Yet another trip down to Central America and the tiny island of
Utila. Clearly I have fallen in love with the Bay Islands. On this
particular trip I was doing all of my diving in Utila with Deep
Blue Resort. A well ran, first-class operation. Be sure to give
my dry-side a read to see all about the resort.
It was snowing several inches daily back home, so even if the weather
and conditions in Utila weren't ideal for scuba, I was still better
off where I was. It allowed me sights like this French Angel cruising
the large appendages of a Pillar Coral.
A slightly more impressive view of the Pillar Coral...
It is not too often you find Atlantic Spadefish in a pair, nor
is is common to find them in a shallow reef zone. Generally they
prefer access to deep, open water and reside in large schools numbering
50 or more individuals.
Sticking with the reef-building corals of the Caribbean, Here is
a rather large Elkhorn Coral. Not so common in the Caribbean anymore
since the mass die-off.
Here is an example of an Elkhorn struggling. Note the tissue die-off
in the center of the coral. Below is a close-up of the necrotic
Thankfully this sight wasn't all that common on the trip.
One last reef-building stoney coral. This guy covered a good 12
feet of vertical height as it plated up the wall. I am not confident
in the ID of this coral, but I'm guessing it is a stoney coral of
the Agaricia genus, more commonly called a Sheet Coral. From my
aquarium experiences I'd say it sure looks like a plating Montipora,
but those are only found in the Pacific.
This Grooved Brain Coral coral was magnificent. The slope downward
seen here is a good 4 or 5 feet long, then it curves over the wall
and drops back down the opposite side.
A closer view of the same coral.... I bet a good 50 Gobiosoma species
set up their cleaning station on this coral as well.
Another type of Brain Coral with some interesting sponge growth
I cannot offer a solid ID on this coral. I do know it kicked ass
Did someone say something about kick-ass stoney corals?
This upward plating coral is called a Lettuce Coral. It is home
to all sorts of little fish, like the above photo'd juvenile Yellowtail
Damselfish. It is also a good place to search for the Redspotted
Hawkfish. I managed to snap a picture or two of one individual this
trip, but he wasn't very cooperative.
That is the adult Yellowtail for comparison sake.
OK, enough with the reef-building corals. Switching to some fish
photos. Here I snapped a photo of a Schoolmaster doing a fly-by,
a note-so-common action by these fish.
OK, admittedly this photo sucks, but conditions were tough on this
dive with heavy surf and the ensuing sand clouds. This is obviously
a Barracuda with it's mouth wide agape. It was receiving a cleaning
from various gobies and shrimp. I didn't have the courage to drift
in closer for a better photo. Sorry, those teeth were a good deterrent
for me to keep some distance.
Sticking on the predator theme, check out this nurse shark...
I snapped a good dozen of this guy, who measured about 7 feet long.
Unlike the above Barracuda, I love how Nurse Sharks let you get
up close for a photo without feeling threatened. What I really loved
about this find was the juvenile Spotted Drum that frolicked directly
in front of the large predator, and of course the resident cleaner
goby. The photo really does a nice job of showing the sandpaper-like
texture of the sharks skin.
A fantastic Tiger Grouper showing off for the camera...
I am always a big fan of finding the Queen Triggerfish. Thankfully
I have never been harassed by one on a dive, yet, but this particular
individual was spotted harassing a Lionfish. It repeatedly made
strikes at the elaborate pectoral fins.
Our trusty Dive Master Marlo quickly finished what the Queen Trigger
could not. Using her spear she managed to skewer at least 12 or
15 Lionfish on my 6 days of diving with her.
I always seem to have trouble getting a good photograph of the
Black Durgon. They manage to keep their distance just far enough
from me to make it difficult for my camera rig to get something
that excites me. Maybe someday I'll stumble across a fresh nest
of eggs and have the chance for an up close and personal meeting.
Perhaps not a fearsome predator to most, this Coney is still a
Seabass and feared by small shrimps and fishes. They are quite abundant
and are often found resting in between coral branches or on top
The Red Hind, also a small Seabass.
