Striking a Balance

Take some time for the little things
by Anna Flam -- December 2nd, 2013

A few weeks ago I chatted with a new diver about exciting underwater wildlife. As usual he mostly cared about larger things like sharks and turtles. I like sharks and turtles, but as a dive professional I find them occasionally boring and frequently frustrating. As one of my instructor friends put it: “Finding the little stuff takes skill, but the big stuff’s just luck.”

Try finding one of these little guys underwater, and you'll understand why I get so excited. Plus they just look awesome. This is a Blue Dragon Nudibranch, aka Pteraeolidia ianthina.

Try finding one of these little guys underwater, and you’ll understand why I get so excited. Plus they just look awesome. This is a Blue Dragon Nudibranch, aka Pteraeolidia ianthina.

I remember my first turtle. Before the dive the instructor warned us that there were plenty of turtles here, and then gave us a 20 minute lecture on how cool frogfish are. Yet, despite his best efforts, I followed five turtles around, ecstatic. Then, I stared at an orange spongey-looking blob for a minute before kinda-realizing that it was a fish. I only had 25 dives back then.

Still kinda looks like a sponge, a very cool sponge, though. Frogfish by prilfish.

Still kinda looks like a sponge, a very cool sponge, though. Frogfish by prilfish.

Frogfish are a type of anglerfish. Look how cool they are!

 

Most people don’t start to appreciate the cool little things like frogfish, shrimp, and pipefish until they have 50 or so dives and realize how tough the little buggers are to find.

 

A developed a serious obsession with these guys after about 2 years of guiding and 800 dives: they were my personal white whale.

I developed a serious obsession with these guys after about 2 years of guiding and 800 dives: they were my personal white whale. They’re soo pretty, they eat starfish alive (very slowly — little slice by slice), and always live in pairs. Harlequin Shrimp by Steve Childs

 

Unfortunately, conservation works similarly to diving — hardly anyone but connoisseurs cares about the small stuff. People tend to give money for the “charismatic megafauna” large or cute, animals. Conservationists hope that these larger species can act as an “umbrella” for the smaller ones. We cross our fingers that habitat conserved by the big animals will overlap with endangered small animal habitat and save them too.

 

An exception to the rule. This pygmy seahorse might be tiny, but he's so freaking cute that people still want to save him.

An exception to the rule. This pygmy seahorse might be tiny, but he’s so freaking cute that people still want to save him.

A few weeks ago Jim Sanderson of the Small Cat Conservation Foundation came to talk to the Duke intern team for the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative. In an incomplete picture of conservation funding he pointed out how over 99% of funding goes toward 7 big cat species, while the 29 (equally endangered) small cats are left with scraps.

When asked about the idea of umbrella species in conservation Jim expressed serious doubts. In many cases there is little overlap between small and large cat habitat.

The BCI Interns might soon start a new project to more thoroughly assess the overlap between big and small cat habitat, and funding gaps. In the meantime take a little time to appreciate the small guys, like these Margays — a wild cat I had never known before Jim’s talk. They’ll probably be blowing up soon, anyway — someone at BuzzFeed has already realized how cute these small cats are.

 

1 Comment

  1. Tawnee
    Dec 9, 2013

    Such a great post, Anna! If an organism doesn’t fall within the “charismatic megafauna” label, I think so many people dismiss it or just don’t take the time to learn about it. Thanks for sharing some charming images of some other cool, (useful,) often-forgotten species and reminding us all to look at the little things!

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