Cozumel, January 2014

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Posted by Jim Lyle on January 26, 2014 at 17:28:35:


Scuba Club Cozumel. "Welcome home!"

Because I was unable to return to Cozumel last August, we scheduled a consolation trip for January. Chris and Walt, Tim and Betsy were gracious enough to join us. I love this place and our wonderful friends.

Cozumel's reefs are fully recovered from hurricane Wilma's destruction a decade ago. The sponges are spectacular, reef life is teeming, and the lion fish invasion has resulted in a population explosion of some fish species. To our great delight, with conch beds again healthy eagle rays have returned in large numbers. Large lobsters are out walking on the reefs even in the daytime. Cozumel may not have the best diving in the world, but it's clearly a repeat destination for many scuba divers looking for warm water, great visibility, colorful fish, and a relatively easy and inexpensive vacation.

Sunday, January 5. SCC was fully booked, so the dive shop asked us to do our first day's boat dives in the afternoon instead of the morning. This was great as it gave us time to get all our gear sorted and to do a shore dive in the morning before getting on the boat after lunch.

Shore dive – We had great visibility, little current, and 78 degree water in front of the hotel. Deborah and I swam around the pier and then out to the artificial reef before returning to the starting point an hour later. The usual critters were out and about and I happily shot a bunch of pictures. It’s amazing how much stuff there is to see and photograph in front of the hotel if you go slowly and look carefully.

Water temp = 78oF; visibility = 70-100 feet.

Nimble spray crab (Percnon gibbesi)

Spotted moray (Gymnothorax moringa) There's evidence that the moray eels are eating lionfish!

Fighting bluestriped grunt (Haemulon sciurus) I believe the one with the bigger mouth is declared the winner. My money is on the one on the right.

Glasseye snapper (Heteropriacanthus cruentatus)

Flamingo tongue (Cyphoma gibbosum) The shell of this little snail is white. The wonderful pattern you see here is the mantle of the snail extended over the shell.

Juvenile flamingo tongue Here you can see the white shell as the mantle is partially withdrawn.

Sharon joined Walt, Chris, Deborah, and me on the Scuba II with our dive master Jesús.

Waiting for the boats

Chankanaab Bolones. The group leisurely swam from coral head to coral head over the sandy bottom, looking for crabs, lobsters, and splendid toadfish.

You can't see me! Trumpetfish hiding in gorgonium.

Goldentail moray (Gymnothorax miliaris)

Paradise Reef. No other boats or divers were on Paradise late in the afternoon. We had the entire reef to ourselves. Deborah spotted a tiny, little drum and I found a very willing splendid toadfish to photograph. We cut the dive short after an hour of fun so we could be back to the hotel before dark.

Juvenile drum (Equetus sp). This may be the smallest drum I've ever seen. Deborah found it and it’s a miracle the camera could focus on the tiny, moving dot.

File clam (Lima scabra)

Rock beauty (Holacanthus tricolor) These damned fish are shy and it's hard to get them in the frame. Patience paid off.

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus) The endemic splendid toadfish is gorgeous with it's purple stripes and yellow fin margins. A must-see fish when diving in Cozumel

Banded coral shrimp (Stenopus hispidus) pair

Red snapping shrimp (Alpheus spp.)

Caterpiller, oleander moth.

Monday, January 6.

Scuba II with Jesús, Deborah, Chris, Walt, Sharon, Gus (from Canada), and me.


Colombia Reef. After dropping on the sandy bottom on the inshore side of the reef, we swam over to the main wall and did a leisurely drift in a barely perceptible current. The colorful sponges and coral formations at this site are awe inspiring. A couple of turtles provided entertainment.

Healthy sponges

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Southern stingray (Dasyatis americana) and jack. The bar jack is shadowing the ray hoping the ray will scare up little fish for the jack to have for dinner.

Yocab Reef. The second dive of the day under cloudy skies was wonderful until the end of the dive when it got really, really good. Two spotted eagle rays did a fly by close to the divers to improve on a really nice dive.

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) Love these guys…or is that gals?

Creole wrasse and reef

Whitespotted filefish (Cantherhines macrocerus)

White spotted filefish, orange phase

Spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari)

Tiny Blenny (Acanthemlemaria sp) in a coral head.