Who doesn't love Angels? Especially Queen Angelfish. Queens were
present on most dives, but on one particular dive I descended right
upon a trio of Queens. My first thought to myself was, "Yep,
this will be a good dive." I was right.
Here is a quick
YouTube video of me swimming with a Queen Angel, followed by
some surge action down around 50 feet.
Rock Beauty Angelfish are slightly less common, but still around.
They are shy, however, so getting good photographs can be a challenge.
On one particular dive we were joined by a trio of Gray Angelfish.
They followed us over to the open sand where we dug in the sand
with our hands for some worms. Upon recovery of a worm we could
hold it out in the water column and the fish would come eat from
our hands. Rather enjoyable! Here is a YouTube
video of the worm search. Even when we were not searching for
worms the Angels stayed with us and were rather playful. I had trouble
keeping them in my camera frame. Here
is another video of the 3 Angels... note the surge and reef
More French Angel love.
Switching gears once again, lets take a view of some soft, non-reef
building corals. I always enjoy spotting a cluster of these Bell
Tunicates, but when you mix in some Social Feather Duster worms....
A wonderful little Ricordia. Only it wasn't little. I bet this
mushroom anemone measured 8 inches across. I have never seen one
so large, nor have I ever seen this species so far south. They are
really common in the Florida Keys but I think this is my first one
of the Bay Islands.
Red Rope Sponge and Branching Vase Sponge growing together.
Here is a YouTube video
of me swimming along the top of a reef. Note the reef surge
and natural sway of the corals.
This is a 1 minute YouTube video of me
dropping over a ledge. I swim down from 30 feet to roughly 80
feet in the video. At the end of the video the sand bottom was roughly
130 feet down.
I do not know what is growing on the tips of the coral, but I'm
nearly positive it is not the coral itself. I'm guessing along the
lines of a Hydroid. If anyone can ID them please give me a message
with the ID. Thanks!
Here is another short YouTube video of me
swimming along the top of a reef.
All sorts of life in those above photos, from various types of
sponges and gorgonians, wire coral to sea plumes. Above, if you
look closely, you'll also spot a Crinoid. Let's get a better look
I seem to enjoy taking photos of these colorful Crinoids....
Here is one hiding deep inside a Barrel Sponge.
And one last one utilizing a Netted Vase Sponge.
Another good photo of a small cluster showing how many life forms
can be attracted to such a small clump of coral growth.
I'm busting out some of the nocturnal animals now, so please go
easy on judging the photos. They aren't the best... I'm just happy
I captured some of the photos I did. Like this West Indian Sea Egg
A rare Reef Croaker
A Longspine Squirrelfish with some sort of crab in it's mouth for
a soon to be meal.
Ahhh yes, the Glasseye Snapper. I have only managed to capture
these guys in photo form a few times. If you look closely, behind
the Glasseye you can see the fins of a Lionfish underneath the shelf.
Not the best photo, but I managed to capture everything needed
to make a solid ID. A Pale Cardinalfish chilling out at the bottom
on one particular evening.
Last nocturnal image is the Rough Fileclam for divers, but more
commonly called a Flame Scallop for aquarium hobbyists.
OK, let's get to my favorite part of the photos... The critters!
OK, OK, I know they are technically fish, but I still like to group
Seahorses in with the small stuff just because it is a prize to
find them for me. This, unfortunately, was the only one we saw the
entire week, and it was not very cooperative with the camera. Even
still, a joy to locate and photo.
Look closely. This is EXACTLY how it looked when I found this little
guy. It is called a Neck Crab - a type of Decorator Crab. After
getting this image I swam in and, using my hand in a fanning motion,
annoyed the coral polyps enough to get them to close. That resulted
in the image below.
Still pretty tough to see, isn't it? They sure do a good job of
hiding themselves. OK, it is time to put some light into this photograph.
Behold, an illuminated Neck Crab. Cute little guy, eh?
From tiny crab to huge crab, this is a very large Channel Clinging
Crab. His claws were easily the size of my hands. I couldn't help
but wonder how much he would miss one of those claws because it
sure looked like a great dinner to me!
