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Angels of the Reef.  first published November 1983 - Nassau Guardian.
Queen Angel SCUBA diving on a Bahamian reef can be an exhilarating experience. Man, normally so sure of himself becomes a stranger in a strange realm; an odd intruder observed with interest, with fear or simply with indifference by its multitudinous inhabitants. Here on the reef another order prevails and there are new and interesting sights. On the reef nature reveals yet another of her diverse facets. 
The diver sees coral heads, gullies, grottoes and caves, forests of gently-waving sea whips and sea fans, shoals of colorful fish, strangely-shaped invertebrates, and giant predators. Here there are huge and wary groupers, sleek and supercilious sharks, scavenging crawfish and a host of other life forms.

The reef is a challenge and a bonanza for the photographer. This is where some of the most rewarding photographs may be taken, but it is also one of the most difficult places in which to take photographs.

 If ever fish could be described as photographic models then the angelfish are the stars. They pirouette and turn as they curiously examine the underwater photographer, almost posing it would seem for his lens as they swim unafraid in and out of the crevices of the reef. The angelfish are little bothered by spear fishermen intent on seeking crawfish and grouper. This is especially fortunate for the angelfish would probably be one of the easiest fish in the sea to spear. Slow swimmers, they cruise the reefs searching for tiny morsels of food, but seldom straying far from the protection of a crevice or cave. 
They are striking looking fish, sideways flattened and deep-bodied. Colorful and curious, they are members of a family that includes the smaller but just as attractive Butterfly fish. Angelfish may be distinguished from the butterfly fish not only by their size - up to two feet in length as compared to only six inches for their smaller cousins, but also by the painted spine projecting backwards from the gill cover.  Spotfin Butterflyfish

There are four species of Bahamian angelfishes - the French, the Blue, the Queen and the Grey all similarly sized and shaped, but each distinctive in their coloration. The Queen Angelfish is aptly named, for she easily takes the title of queen of the reef. A study in blue and yellow, the Queen may be identified by the yellow pectoral (side)The Grey Angelfish and caudal (tail) fins. The closely related Blue Angelfish only has yellow margins to these fins and is somewhat duller in its general coloration. Both species are much brighter when young with iridescent vertical bands of blue on a dark background. They vie with the spectacular and improbably coloured jewelfish - actually the juvenile Yellow - Tailed Damselfish, for the title of most beautiful Bahamian fish. 

Like its kin, the French Angel is more spectacular when young than when mature. The adult is an almost black fish with gold-edged scales, but the young have brilliant gold vertical stripes, and are consequently much prized as aquarium specimens. The rather drab Grey Angel is probably the commonest of the Bahamian angelfishes. It is well named, as its main coloration is a brownish grey. The fins become darker towards the edges, which are outlined with pale margins. Another angelfish - although it is not given that title, is the Rock Beauty. This is a common seashore and reef fish. The front parts and tail are a brilliant yellow, while the majority of the body is jet black. Like the rest of the family the juveniles are quite different, being a deep gold colour with a black spot just in front of the tail. Just as the adults differ in their appearance, so they differ in their habits. The juveniles are solitary and defend their coral niches or hollows in the sea grass against all comers, while the adults are almost always seen in pairs cruising a fairly large reef area which they make no effort to defend. The juvenile Angel fish also act as cleaning stations for larger fish. 

Juvenile Queen Angel There is some dispute as to why some fish clean others. It has long been thought that the smaller fish were actually removing parasites from the skin of the larger fish. Another theory holds however, that the slimy coating over the scales of the larger fishes - a substance known as a mucoprotein may well supplement the diet of the cleaner. It has also been suggested that the larger fish like the tickling sensation caused by the cleaning process and allow themselves to be cleaned, simply because they enjoy it! Certainly there is something sensual in the movements of a fish being cleaned by another. (Of course this latter statement may well be blatant anthropomorphism!)

When cleaning occurs, the cleaner nibbles the skin of its larger associate, usually a grouper or a parrotfish. While the recipient of all this attention lies on its side it opens its gill covers, and in some instances even allows the small cleaner to enter its mouth to pick tiny food particles from between its teeth.

The angelfish family is only one of numerous interesting fish families inhabiting Bahamian water. There is much to be seen, and still much more to be understood in the waters of the Bahamas. Down there, among the coral heads, a great new experience awaits. Here can be seen the splendor of nature in all its diversity for the most part untouched by the hand of man.

 Let us hope that it stays that way.                                                                             R. Attrill 2000