Cozumel trip report and pictures - August 2016

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Posted by Jim on September 03, 2016 at 13:56:10:

Cozumel August 2016 Year of the Batfish

Twenty-odd years ago, we were at the Galapago Inn, since renamed Scuba Club Cozumel, in Mexico with a group of scuba diving friends. On a night dive starting in front of the hotel we swam slowly into the current using our dive lights in search of octopus and other creatures of the night. Deborah summoned us together by flashing her light and we assembled to see what she had found. Standing on the bottom was a very strange creature/fish, shaped like an arrowhead with legs like a chicken, and a face that resembled a Hercules aircraft with a protruding nose. We all gazed in amazement before continuing the dive and heading back to the resort underwater. As soon as heads broke water in the entry pool everyone started talking at once: "What was that?" "Did you see what I saw?" "I think it looked like…" At dinner, people tried to describe what they had seen and/or draw the fish from memory. Someone approached one of the dive guides and described what we had found. David said, "It’s a Hopka." To this day we don’t know if he was pulling our collective legs or if Hopka is a Mayan name. The next night, a bigger group set out to see if we could find the Hopka again. Deborah said it was in seventeen feet of water and 1400 psi left in her scuba tank, so we headed out. Once down to about 1400 psi, we lined up and searched at a depth of seventeen feet. Miracle of miracles, we located the fish again and circled the poor critter, blinding it with our dive lights trying to remember what we were looking at; at that time none of us was taking underwater photographs so we had to rely on our observations. It was only later that we determined the Hopka was really a short nosed batfish (Ogcocephalus nasutus). The Mexican name for the batfish is murciélago tapacaminos. A few years later, in 2001, Judy C found a little batfish in the same location, but only a half-inch long. She marked the spot with a ring of rocks and we were able to return to the site and with lots of searching find it on more than one occasion. Fast forward a few years and our dive guide Jesús found a pair of batfish on Villa Blanca reef. In twenty-five years of diving in Cozumel, doing hundreds of dives, we had seen four. That is until this year.

Before you begin looking at the still photos below, you should watch Mark's video. Best in HD or full screen; click on [ ] lower right corner when you run the video.

Day 1 – arrived via DFW on American Airlines, luggage arrived, too, which made for a good start to our vacation. It was only a short ride in the van to Scuba Club Cozumel where we were greeted by Sofia, "Welcome home!"

For over twenty-five years, we have vacationed in Cozumel and always stayed at Scuba Club Cozumel. Please, check out their website Scuba Club Cozumel and see why we return, year after year.

Lots of pictures of seahorses, turtles, angelfish, toadfish, and other colorful denizens of the deep.

After checking in at the dive shop and unpacking our gear, we suited up for a quick shore dive to get everything sorted for the next day.

Shore dive

Deborah on artificial reef in front of the hotel

Red heart urchin (Meoma ventricosa) – usually nocturnal, hides during the day under the sand.

Cushion sea star skin (Oreaster reticularus) – I liked the pattern and took a close up.

King helmet (Cassis tuberosa) – another mostly nocturnal sand dweller out for a stroll.

Spotted moray (Gymnothorax moringa) – "Get back or I will bite you!"

Day 2 - Reef Star with Nestor (Us, Mel, Juanita, Deb D, Warren, Bill, and Corrine); Miguel (Mike, Jim P, Jan, two others)

The Reef Star is a spacious dive boat captained by Luis and crewed by Alex and Martin. We split the divers into two groups with dive guides Nestor and Miguel.

Dalila Reef – no current

Water temperature was 82 degrees F and visibility was a good hundred feet, a far cry from the cold ocean water off southern California where we live. No wonder we keep coming back.

Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) – a good indication that marine life in the park is healthy.

Bill H

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus), a species endemic to the island. Once again, I wondered about lesser toadfish, what do they look like?

Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta). The most common turtles in Cozumel waters are hawksbills. A few green turtles are occasionally seen and loggerheads are quite rare. Deborah says it looks like two mismatched turtles put together.

Paradise reef – wrong way drift. Currents normally run from south to north but can be affected by storms and other factors. The week before we arrived, tropical storm Earl swept through south of the island and may have affected the current which, in this instance, was moving north to south. To avoid having to swim into the current, the dive guide had the boat captain drop us at the middle of the reef. Paradise is a popular dive site between the Hotel Presidente and the cruise ship piers. A low reef, Paradise is home to many colorful fish.

