If you like fish pictures, this is the post for you! I spent so much time in the water this trip, I felt like it deserved it’s own post. Here’s a recap of our days in the ocean in Key Largo…
Friday, the conditions were pretty awful. The surge was pretty rough and the light was not good, and we got there during a lower part of the tide which is not ideal. However, all ocean time is good time. I saw an eel, my octopus buddy!!!, and some lobster, but the pictures aren’t really worth a feature because I got lazy and only brought my cheapo camera that day. I wouldn’t make that mistake again.
Saturday, we went diving in the morning. The rest of the day was awful, but the morning held up well for us. We started the day with a grouper right where we descended.
Later I’d see a Nassau grouper hanging out, trying to pretend to be part of a grunt school.
We then found two eels right next to each other. A green moray and a spotted moray (many more greens later, so here’s the spotted). It’s weird – when we’d see them in the morning, they seemed like they were happy and lounging and docile. In the afternoon and evening, they seemed like they were more aggressive and on the hunt.
Midnight parrotfish are fairly rare and usually super skittish, but this one wanted to be friendly!
Longspine squirrelfish aren’t THAT rare, but I really liked the lighting and colors in this shot.
I had all the parrotfish luck, because this was a beautiful blue parrotfish hanging out with a juvie stoplight parrotfish and some grunt bodyguards.
….and yet MORE parrotfish. The rainbow parrotfish are SO hard to photograph. They’re also super skittish and you have to get them in the right light (read… REALLY close to my flash) for the colors to come out. This doesn’t quite capture how pretty they are but it’s the closest I’ve come!
Then, the chain of awesome started. It seems like a lot of times, you’ll see one cool thing, and then another cool thing, and then something else really cool all in a row. This time, I found a spotted drum under a rock.
Then, I turned around, and saw an eel just lounging. He had cleaner shrimp and some little fish giving him a manicure and pedicure.
Then, I turned around again, and I saw a Southern Ray just lazily swimming by. I chased him down for pictures.
The day ended with a scrawled filefish that wanted to give me his closeup. I obliged.
Sunday was all about the shallows and the lagoon. It’s definitely a different sort of beautiful in the lagoon than the ocean. It reminds me a lot of snorkeling in the quarry on a very very very clear day… in that it just looks like this alien world.
On my way out, I did see a little baby tiny upside down jellyfish getting attacked by the swarms of juvinile fish that are everywhere in the lake. I rescued it for a few seconds. It was still there a few days later so obviously it can stand up for itself and probably didn’t need my help.
In the ocean, we saw a lesser electric ray and a multitude of lobster (I have better pictures later of both, so I’ll hold off) and a bunch of adorable itty bitty nurse sharks napping the afternoon away.
I also chased down a bandtail puffer fish until it actually posed for me. If I could communicate with fish and just tell them that I am friend and I just want a picture, life would be so much easier!
Monday, we flipped things around and went for an afternoon dive on the shop’s suggestion since the waters were supposed to be calmer. Our plan was to go see Christ of the Deep, but the visibility in that area was crappy, so we just went back to Molasses Reef. We started the day with a reminder of why to wear wet suits when diving… I feel pretty brave (/stupid?) getting that close to the stingy side of a moon jellyfish with no gloves on.
Trumpetfish are not super rare but I have never seen any this big! They would have been a family’s meal for sure! Scale is hard to judge here, but he was probably the length of my arm and much fatter!
Smooth trunkfish are always adorable.
I turned away from the group for a moment to get a good shot of these angels, and then they were GONE!
After cursing and freaking out just a little bit, I figured out which way they had to have gone and located them AND the reason they deserted me… a big beautiful nurse shark!
You see grunts all over, but just the sheer VOLUME of them blew my mind. Sometimes it was far as the eye could see…
Another group was diving and had an underwater noisemaker rattling, and I went to go see what the fuss was about. It was a shy turtle hiding under a rock. He put up with my camera flashes for a little bit, and then swam RIGHT UNDER ME. It made me happy!
Then, we saw ANOTHER turtle, and this one was just lazily swimming along and he didn’t mind the company. Turtles are my favorite.
We ended the dive seeing a uniquely colored honeycomb cowfish. I’ve never seen one quite this hue, it was gorgeous!
Even with the jellyfish action, these definitely in my top 10 dives ever. There was so much to see!
Tuesday, we finally got our clear days out in the shallows. I saw a lot of lobster, and this cute little crab who really wanted to pinch me.
We got out and walked to the jetty, and Zliten decided to get in and check it out. He swam around a bit and then shouted THROW ME MY CAMERA!!! Once I heard what it was, and that it wasn’t moving, I clambered down the rocks as quickly as I could and said fuck my fins so I could get some snaps of this guy.
