March 24th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

On Sunday, Les Fruits de Mer made what I believe is our first official scientific expedition, to conduct a survey of fish, invertebrates and vegetation in the mangroves of Grand Ilet in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. The mangroves we surveyed were actually planted by EPIC (Environmental Protection in the Caribbean) and volunteers several years ago. Today, they are growing well and we did the survey on behalf of EPIC to begin measuring the impact of the mangroves on the local wildlife.

Aboard kayaks generously loaned by Tri-Sport, we headed out to the islet, a trip that was both fun and definitely very good exercise for infrequent kayakers. Once at the site, we stopped briefly at the beach between our two primary survey areas. A knife fight amongst the drunken, pirate-like folks hanging out on the beach convinced us to proceed immediately to our first survey transects.

After using line to demarcate our transects, we attempted the first fish survey on snorkel. The maximum depth in the transect area was approximately ten centimeters, which made it very difficult, even for the world’s first Extreme Shallow Snorkeling team. The only way to see underwater was to tilt one’s head sideways so one eye would be underwater. Changing plans slightly, we did the surveying primarily on foot, while snorkeling the slightly deeper (but still quite shallow) areas around the transects.

Although there were few fish inside the transect areas due to the shallowness, there were several species in the area, including juvenile jacks, barracuda, checkered pufferfish, small bait fish and other juvenile tropical fish. The most common invertebrates were mostly echinoderms: sea cucumbers, sea stars and urchins. We did see one large shrimp, a couple blue crabs, two types of sponge and one small patch of coral as well.

Overall, the survey was quite successful and very fun. We returned safely by kayak with data in hand and the team enjoyed a lovely supper together.

March 22nd, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Okay, to be fair, we spent more time enjoying the beach on Pinel than we did snorkeling, but it was perhaps our largest E.S.S. mission to date with over 15 Fruits in attendance. Although it was a bit windy, our snorkeling expedition on the back side of Pinel was quite a success. In addition to the gorgeous elkhorn corals, we found an octopus eating a crab while hiding in an empty conch shell and a four-foot nurse shark.

February 23rd, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

After over a year of looking off our balcony at Anguilla, we finally made it out there, thanks to our friend Christian, who was taking his cousin and her boyfriend there. Our esteemed captain was Yann and the boat, Carré d’As (basically translates as four aces) was fantastic.

We headed out from the marina in Marigot, past the ruins of La Belle Creole and on towards Anguilla. The sea was calm, and soon we were rounding the southwestern tip through the Anguillita Channel. Our first quick stop was Sandy Island, a tiny plot of sand with a half-dozen palm trees that is ringed by coral reef. If it weren’t so close to Anguilla, it would be the prototypical desert island.

Next, we continued to Crocus Bay, a stunningly beautiful area with cliffs riddled with caves. We jumped off a big rock into the water, snorkeled and I took a look inside one of the caves. I could smell and hear the bats, and there was a telltale pile of almonds on the floor indicating the presence of Jamaican fruit-eating bats. The chamber was quite large, with very high ceilings and many recesses, so I did not actually see the bats.

A bit of rain sent us up to Shoal Bay for more snorkeling, sunning and sandwiches. As the afternoon got later, we headed up past the tip of Anguilla to Scrub Island, admiring several blow holes where underwater caves shoot jets of water up through the rocky shoreline. Our last stop was Tintamarre and some free-diving to the tugboat wreck there. A perfect day!

February 8th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

We took Jenn’s mom to Pinel last week, which was also a good opportunity to photograph some of the other snorkeling spots on the island. We started at the beach in the southeast of the island. There’s a little bay that is ringed with coral, including a number of coral heads in the sandy areas. Some areas are also covered in seagrass, where I saw a southern stingray. I would say overall it’s not as awesome as the north beach on Pinel, but it’s pretty nice.

Next I walked out on the rocky shore to access the Extreme Shallow Snorkeling drift zone that is just to the north. This very shallow area probably averages 12-24 inches in depth and has strong currents sweeping down towards the southeast beach. Here the coral fans are bent over like fir trees on a windy coastline or mountaintop. Even fighting against the current, it was a pretty quick ride back to the southeast beach.

