandering between the corals. Other eels are When moving it leaves a zigzag pattern in the sand. No less unique are the Garden eels of the
the subterranean Snake eels, and last but not least, the Garden eels, plankton feeders that live familiy Congridae, hundreds of which live in three large colonies, each burrowed in permanent
in permanent holes in large colonies, forming a spectacular attraction in Eilat’s seaward shallow holes in the sand, at a depth of 7-15 m off the southern beach of Eilat. They stay in their individual
sea floor. burrows, catching passing plankton. Potential mates stretch over from adjacent burrows and
entwine their bodies.

Common reef moray eels: Snowflake Moray

(Echidna nebulosa), Grey Moray (Siderea
grisea), Yellowmargin Moray (Gymnothorax
flavimarginatus) and Zebra Moray Spotted Snake Eel (Myrichthys maculosus), mimicking the pattern of venomous sea snakes (common in the Indian Ocean
(Gymnomuraena zebra). (Another moray but luckily entirely missing from the Red Sea); Marbled Snake Eel (Callechelys marmorata) in a typical head-out posture
species is shown on page 115). Photo: Y. Aharoni, and an exposed animal, possibly in stress. Below: Garden Eels (Gorgasia sillneri) in their colony, forming a unique habitat,
J. Dafni, M. Levin, E. Halevy known as “Eel Garden”. Photo: Z. Movshowits, M. Levin, J. Dafni

108 109
Sea horses and Shrimpfishes Pipefish and Ghost pipefish
In the order Syngnathiformes are included some of the most bizarre fish-species – Seahorses, Pipefishes are relatives of the seahorse. They share their male brooding habit. Ghost pipefishes
Pipefishes, Ghost- and Cornetfishes. Their scientific name refers to the typical long, tube-like are different; they are perfectly camouflaged and blend in among algae or seagrass for protection.
snout, made of fused jaws. Another peculiarity: in fish of the family Syngnathidae males have a The exquisitely colored Coral Ghostfish fits the color of soft corals. Contrary to most pipefish,
brood pouch in which the female deposits the eggs; the males fertilize and incubate them. the ghost pipefish female carries her eggs in a modified brooding pouch, made of its enlarged
pelvic fins. All are plankton feeders.

Shrimpfish (Aeoliscus punctulatus), moving and hiding among sea urchins spines; Common Pipefish (Corythoichthys Pipefish: Multibar Pipefish (Dunkerocampus multiannulatus), middle row, pair of Coral Ghostfishes (Solenostomus
shultzi) group on a Favia coral, and a solitary Thorny Seahorse (Hippocampus histrix). Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin, Y. paradoxus), the larger female shows its brooding pouch, and below, two color varieties of the Seagrass Ghostfish
Aharoni (Solenostomus cyanopterus). Photo: Y. Aharoni, M. Levin, B. Tamir

110 111
Dragon fish Lionfish and prey
Surprisingly, this strange creature is rather common in Eilat’s lagoons. Their scientific name, Unlike other members of the venomous scorpion fish family Scorpaenidae, Lionfish are not
Pegasus reminds us of the mythological winged horse that the Greek hero Perseus rode to rescue camouflaged (claims have been raised that in their normal hunting behavior they imitate feather
Andromeda, chained to the rocks of Jaffa, from a terrible sea monster. The dragon-shaped stars or other innocent creatures or non-living objects), and slowly patrol the reef edge, stalking
fish, completely encased in tough bony plates, is otherwise vulnerable, and it seems as if they their fish prey. They are active in the early mornings and late afternoons, sometimes in hunting
were named so as a joke. The alternative name, Seamoth, may better describe them. These fish groups not unlike a lion pack.
translucent ‘winged’ pectoral fins are unfit for swimming or gliding, rather for crawling slowly
on the coarse sand in pairs, using their pelvic fin rays as digits. They have no swim bladder and
barely swim. The thick skin protects them from predation, while they feed on small organic
debris, with their tiny mouth, hidden beneath an elongated snout.

Lionfish (Pterois miles) keeping watch over Basslets (Pseudanthias squamipinnis). Below: An unexplained ‘flag’ - a rare
Dragonfish (Eurypegasus draconis) pair and a frontal look at the fish. Photo: M. Levin, J. Dafni colored head tentacle – frequently seen in local lionfish. Photo: M. Levin, B. Tamir

112 113
Scorpion fish and Stone fish Stonefish
In the next two pages, other members of the scorpionfish family, subfamilies of scorpionfishes The Stonefish is a carnivorous fish armed with 13 venomous dorsal spines. It usually rests on the
and stonefishes are discussed. They are armed with highly venomous dorsal spines to discourage ground, perfectly blending with its surrounding, to ambush its prey. When threatened it spreads its
bigger fish who might attack them while they lie in wait for prey. Particularly venomous are fins, exposing its spines. Its relation, the stingfish lives on lagunar sand, moving along using its
stonefish, which are so perfectly camouflaged that even the breathing ‘pumping’ movement of pectoral rays as “fingers”. To advertise its venom, the stingfish flares the underside of its pectoral
the gill covers and mouth is obscured. The Devil scorpionfish, when threatened, upturns its lower fins, and spreads its tail flash showing a defiant exquisite warning coloration.
side of its pectoral fins, exposing for a ‘blink of an eye’ the bright colors of the lower surface, as
a startling warning to its potential enemy.

Shortfin Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus) and Clearfin Lionfish (Pterois radiata) challenge their enemies with their
flamboyant red color; Devil Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis diabolus), camouflaged, and showing its warning colors (inset). Two members of the stonefish subfamily (Synanceinae) of the scorpionfish: the perfectly camouflaged Stonefish (Synanceia
Photo: J. Dafni verrucosa), and the Two-Stick Stingfish (Inimicus filamentosus) in warning display. Photo: K. Levy, J. Dafni

114 115
Groupers Basslets or Goldies
Groupers have a large head and heavy body, and spiny dorsal fins. Some grouper species There is no question which is the most photogenic fish in the reefs of Eilat. It is the Fairy basslet,
rank among the largest top predators (except sharks) of the reef environment. They relate to known also as Goldy, a pink or orange fish; no reef photograph will be perfect without its orange
the Serranidae, the largest family in the order Perciformes. At least 20 species of groupers are tinge. Basslets comprise the subfamily Anthiinae of the grouper family Serranidae. These
present in the Red Sea, most of them encountered in Eilat’s reefs. The most common and the agile plankton feeders swarm around every coral knoll or reef front, always facing the incoming
smallest among them is the Blacktip grouper, and the largest – which lives long enough to reach current. Basslets are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning that they are born females, to live
the size of 80 cm – is the Lunartail grouper. Somewhat smaller are the Coral groupers. They in “harems” of up to a dozen females for the most productive part of their life, always surrounded
were hunted by spear fishermen in the past, and since their size is age-dependent, their average by fewer dominant males. The territorial males perform an acrobatic U-swim (dive and rise)
size decreased. Protection measures taken at present have started to affect their numbers and display and vigorously defend the water section they consider their ‘plot’. Non-territorial males
increase their size. join a “bachelors’” school, ready to take over if a dominant male perishes. Alternatively, an
alpha female will change its sex to become a dominant male. At depths greater than 20m another
species, the striped basslets, is common.

Four typical Eilati groupers: Blacktip Grouper (Epinephelus fasciatus), Lunartail Grouper (Variola louti), Coral Above: A school of orange colored Fairy Basslets (Pseudanthias squamipinnis): females and several violet-pink males
Grouper (Cephalopholis miniatus) and Red Sea Roving Grouper (Plectropomus pessuliferus marisrubri). An additional shown in the lower half. Below, male (right) and a female. Striped Basslets (P. taeniatus), males in deeper water. Photo: J.
grouper – Redmouth Grouper (Aethaloperca rogaa) - is shown on page 107. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin Dafni, M. Levin, R. Koslawsky

116 117
Butterflyfishes The animals went in, two by two…
Butterflyfishes are conspicuous tropical reef fish of the family Chaetodontidae. About 15 Butterflyfishes have brought pair bonding almost to perfection. They most frequently move
species live in the northern Gulf of Aqaba. They are named for their brightly colored and striking together, male and female. Even within a school, pairs are very often visible.
patterns in shades of black, yellow, red and orange. Their deep, laterally compressed bodies are
eye-catching in the reef background. Since they have no weapon for self-defense, they rely on
deception to ward off enemies. Most species have dark bands or patch across their eyes, and
some have bogus eyespots on their flanks, to deceive or intimidate predators. Butterflyfishes feed
on coral polyps. They are territorial, swimming in pairs along the reef flats. By night they hide
amongst the crevices of the reef and some exhibit markedly different night coloration pattern.
Below and overleaf are 8 common local species:

Six common Butterflyfishes from Eilat: Crown Butterflyfish (Chaetodon paucifasciata), Threadfin Butterflyfish (C. Butterflyfish pairs: Crown Butterflyfish (Chaetodon paucifasciata), Threadfin Butterflyfish (C. auriga), Exquisite
auriga), Masked Butterflyfish (C. semilarvatus), Striped Butterflyfish (C. fasciatus), Lined Butterflyfish (C. lineolatus) Butterflyfish (C. austriacus), a school of Bannerfishes (Heniochus diphreutes) and Lined Butterflyfish (C. lineolatus).
and Chevron Butterflyfish (C. trifascialis). Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin

118 119
Angelfishes more Angelfishes
Marine angelfishes, of the family Pomacanthidae, are related to the butterfly fishes. In Hebrew
they are called Emperors, and indeed, they are large, colorful and majestic. They differ from
butterflyfish by having a color-enhanced sharp spine for protection emerging behind the gill
covers (hence their scientific name “mouth-spined”). Their poster-colored compressed bodies
possibly provide a territorial declaration. Their aggressive behavior is apparently the reason why
the colors of angelfish juveniles often differ markedly from the adults, possibly aimed to avoid
being attacked by them. Angelfishes are never abundant; only the smallest species go in pairs.
Yellowbar angelfish is the largest. Emperor angelfishes and Royal angelfishes, although smaller,
exhibit more vibrant coloration.

Yellowbar Angelfish (Pomacanthus maculosus), adult and Royal Angelfish (Pygoplites diacanthus); Yellow-ear Angelfish (Holacanthus xanthotis) and below, Emperor Angelfish
juvenile (inset). Photo: M. Levin (Pomacanthus imperator) adult and juvenile (inset). Photo: M. Levin, J. Dafni, A. Diamant

120 121
Damsel fish Damselfishes in action
Damselfishes, members of the family Pomacentridae, are among the most common smaller fish Damselfishes are territorial fish, always attached to an anemone or a branching coral. They seek
species associated with coral reefs. They form territorial schools or associations - dominated by shelter there when alarmed. It has been found that by wriggling their fins and tails at night the
a male or in some cases by a dominant female. During the day they venture out to open water, damselfishes aerate the space between the coral branches, improving the coral metabolism. Most
feeding on zooplankton, hurrying back in case of emergency or during the night to hide among damselfish use the coral environment as preferred breeding sites.
the coral branches. In the mating season, males adopt conspicuous ‘poster coloration’, choosing
a smaller or larger rock plot whereto the females are invited to lay their eggs, upon which the
males eject their semen. The males then protect the eggs until they hatch and the tiny fingerlings
are carried away by the currents to find a new home. Damselfishes are protogynous sequential
hermaphrodites (female first) sex change. Others like the clownfish show protandrous (male-
first) sex change.

Typical damselfishes: Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf saxatilis and A. sexfasciatus, behind), Banded Dascyllus (Dascyllus Damselfish interactions: Clownfish (Amphiprion bicinctus) symbiotic with a Cushion Anemone (Stoichactis gigas),
aruanus), Domino Dascyllus (D. trimaculatus) pair (mating male is grey), Green Chromis (Chromis viridis) (male), Green Chromis (Chromis viridis) and blue juveniles (inset), surrounding their home base, a Staghorn coral. The Banded
Sulphur Damselfish (Pomacentrus sulfureus), Royal Damselfish (Paraglyphidodon melas), a colored juvenile (adult is Dascyllus (Dascyllus aruanus) shelters in a Stylophora colony, frequently together with other damselfish. Photo: M. Levin,
pitch black) and Footballer Damselfish (Chrysoptera annulata). Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin J. Dafni

122 123
Wrasses Wrasses in action
Coral fish of the family Labridae (=lip fish), are among the most abundant and conspicuous The Broomtail wrasse is the largest wrasse in Eilat’s coral reef. The mature males reach 50 cm
fishes in tropical reefs around the world. There are approximately 50 species in the Gulf of and show a long and tattered tail. A small vertical orange half moon-shaped mark, displayed at all
Aqaba. They appear in a diverse range of colors, shapes and sizes, often varying considerably ages, is a helpful identification aid, reflected in its scientific name. This wrasse feeds on spiny sea
according to their age and the available food. Wrasses feed on a large variety of invertebrates, and urchins, among other prey, smashing their hard shells on the reef wall.
zooplankton. Some wrasses have protractile mouths, pointed snout to collect worms, or thick
lips and canine teeth to crush mollusk shells and sea urchin skeletons. Some wrasses fill a useful
role in the coral fish community as cleaners. Few wrasses are sexually dimorphic, organized into
harem-based social systems and exhibit protogynous sex change. Juveniles are often different
from their parents.

