Where When How — Summer 2017
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Under The Sea Caribbean Spiny Lobster
Jayne Baker

The Caribbean Spiny Lobster

The Caribbean Spiny Lobster is a favourite find on our Turks and Caicos Reefs, and also our dinner plates! Unlike its northern neighbours (think: Maine Lobster) the Caribbean Spiny Lobster lacks front claws and instead has two sets of antennae extending from its carapace. The first set is small and slender and found close to its front legs. Above that are the signature, larger, spiny antennae that extend out eight to 12 inches. During the daytime, divers will have to peer into coral ledges and overhangs to find the Spiny Lobsters that seek the protection of the reef to avoid becoming prey to predators like Nurse Sharks and large Grouper. But under the cover of darkness the lobster will venture out to forage for food, feasting on smaller crustaceans, worms and vegetation. While marine researchers don't have an accurate gauge of the lobster’s life span – it’s estimated these Caribbean crustaceans can live up to 50 years - that is if they don’t end up on a dinner plate.

If you are visiting Turks and Caicos between the months of March to August, you may be disappointed to find you aren’t able to enjoy a lobster dinner. However, there is good reason for this seasonal closure. The rising, warm summer water temperatures signal the start of Lobster breeding season. Closing the season for harvesting helps to ensure the survival of the species and keep their stocks plentiful.

Normally nocturnal, and hard to find in daylight hours, during these spring and summer months it’s not unusual to find the male of the species wandering the reefs looking for love! The female will stay ensconced in her sheltered coral ledge, emitting pheromones to lead the eager male to her den.

Once a mate has been located and sperm has been deposited in the female, the eggs grow on the underside of her abdomen. Divers with a keen eye may find a female in the protection of her den fanning a bright orange brood of eggs with her small back legs, helping to keep them aerated and healthy. It’s estimated that a ‘berried’ female can host between 150,000 and 650,000 larvae. Over a period of about 10 weeks, eggs will eventually fade from bright orange to dark brown and hatch into the water column.

From here, the journey from larval form to the lobsters we know and love is a perilous one. Many will perish at the hand of plankton-eating predators. Those that survive will eventually settle in the shallows of the ocean floor, ingesting algae and vegetation as they grow into their juvenile and adult form and move further offshore and find coral dens.

Sustainable and responsible fisheries management are essential to maintain the health of our oceans and its species. Seeking out seafood to eat that is harvested with sustainable practices is one way you can contribute to the protection of the marine environment.

Enjoy our oceans responsibly so they are plentiful for generations to come!