Category Archives: Dive Sites

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.


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’:


Sea lions, La Paz, MX 2012

A pretty hefty sea horse.  La Paz, 2012.

A pretty hefty sea horse. La Paz, 2012.


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 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 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!



Diving the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef: Roatan, part I

My first SCUBA diving destination trip was in 2006 to Roatan, the “big island” of the 3 Bay Islands in Honduras.



It was a very cool locale to do my check-out dives, and then roll right into my first week of boat diving.  I was able to build on that initial momentum and improve my fledgling skills, while surrounded by a fun bunch of skilled – and generous (and opinionated) – divers. (Good advice, PB!)

So I had finally scored my NAUI Open Water Certification, was on my first big trip, and was very happy. But I was so focused on new skills, not making a fool of myself, not dying, and the new people I was meeting, I didn’t pay close attention to the place, itself. 

That said, a few great things stood out immediately:


AKR View from Bar 2006

The dive operation at the well-known Anthony’s Key Resort was very good (not that I had anything to compare it to at that point, but my seasoned pals were impressed), and set in a beautiful landscape.


Shot from Bungalow AKR 2006

We were situated right along the Roatan Marine Park (RMP) so each day we paid our park fees and received our bracelet tags – as in many marine protected areas (MPA), these need to be displayed on your wrist or your BC at all times to show that you have permission to dive there.  This system helps the RMP in its mission to “protect and provide a healthy and sustainable marine environment off Roatan.”

I was also reassured to know that we were steps away from the only re-compression chamber (or hyperbaric chamber) in the area, at Anthony’s Key’s own Cornerstone Recompression Chamber and Clinic.  In partnership with DAN, the chamber is available to commercial and recreational divers, and in turn, the wider clinic provides general medical care to the local community, who might otherwise not have access to treatment.


My first dive site map 2006

May 15, 2006.  It’s hard to describe my first “real” dives, descending over dense coral walls and through the spectacular coral canyons along the southern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) – the second largest barrier reef in the world.

Everywhere I looked I saw one more beautiful, weird, creepy, funny, intriguing thing after the next.  It felt like the closest thing I could imagine to being in space – exploring an environment that I couldn’t comprehend until I was in it.

I wasn’t tuned in to the state of the MBRS (a.k.a. the Great Mayan Reef) back then, but I remember a lot of the other divers talking to the dive masters about it, and being cautiously but pleasantly surprised by what seemed like good size and density of the corals.

They were relieved, I learned, because much of the reef had been badly damaged about eight years earlier, by a double-whammy of weather conditions. First, El Nino effects caused sustained ocean temperature rise and resultant, widespread coral bleaching in 1997-98. Then the destructive Hurricane Mitch struck in October of 1998.  [For more on this period, check out this 2001 report from the United States Geological Survey.]

As for the current state of the MBRS, now another eight years later, I found a good resource in the Healthy Reefs Initiative, and their frequent “Report Cards” that assess the situation. 2012-RC-cover-straight

I’ve been reading their clear and thorough Mesoamerica Barrier Reef’s HRI Report Card from 2012.

As anticipated, the news is not good.

Like coral reefs world-wide, the MBRS suffers the very common but serious problems of:

  1. Urbanization and over-development on land
  2. Ocean acidification leading to coral bleaching (that’s climate change, people)
  3. Over fishing and by-catch depletion
  4. Marine debris from litter and run off
  5. Chemical pollution and marine oil leaks

And then another great threat is our ol’ frenemy, the Indo-Pacific red lionfish, a dastardly invasive species that has spread widely, and increasingly threatens marine ecosystems in the Caribbean and the Eastern U.S.

Pretty but Unwelcome!

Pretty but Unwelcome! Cozumel circa 2010 RS

These beauties live harmoniously in Indo-Pacific Ocean environs, but are now wreaking havoc in places where they don’t belong.  Stay tuned for more on the lionfish problem.

I’ll also have more to come on my (limited) experience in Roatan, but for now – if you have a chance to dive the Bay Islands, definitely take it.  It is a beautiful part of the world, with great diving and important marine conservation initiatives going on, but the reef is in trouble.  (Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s already an “it” market for U.S. & Euro expats to (over)develop, so…better get a move on!)

Have any of you been to Roatan recently?  Or maybe to Utila and Guanaja?  What was your experience?   Please leave a reply – I’d love to know the latest.

Thanks!  Until next time.


UPDATE: On Feb. 27, 2014, I came across a new article in Marine Science Today.  The Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI) has recently released a new report on the state of the Mesoamerican Reef System.  Here’s a quote from this article:

The Eco-Audit revealed that encouraging progress has been made on some issues, particularly with marine protected areas, but the overall pace of implementation of management actions is far too slow.  Since the last Eco-Audit in 2011, 80 percent of the 22 indicators measured in both 2011 and 2014 had no changes; only 18 percent increased. If this pace continues, it will take 50 years to fully implement all of the recommended management actions, which is too long for reefs that are already in danger.  




Dear Cozumel,

Oh, how I wish I were arriving there, today!

I had sights set on my typical February dive trip to Cozumel, but just couldn’t make it happen. So my beloved group of diving buddies from Ocean Horizons Scuba in Brooklyn, NY, are on their way there, as I write.

I’ve decided to use my bitter disappointment as fuel to finally get it together, write a maiden post here, and “publish” this new site, once and for all.  So, here goes nothing!
(and just kidding about the bitterness.  well, sort of…)

This first post is definitely not a clever new idea, and it’s certainly not burdened by research.
It’s just a love note to Cozumel, the beautiful Palancar Reef, our friends at hotel Casa del Mar (especially Sandra) and the special dive masters met over the years (especially Mario!).

Me and Mario, CZM 2009ish

Me and Mario, CZM 2009ish

One small part of my plan here on Diving the Water Column is to formalize a bucket list of future diving destinations and dive sites – an evolving, work-in-progress list. Cozumel might not be on that particular list, but only because I’ve been there so often.  (lucky)  One thing is for sure:
as long as there’s air in my tank, I’ll always return to Cozumel.

And any scuba diver who hasn’t been?  Do yourself a favor.  All the dive sites I’ve been to along Palancar are awesome.  Great visibility, gorgeous corals, spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks, the endemic splendid toad fish, and on and on.  I’ve also had the good fortune to dive the nearby and spectacular Cenotes in the Playa del Carmen region, and took a prop-plane day trip from CZM to Isla Holbox in the Gulf to snorkel with the majestic whale sharks.  Amazing day.

Whale Shark rightinthekisser Aug2009

Rightinthekisser 2009

Holbox Plane View 2009

Holbox Plane View 2009

So thank you Paul, Cozumel, Sandra, CDM, and all of my friends from OHS!

And as for today, I hope you guys get out of Houston very soon, and ‘get in the pool’ tomorrow.  Have a blast!

I’ll catch you on the next one.