Black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci). If you see grouper on the menu at a restaurant, order something else, please. These giants of the reef are being wiped out in many areas of the world.

Day 3 – Reef Star with Nestor et al.

On the Reef Star

Colombia – moderate drift!

Spotted cleaner shrimp (Pericimenes yucantanicus) - these small shrimps hide in anemones, protected by the anemone but will come out to act as cleaners when fish present themselves for removal of parasites and dead skin, sort of a three way symbiosis.

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota) – the most common turtle species in these waters.


Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum). Nurse sharks are often found sleeping under ledges on the reef during the day. Other shark species are observed in these waters only rarely.

Nestor our dive guide and excellent critter finder.

Tormentos – little or no current.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus)

Day 4 – Reef Star with Nestor, et al.

Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus) hiding in a sea rod.

Stoplight parrotfish (sparisoma viride) terminal stage. Parrotfish are born female and can become male later in life. This fish goes through several color stages as it matures.



Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris). Juanita had just passed me when I saw this large green moray free swimming behind her. I swam back to get the shot. This was the best I could do. Not a great picture, but evidence I did see it. As someone said, "No picture? Didn’t happen!"

"The hand" sponge. Kind of eerie looking. I couldn’t resist. If you’ve never seen the silent film, "Nosferatu," do so and you will understand.

Whitespotted filefish (Cantherhines macrocerus)

Divers returning to the boat. One of the joys of drift diving is little swimming is required. Divers drift down the reef, going with the flow. At the end of the dive, we do a fifteen-feet-for-three-minutes safety stop before ascending to the surface; the boat comes and picks us up.

Caracolillo (near Palancar Gardens) – a long, tunnel, lined with colorful sponges and sunlight shining into the swim through from numerous side passages and openings. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to figure out how to do it justice in a photograph. One of these days…


Jan and Jim

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus) bicolor. Coneys come in various color schemes; this one is bicolor.

Queen triggerfish (Balistes vetula). I wonder if there are king triggerfish anywhere.

San Clemente (bajo)

Spinyhead blenny (Acanthemblemaria spinosa). Very tiny fish that live in holes on the reef, only emerging to grab a bit of food that happens to float by. Smaller than a pencil eraser.

Bluestriped grunt (Haemulon sciurus)

Elkhorn coral crab (Domecia acanthophora). After twenty-five years of diving these waters we first noted the existence of these tiny crabs hiding in the fire coral last year. I’m sure they’ve always been there, but they were so small and cryptic we never noticed them before.

Linesnout goby (Gobiosoma sp). Another "cleaner" that removes parasites and dead skin from fish.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus) – coneys are lovely fish to photograph. Don’t you agree?

Peek a boo! Balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus) hiding in the turtle grass

Day 5 – Reef Star with Nestor et al.

Chankanaab – the normal north to south current at this site.

Tiger grouper (Mycteroperca tigris) – so named due its stripes.

Indigo hamlet (Hypoplectrus indigo) – jewel of the reef. Chankanaab reef is a dive site where one or two of these beautiful, shy fish are often found.

Social feather duster (Bispira brunnea). Marine worms are very different from the worms in your garden!

Squat anemone shrimp (Thor amboinensis). Think small – about the size of a grain of rice – these shrimp live in anemones, protected by the anemone’s stinging cells - also called "sexy shrimp" because they are always in motion, humping up and down, up and down. You get the idea.

Longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi) – one can never see enough seahorses. Amazingly hard to spot, they are cherished finds in the sea grass off the reefs.

Lionfish – invasive species. Miguel captured this little one in a plastic bag. I do not know its fate, but fear it was fed to some other creature. Vigorous hunting of these voracious predators has kept their numbers down in the marine park but they are having a huge negative impact on other species elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Stareye hermit crab (Dardanus venosus)

Paradise "grass" – spent lots of time looking for seahorses

Nestor using his GoPro on a seahorse.

Yellow Longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi) – I stumbled upon this one and took credit for finding it. I have no shame.

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus). Yes, another one. More to follow.

Los Pecios or Los Bloques or Nestors Reef – This dive site is located just off shore from downtown San Miguel; two small boats were sunk near many large concrete blocks. This site is outside of the park boundaries and isn’t on the normal dive rotations. We arranged for Nestor and Miguel to take us there on an afternoon, one-tank dive.

Banded coral shrimp (Stenopus hispidus). These shrimp are also "cleaners."