Common wrasses: Klunzinger’s Wrasse (Thalassoma klunzingeri), Thicklip Wrasse (Hemigymnus fasciatus), Bird
Wrasse (Gomphosus coeruleus), male (female see in page 181), Yellowtail Wrasse (Anampses meleagrides), Spottail Broomtail Wrasse (Cheilinus lunulatus), attended by two Cleaner Wrasses (Labroides dimidiatus) (see next page). Right
Wrasse (Coris caudimacula), Clown Wrasse (Coris aygula) adult and juvenile, Eightline Wrasse (Parachelilinus Inset: juvenile Broomtail Wrasse. Left inset: Broomtail Wrasse wounded by Long Spine urchin spines. Photo: J. Dafni,
octotaenia) and Hog Wrasse (Bodianus anthoides). Photo: J. Dafni, R. Koslawsky, Z. Movshowits, M. Levin Y. Aharoni.

124 125
Cleaning stations Who else is in the Cleaners’ guild?
A cleaning station is a location in the reef vicinity where fish congregate to be cleaned by Cleaner shrimps are long-tailed ‘swimming’ crustaceans (suborder Natantia) that also clean
cleaner-fish or shrimps. The cleaners remove parasites and dead skin from their ‘clients’ bodies. fish at their own cleaning sites. Cave-dwelling fish, like moray eels and smaller schooling fish
The principal cleaner is the cleaner wrasse, which has developed a special behavioral pattern too small for cleaner wrasses, are attended by these shrimps. Several families have one or several
to advertise its services: it swims in a kind of wavy ‘dance’, pursuing and slightly touching members who do this job. The most common cleaner shrimp is Banded boxer shrimp of the family
approaching fish. The fishes to be cleaned show their interest by posing in unconventional ways, Stenopodidae; another common cleaner is White banded cleaner shrimp of the Hyppolytidae.
even changing their color pattern – possibly to highlight the parasite or dead tissue – and opening The smaller Squat cleaner shrimp cleans the sea anemone, to which it is commensal.
their mouths and gill covers to facilitate the cleaner’s approach. The cleaner wrasse removes the
parasites directly from the cleaned fish skin. Cleaning stations are often located in cave entrances
or on top of a coral head. The cleaner wrasse genus Labroides is the most specialized. All of its
species are cleaners. But cleaning is also performed by other wrasses. Juveniles of the Fourline
cleaner wrasse are similar in shape and behavior to those of the common cleaner, while the adult
changes its feeding habits. An experiment done in the 1960’s showed that removal of the cleaner
fishes from a coral reef resulted in a significant reduction in fish numbers and an increase of
dermal infections in the remaining fishes.

Variety of cleaners: Banded Boxer shrimp (Stenopus hispidus), and White Banded Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata
amboinensis), displaying their advertising white antennae, and while cleaning a Yellowmouthed Moray (Gymnothorax
Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) with Damselfish (Dascyllus trimaculatus) and while cleaning a gaping Needlefish nudivomer) teeth. Partner Shrimps: Pereclimenes imperator keeps a sea cucumber’s skin clean and the transparent
(Tylosurus sp.). Spottail wrasse (Coris caudimacula) was also seen several times approaching fish in a similar way. Photo: Pereclimenes longicarpus cleans a Lizardfish. The Squat Cleaner Shrimp (Thor amboinensis) is associated with sea
I. Ben-tov, D. Weinberg, J. Dafni anemone, removing organic debris from its surface. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin, A. Stern, I. Ben-tov, B. Tamir, E. Halevi

126 127
Parrot Fish Variations on a theme
The Parrotfish (genus Scarus) is a notable example of Parrotfish are the main coral reef eroder. The fifteen parrotfish species in the Gulf exhibit
specialization and diversity among reef fish. It is named after bewildering color diversity because of their sexual dimorphism – females differ from males, and
both, its beaklike dental plates made of fused teeth and its juveniles have their own coloration patterns. Like many coral fish they exhibit protogynous sex
brilliant coloration patterns. A special adaptation for scraping change. The so-called ‘terminal males’ show the most intense and vibrant coloration. Parrotfish
algae includes the stone-cutting beak and pharyngeal teeth, a are mainly diurnal feeders. At night they seek shelter inside caves and crevices where they lay
grinding device inside the pharynx made of two bony toothed immobile, some even produce a transparent mucous ‘blanket’ to mask their scent from predators.
grinding plates which turn the calcareous pieces into chalky The following shows pictures of four of the common parrotfish species - males, females and
paste from which algal material is digested in its gut, exiting juvenile - on Eilat’s reefs. All are common at the “Caves” site, at a depth of 1-5m.
pure calcareous sand through the anus.

Common Eilat Parrotfishes, left males and right, females, top to bottom: Dusky Parrotfish (Scarus niger), Heavybeak
Parrotfish. (S. gibbus) Bullethead Parrotfish (S. sordidus) and Bicolor Parrotfish (S. bicolor), male, female and a
Heavybeak Parrotfish (Scarus gibbus), male. Photo: J. Dafni juvenile (inset). Photo: J. Dafni

128 129
Goatfish Hawkfish
Goatfishes are tropical fish of the family Mullidae. They extract food from the sea floor, using a Hawkfishes, family Cirrhitidae, are small predatory fishes. They have large heads with thick,
pair of long barbels protruding from their chins to dig out worms and mollusks of the sand. The somewhat elongated bodies. Their anterior dorsal spines have several trailing fringing filaments
barbels are also chemosensory organs, able to locate buried food. Several fish species accompany - termed cirri - on their tips, hence the scientific family name meaning “fringe fins“. The Pixy
them, hoping to share in the booty. hawkfish is one of the most colorful fish in Eilat’s reefs. A distinguished relative is the Longnose
hawkfish, associated with large sea fans. (See also page 67).

Red Sea Goatfish (Parupeneus forsskali) searching for food, while a Spinecheek (Scolopsis ghanam) watches from above.
Below left: a small wrasse accompanies the goatfishes, hoping to get a bite. Note the variety of colors, displayed by one Hawkfish. Above: two color forms of the Blotched Hawkfish (Parachirrhites forsteri) on ambush. Middle: Pixy Hawkfish
species. Another goatfish (P. cyclostomus) is shown in page 181. Photo: J. Dafni (Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus) and Longnose Hawkfish (Oxychirrites typus), below. Photo: M. Levin, B. Tamir, J. Dafni

130 131
Flat fish Low-lying fish
Flatfish are deformed fishes, which underwent an evolutionary modification to swim sideways: Fish living on sand without shelter must adapt both in shape and coloration to the uniform
during ontogeny (individual development) one eye migrates from the “blind side” around the environment. This may involve either becoming extremely flattened, or by behavior. Three types
head, the dorsal and anal fins elongated, and the anus, usually in the rear end of the body moved of flat fish are found in Eilat: the cartilaginous skates and rays (see page 105), and fish of the
toward the head, pushed forwards by the elongating anal fin. Thus, a new symmetry has developed Flathead family, such as the Crocodile fish, obtain the low profile by flattening their dorsoventral
- both eyes lie on one side of the head, and the entire body lies on one side. They are naturally axis. The other type are the side-lying flounders (opposite page). Stonefish, Stargazers and
camouflaged and often hide in the sand. The common species Leopard flounder has both eyes on Lizardfish adapt by burrowing in the sand (page 153).
the left side, whereas Moses sole has them on the right. The last species is known to emit a milky
poisonous substance known to deter sharks.

Above and middle left: a side and frontal view of the flat headed Crocodile Fish (Papilloculiceps longiceps), a large predator.
Below: the Arabian Tongue Sole (Cynoglossus sinusarabici), a flatfish. Note that both the elongated dorsal and anal fins
Leopard Flounder (Bothus pantherinus) and Moses Sole (Pardachirus marmoratus). Note the opposite orientation – left that reach the mouth, enabling the fish to swim on its side, and the lateral line at its midst. Their ‘blind’ side facing the seafloor
in the former, right in the latter – and the lateral line seen along the middle of the former’s body. Photo: J. Dafni is colorless, and lacks a lateral line. Middle right: the same fish’ twisted mouth. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin

132 133
Blennies More Blennies…
Blennies – family Blennidae – are small fish with elongated and flexible bodies. A pair of whisker-
like cirri often protrudes from their forehead. Most of them are benthic (bottom oriented),
burrowing in the sand or dwelling inside empty shells of worms or tube-shaped mollusk shells.
They are superficially similar to members of the Gobiidae. Due to the lack of swim bladders, they
are not neutrally buoyant, and normally rest on the hard substratum, or in their hiding crevices. A
specialized member of this family is the Sabretoothed blenny, which mimics the color pattern of
a cleaner fish and bites off pieces of skin and scales from its “clients”.

Red Sea Leaping Blenny (Alticus kirkii) is an amphibious fish, perches on rocks, sticking
out of the sea, and feeds on benthic algae. In an emergency it leaps to other rocks so quickly
that it barely dips in the water. It breathes both air and oxygen dissolved in water. Highfin
Blenny (Petroscirtes mitratus) is a small fish found near seaweed covered piers and floating
objects. The male has a typical elevated frontal fin. Other blennies appearing in the reef are
Arabian Fangblenny (Petroscirtes ancylodon) and Sabretoothed Blenny (Plagiotremus
rhinorhynchus), an aggressive fish which pesters and bites divers and shelters in tube snail’s
shells. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin

.…and Nocturnal Predators

Cardinalfish family Apogonidae, and Soldierfish (Holocentridae) are the main small and
medium-sized nocturnal predators (see also page 142). During the day they congregate, and
inhabit all the reef’s nooks and crannies.

Above: Lance Blenny (Aspidontus dussumieri), a solitary fish that hides in empty tube snail shells (above right of picture),
venturing out to feed on algae and organic debris. Shortbodied Blenny (Exallias brevis) lives among Fire Coral (Millepora)
plates; an innocent Mimic Blenny (Ecsenius gravieri) imitates another, bite-inflicting Blackline Blenny (Meiacanthus The small Goldstriped Cardinalfish (Apogon cyanosoma) is nocturnal. Male of a Tiger Cardinalfish (Cheilodipterus
nigrolineatus) (not shown); and Rockskipper (Istiblennius edentulus). Photo: J. Dafni, I. Ben-Tov sp.), mouth brooding the eggs laid by the female. Photo: J. Dafni, D. Weinberg

134 135
Gobies Gobies and other small fishes
Gobies, family Gobiidae, are small bottom-adapted fishes, able to use their fused pelvic fins In addition to the Gobiidae, many colorful small- and medium-size fish of various families
as disc-shaped suckers to adhere to the rocky substratum to resist waves. They form symbiotic (Pseudochromidae, Grammistidae, Nemipteridae) preside over the Eilat underwater vista.
relations with other organisms. The special relation between the goby and the Bulldozer shrimp Some are shown here.
was initially studied at Eilat. The shrimp, almost blind behind the sand it carries out of its burrow,
depends on the goby to warn against danger, in which case they both rush into the burrow. The
shrimp ‘keeps in touch’ with its “sentry” by constantly stroking it with its long antennae.

Small and beautiful: Orchid Dottyback (Pseudochromis fridmani), colored a fluorescent lilac-violet, which inhabits
caves and shaded crevices, was first discovered in Eilat and named after David Fridman, the first curator of the “Coral
World” Aquarium. Another small fish, Citron Goby (Gobiodon citrinus) inhabits branched corals. Yellowface Soapfish
(Diploprion drachi), Common Soapfish (Grammistes sexlineatus), Frontal view of a Comet Longfin (Calloplesiops
Above: two Shrimp gobies (Cryptocentrus steinitzi) are shown sharing a burrow with a Bulldozer shrimp (Alpheus altivelis) in a typical “fright posture” in which the fish’ long tail mimics the shape of a moray eel peeping out from its shelter;
djibutensis) for protection. Below: The Graceful goby (Lotilia graciliosa) hovers over its “partner” shrimp (Alpheus a common Eyebar Goby (Gnatholepis anjerensis), Speckled Sandperch (Parapercis hexophthalma) which inhabits the
rubromaculatus). Photo: A. Stern, M. Levin sandy lagoon, and a Spinecheek (Scolopsis ghanam). Photo: M. Levin, J. Dafni, A. Diamant, B. Tamir

136 137
Surgeonfishes Surgeonfish and Unicornfishes
The family of surgeonfishes, Acanthuridae includes ten species in the Gulf of Aqaba, all Unicornfishes differ from surgeonfishes in two aspects: they have two pairs of fixed bony tapering
herbivorous, grazing and browsing algae with their specialized teeth. Fish of this family are plates instead of one pair of erectable spines, and a grotesque shorter or longer spike protruding
distinguished by a pair of erectable spines, sharp like a surgical lancet in the caudal peduncle, in from their foreheads. They are mainly browsers, feeding on leafy brown seaweeds. Some species
some species it is highlighted by a striking warning color pattern. Brown surgeonfish schools turned to zooplankton feeding.
roam the reef and lagoon, grazing the short algae. Sohal surgeonfish’ feeding tactics are different
– it is a solitary territorial fish, violently defending its plot. Brown surgeonfish are also famous for
their reproductive behavior, first observed in Eilat. At sunset, they gather in large schools; whence
groups of several males and females rush to the surface, simultaneously releasing jets of eggs and
sperm into the open sea.

