Category Archives: Critters

Diving Cozumel: the Splendid Toadfish

It had been far too long since I had been scuba diving in Cozumel, so I couldn’t wait to go a few weeks ago (March 2015), and it certainly did not disappoint–especially after this long, cold winter in the Northeast.

Of course, we had our typically wonderful welcome at Casa del Mar, a lovely and friendly resort specializing in dive travel. Plus, it was my first time diving with Cozumel Marine World – a newer dive operation established and run by local experts and good friends who know the Cozumel and Palancar reef areas like the backs of their hands.

As usual, Cozumel was fantastic. We saw many spotted eagle rays – probably on 4 or 5 different dives – and lots of turtles, grouper, nurse sharks, and other large fish.  We even had dolphins swimming with the boat on the first day – always a bonus.

ERAY FACE RS2015MAR

Eagle Ray Face RS2015MAR

More so than usual, though, this time I found myself really focused in on the tiniest critters.  It seemed like there were arrow crabs everywhere I looked, and I got my first decent shot of a pretty little anemone shrimp.

Anemone Shrimp CZM RS2014MAR

Anemone Shrimp CZM RS2015MAR

Arrow Crab RS2015MAR

Arrow Crab RS2015MAR

 

 

 

 

 

 

A trip there also wouldn’t really be complete without a sighting of the endemic Cozumel Splendid Toadfish. I couldn’t find a great source today online, but according to Wikipedia:

The splendid toadfish, Sanopus splendidus, also called the coral toadfish and the Cozumel splendid toadfish is a species of toadfish entirely endemic to the island of Cozumel. Commonly found under coral outcroppings. Dens can be spotted by the sloping sand patch. They are very difficult to coax out in the open.

I’ve seen them before, but these guys turned into the real diving highlight of this trip, for me.  Not only did we see a bunch throughout the week in their typical little hiding spots, like this:

Cozumel Splendid Toadfish RS2015MAR

But on the week’s night dive, our skilled dive masters, Paulino and Jeremiah, also found one out swimming around, fully exposed, so we could see its unique patterning and coloration. We all spent a good, long time with the fish, getting a good look at its markings.  Just beautiful.  I didn’t have my camera that night, but am still hoping we might get a picture from a fellow diver on the boat (a new acquaintance who I’m not in touch with, so…I’m actually not too hopeful…), but then again, I have the memory burned in my brain.  In the meantime, here’s an example of this beautiful fish:

Beautiful Splendid Toadfish; source unknown

Beautiful Cozumel Splendid Toadfish; online-source unknown

That sighting pretty much made our whole night.

Bottom line is, though, any trip to Cozumel is always fun, and packed with great diving, great reefs, and great people. Especially our friends at Cozumel Marine World and Casa del Mar.

I already miss being there, so here’s looking forward to the next one.  Gracias, gracias, gracias.

Diving the Shark Cages: Isla Guadalupe, MX

Best chomp shot, RS 2014Oct

Best chomp shot RS2014Oct

That picture pretty much sums it up! After a lot of anticipation, and a loooonng – but fun – trip from NYC to Guadalupe Island, we were in the cages and getting some fantastic photo ops with the great Tiburón Blanco!  A once in a lifetime adventure…that I hope to do again, someday.

Isla Guadalupe is definitely off the beaten path.  Once in San Diego, we took a 2-3 hour road trip south across the Mexican border, down the Baja coast to the marina, and boarded our live-aboard vessel, The Sea Escape, around Noon.

The Sea Escape RS2014OCT

The Sea Escape RS2014OCT

It was mid-afternoon once we were settled, cleared by the harbor authorities, and underway. From there, we enjoyed a beautiful, all-day ride on the open ocean and toward the setting sun, followed by a lovely dinner provided by the chef and his assistant, and a perfectly good but undeniably cramped night’s sleep (please listen to advice when you go: do not pack a lot.  It’s unnecessary, and only leads to sharing your tiny top bunk with a half-full duffel bag.)

