Hakai Magazine

Coastal science and societies

One Great Shot: Neighborly Care

Our photographer glimpses a symbiotic gathering off Baja California.

Authored by

by Henley Spiers

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sea turtle surrounded by fish

Once a sleepy fishing village at the tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, Cabo Pulmo has been a global icon for ocean conservation ever since a marine park was established to protect nearby reefs in 1995.

Fish have rebounded in the protected area, and on this dive, I was hoping to witness one of the region’s most famous sights: an enormous school of jack. Instead, my attention was instantly captivated by a handsome olive ridley sea turtle resting on the seabed as an eager group of reef fish manicured its shell.

Attracting the fish were organisms called epibionts—tiny hitchhikers that grow on turtle shells. In small numbers, they cause little harm to their host, but if they grow too abundant, the turtle can become overwhelmed. Reef fish keep these epibionts in check, benefitting both themselves and the turtle. This gathering of symbiotic species is remarkable, and I felt lucky to photograph it.