BATFISH! Shortnose batfish (Ogcocephalus nasutus) Over twenty-five years, I’ve seen four of these weird fish. Shaped like an arrow, gray in color, with a down turned mouth, red lips, and struts for standing on the sand, the batfish is not only rare, but hard to find. They are also hard to take meaningful pictures of. This is a face shot. Miguel found this rare fish and wrote "BAD FISH" on his slate. The other divers were confused; "bad" fish? What does that mean? I knew, "bad" as in wonderful.

One of the concrete forms (bloques) covered with corals, sponges and fish.

Smooth trunkfish (Lactophrys triqueter)


Day 6 – Reef Star with Nestor, et al. Doug and Jodi joined the group today. Doug says, getting off the plane, Cozumel’s hot, humid air is like a warm hug. I like that.

Palancar Caves – spectacular dive in a slow current and great visibility.


Bill’s wife Corinne was having problems clearing her ears and told him she might abort the dive and return to the boat. If that was the case, she suggested he buddy with Mel. Bill quietly told Mel, "The code word is ‘STARFISH.’ Tell Corinne we saw lots of starfish and I’ll do the same; that way she’ll think we dove together." For some of us, buddy diving means same day, same ocean.

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris), so called due to the circular "crown" on their forehead. Do male queen angelfish have identity issues?

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Colombia Shallows – like the name says, if you want to go deep on this reef, bring a shovel; max depth thirty feet.

Dog snapper (Lutjanus jocu) being cleaned by Spanish hogfish (Bodianus rufus)

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus). "You stick that camera in my face again and I’m going to make you regret it!"

Day 7 – Reef Star with Nestor et al. plus Deb and Mark W.

El Paso del Cedral

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus) I told you there would be more.

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus) – if you ever see a picture of a school of porkfish, it was taken here. I have no idea why they don’t school anywhere else off the island.

Channel clinging crab (Mithrax spinosissimus). These are big crabs that hide in the reef during the day and forage at night.


Black Longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi). I’m going to pat myself on the back for this one. Nestor was looking around a coral head and pointed to the black arm of his wetsuit. OK, look for something black. Oh, cool, there he is, a black seahorse! Under strobe light, it turned out to be brown.

Deb D and Warren; it looks like Deb is narced.

Day 8 – Reef Star with Nestor. Our group: me, Deborah, Deb and Mark; Mike; Mel, Doug and Jodi.

Mike, Deb W, Deborah, and Mark

Palancar Gardens – how do you describe such a beautiful place? Huge coral heads with sandy gaps and sun lit swim throughs. We slowly drifted over the wall soaking in the warm water and enjoying great visibility. A huge grouper swam far below us followed by a school of tangs.



School of chalk bass (Serranus tortugarum) before disappearing inside the old conch shell.

San Francisco – a relatively shallow, wall dive teeming with colorful fish.

Rock beauty (Holacanthus tricolor) – extremely shy beauties.

Red hind (Epinephelus guttatus). Similar looking coneys have black spots on their lower lip so I think this is likely a hind.

School masters (Lutjanus apodus) inside the reef – this picture captures what the top of the reef looks like, with overhanging coral and sunlit windows. Lots of fish on this dive site.

Pair of flamingo tongues (Cyphoma gibbosum) – snails, the shells are white, the colorful part is the mantle of the snail extended over the shell.

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) – it’s hard not to take lots of pictures of these colorful fish but they seldom cooperate with the photographer.

Afternoon shore dive in front of the hotel. It rained while I was in the water; I could hear and see the raindrops on the surface of the water above me.

School of bluestriped grunts () and cottonwick (Haemulon melanurum).

Stareye hermit (Dardanus venosus) with blue eyes.

Little snail (Marginella sp.) Approx. quarter-inch long. Despite its size, this tiny snail is very fast. I had to use a wet diopter to get this shot and only had one chance. Luckily the image was in focus and shows the eye spots.

Day 9 – Reef Star with Nestor et al.

It rained the previous night and off/on during the day.

Santa Rosa Wall – great wall with deep, blue drop off.

Yellowmouth grouper (Mycteroperca interstitialis) hiding inside a sponge waiting for lunch to swim by.

Villa Blanca

Juvenile French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru)

BATFISH! I looked over and saw Nestor doing a dance in the water. I’ve never seen him so excited so I knew it was something big. Another batfish, but this one is a different species than the shortnose batfish. Roughback batfish (Ogcocephalus parvus)

Day 10 - Reef Star with Nestor

El Paso del Cedral Wall - strong current along the wall, turtles.