My octopus buddy hung out for a bit before hiding away again. It made sense why I couldn’t find him after the first day… he had left for HIS vacation. This made my week!
We went back out close to sundown, and found all the eels on the hunt. At first, I thought one eel was just stalking me, but Zliten pointed out they were different sizes. It was still a little creepy. However, I got this lovely picture, which I call Eel School Portrait. It makes me giggle when I look at it every time.
It was the full moon, so the lobsters were definitely partying and doing the moon dance. This was the first time I’ve snorkeled after dark, and it was really fun to catch the inhabitants of the rocks doing different stuff.
Wednesday was our last day and I was bound and determined to spend as much of it in the water as I could. I think I clocked something like 4 hours submerged. We spent more time around the jetty, which was great, because we saw more things, but it was definitely DANGER SNORKELING because there were thousands of these things all over.
I always think I see highhats, but they’re always spotted drums (which are more common). However, this trip, I found my FIRST highhat, after I chased a stupidly shy (ok, probably SMARTLY shy for his self preservation, but still…) midnight parrot fish into a crevice, this little guy posed for me for a bit.
Let me introduce you to Lobster Family. On a broken lobster trap, no less, there were constantly 6-10+ lobsters hanging out under this one rock. I always said hi to them and let them tap my camera when I went by.
I’ve not seen schools of parrot fish before. It’s not the best photo, but it was really cool to see more than one at a time!
We found an abandoned tractor tire, and inside of it was a sleeping nurse shark. It made a nice photo.
On the way back, we stopped in the lagoon for a bit. Here’s more of that eccentric alien world.
I almost didn’t get Zliten to come back out for another session, but enough pouting made it happen. How about one more sleeping nurse shark for posterity?
We found two lionfish this time. Lionfish are SO gorgeous but so bad for reefs – they eat anything smaller than them and reproduce so quickly. I hope beyond hope that they were not a breeding pair or we may come back and see all the lionfish and not much else.
I turned my head randomly and caught a gorgeous giant spotted ray flying by about 5 feet from me. The lighting was all wrong and I only had one chance at it, so this is the best I got.
However, ALL the lesser electric rays were out. I counted at least five we saw. They are a lot calmer and you don’t have to chase them down.
I’ll save you more eel and lobster pics, but they were out to say their farewells to us. We did catch a very uniquely colored scrawled cowfish on our way back to shore. He didn’t want to stay in my light (the fun of night snorkel pictures) but he lit himself up pretty well anyway…
And for our last trick, in one foot of water, we played hide and seek with this little tiny baby crab. He’d hide, and we’d tap on the sand above him and he’d come back out. It was adorbs. Please excuse the overexposure from all our lights in such shallow water.
Things I learned this time:
- It’s never worthless to get in the water. Worst case, you see nothing and spend some time in the ocean and it’s still a win.
- However, it’s ALWAYS worth bringing the good camera. Especially on the bad days (because you’ll get better pictures). You’ll never know what you’ll capture.
- 75-79 degrees (December Key Largo ocean temps) is not really comfortable with just a swimsuit, but I didn’t need a wetsuit every day. Next time I’ll grab some sort of cheapo leggings to go with my rashguard so I can save the pull and tug of getting the wetsuit on every time.
- Having three bathing suits was not overkill. I still had to put a wet one on to go out once in a while. Four actually would have been ideal, and I could have left some of the other clothes I brought instead.
- Snorkeling in the shallows after a few beers was fun. 🙂
- Not so much learned, but enforced – the slower you go, the more you’ll see. It takes looking under all the rocks and crevices and looking all around you to find the cool stuff. There were SO many people we talked to that snorkeled there all the time and had never seen the eels and sharks.
- When given the opportunity to snorkel/dive vs do anything else – I will pick water time. We had designs about doing a long run, having a bike adventure around the key, going on a fishing tip… but instead we played in the water until we were pooped.
- Besides looking at the pictures we took, the best way to unwind was reading. We figured we’d go out and hit a bar at least one night but instead we just read books until our eyes were droopy.
- Not to say there wasn’t cocktails being had. The last word of wisdom is the best way to cure a hangover… getting outside and back into the water. I did a pretty good job at not overdoing it, but was feeling pretty rough the last morning, but a quickie run and a dip in the lagoon fixed me right up.
Sadly, I’m now back to being landlocked, but we’re discussing our adventures for 2017, which will definitely include some diving on a cruise, mayyyyybe some altitude diving in Lake Tahoe if it works out, and perhaps a short liveaboard trip in the fall/winter.
And, if you’re still here, bless your heart, and want to see more, you can find my whole album HERE.