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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

St. Paddy Dive

St. Paddy Dive by Henry C. Schoepp, Jr.
March 19, 2011

Group PhotoThere was a cold breeze blowing gently from west to east, but as the sun rose the temperature became more comfortable. The ocean were incredibly smooth, more like a lake. The water was cool, but the sky was a clear, cloudless blue. The boat was only half full, leaving us ample room to spread out and be comfortable.

The first dive site was Breakers. The visibility was excellent, easily seeing about 90 feet. The fish life was active and we saw many things. We saw eels, turtles, goliath grouper, lobster, and amble fish.

While hanging toward the back of the group I found a lionfish in a hole under a ledge. I could not really line up on him, though. I tried to use my lion tamer (http://www.liontamerusa.com/) to scare the fish out of the hole a little bit. I failed it it went deeper into the hole. By this point, the entire group was well ahead of me, so I had to hustle to catch up. Later in the dive, Jeri would find a small lionfish. It was in an easily accessible location, away from cover. This one was particularly small, and its feathers were more like threads. I lined up on it with my lion tamer, which was huge compared to this diminutive specimen. Before I let go, Craig grabbed my shoulder. He pointed to his net indicating his desire to capture the fish for his aquarium. I slowly moved away and watched him catch the tiny invading predator. Later in the dive, we would come across another lionfish. This was approximately two inches in length. I slowly moved toward it so that I may have a good attack angle. I pulled back and released, striking the fish below its dorsal fins. My lion tamer has finally pierced the flesh of a target! The liofish was fully skewered, but still managed to flop its way free of the tip (there are no barbs on the lion tamer) and into a nearby hole where I would be unable to reach. Although I was unable to instantly kill it, the wound I inflicted was mortal. In the middle of all that, I performed some reef cleanup by picking up an old tow rope (as used to water ski). Once I was done with my attack on the lionfish, I retrieved the debris and continued the dive.

We continued our dive and encountered a nurse shark hiding under a ledge. Jeri began taking pictures of it. At first it was content with the attention, but later becoming less satisfied. The six foot long creature decided to come out from under the ledge, away from Jeri. When it came face to face with me, it decided that it was not willing to go that way either. Instead it swam back into the ledge a little deeper. A few more pictures, and then decided off to the next part of the reef. Later in the dive, we got to the end of the reef where we found a nurse shark laying on the sandy bottom beside a rock, much more in the open. Jeri took some pictures and then we followed the rest of the group toward Turtle Mound.

Although Jon Karuza was with us, no alligator (http://www.divephotoguide.com/underwater-photography-special-features/article/alligator--ocean/) was present. We made our way to Turtle Mound. As we swam across the sand and rubble, a large goliath grouper swam about ten yards away from us. It did not seem to fear us, but was not looking to approach us either. We encountered another nurse shark as we got to Turtle Mound. This was followed by an interesting encounter with a spotted moray eel. Jeri had stopped to take pictures of a spotted moray eel which I had not noticed. I found a spotted moray eel that was completely in the open. I signaled but Jeri was photographing another one. I watched mine as it swam down under a small ledge and struck at something once or twice. It was active and feeding, probably successfully given the ample little fish in this area. Eventually it began moving across the reef looking for more fish, moving toward Jeri. It was threading itself through various holes and crevices in the reef as it moved. There was some anthropomorphism as we attributed shock and surprise when the two eels encountered one another face to face. After pausing for a moment, the more active eel turned around and reversed its direction in the hold and then popped out the top of the reef. It then began swimming away across the top of the reef with surprising speed.

As we continued our dive at Turtle Mound, I saw a particularly large lobster. It was under a ledge in in a hole, but it was quite large. I was upside down at the time, so I moved back and verified my finding. Once I did, I began pointing and turned around looking for my buddy. She found something better. She found a goliath grouper that was about seven feet long sitting on the bottom, not caring that she crept up to it and began taking pictures. We watched the giant just sit there for a while and then continued out path over the mound, almost immediately encountering a small green sea turtle. After swimming with that for a while, I signaled that I was low on air and we began our slow, safe ascent.

The next dive site was Flower Gardens and it had equally incredibly visibility. Upon entering the water, I found a green moray eel. This was the start of another beautiful dive. I never found any lobster on this one, but there was plenty of life. At one point, I found a turtle, a juvenile drum fish, and a scorpion fish all in the same area. Late in the dive, we saw a large sting ray with about a five foot wing span. Although I did not spend as much time gushing about this dive, it is only because I have written plenty about how awesomely good the dive was already. And for those of you who do not believe me, Jeri has provided some pictures to prove it.


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