Not a bad way to wake up - Isla Guadalupe approach RS2014OCT

Not a bad way to wake up – Isla Guadalupe RS2014OCT

We were all champing at the bit to get into those cages, so we geared up and with the help of the awesome Sea Escape crew, were in the water and ready for some Great White action!

That's me - very excited!  2014OCT

That’s me – very excited! 2014OCT

Awesome crew, awesome fishermen, muy guapos RS2014OCT

Awesome crew, awesome fishermen RS2014OCT

 

 

 

 

 

First Encounter! RS2014OCT

First Encounter! RS2014OCT

Unfortunately, that first encounter, shown above, was the last for the first day.

And the second day…

Turns out, there were some environmental factors conspiring against us. We were lucky not only to have a top-notch dive operation aboard the Sea Escape, but some visits by a well-known marine scholar in the area, who was busy with various research tasks–including checking in on the two dive boats at Guadalupe that day.

Dr. Mauricio Hoyos Padilla is the founder and Executive Director of Pelagios Kakunjá, a marine conservation organization based in La Paz, MX, that studies the migratory marine species in the Mexican Pacific. He came on board and treated us to a lesson on the local great white sharks of Guadalupe.  Mauricio gave us a power-point presentation on general GWS biology and behavior, showed photos of the local sharks and explained how to identify them by their various markings, and so on.  He also let us know that the lack of activity that week was very likely due to the recent storm in the area.  The storm created warmer surface waters than the sharks typically respond to, and had also churned up the ocean a bit more, so the visibility was lower than normal; Great white sharks are quite visual, so they couldn’t necessarily see the nice big tuna and yellowtail being served up by our crew.  Those conditions were probably contributing to the local sharks hanging out way down deep – and not circling our cages.

The cages we had traveled so far to climb into, and that we only had for one last day!

Well…luckily, the last day was well worth the wait!  We saw at least 7-8 different great whites, perhaps more. They came early in the morning, and treated all of us to a constant show, all day long.  It was such an incredible thing to see, and from virtually all angles – they swim below you, above you, around you, under the boat – which gives a pretty awesome sense of scale so you can understand their large size (many we saw were in the 15-16 foot range).  The crew kept up their incredibly skilled pole fishing, too, so we got to see a lot of surging, chomping and wrestling with those big fish.  Truly a breathtaking thing to watch, up close and personal.

Good bite shot RS2014OCT

Good bite shot RS2014OCT

Best Crew RS2014OCT

Best Crew (and Donnie) RS2014OCT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, none of this would’ve been possible without the beloved Ocean Horizons Scuba in Brooklyn, NY, and the wonderful work and guidance of our dive master, Antonio Aguilar.  I also loved the Sea Escape from La Paz’s Club Cantamar, and want to give thanks to the whole crew–for their masterful skill and service, and their fun and camaraderie.

This is a true diving must, at least once in your life.  I’ll certainly never forget it.

Guadalupe RS2014OCT

Guadalupe RS2014OCT

Next up – a return to lovely Cozumel, at long last.

Thanks for reading!

Diving the Donations: Baja Sur and Hurricane Odile

Just a quick post while I’m thinking of the residents of Cabo, La Paz, and all of Baja Sur – who could surely use our help after the recent destruction by Hurricane Odile.

I was scheduled to travel for a second time to beautiful La Paz, MX, this coming weekend for a week of awesome diving with a group of friends – and of course with sea lions, large schools of fish, and a lot of hearty ‘small stuff’:

01 SEA LIONS OPP 2

Sea lions, La Paz, MX 2012

A pretty hefty sea horse.  La Paz, 2012.

A pretty hefty sea horse. La Paz, 2012.