The infamous Pedersen Anemone Shrimp. This is a female carrying
eggs. Want a better view?
There are the eggs, clear as day, tightly tucked under her swimmerets.
In real life those eggs are smaller than the period at the end of
This represents another cherished find of mine. This tiny little
guy is a Wire Coral Shrimp. In real life adults measure no longer
than 1/4" with the width closer to 1/10", so you can understand
my excitement in not only finding one, but capturing a decent photo.
In truth I found at least a dozen of these shrimp over the course
of the week. Easy to find if you know where and how to look, but
I bet 99.9% of divers swim right past them and never notice them.
Same image blown up a little bit. That shrimp is being shown at
8x Zoom on my camera plus a 200% image enlargement.
Some run-of-the-mill Coral Banded Shrimp. What I like about these
guys was how easy it was to photograph them, and then slightly change
the lighting for a rather neat shot.
Same shrimp, but this time with my strobe light located above the
coral sponge flashing through the sponge. In this image it is easy
to spot the female with her abdomen full with fresh eggs. She is
on the left and the eggs are the blue. The blue represents the yolk
the shrimp fry will feed off of and it will gradually turn to white
as them consume all the yolk.
One last shrimp photo, and unfortunately not my best work.
My first photo'd Mantis Shrimp. I've seen them before, but I have
never been quick enough to get a photo nor patient enough for it
to come back out of it's home. This is the only photo I managed
of this guy before it ducked into hiding.
This guy is an Upside-down Jellyfish from the top down.
Same Jellyfish, different angel.
OK, back to the fish.
Not the best photo, but not so bad either. This Barred Hamlet is
rather common in the Bay Islands, as is the Indigo Hamlet pictured
These guys can be shy and uncommon, but not so near Utila and Roatan.
A school of Atlantic Blue Surgeonfish and Doctorfish form a grazing
herd the likes of locusts.
This is a short but neat YouTube video of
a couple species of butterfly fish feeding in a school. I would
not classify that as normal feeding behavior.
A school of Chubs...
This little Harlequin Bass was a difficult photo. He didn't want
to cooperate at all. But with just a little patience I was able
to get a decent first-time shot.
Silversides (Food!) in the shallows as I prepare to exit on a shore
I always have a tough time photographing a Blackcap Basslet. They
are not exactly common, until they are - and they are everywhere
for a brief few fin kicks. But my camera always wants to focus on
the background and not the fish, and getting a Blackcap Basslet
far enough away from the wall to get a mid-column shot is near impossible.
This neat little guy is a free-swimming Whitefin Sharksucker aka
Remora. There was actually a pair of them. In dives past these fish
will occasionally attach to the air tank of divers, but in this
instance the pair just played together mindless of the 3 divers
A particularly colorful Trumpetfish.
A Porcupine Puffer. I ran into, ur, uhm, swam into several of these
during the week. They were all quite large.
These guys are always cute to watch. Adult Smooth Trunkfish hover
around like spaceships from outer space, while the juveniles get
tossed around by the currents. There may not be a fish that is worse
at swimming than baby trunks.
A few Scrawled Filefish paid me a visit as well. Always nice to
see one or two over a week.
The Tobaccofish is another one of those fishes that is fairly common,
yet I have been unable to get a decent photo of before now.
Token wormfish photo from the trip. So many divers ignore these
guys, but I always pay them a visit when I see them. Their head-bobbing
is somewhat comical and it is always a challenge to get up close
for a decent photo without them retreating into their holes.
A Yellow Stingray hiding from me. I was happy to find this guy
as I was peeking underneath the rocks. Then moments later I stumbled
across another free swimming the sand.
A teenie-tiny juvenile Drum. Just love spotting these guys.
And finally, one day of diving we were joined by Tec Divers. Freelance
travel writer Brooke Morton was doing her introduction to Tec Diving
course, so I took the opportunity to snap a few pictures.
Thanks for viewing my scuba photos from Utila 2011. You can find
the dry photos from this trip,
or check out all my other scuba adventures
or my topside travels as well.
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