Between the dock and the snorkel course is another extremely shallow shoal that can be fun to snorkel. The terrain is mostly covered by algae, but there are quite a lot of juvenile fish to be seen. If you look carefully, sea hares and nudibranchs can be seen here, too.

Our last stop was the designated snorkeling track. We saw a gigantic hermit crab and a bunch of sergeant majors that were behaving suspiciously like they are being fed in this area (immediately swarming around me). I think heavy traffic may have taken a toll on this area. In some ways, I suppose, this is good if it means that some of the more pristine reef areas around Pinel are disturbed less.

February 5th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

The old pier in Grand Case is a great snorkeling location, particularly for small creatures like decorator crabs, baby lobsters and blennies. The posts are covered with algae, tunicates and sponges. On previous visits, I’ve done only macro photography there, but a few weeks ago I took my fisheye lens to try to capture the feel of the pier.

January 29th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

When looking at the satellite imagery on Google Maps, Burgeaux Bay looks great. It’s a small bay between Maho and Simpson Bay that is surrounded by rocky areas. Underwater, we found what looked like it should be a fantastic snorkeling area with a mostly rock bottom that should be perfect for coral formation. Unfortunately, it was not very lively down there, with some algae and very few corals. For now, it’s a bit of a mystery to us why it isn’t the great snorkeling location it looks like it should be.

January 28th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

We headed from the north end of Baie aux Prunes around Pointe Prune without high expectations. There were scattered soft corals on a rocky bottom that seemed like it could have hosted more life. Things change, however, when we reached a natural arch just out of view of the beach. After swimming through the arch we found massive schools of a couple different kinds of fish. The smaller ones seemed to be herring, perhaps redear herring (Harengula humerali) and were present in the thousands. There were also schools of what looked like bonefish (Albula vulpes), which were much larger and present in the hundreds. Smaller groups of bar jack were hunting amidst the schools and several brown pelicans were diving down from above to fish in the shallow water.

Overall it turned out to be an amazing snorkel. Further out from the point there were a decent amount of tropical fish and small corals on the underwater rock formations, but the huge schools near the point were definitely the main attraction.

January 27th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

The small, offshore islet of Pinel is a well-known snorkeling area, but most of my favorite snorkeling spots on Pinel are outside the designated snorkel course. Earlier this month we visited three of the areas.

Since we were having lunch at Karibuni, the first one was around the coast just north of the restaurant. The sandy area around the restaurant’s pier gives way to seagrass, and then shallow rock formations covered in soft corals. Tropical fish were plentiful, and the area is relatively well-protected from waves.

Our next stop was the beach on the north shore of the island. It’s a beautiful beach that is generally quite quiet. Offshore, there is a large lagoon area that is protected from waves by coral formations that ring the beach with a few small breaks leading out to the ocean. Inside the lagoon the water is usually relatively calm and soft corals and fish abound. There are also numerous elkhorn corals, some of which reach over six feet in diameter.

We also took a few minutes to explore a series of shallow tide pools on the eastern side of the northern beach. Mostly less than a foot deep, they are populated primarily by juvenile fish.

On our next visit we’ll hopefully get a chance to explore the shallow drift zone and southern beach, two other great snorkeling spots at Pinel!

January 27th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Despite less than ideal visibility, we headed to Pelican Key on January 4th with Laura to investigate the snorkeling. Even with relatively poor conditions, it was an interesting area. I found a small moray eel inside a large conch shell and an octopus. We departed from the point near the key and took a wide circle around it. Most of the undersea terrain is relatively shallow with rock formations that are host to small corals and sponges. Although it isn’t the best area we’ve seen, it’s definitely worth a visit, particularly if you’re nearby.

January 5th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

We made another quick stop at the three small islets by Baie de l’Embouchure on New Year’s Eve. We had a particularly great time walking out towards the southernmost islet in ankle-deep water, then letting the current push us back to Saint Martin at great speed through very shallow water.