Swarmed

Swarmed. Big schools in the Sea of Cortez. La Paz, 2012

Sadly, those plans have changed due to the storm a couple of weeks back.  The Cabo airport is still closed, power is not fully restored, potable water is a problem in places, etc.  Selfishly, I’m very disappointed, of course, but have also been looking around the web for advice on how to help the folks who live there.  The short version: It comes down to the ease and versatility of the almighty dollar.  (Donating “stuff” is well-meaning, but rarely effective in the long run.)

I won’t be fortunate enough to spend my tourist dollars there, so I figure I’ll still send some of the green stuff by making donations to disaster relief efforts.

Now, I’m not “pushing” for these organizations, but after consulting a number of articles and organizations on-line, these two seem like pretty good options to me, so I just figured I’d pass along the info.  Here are two reputable sites that offer donation services:

The International Community Foundation programs in Baja Sur

The Mexican Red Cross via the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

And, if you ever get a chance to dive (and spend some dough) in the La Paz area, take it!
It’s a beautiful place with great diving conditions in the Sea of Cortez, and a ton of sea life you don’t see every day.  I really enjoyed my stay at Club Cantamar and had a lot of fun and wonderful dive masters from their Baja Dive Services.  Screen shot 2014-10-01 at 10.32.46 AM

Here’s to the people of Baja Sur – wishing them all a speedy recovery.

sea lions

Divine. La Paz, MX. 2012

Next up:  Great Whites in Guadalupe!

 

Diving the WCS and “Beneath the Sea”

This was a good week for Diving the Water Column.

First off, The SCUBA diving market show Beneath the Sea was in town, at the Meadowlands Expo Center in New Jersey.  I headed over on Sunday and met up with my good buddies from Ocean Horizons Scuba in Brooklyn, NY, to take a look around.

BTSIconDanDiveSafetyDayDivers Alert Network (DAN) kindly offered members discounted admission to BtS (thank you, DAN), and the show was jammed with dive travel information, dive gear to sample, and many other scuba-related products and services.

I was happy to speak to some reps from various companies I admire, from the wonderful DAN to enthusiastic and serious instructors from NAUI, product reps from Sherwood, Aqualung and Cressi, among others, and our awesome travel friends from Casa del Mar in Cozumel (see my previous post), Sam’s Tours in Palau (also mentioned here, previously), Palau Dive Adventures, and many others.

Oh, and the Sea Shepherds, too.  One out of three of their booth staff was friendly and informative when I stopped by…and I appreciated her conversation very much.  But then big news hit the very next day, too: congratulations to the Sea Shepherds for their part in the ongoing struggle toward the banning of Japanese whaling in the Antarctic!  Fantastic news.

Monday night, it was on to a sharp panel discussion from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in NYC, called “Saving the Last of the Wild: Protecting our Oceans.”  WCS

The event was short and focused on raising money from the various patrons in the audience, and the panel of speakers was really impressive: Caleb McClennen, Executive Director of the Global Marine Program for WCS; Alisa “Harley” Newton, Senior Pathologist for WCS Zoological Health Programs; and Tim McClanahan, a Senior Conservation Zoologist who runs the WCS Coral Reef Programs in Kenya.

Each gave a good talk on his/her specialty area, and tried hard to offer a fair amount of hope regarding what are generally very troubling topics: Ocean acidification, coral extinction risks, coral and sea star diseases, and fisheries management.

photo 3

WCS “Saving the Last of the Wild” panel (RS, 3/2014)

So…what’s the upshot from the week?  After browsing Beneath the Sea, and listening to the experts, I think it’s pretty much the same drill, at least for myself:

Keep at reducing our carbon footprints, try to contribute to organizations that fight for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and to lessen over fishing and by-catch waste, download (if you haven’t) – and actually USE – the very cool Seafood Watch app seafood watch appto avoid consuming endangered fish species, and for crying out loud, stop with the plastic bags and excess disposable plastic crap.

 

Oh, and…get scuba diving, ASAP, of course.   I know I’m counting the days.

