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Posted by Jim on January 19, 2020 at 15:38:25:



Jim – “Deborah, your birthday is coming up. Is there anything you would like to do in celebration?”

Deborah – “I would like to go back to Cozumel to dive with the spotted eagle rays.”

Jim – “That sounds like a great idea.”

(photo by Scott Webb)

The gods must be against us:

Friday night

I found a nail in one of the van’s tires the day before we were to leave. Rush, rush to get it fixed.

Waiting for the limo to pick us up and take us to the airport a smoke alarm starts beeping. I got out a ladder and replace the battery. Deborah went to set the thermostat for while we are gone – blank screen. I replaced batteries. That’s three…right? No.

Ten minutes before we are scheduled to get picked up, limousine service calls us. “Hello, we have had an accident and an ambulance is on the way.” I make a frantic call to a taxi cab service. “Can you pick us up? Now? We have lots of luggage, so send a larger vehicle.” “We can be there in ten to twenty minutes.” Forty minutes later the cab shows up and it’s a Prius. We struggle to cram all of our luggage and ourselves into the vehicle. The clock is ticking…

What? No traffic jams on the 405 freeway? What? No traffic at LAX? We arrived in plenty of time before our 1:30 AM red-eye flight to Dallas. Maybe our luck has turned for the better…or not.

At LAX, we breezed through check in with American Airlines, there’s no wait in TSA PreCheck, our gate is just around the corner, wonderful – or so we thought. After a few minutes, I walk over to the “big board” to check the status of our flight. WTF? Flight delayed until 6:00 AM! That means we won’t make our connection in DFW for our flight to Cozumel. Damn!

So, we gather up our stuff and rush to find the so-called help desk where there’s already a long line of passengers trying to sort out problems with their flights/connections. Everyone is on their phones to AA trying to change flights, etc. but to no avail. After a long, long wait we get to talk to an agent who issues hotel vouchers and gets us on a later connecting flight out of DFW. We take the shuttle to a hotel near the airport and are able to grab a couple of hours of sleep before taking the shuttle back to the airport only to find our flight has been delayed even more – departing at 7:00 AM. That leaves us with only 30 minutes to make our connection in Dallas, which as you know, is not going to happen. After much discussion with the ticketing agent, we decide to gamble on stand-by on the earlier 5:30 AM to Dallas. It’s a risk but there’s a chance we can still get to Cozumel without having to overnight in Dallas.

You will never guess - they called our names and we got on the 5:30! We arrived at DFW in plenty of time, changed terminals, and found our gate. Things were looking good. The connecting flight was on time and we arrived in Cozumel a couple of hours later. Another plane had disembarked before us and there were many tourists in the maze getting through immigration. Not a problem, we were on the island! Yay.

After immigration we waited for our luggage…and waited…and waited. One of our bags showed up on the conveyor belt…but where are the other three? Still sitting in Dallas! We filled out the paper work – luggage to be placed on the next day’s flight and delivered to us at Scuba Club.

It was raining with strong winds out of the north – a classic “El Norte.” Port closed. No diving. What more can go wrong??????

Sunday – The port is closed due to strong winds out of the north. At lunch it was announced the closure had been lifted and they would be going out at 1:30 PM. Our scuba gear hadn’t reached us yet so we waved to Roger and Judy as the boat left the dock without us.

Monday – wind is no longer out of the north and the port is open!

“Yes. My name is Sandy. How did you know?” Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus)

Reef Star with Nestor, Scott & Margaret, Mark & Lucianna, Roger & Judy, Mike & Jana, me & Deborah.

(Nestor says the park rules now limit dive masters to eight divers. Deborah and Scott volunteer to go with the other group on the boat.)

Palancar Caves – great visibility (over 100 feet), warm (81 degrees F) water, almost no current.

Earlier in the fall, the government closed the southernmost reefs due to a coral die off. We had heard horror stories about how all the coral was dead, the fish were all gone, etc. I had seen no pictures and am skeptical of social media posts, so I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. I was very relieved to find a few encrusting corals were dead or dying but 99% of the reef is still alive and as vibrant as it was when we were here last August.

Healthy reef!

The white area of the hard coral at the top is dead. Scientists do not know what is causing this phenomenon. Application of an antibiotic seems to halt the disease but it’s impractical to treat large areas of the reef.

Sick reef.


Viscous sponge ( Plakortis angulospiculatus . One of my favorites. You can stretch out “viscous” when saying the name.

Yucab Reef (yucab is Mayan for “bee”)

Gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus)

Goldentail moray (Gymnothorax miliaris)

Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus)


Tuesday – wind is out of the north but not enough to close the port.

