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COZUMEL NOVEMBER 2020 YEAR OF THE COVID


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Posted by Jim on December 07, 2020 at 08:51:20:




COZUMEL NOVEMBER 2020 - YEAR OF THE COVID

COVID-19. Corona virus. Social distancing. Positivity. Herd immunity. Pandemic. 2020 hasn’t been a very good year!

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had reservations to return to Cozumel in August as we had done each year for the past thirty years. Of course, we had no warning that everything was going to go to hell starting in March when La ‘Rona was let loose on the world. With the virus running wild, we changed our reservations to November in hope things would get back to normal; they didn’t. But Scuba Club Cozumel reopened on October 10 and the scientists were saying masks and physical distancing were pretty effective in slowing the spread of the disease. We opted to risk it.

Not knowing what to expect, we arrived at LAX in plenty of time to catch our plane to DFW. Traffic was light on the freeway and almost non-existent at the airport; very weird. We checked our luggage, walked through TSA and arrived in record time to wait for our flight. If it weren’t for the pandemic, I could get used to this. Nearly everyone at the airport was wearing a mask. I say nearly because there were a few fools running around with either no mask or with their mask only covering their mouth and not their nose. What’s the matter with people?

Our flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth was full. Masks were worn by crew and passengers. American was not providing food or beverage service in the main cabin! First class passengers were given a choice of a chicken sandwich or a cheese plate. Times are hard for the airlines.

Arrival in Cozumel was uneventful. We were the only plane arriving so immigration was relatively quick. COVID questionnaires were not required nor were they checking temperatures. Unfortunately, customs was not using the red light/green light system of whose baggage was being searched. There were lots more customs staff and they were searching nearly all the luggage! My agent was more concerned with how much currency I was carrying than what was in my suitcases. Our friends who arrived two days later said red/green light was back and customs wasn’t aggressive.
The van to the hotel was full and although we were all wearing masks it was a little surprising that the powers that be don’t require fewer passengers per vehicle.

Scuba Club Cozumel checked our temperatures as we entered. Check in was very quick as they had sent us all of the forms by email before we left home. The same was true for the dive shop.

The hotel was only lightly populated and about half of the guests were without face masks; we avoided them. The same was true on the dive boats. One woman said, “Oh, we come from an area with very few cases so we don’t need masks.” I’m appalled at how dumb some Americans can be.

We did a shore dive to check out our equipment. The most recent storm deposited a lot of sand on the rocky bottom offshore. Much of the algae that had been growing there was gone. I’m not sure if the algae was due to cruise ships dumping gray water, but the absence of the ships sure looks like it has helped the reef. We played with four squid in the shallows and swam around for more than an hour looking for small stuff.

Stalk blenny (Acanthemblemaria greenfieldi). A new blenny to me. Normally, we only find roughhead and secretary blennies on the reef. Think small, about the size of a pencil eraser.

Sharptail eel (Myrichthys breviceps). I’ve never seen a sharptail eel yawn before!

Spotted scorpionfish (Scorpaena plumieri) in flight. Normally camouflaged and sitting on the bottom, this scorpionfish was swimming and showing off some of its colors.

Leech headshield slug (Chelidonura hirundinina). This was the first time we’ve seen this slug in front of the hotel. Normally we find them on the sand above Palancar.

Viper moray (Enchelycore nigricans). Deborah spotted this eel under the concrete rubble in front of the hotel. It was back in a hole and this was the best I could do to photograph it. Very appropriate for a Halloween dive.

The next day was our first day of boat diving. We were on the Reef Cat with our dive guide Choky (Luis). Our dive group consisted of Jana, Mike, Amy, Dawn, Deborah, and me - all good divers, comfortable in the water with great air consumption.

First dive planned to be on el Paso del Cedral but the current was running the wrong way and turned around during the dive. We did not find the reef proper but swam over some interesting bottom and eventually wound up over part of Dalila Reef. We saw a couple of spotted eagle rays but they were too far away for me to take a picture. November is the beginning of the season when the eagle rays come to the island.

