Yupp, that’s alliteration. Today’s adventures began with several students jumping in the pool (due to a lack of water pressure at TREC), and breakfast at 8; biscuits, papaya, and scrambled eggs accompanied the usual pile of watermelon on the buffet.
After breakfast and a quick briefing of today’s schedule, our entourage filed down to the dock, under a cloudy sky for today’s dive. Thankfully, the sea was significantly calmer compared to yesterday. Our first stop was an hour boat ride north along the island: The Mexican Rocks (the Mexican border is approximately 15 miles further north, so we didn’t need our passports). After applying sunscreen, spitting in our masks, and last-minute hydration, we split into two groups to explore the reef. Mexican Rock, unlike yesterday’s sites, was a lot deeper in water. It could just be me, but it seems as if this patch reef system held far more diverse and abundant fish activity. For the first time we saw moray eels and squids. We even saw about three sting rays and two nurse sharks. No students were harmed in this exploration of Mexican Rock. However, several of us had a Sea Egg gleefully attach itself to our hands.
After a tour of the reef requiring lots of swimming around, the groups split up into pairs and began looking for things on the scavenger list. All the time put into reef identification the week prior back in Lexington payed off bountifully. We were all very thankful for putting in many hours before learning the different types of reefs. Back on the boat, a lunch of bean dip, tuna sandwiches, and PB and J’s took place on the way to our next stop, Mexican Cave.
Mexican cave, is just that, a cave; just south of our first snorkel spot and ~10 meters below the ocean’s surface, this was a great excuse for us to practice our free diving skills (or lack there of). We were sufficiently impressed with Siete and Abner’s skills and Professor Greer’s underwater headstand. This was not the end of today’s excitement, since we still had one more stop, Catalan.
Catalan was a small patch reef ecosystem where Grayson had the pleasure of slaughtering a lionfish. We discussed the lionfish epidemic last night in TREC’s hammock garden. They are an invasive species which eat like gluttons, and they are not picky eaters either. Many small fish on the reef are potential meals for these voracious predators. So, in an environment where collecting or hunting live species of anything is usually prohibited, it’s open season on lionfish. One small problem is that the lionfish has venemous spikes protruding from its striped torso. Our guides Ken and Siete can attest to the painfulness of being pricked by the lion. After a long effort to chase the lionfish out of its reclusive home underneath a coral, our gladiator-in-residence Grayson swiftly speared it through the scalp.