Reef Star with Nestor, Scott & Margaret, Mark & Lucianna, Roger & Judy, Mike & Jana, me & Deborah. Deborah and Scott dive with Sergio and two other divers.

Dalila Reef – we saw our first eagle ray but it was too far away to get a picture.

Yoga on the sand – warrior pose.

Rock hind (Epinephelus adscensionis)

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Angelfish feeding on sponges

Tormentos Reef – slow current and lots of little stuff.

Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

Painted elysia (Thuridilla picta)

Elkhorn coral crab (Domecia acanthophora)

Rock beauty (Holacanthus tricolor)




North wind started in the afternoon and blew all night.


Reef Star with Nestor, Scott & Margaret, Mark & Lucianna, Roger & Judy, Mike & Jana, me & Deborah.

Palancar Gardens

Rogues gallery:









Judy and ray

Yucab (visibility had decreased due to the el Norte)

Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)

Goldentail moray (Gymnothorax miliaris)

French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru)

Coney (Cephalopholis fulva)

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus)

Spotted moray (Gymnothorax moringa)

Southern stingray (Dasyatis americana) closely stalked by a bar jack (Caranx ruber) in hope of a meal.

Reef Star



Reef Star with Nestor, Scott & Margaret, Mark & Lucianna, Roger & Judy, Jana, me & Deborah.

Punta Tunich (aka Rocky Point).

Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) “Baby shark, too doo, too doo too doo, baby shark!”

Honeycomb cowfish (Acanthostracion polygonius)

School of grunts (Haemulon sp)

Roger under a ledge taking a picture of a sleeping shark.

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus) You can’t have too many pictures of splendid toadfish.

Paradise Reef (grass)

Roughhead blenny (Acanthemblemaria aspera). This tiny fish is smaller in diameter than a pencil eraser.

Graysby (Cephalopholis cruentata) “No, my mom doesn’t believe in vaccinations. Why do you ask?”

Sailfin blenny (Emblemaria pandionis) displaying.

Los Pecios (little wrecks)

Two split-crown feather duster worms (Anamobaea orstedii)

Spotted scorpionfish (Scorpaena plumieri)

File clam (Lima scabra)

Rock beauty (Holacanthus tricolor)


Inside the wreck’s wheelhouse. Judy in the doorway with glassy sweepers (Pempheris schomburgki).


Reef Star with Nestor, Scott & Margaret, Mark & Lucianna, Roger & Judy, Mike & Jana, me & Deborah. (Roger and Judy’s last dive day!)

Margaret, Scott, Roger, Judy, Jana, Mike, Lucianna, Mark, Deborah, and I.

Surfs up! Waves were breaking over the pier and it was too dangerous to board the dive boats. SCC arranged for us to be taxied to the harbor north of town where we could safely board.

La Francesa Reef

Underwater photographer (Roger)

Villa Blanca Reef

Spotted moray (Gymnothorax moringa) Junkyard dog?


Scuba II with Sergio, Scott & Margaret, Mark & Lucianna, Mike & Jana, me & Deborah. (We wore Nester out and he took the day off to recuperate.)

On the Scuba II

Palancar Horseshoe

Schoolmaster (Lutjanus apodus)


Horse-eye jacks (Caranx latus) This school has been in the same area for many, many years. It’s great to see the school is much larger than it has been in the past.

Dying brain coral. An example of the disease that’s affecting some of the corals.

El Paso del Cedral

Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris) It’s always a treat to find one of these big giants. Although they look threatening, they are pretty laid back.

Channel clinging crab (Mithrax spinosissimus) This large crab is missing a leg. I wonder who ate it.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulva). Coneys have two distinct spots on their lower lip.

Spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari) I almost missed this flyby. Sergio was pointing at something and when I turned around this large eagel ray flew by me. Luckily, my camera was on and I was able to squeeze off a snapshot.

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus) Tastes like chicken?

Sand diver (Synodus intermedius) “I will bit you if you get any closer with that infernal camera!”

Black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci). Deborah has always wanted to hug one of these big guys. I don’t think the fish is interested. Sorry, Deborah.


Scuba II with Nestor, Scott & Margaret, Mark & Lucianna, Mike & Jana, me & Deborah.

San Francisco Reef

Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). Once again, I never seen a lesser barracuda.

Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris). “I wish I had a brain…”

Atlantic spade fish (Chaetodipterus faber). This fish is lost! They are normally found in Florida waters. Last year there were two of them. I wonder what happened to the other one. Got homesick and left?

Flying gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans). The grasshopper of the seas.

Scuba II

Chankanaab Reef

School of sailors choice (Haemulon parra)

Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus). Got butter?

