All things are connected

John Donne told us that no man is an island and it appears that this is a truism for all life on earth as no known organisms exist in isolation.

Now either you can get really quite philosophical about this or, you can go diving, for under the crystal clear blue seas that surround our islands you will see many quite obvious examples of this symbiotic behaviour.

The dictionary definition for symbiosis is “the living together in more or less intimate association or close union of two dissimilar organisms (as in parasitism or commensalism); especially: mutualism”

It is this mutualism that you see when you hover gently at the edge of the reef and watch fish swim in and out of cleaning stations. The grouper and the Pedersen shrimp have a special relationship; the cleaner role is also sometimes fulfilled by wrasse or species of goby. These mini char ladies (and gentlemen) set about the big fish with vigour; they remove old cells and parasites and help to keep their temporary host healthy. For their hard work they receive a large, in some cases total, percentage of their nutrition.

It is a similar relationship that you will witness a little further down the reef if you stop and study the purple anemones wafting their tentacles from their seat on the coral. Down amongst those constantly shifting sticky limbs you may catch sight of a slightly more portly looking fellow aptly, albeit commonly, named the anemone shrimp. This tiny creature also fulfils the role of cleaner to its host and the anemone in its turn affords the shrimp protection.

The reef itself takes part in a symbiotic relationship with the algae, Zooxanthellae, that lives inside the tissue of the coral. The algae offers coral the by-product of its photosynthesis (in shallow reefs), the carbon dioxide resulting from this process being paid like rent to the reef in the form of glycerol or glucose that then sustains it.

Imagine if you will what will happen to the cleaner shrimp and fish if the grouper is fished to extinction, or to the reef if the algae were to die out. If the coral were to crumble, to what then would the anemone cling and unable to survive without the reef, who would protect the little shrimp that live in its arms?

It is a sad thought that this is the part that we are playing in the inter-connectedness of life on our planet. Overpopulation, a lack of care and understanding, and misuse of the earth’s resources have produced rising sea temperatures, degradation of marine stocks and shameful amounts of litter that clog and threaten our natural spaces and the inhabitants therein.

We must each look to ourselves and try to find ways in which we can help our precious environment. Conserve power, avoid unnecessary waste, don’t litter and follow the guidance of local organisations that are trying to make a difference and support them in their work.

What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.   Chief Seattle.


Giles Shaxted