Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Creative Commons

A Diver’s Christmas Tree

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The gigantic symmetry of an Evergreen Fir Tree which is believed to the be first flora used to represent the yuletide season, the towering leafy trunk of a Pine Tree, and of course, the pre-fabricated “plastic ornaments” in different sizes and colors that we adorned with flashy electronics and fancy decorations. These are often the materials we used in displaying our Christmas tree, and we should all admit that we exert time, effort and money to make it the best centerpiece.

But as we reach the peak of the yuletide season and celebrate Christmas day, can you ask yourself: “Does my Christmas tree represents what it truly represents? Or am I just showing it off for praises?” Remember, and as a gentle reminder, that Christmas trees are a symbol of hope, joy and love.

The Small and Symbolic Christmas Tree Worm

Contrary to the sky-scraping and enormous Christmas trees, there thrives a miniature worm (measuring only 1 to 1.5 inches tall) that lives at the bottom of the food chain and co-exist with reef dwellers, like mound-building corals. Unlike the flashy features of Christmas trees we all stare upon as we pass by, these worms hide itself underneath their host when disturbed, especially by us, humans. It is only in our absence that these worms truly displays their beauty. When the waters are calm and clear of any threat, these worms will protrude their their colorful hairy radioles that spirals into a Christmas tree, thus its name: the Christmas Tree Worm.

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Their shy traits are the very reason we seldom see them when we go diving. But if you want to see Christmas tree worms in all its colorful glory, you need to be extra careful, move in slowly towards them and approach in the slightest possible way. In doing so, you need to master all the basic skills in scuba diving, like: peak performance buoyancy, controlled breathing and proper fin control to name a few. If you do all these, then you will be rewarded with their miniature beauty which is often the subject of macro-photography.

Why give a fuss?

Yes, why give a fuss? Many have asked me this question, and surprisingly, they don’t know why. What’s more surprising, even fellow divers are clueless (well not all). Over the years, I have gathered the top 3 reasons why we should value our Christmas Tree Worm.

The Difference in Approach

In most cases, we just pass by any Christmas Tree on display. Well, except for the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree of New York City, the Strasbourg Christmas Tree in France and London’s Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree where we spend minutes or even hours enjoying the extravagance of these global yuletide attraction.

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Creative Commons

In contrast, interacting with Christmas Tree Worms is not a passive experience. You need to prepare and put in extra effort in carefully approaching them. Not to mention your interaction with them is in another world, the underwater world.

If you don’t give a fuss and approach them carelessly, then expect the next will happen.

Passively in Distress

Swimming too closely to the reef, fins touching corals, hold anything you see, or worst, vandalizing corals with the use of a dive knife: if you’re one of the many divers who doesn’t care about reef diving, then don’t expect to see Christmas Tree Worms. When this is done repeatedly over time, which is true for a popular dive site often visited by diving tourists, then our Christmas Tree Worms will be passively in distress.

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Creative Commons

With constant human disturbance, Christmas Tree Worms will not be able to protrude their hairy radioles which deprive them from eating microorganisms. Remember that Christmas Tree Worms are filter feeders. They feed when their radioles are extended where the cilia (or micro hairs) can grab tiny food items (mostly plankton) which is then led to their mouth located at the central opening of their tubular body (Toonen, 2012).

The Least of our Concerns

Decades ago, you seldom see studies about Christmas Tree Worms. Yes, we all know what a Christmas Tree Worm look like, but very minimal when it comes to its biological and ecological function. There even came a point that Christmas Tree Worms were considered harmful to corals since it bores itself for growth.

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Thanks to scientists and a few non-science geeks, Christmas Tree Worms are slowly gaining attention and studies are on its way to dispute its misinformation. An example is a research claiming that Christmas Tree Worms and corals have a symbiotic relationship wherein corals provide substrate for them to grow, in exchange for the protection provided by Christmas Tree Worms.

The Lesson

Putting down all the certification levels and degree we are holding, it doesn’t take an expert or an extravagant dive vacation to see Christmas Tree Worms. All you need to do is master and apply all the scuba skills and be a responsible diver. In doing so, most of your dives will be rewarded with the flourishing micro beauty of Christmas Tree Worms. And not just during Christmas Day, but the rest of the year.

When it comes to reef conservation, we should not place Christmas Tree Worms on the side because in doing so, its just like neglecting and having no concerns for our reef. Remember that Christmas Tree Worms are always one with the reef.

Finally, in the spirit of Christmas: hope, joy and love are all rolled into one and that is our passion for reef conservation. Let us place in all our efforts collectively since the reef is our primary playground. And just in case you have not placed your efforts, its not yet too late. 2024 is a great year to start.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone!

From all of us here at The Salt Sirens.