CORONA protection – you can’t be too careful. Social distancing and wearing a mask!

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus). Endemic fish of Cozumel Island.

Choky – our dive guide and professional clown.

Smooth trunkfish (Lactophrys triqueter). Juvenile – it takes two to play dice.

French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru) – juvenile

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) – juvenile

Reef Cat

Second dive was at Paradise Reef where the current was running the wrong way – north to south instead of the more normal south to north direction. We began the dive further to the north and drifted south along the reef before turning inshore towards the grassy area to look for small stuff.

Barred hamlet (Hypoplectrus puella)

Graysby (Cephalopholis cruentata). There are three very similar fish, graysby, red hind, and coney. All three are patient with photographers and their colors stand out under flash light. I like the red sponge background in this image.

Porcupine fish (Diodon hystrix). A large pufferfish, porcupines are notoriously shy and tend to swim away from divers.

French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru) – juvenile

Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus) hiding in a gorgonium. Without the camera flash, the fish is the same color as the gorgonium and very well camouflaged.

A pair of banded coral shrimp (Stenopus hispidus) on an azure sponge.

Oh, yes, water temperature was a toasty 83 degrees F and visibility was 100 feet or more - wonderful conditions.

The wind was out of the north – what the locals call an el Norte. Normally diving is in the lee of the island, a north wind can make conditions for diving untenable and the port captain may close the area to boating and diving. Wait and see.

Weather not looking good.

We waited and we saw; strong north wind and rain. Port was closed.

We waited until the next day. Port was closed again. Very windy and overcast but the rain has stopped…for a while. The sun came out but the north wind persisted.

Third day of port closure! Someone said they had an election in the United States. Who knew?

The wind died overnight but it continued to rain off and on. The port captain finally opened the port and we got off to a late start. Reef Cat with Choky, Marc, Teresa, Mark, Lu, Mike, Jana, Amy, Deborah and me.

First dive was back at Dalila Reef. Visibility wasn’t too bad considering the el Norte storms over the past three days. Current was very mild and headed north, as is the usual direction. We saw lots of fish but no turtles or eagle rays. Choky did find a large green moray eel for us to photograph.

Smooth trunkfish (Lactophrys triqueter)

Pair of gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus).

“Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
I looked over Jordan and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home
A band of angels coming after me
Coming for to carry me home”

Red hind (Epinephelus guttatus). Red hind, graysby, and coney are very similar fish. Coney have two spots on their lower lip. Graysby have black spots just under their dorsal fin. Red hind have the yellow fin tips.

It’s always a treat to find a huge Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris). Although fierce looking and up to five feet long, green morays are not aggressive and you can get up close to take their picture.

The end of the dive. Drift diving is very easy. You jump off the boat at the start of the dive, drift along in the current, come up and do a “safety stop” before the boat comes and picks you up. Easy, peasy.

Second dive on Tormentos. Since this reef is fairly short, we began the dive at the end of Yucab Reef before making the transition to Tormentos. Here, too, the current was mild, allowing the divers to take their time and look for interesting critters.

Colorful reef – sponges and corals.

Jana and Mike face masks and social distancing. You can’t be too careful about La ‘Rona.

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus). Yes, I’m going to post lots of images of this colorful fish.

Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus)

Coney (Cephalopholis fulva). Remember, coney have two dark spots on their lower lip to distinguish them from graysby and red hind.

Spotted moray (Gymnothorax moringa) grow to three feet in length and have lots of sharp teeth, all pointed towards the throat. What goes in this mouth doesn’t come out.

Conditions continued to improve. The port was open and we were able to leave the dock on time. Reef Cat with Choky, Mark, Lu, Marc, Teresa, Mike, Jana, Amy, Dawn, Deborah and me.

La Francesa Reef

Divers

Deborah

Channel clinging crab (Mithrax spinosissimus)

Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) are an invasive species that is unwelcome. I’ve heard lionfish tacos are delicious.

