Like sparkling underwater jewels, parrotfish decorate Bermuda’s already beautiful shores with spectacular color. Blue, emerald green, turquoise, even rainbow – these creatures are not only pleasing to the eye but also play an integral role in our marine ecosystem thanks to their voracious appetite. But before we delve into the parrotfish’s strange dietary preferences, let’s look at what makes these marine locals so special.

Parrotfish are so named because of their bright colours and their unique teeth that are fused together resembling a parrot’s beak. Most parrotfish live on coral reefs where they enjoy seaweed, algae, and the rocks and red forams they just happen to ingest along the way. It is this particular diet that enables them to create the brilliant pink sand of Bermuda’s beaches. As parrotfish scrape algae from underwater rocks, a little bit of the rock comes off, too, as well as tiny invertebrates called red forams often attached to the rocks. The rocks and forams are expelled by the fish as sand, with the red forams giving the sand a pink tinge.

Parrotfish are a keystone species on the reef, which means that the healthy functioning of the ecosystem is heavily dependent on them. Parrotfish enable the continued growth of coral reefs by cleaning the reef of algae. If parrotfish aren’t present, corals can become out-competed or smothered by algae, which has unfortunately been the case in some Caribbean areas that have no laws protecting parrotfish. Fortunately, parrotfish species are extremely well represented in Bermuda due to our prohibition of their fishing. The island has at least nine species of parrotfish, from common and classic Queen parrotfish to somewhat less common Redband varieties.

So, back to the question of the parrotfish’s “vegetarianism”. The seaweed, algae, and forams that parrotfish eat all belong to a group of living things called protists, which are very simple micro-organisms that are neither plants nor animals. Parrotfish are considered herbivores because their bodies are only equipped to eat this plant material, though technically speaking they feed on protists. Perhaps this will be something to ponder the next time you sink your toes into Bermuda’s pink sand.