Our last day dive was at Hol Chan Marine Reserve. We returned to where we first started. After practicing our diving techniques for the past two weeks, we were all way more confident than the first. The first day, the 11 of us were broken up into two groups: the newly certified and the advanced . No one was allowed to take cameras until everyone displayed their ability to dive. I was part of the newly certified group, since I had just got my open water certification the weekend before the trip. My group only ventured around the sea grass beds in the shallows, trying to avoid the channel. It was wicked cool to see all the fish and turtles swimming around, but didn’t get the full effect of the marine reserve until the last day. Before breaking off into the same groups, we all had a photo shoot. This time our cameras were allowed. I have a subscription to Dive Magazine. Within it, they post people with their magazines in exotic locations. I thought that we should get a group shot underwater to try and get our picture posted. I enjoyed the small groups a lot, because when the 11 of us are in the water together checking out the same area it tends to get claustrophobic. Constantly bumping into people is annoying, never mind getting a fin in the face. After separating and heading out, we swam through the sea grass beds and got to the channel, you were greeted by large schools of fish and a wall of corals. The walls were filled with all kinds of fish and inverts living within. The fish swam around like they knew they would not be fished there. They ranged from small to large. Marine reserves prove to be the best area to encounter the greatest percentage of marine life. There was a great deal of green moray eels, and their heads where the only things really seen during the day. Some corals had their polyps displayed, while others were not out yet. The coral polyps would be out for our night dive later on (I must add watching the corals feed on the blood worms from our flashlights was pretty sweet). There weren’t too many gorgonians, and the corals did not have too much algae cover. There really needs to be more marine reserves in the world. It is upsetting to know less than 1% of the ocean is actually protected. Reserves can help fish grow larger, stay healthier and reach greater abundance and diversity. This was definitely proven true swimming at all the different dives sites located around San Pedro. Coral sites absolutely covered in algae had little signs of inverts and far few fish. Many were small in proportion. Sometimes it takes some hands on experience to really learn and this trip was incredible to partake and learn from. The sustainability of the ocean, marine life and coral reef is necessary and all need to be aware.
I was very curious to talk to someone about lionfish, since I know it is an invasive species in the Atlantic and they are quite overpopulated. Diving the past week and a half, I have been very surprised to not see that many. On day 2, a lionfish was spotted on an artificial reef off the end of a dock. He wasn’t very big. A couple days later Jimmy was snorkeling off the end of Ecologic Divers’ dock before a dive and spotted 2 little lionfish hovering at the bottom. He let a couple of the workers know and they jumped in and speared the fish. It wasn’t until diving out in the Great Blue Hole and the dive sites nearby that I encountered some very large lionfish. A total of three were counted lingering around the reef waiting for prey to swim by and be eaten up. There were many fish at Lighthouse Reef, due to it being a marine reserve, so the lionfish were living like kings, overindulging on the other fish. A final lionfish was discovered on the night dive we did at Hol Chan Marine Reserve yesterday. Wondering why there weren’t many spotted, I decided to talk with a local. I was informed that the reason why I was not finding any lionfish on the dives outside the reef was because they like to hang out within. They choose to do so because that is where all the smaller fish hang out; smaller fish are easier prey. They are also primarily located on the south side of the island, not a place where we have really been diving. The locals try to curb the population by spearing them whenever possible. This is a reason why barracudas tend to swim by your side: they are waiting for their fish handout, like your pet dog follows you for a treat. Nearby restaurants specialize in lionfish cuisine. I have yet to try it, but want to venture out to get some before our departure. Ultimately, the overpopulated lionfish has not yet taken over the reefs along San Pedro. Hopefully predators will catch on from the handouts and start feeding on the lionfish themselves.
Today I woke up all ready to take on the day. It was bright and sunny, with a slight breeze. Perfect diving conditions to head out. The past couple of days had been very windy, creating unfavorable diving conditions. Everyone met on the dock to take off in the boat for 9am to the first dive site: San Pedro Canyon. Not long after, one by one, our team was diving off the boat into gorgeous 85 degee water. Buddies linked up and decended to the bottom to be greeted by a few nurse sharks swimming around. Soon after we were on our way to practice our bouyancy. We also practiced getting really close to the corals without touching them, which is necessary to count invertibrates that hide in the corals for reef check. To do this, I would take a deep breath while diving down and then slowly let it out, while hovering over the corals. Venturing around the reef was exciting. The underwater world is so amazing to watch. Indicator fish that swim around the reef included colorful parrot fish, round butterflyfish, big lipped nassau grouper, any other grouper, delicious snapper and blue/ yellow striped grunts. We have come across all these fish while divng as well as many others. Queen angelfish is a beautiful fish. It has bright neon blue green and yellow colors. They tend to swim in pairs like the butterflyfish, while Sergeant majors like to swim in schools. They are a silver fish with black stripes and some yellow accents. Blue tang are fierce with it’s scalpel-like barb near its tail, which will cut you. Damsel fish are very territorial and will chase fish as well as you out away from its home. Black durgeon is a black fish with wave like dorsal and anal fin, which is so fascinating to watch swim. Big eyed Squirrel fish are red with huge ugly eyes. Other fish encountered are the bluehead and creole wrasse, rock beauty, trumpet fish, skip jack, and blue chromis.
There was about one hour between the first and second dive. On break we all snacked on chips and salsa, cantope, kiwis and some weird cherries. Once we were back in the water, we were once again greeted by groupers and more nurse sharks. I have seen what feels like tons of sharks on this trip. They are so cool. Anyways, Esmeralda was a good dive. We got to chase more fish around as well as encounter a green moray eel. It looked to be at least 4 feet long, if not bigger. He stuck his head out of the rocks and came out to say hello. I have yet to see one of those so I was extremely excited. All in all, today’s diving was incredible. A night dive was planned, but was called off due to a fast current. Not long after the boat left Hol Chan for the night dive we started to see lightning off in the distance. Probably a good idea to call it off, safety first.