If, like me, you find yourself checking the D2D bulletin board several times a day looking for trip reports about Cozumel, pictures from Cozumel, postings about Cozumel, and even questions about Cozumel, then you are probably a Cozumelholic. This trip report will help to ease the pain a little of not being there. (Warning: There are lots of pictures and it may take a long, long time to download. If you are using a dial-up connection to the internet, only click on the link if you are really, really desperate for a Coz fix.)
There are reasons why Cozumel is such a popular dive destination: convenient, affordable, fantastic diving. What follows is mostly running commentary and a whole lot of pictures from our most recent trip. I’ve included pictures from this trip of the usual suspects: toadfish, eels, angelfish, scorpionfish, etc. as well as some more seldom seen fish and creatures. I hope you enjoy them.
San Miguel de Cozumel looking south towards town.
Goldentail moray (Gymnothorax miliaris)
“Hello! My name is Jim...
Chorus: ‘Hello, Jim.’
…and I am a Cozumelholic. I haven’t dived in Cozumel in five days.”
Christmas tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)
1. Do you lose time from work due to going to Cozumel? 2. Is your constant talking about diving Cozumel making your home life unhappy? 3. Do you go to Cozumel because you are shy with other people? 4. Are trips to Cozumel affecting your reputation? 5. Have you ever felt remorse after returning from Cozumel? 6. Have you gotten into financial difficulties as a result of trips to Cozumel? 7. Do you turn to lower companions and an inferior environment when vacationing in Cozumel? 8. Does your fixation on Cozumel make you careless of your family's welfare? 9. Has your ambition decreased since going to Cozumel? 10. Do you crave a dive in Cozumel at a definite time of day? 11. Do you want a dive in Cozumel the next morning? 12. Does thinking about your next trip to Cozumel cause you to have difficulty in sleeping? 13. Has your efficiency decreased since returning from Cozumel? 14. Are trips to Cozumel jeopardizing your job or business? 15. Do you go to Cozumel to escape from worries or trouble? 16. Do you dive Cozumel alone? 17. Have you ever had a complete loss of memory as a result of diving Cozumel? 18. Has your physician ever treated you for diving Cozumel? 19. Do you brag about your trips to Cozumel to build up your self-confidence? 20. Have you ever been to a hospital or institution on account of diving Cozumel?
If you have answered YES to any one of the questions, there is a definite warning that you may be a Cozumelholic. If you have answered YES to any two, the chances are that you are a Cozumelholic. If you have answered YES to three or more, you are definitely a Cozumelholic. (Apologies to Robert V. Seliger, MD, Johns Hopkins University Hospital.)
Longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi) on Las Palmas reef
Withdrawal is the pits! I finally found out where Deborah hid the credit card after our August trip to Cozumel and made reservations for two weeks at Scuba Club Cozumel for my semester break in January.
Graysby (Cephalopholis cruentata)
Wednesday: We caught the Continental red-eye out of LAX to Houston. The security at the airport was especially tight for the holidays but we were able to check in with time to spare. I don’t understand why I’ve never been asked to open my camera case but the regulators always get questioned. We can’t be the only ones traveling with scuba gear in our carry on luggage. We had three hours between planes in Houston and met our friends, Joan and Paul, from Nevada, who were joining us. The plane to Cozumel was only about half full and we arrived before noon. I made it through the stoplight at customs, but Deborah got a red light and had to wait while they looked through her luggage for whatever they look for. No, we are not carrying more than $10,000 in US currency, and no, we do not have any livestock with us.
Reef red hermit crab (Paguristes cadenati)
Exiting the airport, we caught one of the shuttle vans to Scuba Club and were greeted once again with “Welcome home” by Sofia, music to our ears! We were even early enough for the diver’s special lunch. After lunch, we did a checkout dive off the iron shore. Our quickie checkout turned into an hour and a half dive along the wall saying hello to our fishy friends that we hadn’t seen since August.
Spotted scorpionfish Scorpaena plumieri
About five o’clock, after our check out dive, I took a cab to La Ceiba. D2D member scubaskeeter had invited any D2D people who were on the island this week to meet each other. It was great to put a face to a name and meet his lovely wife. Unfortunately, I could only stay an hour and was unable to go to dinner with a bunch of them later in the week. All the divers we have met have been really nice folks. Is there something about scuba diving that attracts the best people?
