Well, day 2 in Cozumel was the beginning of my new love affair.  Fortunately for my marriage, we can make it a threesome.  T has loved scuba for a long time and wanted to introduce me to it so that we could do it together, and I have to say, I am also head over heels. *grin*

I have always been comfortable in water.  I would spend 2 weeks out of every summer in my grandfather’s pool from dawn until after dark. I was the kid who always wanted to play games that involved collecting things off the bottom of the pool, or holding my breath underwater.   I completed Advanced Swimmer classes by the time I was 10, and only failed to go on to Junior Lifeguard because I had to wait 3 years before I was eligible for it.  When I used to do whitewater kayaking, I wasn’t at all freaked out about hanging upside down in a pool strapped into a large plastic boat.  So the idea of actually being able to stay underwater and breathe at the same time was pretty cool.

Not to mention, I am an amateur naturalist.  My sister is a zookeeper, my family watched Animal Planet all the time when I was younger, and I love observing different plants and animals in the wild.  Ask my friend N, a plant biologist — we usually managed less than a mile during our hikes in the redwoods because I was stopping and asking her the name of every plant we saw along the way.  So the idea of being underwater and checking out reefs was pretty cool.

O. M. G.

Every diver I met said I am now spoiled for life, because Cozumel is one of the best reefs in the world.  And I absolutely believe it.  The amount and varety of life out there was simply amazing.  And I got to do 2 dives a day, then shower, clean gear, have lunnner, then drink margaritas and daiquiris and hang out with new friends all evening.  Talk about an amazing vacation!  Plus, one of our dives was a night dive, where we went down at dusk with flashlights and got to see all kinds of things you don’t see during the day, like an octopus, and squid, and what we think was a crayfish, something that looked like a lobster, only without any claws or even feelers.  And at one point, we settled onto the bare sand, turned off our flashlights, and played with the phosphorescence in the water, which looked like tiny green fireflies that would blink on when you disturbed them by moving through the water.  So cool!  I gave T bad advice on the best camera setting to use at night, however, so most of those photos didn’t turn out.

I bought T a plastic card for Valentine’s Day that helps divers identify 75 different fish and other ocean life specific to the Cozumel area.  We saw at least 41 of the fish on the card, plus plenty more that weren’t listed.  Fairy basslets, harlequin bass, squirrelfish, sand divers, smooth trunkfish, blue tangs, sand tilefish, foureye, spotfin, reef and banded butterflyfish, a southern stingray, green and spotted moray eels, yellow goatfish, sergeant majors, bluehead wrasse, tobaccofish, crabs, lobsters, tiny coral banded and shrimp — we saw these guys on every dive, along with dozens of other species whose names I don’t know.  Then there were special sightings:  yellow stingrays on the sandy bottom, mohawked hogfish, toadfish hiding in nooks and crannies, juvenile and adult spotted drums, a pair of porcupinefish looking for some peace and quiet, fire clams, sea urchins of different shapes and sizes, and little white  blennies backing expertly into their seafloor holes.  But those are just the ones we didn’t get pictures of.

Or, rather, T didn’t get pictures of.  Because I had a hard time clearing my ears, swimming, and peeing in my wetsuit all at the same time.  So I selfishly made T take all of the photos on this trip.  Which meant he did a lot more swimming around, trying to get close to things to take a decent picture, and went through air faster than me.  (I’m so mean.)

Also, it’s really, really hard to take good pictures underwater.  The water itself acts as a light filter, so once you get more than a few feet down everything starts to turn blue.  Unless you have an incredibly expensive underwater camera with a massive flash (and we don’t) you can’t capture most of the color that your eyes see.  And your eyes don’t even see everything that’s there, to be honest.  Not to mention, the fish themselves are iridescent — the colors on them seem to glow.  You just don’t get that on film (the stoplight parrotfish is probably the closest to real life in this group, and it still absolutely pales in comparison to the real thing).  I am responsible for all the photo post-processing, where I tweaked the hell out of the pictures to try and get them to look something like what we saw.  Which means, in some cases, they look like they were printed badly on tourism posters in the 1970s, having gone from all-blue to teal-and-purple.  But I’ve done my best.

Anyway, here are the best of our photos (and a few not so great ones that I just had to include).  T also got video of eagle rays, a couple turtles, and a nurse shark (!), and some video of me flailing around underwater.  From behind.  And no one’s butt looks good in a wetsuit, much less mine, so those are better off unseen. 

sea turtle

trumpetfish

small eagle ray and blue tang

boxfish with a French grunt

small barracuda

squid from our night dive

Bermuda chub

Queen triggerfish

scrawled filefish

gray snapper being fed a lionfish*

black grouper

honeycomb cowfish

black durgon

sea cucumber

lobster

HUGE crab from our night dive

midnight parrotfish

Princess parrotfish

stoplight parrotfish

*As a footnote, I should probably explain the lionfish picture.  Lionfish look a lot like the scorpionfish that are indigenous to the area, but they are an invasive species.  Apparently, a house with a saltwater aquarium with one of these guys in it was pulled into the ocean during a hurricane a few years back, and now they are rampant on the reef.  They have no natural predators, eat everything they see, and lay thousands of eggs once a month.  As a result, they are in danger of completely taking over the reefs, so scuba divers and dive masters bring along little spear guns and hunt them when they see them.  We had a single, hour-long dive where we saw 7 of them, and managed to kill about 5.  They have sponsored hunting competitions on reefs where scuba divers aren’t keeping the population down, and the winning team last year caught over 350 in a single hour.  When dive masters do manage to kill them, they feed them to the local fish, in order to teach them that lionfish are a good food source, so they will keep their numbers down naturally.  That’s why the snapper is being fed the dead lionfish.

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