Ahh, the white sand beach…
It’s the quintessential daydream.
It’s the kind of image that inspires notions of quitting one’s day job and purchasing a one-way ticket to the islands. No shirt, no shoes, no problems.
The non-curious sort will be perfectly content to stroll on the white beach, perhaps clutching a tropical libation served in a coconut shell. And really, what’s wrong with that?
But others may marvel at the dazzling white sand and wonder how it got there.
It’s simple really. That white sand is composed primarily of excrement. Parrotfish poop – bluntly stated.
Approximately 80-90 species of parrotfish inhabit tropical and subtropical oceans around the world. Divers, snorkelers and swimmers are undoubtedly familiar with this commonly seen brightly colored fish.
Parrotfish play a critical role in the health of a coral reef ecosystem. Their fused, beaklike front teeth allow them to break off and ingest pieces of coral. The algae on the coral provides the fish’s food source, while the coral is ground up and excreted as sand. It’s this excreted sand that forms the beach upon which we all love to lounge.
Here are some other interesting facts about the parrotfish.
-This fish changes sex throughout its lifespan, beginning its life as a female and eventually becoming male.
-It’s bright coloration makes it easy to see, but it is easily heard as well. It produces an audible crunching sound when biting coral.
-A parrotfish can produce 200 pounds (90kg) of sand per year, and the larger species can produce even more.
-At night, many types of parrotfish produce a transparent sack which encases them to provide protection while sleeping.
-The larger species of parrotfish, such as the bumphead or the midnight parrotfish grow up to 3 feet (1m) in length.
So now you’ll be prepared the next time your beach going toddler asks, “Daddy, what is white sand made of?”.