More surgeonfish, and unicornfish: Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma desjardinii), adult and juvenile (inset), Blackbarred
A school of Brown Surgeonfish (Acanthurus nigrofuscus), and a solitary Sohal Surgeonfish (A. sohal). Photo: M. Levin, Surgeonfish (Acanthurus gahhm) and Yellowtail Tang (Zebrasoma xanthurus), Bluespine Unicornfish (Naso unicornis)
J. Dafni and the spike-less Orangespine Unicornfish (N. lituratus). Photo: B. Tamir, J. Dafni, E. Halevi, M. Levin

138 139
Rabbitfishes Sea Breams and Spadefish
Rabbitfishes, of the family Siganidae, are also herbivores, seen frequently in seaweed-covered The Seabream, family Sparidae, is a prized edible fish. The beautiful Twobar bream is their
shallow lagoons. The most common species, Rivulated rabbitfish and Squaretailed rabbitfish only representative in Eilat’s reef environment. Other edible species of this family are less
live in larger schools, whereas the exquisite Stellate rabbitfish are seen mainly in pairs traveling conspicuous, and found in too small quantities to sustain commercial fishing. Mariculture
across the reef. Rabbitfish are known for the poisonous sharp spines fixed at the end of their practiced for 20 years in floating cages off the northern shore of Eilat, was centered mainly on
pelvic fins, and a hidden frontal dorsal spine that, unlike in other fish, is pointed forwards – the Gilthead bream, an introduced Mediterranean fish, that went wild and spread also to the reef
inflicting a painful sting when carelessly handled. They also change their color pattern quickly to environment. The related Spadefish (or batfish), of the Ephippidae, is vertically exaggerated,
match the vegetation, an effective measure against predators. and often mistaken as butterflyfish.

Twobar Bream (Acanthopagrus bifasciatus) the common natural seabream in Eilat. Fugitive Gilthead Breams (Sparus
Squaretail Rabbitfish (Siganus luridus) school and an individual, bearing camouflage colors (inset), and a pair of Stellate auratus) from the fish farms off the northern shore are found throughout the entire area. Circular Spadefish (Platax
Rabbitfish (S. stellatus). Photo: J. Dafni, B. Levi, M. Levin orbicularis), known also as Batfish, infrequently appears in larger schools. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin

140 141
Nocturnal fishes Keeping the bed warm…
When diving at night, the light torch reveals myriad of small plankton organisms, that rise to the
surface at night, but relatively few fish predators to feed on them. Most nocturnal fish are small
solitary plankton feeders as well as their medium size predators. During the day they assemble,
seeking shelter in caves and crevices. Most of them have large eyes, adapted for night vision,
and are red-colored or translucent. At night, when you point your flashlight at a cardinal fish
(Apogonidae), a pearly luster is reflected back to you due to a layer of light-reflecting guanine
crystals in its skin. Other nocturnal fish families are the Soldierfishes (Holocentridae) and
Bigeyes (Priacanthidae) , most of which are red colored with patterns of white or dark lines and

Nocturnal fishes. Cardinal fish: Black-ringed Cardinal (Apogon annularis) and Fiveline Cardinal (Cheilodipterus
quinquelineatus) in a mixed school with Goldstriped Cardinalfish. Soldierfish: White-edged Soldierfish (Myripristis
murdjan), Crown Squirrelfishes (Sargocentron diadema) school during the day and a solitary fish at night, hiding beneath Nocturnal (White-edged soldierfish) and diurnally-active fishes (Basslets) meet in the reef corner just before changing
a massive coral with extended tentacles and lastly, the Bigeye (Priacanthus hamrur). Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin shifts. Photo: J. Dafni

142 143
Sweepers Life in the Current
Two species of sweepers, nocturnal plankton-feeding fishes of the family Pempheridae are met Although the reef is economically self-sustained, there is an energy trade-off between the corals
diurnally in Eilat reef knolls and caves, the larger Cave sweeper and the smaller Pigmy sweeper. and the surrounding sea. The reef exports nutritious substances secreted by the corals onto the
Both form dense population: the former is yellow-green and iridescent, changes colors according sea, while an influx of plankton, nourished by this contribution is harvested by many fish and
to the angle from which the fish is viewed whereas the almost transparent latter species justly invertebrates of the reef. Planktonic organisms are carried along by currents that brush the reef
earned its popular nickname ‘glass fish’. edge. Small fish, living at the reef edge or in offshore reef knolls venture out towards the incoming
current to feed. It is evident that without the plankton, the reef ecology would be less rich and
diverse. Larger predators lurk in the background, eager to enjoy this bounty.

Small reef fishes, Basslets (Pseudanthias squamipinnis), Green Chromis (Chromis viridis), Miry’s Damsel
Above: The Cave Sweeper (Pempheris vanicolensis) is a nocturnal plankton-feeder, spending the daylight hours in large (Neopomacentrus miryae) face the incoming current. The normal current off Eilat’s shore moves in a southerly direction.
schools in large caves or crevices. Below: Dense schools of Pigmy Sweeper (Parapriacanthus guentheri). They inhabit When the currents shift around the fishes head in the other direction. Below: A school of Bicolor Puller (Chromis dimidiata)
Moses Rock, the most popular coral knoll in the Eilat Nature Reserve (see also page 173). Photo: J. Dafni, Y. Aharoni and a Striped Butterflyfish (Chaetodon fasciatus) Photo: M. Levin, J. Dafni

144 145
Triggerfishes Filefishes
Triggerfishes (family Balistidae) have round, laterally flat bodies. Among the anterior dorsal Members of the family Monacanthidae are related to the Balistidae. Their ‘trigger’, i.e. the
fins the frontal fin spines are erectile: the first spine locks its position, and the second unlocks second dorsal spine, is short, internally hidden and activated by muscles, and only one erectile
it (hence the name triggerfish). This and a similar erectile ventral spine prevent predators from spine shows, hence the scientific name “one spined”. A large species with vivid colors is the
swallowing them or pulling them out of hiding crevices. At least six triggerfish species live in Scribbled leatherjacket. The Unicorn leatherjacket is a rare species, and it is the first record of
Eilat. Picasso fish is the most colorful, and the largest of its family is the Blue triggerfish. The this fish in Eilat. Honeycomb filefish is an attractive filefish with a pale or vivid color pattern.
latter is a main predator of sea urchins. A pointed mouth and very thick skin protect it from the
stinging sea urchin’s spines.

Triggerfish variety: Bluethroat Triggerfish (Sufflamen albicaudatus); Red Sea Picasso fish (Rhinecanthus assasi), Adult Scribbled Leatherjacket (Aluterus scriptus) in an upright position and swimming; Unicorn Leatherjacket (A. monoceros)
and juvenile (inset); Yellowmargin triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus); and Blue triggerfish (P. fuscus), in the and below: the Honeycomb Filefish (Cantherinus pardalis) in two color variants, and three unidentified filefish. Photo: Y.
process of eating a long-spined sea urchin. (See also page 91). Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin Aharoni, M. Levin, D. Weinberg

146 147
Trunkfishes Porcupine fish
The bodies of Ostracionid fish are solid, encased in a triangular or quadrangle bony carapace, Tetraodontiformes is a taxonomical division, grouping members of three families: Trunkfish,
formed by fusion of the plate-like scales. Only the fins and tail are free to waggle. Members of this Pufferfish and Porcupinefish. The last two are known also as blowfish because they are able
family come in a variety of colors, and are notable for the hexagonal or “honeycomb” patterns in to inflate their bodies by swallowing water for protection, more than doubling their size. The
their skin and dermal outer skeletons. Two common Eilati species are the Cube trunkfish and porcupine fish, Diodontidae further enhances this characteristic by being armed with short or
Thornback trunkfish, the former common both on the coral reef and in sandy habitats, while long erectile spines covering their entire body. They are also equipped with a beak-like jaw,
the latter – being well camouflaged - mostly roams the lagoon flats. In spring many minute black obtained by fusing all the teeth in each jaw to sharp plates, which they use to crush shells of
dotted yellow ‘dicefish’ are seen among sea urchin spines. They are the juvenile Cube trunkfish. mollusks and sea urchin. Their jaw is made of two ‘teeth’ (hence the scientific name, ‘two teeth’).
A close relative, Blue-tail trunkfish is less common. Like the other fishes of the order Tetraodontiformes, their skin is poisonous, another protecting

Thornback Trunkfish (Tetrosomus gibbosus) sub-adult, Cubefish (Ostracion cubicus), newly born juvenile (‘dicefish’), a Two Porcupine fishes: Yellow spotted Burrfish (Cyclomycterus spilostylus), normal and inflated state (inset); Long-spine
sub-adult and adult, Bluetail Trunkfish (Ostracion cyanurus) sub-adult and adult. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin Porcupinefish (Diodon hystrix). Photo: J. Dafni, A. Colorni, B. Tamir

148 149
Pufferfishes Tobies
Another family of blowfish, closely related to the porcupine fish, is the Tetradontidae (=four These two Tobies are also Tetradontids, although they are smaller and their blowing capacity
teeth). Similarly, they have their teeth fused into plates, although with a distinct line of division is much less effective than that of their blowfish relatives. They share other characteristics, such
(which ‘doubles’ their number). Another difference: they lack the porcupinefish long spines. as a long snout and being poisonous. The third, named Red Sea Minipuffer, is a typical lagoon
Instead, their almost sandpaper-like skin carries minute spines. They are even more poisonous inhabitant.
than other relatives: their inner organs contain a deadly poison called Tetradotoxin which may
cause death in very low concentrations. Nevertheless, in Japan these fishes are processed by
expert chefs and served in restaurants as a dish called Fugu, as kind of “Japanese roulette”.

Two Pufferfish: Masked Puffer (Arothron diadematus), and a Stellate Puffer (A. stellatus). Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin Crowned Toby (Canthigaster coronata), Pearl Toby (C. margaritata) and Red Sea Minipuffer (Torquigener
flavimaculosus). Photo: J. Dafni

150 151
Frogfishes On the Sand and beneath
Frogfishes, family Antennariidae, are highly specialized benthic fishes. They have three Living on sand means digging, and this is what razorfishes do best. Their laterally compressed
extended dorsal fin spines on their heads, the frontal of which is modified into a fishing lure forehead enables them to penetrate the sand at the blink of an eye. Here one follows a goatfish.
carrying a small worm-like ‘bait’ to attract small fish prey. They are well camouflaged, colors Below, a lizardfish digs in to ambush and catches a green damselfish that strayed from the reef.
change, in adaptation to their background. They also show a unique ‘walking’ and ‘climbing’
motion, enabled by elbow-like joints in their pectoral and ventral fins.

