15 – 20 June, 2014
Air Temperatures – Mid 80’s
Water Temperature – 82F
Wind speeds remained high coming out of the east and varying from 10 to 20 knots, with gusts up to 25 knots. Skies were partly cloudy to mostly sunny, with only a few passing showers.
Both Divemaster Denroy, and Dive Instructor Anne-Marie were dive guides for the week, with Carlton (AKA Capt), as Boat Captain.
Easterly winds kept us diving on the west side of the atoll for the week, with the exception of Tuesday, when the wind speeds dropped enough overnight and allowed us to make a crossing to Lighthouse Reef for our Blue Hole and Lighthouse Reef dives.
We started out on our first day with our closest western location diving both South and North Creekozene, as well as Black Pearl, with visibility ranging from as much as 80 feet at Black Pearl down to 60 feet at the Creekozene sites. This spot always amazes divers when they observe the thick growth of sponges, hard and soft corals all tangled together on the reef heads here, and the staggering collection of colourful reef fish and creatures tucked in everywhere along these lush reefs and sea beds. A current coming from the south picked up along the wall for the third dive at South Creekozene, and a large female Hawksbill sat peacefully tucked in the cover of a few reef heads chomping and pecking away at a sponge nestled below her. Divers had to kick hard against the current just to hover over the area and get a close look at this healthy looking creature.
Heading northwest on Monday, we visited Terrace for the Blue Hole check out dive taking the group to just over 100 feet there, followed by Chasbow’s Corner, and then Amberhead to the central west, with the last two at a maximum depth of 60 feet each. Visibility remained quite clear from between 80 to 70 feet at these sites. Going to over 100 feet in depth on the Blue Hole check out dive prepares our divers by allowing us to see how they may react to nitrogen narcosis, and if they are able to equalize quickly and trouble free. Due to the limited bottom time on the 130-foot Blue Hole dive, equalization can affect their ability to do the Blue Hole dive. And, if divers find they experience nitrogen narcosis on this check out dive, they may want to sit out the Blue Hole dive.
When Tuesday morning arrived, we were grateful to find the hole in the weather that our usual weather websites had predicted, and we headed off smartly at 7:00am so we could be the first boat there. When we arrived at just after 8:00am, we found only the park rangers tying off their boat on the mooring, and a small 2-foot Caribbean Reef Shark welcomed us swimming very close to the surface near where we also tied off. The dive group was split into those that would go to the 130-foot dive to the stalactites, and those that would do a shallow 60-foot along the rim. During the deeper version, divers observed over ten Caribbean Reef Sharks of varying sizes from 4 to 8 feet in length, and three large Black Groupers coming in close and eye-balling everyone like dogs expecting a treat. Those that dived the rim, found plenty to see on the reef heads along the bottom there. In particular, they came across five large Midnight Parrot Fish that were literally peeling off algae growing along the sand bottom, and grazing away contentedly and seemingly oblivious to the curious divers. While doing our safety stop, other boats arrived with other divers, and everyone in our group was immediately grateful for the early start. Our second dive at Half Moon Caye Wall yielded sightings of the resident Green Turtles, but no Caribbean Reef Sharks showed up as they usually do here. After our picnic lunch on Half Moon Caye and a visit to the Red-Footed Booby Bird Sanctuary, one of the rangers explained that it was Turtle Nesting Season and to be mindful of the roped-off area on the eastern side of the caye. He informed us that Hawksbills, Green and Loggerhead Turtles nested in the area from between late May and September, hatching only 60 days after incubation, and emerging from the sand at night. However, rangers try to protect them from the Frigate Birds by covering them with cages as they crawl from the sand nest, then keeping them in holding tanks for a few days until they are able to dive down below the surface on their own, and then releasing them into the sea giving them a jump start in their battle for survival. We headed for the western wall of Long Caye afterwards and descended on Aquarium where we were greeted by a whipping 2 knot current coming along the wall from the north. We sailed past a large Spotted Eagle Ray swimming comfortably into the current, a number of beefy Black Groupers hid behind the Deep Water Gorgonian Sea Fans, and schools of Horse Eye Jack circled off the wall, their movement undisturbed by the current. This swift current carried us straight to the next dive site to the south at Silver Caves, just before we ended the dive.
On Wednesday, we headed back to the western side of the Turneffe Atoll and visited Lobster Bay and Pine Ridge North for the two morning dives. At Lobster Bay, we experienced a current which swept us to a large coral bluff looming out of the sloping sand bed at about 60 feet, as several large Horse Eye Jack circled above it. Two Southern Stingrays dug in the sand nearby for prey, a Hawksbill Turtle swam nervously away from divers, and a shy Sargassum Trigger Fish was spotted near a small coral head in the sand bed. At Pine Ridge we found many Tile Fish staking out territory around their well-tended homes in the sand, and a number of mature-sized Black Groupers hanging out along the sloping reef wall that emerged along the site. The Night Dive yielded sightings of Caribbean Reef Squid, and a School Master Snapper with a huge bite taken out by a predator, more than likely it was a Barracuda. It’s always amazing to see fish with wounds that should have them hiding in physical distress, and yet they can be seen swimming around like nothing happened.
We headed back to the northwest on Thursday, and visited Mandy’s Dandy, Elkin’s Bay, and Molly’s Folly. At Mandy’s we found three Great Barracuda in close proximity to each other. Often times when we observe these predators, they are hanging motionlessly near the bottom or swimming lazily along. It’s not until you see one burst into speed chasing an unwary fish that you understand the lightening-fast power these animals are capable of. One of these three did just that, and shot out in pursuit of a small school of blue Bogas that darted by. The Bogas were too fast for him, and he circled around back to his spot on the reef flexing his jaw as if left in an irritable and surly mood from the experience.
For Friday, we chose sites opposite Tarpon Creek on the west again, as The Elbow was still a close-out with 6-foot seas beyond the reef there. We worked our way north as we touched at Tarpon Bay, Elgene’s Inn, and then back to Pine Ridge South for the last dive. Everyone in the group was really good on air, so we were able to do three shallow hour-long dives, marveling at the collection of Giant Barrel Sponges, clusters of Yellow Tube Sponges, delicate Azul Vase Sponges, amongst many others at both Tarpon Bay and Elgene’s Inn. At Pine Ridge South, divers meandered around the coral heads scattered across the sand bed, tall and thick with soft and hard coral growth, several varieties of sponges, and clouds of Mysid Shrimp sheltering in the recesses and around the soft corals fronds, thus ended another wonderful week of diving for us.