Scuba diving, like any venture into the great outdoors, offers the opportunity to experience the unexpected. When you least expect it you can be smiling ear to ear as a whale shark gives birth in front of you or something sneaks up on you and scares the wits out of you. In my case, it was the latter that happened to me on BOTH DIVES today!
We headed down to Flower Gardens for our first dive. Armed with my camera and a little extra gadgetry, I was planning to get some close up photographs of the garden eels that live out in the sand on the east side of the reef. I found a spot with a good population of them. Unfortunately, these eels are very, very, very (did I mention VERY?) shy. To make matters worse, my plan was to photograph them with a wide angle lens, so a couple of garden eels (they appear to burrow as couples) would have to be 1-2 inches in front of my camera’s glass dome. No easy feat, especially if I am blowing bubbles and making noise, so I setup my underwater tripod and swam away in hopes of getting them to come out again.
Minutes past… and past… Keeping myself occupied, I started to swim the outskirts of the reef ledge. I have a saying when it comes to nature photography: “Nature photography is all about waiting… and waiting… and waiting. When you’re done waiting… You wait a little longer. That’s when you realize all the cool stuff is happening behind you!” Sure enough, behind the camera I could see yellowhead jawfish darting in and out of their burrows, sailfin blennies displaying, and hovering beside me was a little speck of pure underwater bliss. A tiny, one inch, grass squid. This beautiful and delicate little creature was completely unafraid of me as it hovered 5 inches from my face mask, even while I exhaled.
The camera was all setup and I had already dedicated over 20 minutes to getting the garden eel photograph, so I simply enjoyed observing this delicate little grass squid for the time being. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a large shadow darted in, inches from my mask, at high speed at the edge of my periphery. To say I was startled was an understatement! A large shark sucker (a.k.a. remora) was the culprit of my distress. As soon as my mind made out what it was, my neck twisted like an owl, as I looked around for this shark sucker’s host. Numerous divers have been seeing a tiger shark hanging out in the area and having a tiger sneak up on me is not my idea of fun. Unexpected dive encounter number one for the day complete… Slash a year off my lifespan for the scare!
My attempt to photograph the garden eels was a complete failure, but the beauty of it all is that had I not stopped and spent some time in one spot I would have never seen that spectacular little grass squid, which is rare in my book.
Dive number two on Breakers reef was like most… Pretty awesome! Countless fish, beautiful reef scenes, and a flyby of a lemon shark or three from time to time. Breakers reef always captures 150% of my attention… Looking at every nook and cranny, taking in the shear splendor of colors that make up this beautiful reef, and all the variety of marine life swimming over it.
During one of those moments when I was looking down on the reef, again another object, inches from my face mask, crosses my periphery. This one was a heck of a lot larger and indiscernible! I jumped back, gave out a squeal that would have made any elementary school girl proud, and my eyes doubled in size. A large, male loggerhead was staring me right in the face up until the point where I screamed and, like me, turned and split in the opposite direction for a second. Its sea turtle nesting season in Florida and apparently my aluminum tank must have caught the eye of this male loggerhead sea turtle (read another up-close sea turtle story: Best Sea Turtle Encounter). Unexpected dive encounter number two for the day complete… Slash ten years off my lifespan for the scare and add a new wetsuit to the list!
So you see… Even after countless decades scuba diving, even the same spot, you can always expect the unexpected. I know scuba diving in Palm Beach is known for drift diving, but the truth is that it’s not difficult to hover near the bottom without going too far. Look for the unexpected, sometimes right under your nose (like a magical little grass squid), or sometimes hovering right over your head ready to scare you half to death!