Two days of snorkeling the Belizean waters have passed since the last blog post.
Day One: Coral Gardens 2.0
We ventured further south towards Caye Caulker to a section adjacent to a natural channel, or break, within the barrier reef. Navigating armies of jellyfish, we lurked among patch reefs sniping pictures of French and Gray Angelfish, Peacock Flounder, and Squirrelfish.
We joined a school of Blue Tang and didn't even have to pay tuition.
The area was a vast labyrinth of coral systems that grew shallower and more intricate as you approached the barrier reef. Dodging coral became challenging with the rising an falling of ocean swells. Barracuda patrolled the surface, giving the evil eye to any trespasser of their territory. The day was highlighted with the unscathed escape of the labyrinth and a diploma of graduation from Blue Tang school.
Day Two: Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley
Today was the first day we explored a protected national marine reserve. Hol Chan was Zone A of that reserve and required a trained guide and park pass to enter. The snorkel was very regulated, allowing no free roam among the area.
Almost instantly we witnessed the difference between protected and unprotected areas as the fish were enormous comparatively. A lot of the same fish seen previously appeared in Hol Chan but at three times the size. The decreased freedom was made up for by the increased quality of marine life, and we began to witness first hand the benefits of protecting marine ecosystems and increasing regulation on ecotourism in these areas.
The highlights of Hol Chan were the massive Horseye Jacks, Nassau Grouper, Yellowtail Snapper, Green Sea Turtles, and the lone Arrow Crab, topped off by the underwater tunnel dive a brave few of us committed to roughly 20 feet below the surface.
Shark Ray Alley, Zone D of the marine reserve, was a place you could spend all day at and never get bored. The second you leave the boat, you are surrounded by Nurse Sharks, and beneathed by Southern Stingrays. After the initial rush of adrenaline and a slight heart rate increase, we all became strangely comfortable with the massive organisms as the circled the proximity.
A Loggerhead Turtle made an appearance, and as many of us swam along with the amazing creature, it threw us an unimpressed glance and took the opportunity to evacuate its bowel as we tried to snap a picture. It was caught on camera too.
Best day of snorkeling thus far. Tomorrow marks a rest day to dry out the bodies and recuperate for another three days of snorkeling observation.