Ishigaki and the fabled Sekisei lagoon and Kabira Bay

Author: Andrew Baird

I have just returned from Ishigaki where I dived in the fabled Sekisei lagoon and close to Kabira Bay (Fig. 1) to track down 10 or so topotypes from the Yaeyama Islands, Japan. My host for this trip was Dr. Go Suzuki who has done great work on the population ecology of corals in Japan. Go is also a taxonomist and knows his corals. Indeed, we managed to find candidates for all the topotypes we were after with the exception of Euphyllia kabiraensis (Eguchi & Shirai 1977).  

Figure 1. Kabira Bay, Ishigaki. The type location for two Japanese nominal species.
Photo credit: Andrew Baird

The only downside was that the reefs around Ishigaki are currently experiencing a major bleaching event. Bleached corals can be very difficult to identify which complicates our search. Thankfully, most of the species we were after occur below the 6 m or so of the reef that is currently the most badly affected by the bleaching. The reefs were in good shape down deep, high coral cover and diversity, and beautifully clear blue water, although we did one dive in a murky sheltered area of the lagoon that was dominated by Leptoseris spp. and numerous weird and wonderful hispidose Acropora species. Darwin knows what species they are although we are hopeful that we did collect good candidates for two of the Japanese nominal species: Acropora spiniformis Eguchi & Shirai 1977 and A. tubiformis Eguchi & Shirai 1977.

The next day we did an adventurous shore dive at Crystal Beach, one of the few natural beaches left on Ishigaki, where we stumbled down a steep rocky track on to the beach. We then wormed our way out through the shallows of the tide-emptied lagoon into a wonderland of underwater hills and valleys covered in corals, most of them bleached white but also lots of colonies in fluorescent blues, pinks and yellows. It was an amazing dive and at about 20m, Go stumbled on a single colony of Botryphyllia yaeyamaensis Shirai 1980. While hammering a bit of it off the substratum, I turned and saw under an overhang a single colony of Cladocera kabiraensis Eguchi, 1975, one of the two topotypes we had hoped to find at Crystal Beach which is only a few kilometers east of Kabira Bay – the type location (Fig. 2). It is hard to describe the joy of a successful topotype hunt, especially when it is such a rare species. I certainly felt like we deserved our beers at the Isakaya later that night – delivered by robot! God bless the Japanese taxpayers.

Figure 2. Potential topotypes for (a) Botryphyllia yaeyamaensis Shirai 1980 and (b) Cladocora kabiraensis Eguchi, 1975.
Photo credit: Andrew Baird
Figure 3. Beer delivered by robot at the izakaya.

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