Caribbean spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus) in cave. We saw many, many big lobsters in the marine park on this trip.

Back to the boat

EL NORTE. The storm front came in as we were having lunch. Predicted to last through Tuesday…wait and see. No shore dive today, rain and strong winds from the North.

Tuesday, January 7. The port is closed due to high winds and surf!

El Norte. Note the "lake" in front of our room.

Port closed

Palapa! Oh no!

Wednesday, January 8.

OK, enough with the El Norte winds and rain. It's time to sacrifice a chicken! I may run into town and get one from Col. Sanders.

Thursday, January 9. Scuba II with Jesús, Chris, Walt, Sharon, and us.

El Paso del Cedral Pared. El pared (the wall) is offshore from Paso del Cedral reef. Deeper and with a drop off, the wall is a good place to see bigger fish. A turtle was feeding on top of the reef. At the end of the reef, we swam across the sandy bottom to join the upper reef and its schools of porkfish.

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota) "Help, my shell is leaking!"

Spotted drum (Equetus punctatus)

Bluespotted cornetfish (Fistularia tabacana) being pointe out to Deborah.

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus)

Tormentos reef. We looked for pipehorses but didn't find any. There was little current, so we got to spend a lot of time searching the area before swimming over to the single, large sand bar at the end of the reef.

Red hind (Epinephelus guttatus) "Don't come any closer. I have teeth and I know how to use them!"

Stareye hermit crab (Dardanus venosus). This crab's house needs remodeling!

Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

Shore dive.

Yellowline arrow crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis)

Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus)

Brittle star on sponge

Squat anemone shrimp (Thor amboinensis)

Sergeant Major eggs (Abudefduf saxatilus)

Betsy and Tim have arrived from England; let the good times roll.

Friday, January 10. Coral Diver with Jesús, Chris, Walt, Sharon, Betsy, Tim, and us.

What's that in the sky? It's very bright and warm! Oh, it's the Sun. "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. It's going to be a bright, sunshiny day…"

Reef diver

Getting ready

Jesús on swimstep


Palancar Caves – The southern end of the Palancar Reef formation, Caves is one of the premier reef formations in Cozumel. The sponges and coral are back in full color since Wilma came through here several years ago. Imagine coral heads the size of apartment buildings, covered with sponges and corals; lots of fish, too.

Headshield slug (Chelidonura hirundinina) This slug is about one-fourth inch long. Note the size of the sand grains. They are found in numbers on the sand above Palancar and Colombia Reefs if you know what to look for.

Punta Tunich – With a moderate current and with the sun lighting up the reef, we poked along the low reef, looking into holes and crevices but keeping our eyes peeled off the wall for bigger fish.

Black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci)

Juvenile spotted drum (Equetus punctatus) Note: no spots, yet.

Spendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus)

Spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari)

Glassy sweepers (Pempheris schomburgki)

Saturday, January 11. Coral Diver with Jesús, Betsy, Tim, George, Kathy, and us.

Palancar Gardens – The water was green due to run off from Colombia Shallows after the rains. Visibility was good, but milky due to sediment in the water. Things cleared up as we went deeper and drifted further up the island. While not as wonderful as usual due to the limited visibility, Palancar still delivered a great dive.

Jesús (el guapo)

"Can you see it?" Back up on the wall.

Deborah found a little seahorse on the flats above Palancar! Longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi)

Paradise Reef.




Scrawled cowfish (Acanthostracion quadricornis)

Juvenile gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus)

Another longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi)

Tim and seahorse

Blue-eye hermit crab (Paguristes serceus)

Slender filefish (Monacanthus tuckeri) about one-inch in length.

Sunday, January 12 – Wednesday, January 15. I had to return home to teach a class while Deborah, Tim, and Betsy tried to use up all the fun while I was gone.

Here they are getting ready on the Coral diver.

Leaving me on the pier! 

Great Egret

Thursday, January 16. Coral Diver with Jesús, Tim, Betsy, Lyle Roberts, and us. An el Norte wind was blowing and there were whitecaps in the channel when we set out. Divers were all bundled up due to the cold.

Cold divers.

