Three big surprises on shore dive #3. Two good, one bad. The last dive of a great vacation!
We had finished 20 dives during our two week stay, and our log books were brimming with memories. My wife and I were happy campers. :-) Every dive had been unique, and each had contained its own wonderful surprises. My only disappointment was that we hadn't yet seen a single octopus! Last year in Bonaire, we had seen two, but only for a very brief encounter. So our last chance was to hope to find some on our last dive, the night before our non-diving day that preceded our flight home.
We thought our best chance would be the shore dive at La Ceiba. (Yup, the airplane wreck.) We had done it during the day, to familiarize ourselves with it, a few days before. The dive shop set-up there is perfect, everything is located about 20 feet from the water! Benches, tanks, weights, showers, gear lockers and all. And big concrete stairs down into the water for an easy entry and exit. (Yeah..., I almost got killed on those stairs at the end of the dive, but I'll save that for later.) The dive starts out nicely, and we see lobsters, all the urchins are marching around, and the Parrotfish are all sound asleep nestled into their coral niches.
And then my dive light flashes across... an OCTOPUS! I grab my wife's arm and start shaking her like a madman, practically scaring her to death. She shines her light on it also, and we soon realize that this octopus is out on the prowl, hunting for food, and could care less that we are along for the ride! This is fabulous! Our last dive, and the deep continues to serve up treat after treat. It's one of the things I really love about diving.
The octopus is typical size, its head the size of your fist, and its tentacles reaching out 15" in all eight directions! We move in for a good close look and pictures, and it totally ignores us, and continues to hunt. We were astounded to watch its stealthy glide over the coral and bottom debris. Extending a few legs forward, it would pull itself along, continuously extending new legs as its body passed over the ones gripping the surface.
This is a Caribbean Reef Octopus. It is the "most common octopus found in the open on reefs at night, never out in daytime."
(Reef Creature Identification - P. Humann)
We quickly discovered its hunting technique. When it found a small coral head that might contain a snack hidden within, it would spread out its legs and begin to probe the recesses with the tips of its tentacles. When it scarred up some little critter, bam!, the body of the octopus would balloon out like a parachute, cutting off any escape, enveloping its prey. This was really a sight to behold!
Along with its hunting, it would change color dramatically. As you can see in the pictures, some of the time it was brown and white, and some of the time it was a beautiful green! My wife and I were ecstatic! For fifteen minutes we followed this octopus around watching it hunt. I was enthralled with the sensuous and rhythmic flow of its body as it slithered and glided among the rocks.
Its big eyes seemed to be keeping watch on us, as it explored the dark. I tried to imagine this creature hunting in the pitch black of the night sea, and realized that indeed, it was completely dependent on its amazing tactile talents!
I would have followed it the rest of the night, but my wife wanted to explore some more. I could hardly take my eyes off this supple creature. Its body flowed like a magic fluid. Gentle and graceful, yet mysterious and deadly, it prowled its terrain with determined stealth. The fascination of watching the movement of its arms was spellbinding! Finally my wife pulled me along, and I realized that in the dark I'd better follow her.
Just on the other side of a huge coral head, she suddenly grabs my arm and scares *me* half to death! Directly in front of her is a huge Channel Clinging Crab, walking around looking for a snack of its own!
We moved closer and it stopped and posed for some pictures, then turned around and ambled off. This guy had character. I could imagine him saying, "Hey you, get that camera out of my face!" "I'm looking for something good to eat around here." "Have you seen any algae?" "Yesterday there was this great coral head all covered with algae." "It's around here somewhere, let's see, maybe over this way..."
Later in the dive, we found another crab that had found the Algae Diner. This one was in the middle of a feast and we moved in close to watch his table manners. This guy was having an algae orgy! Clinging to this vertical surface with eight legs, its two big pinchers took turns plucking bits of algae off the wall and shuttling them into its mouth. Man, this guy was really stuffing his face! The little pincers at his mouth were going a mile a minute. Its was awesome to watch this crab have his meal. (The Channel Clinging Crab is also commonly known as "Reef Spider Crab", "Spiny Spider Crab", "Coral Crab" and of course, "King Crab.")