Midnight parrotfish (Scarus coelestinus)
Speaking of nice people, my Ikelike DS-125 strobe flooded on day four. A fellow diver, who I had never met before, let me borrow his new, unused strobe for the rest of our two weeks. They had brought their new digital set up in preparation for a trip to Truk and Palau but had never gotten it wet they were having so much fun diving. I won’t forget your kindness, Terry! Maybe someday I can pay it forward. I’ve ordered a new strobe and sent it to him now that we are back in the states. With any luck, either my DAN equipment insurance or the warrantee may cover the flooded strobe. The strobe head is factory sealed and is not supposed to flood.
Horse-eye jacks (Caranx latus)
All images were taken with an Olympus c5050 camera in an Olympus PT-015 housing with an Ikelite DS-125 strobe, manual controller, Olympus WAL and macro lenses. Most of the images are untouched right out of the camera. A few images have been slightly edited or cropped with Adobe Photoshop 7. I’m a real novice and don’t know how to fully utilize Photoshop so I don’t mess with it. The Olympus combination is a great underwater digital camera system for both beginners, like me, and for more experienced photographers, too. I have learned a lot from my fellow underwater digital photographers over on digitaldiver.net and my mentor, RogerC.
Purplemouth moray (Gymnothorax vicinus)
Rough fileclam (Lima scabra)
Camera settings: If you are curious, I used four different setups on the camera, for wide angle, intermediate pictures on the reef, super macro, and with the macro conversion lens. All images were taken with an ISO of 64.
1. Wide angle shots and shots with blue water backgrounds: 1/100 sec & f 2.8 to start with. I would adjust either aperture or shutter speed to get an exposure value reading of between –0.3 and –0.7. Darker blue backgrounds are achieved with faster shutter speeds. The manual strobe controller set at 1 or 2 would usually give me the proper amount of fill light.
2. Intermediate images: 1/250 sec & f4.0 and the strobe adjusted to give the proper lighting.
Porkfish (Anisotremus viginicus)
Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)
Coney (Epinephellus fulvus), bicolor phase
Red Hind Epinephelus guttatus showing an interesting color
3. Super macro images: 1/250 sec & f8.0 plus the external strobe adjusted for correct exposure. Here I wanted the maximum depth of field that the c5050 can give.
Slender filefish (Monacantus tuckeri)
Rough box crab (Calappa gallus)
Flamingo tongue (Cyphoma gibbosum) laying eggs!
Close up of the eggs
4. Using the macro conversion lens: I slightly modified Saudio’s tips shared in his gear review of this lens that he serendipitously posted just before we left the States: macro mode, 1/250 sec & f8.0 with the telephoto at about 3/4 zoom. The camera was able to achieve autofocus on most subjects from 2-3 inches away. I used the external strobe for illumination, adjusting the intensity as necessary.
Spinyhead blenny (Acanthemblemaria spinosa)
Squat anemone shrimp (Thor amboinensis)
The basic fundamentals can be summarized as follows: shutter speed for background, f-stops for exposure, and the strobe for fill light. After two weeks I am finally beginning to get the hang of the camera and easily switch between my-modes as necessary during the dive to get the shots that I want. Except for one episode with a moray eel…
Thursday: The pod people are out in force in January, with seven cruise ships in port today! Boatloads of newly-weds, over-feds and nearly-deads buying t-shirts made in Bangladesh.
San Miguel de Cozumel with the cruise ships in port.
Eat, sleep, dive, download the camera…life is good.
Mushroom scorpionfish (Scorpaena inermis)
Reef scorpionfish (Scorpaenodes caribbaeus) I had never seen one of these before! They hide during the day and I found this one inside a hole, clinging to the ceiling upsidedown. I've turned the image over so that you can see the fish better.
Saturday: It rained hard last night and we now have an El Norte wind blowing. Up until now it’s been a little windy and cool, but this is a nasty wind churning up the water. The winds picked up significantly over night. Despite the wind and the whitecaps on the water, the Harbor Master didn’t close the harbor and we were able to go diving. Everyone was bundled up with windbreakers; you would have thought it was cold. The water temps have been in the 78-80 degree range but the wind sucks the calories out of you during the surface intervals. Tomorrow should be better as the front moves east. Still, I would rather be here in Cozumel during an El Norte than at work!