A Razorfish (Xyrichthys pavo) joins a Goatfish (Parupeneus cf. heptataenia) digging out sand dwelling worms or
Two of the most common frogfishes of Eilat: Freckled Anglerfish (Antennarius coccineus); and below, the variable colored crustaceans. Inset: a juvenile X. pavo; Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus) in ambush and in the process of swallowing a
Spotfin Anglerfish (A. nummifer). Photo: M. Levin, Y. Aharoni damselfish, Green Chromis (Chromis viridis) (see page 122). Photo: M. Levin, J. Dafni

152 153
Sea Turtles Whales: Dolphins and kin
Sea turtles, descendents of terrestrial reptiles who went to sea many millions of year ago, are the Whales, the order Cetacea, are marine mammal predators. The large cetaceans, plankton-feeding
only strictly marine reptiles now alive. Nevertheless they maintain their link with the non-marine baleen whales, are absent from the Red Sea, the smaller ones, of the family Delphinidae, better
environment in two ways: they breathe air and the female has to climb to the shore to lay her known as dolphins, are common. The most common one is the Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops
eggs in the wet sand. Interestingly, the sex of sea turtle babies is determined by the temperature in adduncus), whose natural schools swim freely in the Gulf. Less common are the open-sea
their nest. Of the three species in the Red Sea, the vegetarian Green turtle is the most regularly Pantropical spotted dolphins. They are spotted mainly far from shore. Both are small dolphins,
encountered by divers at Eilat. The Hawkbill turtle is rare, easily distinguished by its sharp, 2-2.5 m long. Still rarer is the dark-colored False killer whale, a relative of the oceanic killer
curving beak and tiled dorsal scales. It feeds on sponges and other reef sedentary animals, but whale (Orca). The “Dolphin Reef” inhabitants are Mediterranean bottlenose dolphins (T.
juveniles eat plankton. Throughout the world sea turtles are considered endangered species. They truncatus), imported from the Black Sea. They are larger than the local species, reaching the
are hunted, and their eggs taken by nest-robbers. Turtles are fond of jellyfish, and are quite often length of 4 m. The “Dolphin Reef” trainers dedicate considerable time and effort to monitor the
tempted to swallow pieces of plastic bags, leading to intestinal blockage and possible death. wild dolphins in the Gulf. Most of the lonely dolphins in Eilat’s vicinity are named and observed
Several turtles in the “Coral World Park” in Eilat lay eggs every year in an artificial sand by them. The female Holly left her natural school and lived for several years next to a Bedouin
hatchery, and their offspring are released to reinforce the natural population. Eilat’s shore is village, maintaining close relations with a blind fisherman in Nuweiba, Sinai, and was a tourist
mainly covered with coarse rock debris, not ideal for sea turtle nesting. Nevertheless, in 2007 one attraction for years. She used to swim with the Dolphin Reef’s dolphins outside their enclosure.
female Green turtle laid her eggs in the Nature Reserve beach. Baby turtles emerged after two She was killed by fishermen. Three of her cubs, born separately, died also during the last decade,
months and ran into the sea. Special measures are taken to keep the beach dark at night to preserve in unexplained circumstances. Marco is a juvenile bottlenose dolphin, whose mother died in
an environment fit for nesting sea turtles. unknown circumstances in Aqaba several years ago, and he became attached to divers at Eilat.

Hawkbill Sea Turtle (Erethmochelys imbricata): Above, juvenile and below a typical adult move across the deeper lagoon. Dolphins in Eilat: False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens), Spotted Dolphin (Stenella attenuata) and a small school of
Photo: M. Levin Red Sea Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops adduncus). Photo: O. Armosa

154 155
Moderating the Human impact Diversity: the variety of species in a sample, community, or area. In these pictures two reef
patches are shown, the upper showing a high diversity of small coral colonies of different
Human influence on the sea is inevitable. Technology and human activity cause stress and kill sea
species, whereas the lower picture shows large colonies of 1-2 species, and low variety of smaller
animals. It is our duty to do everything possible so that our encounters and interactions with these
colonies, i.e. Low diversity. Photo: J. Dafni
organisms will be as tolerable as possible, even at the price of our own convenience. We have to
protect the marine environment from evil-doers, either purposeful or unintentional. The seascape
may include man, but his activity and footprints should disturb its welfare as little as possible. We
shall present here some aspects of these activities. High Diversity
1.What is species diversity? 10. Shipwrecks as diving sites
2. Pollution: definition and pollution types 11. Underwater photography
3. Coral predation under ecological stress 12. Diving sites in Eilat
4. Coral settlement on artificial substrates 13. Eilat Coral Nature Reserve
5. Abandoned structures – what is their fate? 14. Coral World Underwater Observatory
6. Species disappearance and reappearance 15. Dolphin Reef Resort
7. Coral nurseries 16. Underwater restaurant
8. “Tamar” artificial reef 17. Educational Nature Reserve
9. Diving and underwater activities

Low Diversity

A Rusty Parrotfish (Scarus ferrugineus) seeks shelter at night inside a boat wreck, adorned by ahermatypic colorful corals.
The ambiguous attitude towards artificial objects is enhanced by the potential shelter it provides for certain reef fishes. Photo:
M. Levin

156 157
Pollution Coral Predation
Definition: an undesirable state of the natural environment being contaminated with harmful Like any other animal, corals are threatened by many predators. Some, such as small gastropods,
substances as a consequence of human action. seastars and butterflyfishes consume the living tissue, whereas others, such as parrotfishes and
pufferfishes, break off pieces of coral to extract the living tissue and the symbiotic algae within.
Types of pollution It is known that pollution promotes the survival of undesirable predators or parasites that are
• Chemical pollution: introduction of chemical contaminants into a water body. otherwise kept in low numbers. In a polluted site on the northern shore of Eilat an outbreak of
• Terrestrial waste pollution: waste dumping into the water, e.g. garbage, sewage. Drupella, a predator snail of branched corals, was observed during the early 2000’s. Hundreds of
• Thermal pollution: introduction of heated water into the sea. This reduces oxygen and causes snails attacked all types of corals there and killed them. Another corallivorous snail, Coralliophila,
thermal stresses in animals. which attacks only the coral Porites, was also abundant there. An alternative explanation – that
• Genetic pollution: influx of genetically engineered living materials. wrasses, known predators of these snails, were missing, and thus the snails grew unchecked – was
• Introduction of exotic creatures that may replace or change the original fauna and flora. also suggested to explain this phenomenon. A later visit showed that indeed, all the corals there
• Euthrophication: enrichment resulting from chemical input of excessive nutrients, resulting died, and the snails disappeared along with the corals. The Crown-of-thorns sea star, a known
in excessive algal growth. coral predator, also increases its populations in disturbed reefs.
• Noise disturbances: noise that may interfere with communication of natural organisms.
Marine mammals are highly affected by this disturbance.
• Light disturbances: artificial change in the light regime that may affect the natural diel
periodicities (e.g. sea turtle hatchlings failing to navigate to the sea).
• Physical damage to reefs and other habitats (breakage of corals, etc.).

The different types of pollution affect organisms in many ways. They reduce their resistance
to disease or parasitism, and cause their demise. Generally, a pollution-free coral reef environment
has a high diversity of corals and accompanying invertebrates and fish, which translates into
attractiveness to divers and beneficial revenue to the local community.
A special effort is being made to facilitate access of a wide range of visitors to the reef in the
form of an underwater observatory, coral reef nature reserves – while imposing strict rules and
excluding divers from some areas. Divers who earlier complained of these rules and exclusions
are beginning to cooperate, and the damage done by them seems to be decreasing. The entire
human community will benefit as a result.
Different pollution factors were discovered throughout the last decades that caused a notable
decrease in biological diversity: Oil pollution from oil port and marine tankers, phosphate
pollution, from both Eilat and Aqaba ports, sewage spills and other pollution sources. Several
of these sources were reduced, but the danger that is caused by the urbanization processes and
coastal development is still imminent. Only public awareness and consistent treatment of most
threats will ensure the prosperity of this underwater habitat.

Coral predators: Coral Predating Snails (Drupella cornus), gather to devour a Brain Coral (Platygyra), Corallivorous
Effects of chemical pollution on reef inhabitants: two types of skeletal deformities in the Shortspine Velvet Urchin Snail, (Coralliophila neritoides), crowded on a Boulder Coral (Porites lutea) (Inset shows the typical violet aperture of
(Tripneustes gratilla elatensis) from the northern beach; “Goggle eyes” in the White-Edged Soldierfish (Myripristis the snail), a Crown-of-thorns Sea Star (Acanthaster planci) and Threadfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga) consuming
murdjan). It is uncertain whether pollution or maltreatment is responsible for this last deformity. Photo: J. Dafni stony coral polyps. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin

158 159
Artificial reefs Artifacts – take them or leave them
Introducing artificial substrates that may be populated by marine sedentary organisms will Objects such as this raise a dilemma: to remove these artificial objects, justly termed terrestrial
encourage the increase of fish and invertebrate populations to compensate for over-exploitation waste, or leave them unchanged. Artificial objects may however provide hiding places for juvenile
of the natural reefs. In general, artificial reefs will increase the carrying capacity for fish and fishes, spawning sites for cuttlefishes or daylight refuge for nocturnal fishes.
invertebrates in the northern Gulf of Aqaba that otherwise is considered a “blue desert”. Some of
these artificial reefs may be attractive targets for divers, helping to reduce the density of divers
on the natural reefs.

Iron pilings of piers and marine scaffolding are covered with soft corals, sponges and ascidians, and is rapidly populated by
fish and other reef organisms, practically becoming artificial reefs. Inset: A Broccoli coral (Dendronephthya sp.) hanging A pipe sticking out of the sand has become covered with the Encrusting Soft Coral (Rhytisma sp.) and the Clownfish
from an iron beam. Photo: M. Levin Anemone (Entacmea quadricolor) along with its symbiotic Clownfish (Amphiprion bicinctus). Photo: J. Dafni

160 161
Hoist a thrown stone… Man-made Structures as habitat
An old proverb says “One fool throws a stone in the well and a thousand wise men can’t retrieve The main sedentary organisms that settle on metal objects in the sea are soft corals, sponges and
it” Artificial objects thrown into the sea many years ago pose another dilemma: in taking those tunicates. The question why some materials and surfaces are unattractive to both coral types is a
out you may cause damage to the environment, but leaving them in is equally wrong. The solution commendable topic for research and experiments. An artificial reef is defined as “a man-made,
may be to try to bury them beneath artificial reef components – broken coral boulders, transplanted underwater structure, typically built for the purpose of promoting marine life in areas of generally
corals, etc. Some of these artifacts attract divers. featureless bottom.”

Even the repulsive appearance of an underwater garbage dump such as this holds some promise for a pair of Red Sea
Nothing more to say. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin Bannerfishes (Heniochus intermedius), attracted to the soft corals that overgrow the iron objects. Photo: M. Levin

162 163
Faunal fluctuations, they come and go… Coral Nurseries
Long term observations on the distribution of mollusks and other invertebrates show great The natural recovery of coral reefs may take many years. The damage to natural coral reefs
fluctuations of many species, from abundance to near decimation. These fluctuations are partly across the tropics in the wake of the 2004 tsunami accentuated the need for an alternative
natural occurrences and partly the result of pollution. “gardening” technique to rehabilitate denuded reefs. A nursery component in an active reef
restoration program is a tool that provides coral source material for the rehabilitation of denuded
reef areas. Here, a mid-water floating coral nursery is presented, an improved prototype of earlier
attached-to-substrate coral nurseries off Eilat’s northern shore. Thousands of fragments from
colonies of branching and massive species were grown on an artificial substrate at a six-meter
depth, 14 meters above the sea floor, close to fish-farming facilities in this area. Total mortality
of fragments during 10 nursery months was very low (less than 10%) while growth rates were
high (up to 6-fold in height). At that depth the nursery gets sufficient light and does not interfere
with recreational activities. Mariculture procedures include removing sediments and protection
against corallivorous organisms.

Mollusks and crabs that underwent extreme fluctuations observed in a long term study. Above: Trush cowry (Erosaria
turdus), covering its shell with its polishing mantle, replaced the Twin-blotched Cowry (Erosaria nebrites) that was
common during the 1980’s; Land hermit crab (Coenobita scaveola), a nocturnal beach prowler, that hides during the day
under rocks or among rubble. Once common, Sea harp, (Harpa amouretta) entirely disappeared. Bottom: once common,
now rare or gone (left and clockwise): Strombus mutabilis, Gibberulus gibberulus, Erosaria nebrites, Casmaria
ponderosa, Bursa grannularis, Murex ramosus, Terebra maculata, Modiolus auriculatus, Laevichlamys superficialis,
Cardites rufa and Tellinella virgata. Photo: J. Dafni A coral nursery off the northern shore of Eilat is suspended on a net, 14 m above the sea floor. Photo: S. Shafir

164 165
“Tamar” Artificial reef “Tamar” Artificial reef
Based on the observations mentioned above, and considering the various factors that may determine
the preferable materials and spatial morphology for an artificial structure, an experimental artificial
reef has been erected, and a study devised, which will answer the following questions:

• Will this structure have an effect on the local environment?

• Will fish and other (non coral) invertebrates accept it and settle into it?
• Will it contribute to increase the carrying capacity of the natural reef?
• Will the coral community settled on it be stable?
• Will divers find it a desirable location?
• And finally, can it be used to lure divers away from natural reefs and onto artificial

This research is carried out by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Eilat Campus in
cooperation with the Authority of Nature Protection and financed by the USAID-MERC and
Whitely Foundation, as a joint Israeli-Jordanian project. The local coordinator of the program is
Dr. N. Shashar. The Interuniversity Institute and the National Center for Mariculture provide
scientific support.

The “Tamar” concrete artificial reef was constructed by the Israeli company OBS, and
sunk on an offshore sand flat in the Eilat Nature Reserve in April 2007. Five months later, coral
fragments (nubbins) of several species were transplanted from a nursery into prefabricated holes
in the concrete structure. Preliminary results look promising - coral fragments have adapted to the
substrate and fish are already attracted to the new environment.

