Key Largo Dive Trip 2017

At the end of June I was able to spend a week in Key Largo diving at the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. It was a rough week due to the weather, wind and waves. Lots of people got seasick on the dive boats (but not me!). Dive trips from Sunday afternoon to Wednesday morning were cancelled due to high winds and five to eight foot waves.

So I had a couple days to relax and do other activities. I took a short course at Rainbow Reef Dive Center to get my PADI Emergency Oxygen Provider certification. It was a fantastic course and I think  learned a valuable new skill that could help later if i take the rescue diver course.

I also had time to enjoy some long lunches at Skippers Dockside (formally known as Coconuts). I was finally able to have some conch chowder again, which is a dish you don’t see much in New Hampshire. It’s a little spicy so it sure hit the spot on Sunday afternoon when it was pouring rain outside.

The sign outside the men’s room made me chuckle.Mens Room Sign at Skipers Dockside Key LargoOn Tuesday afternoon I was hanging out at the hotel pool and talking to a women who told me about Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill on the bay side. She told me it was a popular place (especially on Tuesdays when ladies drink for free from 6 to 7 pm) with great sunset views. Naturally, I had to go check it out.

Wow, was it busy! I did well to find both a parking spot (after circling the lot 3 times) and a seat at the end of the bar. Much to my surprise the bartender I was talking to at Skippers Dockside at lunch was bar tending at The Big Chill that evening. Although it was too cloudy for a great sunset they did have a nice outside tiki bar and deck with a great view to the west. The band was playing a nice mix of 70’s and 80’s tunes.

Of course I was impressed with the statue of Captain Morgan. We had higher than usual waves for the rest of the week but it was manageable. During the trip I had several memorable sea life encounters and even got video footage of a few of them.

On Wednesday afternoon I was trying a new underwater video camera. It was an Intova X2 Waterproof Action Camera. It was a good first experience with the camera. I need a few more accessories like a tripod mount adapter and handle to get better video footage. However I did see a nice Queen Angelfish to watch for a few minutes.

On Thursday morning I switched back to using my GoPro Hero 3. Due to the waves and current we returned to Molasses Reef. During the dive I enjoyed watching a Porcupine Fish swim around for awhile.

On the Thursday afternoon dive we encountered a school of beautiful Yellow Jacks.

The second tank dive on Thursday afternoon was at Eagle Ray Alley. We saw three dolphins! This is the first time I had seen dolphins underwater. They swam by way to fast for me to get video footage but it was still thrilling to see them.

On Friday morning we were on Molasses Reef at a site named Aquarium. Within a few minutes after starting the dive a Nurse Shark swam right by me. This turned out to be one of my favorite video clips from the trip.

During the afternoon dive our group had special encounter with two Porcupine fish. They were swimming around like a couple on a date.

Towards the end of the dive we were lucky enough to have a Reef Shark swim by.

Saturday morning turned out to be very special. I was on a dive boat that was going to Molasses Deep for a drift dive. Soon after getting in the water I spotted a Nurse Shark swimming along the bottom. A little further on one of the guides spotted a Lion fish. Lion fish are an invasive species from the Pacific Ocean that is wrecking havoc on the food chain in Florida and the Caribbean. The guides are trained to kill them and one of them proceeded to spear it and finish it off quickly with his dive knife. The Nurse Shark must have caught a “scent” of the kill. It soon came over for a visit to check us out before swimming back to the dead Lion fish.

During the remainder of the dive we saw three sea turtles. An exciting moment occurred during our safety stop before surfacing when we spotted a large hammerhead shark swimming below us. This was the first hammerhead shark I had seen underwater.

I must say that the sunrises in Key Largo are beautiful. It’s the sun behind the cloud formations over the ocean that make it special. There were several mornings I was able to enjoy a similar sunrise to the one in the photo below.

Key Largo Dive Trip: July 12, 2014

Saturday was my last day of diving for this trip. 😦

Since it was Saturday I was able to finish off the trip with one more night dive. Of course Oscar the Goliath Grouper met us under that boat. Our group took off in another direction from Oscar to see some different marine life and give the other groups some space. We encountered many turtles during the dive including this one.

While on the dive boat on the way to the dive site I jokingly said, “Now that I have seen an octopus I would like to see a squid tonight.” Much to my amazement we actually did see a squid. Not only that, I was able to get very close for some video footage.

I was sad that it had to end. I also feel lucky that I had so many fantastic marine life sightings and get some of them on video. I also achieved my goals for the trip to do more night dives and get my Nitrox certification.

Key Largo Dive Trip: July 10, 2014

Thursday, July 10th turned out to be an eventful day. Once again we started the day at Molasses Reef.
We were lucky enough to discover a Hawksbill Turtle right below that boat when we arrived. I was able to get some great footage of it eating.

Later on I was trying to get some video footage of some staghorn coral covered in algae. A Three Spot Damselfish “attacked” my camera and stole the show.

Since it was Thursday I could go on another night dive. I was looking forward to going back to Molasses Reef and swimming with Oscar the Goliath Grouper.