Drift diving: you may read or hear opinions about how difficult drift diving is. Don’t believe it. When you arrive at a dive site in Cozumel, you normally do a giant stride or back roll into the water and descend to a sandy bottom before moving over to the reef. The current carries you along with only an occasional fin kick to steer you in the right direction. Should the current carry you faster than you want to do, you can simply duck down behind a coral formation out of the current and wait until the rest of the group catches up with you. Your dive master will point out interesting fish and creatures as you move along the wall or reef formation. At the end of the dive, you slowing ascend to 15 feet for a three-minute safety stop while drifting over more coral formations or a sand bottom. When you hit the surface and inflate your BCD the boat is there to pick you up. You hand up your fins and climb the ladder back onto the boat. You don’t have to navigate your way back to the boat, your air lasts much longer because you aren’t swimming much, and the water is clear and warm. You feel the ocean. You become one with the water. What’s so difficult about that? You want difficult? Come out to California and do a shore entry through the surf to dive the kelp forests in cold, low vis. Water! Drift diving in Cozumel is easy and fun.
Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculates)
Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)
Sunday: A large group from Sacramento (Dolphin Divers) arrived today and the inn is full! I thought this was supposed to be the off-season. There are more of us Cozumelholics than I thought. Maybe we should have a meeting or something…
One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish!
Indigo hamlet (Hypoplectrus indigo)
Barred hamlet (Hypoplectrus puella)
Winter in Cozumel brings few changes in what you see underwater the rest of the year. There are more frequent eagle ray sightings, but fewer turtles and fewer nurse sharks than in the summer. The rest of the fish and reef creatures appear to be about the same in types, variety, and number. We are seeing many more peacock flounders and significantly fewer filefish this trip. It may only be my perception, but the currents seem to be more consistent now than in August. Visibility varies from over 100 feet to less than thirty depending on the direction of the winds. The water is cooler in the winter, 78-80 degrees F as opposed to 82-84 degrees F in the summer. I was comfortable in my 3 mm wetsuit this trip while I wear a dive skin in the summer. Air temps are a comfortable 80 degrees with lows near 70 degrees. It’s not as hot and humid as in the summer and can be windy and cool especially during a north wind. In January, you will see the locals all bundled up in sweatshirts and jackets while the tourists are in t-shirts and shorts!
Spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari)
Spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari)
Tuesday: D2D member regtek and Susan were at the dock to meet us when we returned from our two-tank am boat dive. Regtek brought his new Olympus c5050 and PT-015 housing to get it wet for the very first time. His images came out extraordinarily good without an external strobe.
Regtek cruising the turtle grass looking for small stuff.
Here he is on one of the wall dives. I think he was having a good time because he never stopped reminding us that he was!
Chankanaab Bolones is one of our favorite dive sites. It lies just offshore from the more popular Chankanaab reef. Instead of one continuous reef, Bolones consists of several large coral heads separated by flat sandy patches. The depth here is about seventy feet and slopes off to even deeper coral heads scattered here and there. Divers swim around from formation to formation, looking for really big lobsters and crabs as well as myriad other fish.
Channel clinging crab (Mithrax forceps)
Chankanaab Bolones is also the best place in Cozumel to find the rare submarinefish. During the dive, you may hear the song of the submarine fish and if you are really lucky, you may be treated to a close encounter. It has been reported that the submarinefish’s diet consists of pod people and you may even be able to see some in its belly. Many of them appear to be still alive and can be seen waving frantically and signaling for help with their camera strobes. Oh, the humanity!
We have always stayed at Scuba Club Cozumel when on the island. We started coming here fourteen years ago when it was called the Galápago Inn. SCC is an all inclusive dive resort with the emphasis on diving. The strong points of SDD are the ambience in the beautiful rooms and grounds; the wonderfully warm and friendly staff; the great food; and the on-site dive operation. Many times when we have stayed at SCC we haven’t left the property except to go diving until it was time to go back to California. Sofia comes and says to me, “your credit card company just called and they want you to go back to work.” Our travel agent is Debbie Lanham (Maduro Dive) who has done all of our scuba travel arrangements for many years. She's the best. Please, send me an email (email@example.com) if you want more information or have any questions.
