Creature Feature Worm Reefs – Sabellariid bristle worm


The other day I mentioned the worm reefs that run off the coast of Vero Beach area and a little further south.  I dove at Wabasso Park and was amazed to see the intricate home these creatures have built right off the shore.  Of course my interest was peaked so I had to find out a little more.  The structures I saw were at times 7-9 feet tall and created ledges outward towards sea and also upwards.  There was a high degree of sediment floating in the water and the fish were going crazy feeding on the worm reef.

The  numerous tiny marine bristle worms that build reefs off the east coast of Florida are Sabellariid worm aka sand-tube worm, honeycomb worm, reef-building polychaete and tube-building marine polychaete.

These photos courtesy of http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov

The species of Sabellariid worm found in our area is called Phragmatopoma caudata but I am going to refer to them as reef worms. The Adult worms are up to 2 inches long and 1/8 inch in diameter, although most worms are closer to ¾ inch long.

Sabellariid worms are amazingly able to flourish in the shallow waters of the intertidal Atlantic coastline of Florida. The turbulent, sediment-laden water there, with the reciprocal in and out wave motion, provides the microplankton upon which the bristle worms feed and removes their metabolic wastes.  The food of reef-building tube worms consists primarily of planktonic microorganisms, including diatoms, forarniniferans, and algae; encrusting organisms adhering to sand and silt are also eaten.  The churning up of sand-sized particles in this near shore area would be fatal to coral, but are not much of a problem to the Sabellariid worms. The Sabellariid worm uses these particles to build its own protective tube, connecting each worm’s tube with those of many others to build quite a sand castle together. These worms can be found building their reefs on limestone and coquina formations, jetties and pilings from Cape Canaveral to the south end of Biscayne Bay. Each worm settles onto a hard, durable surface and begins to construct a protective tube out of the surrounding sand.

The Sabellariid worms attach their tubes to their neighbors’ tubes, forming large colonies which grow into massive mounding reefs. These reefs are sometimes exposed at low tide, creating tide pools and providing habitat for many marine organisms. Bathtub Beach on Hutchinson Island is a great place to see these at low tide if you are not a diver.  Also Blowing Rocks in Jupiter.

The Sabellariid worms appear in densities of between 15,000 to 60,000 individuals per square meter (a square meter is 10.76 sq. feet) and have lie spans of 10½ years according to Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center. Don’t be a dumbass and step or touch them.  You are destroying their homes.  I heard that these incredible reef building creatures can make a footstep disappear by rebuilding within 24 hours!  Busy little worms.  However, these worms build sand hoods over their tubes to protect themselves from drying out in the sun at low tide. Walking on a living worm reef crushes these hoods into the tubes, sealing them, and killing the worms. People should never walk on, scrape, or break pieces off the worm reefs.

Many different species of marine organisms live around these reefs. This makes them excellent places to go snorkeling and diving on calm days.  Good little honeycombs for crabs and lobster.

These mini reefs help to protect against erosion.  They can withstand heavy wave action and also help to trap sediment in between the cracks which over time builds up.  They are also a good source of food for crabs and fish.  I think this would be the reason why I saw so many signs of the stone crab.

This is a different type of reef.  You will not see as many colorful reef types but it is host to an incredible variety of reef fish and crustaceans.

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About daniellesdives

diving enthusiast
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