It was really cool to watch the sunset from the dive boat.

Sure enough Oscar was waiting for us below the boat once we got in the water.

I was amazed that Oscar was so friendly. He swam between my legs twice. It reminded me of something a pet dog might do. After Oscar greeted everyone he started to look for fish to eat that were illuminated by our dive lights. Sure enough, he eventually found a young Parrotfish to eat. When he “inhaled” the fish and closed his mouth we could see and feel the shock wave in the water.

The dive got even better since we encountered several sea turtles.

Just when I thought it could not get any better we spotted a small octopus on our way back to the boat.

Key Largo Dive Trip: July 9, 2014 at Molasses Reef

Wednesday, July 9th was a great day full of fantastic sea life sightings.
We started the day on Molasses Reef. Once we arrived at the site I was thrilled to discover the visibility was excellent and the current moderate. It great conditions for shooting video.

We started the day with several Spotted Eagle Ray sightings. I had been waiting for Eagle Ray sightings like these since I purchased my GoPro last year.

Although I had several Spotted Eagle Ray encounters during the trip this was the best.

My luck continued as I spotted a beautiful Nassau Grouper.

 

Key Largo Dive Trip: July 8. 2014

 

British steamship Hannah M. Bell

The boat took us north towards an area known as the Elbow for the afternoon dive. Due to the proximity to the Gulf Steam Current the Elbow is known for good visibility. We were going to two shallow wrecks named Mikes Wreck and the City of Washington.

Back in 2012 the site known as Mike’s Wreck was identified as the British ship Hanna M. Bell which ran aground on the reef on April 4th, 1911. (NOAA press release) The NOAA Marine Sanctuary Website tells us, “The 315-foot steel-hulled steamship was built by Ropner and Son in England in 1893 and named for the woman who christened it. Prior to its demise, the ship made frequent transatlantic trips between European ports, the U.S. East and Gulf coasts, and Caribbean and South American ports transporting a variety of bulk cargo including cotton, sugar and coal. ”

 

Part of the fun of diving is fish identification. After you have been at it a while it’s exciting to find an uncommon or rare fish to identify.

These Glasseye Snappers are an example. They caught my attention because I liked their silver and red body pattern, but I hadn’t them before. I shot some video to help me research and identify the fish.

The Queen Anglefish is one of my favorite species. They can be challenging to photograph and even video sometimes since they are always moving and can be skittish around divers.

At the City of Washington wreck I spotted a lobster right out the open, which is rare. I was able to get some good close-up video of it.

I was thrilled to get some footage of this Hogfish. The Hogfish has this wonderful ability to change color to match its surroundings. I have seen them change from a light color to match the sand to brown and white stripes that blends with the turtle grass it was feeding in.

This one goes from brown to “sand color” as it moved off of the wreck.

Key Largo Dive Trip: July 7, 2014

On Monday, July 7th we headed out to Molasses Reef for the morning dive. We discovered the current was pretty strong. This makes the dive a bit more challenging but usually improves visibility.

My luck was still good and I was the only one in the group to see (and get video) this Spotted Eagle Ray to swim by. This was my first Eagle Ray sighting of the trip.

This video gives you a good idea how string the current was. It sure makes it harder to keep the camera (and yourself) steady.

Later in the dive the whole group had a close encounter with a curious small Green Sea Turtle. We initially spotted it on the surface getting some air, which is a good place to look for turtles.

I got a visual treat when a school of Blue Tang swam on by.

With hope of finding a site with less current we headed to French Reef for the afternoon dive. Although the current was far less, the visibility was terrible. We could not see much and video conditions were poor for most sightings. We were lucky enough to see two Goliath Groupers. I was able to get some video footage of one of them as it swam by.

The Grouper could have been our friend Oscar from the night dives. French Reef is not that far from Molasses Reef for a Grouper.

Key Largo Dive Trip: July 6, 2014

On Sunday, July 6th we started the day with a dive on the wreck of the Benwood. The visibility underwater was very good, which meant good video conditions.

When we arrived I was surprised to see some people fishing over the wreck. I was even more surprised when they kept on fishing even though we were diving below where they were dropping their lines. Much to my amusement, I was able to get some video footage of a Scrawled Filefish and numerous juvenile Bluehead Wrasse stealing the bait off of the hook.

A little further along the wreck we spotted a Green Morey Eel swimming out in the open on the deck of the ship.

DCIM100GOPRO

I also got some great video of the encounter.

As I swam around the bow I got to enjoy the shimmering movement of a large school of minnows, known as a bait ball. It’s cool to watch the larger fish dart through the school, causing the “fish cloud” to part and move.

I was happy to discover some juvenile spotted drumfish.

I encountered a couple Atlantic Spadefish swimming peacefully across the deck.

For the afternoon dive we returned to Snapper Ledge. There just happened to be four to five Nurse Sharks hanging out on the ledge that day. With that many on a small ledge we had many chances to see sharks swimming by (or away, which is what usually happens).

Another great day of diving!