Channel clinging crab (Mithrax spinosissimus)

Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) – less common than the ubiquitous hawksbill turtles it’s great to see a green. The color isn’t due to the shell but the meat of the turtle which is considered a delicacy in Mexico and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Paradise Reef - looking for small stuff in the turtle grass before moving onto the reef itself.

Juvenile gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus)

File clam (Lima scabra) and spotted spiny lobster (Panulirus guttatus)

Stoplight parrotfish (sparisoma viride) in sponge

Longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi)

Seahorse of a different color

Flying Gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans) – another weird denizen of the deep but more common than batfish. Gurnards can swim short distances but are more likely to walk across the bottom on their fins!

Flying gurnard – when threatened the gurnard extends its wings in an effort to scare away any predators.

School of snapper (Lutjanus sp) Someone didn’t get the e-mail!

Afternoon on the Coral Diver with Nestor

Los Pecios

BATFISH! Note: there are eight species of batfish in Mexican waters but only four of them are described in Paul Humann’s book. I believe this is a longnose batfish (Ogcocephalus corniger). So, not only have we found illusive batfish, but we have found more than one species.

Batfish face

Mike sees something

Jodi and Doug – they are celebrating their second wedding anniversary.

Bloque - colorful sponges and corals

Deborah and Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus) on bloque

Deborah and Nestor on safety stop.

Day 11 - Reef Star with Nestor

La Francesa Reef - We flew this low profile reef in a ripping current.

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris)

Chankanaab - A slow drift along the reef followed by an excursion over the grass looking for small stuff.

Orange icing sponge (Raphidophlus venosus) I like this common name, very descriptive.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus)

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus)

School of snappers

Jackknife fish (Equetus lanceolatus)

Harlequin pipefish (Halicampus ensenadae) with my finger for scale.

Tiny seahorse

Day 11 - Reef Star with Nestor

Colombia Deep

Spectacular dive site with huge coral heads and drop-offs; someone described Colombia Reef as a religious experience.

Reef Star

Sponges on the wall at Colombia

Divers on Colombia. It’s impossible to photograph the reef to share with you what it looks like. This picture comes close.

Punta Tunich Moderate current dive.

Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) – there's a little goby in the barracuda's open mouth, cleaning.


Banded coral shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)

Deb and I on safety stop. Nestor took the picture.

Day 12 Reef Star with Nestor

Palancar Horseshoe Palancar Reef is a spectacular coral formation on the edge of the drop off into the deep blue. The reef is too long to dive on a single tank and is divided into sections: bricks, horseshoe, caves, and gardens. The horseshoe is a wide sandy area in the middle of the reef where a statue of Christ was installed many years ago. The statue fell over at one point and was moved to Chankanaab Park.

Deborah off the wall

Splendid toadfish and yellowline arrow crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis)


Little brown seahorse. This is the same seahorse we saw on an earlier dive on this reef. I guess they don’t move around much.

Sharpnose puffer (Canthigaster rostrata)

Spinyhead blenny (Acanthemblemaria spinosa)

Yellowface pikeblenny (Chaenopsis limbaughi) very small.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus) in sponge

One-eye Martians. "Take us to your leader!"

There was a rock and roll song, popular in the fifties in Central America, called "Los Marcianos".

"Los marcianos llegaron ya

Y llegaron bailando ricachá

Ricachá, ricachá, ricachá

Así llaman en Mars al cha cha chá" Tito Rodríguez

Day 13 Reef Star with Nestor; Mike, Ingrid, Mel, and Juanita’s last dive of diving.

Dalila Screaming current with lots of fish action: three nurse sharks, two turtles, et al.

Tiger grouper (Mycteroperca tigris)

Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

Tormentos Much slower drift than Dalila with lots of time to look for critters.

Rainbow parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia)

Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) and juvenile Bar jacks (Caranx ruber)

Fringed filefish (Monacanthus ciliatus) playing "you can’t see me" by hiding head down in a gorgonium.

Day 14 - Coral Diver with Miguel

We are down to four divers in our group, so they put us on a small boat with four other nice people.

Palancar Caves

Headshield slug (Chelidonura hirundinina). Think small, about half an inch long.


Red hind (Epinephelus guttatus) "Weren’t you here last week?