Some of the rogues gallery:

Lu

Dawn

Mike

Amy

Jana

Yucab (images taken with Olympus TG6)

Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta). Loggerhead turtles are endangered in their range. This large female was trying to eat a milk conch; you can see it in her mouth in this picture. She finally was able to crush the shell and suck out the poor conch…crunch!

Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris). It’s not too unusual to catch a green moray eel out in the open.

Dawn

Snapper

Juvenile queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)

Los Pecios

Lined sole (Achirus lineatus). Jana found this flatfish when it moved. For some unknown reason one of the common names for this fish is hog choker. Small, maybe two inches long.

Highhat (Paraques acuminatus) juvenile. The juvenile high hat, spotted drum, and jackknife fish are very similar to each other. Juvenile highhats have horizontal stripes.

Yellowhead jawfish (Opistognathus aurifrons). Jawfish live in underground burrows and come out to feed. They can be approached very carefully before they disappear tail first into their homes.

Giant hermit crab (Petrochirus diogenes)

Lu and Mark

Scaly-tailed mantis (Lysiosquilla scabricauda)

Reef scorpionfish (Scorpaenodes carribaeus)

Spotted moray (Gymnothorax moringa). Say, “Ah.”

Amy

End of dive

The sun came out finally and it wasn’t raining! The wind was out of the NW…very unusual. Tropical storm Eta was moving away from Cozumel and headed for Cuba before hitting the southern tip of Florida. This has been a record hurricane season!

Scuba II with Choky and the eight of us, our first dive of the day was on Palancar Caves. Great swim throughs and huge coral formations make this one of the primo dive sites in the world.

Scuba II on the way to the reefs. There was never a Scuba I. Tim wanted to name this boat “Scuba, too” but was outvoted.

Bearded fireworm (Hermodice carunculata). As the name implies, do not touch.

Shortfin pipefish (Cosmocampus elucens). It’s hard to make a straight fish picture interesting.

Yellowline arrow crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis) on black coral.

Barred hamlet (Hypoplectrus puella)

Parrotfish (Sparisoma sp). I spotted this parrotfish on the bottom. I thought it might be on a cleaning station but when the fish moved off I couldn’t find any tiny crabs or fish that might have been offering their service.

Mark and Lu doing their yoga exercises on the sand.

Southern stingray (Dasyatis americana) and Bar jack (Caranx ruber) hunting. The jack is hoping the ray stirs up a fish or two.

Flamingo tongue (Cyphoma gibbosum) snail. What you are seeing is the snail’s mantle covering its white shell.

For our second dive, we chose to do San Clemente bajo. This is a low profile reef that isn’t as often dived as others - lots of fish life and little stuff to see and photograph here.

Cottonwick (Haemulon melanurum) and Squirrelfish (Holocentrus adscensionis)

Snapper school

Juvenile spotted drum (Equetus punctatus). Note the vertical stripes, long dorsal fin, and spot on the nose.

Scuba II

The wind shifted overnight to the west. Normally, the wind is from the east and the resorts and diving is in the lee of the wind. The port is closed! That’s four days we couldn’t go out because of the rough weather.

Cozumel Gran Fondo – 50 and 100 mile bike race around the island. The 50 milers only ride once around the island, the century riders do it twice. The wind has to make it tough, especially on the cross island road coming back into San Miguel.

”No, you can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need”
Rolling Stones

Port is closed again! That’s five days in November, tying the record for port closures at five. Forecast is for another two days of this. Bummer.

Make that six days in November! At noon it was announced that the port captain was reopening the waters for diving. SCC quickly organized boats and divers went out on an afternoon, two-tank boat dive! The Dive Cat with Choky and just the four of us: Deborah, me, Jana, and Mike.

First afternoon dive was El Paso del Cedral Reef – the Wall.

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota) We had not seen but one turtle (the loggerhead earlier) on this trip. Very unusual. This hawksbill was munching on sponges when we found it surrounded by scavenger angelfish et al looking for a meal.

Channel clinging crab (Mithrax spinosissimus)

Red lionfish (Pterois volitans). Invasive but very pretty and hard not to photograph.

Large Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris). I’m going to call this one, Gumby. It came to my camera and looked me in the eye!

