Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras, C.A. 2010

Scuba Diving

Utila, Honduras

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Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

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Florida Keys, U.S.A.

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My Aquarium

Even though I had been to Utila in the past, and even adventured below the sea level around Utila, I have never had the opportunity to do any fun diving in Utila. Previously I was there for training, and even though I was certain to receive my certifications this time around, I was not leaving Utila without a handful of fun dives added to my collection.

My first fun dive of Utila was the wreck dive Halliburton. I'm not always sold on wreck dives because my biggest concern is marine life. As long as the marine life is good I don't care if its a pile of rubble parking blocks or a retired U.S. Naval Destroyer. Just show me the life! In the case of the Halliburton, there wasn't much life. That's why the opening photo to the Utila section is of a bicycle hung from the railing around the bow. It was fully encrusted with sponge, however.

This is a closer view of the bicycle. This used to be where the cassette was. The fingers of sponge in all directions were obviously once the spokes.

This is a very regularly dove site for training purposes, so it is understandable that coral and fish life isn't top notch. Surprisingly, however, a rather large grouper has taken up residence in the wheel house of the ship. I would estimate him at easily 200lbs. It is a Yellowfin Grouper.

The day got better with a visit to Black Hills as the second tank of the morning. The surge was heavy and current stiff making for difficult dive conditions, but the dive was beautiful with very lush coral growth and a fair amount of fish life. The Queen Triggerfish...

Honeycomb Cowfish...

Porcupinefish...

Ballonfish...

But those dive conditions make it tough to critter hunt, so the following afternoon when we went to the north side the critter hunting was on. This decorator crab is perhaps my personal best find as of yet. At maybe 2" of circumference they are tiny little guys. To further the difficulty in finding them they like to pick up small corals and attach it to themselves for camouflage. When I first spotted it I wasn't sure it was what I thought it was. It could just as easily be some cyanobacteria covered branches of the coral with some hydroids taking over. But nope, my eyes were sharp today. I extended my index finger towards the leg of this crab and the leg moved. I pulled back and he moved his leg back. This process repeated several times until I was convinced I made a really neat discovery. With only half the battle down it was time to capture the little guy on digital media.

Yeah kind of common, but always worth a photo when you find them, if for no other reason than to sharpen some skills.

As a self-professed "critter hunter" I always, and I do mean ALWAYS, look into little crevices with my flashlight, or search in and around corals. There is almost always something to see in barrel sponges, like a big crab or lobster, but for the small stuff I look towards the vase sponges. Small brittle starfish in a variety of colors are almost always present, mixed in with various shrimp or fish. Below is a perfect example.

Arrow crab in a vase sponge...

Tube sponges are another great location to look. Further inside this particular one was a pair of Candystriped Pistol Shrimp - amazingly beautiful but tiny. I was unable to get my camera to focus down inside the tube sponge, unfortunately.

 

This little ray caught me by surprise on my safety stop. A Yellow Stingray.

When he saw me he thought he would hide from me and he covered himself up.

Sitting right next to the ray was this adorable face - a Spotted Scorpionfish

Already a quality find is the reclusive Spotted Drum. I fear sightings of these will begin to taper off in the near future thanks to the emergence of the lionfish on Caribbean reefs. I found this guy at the beginning of our dive right as we settled in around 80 feet.

From the same dive site looking up the reef slope yielded a large field of branching stony coral.

Remember the wormfish I was so happy to locate in Roatan? The Brown Garden Eel.

I found maybe another 300 of his cousins in Utila. At around 95 feet the sea floor was covered in a huge field of them. I was diggin' this dive.

A couple of the sites had small clusters of tunicates which I found to be particularly attractive.

Love this photo...

Thsi cluster had a second color variation.

Utila also had some interesting anemones... From the common

To the not so common. I would have thought this anemone was a frogspawn coral if I was in the Pacific.

And where you have anemones... You have anemone shrimp.

Part of the trouble with photographing these little guys is getting the exposure correct. If I'm right on top of the animal I can't use my strobes because the photo would be so over exposed you wouldn't see the shrimp. So the lights go off, and the exposure slower. Now the hardest part is staying in focus while the ocean current blows you around. Or keeping grains of sand from blowing through your image. Or not scaring off your subject. Ughf. But when you get that shot, you know it was worth it.

The other option is to back off the subject a little bit and try to use some lighting and faster shutter speeds. Backing off the subject a mere 12 inches is significant for such small subjects and immediately detail gets lost. Sitting just a couple feet away from the subject and you won't even locate it in the image.

A couple miscellaneous photos are next. First, a nice collection of various colorful corals.

A fiercely protective Yellowtail Damsel.

A chiton in the shallows. I snagged this photo ont he stairwell into the ocean from my rental apartment.

After taking the photo I turned around to find this little guy... A free-swimming seahorse. I escorted it to a hitching post.

This next image is one of those I'm terribly excited about. For starters I had never seen or photographed one of these filefish before. So that alone was huge. Secondly, it was something I found. It's nice when a DiveMaster points something out to you, but it's a little more special when you find it yourself. Finally, this little guy did not want to be photographed! I think it is the Slender Filefish at roughly 1-2" of total length. I swam around this gorgonian about 3 or 4 times snapping pictures unable to capture this little guy. He kept dodging the camera behind branches or twisting sideways to appear as a branch.

When I finally got this image I knew I nailed it, and when I looked up to show my dive partner nobody was there! Oops..

From tiny to huge... the Nassau Grouper.

Well that's it for my underwater photos of Utila in 2010. Be sure to check out my topside pics and story of the same trip, or return to my scuba index for my underwater images.

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Vacations

Utila, Honduras

La Ceiba, Hondura

Roatan, Honduras

Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

Minocqua, Wisconsin

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