Cozumel 2008 - Part 2 - SCUBA Diving
Unfortunately, this follow-up article is coming far too late but, alright, so you are a certified SCUBA diver. While snorkeling is by no means small potatoes it's time to get geared up and get under water. My first bit of advise about a trip to Cozumel where SCUBA is concerned is that you should dive early and dive often. We made the mistake of waiting for several days before chartering a boat. All told we only made 4 dives plus my 1 night dive, but hindsight being what it is I would have been sure to get twice as many dives in before having to head home.
All told Cozumel has 28 official dive sites with most of the coast being an underwater nature preserve. Most of the diving is done on the West and South West side of the Island. The few sites on the East side of the island are reportedly not impressive by comparison. After diving where we did I would have to conclude that there can't be many sites on the island that are better. Our dive master informed us that our sites were Palancar Caves, Punta Dalila, Cardona, Cedral Wall (Santa Rosa Wall), and Cedral Pass (Paso del Cedral Reef). The Northern most of those being my night dive at Cardona.
My night dive was graciously granted to me by Papa Hogs, a local Cozumel dive shop and the experience was coincidentally illuminating. We got in the water at about 6:30 PM and descended into what seemed like blackness until my light found the sand. Admittedly I was a little nervous since the lights of the other divers were more like lasers than area lights and it was hard at first to orient myself to the current and get the hang of keeping an eye on my group.
Once oriented and accustomed to the darkness I noticed that unlike my day dives, the alien planet before me was bare, grey, a ghost town. Then I looked closer. In the safe places around me I saw scattered sleeping fish. One parrotfish "lay" absolutely motionless even as we approached. This seemed to be the story almost everywhere. Even the mobile fishes seems lazy and ready to call it a day. There was no darting about searching for food or rounding up fry. This almost surprised me to some degree since the fish in my home tanks always seem to be moving even when no lights in the room or their tank are on. So, why, in an area with potential predators do the fish seem much calmer than those in my home aquariums where the nearest predator is a 10 minute car ride away?
After exploring the sleepers I began looking in over hangs and under ledges for the hiding night life. It turned out though that looking so hard wasn't necessary at all. In fact it turns out that all that's really needed is to look down. The first great sighting was a blood red octopus not 3 feet below us. I'd say he was sunning himself on the top of a sand hill but for the lack of sunlight. As soon as he saw that we noticed him he pulled in his 2 and a half foot wingspan and darted a foot or so forward. As he did this his color (nearly instantly) turned from red to a mottled white and pale green, but luckily after this initial attempt to hide the octopus decided to sit perfectly still. Among the other night time hunters that we were lucky to see was another, smaller octopus who, unlike the other was more than ready to "run" across the face of a rock to get out of sight. There was the king crab holding fast to a rock face and, though I don't think he was in the mood to be hunting, we managed to spot a Splendid Toadfish (Sanopus splendidus) a species reportedly to only exist in Cozumel's reefs. At one point my dive buddy and I decended to the sand bed and after a few seconds our dive master, who was hovering just above our shoulders, started rapidly shaking his underwater noise maker. At our glance he stuck his arm out and pointed to a place not a whole foot in front of my mask. Turning back to the front, to my suprise I found myself locking eyes with a Peacock Flounder (Bothus lunatus). Apparently, we had, quite rudely, invaded his space. Over all the ability to explore the rocks and caves during a time that is even less familiar to people than the reefs at daytime was an adventure that I will be repeating as soon as I have the chance.
Our daytime dives were beyond what we had expected as well. Though our four dives spanned most of the south east coast, the best dives by far had to be those we did on the second day to Cedral Wall and Cedral Pass. My maximum depth of all four dives was at Cedral Wall at a depth of 95 feet. The cause of my heading down that deep was a grazing sea turtle, probably the largest that I had seen the whole week. I managed to get within 2 feet of this beautiful creature and for all I know it would have just assoon that I joined in on the meal than headed back up to the rest of the group. This dive also happened to be the first of the week where the large and graceful nurse sharks made themselves seen. Immediately getting into the water revealed one of these great fish out skimming the reef bed. Durring that day we saw three more. The last of which was likely 5 feet long, resting under a rock cave. We were allowed to get about 4 feet from it before it had had enough and decided to change it's napping location.
The colors on the reef were incredible. Not only were the coral much larger and more prevalent here than in the shallows while snorkeling but the fish in the deep water of the reef are larger and more mature than those found in just 15 feet of water. For those who are somewhat worried about the idea of drift diving in a strange place or maybe even for your first time, it is nothing short of relaxing and the easy of it all makes it all the more enjoyable to lose yourself in the beauty of Cozumel's coral reefs.