Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Palancar Reef

By Tom:

In Late January, my wife and I spent a week on Cozumel Island, Mexico. We stayed in a very nice resort just North of the city. The Island is nearly spotless and mostly brand new buildings, compliments of the latest hurricane. I went on 3 guided SCUBA trips. 2 were two tank and one was a three tank dive. The dive shop supplied everything, but I brought my own mask and regulator/computer. The water was in the 70’s with a variable northerly drift. Visibility was over 100 feet! I am NITROX certified but didn’t need to use it as the dive profiles were deep/shallow with mandatory 5 minute safety stop at 15 feet. The weather was perfect, sunny and high 70’s with calm mornings and slight chop in the afternoon.

I made three dives on Palancar reef. It is a Mexican underwater “parque.” This is easily the prettiest coral reef I have ever dived. Massive ancient coral heads festooned with both brilliant soft and hard corals. The heads created underwater caves and canyons that were at least 50 feet deep and very narrow. Light filtering through created stunning backdrops for underwater photographers. The depths for Palancar varied from snorkeling to over 100 feet. Several of our snorkelers saw the biggest spiny lobster I have ever heard of. It was at least 40 pounds! Aquatic life was above average. I’ve seen better examples of fauna, but none in such a pretty site. I saw lizard fish, sea turtles, eels (big and little!), eagle rays, clown fish, gorgeous queen trigger fish and large grouper.

On the last dive we put in just North of the city and only several hundred yards to the edge of the drop off. This location was about 50 feet deep with a very sharp abyssal drop off. The current was too strong to swim against, so we just drifted on the edge of the underwater cliff. The only remarkable thing about doing this was that during the last week in January, right in this location, the Eagle Rays mate. Seeing many rays before, they usually present as big, slow moving, underwater sheets. This day was far different. The guides had warned us that we might not see anything, but several days before divers had seen several.

After just a few minutes, I witnessed one of the most interesting displays in my diving experience. Suddenly, from out of the depths of the cliff, two rays shot up at a steep angle right in front of me. At least 7 feet across, they looked like big gray ghosts flying past my head. Another blasted out of the gloom and did a wing over and dove towards the depths again, going right under another diver, not missing him by 6 inches! It happened so fast he stopped and acted paralyzed for a few seconds. One of our team was a professional underwater videographer. The rays were so fast he wasn’t able to get any good footage. I suppose this behavior has been recorded before, but it must be rare. We observed this chasing and violent acrobatics the entire dive. It was the third dive of that day, but I never felt fatigued with all the excitement.

I can’t wait to go back to Cozumel. Weather in winter is perfect, everything was inexpensive and the people wonderful. The crime you see in the border cities is nowhere evident in Cozumel. I’d live there in a heartbeat!!

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