Barred hamlet (Hypoplectrus puella)

Queen angelfish

Cardinalfish (Apogon sp) hiding in an anemone for protection from predators.

Squat anemone shrimp (Thor amboinensis)

Coral diver

Day 15 - Coral Diver with Nestor, us, Mark, and Rick.

Caracolillo - with the current changing direction, we did the long swim through twice.

Free swimming green moray (Gymnothorax funebris), about six feet long. I chased it through the reef, but this is as close as I could get to a "keeper" image.

Mark inside the reef

Villa Blanca – the current was running from the north to the south, so we did the reef backwards.

Painted elysia (Thuridilla picta) – sea slug about half an inch long.

Spotted scorpionfish (Scorpaena plumieri) – "A face only a mother could love."

Deborah found two batfish! She says she was singing the batfish song…soon to be released on Apple Tunes. One of the batfish was the individual Nestor spotted earlier in the trip; the second one must be its mate.

Roughback batfish (Ogcocephalus parvus) Do you think you could find this on a rocky bottom?


Two faces. Note the difference in their "noses"

Day 16 - Coral Diver with Nestor – Day of the turtles

Palancar/Colombia Bricks

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Nestor – "Mire que grande."

Turtle "Hey! You, diver! This is my picture! No photobombing.

Paseo del Cedral in a screaming current. Great fun.

Adult spotted drum (Equetus punctatus)

Gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus)

Ho hum, another turtle

Day 17 - Reef Cat with Nestor

Only Deb and Mark Williams remain here at SCC. Everyone else has gone home. They put our group of four on one of the catamarans with another group. Great dives with only four of us and our dive guide Nestor.

Palancar Gardens - strong current

I counted four turtles but they were all on their way to the surface to catch a few breaths so I didn’t get any pictures.

Spotfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus) The black bar through the eye and the spot on the fin are said to confuse prey as to which end is the head. Butterfly fish commonly travel in pairs.

Reef Cat

Tormentos - Chankanaab was the intended dive site but the currents were fouling the water so they opted to take us to Tormentos. We had a great dive, moving slowly and looking for both little and big stuff.

Alien sponge?

Midnight parrotfish (Scarus coelestinus)

Deborah in window

Rounghhead blenny (Acanthemblemaria aspera)

Day 18 - Reef Cat with Nestor

Only Deborah and I are left of our group of friends who have come and gone over the past two and a half weeks. It’s kind of lonesome here without them. Only three more days left before we return home. We need to enjoy the time left to us to the fullest.

Palancar Gardens - very nice drift with great visibility on one of the more magnificent reefs.

Channel clinging crab (Mithrax spinosissimus)

Yucab - we started between Yucab and Tormentos reefs and, depending on which way the current was flowing went with it. In this case, south along Yucab.

Splendid toadfish out of its hole. You don’t often get to see a toadfish out of its hole and it’s a shame they hide from us because they are very striking with their yellow fins.

Rainbow parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia)

Spotted drum (Equetus punctatus) – intermediate stage. They only get their spots when fully grown.

Yellowtail damselfish (Microspathodon chrusurus), adult.

Day 19 - Dive Cat with Nestor

Palancar Horseshoe - nice drift in a moderate current.

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota). This one looks pissed off.

Tormentos - squirrely current, one way and then the other.

Deborah over the sand between Yucab and Tormentos reefs

Elkhorn coral crab (Domecia acanthophora) – if you know where to look and what to look for, you can spot these little crabs hiding in the fire coral.

Painted elysia (Thuridilla picta). A pair of tiny sea slugs on the green "grass" that they eat. They look plastic.

Deborah in window.

Bar jack (Caranx ruber) at Spanish hogfish (Bodianus rufus) cleaning station

Day 20 -

The last dive day!

Dalila Gentle current.

Squirrelfish (Holocentrus adscensionis) I have to include at least one squirrelfish picture.

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Paradise the wrong way, current had changed.

Sailfin blenny

Spotted drum (Equetus punctatus)

Fringe filefish (Monacanthus ciliatus)

Sharpnose puffer (Canthigaster rostrata)

Cottonwicks (Haemulon melanurum)

Longsnout seahorses (Hippocampus reidi). These are the same ones we found earlier in the trip.

RAIN!? Time to go home.

Camera: Olympus OMD EM-5, Zuiko 12-50mm lens, in a Nauticam housing, with dual Sea and Sea YS-D1 strobes.

All rights reserved. Images are copyrighted and may only be used with permission.

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