 

 

 

Diving the Jelly Fish Lake – Palau

OK, now for a nice short one on Jellyfish Lake in beautiful Palau.  PALAU AERIAL commons

I’ve been lucky enough to go to diving in Palau twice, so far – thanks to Ocean Horizons Scuba here in Brooklyn and Sam’s Tours there in Koror.  Each time, I’ve visited this unique marine lake on Eil Malk, one of the Rock Islands that comprise the stunning island nation.

A visit to Palau really has to include a trip to Jellyfish Lake, where you can swim around, surrounded by thousands of golden jellyfish – all stingless (…or very close.  Read this article from the NWF for more in-depth science and busted myths behind these critters).  There are a few other species in the lake, but you likely wouldn’t notice – the golden jellies are the main show, and they. are. everywhere.

JELLYFISH LAKE PALAU 2 2010 SCHRECK

Jellyfish Lake Palau 2010 RS

Jellyfish Lake 2010 RS

Jellyfish Lake Palau 2010 RS

The photo ops are endless. Everyone comes away with a lot of cool pictures like these – just two of several that I took.

It is one of the coolest, freakiest dive sites, ever.  Though it’s not actually a “dive” spot – you’re permitted only to swim or snorkel, so the animals and habitat are not disrupted.

I think that’s why I got such a kick out of this new YouTube video that’s bouncing around the internet.  It shows some kind of camera-rigged drone, that flies above and then dives right down into the lake. Great footage, from a very cool perspective.  Check it out right here.

The video also captures the drone flying over the Sea Passion – coincidentally the same hotel we’ve stayed in – and across the small lagoon with the shallow WW2 wreck, and then over toward Sam’s Tours – a lovely and very nostalgic little route for me.  (Can’t wait to go back!)

Flag of Palau

Flag of Palau

Overall, it is really neat and well done – thanks to Andrea Esty.  Hope to meet you some day.

Reading about this drone business, I also found some interesting articles like this one, on the possibility of Palau using drone technology to patrol its vast, protected waters. It may help the country’s bold stance as general marine sanctuary (as of Feb. 2014!) and as the first declared shark sanctuary (since 2009!).

But that’s another post, for another day…

Until then – thanks, all!
Rachel

 

 

Diving the Barf Bag: Roatan, part 2

(or: “How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Purge Valve”)

So, one of the things I didn’t quite get to in my previous post about being a new diver in Roatan, Honduras, was…that little thing about the time I had a case of the pukes.

After doing my certification dives from shore, and going on one pretty controlled dive from the boat on the second afternoon, I was feeling quite relieved and accomplished.  I was also feeling like relaxing, hanging out with all these cool new people, enjoying the luau-esque dinner at the hotel, having a couple of drinks, surely not enough water, and going to bed a wee bit too late.

from scientopia.org

from scientopia.org

 

Oh, and believing the new pal who swore he’d bang on my door to wake me up the next morning, “in plenty of time!”  Yeah, right.
(First dope-slap beginner lesson learned: don’t forget to pack a reliable alarm device.)

Well, instead, I woke up with a jolt, was quite late, rushed over to the boat area, and felt the burn of a few weary stares from the folks who didn’t appreciate the new girl holding things up.  I can’t remember every detail, but between my nerves, my poor hydration and rest, and the rough conditions on the water that day, I was feeling downright gross.

As we got closer to the dive site, I was ok, but anxious – after all, this was only my first full day on a dive boat, plus I felt like a jerk on top of it.  It was all making me very tense.  So after getting my gear on properly, and doing my second-ever giant stride from a boat, I was calming down and just about to descend with my instructor when – oh, sh*t!

Up it came.

And then: OH, SH*T!  WHERE DID ALL THESE FISH COME FROM?!!!

Swarmed

Swarmed

In case you haven’t heard it, one very apt euphemism for seasickness – more specifically, for barfing in the ocean – is “feeding the fishes.”