Our dive-master at SCC for many years has been Jesús Zetina who always tries to find us new things to look at. It was Jesús who found the frogfish for us in August. The frogfish is no longer there, but we are looking for another. It may take us several years to find one, but we will have to keep coming back until we do. Someone’s got to do it.
Sponge brittle stars (Ophiothrix suensonii)
Jesús is making frames and mounting pictures of the fish and underwater creatures of Cozumel as a hobby. He graciously gave us a beautifully framed blow up of the frogfish that he found with us last August. Thank you, Jesús, muchas gracias. Tim, don’t you think some of Jesús’ pictures would look good in the rooms of SCC? Of course, you would have to bolt them to the wall so that they don’t “walk off.”
Spotted scorpionfish sex?
This is Cozumel's sea "snake." No, there are no sea snakes in the Carribean; it’s actually a sharptail eel (Monopenchelys acuta)
To quote our dive master, Jesús, “On this reef you will find many colorful divers.” With over seventy different dive operations on the island and the thousands of divers who visit each year, you might expect the reefs to be in poor shape, but amazingly they all appear as healthy now as they did fourteen years ago when we first came to Cozumel. You still see big groupers, log barracuda, huge lobster, many turtles and large schools of fish. The protection of the marine park seems to be working. We had stopped diving one of the more popular reefs, Paso de Cedral, several years ago because it was beginning to get pretty beat up. On this trip, we went back to Paso de Cedral and were amazed at how nice it looked. I guess the marine environment is more resilient than we think.
Peacock flounder (Bothus lunatus)
Thursday: We dove Punta Sur this morning, not the Devil’s Throat (been there done that), but the pinnacles further south. This part of the reef system has the most magnificent coral buttresses rising out of stark white sand and standing on the edge of the abyss. Visibility was the best we have had this trip, over 100 feet. After doing a couple of swim-throughs, we were treated to fly-bys by two eagle rays. A long drift over the white sand dunes brought us to another large coral formation where a large southern stingray lay buried in the sand. This was before the final sand chute separating the main part of Punta Sur from the southern pinnacles. Flying over the dunes between the pinnacles is like soaring over the Sahara.
Goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara)
Black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci)
Our second dive was Yocab Reef in a moderate current. This low reef, with a sandy bottom on either side, is covered in healthy sponges, finger corals, and corals. Many different species of fish call this reef home. Here is a great place to find the indigenous splendid toadfish. There was even a school of gray angelfish under one ledge instead of the normal pairs. At the end of the reef we found a six-foot green moray out swimming on the reef. Normally we only see them under ledges and in holes, but this guy was out and unafraid of us. I desperately swam parallel to his path trying in vain to screw on my wide-angle conversion lens and get the camera out of super-macro mode! He was no more than two feet away from me and we swam side by side up the reef in formation for a long time before he turned back and settled on the bottom letting me at least get a “head shot”. What a hoot! Let’s go back and do that one again.
Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris)
Saturday: Two very pleasant dives this morning. We first dove San Francisco Reef. This reef is the northern end of Santa Rosa Wall. Because it is closer to town, it is often done as a second dive. As it was, we were the only ones on the reef. A moderate current moved us along the edge of the drop off. There are many fish of all types on this reef, pairs of gray angelfish, scrawled filefish, groupers, schools of grunts and a host of others. We had hoped to spot an eagle ray or two, but none came to play. The second dive was on of my favorites, Chankanaab. This coral reef is covered with colorful sponges. Under the coral are caves and crevices, hosting many large lobsters, crabs and even a big green moral eel. The upper part of the reef is a nursery of small fish of many types and schools of mahogany grunts, schoolmasters, and French grunts. The sandy areas on both sides of the reef host huge sea rod “bushes” and small coral heads with the occasional resident toadfish. This is also a great place to find both juvenile and adult spotted drum. Too soon, time was up and we had to leave our reverie on the reef.
Juvenile spotted drum (Equetus punctatus) Note the vertical stripes.
Juvenile highhat (Equetus acuminatus) Note the horizontal stripes.