The concrete and metal parts were prefabricated in the country’s center,
brought to Eilat, sunk, and assembled in situ. Five months later coral
fragments (inset) were transplanted into small holes in its surface. A
Eleven coral species were transplanted in the project; in situ fragment batch. Photo: S. Shafir Broomtail Wrasse shows interest in moving in. Photo: M. Levin, J. Dafni

166 167
Divers – what are they up to? Shipwrecks
Eilat’s reefs accommodate a record number of divers. They support many diving clubs, hotels Shipwrecks are the remains of ships sunk in storms or by hostile activity. Apart from their
and local guides and provide the community with high revenue. Yet their impact on the reef may archaeological or historical importance, wrecks in shallow water turn out to be favorite diving
be harmful: breaking corals, raising sand which settles on the corals, chasing fishes out of their sites. The cover of algae, sponges and colorful soft corals attracts fish and other marine organisms.
shelters, and other undesirable activities. Measures taken by the Nature Reserve Authority have Fortunately the coast of Eilat has not witnessed any marine disaster, but small and medium size
started to show some results. Habitats that suffered serious damage have started to improve. Strict ships have been deliberately sunk to increase the carrying capacity of the northern part of the
enforcement, combined with self-discipline on the divers’ side, encourages our belief that Eilat’s Gulf for fish and to provide divers with picturesque diving sites. The best-known shipwreck
reefs will survive, and that the corals and divers will live together for many years to come. Photo: in Eilat is the military vessel “Sufa”, a missile boat that served for 20 years protecting Israel’s
J. Dafni Mediterranean shores. Its history is quite eventful. This was one of five naval boats that Israel
bought from France in the early 1960’s. It was built in Cherbourg harbor, but after the Six-Day
War in 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle declared an embargo on the sale of military
equipment to Israel. Diplomatic efforts to free the boats failed, and on Christmas Eve, 1969, the
Israeli missile boats - which had already been paid for - sneaked out of the harbor to the open sea
and sailed to Israel. They were known as the “Boats of Cherbourg”.
The long service of the “Sufa” ended in 1994, when it was purposely sunk off the coast of Eilat
in 27 meters of water. Other naval boats like the “Yatush” were also sunk in the vicinity, and they
have become an important co-production of technology and nature.

Divers survey the ship’s hull and growth of corals on deck and on the bridge structure of the “Sufa” wreck. Photo: M. Levin

168 169
Underwater photography Diving sites in Eilat
This is the modern form of hunting. Taking pictures in a non-destructive way is advantageous to The short, ca. 15-km long coast of Eilat offers the diver many diving sites. In this short account,
nature in a variety of ways: it enhances awareness of sea life, provides data on animal behavior, based on the popular Hebrew Book “44 Diving Sites along Israel’s Coast,” we list here a
and records problems developing in the natural environment. It might however be destructive dozen sites and point out the highlights of each and their maximal depths (according to safety
if photographers encroach upon small fishes or slugs, disrupting their routine and endangering regulations). The reader should consult one of the many local diving clubs for updated information
their very existence. Considerable effort should be invested in education and enforcing proper on new attractions and for regulations and limitations concerning diving at these sites. A local
regulations to prevent damage by too enthusiastic photographers. diving “buddy” is highly recommended.
The sites (from north to south) are:
1. The Pyramid: artificial reef and objects off the northern shore (depth up to 32 m)
2. Wadi “Dekel”: drowned wadi, reef and topographical views (up to 30 m)
3. “Dolphin Reef”: a private beach resort: reef, natural and artificial, diving with dolphins
(<10 m) – entrance fee. Diving is only via the Dolphin Reef Club.
4. “Sufa” Wreck: known locally as “Satil” – a naval boat wreck (see page 169)
(depth 27 m)
5. “Yatush” Wreck and Garden Eels: another small “wreck” and natural reefscape
(depth 33 m)
6. Coral Beach Nature Reserve: a protected area. Includes Joshua and Moses Rocks. Entrance
fee. Diving organized by Eilati clubs (depth 33 m). No night dives.
7. “Japanese Gardens”: a protected area. Entrance only by boats. Entrance fee. Diving
organized by Eilat clubs (depth 30 m)
8. The “Caves”: opposite the Lighthouse. A shallow dive (depth 5 m).
9. “Veronica Shore” (shallow): shallow dive along the coast. Starting south of the Lighthouse
(depth 6 m)
10. “Veronica Shore” (deep): deeper dive along the coast. Starting opposite Princess Hotel,
diving northwards (depth 24 m)
11. “Princess Hotel” dives: deeper dive. Beautiful coral knolls. Entrance through the hotel’s
southern seaward walkway. Closed at night (depth 25 m)
12. “Neptune’s Tables”: next to the Egyptian border is a large concentration of flat-topped
branched corals, partly capsized. Entrance and exit from the Princess Hotel beach (down to
25 m)

Photo: M. Levin
Important notice: Along the Israeli Coast it is forbidden to dive solo. Diving with knives, sharp
metal instruments or spear guns is prohibited. For safety reasons, it is forbidden to swim beyond
the float line where the area is open to boat traffic. Diving below it is permitted. Along the southern
shore, enter the sea via designated entrance points. Further information is available in the above-
Underwater photographer in action. Photo: M. Levin recommended book (alas, only in Hebrew).
170 171
Eilat Coral Nature Reserve
Although the entire shore line of Eilat’s corals and coral reefs is protected, the official Coral
Nature Reserve extends along a 1.5 km stretch of fenced beach (entrance fee required), and 3
km of open shore with free access. This is a preferred diving site.

A fringing reef along the shore

of the Nature Reserve protects a
narrow lagoon. Along the seaward
drop of the front reef, coral colonies
and patch reefs – the “Japanese
Gardens” – continue to a depth of
50m and more (picture taken from
the underwater observatory walk-
bridge). Inset: annual exposure of
the reef flat due to extremely low
tide. Photo: J. Dafni

Opposite page: the most impressive habitat of the Nature Reserve is the 8-10 m high Moses Rock. It is rich in
plankton-feeding fish and colorful soft corals. In the shallow lagoons boulder corals and flat-topped branched corals
(pp 44, 157) dominate, next to large giant clams (page 83). Photo: J. Dafni

172 173
Underwater Observatory Marine Park Where else…
In 1974 the first underwater observatory in the world came into being. A metal structure sunk Where else would you meet a curious parrot
into 10 m deep water of the Eilat Nature Coral Reserve offered in the first time direct observation fish looking at you from close distance without
into the domain of the corals and coral fish. From the viewpoint of nature conservation, it is a getting wet or alarming the fish?
golden opportunity to introduce thousands of people to the underwater world without intervening
with the ecological system. Through the windows and in the many aquaria in the park, hundreds Where else would you see a large variety
of fish and invertebrate animals live in an almost natural habitat, since many of these animals of reef fishes that call this artificial metal
enter the park as larvae in the seawater influx directly from the sea. The displayed corals, sea framework home?
anemones, and many other sea organisms glow under the fluorescent light of the aquaria (next
page), in a splendor that cannot be seen in nature. Rare fishes, and even common ones, shy to the Where else can you see living corals at full
human observer, like the Flashlight fish, live in total darkness and flicker with their light-emitting size, glowing mysteriously in eerie light
organ to lure small prey to their mouth. In special aquaria, juvenile fishes of extreme beauty conditions?
are displayed. Educational programs carried out by the “Coral World” team for local k-6 pupils
rehabilitate broken corals and facilitate sea turtle and seahorse reproduction for their later release
to the sea. A visit to the park is a must, even for the experienced diver.

Under artificial illumination applied in the Coral World aquaria the proteins in the coral tissues and their symbiotic algae
glow. The scientific explanation is that only part of the ultraviolet light energy is absorbed by the coral or its symbiotic algae,
The underwater observatory; Panoramic view of the “Eilat reef” circular Aquarium; Exquisite corals and fish display in the and the remaining energy is emitted as light in the visible spectrum. This phenomenon cannot be seen in nature. Photo: J.
aquaria department. Photo: J. Dafni Dafni

174 175
The “Dolphin Reef” Underwater Restaurant
The Dolphin Reef is a recreational site that includes an enclosed public swimming area and a It is a very unusual restaurant in that it is located underwater, 5 m below sea level in the vicinity
wide space for a school of captive bottlenose dolphins. The dolphins are treated by the trainers of the Um-Rashrash site (overleaf). It is surrounded by windows facing an artificial reef, rich with
with respect and trust as they carry on their normal daily routine of feeding, breeding and playing. soft corals, sponges and fish. Through the windows a vivid panorama appears during the day,
Small reef patches and the fence between the two areas are populated by many invertebrates and shifting at night to a ghostly vision of diurnally active fish taking shelter among the corals while
fish. The main attraction of this site is the opportunity to dive with the dolphins in a natural coral nocturnal predators emerge from the dark, approaching and peeping through the windows.
reef combined with an artificial reef. Visitors can walk along a floating bridge to the dolphins’ area
to watch them. I personally enjoy snorkeling along the net fence bordering the dolphins’ enclosure,
next to the public beach with its supple growth of corals and colorful fouling organisms.

Above: Diver and instructor on an introductory dive with a dolphin. Below right: A white soft coral growing on the fence
bordering the dolphins’ enclosure next to the public swimming area. View from the reef knoll of Black Ascidian and Basslets; A walk-bridge connects the underwater restaurant with the shore, artificial reef teeming with colorful coral fish, and a fish
and a beautiful camouflaged Tunicate (Halocynthia sp.). Photo: J. Dafni school gathering at the restaurant windows. Photo: J. Dafni, M. Levin

176 177
Educational Coral Reserve The programmed activities in the Educational Reserve include guided swims and dives, studying
the natural habitat, and individual student learning projects. Being a public beach with all necessary
“Um-Rashrash Reef” facilities and an easy approach to the reef and other habitats assures coexistence between nature
On March 10, 1949 the first IDF soldiers arrived in Eilat in a military operation that concluded and human activities. Only wise and sustainable development will preserve this natural habitat.
the War of Independence. Upon reaching the shore they found several mud huts and a God-
forsaken police station named Um-Rashrash, and hoisted the now-famous “ink flag”. On the
beach opposite Um-Rashrash (presently a memorial site) they had their first experience with Red
Sea marine life in the form of sea urchin spines. The small coral reef, said to be the northernmost
coral reef in the world, has survived all events since and is now one of Eilat’s swimming beaches.
Lately a plan has been initiated to make this reef an Educational Coral Reserve. On the reef
and in the adjacent lagoon and intertidal zone, more than 50 coral species and over 100 fish and
invertebrate species have been recorded. Many of them appear in this book.

Some of the Reserve inhabitants: juvenile Lionfish (Pterois miles), a large colony of Plate Coral (Turbinaria), a slightly
Um-Rashrash Reef, General view: Pajama Slug (Chromodoris quadricolor), Brain Coral (Platygyra sp.) and a giant damaged very large Lobed Coral (Lobophyllia corymbosa), and an Anemone Carrier Hermit Crab (Dardanus tinctor).
Boulder coral (Porites sp.). Photo: J. Dafni. Photo: J. Dafni, I. Ben-Tov.

178 179
Eilat Coral reefs in the 21st century How will Eilat’s coral reef fare at the mid-21st century?
Can we return to the pristine 1960’s? Probably not, but we can preserve seawater quality and protect Throughout the world, coral reefs will be in constant danger emanating from climate change.
the remaining coral reefs. Furthermore, artificial reefs and structures like the one illustrated below Global warming and environmental pollution have already affected coral reefs throughout the
can serve as substrate for corals and their accompanying fauna, preserving Eilat’s underwater tropics. The same may well apply to our coral reefs, which are dangerously close to a commercial
environment as a tourist attraction for ages to come. harbor, industrial facilities and urban and recreation centers. The human population density poses
a dilemma - whether to turn the reef into a backdoor coral garden, or set a limit to the extent of
human exploitation by visitors and divers at all costs. How can we both “have our cake and eat
Eilat 2006 it, too?”
Eilat’s coral reef is too dear to let it be neglected or mistreated. Its exploitation must use
sustainable development principles that will ensure that this natural resource will not fall victim
to developers’ zeal.
It is well known that fish and invertebrate behavior is strongly affected by human intervention.
A group of several divers mobbing a small seahorse, slug or octopus interferes with their routine
activity, causing them long-lasting trauma.
Therefore I want to put forward several ideas that may enable large crowds to enjoy the
encounter with coral reef life without placing an extra burden on the environment. One option is
the use of high technology to spare marine organisms from human-inflicted damage:

1. Creating hiding places for divers to approach and observe marine organisms without interfering
with their natural habits. They can be included in the design of artificial reefs, enabling divers
to witness extraordinary activities in situ, such as the Eel gardens, shipwrecks etc.
2. Placing tele-operated cameras at ‘strategic’ points in the reef environment or on board
unmanned submarines and relay audiovisual material to an auditorium ashore. The aim is to
show it to the public in real time, instead of their swimming onto the reef. The relay can be
used also as database material or in research.
3. Photographed footage can be sold to visitors or broadcasted.
4. A submarine sculpture garden, created by skilled artists on underwater shallow sand flats,
empty of corals, will attract divers both for its artistic value as well as for the combination
of corals and other sedentary organism attached to it. Such artificial reefs are much more
valuable and attractive than ordinary artificial reefs. It should be built from durable non-
corrosive materials satisfying technical and safety specifications.
5. An electronic database of the animals and plants on the reef, available to the public, will be
(a) an identification aid, (b) a checklist for the presence/absence of living organisms, and (c)
a basis for long term monitoring of the natural populations.
6. A periodical bulletin issued by local experts will increase awareness of the coral reef, and
monitor seasonal and long-term changes.