South of el Paso del Cedral Reef. We intended to dive Paso del Cedral, but found ourselves too far south. After drifting over the flats where a nurse shark buzzed the group, we encountered a reef I had never seen before. No problem, there were lots of things to see. It was only on the safety stop, after more than an hour under water that we spotted the intended destination. I think we should give this reef a name, "El Paso de las Tortugas," as there were many turtles feeding on sponges in this location.

Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Hogfish (Lachnolaimus maximus) and bar jack shadow.

School of bluestriped grunt (Haemulon sciurus)

Toadfish smiling Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus)

Octopus (Octopus sp)

Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Turtle with a gray angelfish and two French angelfish waiting to eat sponge debris leftover by the turtle.

San Clemente Reef. This is not a commonly dived reef. Located south of Punta Tunich in shallow water, the low reef is home to many interesting creatures.

French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru)

Squirrelfish (Holocentrus adscensionis)

Coney being cleaned (Cephalopholis fulvus)

Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) face up close.

Midnight parrotfish (Scarus coelestinus) feeding on the coral.

Betsy took this picture of me taking pictures of the midnight parrotfish.

Coral Diver

Friday, January 17. Coral Diver with Jesús, Betsy, Tim, Lyle R., Chris (from Denver), and us.

Colombia Bricks – One of my favorite dives in Cozumel - Great coral reef and especially good today due to the clear water and sunshine. Eagle ray (too far to get a picture), turtles, nurse shark, et al.

Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

Betsy on the wall

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota) "I can fly!"

Ornate elysia (Elysia ornata) Betsy spotted several of these sea slugs.

El Paso del Cedral – Since we had missed the reef the previous day, we decided to try again and were rewarded with some great critter encounters. I love this place – home to porkfish schools and a great swim through under the reef.


French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru)

Squirrelfish (Holocentrus adscensionis)

Smooth trunkfish (Lactophrys triqueter)

"Come on, give us a kiss!"

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus) "Dive, dive, dive…"

"Dave! Get back in formation!"


Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus)

Hawksbill turtle feeding on sponges and being observed by Betsy and Deborah

"Haven't I see you here before?"

Saturday, January 18. Reef Cat with Nestor. Today was Jesús' day off and Nestor drew the short straw.

Colombia Bricks. The other group on the boat requested Colombia Bricks, so even though we dived this site the previous day, it's such a great place we agreed on the choice as our first dive of the day. The current turned during the dive so we retraced our drift back to the south. An eagle ray at the end made this a memorable dive.

Sponge and diver

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)

Tim and sponge

Spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari)

Reef Cat

Punta Tunich. The moderate current made for a leisurely drift up the reef. We found many splendid toadfish.

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus)

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus) and grunts

Reef scene

Pair of spotted drum (Equetus punctatus)


Sunday, January 19.

Observer with Jesús, Betsy, Tim, Deborah and me!

Chankanaab Reef. We did a slow drift up the reef, looking for little stuff.

Spotted cleaner shrimp (Pericimenes yucantanicus)

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)
"All divers must go that way!"

Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Spanish slipper lobster (Scylarrides aequinoctialis)

Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris) Imagine coming around the reef and running head first into this big eel. Are we having fun, yet?

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus)


Villa Blanca – Outside of the park, VB extends from in front of the international cruise ship piers south of town, north to in front of Scuba Club Cozumel. This a low profile wall with many huge elephant ear sponges and aquatic life. We did another slow drift looking for critters.

Yellow stingray (Raja eglanteria) eye.

True tulip (Fasciolaria tulipa)

Monday, January 20. Observer with Jesús, Tim, Betsy, Deborah and me.

Dalila - Great place for photographers! Shark, eagle ray, permits, jacks, …

Spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari)

Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) and Tim looking in from the other side.

Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) and Betsy.

Scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus)

Lobster and Deborah

Horse-eye jacks (Caranx latus)

Tormentos – Moderate current. We came up when we ran out of reef.

Reef scene

Permits (Trachnotus falcatus)



Betsy and ray

An orange longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi)

Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Night shore dive with Betsy and Tim.

Blue-eye hermit crab (Paguristes serceus)

Urchin (Lytechinus sp)

Sleeping stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride)

Spotted scorpionfish (Scorpaena plumieri)

Night shrimp (Prossesidae)

Unknown tiny scorpionfish. This is NOT a mushroom scorpionfish; there are no fleshy, mushroom flaps at the top of the eye.

