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.

 

Fish Identification: Sheepshead Porgy

Sheepshead Porgy
Sheepshead Porgy

I took this photograph back in 2007. At time I had no idea what kind of fish this was and snapped a photo so that I could identify it later. I did not realize it would take seven years. I finally broke down and purchased the full version of the Reef Fish Identification book by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach.

I thought I had this fish identifed when I noticed the body and head shape matched the description in the book of the Sheepshead Porgy. I was bothered by the fact that the photo in Reef Fish Identification shows the fish with body bars. However, I did find a photo of a Sheepshead Porgy on the Fishbase.org Website that did look my photo. Based on the photo I am going to assume that most but not all Sheepshead Porgy have body bars. My photo still could be of a Sheepshead Porgy.

Key Largo Dive Trip June 15th

On Saturday the 15th we started the day on Molasses Reef before heading south to Conch Reef for the afternoon dives.

Our group had some interesting sightings at Molasses Reef. An interesting fish that can be difficult to video or photograph is the Yellowhead Jawfish. It’s difficult to get close since they drop down into their holes when frightened. No only did these two let me get extremely close, one left the area around the hole to swim closer. It was probably wondering what the hell I was.

For the afternoon dive we went to a new dive site named Conch Reef. This site is near the Aquarius Undersea Lab and Conch Wall, where I had been before. Right after getting in the water we spotted several large Southern Stingrays.

Southern Stingray at Conch Reeff
Southern Stingray at Conch Reef

We also spotted a Lionfish hanging out under a ledge. I was wishing I had to equipment to capture or kill it since it is an invasive species that is causing lots of problems.

I later witnessed an interesting scene where some Bar Jacks were circling a Bluehead Wrasse. The book Reef Fish Behavior mentioned that Bluehead Wrasse, especially the juveniles, will occasionally clean other fish. The Bar Jacks were circling the wrasse as if they wanted a cleaning but they were also “going mouth to mouth” with each other. I have read that this is a sign of aggression among some species of fish. The Bar Jacks could have been establishing dominance to see who would get cleaning services first. Watch the video to see what I mean.

Conch Reef also has a small population of Pillar Coral. Since 2005 I have been watching a nearby reef with Pillar Coral (named Pillar Coral Ridge) degrade and die. I hear it is so bad that it is not even worth diving there anymore. It makes me very sad.

Pillar Coral
Pillar Coral

This small colony of Pillar Coral is in better condition than the main group of coral on top of the ridge. I wonder how long this coral community will survive with the climate and environmental pressure.

Key Largo Dive Trip Friday June 14th

Visibility and current conditions were even better by Friday. We started the day by going south to Snapper Ledge. Snapper Ledge is one of my favorite dive spots in the Key Largo area. It’s a shallow dive that is pretty easy to navigate. There are huge schools of snappers, grunts and other fish. It’s a really neat visual experience to swim through a school of beautiful fish.

The big sighting on this dive was the Green Moray Eel. Usually all you see the head sticking out of its hole. We got to see this one swimming in the open as it headed to another hiding place.

Scrawled Filefish are one of my favorites because of their bright blue markings. This time I was lucky enough to find two of them swimming together.

After Snapper Ledge we went to Sand Island, which is just north of Molasses Reef. We then popped over to French Reef where we had some great sea life sightings.

Porcupinefish is another species that I keep an eye out for while diving. Shedd Aquarium describes this fish as “Shaped like a short baseball bat.” This is the best description that I have seen yet.

One of the best things about French Reef are the places that you can swim through a hole or tunnel in the reef. You often see fish and life that you don’t see on the reef. The school of Glassy Sweeper fish in this video (below) is an example.

The Minnow Cave is another great location to visit on French Reef. We were lucky this trip to encounter a minnow school. I enjoy watching the school shimmer and move as larger fish and divers move through the school.