Honeycomb Cowfish in Cozumel July 20 2021

The afternoon dive on July 20th was relaxing. There was very little current and we were at a shallow dive site. This meant we could go slower and spend more time looking at sea life.

I was fortunate enough to encounter a Honeycomb Cowfish near one of the coral formations. I have always liked this fish because of the unusual body shape and their honeycomb color pattern.

The website mexican-fish.com tells us,

The Honeycomb Cowfish, Acanthostracion polygonius, is a member of the Boxfish or Ostraciidae Family, that is also known as the Cowfish and the Trunkfish and in Mexico as torito hexagonal. Their common name stems from the honeycomb like pattern and “horns” with sloped face and pronounced forehead.

https://mexican-fish.com/honeycomb-cowfish/

The article taught me that their, “deep triangular shaped body that is enclosed is a “carapace” made up of hexagonally-shaped plates fused together to form a shell or true carapace.”

The Florida Museum Website has more detail about the carapace. They describe it as, “consisting of thickened hexagonal scale plates that are firmly attached to each other with the exception of the cheeks to allow for respiration movements. There are openings in the carapace for the mouth, eyes, gills, fins, and the flexible caudal peduncle.”

Towards the end of the article they say, “Larger fish are potential predators of the honeycomb cowfish, however it may be undesirable as a prey item due to its protective external armor, the carapace.”

Whitespotted Filefish in Cozumel on July 19 2021

During one of the dives on July 19th I encountered a pair of Whitespotted Filefish.

A page from the Dive Paradise website tells us, “They have scales, although very small, and feel like sandpaper – not dissimilar to a shark’s skin. This roughness is how the Filefish got its name. Reportedly their dried skin was once used to finish wooden boats.”

They go on to say,

Every Filefish has a sharp spine on its head just above its eyes. It erects the spine when threatened as a defensive move. Its primary defense is to erect its dorsal and pectoral fins plus the spine to make it difficult for a predator to eat or to extract from its hiding place if back in a little cave.

https://diveparadise.com/2017/11/05/american-whitespotted-filefish-cozumel-reefs/

It looks like I made the darker filefish nervous since it’s spine was up as it approached me, and what I assume is it’s mate. Since both sexes can change color, that’s not a good way to tell which is the male and which is the female. The website says, “It is difficult to differentiate between males and females. The male fish are said to have slightly larger appendages extending from their bodies at the base of their tails.”

When the orange colored filefish turned it’s tale towards me I can see what I think are the “appendages extending from their bodies at the base of their tails.” Although it’s still difficult to tell for sure, this would make the orange colored filefish the male.

Foureye Butterflyfish in Cozumel, July 19, 2021

A tropical fish that I enjoy watching is the Foureye Butterflyfish since they are often in pairs. The Florida Museum website tells us, “This is one of the few fish that seems to mate for life.”

The website continues to say,

Male and female foureye butterflies form pairs early in life. These pairs can be long lasting, suggesting that a monogamous relationship may exist between the pair members. If the two fish get separated, one partner will swim upward for a better view in an effort to rejoin the other partner. Courtship between the two is prolonged and energetic. Often the fish will circle each other, head to tail, until one fish breaks and runs, with the other close behind. They will chase each other all about the reef, and chase away any lone foureye that approaches them. Actual spawning takes place at dusk. The female releases from 3000 to 4000 eggs a night. The eggs are small, pelagic, and hatch within a day.

https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/chaetodon-capistratus/

Although the fish are beautiful, take a look at how healthy the coral is that they are swimming near! After seeing so many diseased and dead coral in Florida, healthy coral is a welcomed sight. Although coral identification can be a challenge for me, based on the star coral identification page on the scubadiverslife.com website, I think we are seeing Mountainous Star Coral and Lettuce Coral.

Queen Triggerfish in Cozumel, Mexico on July 21, 2021

It took me most of the week to get a good video of a Queen Triggerfish. Notice how it changes color as it swims by. Since many of my favorite fish can change color, I became interested in learning how it happens.

The New World Encyclopedia tells us,

Chromatophore is a pigment-containing and light-reflecting cell, found in various invertebrate and cold-blooded vertebrate animals, that can help bring about changes in color or brightness in the organism. Among animals with such cells are various crustaceans, cephalopods, amphibians, fish, and reptiles. Through aggregation or dispersion of the pigment and reorientation of reflective plates in single cells (in most animals) or through the muscular movement of complex chromatophore organs (in cephalopods), the color or brightness of the entire organism or part of the organism can change, which is useful for camouflage, signaling, temperature regulation, and protection from radiation.

https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Chromatophore

It looks like this Queen Triggerfish was changing color to blend with the surroundings for camouflage.

