YOU sunbathers out there! Don't get offended if I say you guys are lying on dung all day!
Well, I would not be wrong if you’re sunbathing on a soft white coral sand beach on a tropical island like Sipadan!
Marine scientists and divers had long known that coral sand are made by coral-eating fishes and are actually the excrement of these fishes! Of these the most important, therefore most prolific producers, are the 60 species or so of parrotfishes.
Parrotfishes, with their fused teeth that form beak-like mouths (thus making them look like parrots) feed on algae that grow on corals by biting chunks of coral and then grinding it before swallowing it. Their digestive systems extract the organic parts and excrete the rest as sand which get deposited in the reef and on the beach. As it is estimated that on a single reef they can produce tonnes of sand every year they are very important for coastal maintenance.
One species, the Bumped-head Parrotfish grows up to four feet in length and is said to use its bumped-head as a battling ram to smash up the coral before munching on the pieces. They feed in big schools and have huge appetites and when so many big fish eat so much coral that means a lot of sand. Arab fishermen know this so their name for this fish is “Abu Kharian”, meaning “father of shit”. Ahh, bless!
Looking at the beautiful fine grains one could hardly believe that each grain has gone in one end and out the other end of a fish! And how tons of it, virtually the whole of some islands, are produced in this seemingly revolting manner!
< This photo of bumped-head parrotfish was taken by S. M. Lo off Sipadan Island, Sabah.
This article by this blogger was first published in The Sand Paper - the quarterly newsletter of the International Sand Collectors Society. http://www.sandcollectors.org/SANDMAN/ISCSHomeIndexx.html