The behavior of fish and marine invertebrates, especially the mutual relations between them are an important research topic
that will keep many scientists busy in the future. Here, unexplained relationship between two fishes – parasitism, symbiotic
relationship or what? – Yellow Goatfish (Parupeneus cyclostomus) and a female Bird Wrasse (Gomphosus coeruleus).
Eilat 1966 Photo: J. Dafni

Photo: M. Levin Photo: J. Dafni

180 181
Endnotes Further Reading
As the reader might have already noticed, the gallery of animals that take part in the ecological Dafni. J. (1995) Eilat: Routes and trails in the Eilat Region. Gefen Publishing House,
wonder of the reef is wide, and is still revealing new secrets – new kinds of animals, new ways Jerusalem
of life, new insights. Dafni, J. (2000) Gulf of Eilat, from the Red Sea to the red line. Cherikover Publishing
Eilat has its roots in the sea. The coral environment is its main attraction. Small as it is compared to
Company, Tel Aviv (Hebrew)
the vast areas and long beaches of neighboring countries, Eilat offers a more qualitative approach
to the sea. Three academic institutions practice marine biology and ecology in Eilat, and other Dafni, J. (2008) Eilat’s Coral Reefs, optimistic view. Yeela Publishing, Eilat (Hebrew)
educational institutions study its economical potential, and its preservation. Debelius, H. (2001) Red Sea Reef Guide. IKAN, Frankfurt
The Underwater Observatory Marine Park is unique. It is not as spectacular as the huge aquaria Dor, M. (1984). CLOFRES: Checklist of the Fishes of the Red Sea. Israel Academy of
and museums of the largest cities in the world, but it is connected to the sea. It is within a coral Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem
beach, and many of the smaller organisms inside its tanks came from the sea as larvae. Edwards, A.J. & Head, S.M. (Eds.) (1987). Key Environments: Red Sea. Pergamon Press,
The first underwater observatory was established in Eilat, an invention that enables visitors to Oxford
meet eye-to-eye the free reef fishes that approach by their own choice, curious to meet the humans Gur, A. (2004) MAPA’s Guide to Israel’s Best Diving Sites. MAPA Publ. Tel Aviv (Hebrew)
across the observatory window glass.
This book displays only a small sample of the large variety of life forms revealed in the Eilat reef Marco, S. (1988). The Geological History of Israel in light of Plate Tectonics. Eilat Field
environment. Many more can be seen in the observatory and in the Park’s aquaria. School Publication (Hebrew)
Throughout the world, coral reefs are losing ground alarmingly. Pollution reduces their diversity; Por, F. D. (1978). Lessepsian Migration: The Influx of Red Sea Biota into the
global seawater warming causes coral bleaching, a phenomenon of zooxanthellae expulsion Mediterranean by Way of the Suez Canal. Springer, Berlin
from their coral host, leaving it to die, along with predation of corals by sea stars and other Randall, J.E. (1983) . Red Sea Reef Fishes. 192 pp. Immel Publ. Co., London
predators and coral diseases; and on top of the other plagues, there is the over-exploitation by Reiss, Z. & Hottinger, L. (1984). The Gulf of Aqaba: Ecological Micropaleontology.
fishermen and divers alike. Ecological Studies no. 50. Springer, Berlin
Luckily, the Gulf of Aqaba (Eilat) is only slightly affected by these factors. The cooler water
prevents bleaching, pollution is relatively mild, and other factors are - partly, at least - under Richmond, M. D. (ed.) (1997) A Guide to the Seashores of Eastern Africa and the Western
control. Indian Ocean islands. Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
Public support is vital to protect the reefs, to rehabilitate damaged habitats and to monitor and Schuhmacher, H. (1976) Korallenriffe. BLV Germany
foresee any danger to this fragile ecosystem. Shpigel, M. (1997) Fishes of the Red Sea. Red Sea Magazine, Ra’anana, Israel
Vine, P. (1996) Red Sea Invertebrates. Sea Challengers Publ. Co., London
Yonow, N. (2008) Benthic Opisthobranchs of the Red Sea, Pensoft Publishers, Sofia
As author I wish to acknowledge the help of many divers who trusted their photographs with me,
especially those of the “Tapuz” website divers forum, who replaced the fishing rod with a camera:
Y. Aharoni, O. Armosa, I. Ben-tov, R. Biran, M. Chen, R. Cohen, A. Colorni, L. Dafni, A.
Diamant, Y. Esh, J. Grinfeld, A. Gur, E. Halevi, A. Kendler, R. Koslawsky, O. Lederman, From the same author:
B. Levi, K. Levy, A. Lynn, E. Meidan, Z. Movshowits, L. Pintchover, B. Tamir, S. Shafir, N.
Shashar, M. Shpigel, A. Stern, D. Weinberg and D. Zakai.
Special thanks are due to Michael Levin, whose observations and photographs broadened the
book’s scope. Dr. Jeffrey Gansburg and Mr. Binyamin Koretz reviewed the English text, and
their contribution is highly appreciated.
To the organizations and individuals who supported the publishing of this book.
To my family, who supported my old craving for unfolding the sea’s secrets.
To my daughter, Lior Dafni, who designed and shaped the book.
Jacob Dafni

182 183
Glossary Hermaphroditic: Having both male and female reproduction organs.
Hermatypic: reef building corals, stony corals.
Ahermatypic: non-reef-building corals. High tide: high water level within the tidal range.
Alpha female: the individual dominant female in the community. Hydromedusa: medusa stage of hydrozoans.
Ampullae: medusa forming polyps in hydrozoans. In situ: In its natural position or place.
Anal fin: the fin behind the fish anus. Intertidal: region between high and low tide.
Anal: of the anus (= vent). Intratentacular: polyp division in hermatypic reef corals.
Anthocaulus: Juvenile attached polyp of mushroom corals (pl. anthocauli). Irregularia: Sub-class in the Echinoidea showing bilateral symmetry.
Aristotle’s lantern: mouth-apparatus of a sea urchin. K-strategist: animal that grows slowly and lives longer.
Asexual: reproduction not involving the union of male and female germ cells. Larva: earliest stage of animals that undergo metamorphosis, differing from the adult (plural larvae).
Atoll reef: circular or continuous barrier reef surrounding a lagoon. Lateral line: series of pore-like openings (to sensory canal) along the sides of a fish.
Atrial: of the atrium (in sea squirts). Low tide: low water level within the tidal range.
Autozooid: a fully developed polyp (in corals). Mantle: an organ in mollusca, covering the body, secreting calcium carbonate to
Azooxanthellate: not having zooxanthellae, contrary to zooxanthellate. create a shell.
Baleen: in some whales, the comb-like fibrous plates hanging from the upper jaw, used to sieve food from Mariculture: marine aquaculture of fish and invertebrates.
sea water. Medusa: free-swimming sexual stage of a coelenterate, such as a jellyfish.
Barbels: Whiskers like projections that help the fish locate food in the sand. Mesogloea: Jelly-like middle layer in cnidaria.
Benthic: pertaining to the bottom of a sea, the Benthos. Monocotyledon: Any of various flowering plants, such as grasses having a single cotyledon.
Bilateral symmetry: with left and right sides that are approximately mirror images. Nekton: collective name for active swimming organisms, such as fish, squids etc.
Bioherm: A rock structure built up by sedentary organisms, as corals, algae, mollusks (=reef) Notochord: a long, flexible rod which runs the length of the back in animals belonging to the phylum
Blastula: ball-shaped first larval stage in multi-cellular organisms. Chordata.
Bleaching: discoloration of zooxanthellate corals, caused by the death or release of the symbiotic algae. Nutrients: minerals needed for photosynthesis or life sustaining processes.
Bogus eyespot: eye-shaped color pattern, aimed to fool a predator. Ontogeny: the development of an organism from egg to adult.
Browsing: feeding on higher vegetation- stems, leaves etc. Operculum: cover of a snail’s aperture, when it draws in.
Byssus: fibers issuing from between the valves of a bivalve for attachment. Oral: of the mouth.
Calcareous: made of calcium carbonate, chalky. Oral arms: arms surrounding a jellyfish mouth
Calcareous algae: containing calcium carbonate, chalky. Oscula (pl. of osculum): The mouth-like opening in a sponge, used to expel water.
Carapace: In crustaceans, the part of the external skeleton that covers the cephalothorax. Ossicle: any small bone, embedded in soft tissue (Echinoderms).
Carnivore: an animal that eats other animals. Ostia (pl. of ostium): any of the small openings or pores in a sponge.
Cartilaginous: made of cartilage (as in sharks and rays). Pectoral fins: paired breast fins in fish.
Caudal: of the tail. Peduncle: the fleshy area to which the caudal fin is attached.
Cephalothorax: combined head and thorax in crabs and lobsters. Pelvic fins: paired ventral fins in fish.
Chela: a moveable lateral toe like the claws of a crab or lobster. Petaloid: flower-like in echinoids.
Cheliped: in crustaceans, the first pair of legs which bear the chela (claws). Photosynthesis: process of turning CO2 to carbohydrate by plants.
Chlorophyll: green pigments in plants that facilitate photosynthesis. Pinnules: side branch structure on the tentacle of soft corals.
Choanocytes: collar cells – flagellae bearing cells in sponges. Plankton: drifters, passive moving marine organisms.
Cirri (fish): fin spines splitting to tassel-like filaments. Also finger-like clinging processions in the feather Planula: Larva of cnidarians (plural larvae).
stars (Crinoids). Proboscis: The elongated mouthparts, snout or beak.
Cleaning station: location where fish and other marine life congregate to be cleaned. Prokaryotic: single-celled living organisms, not having cell nucleus.
Cnidocyte: The “stinging cell” of a cnidarian. Protandrous: in sequential hermaphrodites, sex changing fish - male first
Cnidosac: a sac of a nudibranch gastropod, containing undischarged cnidocysts. Protogynous: in sequential hermaphrodites, sex changing fish - female first.
Commensal: “eating from the same table”- loose symbiotic relations. Quaternary: Geological period starting at ca 2 million years ago to present.
Corallite: skeleton produced by an individual polyp. Rachis: axis or central line of a sea pen coral.
Cuvierian tubules: defensive structures expelled through the anus of sea cucumbers. Regularia: Sub-class in the Echinoidea showing circular symmetry.
Dactylozooid: Stinging polyp in hydrozoans. Rift: a place where the Earth’s crust and lithosphere are being pulled apart.
Deuterostomia: major group within the animal kingdom, in which vertebrates included. r-strategist: animal that grows quickly and dies sooner than a K-strategist.
Diel: a 24-hour period, usually encompassing one day and one night. Sedentaria: collective name for sedentary polychaete worms.
Dorsal: pertaining to the back, or situated near to or on the back. Sexual dimorphism: organism in which both sexes are different in shape or color.
Dorsoventral: axis between the dorsal and ventral sides. Siphon: tube-like structure in clams or octopuses, for passage of seawater.
Endemic: confined to a country, sea or land. Siphonozooid: specialized polyp in colonial soft corals, which functions as intake for water.
Endosymbiosis: relations, where the symbiont lives within his partner’s body. Spicules: skeletal structures that occur in sponges and soft corals.
Ephyra: the earliest free-swimming stage of scyphozoan medusa. Spongin: protein building the structure of most sponges.
Epifauna: fauna living on the ground. Spring bloom: seasonal abundance of algae, occurring in early spring.
Errantia: worms with a freely moving lifestyle. Spring tide: excessively high and low tides, occurring twice a month.
Eukaryotic: cells containing internal organelles, especially a cell nucleus. Stolon: horizontal stem which grows along the surface.
Euthrophication: excessive primary production due to enrichment in nutrients. Strike-slip: in geology, fault involve motion which is parallel to the strike of the fault.
Extratentacular: form of budding in hermatypic reef corals. Swim bladder: a gas-filled sac in fishes that provides buoyancy.
Fauna: all the animal life in a particular region or period. Symbiotic: mutual positive relations (symbiosis) between two or more organisms.
Flagellum: whip-like organelle of the cell. (pl. flagellae). Tadpole stage: free-swimming larva of ascidians, with a tail like an amphibian.
Flora: all the plants in a particular region or period. Test: a hard outer covering as of some amoebas and sea urchins .
Forereef: seaward facing reef end. Tide: rising and falling of Earth’s ocean surface caused by forces of the Moon and the Sun.
Fouling: organisms growing on submerged boats, artificial surfaces and piers. Transform rift: horizontal moving faults, such as in the Dead Sea Rift.
Fringing reef: reef fringing the shoreline in shallow depth. Tubefeet: flexible tube-like locomotion and attachment systems in echinoderms. Valve: one shell of a clam,
Gastrozoid: Eating polyp in hydrozoans. usually having two valves (shells attached at the hinge).
Gill covers: lid or flap covering the gill aperture in fish. Vascular: water and nutrient conductive tissue in plants.
Gill slits: slits or gill opening in cartilaginous fish. Ventral: of the belly, or lower side.
Grazing: feeding on low vegetation, such as grass. Warning coloration: intended to make an organism more noticeable.
Guanine: one of the main nucleobases in DNA. Zooplankton: plankton consisted of animals.
Hectocotylus: arm of male cephalopods modified for fertilization. Zooxanthellae: unicellular yellow-brown algae living symbiotically in the tissues of corals.
Herbivore: animal that eats only plant material.