Indigo hamlet (Hypoplectrus indigo). This lovely fish is normally very shy. This one stayed around for me to take its picture. Chankanaab is the only reef in Cozumel that I have seen these beautiful fish.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulva). I think the coney was waiting for a cleaner fish to do a little dental work.

Yellowline arrow crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis). Freaky looking crab in an anemone.

I was dropping down to take a picture when I felt a jab in my left hand. I had gotten too close to an unseen scorpionfish and had paid the price. I now know what a “ten” on the pain scale means. “Ouch” doesn’t come close. Luckily it happened close to the end of the dive and Scuba Club was not that far away. When we disembarked at the pier, I rushed to the restaurant and got a cup of hot water in which to soak the finger. After about 45 minutes of hot water baths the pain subsided; hot water denatures the venom. I do not want to go through that again.


Scuba II with Nestor, Mark & Lucianna, Mike & Jana, me & Deborah. (Scott and Margaret took the day off.)

El Paso del Cedral Wall – strong current. We saw a turtle, green moray, and a shark, but no eagle rays today. Jana and Mike saw one on their safety stop. My camera’s housing fogged up so I didn’t get many pictures.

Stoplight parrotfish (sparisoma viride). I’ve never taken many pictures of this colorful fish. They are pretty shy and normally turn away from the camera. Not this one…

Social feather duster worms (Bispira brunnea). Who knew worms could be photogenic?

Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus)

Yucab Reef. There was very little current on this reef and it was running the “wrong way.”

Coney (Cephalopholis fulva)

Spotted cleaner shrimp (Pericimenes yucantanicus). Mike is developing eagle eyes when it comes to the small stuff. Thanks, Mike.


Scuba II with Nestor, Scott & Margaret, Mark & Lucianna, Mike & Jana, me & Deborah. (Mark & Lucianna’s, Mike & Jana’s last day of diving with us).

Dalila Reef – wonderful current; E-ticket ride (For you young folk an E-ticket has nothing to do with the airlines or concerts. In olden times Disneyland issued ticket books with admission. Tickets were lettered, A, B, etc. The largest, scariest, and most popular rides took E tickets.)

Margates (white) (Haemulon album)

Spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari). There were two eagle rays but I could only fire off one shot before they swam away into the current.

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbriocota)

Black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci). Large groupers are getting scarce in the marine park. No one knows why.

El Paso del Cedral Reef

Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris)

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus). Yes, tastes like chicken.

Shore dive in front of the hotel


Milk conch (Strombus raninus). “I see you!”

Juvenile French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru)

Ciliated false squilla (Pseudosquilla ciliate). This fast little bugger stopped long enough for me to grab a frame for identification

Chain moray (Echidna catenata). Chain morays are uncommon in Cozumel. This one was in two-feet of water under the stairs leading to the water. Surge kept me from getting a better image.


Scuba II with Sergio, Scott & Margaret, Deborah & I, Sandy

Palancar Reef (“bricks”)

Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Frogfish (Antennarius sp). We have seen less than a dozen frogfish in Cozumel in almost thirty years of diving! This is a little one, less than one-inch in length. Sergio said he saw it when it moved.

Ornate elysia (Elysia ornata)


Southern stingray (Dasyatis americana) and bar jack. Take off!

San Clemente (“bajo”)

Pink-Circled Simnia (Cymbovula sp3). This is a first for me. The snail is smaller than a grain of rice.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulva) Yes, I do have a thing for coneys.

Purple ring Flabellina (Coryphellina marcusorum) formerly Flabellina marcusorum)

Fairy basslet (Gramma loreto). This colorful fish spends its time under ledges, normally swimming upside down, as in this image.


Scuba II with Sergio, Deborah & I, Mel & Norma, Sandy, and two other divers.

Chankanaab Reef

Barred hamlet (Hypoplectrus puella)

Indigo hamlet (Hypoplectrus indigo)

Channel clinging crab (Mithrax spinosissimus)

Paradise Reef – in a strong, wrong way current! We started near the cruise ship docks and drifted south to Las Palmas.

Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus) hiding in a gorgoniun. Underwater the fish is the same color as the gorgonium. It’s the camera’s strobes that bring out the color and reveal the trumpetfish.

Rainbow parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia). Intermediate stage.

Bar jack (Caranx ruber) at a “cleaning station.”

Fittingly, Deborah got to see a spotted eagle ray at the end of the safety stop! Happy birthday, sweet heart.


The above pictures may only be used by permission and attribution – “Picture by Jim Lyle”

If you would like to see more of my trip reports and many, many pictures of colorful fish, go to my webpage: http://chemistry.csudh.edu/faculty/jim/Jim'sWeb_Page.htm

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