Tuesday, January 21. Observer with Jesús and just the four of us. With flat seas, warm sun, and gentle breezes, we opted to go far south taking advantage of the great conditions. Excellent choice.

Punta Sur. We dropped on the far south pinnacle. Visibility was the best I've experienced in Cozumel, 150 feet or more. We had a fly by of two eagle rays. A turtle made the mistake of joining a bunch of photographers. We crossed the sand channels between the coral heads and ultimately ran out of reef.

Little hawksbill turtle and photographers

Spotted drum (Equetus punctatus)

Reef sponge

Reef sponge and divers

Colombia Shallows. This spot never fails to deliver. We found an eagle ray feeding on conch and spitting out the shells. It was a long day, but worth the trip.

Rock beauty (Holacanthus tricolor) Patience gets the shot.

Margates (Haemulon album) being cleaned by Spanish hogfish

Elk horn coral near the surface

Barred hamlet (Hypoplectrus puella)

Flamingo tongue (Cyphoma gibbosum) showing its antennae and striped foot.

Flock of blue tang (Acanthurus coeruleus)

Spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari)

Deborah and eagle ray. The dance of the ray?

Jesús is on a health kick and is drinking a green concoction every day. He says, "It tastes good!" I'm not convinced.

Scuba Club Cozumel

Wednesday, January 22. Observer with Jesús, the four of us, and Deborah & Sarah from CT.

The engine on the Observer was overheating; the radiator was empty and additional water disappeared quickly. We decided to stay close to the hotel and dive Bolones de Chankannab. Things were very quiet on Bolones. There were lots of reef scenes to photograph, but the big critters didn't make an appearance.

Reef bolones

Cleaning station – bar jack (Caranx ruber) with Spainish hogfish (Bodianus rufus)

The Atlantis submarine

Submarine passengers getting excited over seeing scuba divers.

The situation on the boat was worse when we got back on board, so the decision was made to transfer everything to one of the dive cats and then do the second dive on Chankanaab Reef before heading home. They towed the Observer back to port.

Reef chankanaab

Threeline basslet (Lipogramma trilineatum)

Barred hamlet (Hypoplectrus puella)

Longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi)

Queen triggerfish (Balistes vetula) on its nest

Giant hermit (Petrochirus diogenes) Fascinating mouth parts!

Tim and hermit

Thursday, January 23. Coral Diver with Jesús, us, Sarah & Deborah.

Santa Rosa Wall. Fantastic as usual, but the SD card failed and I have no images to share from today's dives.
Yocab Reef. See above. 

I was able to recover a few images from the corrupt memory card, but not all.

I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus's garden in the shade
He'd let us in, knows where we've been
In his octopus's garden in the shade
Ringo Starr

Caribbean reef octopus (Octopus briareus)

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) "Is that a new camera?"

Painted elysia (Thuridilla picta) exhibiting trailing behavior.

Gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus)

Squirrelfish (Holocentrus adscensionis)

Black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci)


Friday, January 24. Coral Diver with Jesús, us, Deborah and Sarah.

Dalila. We returned to this reef because we had seen so many great things on previous dives. Today, it was relatively quiet.

Coral Diver

Sarah and Deborah demonstrating proper buddy technique.

Gaudy clown crab (Platypodiella spectabilis) – This is only the second one we've seen in many, many years of diving. Less than one-inch across.

Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Queen conch eyes (Lobatus gigas) "Watch out for eagle rays!"

Paradise was the choice for the final dive of the trip. Instead of starting on the main reef, we chose to swim across the grass to the shore and look for little things before rejoining the reef near the end of the dive.

Cardinalfish (Apogon sp) I'm not sure which cardinalfish this is. It doesn't match any of the fish shown in Paul Humann's book!

Squirrelfish (Holocentrus adscensionis)

Juvenile short bigeye (Prystigenys alta) The adults live in deep water. This is the second juvenile that we have found in twenty-five years of diving…pretty rare.

Hasta Agosto cuando nos regresaremos.

The end.

Camera: Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 12-50 mm lens in a Nauticam housing, and dual Sea and Sea YS-D1 strobes. Images are copyrighted; all rights reserved.

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