by Sandra Baksh

Chestnut-mandibled toucan, Ramphastos ambiguus swainsonii, Toucan in Costa Rica, Sandra Baksh, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine, La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Costa Rica

Chestnut-mandibled toucan at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Costa Rica

Toucans are among some of the most exquisite birds, especially with their prominent, colorful bills. For many of us, our first association with a toucan, was on a box of Kellogg’s Froot Loops cereal, in the form of Toucan Sam (its mascot since 1963), who resembles a Toco Toucan! When you see these arboreal birds in the wild, admire their silhouettes as they fly by at dusk or hear those loud squawks throughout the rainforest, they are truly avian wonders, with unique beauty. Those conspicuous and colorful bills don’t have powerful crushing power but they function by rolling and slicing seeds and fruits, their primary diet. Many species of toucans are found in primary forests of the Neotropics. These are just three of them:

Keel-billed Toucan, Ramphastos sulfuratus, Sulfur-breasted toucan, toucan with rainbow-colored bill, bird of Belize, Blue magazine, Sandra Baksh, Solomon Baksh,

The Keel-billed Toucan is the National Bird of Belize

Emerald toucanet, Aulacorhynchus prasinus, Belize small toucan, Sandra Baksh, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine, small, green toucan with yellow and black beak,

The Emerald toucanet is found throughout Central America.

by Sandra Baksh

Bequia is a tiny island, with a population of about 1,400, in the Eastern Caribbean. It is part of The Grenadines archipelago, in the independent nation of St. Vincent and The Grenadines. With its verdant, hilly landscape, this special vista, shows three different bays, along the island’s East Coast and its windward side. Spring Bay is in the foreground, followed by Industry Bay and Park Bay, toward the background. Sal Bay is a fourth bay, barely visible and just before Brute Point, that juts out into the ocean.
Bequia island, view of three bays in Bequia, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, SVG

A simple and fast procedure

by Solomon Baksh

As new travel restrictions have been enforced on Cuba, from the United States, today I found the procedure to be efficient, fast and stress-free.

Regardless of whether or not you are an American citizen, as long as you pass through the Untied States of America, using one of their US-Based airlines, you must pay for a Cuba visa at the airport, from which your flight connects. In my case, earlier today, my flight was on American (AA), flying directly from Miami (MIA) to Havana (HAV).

Upon entering the AA terminal, simply join the line for Cuba Ready and have evidence of the reason for your trip to Cuba. People-to-People travel with established business entities in Cuba, are permitted so have in hand, a letter from the organization you’re dealing with.

Cuba Tourist Visa, Tarjeta del Turista for Cuba, visa for travel to Cuba from the United States

Cuba visa

Use the check-in kiosk to obtain the boarding pass and collect the luggage tag, then proceed to the check-in counter. The agent will check your passport and ticket. Once that’s done, proceed to another counter to purchase the visa, which costs US$100. That same agent stamps the boarding pass and issues the visa. Take the boarding pass back to the check-in agent and your luggage would be placed on the conveyor belt, to be loaded onto the airplane. ¡Buen viaje!

Cuba Ready stamp on Boarding pass, Cuba travel from Untied States

Cuba Ready stamp on Boarding pass

 

by Sandra Baksh

In the depths of the ocean, it’s easy to fall in love with so much beauty of shapes, color and variety of marine species…then there are those that are not so visually enthralling and might often be ignored, due to their mastery of camouflage! Our 5 creepy-looking fish, fall into that category of far-from-good-looking but they make excellent photography subjects, giving a full appreciation of their appearance and physical adaptations to their environment. All of these odd-shaped fishes, also reside along the sea floor and are known as benthic dwellers so they won’t be found swimming around freely with other pelagic fish.

1. Toadfish

Sapo bocon, Amphichthys crytocentrus, fleshy appendages from chin of fish, cirri on toadfish, ugly fish, camouflaged benthic fish, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine
Sapo bocon is a type of toadfish, with lots of fleshy appendages (cirri) around its head, chin and gills.

White-spotted Toadfish, Sanopus astrifer, Belize toadfish on Turneffe Island, benthic fish, ugly fish, fish with unbranched barbels on lower jaw, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine
The White-spotted Toadfish, with its characteristic barbels on the chin, is rarely seen and found mainly in the remote atolls of Belize, like Turneffe Atoll.