Our second dive was Paradise Reef. Our return to the hotel was dicey with the boat rocking and rolling next to the pier. It was so rough, they didn’t offload the tanks, taking them instead to the harbor. Good call.

Mushroom scorpionfish (Scorpeana inermis). Only about an inch and a half long, this is an adult. It’s named for the little, upside-down mushroom shaped flaps over the eye.

Arrow shrimp (Tozeuma carolinense)! I looked at many, many fans before I found this single arrowshrimp.

Fringed filefish (Monacanthus ciliatus) playing “You can’t see me!” Note there’s a second one behind the first.

Goldentail moray (Gymnothorax miliaris). These eels are not very big but cute as a bug.

Banded clinging crab (Mitrax cinctimanus) hiding behind a giant anemone protected by the stinging cells in the anemone.

Unknown parrotfish settling down for the night in its night coloration.

Yellowline arrow crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis). I liked the composition of this image with the arrowcrab in front of the anemone.

A new morning and a new day with the port open, calm conditions, albeit cloudy.

Reef Star with Choky and the four remaining divers in our group: Mike, Jana, Deborah, and me.

Back to Palancar Caves and then to Tormentos. Visibility had improved and we moved along in a slow current to the north.

Choky found a crab and signaled to the group.

Swimming across the sand at the end of Palancar, I spotted a very small, quickly moving slug. I snapped a few images and later discovered I had seen a nudibranch that I had been searching for on this trip. Commonly called “Shaun the sheep,” I had never seen this critter before! Serendipity to the nth degree. Costasiella ocellifera

This is the real Shaun cartoon character.

Roughhead blenny (Acanthemblemaria aspera).

Mike pointed out this tiny blenny with an interesting background.

At the end of Tormentos Reef is a single large sand ridge.

Sailfin blenny (Emblemaria pandionis) displaying to the delight of the divers.

It rained all night but stopped by breakfast time. We headed out on the Reef Diver with Choky. Mike decided to sleep in, so it was just Deborah, Jana, me, and an unlucky diver who got stuck with us. Turned out the unlucky diver was just fine in the water.

Colombia Reef. Spectacular coral formations. We extended our dive over Colombia Shallows. We had one encounter with a hawksbill turtle feeding on sponges.

Deborah

Jana

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Deborah and turtle

Yucab. Great visibility and lots of fish action.

Cleaning station. The juvenile Spanish hogfish (Bodianus rufus) acts as a cleaner fish. Here the cleaner is at its station with customers waiting to be groomed.

Thorny mud crab (Micropanope unator)

Jana and Mike left this morning. We will be here another week and are missing them already.

Today’s weather was perfect! Partly cloudy skies, no wind, warm air, and warm water. We joined five other divers on the Reef Diver with Tony as our dive master. I no longer had the upper hand when choosing the dive sites as there were only the two of us. It was announced our first dive would be back at Palancar Caves. Now, I have nothing against Caves; it’s a spectacular dive site, but we had already dived this place several times. I think Tony took pity on me when I suggested Chankanaab Reef for the second dive. Visibility was less than excellent and on Chankanaab it was pretty poor with lots of particulates in the water. I didn’t take very many pictures but was pleased to find a shy hamlet and a yellow phase coney.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulva) – yellow phase. Not common.

Shy hamlet (Hypoplectrus guttavarius)

Shortfin pipefish (Cosmocampus elucens)

Reef Diver

A second day of perfect weather conditions. Scuba II with Tony, Sheila, Laurie, three Brazilians and Deborah and me.

Santa Rosa Wall – one of the more spectacular reef formations in Cozumel…the world. The wall drops off vertically into the blue under large coral heads.

Lettuce slug (Elysia crispata)

Peacock flounder (Bothus lunatus). Capable of changing colors this flounder was over sand and white. Flounders and soles are born with eyes on opposite sides of their heads. As they mature, one eye migrates to the other side. Weird.