Adult spotted drum (Equetus punctatus)
Shore dives: One of our favorite dives in Cozumel isn’t on one of the famous reefs, but simply offshore in front of Scuba Club. Where some divers might only see rubble and sand, we spend many hours looking for small stuff like cleaner shrimp, scorpionfish, fringed filefish, and even seahorses in the grass, muck diving Cozumel style. On three of our late afternoon shore dives we even saw eagle rays feeding! The night dives are really fun when the octopus come out to play and small fish and creatures that hide during the day come out to forage. This is also a great place to play with the camera and not have to worry about keeping up with the group. We often find new and unusual creatures on these dives.
Juvenile spotted trunkfish (Lactophrys bicaudalis)
You've seen many banded coral shrimp, but have you ever seen a Golden coral shrimp (Stenopus sctullatus)?
Night diving off the shore in front of Scuba Club is also rewarding:
Caribbean reef octopus (Octopus briareus)
Sleeping stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viridae)
Lesser electric ray (Narcine brasiliensis)
Lesser electric ray (Narcine brasiliensis) up close and personal!
Caribbean reef squid (Sepioteuthis sepiodea)
Many creatures live together in some sort of symbiosis, such as the spotted shrimp that are most often found in the giant anemones. One such symbiosis is a little crustacean that lives with sea cucumbers. On one shore dive, I turned over one of the many sea cucumbers and found this little guy. He is no more than a couple of millimeters long and was a challenge to get in focus to take this image. I haven’t a clue as to the scientific name. Don’t you just love macro photography?
Anyone know what this little guy is called? Gunard posted the answer! It's a Bumblebee Shrimp (Gnathophylum americanum). Thanks Gunard.
Another symbiotic relationship is between the red snapping shrimp (aka pistol shrimp) and the corkscrew anemone.
Red snapping shrimp (Alpheus armatus)
Monday: El Norte Grande is blowing tonight! The wind is really howling and the waves are breaking over the piers. Hopefully it will blow itself out overnight and we will be able to go out on the boats tomorrow.
Sargassum triggerfish (Xanthichtys ringens)
Spotted scorpionfish up close.
Tuesday: After a wild night, the wind abated and we were able to get out on one of the large catamarans. As the day progressed, it got sunny and the wind dropped. We had some of the best visibility of the trip on this, our last day of diving. We started off with Colombia Bricks where huge columns of coral, covered in colorful sponges and gorgonian fans rise up from the deep. We saw two turtles and found a shark asleep in a cave overlooking the wall.
Scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus)
The second and last dive of the trip was on Tormentos Reef. We dropped down about a third of the way along the reef so that we could spend some time looking for a little yellow frogfish that was seen the previous week. We looked in vain but Jesús found a batfish! This was only the third batfish that we have seen in Cozumel; we saw one twelve years ago, a tiny juvenile two years ago, and now this one. This is one of the strangest looking fish in the ocean. It looks like a cross between a chicken, a fish, and a Hercules aircraft (the one with the bump on its nose). To cap it off, Jesús pointed out a fingerprint cyphoma, another rarity. What a great last dive of two fantastic weeks in paradise.
Shortnose batfish (Ogcocephalus nasutus)
Fingerprint cyphoma (Cyphoma signatum)
Are you still here?
Queen conch (Strombus gigas)
Wednesday: We must leave and go back to work (Hey! I just noticed, “work” is a four-letter word.) I made sure that we had three hours between planes in Houston to allow plenty of time to go through immigration and customs before catching the plane to Los Angeles. Besides, that will give me time to get some gumbo at Pappadeaux’s in the airport.
Banded butterflyfish (Chaetodon stiatus)
Juvenile honeycomb cowfish (Acanthostracion polygonia)
Blue crab? (Callinectes sp.)
One symptom of addiction is the need for more and more of the addicting agent. Years ago we came to Cozumel for one week stays. We now go for two weeks at a time. When I retire, we can stay even longer because two weeks isn’t enough. I think I’m really, really hooked!
Bridled goby (Coryphopterus glaucofraenum) guarding its eggs
School of gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus)
White speckled hermit crab (Paguristes punticeps)
Now, where did Deborah hide that pesky credit card this time? I feel withdrawal coming on. It’s time to start planning the next trip. Deborah keeps mentioning something about an “intervention”, whatever that is.
Spotted cleaner shrimp Periclimenes yucatanicus
If you have never been to Cozumel, you will want to put it on your life list. You, too, could join the ranks of the many Cozumelholics on this board.