184 185
Scientific Index Casmaria ponderosa 94 95 164
Cassiopeia andromeda 26
Echinopora 33 36 37
Echinopora forskaliana 37
Inimicus filamentosus 115
Istiblennius edentulus 10
Paralemnalia 65
Parapercis hexophthalma 102 137
Scorpaenopsis diabolus 114
Scyllarides tridacnophagus 88
Abudefduf saxatilis 122 Caulerpa serrulata 20 Echinopora fruticulosa 37 Istiblennius rivulatus. 134 Parapriacanthus ransonneti 63 107
Abudefduf sexfasciatus 122 Sepia aculeata 84
Cellana eucosmia 10 Echinopora gemmacea 37 Isurus sp. 18 104 Pardachirus marmoratus 132 Sepioteuthis sepioidea 84
Acabaria cf. erythraea 66 Cephalopholis miniatus 116 Echinothrix calamaris 94 Labroides dimidiatus 125 126 Parupeneus forsskali 130
Acabaria cf. pulchra. 66 Seriatopora hystrix 30 41
Ceratosoma magnifica 80 Ecsenius gravieri 134 Laevichlamys superficialis 164 Parupeneus cyclostomus 181 Serpulorbis inopertus 78
Acabaria cf. splendens 66 Cerianthus spp. 72 Engina mendicaria 77 Lambis truncata sebae 77 Pavona cactus 49
Acanthaster planci 35 92 159 Siderea grisea 108
cf. Cladopsammia 55 Entacmea quadricolor 70 161 Lamprometra klunzingeri 99 Pavona cf. varians 52 Siganus luridus 140
Acanthella carteri . 23 Chaetodon auriga 118 119 159 Enteromorpha clathrata 20 Leptoseris explanata. 52 Pavona maldivensis 51
Acanthopagrus bifasciatus 141 Siganus stellatus 140
Chaetodon austriacus 119 Epinephelus fasciatus 116 Limaria fragilis 83 Pedum spondyloideum 82 Sinularia sp. 30
Acanthopleura vaillantii 10 Chaetodon fasciatus 118 119 145 Erethmochelys imbricata 154 Lithophyllum 21 Pempheris vanicolensis 144
Acanthurus nigrofuscus 138 Chaetodon lineolatus 118 119 Erosaria nebrites 164 Litophyton arboreum 62 177 Periclimenes imperator 127 Siphonochalina siphonella 14 23
Acanthurus sohal 138 Chaetodon paucifasciata 118 119 Erythrastrea 33 Lobophyllia cf. pachysepta 38 Periclimenes longicarpus 127 Siphonophora 24
Acanthurus gahhm 139 Chaetodon semilarvatus 118 Euapta godeffroyi 97 Lobophyllia corymbosa 45 179 Petroscirtes ancylodon 135 Solenostemus cyanopterus 111
Acropora cf. hyacinthus 35 40 Chaetodon trifascialis 118 Eucidaris metularia 94 Limaria fragilis 83 Petroscirtes mitratus 135 Solenostemus paradoxus 46 111
43 51 52 Cheilinus lunulatus 91 125 167 Euphasia sp. 104 Lithophyllum 21 Phronima sp. 101 Sparus aurata 141
Acropora sp. 46 47 123 159 166 Cheilodipterus quinquelineatus Euphendrium cf. ramosum 24 Litophyton arboreum 62 177 Phyllidia undulata 80 Sphyraena barracuda 18
Actinodiscus nummiformis 72 142 Eurypegasus draconis 112 Lobophyllia cf. pachysepta 38 Pinna muricata 82 Spirobranchus giganteus 31 74
Actinopyga bannwarthii 96 97 Cheilodipterus sp. 135 Exalias brevis 134 95 Lobophyllia corymbosa 45 179 Plagiotremus rhinorhynchus 135 Stenella attenuata 155
Aeoliscus punctulatus 110 Chelonia mydas 154 Favia cf. rotundata 34 Lotilia graciliosa 136 Platax orbicularis 141 Platygyra Stenopus hispidus 127
Aetobatus narinari 106 Chicoreus ramosus 164 Favia cf. pallida 34 37 Lovenia elongata 94 deadalea 43 47 Stichopus spp. 96
Alpheus djibutensis 136 Choriaster granulatus 93 Favia favus 34 Lysmata amboiensis 127 Platygyra sp. 33 44 58 159 178 Stoichactis gigas 123
Alpheus rubromaculatus 136 Chromis dimidiata 145 Favia laxa 34 Macrophiothrix hirsuta 98 Plectropomus pessuliferus Strombus spp. 164
Alticus kirkii 135 Chromis viridis 31 122 123 145 Favia stelligera 34 42 Manta birostris 18 106 marisrubri 116 Stylophora 41 123
Aluterus monoceros 147 153 Favia veroni 34 Mauritia arabica immanis 77 Pocillopora 41 Sufflamen albicaudatus 146
Aluterus scriptus 147 Chromodoris quadricolor 22 178 Favorinus tsurganus 80 Meiacanthus nigrolineatus 134 Polinices mammila 79 Symbiodinium (=zooxanthellae)
Alveopora 35 59 Chrysaora / Pelagia 27 Filogranella elatensis 75 Meomeris annulata 21 Pomacanthus imperator 121 95
Amphiprion bicinctus 17 70 123 12 20
Chrysiptera annulata 122 Fromia monilis. 93 Merulina cf. ampliata 52 Pomacanthus maculosus 120 Synanceia verrucosa 115
161 Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus 131 Fungia spp. 35 38 39 Metopograpsus messor 11 Pomacentrus sulfureus 122
Anampses meleagrides 124 Synapta reciprocans 97
Cirripathes anguina 56 57 Fusinus polygonoides 79 Microcyphus rouseaui 94 Porites cf lutea 42 Syngnathus 111
Anella hicksoni 13 67 131 Cirripathes sp. 62 Galaxea fascicularis 46 Millepora dichotoma 25 134 Porites cf. mayeri 47
Antennarius coccineus 152 Synodus variegatus 107 133 153
Cladiella 65 Gobiodon citrinus 137 Millepora platyphylla 25 29 Porites columnaris 14 48 Taeniura lymma 105 133
Antennarius nummifer 152 Cliona vastifica 22 Gomphosus coeruleus 124 181 Modiolus auriculatus 164 Porites sp. 159 178
Anthelia 64 Clypeaster humilis 91 94 102 Goniopora sp. 33 42 35 59 Monacanthus spp. 147 Tellinella virgata 164
Priacanthus hamrur 142
Antipatharia 56 Codium arabicum 21 Gorgasia sillneri 109 Montipora spp. 13 46 Pseudanthias squamipinnis 113 Terebra maculata 164
Antipathes cf dichotoma 56 Coenobita scaveola 174 Gracillaria 21 Mycale fistulifera 22 117 143 145 176 Tetraclita squamosa 10
Apogon annularis 142 Conus tessulatus 88 Grammistes sexlineatus 137 Mycedium umbra 49 Pseudanthias taeniatus 117 Tetrosomus gibbosus 148
Apogon cyanosoma 135 Coralliophyla neritoides 159 Gymnomuraena zebra 108 Myrichthys maculosus 102 109 Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus Thais hippcastanum 10
Argonauta argo 85 Coris aygula 102 124 Gymnothorax flavimarginatus. Myripristis murdjan 142 143 158 146 Thalassoma klunzingeri 124
Arothron diadematus 150 Coris caudimacula 124 126 108 Naosithoe 22 Pseudobalistes fuscus 91 146 Thaumoctopus mimicus 85 87
Arothron stellatus 150 Corythoichthys schultzi 110 Gymnothorax nudivomer 127 Naso lituratus 139 Pseudobiceros Thor amboinensis 71 127
Ascidia 89 100 176 Crella cyathophora 23 Halocynthia 176 Naso unicornis 139 Pseudoceros 75 Torpedo sinuspersici 105 133
Aspargopsis taxiformis 21 Cryptocentrus steinitzi 136 Halophila spp. 16 Nassa situla 79 Pseudochromis fridmani 137 Torquigener flavimaculatus 151
Aspidontus dussumieri 134 Cryptodendrum adhesivum 71 Hapalocarcinus marsupialis 89 Negombata magnifica 22 62 Pseudorca crassidens 155 Trachyphyllia geoffroyi 38
Asterina burtoni 92 93 Ctenactis echinata 38 39 Harpa amouretta 164 Nemanthus annamensis 73 Pteria aegyptiaca 82 Trapezia tigrina 31 92
Asthenosoma marisrubri 94 Cyclomycterus spilostylus 149 95 Hemigymnus fasciatus 124 Neopomacentrus miryae 145 Pteroides sp. 69 Triactis producta 71
Astroboa nuda. 98 99 Cynarina lacrymalis 38 Heniochus diphreutes 119 Nerita orbignyana 10 Pterois miles 107 113 179 Tridacna 44 83 88 157 172
Astropecten polyacanthus. 17 Cynoglossus sinusarabici 133 Heniochus intermedius 119, 163 Nodilittorina subnodosa 11 Pterois radiata 114 Tridacna maxima 83
Atheloperca rogaa 107 116 Dardanus lagopus 88 Herpolitha limax 39 Octopus cf. cyaneus 85 Ptychodera flava 16 101 Tridacna squamosa 83
Aurelia aurita 26 Dardanus tinctor 16 179 Heteractis aurora 70 Octopus marginatus 86 Pygoplites diacanthus 121 Tripneustes gratilla elatensis 94
Bodianus anthioides. 124 Dascylus aruanus 122 123 Heteractis crispa 17 70 Opheodesoma grisea 97 Rhincodon typus 18 19 104 158
Bothus pantherinus 132 Dascylus trimaculatus 122 126 Heterocentrotus mammilatus. 94 Ophiocoma scolopendrina 11 Rhinecanthus assasi 146 Trochus dentatus 76
Botrylloides spp. 100 Dendrochirus brachypterus 114 Heteroxenia sp. 61 Ophiocoma valenciae 98 Rhytisma 161
Brachiodontes pharaonis 164 Tubastrea cocinea 55
Dendronephthya sp. 60, 63 Hexabranchus sanguineus 81 Opiothrix propinqua 98 Sabella sp. 75 Tubastrea micrantha 55
Bursa granularis 164 Dendropoma maxima 78 Hippocampus histrix 110 Ostracion cubicus 148 Sabellastarte indica 74
Callechelys marmoratus 109 Diadema setosum 16 125 146 Holacanthus xanthotis 121 Ostracion cyanurus 148 Tubipora musica 68
Sabellastrate cf. sanctijosephi 75 Tubularia larynx 24
Calliactis polypus 70 Dictyospaeria cavernosa 21 Holothuria atra 96 Ovabunda macrospiculata 61 Salpa maxima 101
Callispongia sp.. 98 Diodon hystrix 149 Holothuria edulis 96 Oxycirrhtes typus 67 131 Sarcophyton 60 Turbinaria elatensis 21
Calloplesiops altivelis 137 Diploastrea heliopora 33 37 Holothuria hilla 96 Pachycerianthus 72 Sargassum sp. 21 Turbinaria mesenterina 49 179
Cantharellus 35 Diploprion drachi 137 Holothuria impatiens 97 Pachyseris speciosa 49 Sargocentron diadema 142 Turbo radiatus 76
Cantharellus doederleini 38 Dromia sp. 89 Holothuria nobilis 96 Padina gymnospora 21 Scarus bicolor 129 Tursiops spp. 155
Cantherinus pardalis 147 Drupella cornus 159 Hydnophora exesa 50 Palaemon debilis 10 Scarus ferrugineus 102 156 Tutufa rubeta 76
Canthigaster coronatus 151 Dunkerocampus multiannulata Hydractinia 24 Panulirus sp. 88 Scarus gibbus 128 129 Tylosurus sp. 126
Canthigaster margaritata 151 111 Hymenocera elegans 92 Papilloculiceps longiceps 133 Scarus niger 129 Variola louti 116
Cardites rufa 164 Echeneis naucrates 19 106 Hypselodoris infucata 80 Paracheilinus octotaenia 124 Scarus sordidus 129 Xyrichtys pavo 153
Carapus 96 Echidna nebulosa 108 Iago omanensis 104 Paracirrhites forsteri 131 Scleronephthya 64 Zebrasoma desjardinii 139
Carpilius convexus 89 Echinodiscus auritus 94 95 Idiomysis tsurnamali 72 998 Paraglyphidodon melas 122 Scolopsis ghanam 130 137 Zebrasoma xanthurus 139
186 187
Common Names Cones snails 76
Coral burying clam 82
Graceful goby 136
Green algae 20 21
Moon Jellyfish 26
Moon shell 79
Royal angelfish 121
Royal damselfish 122
Stony corals 13 29-52
Striped Butterflyfish 118 145
Acabaria 66 Coral crabs 31 89 92 Green broccoli coral 62 Moray eels 108 Rusty parrotfish 156 Striped Engina 77
Acorn worm 16 101 Coral gall crab 89 Green Chromis 31 122 123 145 Moses sole 132 Sabretoothed blenny 134 135 Striped goldfish 117
Adhesive Anemone 71 Coral grouper 116 153 Multibar pipefish 111 Sailfin tang 139 Striped tubeworm 75
Aeolidid slug 80 Coral nurseries 165 Green sea turtle 154 Mushroom corals 39 Salps (tunicates) 101 Subtidal brittle star 98
Ahermatypic corals 54 55 Coral predating snail 159 Greenish synapta 97 Mutable conch 164 Sand dollar 91 95 Suckerfish 106
Anemone carrier crab 71 Corallimorpharian Anemone 29 Grey moray 108 Mysid 72 Sand penshell 82 Sulphur damselfish 122
Anemone mysid 72 72 Grey rope cucumber 97 Spotted dolphin 155 Sandal coral 39 Sunray Anemone 70
Angelfish 120 121 Corallivorous snail 159 Grey sponge 23 Needlefish 126 Scribbled leatherjacket 147 Surgeonfish 138 139
Arabian cowry 77 Cowries 76 164 Groupers 116 Net Fire-coral 25 Scyphozoa 26 Sweepers 144
Arabian fangblenny 135 Crab Carried Anemone 71 Harlequin shrimp 92 Nettle jellyfish 27 Sea Anemones 70-73 127 161 Swimming clam 83
Arabian tongue sole 133 Crocodile fish 133 Hawkbill sea turtle 154 Noble sea cucumber 96 Sea breams 141 Tenlined urchin 95
Banded boxer shrimp 127 Crown-of-thorn sea star 92 159 Hawkfish 131 Nudibranchs 80 Sea cucumber 90 96 97 127 Thicklip wrasse 124
Bannerfish 77 Cubefish 148 Heart urchin 95 Octocorals 28 60 - 66 Sea harp 164 Thornback trunkfish 148
Barbed wire black-coral 56 57 Cup coral 49 Heavybeak parrotfish 128 129 Octopuses 76 84-86 Sea horse 110 111 Thorny seahorse 110
Barnacles 10 25 Cushion Anemone 123 Helmet shell 76 95 164 Open Sea life 19 Sea Pen 69 Threadfin butterflyfish 118 119 159
Barracuda 18 Cushion seastar 93 Hemisphere corals 42 Opercleless tubesnail 78 sea slugs 76 80 Tiger Anemone 73
Basket star 99 Cuttlefish 84 Hermatypic corals 53 Opisthobranch snails 80 Sea squirts 89 100 Tiger cardinalfish 135
Basslets 113 117 145 175 Damsel fish 31 122 123 126 hermit crab 16 70 88 Orange sponge 23 Sea stars 17 90-92 Tigertail sea cucumber 96
Batfish 141 Devil scorpionfish 114 Hickson’s Fan coral 13 67 Orangespine unicornfish 139 Sea turtles 154 Tobies 151
Bicolor puller 145 Domino dascyllus 122 Highfin blenny 135 Orchid dottyback 137 Sea urchins 90 94 95 Top shell 76
Bigeye 142 Dorid slug 80 Hog wrasse 124 Organ pipe Coral 68 Seagrass 16 Tree Black-coral 56
Bird wrasse 124 181 Double-spined urchin 94 95 Honeycomb filefish 147 Organ pipe sponge 14 Seagrass ghostfish 111 Tree-coral 65
Bird’s nest coral 30 Dragon fish 112 Horn coral 50 Ornate pipefish 111 Sergeant majors 122 Triggerfish 148
Black ascidian 175 Eagle ray 105 Hound shark 104 Pajama slug 22 178 Sharp mushroom coral 39 Triton trumpet 92
Black corals 56 57 Egyptian pearl oyster 82 Hydroids 24 Pallid broccoli coral 64 Shell octopus 86 Trunkfish 148
Blackbar surgeonfish 139 Eightline wrasse 124 Indian tubeworm 74 Paper nautilus 85 Shield slug 80 Trush cowrie 164
Blackline blenny 134 Eilat tubeworm 74 75 Jellyfish polyp 22 Parrotfish 102 128 129 174 Shore brittle star 11 Tube Anemone 72
Blackringed cardinalfish 142 Electric ray 105 Juvenile coral colonies 47 Partner shrimps 127 Shorecrab 11 Tube sponge 23 98
Blennies 10 134 135 Elephant-ear coral 49 Klunzinger’s wrasse 102, 124 Pearl oyster 82 Shortbodied blenny 134 Tube worm 75
Blue triggerfish 91 102 148 Emperor angelfish 121 Krill 104 Pearl sea star 93 Shortfin lionfish 114 Tubercle coral 46
Boring sponge 22 Encrusting corals 46 65 Laminar corals 52 Pearl toby 151 Shortspine velvet urchin 94 158 Tubercle sea cucumber 96
Bottlenose dolphins 175 Eyebar goby 137 Lance blenny 134 Pearlfish 96 Shrimp gobies 136 Tunicate 175
Boulder coral 14 42 -48 159 178 False killer whale 155 Land hermit crab 164 Periwinkle 11 Shrimpfish 110 Turban snail 76
Boxfish (=Trunkfish) 148 Fan corals 67 131 Large tube snails 78 Pigmy sea star 92 93 Siphonophora 24 Twobar bream 141
Brain coral 43 - 47 58 159 178 Feather-stars 90 99 Leaping blenny 135 Pigmy sweeper 107 144 Skates and rays 105 106 Unicornfish 139
Branched coral 40 41 45 65 Filefish 147 Leather Anemone 17 70 Pipefish 110 111 Slate pencil urchin 95 Upside-down Jellyfish 26
Branched Table coral 43 Finger leather coral Leather coral 60 Pixy hawkfish 131 Snake eel 102 108 109 Variable “hybrids” 50 51
Brittlestar 90 98 Fingered soft-coral 30 Leatherjacket 147 Plate coral 47 49 179 Snowflake moray 108 Variable coral crab 89
Broomtail wrasse 102 125 167 Fire coral 134 Leopard flounder 132 Plate Fire-coral 25 29 Soapfish 137 Waving hand coral 64
Brown algae 21 Fire sponge 22 Lettuce coral 49 51 Plate-like corals 52 Social ascidian 100 Whale shark 18 19 104
Bulldozer shrimp 136 Fire urchin 95 Limpet 10 76 Polished Nerita 10 Soft corals 28 29 54 60-66 Whales 155
Burrfish 149 Fissured sand dollar 95 Lined Butterflyfish 118 119 Porcupinefish 149 Sohal surgeonfish 138 Whelk 10 79
Butterflyfish 118 119 Fiveline cardinal 142 Lionfish 113 114 179 Pram bug Amphipod 101 Solitary corals 38 White Banded cleaner shrimp 127
Carrier hermit crab 16 179 Flashlight fish 174 Lizardfish 127 133 153 Prawns 88 Spanish dancer 81 White spotted octopus 85
Cauliflower Coral 41 Flat fish 132 Lobed coral 45 179 Prostrate soft corals 161 Speckled brittle star 98 White-edged soldierfish 142 158
Cave sweeper 144 Flat worms 74 75 Lobsters 88 Pufferfish 150 Speckled sandperch 102 137 Worms 74 75
Cephalopods 76 84 85 Flower pot coral 59 Longspine urchin 16 94 125 Pulsating soft corals 61 Spider conch 77 Wrapper Sea-Anemones 73
Chevron Butterflyfish 118 Foliaceous corals 49 Longnose Hawkfish 57 131 Rabbitfish 140 Spindle snails 79 Wrasses 91 124-126
Chiton 10 76 Footballer damselfish 122 Longspine Porcupinefish 149 Rays 105 Spinecheek 130 137 Yellow spotted burrfish 149
Christmas tree worms 31 74 Fourlined cleaner wrasse 126 Lunartail grouper 116 Razorfish 153 Spiny Murex 164 Yellowbar angelfish 120
Circular spadefish 141 Freckled anglerfish 152 Maculate Terebra 164 Red algae 21 Sponge carrier 89 Yellowear angelfish 121
Citron goby 137 Frog snail 76 164 Mako shark 18, 104 Red and violet broccoli coral 63 Spotfin anglerfish 152 Yellowface soapfish 137
Clam-killer lobster 88 Frogfish 152 Mangrove prawn 10 Red keyhole sponge 22 Spottail wrasse 124 126 Yellowmargin moray 108
Clams 164 Galaxy coral 46 Manta ray 18, 106 Red Sea bannerfish 163 Spotted snake eel 109 Yellowmargin triggerfish 148
Cleaner shrimps 71 126 127 Garden eels 108 109 Marble shrimp 88 Red Sea bottlenose dolphin Squaretail rabbitfish 140 Yellowmouthed moray 127
Cleaner wrasse 125 126 Geometric urchin 95 Marbled snake eel 109 155 Squat cleaner shrimp 71 127 Yellowtail tang 139
Clearfin lionfish 114 Ghostfish 46 111 Marine worms 74 Red Sea goatfish 130 Squid 76 84 Yellowtail wrasse 124
Clown wrasse 124 Giant clams 83 172 Masked butterflyfish 118 Red Sea minipuffer 151 Squirrelfish 142 Zebra moray 108
Clownfish 17 70 122 123 161 Giant salp 101 Masked puffer 150 Red Sea picasso fish 148 Staghorn coral 40 46 47
Clownfish Anemone 70 161 Gilthead bream 141 Massive corals 42 Red Sea roving grouper 116 Stellate puffer 150
Colored broccoli coral 63 160 Goatfish 130 153 Microatolls 58 Redmouth grouper 107 116 Stellate rabbitfish 140
Columnar corals 48 Gobies 136 137 Mimic blenny 134 Reef brittle star 98 Sticky sea cucumber 97
Comb jellies 19 Goldies 113 117 145 175 Mimic octopus 87 Reef feather star 99 Sting ray 105
Commensal Anemone 70 Goldstriped cardinalfish 135 Miry’s damsel 145 Rockskipper 134 Stingfish 115
Conch snails 164 Gorgonian corals 13 66 Moon Coral 42 Rope cucumber 97 Stonefish 114 115

