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Monday, April 28, 2014

We began our day with a baleada for breakfast at the hotel restaurant. A baleada is a local cuisine consisting of egg, refried red beans, cheese, cream, and avocado tucked into a thick flour tortilla. It was mouth-watering good!

After scarfing down our meal, we organized our gear with the on site dive shop, Octopus Diving School and loaded on a small, bimini covered boat to go to our first dive site Melissa. We got there in about three minutes! We zipped up our wetsuits. I added a vest and hoodie because I get so cold despite the 83 degree water temperature. We continued with our fins, masks, BCD, regulator and tanks and rolled backwards into the water.

After a quick buoyancy check with Dani and Carla, our divemasters, we descended to 65 feet and followed along the outside wall before zig zagging back and forth through the coral reef. Along the wall we spotted an arrow crab, a variety of coral and sponges along with several small fish. As we crossed over the reef and the ocean floor to shallower depths we found trumpetfish, flamingo tongue, gray angelfish, a huge school of blue tang, a fireworm, parrotfish, and a giant puffer to name a few memorable species.

After 60 minutes underwater, we returned to the boat, spent our surface interval on shore at the hotel and headed back out to Peter’s Place, a slightly longer, but still short boat ride away. Peter’s Place offered a wide variety of marine life. As soon as we descended, we spotted a turtle! Some other notable finds were two juvenile spotted drums together and an adult spotted drum a few minutes later! Permits passed us by as we admired butterflyfish. Groupers hung out near the lionfish waiting for our dive master to provide them with their lunch. Lionfish are not native to the Caribbean and don’t have a natural predator. They kill off the reef system, thus the dive masters spear them and feed them to the grouper. The grouper can only eat them head first due to the lionfish’s spines, and currently will only eat them when they are dead! Dani killed three lionfish thus we had a few groupers tailing us, or should I say darting around us!

When we weren’t busy with the lionfish, we peered under the coral ledges for critters and weren’t let down. We found cleaner shrimp, squirrelfish, coral banded reef shrimp, and even a bass with something in its mouth. It had found its own lunch! Our second dive was slightly shorter at shallower depths, and after a short boat ride back to the hotel we were enjoying the diver’s special lunch by 12:30.

After lunch it was time to soak in some sun and also earn some more sand fly bites. Those suckers are relentless. When Paul saw us snorkeling again, this time with my camera, he asked, “Do you have a Sharpie? I can connect the dots!” Preparation isn’t good enough…we have three kinds of bug spray…Off, 100% DEET and the all natural oils from the island. I may be quarantined at customs. I look like I have a measles outbreak…at least they don’t itch yet. I hope I don’t jinx myself!

Back to the afternoon! After lounging for an hour, we were back in the water at the same snorkel site as yesterday! This time I had my camera. We found the octopus again, a litter of lobster (at least 12 in one spot which I had never seen previously), feather dusters galore, the scorpionfish, christmas tree worms, a lionfish, a french angelfish and of course the seahorse! Even the old cement dock was cool as the broken supports look like crosses!

For the evening, we enjoyed a lovely dinner including pear salad, filet, and ceviche at the Tranquil Seas and listened to Mickey’s talk which was fascinating. We learned several tips of how to spot certain critters and the behavior of a variety of fish. We even learned of the first documented case of a grouper eating a live lionfish. We also know that the whale sharks are just a few miles away. There is always a chance! It was a great presentation, and I look forward putting a few tips to work tomorrow! ETB

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