2. Frogfish

Yellow Longlure Frogfish, Antennarius multiocellatus, occelated spots mimicking sponge openings, odd-shaped fish, ugly fish, camouflaged fish among sponges, benthic fish, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine
Longlure Frogfish (yellow variation) using its fins, to “walk” among the sponges, where it rests, awaiting prey to pass by.

Yellow Longlure Frogfish, Antennarius multiocellatus, occelated spots mimicking sponge openings, odd-shaped fish, ugly fish, camouflaged fish among sponges, benthic fish, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine
The Longlure Frogfish has a translucent lure, which it dangles, to attract prey, as it lies waiting, perfectly camouflaged, among sponges or lookalikes.

3. Scorpionfish

Spotted Scorpionfish, Scorpaena grandocornis, Tobago venomous fish, fish with venomous spines, fish with bushy barbels, ugly fish, red, scary fish, camouflaged fish, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine,

The Spotted Scorpionfish is covered with fleshy appendages, called cirri or plumes, above the eyes, on the chin and head. The spines on the dorsal fin are venomous and puncture wounds are excruciating. Try never to touch, even by mistake, especially as they are masters of camouflage among rocks on the reefscape.

4. Batfish

Shortnose Batfish, Ogcocephalus nasutus, unicorn horn in fish, ugly fish, odd-shaped, cirri or fleshy appendages on fish, benthic fish, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine
Shortnose batfish have a horn-like protrusion, between the eyes, similar to a unicorn. They use their pectoral and ventral fins to “walk”along the sea floor, instead of swimming.

5. Lizardfish

Calico Lizardfish, Synodus lacertinus, Lizardfish, Chile Lagarto, Blue magazine, Solomon Baksh, scary fish, fish with sharp teeth, Costa Rica diving,
Calico Lizardfish can change color and patterns to effectively blend in with its surroundings.They are carnivorous are feed on other fish, hence the sharp teeth, which latches on to prey.

Taxonomy of species is particularly complex. Many of us know the animal kingdom as divided simply into vertebrates and invertebrates. Phylum Chordata included vertebrates, or those organisms with a backbone or vertebral column, encasing a spinal or nerve cord.

Blue magazine, Solomon Baks, Bluebell tunicate, Clavelina puertosecensis, Roatán Aggressor, colonial tunicates, Caribbean tunicates, Honduras tunicates

Bluebell tunicates at Toon Town, Roatán, Honduras

Bluebell Tunicate, colonial tunicates, compound tunicates, white siphon rim, incurrent siphon, excurrent siphon, Clavelina puertosecensis, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine, Roatán, Bay Islands, Honduras, Toon Town dive site, Roatán Aggressor yacht

The Bluebell Tunicate (Clavelina puertosecensis) is a compound tunicate

However, the Subphylum Urochordata, includes strangely shaped animals called tunicates, which do not have backbones but once exhibited characteristics of Phylum Chordata at some point in their life cycle. Tunicates are often overlooked, given their tiny size or mistaken identity for sponges (Phylum Porifera) but they have a fascinating anatomy.

Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine, Painted tunicate, gill net, purple siphon rim, spotted tunic, marine invertebrate, Caribbean tunicate, compound tunicates, Quebrada dive site, Long Caye Belize, Clavelina picta

At less than an inch, this colonial Painted Tunicate (Clavelina picta) in Belize, has purple siphon rims, with visible gill nets for food and oxygen extraction

Solitary, blue tunicate in Costa Rica, Rhopalaea birkelandi, cup coral, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine

Rhopalaea birkelandi is a solitary, blue tunicate in Costa Rica

There are stationary (attached to a substrate) tunicates and pelagic (free swimming in open water) tunicates. All tunicates have a cellulose tunic covering the body, hence their name. With a similar appearance to sponges (though much smaller), tunicates also have incurrent and excurrent siphons, functioning in water intake for oxygen extraction and outflow, respectively.

Class Ascidiacea includes stationary tunicates, comprising solitary (also called simple ascidians) or colonial/compound types. Many compound tunicates are extremely colorful and are found at various depths, in bulbous, often translucent clusters, joined at one base or sharing a common tunic.

