September 16th, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

Our most exciting historical excursion in Sanary-sur-Mer was the Frédérick Dumas Museum, which featured diving and snorkeling equipment from the very beginnings of modern diving and snorkeling. As you can see from the photos, most of the equipment was handmade, including leather diving fins, wooden underwater camera housings and a depth meter made by a pipe. There was even a “Bends-o-Matic” decompression meter.

It was a fantastic voyage through the history of diving and snorkeling. Of course, there were many items in the museum that had been used by Cousteau, Dumas and other early innovators of undersea exploration.

September 16th, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

For a quick diversion during our visit to Sanary-Sur-Mer, we took a voyage on the Nautilus, a handmade merry-go-round submarine. The merry-go-round operator explained that his family had been building merry-go-rounds by hand for generations, back to when they were powered by a real horse.

September 16th, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

We recently made a pilgrimage to Caen to visit the Alcyone, the Cousteau team’s second most famous ship, featuring the innovative Turbovoile sail system designed to increase fuel efficiency by harnessing wind power with unique “sails” that are computer automated. Or, according to a nearby placard: “Alcyone, robot-ship of the 21st century? Almost!”

In addition to seeing the ship in harbor, we were able to explore the deck of the boat. It was a unique experience to stand where the famed members of the Cousteau team had stood as they traveled around the globe.

February 2nd, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

Located on the slope of Pic Paradis, Loterie Farm is a great place to visit tropical forest on St. Martin. I guess I haven’t really spent enough time there in general, but this is doubly true at night. So, drinks at the Tree Lounge turned into prowling the grounds with a flashlight.

I didn’t have a lot of time, so I mostly saw familiar faces: Anolis pogus getting ready to sleep, a dwarf gecko on the prowl and a few insects and spiders:

I did have some very good luck with frogs, though. Normally I don’t touch or capture the animals I find, but in order to identify two very similar whistling frogs, one needs to look at the underside, which is pretty much impossible to do without holding it. As it turns out, at least one frog I saw was Eleutherodactylus martinicensis, with telltale red on the rear legs. I also discovered that Cuban tree frogs can inflate their body like a balloon when threatened. It’s actually quite amusing, and makes them relatively transparent. This species is a relatively recent invasive that tends to be very successful and disruptive when colonizing new islands.

December 6th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

On Sunday, SXM Trails had their annual Anguilla hike, and it was a blast. The day was mostly overcast, so I stuck with shooting insects and other small animals with my macro lens. Highlights included a gorgeous tiger beetle and a bright, metallic-green tortoise beetle that I’ve never seen on St. Martin. I guess it’s time to do a wildlife guide for Anguilla!

November 18th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Our last dive, just off Great Dog Island was very fun. The site consists of a large area of coral gardens and the wingless wreck of an airplane a short distance away. Pre-dive, we did reconnaissance via snorkel and dinghy to locate the wreck itself, and did our diving from the dinghy. The current was strong, particularly in the open, sandy area where the wreck is located. Luckily, the wreck itself provided shelter from the current once we arrived there.

For some reason, I find diving plane wrecks to be particularly enjoyable, and this was no exception. Approaching the wreck, we were greeted by some of the residents, several huge horse-eye jacks. The remains of the plane were covered in sponges and other growth, with a variety of tropical fish in and around the wreck. We spent most of the dive there, exploring and taking photographs, although we did make a quick excursion to the nearby reef. When it came time to go, we flew along with the current back to the dinghy’s anchor line.

November 18th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

The dive site Black Forest, just off the western end of Peter Island, consists of a shallow reef leading to a wall about thirty-five feet tall. The site is named after the shallow water black coral that can be seen along the wall. At one end, we were able to see a field of garden eels, rising out of their burrows like a strange kind of grass that disappears when you approach it. There were also many beautiful clusters of blue bell tunicates, which look like very simple animals, but are in fact primitive chordates, that apparently have a tadpole-like appearance as larvae.

November 16th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Norman Island is an uninhabited island south of Tortola, and undoubtedly the best Extreme Shallow Snorkeling site we’ve been to in ages. A protected bay much beloved by pirates, it is also full of fish and the pelicans and brown boobies that love to eat them.

Our adventure began when we came onshore by dinghy to get the scuba tanks filled. Intending to take a quick snorkel while the tanks were filling, we discovered a wonderland full of huge schools of bait fish, pelicans diving almost on top of us and gigantic tarpon patrolling the two piers. Stingrays were abundant, often cruising in a foot of water near the shore, and a wide variety of reef fish were there, including beauties like the scrawled filefish. Needless to say, the tanks were filled long before we got back out of the water, and we immediately headed back to the boat to grab our cameras.

Back in the shallows with our photo and video gear, we explored the whole area again and probably would have never left if we didn’t have to. We actually didn’t even explore the nearby underwater caves. Although we didn’t find pirate treasure, we found a snorkeling paradise that must be revisited. Photos don’t do it justice, but here are a few. Did I mention the tarpon were huge? People arriving at the dinghy dock kept thinking they were sharks.

November 16th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

The Indians are a series of rocks jutting out of the water near Norman Island. A long time ago, someone thought they looked like tee-pees, hence the name. For us, it was another opportunity to go diving, so we moored up the boat and Stephen, Olivia, Madam J and I jumped in to take a look.

The dive involved circumnavigating three of the four rocks, passing between the last two. The underwater landscape was lovely, rich with corals and sponges. After poking around a bit, we located a small cave that was full of glassy sweepers. Just outside the cave we saw an Atlantic spadefish, a little bit unusual to see, but even stranger to see alone. I also caught a glimpse of a very small reef shark.

November 16th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Guana Island is a small island just north of Tortola, which allegedly has the greatest terrestrial biodiversity of any island its size in the Caribbean and possibly the world. We didn’t set foot on land, but we did get a couple chances to snorkel. On our first excursion we discovered some successfully transplanted elkhorn corals near the beach. As it turns out, these were done by a team including Graham Forrester, who we had the pleasure of meeting in Saba last year. You can read more about their study in this pdf. The corals we saw were doing very well and were quite large for three or four years of growth.

The next day we explored other parts of the bay and found a wide variety of sea life, including a greedy octopus who seemed to be trying to eat several mollusks at once. Stephen spotted a large southern stingray and I found a nurse shark and a snapper that was practically the size of a shark. Madam J, unfortunately, found a lionfish. The previous evening we’d seen lots of small fish jumping out of the water, and our observations while snorkeling confirmed that there were quite a few schools of small jacks who were probably responsible, attacking the baitfish and getting them to jump.