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...
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
When he saw me he thought he would hide from me and he covered
Sitting right next to the ray was this adorable face - a Spotted
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
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'
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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