Cozumel 2008 - Part 1 - Snorkeling

Sitting here on the balcony at our condo (or at least as close to the balcony as my laptop's power cord would allow me to), I'm trying to sort out all of the fish that I've seen so far. Unfortunately, the images in my head don't seem to match those on the fish identification card I purchased today from one of the fine dive shops in downtown Cozumel. I truthfully have yet to dive Cozumel, that comes tomorrow, but as a word to those who are not certified to don a tank, the snorkeling here is a must.

Greeted immediately by the rather curious Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf saxatilis), snorkelers to these waters should know that three location choices await them between the sandy beach and the open sea. For great invertebrate viewing, the shallows provide a rather diverse experience. My first suggestion for exploration in the shallows would have to be to look for outcroppings or piles of rock found in water that is no more than a few feet deep. These areas are absolutely teaming with sea urchins, hermit crabs, turbo snails, and for those willing to move a rock or two, sea stars. After curiosity is satisfied with the rock piles and invertebrates the next stop should be an area of dense plant growth also found in the shallow areas. I was lucky enough to have just such a spot right in front of our condo building. Here you will find small fish of many types as well as larger species of hermit crabs carrying around seemingly ridiculously sized shells for their body. A snorkeler has to spend some time searching and looking hard through this small forest of off shore shrubbery to find other such treasures. That being said, don't forget to look up every once in a while or the fantastic permits may go without being seen.

Following the shallows make sure to spend plenty of time in the deeper mid-ranges. Off the coast of Cozumel you will find sporadic shelter rocks housing large fish that are in from the deeper waters, lobsters, and families of parrot fish, angles, and wrasses. In fact if you look closely you may be lucky enough to see a shimmering cloud of relatively newly born fish. Other family structures may just be forming in these waters. Here male and female juvenile (or at least not quite nearly grown) parrot fish and angels can be seen pairing and swimming together for a future of house making and family raising on the deeper reefs. The highlight of my time in these mid-range menageries was the 2 foot porcupine fish who allowed me to follow him around. It is astonishing how intelligent and calculating these creatures are. As I followed it around from rock to rock it would periodically make pit-stops in open areas that would allow for the ability to keep a constant eye on me. Attention was always focused on me. If I moved to the left the porcupine fish's body would turn in such a way as to allow it to see me. If I moved to the right, the opposite would be true. It's back was always turned to me. In case I was deemed a threat a swifter getaway could be made without having to first turn it's body around. After a while I stopped following it, but I have to admit that it was truly a pleasure.

From the shallows, through the mid-levels, the snorkeling area ends in the deeper portions at about 12 feet. Here you will find larger fish coming in from the reefs to pick through the open sand for food. Included, were trunk fish, larger angels, and even an occasional ocean trigger fish. Though much more sparse, without venturing here one could miss this hunting and pecking for food. The trunk fish for example spends it's foraging time by locating a spot that looks promising, pointing its long nose straight at the sand bed and blowing the top layers of sand away in an effort to excavate whatever it was that caught its attention in the first place. This, and the chance to see the majestic inverse fin waving of the ocean trigger fish. Rays, flounders, and many other surprises await the vigilant snorkeler in the deep areas.

However, this is not the activity that Cozumel is the best for.

Next part: Part 2 - SCUBA Diving Cozumel

Fish and Coral Photographs

Cozumel Ocean Snorkeling Beach View   Snorkeling On The Rocks

Wrasse   Atlantic Blue Tang Surgeonfish (Acanthurus coeruleus)

Smooth Trunkfish (Lactophyrs triqueter)   School of French Grunts (Haemulon flavolineatum)

School of French Grunts (Haemulon flavolineatum) and a Princess Parrotfish (Scarus taeniopterus)   Queen Angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)

Some Photographs are courtesy of Jim Christensen.
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