With air running low, we headed back to the dock. I couldn't help taking one last picture of this Banded Coral Shrimp, sitting out so nicely on a little ledge. As I swam by, it yelled to me... "Hey you, scuba dude with the camera, be careful with your exit, man. It's DARK out there!"
In short order we arrived back at "THE STAIRS". Arriving at the same time, three other divers were in the process of deciding whether to exit, or go look for their errant fourth. The four or five big concrete steps are in a moderate state of decay, and their worst feature is that they slope downward, and are covered with slippery green scum. Calling them stairs is generous. Its dark, the general atmosphere is one of minor confusion, and I'm waiting to see if they are going to get out or not. The stairs have a big thick rope tied at the top, to assist divers in getting out. Holding on, you can lean back and help angle your feet in so they don't slip.
My mistake is being too close to the guy in front of me, who is having trouble maintaining his balance. In slow motion, he tips over sideways, the bottom end of his tank picking up speed as it swings in a wide arc that ends at the side of my head. Wham! It was a cloudy night, but I'm seeing stars now! Fortunately, my head rolled with the impact, and the surprise was the worst part of the blow. The tank missed my cheek bone and other significant facial features, and I was lucky that it landed flat, spreading out the force, and no real harm was done. The bruise lasted a few days, and a couple aspirin were all I needed. :-) Remember that tip about staying clear of the bottom of the dive boat ladder? Believe me, it's a good one! A few hundred yards between divers is what I recommend these days.
In spite of getting whacked, it was still an awesome dive, and now it makes for a little extra drama to the end of my trip report. :-))
This is the last of my Coz shore dive reports. I have some nice pics of our dive on Punta Sur reef, where Devil's Throat is located. Talk about a coral head swim through! This was definitely another highlight! Have a read of the Devil's Throat trip report. :-)
Below are the comments that were originally posted by users of the Trip Report section of the Rodale's Scuba Diving web site. (www.ScubaDiving.com) I've copied them from that section of the board, which is no longer functioning in the same format.
Rated: by Wetjed
Overall this is one of the best trip reports that I've ever read on this forum.It sounds like you had a blast.Can't wait to see the pics of the throat. Thanks for the ride.
Rated: by DMJ
Good report! Plenty of great detail combined with a good writing style, pleasing photos and an interesting format. Thanks for taking the time on these. Glad your head is feeling better. :-)
Rated: by Amazz
Rated: by doobee2
I didn't realize that scuba was a contact sport! Wonderful telling of your adventure.
Rated: by Zorrr2
GREAT read . . . felt like I was looking over your shoulder with you on the dive ! ! Love the pics ! !
Rated: by wideangle
Very nice series! Good photos and perspective :-) Tom
Rated: by RnR
Fabulous dive! We love that airplane and dive it every trip. Every day there are new residents under it so it is never the same dive, sort of. We hope to do it as a night dive this trip as well as daytime. Tanks for sharing!
Rated: by doobee1
Great series of reports, especially this night dive report. We'll be sure to add some shore dives during our next Coz trip.
Rated: by born2skiutah
Enthusiastic dialog, detailed directions to dive spots and closeup pics made for a very enjoyable report. Can't wait to see CZM for my first time next month! Glad you survived 'the ladder'. :)
Rated: by nanuk
another great report
Rated: by chumgal
Great report! Lots of fun to read! :)
Rated: by larryl
A good look at part of Cozumel that is usually overlooked. Thumbs up for the whole three-part series.
Rated: by tel52
All three reports were excellent. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Makes me want to back to Coz!
Rated: by Anonymous
I can't agree more, shore diving in Coz is under rated. Except for the giant coral formations, I've seen everything right off the beach
Rated: by spleen
Three great reports!
Rated: by Anonymous
Great reports! LOVE the octopus shots!!!
Rated: by Anonymous
Rated: by jlyle
WTF? How did I miss your reports? We must have been on a dive boat somewhere. Great reports on my favorite location. Thanks.