188 189
Photo Credits
The book contains 560 photographs, generously donated by the following photographers, most
of them members of the “Tapuz” divers’ forum*

photographers* Pages
Aharoni Ygal 81 , 110 , 111 , 125 , 144, 147 , 152
Armosa Omer 155
Ben-Tov Ilan 19 , 31 , 36 , 55 , 57 , 67 , 73 , 86 , 88 , 89 , 99 , 107 126 , 179
Biran Ronen 88
Chen Mori 7
Cohen Razi 38
Colorni Angelo 26 , 39 , 55 , 59 , 75 , 149
Dafni Lior 14 , 31 , 54 , 71 , 117, 171
Diamant Ariel 90 , 92 , 121
Esh Yahav 101
Grinfeld Javier 104
Gur Amir 81 , 85
Halevi Elad 108 , 127 , 139
Kendler Assaf 104
Koslevski Robert 117 , 124
Lederman Oren 27 , 57 , 71 , 83 , 92
Levi Bader 89 , 140 , 193
Levi Keren 97 , 115
Lynn Anat 118
Meidn Eldan 118
Movshowitz Ziv 109 , 124
Pinchover Liron 176
Poupin J. 89
Schuhmacher H. 12
Shafir Shai 40 , 165 , 166
Shpigel muki 101
Shshar Nadav 85
Stern Amir 127 , 136
Tamir Ben 18 , 72 , 93, 97 , 111 , 113 , 137 , 139, 149
Weinberg Danny 33 , 37 , 86 , 89 , 126 , 135 , 147

*All other pictures were taken by Jacob Dafni and Michael Levin
** Throughout the book, the credits are arranged according to the order of the pictures from the
upper left, and in a clockwise direction.