Whale Shark Snorkel Trip in Cancun, Mexico July 23, 2021

Although I had a full week of Scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico, and had some amazing sea life encounters, the Whale Shark snorkel trip on my last day of vacation was one of my favorite days, despite the fact that I got sea sick.

They offer these Whale Shark snorkel tours in several resorts in Cozumel, but the tours actually take place off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. Cancun, Mexico is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, which is a summer feeding area for Whale Sharks. However, it takes some effort to get there from Cozumel.

I packed my gear the night before and got up at 5am to be at the Ferry Terminal at 6am for the 7:15am ferry to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. The van ride to the marina in Cancun was a little over hour.

The snorkel tour boats were a lot smaller than I expected. As we headed out to sea, the waves started getting bigger. After about an hour on the water with 4 to 5 foot waves, I started to feel light headed. I tried all the tricks like looking at the horizon and it helped for a while, but I eventually had to admit I was sea sick.

We were about 34 miles off shore when we saw the others tour boats where the whale sharks were feeding. We soon joined them and were able to see some whale sharks near the surface and put a guide and a couple snorkelers in the water. They would swim with the whale shark(s) for a bit then they would get back in the boat. Then we would find another whale shark and put two more people in the water.

When it was my turn, getting in the water and cooling off helped me to feel better. The video below shows both times I was able to get in the water with the whale sharks. During the first swim I found myself between two whale sharks, which was fantastic, but I did not get as closed as I had hoped. During the second swim I was able to get closer and swim beside it for a while, which was awesome.

When it was time to leave, the waves were still big enough I was happy to go back to shore. On the way back a huge rainstorm overtook us. Although it thoroughly soaked us, it did calm the seas down and make the waves smaller. It also cooled me down and helped with my sea sickness.

Before taking us back to the marina we anchored in the shallows off the beach in the hotel zone in Cancun. The water was only about 4 feet deep but we got hang out in the water and drink Corona beer while the crew made ceviche. They used fresh Grouper for the fish ingredient and a jalapeno pepper for the heat. The captain of the other tour boat made fresh guacamole for us.

Now I wish I had taken more photos from that part of the trip, at the time I was happy be feeling better after being sea sick and and drinking a beer off the beach in Cancun, Mexico.

Spotted Moray Eel in Cozumel, Mexico on July 19th, 2021

Another fantastic encounter on July 19th was with a Spotted Moray Eel.

Make no mistake, this is a big Eel. We can’t see it’s full length but it’s pretty thick so I bet it’s between 4 and 6 feet long. It’s more common to see a Green Moray Eel but finding a Spotted Moray is less frequent. So I was really excited about this encounter.

I found a couple fantastic online information resources about Spotted Moray Eels. One is Oceana.com. Their page about Spotted moray Eels says, “Spotted morays, like most morays, have poor eyesight and rely heavily on their sense of smell. For that reason, it can be quite easy for SCUBA divers to approach these fish, but caution should be taken, as the spotted moray’s bite can be strong.” They go on to say,

“In amazing recent research, scientists demonstrated how morays use a second set of jaws in their throats to manipulate food that they have captured. Morays are unable to create suction with their mouths, so their prey has to be manually pushed to the back of the throat, something that is difficult to do without limbs. On land, snakes have a similar problem, but they are able to unhinge their jaws, one at a time, to “walk” their mouths down the prey’s body. Morays do not have that ability, and instead use their second set of jaws to manipulate their food. Attached to the esophagus via strong muscles, these “pharyngeal” jaws reach forward into the mouth, grasp the prey item from the oral jaws, which release at that time, and pull it back to the muscles of the throat. Using slow motion cameras, scientists have been able to video the exchange of food between the two sets of jaws. X-ray images of morays clearly show the pharyngeal jaws and highlight their similarity to the oral jaws.”

I found good video on YouTube of a Spotted moray Eel that shows its “pharyngeal” jaws.

Queen Angelfish in Cozumel, Mexico on July 19, 2021

Cozumel Mexico seems to have a healthy population of Queen Angelfish. During the week I shot lots of footage of Queen Angelfish but the encounter on July 19th turned out to be the best.