They were around me like moths to a flame.  Flipping and flapping.  And at the time,  I really resented the little jerks for adding insult to injury.

After a minute and a much-needed laugh, I regained composure and truly felt fine.  I was a little nervous, and counseled that if I wanted to call the dive, I should, but also told that very often you feel better once you’re under.

I went for it, and that proved to be true:  I felt fine, had a fine dive, saw lots of cool stuff, even did pretty well on air consumption, completed a text-book safety stop, ascended slowly while looking above me for any potential obstructions.  Then once on the surface, I inflated my BC, smiled for a second at the wonder of diving…and then puked my guts out again.

OH, HEY AGAIN, MY FISHY FRIENDS.  (YOU LITTLE JERKS.)

Luckily, by then it was time for the surface interval.  Of course, by now there were numerous suggestions – from ginger candy to magnetic bracelets to saltines.  “I feel fine now,” I swore.  “And I never get seasick!”

Eventually, I let it go.  Until, we were gearing up again, and one helpful new friend said:

“Don’t worry, Rach.  If you have to blow chunks down there, you just do it right through your ‘reg’.  Make sure to keep it in your mouth.  Puke, purge, and you’re good to go.”

Um…what?!  That definitely did not put me at ease!

Second stage mouthpiece - Not an ad, just the (very good) regulator I use.

Second stage mouthpiece – Not an ad, just the (very good) regulator I use.

Unlike some stories I’ve since found on the web, the question of vomiting while diving never came up in my open water class.  It just never occurred to me to consider it, never mind the correct procedure.

But of course it can happen.  You just need to think through the right steps and at least imagine it, so you don’t flip out.

How to Vomit While SCUBA diving:

  1. Relax, don’t panic, get your buddy’s attention if you can
  2. Keep your regulator mouthpiece (second stage) IN your mouth, and hold it firmly in place
  3. Vomit into and through the regulator second stage
  4. Use the purge valve immediately after to clear out the offending material (taking the usual care to deflect the direct burst of air with your tongue)
  5. Take your time, relax, make sure your buoyancy is under control, check your air
  6. Regain composure and resume your regular, calm breathing
  7. Proceed along, changing to your back up (octopus) air source mouth piece, if necessary
  8. Either make a controlled ascent (do so if you’ve switched to the octopus) or if you feel better, just calmly finish your dive

Please note:  I have never done this, myself, and still hope I don’t have to.

Then again, now that I have many more dives under my belt, I don’t even think about things like coughing, laughing, even sneezing down there, and all with the regulator in – it truly becomes like second nature.  (Sneezing gets a little snotty, yes, but really not a big deal.)  Hopefully if it ever does happen, it will be as unpleasant as barfing topside – but no worse.

All that said, I have recently read some conflicting opinions about this – even on the DAN site, which surprised me – so I’m going to continue to find out more, and will update if I come across anything good.  Some people recommend taking the regulator out of your mouth, chucking up into the water, and then immediately putting the unsullied mouthpiece back in place.  The main rationale for this method is that you risk clogging up your regulator if you were to keep it in your mouth, or – much more to the point – that when you take the reflexive, sharp inhale immediately after vomiting (which we all do), you might inhale solids that are stuck in the regulator and therefore choke.

The very strong counter argument – and the one that I was since taught and strongly believe – is that when indeed you take the reflexive, sharp inhale immediately after vomiting (which we all do), you most certainly do NOT want that inhale to be all water.  That will definitely cause you to cough, gasp, suck in more water, panic, be unable to get your regulator back in…and good night Irene.

So keep the regulator in!  Then purge if you need to, stay calm, and get the camera ready – after all, if you “feed the fishes,” you might as well get some good shots to tell the tale!

Please let me know – have you ever vomited while on a dive?  Do you disagree with keeping the regulator in place?  Leave a comment – I’m sure these will be educational and entertaining stories, but above all I hope, of course, that they all ended safely.

Cheers?
Thanks for reading!