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…

15590732_10154819061114450_5598850666905961345_o

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.

15626103_10154819060429450_332558115645383487_o

Later I’d see a Nassau grouper hanging out, trying to pretend to be part of a grunt school.

15626103_10154819060539450_6284666422327618099_o

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.

15626064_10154819060094450_2440206628109919381_o

Midnight parrotfish are fairly rare and usually super skittish, but this one wanted to be friendly!

15369267_10154819060509450_3501918682563911704_o

Longspine squirrelfish aren’t THAT rare, but I really liked the lighting and colors in this shot.

15591577_10154819066494450_8347721396705059992_o

I had all the parrotfish luck, because this was a beautiful blue parrotfish hanging out with a juvie stoplight parrotfish and some grunt bodyguards.

15625945_10154819061119450_6208816446394351816_o

….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!

15540883_10154819064334450_7792452792166118970_o

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.

15590969_10154819061129450_8701522059268216687_o

Then, I turned around, and saw an eel just lounging.  He had cleaner shrimp and some little fish giving him a manicure and pedicure.

15591162_10154819065694450_2080301306731754152_o

Then, I turned around again, and I saw a Southern Ray just lazily swimming by.  I chased him down for pictures.

15591322_10154819060239450_3910155120332355789_o

The day ended with a scrawled filefish that wanted to give me his closeup.  I obliged.

15577988_10154819060619450_7881811876280585806_o

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.

15577993_10154819064954450_8532181938456297784_o

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.

15578073_10154819065709450_6735039557086672919_o

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.

15626425_10154819065019450_9187415483901584105_o

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!

15625603_10154819063064450_3293813453691400799_o

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.

15540752_10154819060724450_2409588591552294463_o

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!

15585077_10154819066634450_4460877301630825552_o

Smooth trunkfish are always adorable.

15626031_10154819061209450_4927077123802308566_o

I turned away from the group for a moment to get a good shot of these angels, and then they were GONE!

15577977_10154819060819450_5744124140899206825_o

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!

15626356_10154819063159450_525837391285200606_o

You see grunts all over, but just the sheer VOLUME of them blew my mind.  Sometimes it was far as the eye could see…

15625933_10154819066769450_3254586649003009104_o

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!

15577975_10154819062199450_16236740737179820_o

Then, we saw ANOTHER turtle, and this one was just lazily swimming along and he didn’t mind the company.  Turtles are my favorite.

15591587_10154819065164450_3562622259245370594_o

We ended the dive seeing a uniquely colored honeycomb cowfish.  I’ve never seen one quite this hue, it was gorgeous!

15585343_10154819061319450_1473192718226714231_o

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.

15419561_10154819065229450_2969606453535878555_o

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.

15578163_10154819062269450_1457748715806501299_o

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!

15626097_10154819062319450_3753612738297322256_o

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.

15493459_10154819063619450_9163703017825943996_o

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.

15540635_10154819066174450_967769887466631027_o

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.

15585176_10154819065324450_2883407470120573449_o

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.

15591377_10154819062359450_7069204009123787388_o

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.

15578333_10154819066244450_1836288206407268498_o

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!

15493558_10154819063769450_5320227637574908690_o

We found an abandoned tractor tire, and inside of it was a sleeping nurse shark.  It made a nice photo.

15625580_10154819067114450_6269498692502537884_o

On the way back, we stopped in the lagoon for a bit.  Here’s more of that eccentric alien world.

15585170_10154819063874450_8369338267644366054_o

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?

15540965_10154819066334450_5259928449634950694_o

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.

15591421_10154819062514450_898599065234847541_o

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.

15578361_10154819060999450_638220415239969818_o

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.

15626508_10154819061529450_3553309996704678245_o

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…

15585169_10154819061569450_8357063604821716583_o

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.

15625674_10154819062614450_1860599760009000997_o

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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Related Post