The Florida Museum Website has an excellent page on Queen Angelfish. The site describes the fish as, “blue-green with blue and yellow highlights on its fins, and can be differentiated from the similar blue angelfish by the prominent dark ringed ‘crown’ spot on its forehead.” They go on to say, “Its brilliant blue and yellow color easily separates it from all other western Atlantic angelfish species except the blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis). These two species are very similar in coloration but the queen has a dark, ringed spot with blue dots on its forehead that resembles a crown. The queen is also more iridescent than the blue and has a completely yellow tail. These two species have been known to occasionally interbreed and create a hybrid.”

Although I saw many of theses fish while diving, most of them did not let me get that close and were always moving, which made then difficult to capture on video. However, this one swam right at me and gave me a good opportunity for a close look.

Hawksbill Turtle in Cozumel, Mexico on July 19, 2021

Back in July 2021 I took my first trip to Cozumel. Mexico. Although I was diving for five days, one of my favorite encounters happened on Monday the 19th. For the first two-tank morning dives we went to a site named Delilah. Early during the first dive our group encountered a Hawksbill Turtle.

The NOAA Fisheries Website tells us, “In many parts of the world, Hawksbills face the unique threat of being hunted for their beautiful shell, also known as “tortoise shell”, which is used by craftspeople to create many types of jewelry and trinkets. The historical hunting and killing of hawksbills for their shell nearly drove the species to extinction. Today, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) forbids the trade of any turtle products on the international market, including hawksbill tortoise shell, but illegal hunting continues to represent a threat to the species in many parts of the world.”

I did not realize how close they had come to extinction. I feel fortunate that I have been able to see and video so many of them during my time diving.

The site also mentions, “Hawksbill turtles are omnivorous (feeding on both plants and other animals), but their preferred food in many areas is sea sponges. They will also eat marine algae, corals, mollusks, tunicates, crustaceans, sea urchins, small fish, and jellyfish.”

As you can see from the video, there are lots of healthy coral and sponges on the reef for a turtle to feed on.

Key Largo Diving Trip February 26th, 2020

After two days of bad visibility at the dive sites off of Key Largo, conditions improved on Wednesday. Thankfully we went back out to Molasses Reef. I was thrilled to see a beautiful Reef Shark swimming along the reef. I was the only one in my immediate dive group to see it so I’m glad I got some video. Another small group that was on the same boat got to see the shark (you will see them in the video).

For the afternoon dive we went back to a couple sites on French Reef. While swimming through one of the grottos I spotted another Nassau Grouper.

Thanks to a couple of other guys in our dive group who spotted the turtle first, I had a great encounter with a Hawksbill Turtle.

This turned out to be my last dive of the trip since wind picked up on Thursday and the waves got bigger and Friday was my “dry day” before flying home on Saturday.

Key Largo Diving Trip February 24 2020

On Monday February 24, 2020 I was diving at Molasses Reef off the coast of Key Largo, Florida with Rainbow Reef Dive Center.

I had several good shark encounters. The second one was the best. I was able to intercept a large nurse shark swimming across the reef and got within several feet of it. The Florida Museum website says, “Large juveniles and adults are usually found around deeper reefs and rocky areas at depths of 3-75 meters (10-246 ft) during the daytime moving into shallower waters of less than 20 meters (65 ft) after dark.”

Later on I had a fantastic Southern Stingray encounter. According to the Florida Museum website at Stingrays tail “can be up to twice as long as their bodies, with a sharp spine that has teeth on either side of it.”

I also encountered a small Nassau Grouper. The Nassau grouper, which is endangered, is one of my favorite groupers due to their color and stripe pattern. The Florida Museum website says, “The Nassau grouper can change color pattern from light to dark brown very quickly, depending upon the surrounding environment and mood of the fish.” This one has the stripes that fade towards the belly. The faded colors did help it to blend in with the sandy and rocky section of the reef that it was swimming in.

It’s exciting to see the larger marine creatures like sharks and stingrays, but I like to slow down sometimes and appreciate some of the smaller fish. The Queen Angelfish is one of my favorites.

Another reef fish that is a pleasure to watch is the Banded Butterfly Fish. “The banded butterfly fish is also a predator, feeding on tube worms, sea anemones, corals, and occasionally snacking on crustaceans.”