Moon Jelly, Belize scuba diving, Aurelia aurita, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazineJellyfish are graceful and complex creatures, that fascinate us with their pulsating movements and often colorful, translucent bodies. The Moon Jelly (Aurelia aurita) is a “true” jellyfish in the Class Scyphozoa (Phylum Cnidaria) and is a free-swimming medusa. The translucent bluish dome is conspicuous, as are the four, clover-leaf-shaped reproductive organs. As tempting as it is to touch, the numerous swaying thread-like tentacles have stinging cells or nematocysts, draping down from the dome, typical of cnidarians.

Sometimes tiny fish can be observed, skillfully darting around under the dome of the Moon Jelly. This is a form of symbiosis. These clusters of juvenile jacks gain protection from predators in the open water, as they find safety within the jellyfish’s tentacles.

Moon jelly, jellyfish, diving in Belize, juvenile jacks in symbiosis with jellyfish, Aurelia auritaSolomon Baksh, Blue magazine

Fleshy Sea Pen, Costa Rica, Tortuga, Pennatulacea, Ptilosarcus undulatus, Solomon Baksh, Okeanos Aggressor, Aggressor Fleet, Blue magazine, rachis, coral polyps
At first, it might look like a feather, leaf or some type of clothing accessory, protruding from the sea floor. If you’re lucky to spot it while diving and have a camera to capture that special image, then this rarely noticed specimen, will have you delving into taxonomy research, as soon as you’re out of the water.

As it gracefully wafts in the ocean current, anchored in just one place, at the bottom of the sea, there’s a simple name for what turns out to be a complex animal—the Sea Pen. They are octocorals or soft corals, belonging to Order Pennatulacea. The name sea pen, derived from the ancient Romans, when these creatures were first recorded centuries ago, then called—penna marina. The sea pen or sea plume, resembles a plume or quill that was used for writing, centuries ago. While sea pens comprise colonies of coral polyps, the morphology is almost plant-like.

The Fleshy Sea Pen (Ptilosarcus undulatus), found at the dive site Tortuga, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, is rarely seen. Structurally, there is one primary coral polyp (the oozoid), that looks like a stalk or midrib of a leaf, which forms a bulb or peduncle at the base, and that keeps it anchored to soft sediment on the sea floor. Secondary polyps then branch off to form a collective structure, called a rachis. Some polyps are for filter-feeding, mainly larvae and zooplankton, while others function in water intake and circulation, to maintain the upright structure. As solitary and benthic as they are, sea pens are the favorite food of certain species of nudibranchs and turtles.

Galápagos Islands, Santa Fé land iguana, Conolophus pallidus, yellow iguana, Solomon Baksh, Blue magazine

Of the three species of land iguana in the Galápagos Islands, the palest, yellowest species (Conolophus pallidus), lives exclusively on the island of Santa Fé. With an estimated endemic population of about 7,000, these iguanas also enjoy the fruit of the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.), as they fall to the ground.

El Capitolio, Havana, Cuba, Blue magazine, Solomon Baksh
El Capitolio (the National Capitol) in Havana, is almost a replica of The Capitol, in Washington, DC, in the United States. It was built over three years and completed in 1929, under the former dictator, Gerardo Machado. It used to be the location of the Cuban Congress until 1959, when The Revolution occurred. It is currently under restoration and would not be open to the public until sometime in 2018.

“There are probably more vintage cars in Cuba than all of the world,” boasted Andreas Jimenes Castillo. “Too many Americans are asking the locals to sell them the cars and for a lot of money too,” said the marine biologist who works on the Jardines Aggressor I. There was every make and model of American-made cars, dating back to the 50s. “How do they keep these cars looking in such good shape and more importantly, how do they get parts to keep them driving?” I asked Wayne. “Cubans are creative and very resilient,” he replied. “They get used parts, make-shift parts and even homemade parts to keep these cars running. Sometimes they use old diesel engines from trucks.”

I love classic cars to the point of obsession and that obsession took hold of me on the tour of Old Havana. I just had to touch them. One in particular, stood out among the dozen that lined the street. It was a flaming red ’57 Dodge Coronet. I crept towards this elegant, highly polished classic, looking around to see if anyone was watching
and slowly ran my shaking palm along the sleek curves of this beauty. “Wanna to go for a ride? It’s available,” offered José Manuel Lopez, as he wiped away the long line of sweat that I left on his magnificent car. “I have three more old cars just like this. My favorite is a 1958 Chevrolet Impala convertible.”

Read more in the Sept–Dec 2016 issue of Blue