Tony

Scuba II

Villa Blanca – is a low profile reef with many large sponges. A formation of five spotted eagle rays was a big hit on this dive. Unfortunately, no image, no proof – you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Porcupine fish (Diodon hystrix)

Since conditions were great, we opted for a shore dive in the afternoon. Years ago, this would have been every day and sometimes twice a day, but we are getting old. Anyway, we found a bunch of small stuff to photograph.

Atlantic yellow cowrie (Cyprea spurca acicularis). This snail is less than one-inch long. The animal’s mantle is halfway up the shell. In the second picture (below) you can see what the animal looks like when the mantle is fully extended.

Balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus)

Leech headshield slug (Chelidonura hirundinina). About ¼-inch.

Sex! In some slugs, one method of reproduction involves hypodermic injection of the sperm. Slugs are hermaphrodites (both male and female).

Another small snail out walkabout. You can see the eye spot on the left tentacle under the shell.

Juvenile triggerfish

Stareye hermit (Dardanus venosus)

With the sun out and flat seas, we took the Scuba II with Tony, Sheila, two Brazilians, Deborah, and me to el Paso del Cedral Wall. When we have done this reef in the past, we normally swim over to the shallower reef towards then end of the dive. Tony took us down the deep part of the reef instead. Our second dive was Tormentos Reef where we briefly visited the sand dune before continuing in a moderate current. These dives could have been called dives of the eels and sharks.

Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris)

Green moray eels swim on their sides for some unknown reason. We usually find them hiding under ledges or in holes in the reef. On this trip we’ve seen several out on the reef.

Purple ring Flabellina (Coryphellina marcusorum) formerly Flabellina marcusorum)

Common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) hiding in its “garden” of empty shells.

Despite the weather forecast, conditions were good enough for us to get out on the Scuba II with Tony, Sheila, Laura, two of the Brazilians, Deborah and me. Dalila Reef was the first destinations and we had the reef to ourselves. We did a moderately paced drift over the low reef. Our second dive site was San Clemente Reef where we started on the “wall” and then crossed the sand to the shallower reef. Visibility dropped precipitously in a sand storm. Not much to see but a nice dive in any case.

Large dog snapper (Lutjanus jocu)

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)

Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

Horse-eye jack (Caranx latus) school above the reef. A slow approach, making small bubbles, let me get close enough to take this picture.

Lettuce slug (Elysia crispata). In the sand storm on San Clemente I was close to the bottom and almost swam over this slug before seeing it.

Would you believe, another port closure? Actually, conditions didn’t look too bad but strong winds from the NE gusting to 40 mph and thunderstorms were forecast and might last through Friday. Bummer.

Another port closure! This is getting old. I don’t know what the Port Captain is using to make her decisions but she should look out her window – flat seas, wind from the NE…we’re running out of time.

After lunch we decided to take tanks and shore dive in front of the hotel. There was no current and we spent more than an hour-and-a-half poking around looking for little stuff. The highlight of the dive was playing with the squid south of the pier.

Juvenile highhats. There were six of them but I could only get four of them to line up at a time.

Golden tail eel

Anemone crab

Squid

Our last possible day boat dive and the port was finally open. We were on the Reef Diver with Tony and one other couple. There was another group of divers on the boat and they were going to Palancar Caves. As much as I love Caves, we had already dived this part of the reef. Tony arranged it so the first group was dropped on Caves and we descended on P. Gardens and finished at the first part of Dalila. Deborah was delighted to see a spotted eagle ray at the end of the dive. Our second and final dive of the trip was Paradise Reef in a very slow drift looking for small stuff.

Grouper. We’re not seeing as many large groupers on the reefs as in years past. I’m concerned the invasive lionfish are consuming the young. Very troubling.

Pikeblenny. Less than two inches long, this pike blenny was hiding in the open. We normally see them with only their little heads sticking up out of the sand.

Stingray and jack. I was creeping up on this sting ray and jack when the ray decided to bolt away.

Eagle ray. Deborah was ecstatic seeing this eagle ray on the last dive of the trip.

Eagle ray lunch. Eagle rays have powerful jaws that allow them to crush a conch shell and suck out the meat. Note how thick the shell is.





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