May 18, 2012

Divers Delight

As mentioned way back in an earlier post, if you ever visit the Bay Islands and don’t go diving (or at least snorkeling) it is like you were NEVER there! I went on a total of four dives on this latest trip to the islands with two different outfits. First, it was back to my roots with Cross Creek Divers in Utila, where I got my open water certificate back in 2001 and then with the highly recommended Mayan Divers, my dive center of preference when in Roatan; they will take good care of you with small groups, friendly staff, and recently renovated equipment.  
snorkeling the clear blue waters inWEST BAY
the flight of theTURTLEin shallow waters

I was also very excited I was finally going to put the underwater casing for my Olympus Pen E-PL1 camera to good use and for what it was originally intended for. It gave me the opportunity to take some nice diving and snorkeling clips plus photographs from the beautiful reefs of Utila and Roatan and arrange them to create the short film shown above. I aptly named it “Diver’s Delight”, and added the super cool tracks Feel the Love and Strangers in the Wind from Aussie band Cut Copy as background music to spice up the video even more.
a Black Jack poses inHERBIE'S PLACE
my firstLIONFISHsighting

The intro as well as the first clip of the green sea turtle seen on the video were taken in Roatan while snorkeling in very shallow water close to shore. One can observe that in contrast to the diving content which appears bluish and dull at greater depths, the snorkeling sections which are usually taken from the surface appear more vivid and rich in color, displaying more accurately the full palette of colors of the underwater world. In diving 101 you learn that this takes place because the deeper you go, the water ends up absorbing the left side of the color spectrum; this means the reds, orange, yellows, and greens are the first colors to disappear leaving only the blue and purple tones in the end. Why this turtle was roaming so close to shore and to swimmers swarming all around it, I cannot say, but I've heard it is not uncommon for turtles to hang around close to West Bay beach around the month of April. In addition to the impressive shots of the turtle I also managed to catch some barracudas, a lone and very large black jack swimming in front of us and also my first lionfish sighting. You may have already heard of this unique fish. Originally a species found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, they have reproduced uncontrollably in the Caribbean and the waters of the Southeast US. It turns out some of these guys accidentally escaped from their sea aquariums during Hurricane Andrew which hit the state of Florida in 1992, and without any local natural predators to control their population, they have reproduced indiscriminately and negatively impacted the reef habitats all over this part of the world. The Roatan Marine Park (RMP), a nonprofit organization in charge of protecting Roatan’s coral reefs, has done a great job of controlling this invasive species in their immediate area. I can provide proof of this, since I have been diving in the Marine Park in Roatan since 2004 and only came across one very small specimen this past year (2011). The same cannot be said about the reefs off the coast of Tela, which are paradoxically incredibly healthy, but to my surprise, overwhelmed by large number of lionfish of all shapes and sizes (more on this in the "Diving in the Bay Islands,no wait… did you say Tela???", entry). 

theLIONFISHcreating havoc all over the Caribbean
I heard from a diving instructor that upon leaving the Marine Park, the lionfish can be seen in great numbers, and that they simply multiply like mosquitoes. In order to counteract this phenomenon, the RMP has set up several programs, one of which includes providing spears to the community and in particular to the dive shops so they can harpoon and collect as many lionfish as possible. In addition, they also have instituted another program which has received plenty of news coverage including a report by National Geographic. It’s a project where local reef sharks are trained to prey on these species to help control their population; a very innovative idea to say the least and one with very high expectations from both conservationists and local stakeholders alike. 
 
Let’s just hope for the sake of our reefs and our tourism that these actions produce the desired results and keep these intruders in check! It is too bad that the lionfish is so detrimental to the environment and needs to be eradicated because it is one magnificent fish. When I finally came across one of these little buggers during my dive in Herbie’s Place in Roatan (which by the way, I consider it one of the best dive sites in West End), I was utterly amazed by its zebra-like stripes and intimidating spines. I spent quite some time admiring its menacing features and territorial pose, almost losing sight of my dive buddy in the process. 
The outlook appears to be pretty grim but like in other things in life, one tends to make the best of the worst situations, and the dive shop personnel have done exactly that. At day’s end they gather up all the lionfish caught after each dive and prepare an all out feast for dinner. It has turned out that lionfish tacos have resulted in a practical solution to a very pesky problem.