Four and a half miles north of San Pedro, Belize, off of Ambergris Caye, lies Mexico Rocks, a popular snorkeling site along Belize’s famed barrier reef. Mexico Rocks is a protected patch reef that lies halfway between the barrier reef and shore. It’s still another 15 miles to Mexico, however.
The water is warm. Eighty degrees. The sun is shining and hot in the way that the tropical sun heats so quickly. There’s a persistent coastal breeze that keeps it comfortable, though. Jumping off the boat into the clear, blue-green water is refreshing. It’s peaceful and quiet beneath the surface. The visibility is great.
It seems that I attract barracudas. Every time I get into the ocean, I see one. Invariably, I turn to find one behind me, just hanging out, regarding me. They are usually cruising just below the surface, where I am. Most sea life hangs out near the bottom, on a different plane than my space. At first, it was startling. But I’ve become used to them now.
The schools of fish gently sway back and forth in unison with the surf. A thick, long, green eel comes snaking up from his hole underneath a large coral head. He slithers through the water and disappears again as quickly as he came.
The most brilliantly colored fish seem to be the smallest. They dart in and out of the coral in flashes of electric blue and brilliant yellow with spots and stripes and colors bleeding into one another in all manner of splendor.
Parrotfish eat and spit out the coral leaving sandy clouds along the ocean floor. The conch shells carve lines in the sand revealing their paths. A family of nurse sharks appears at the edge of my visibility moving along the grassy bottom of the open water. They cruise past us along the edge of the reef, patrolling, paying no attention to these awkward bodies in their midst.
Two large spotted eagle rays glide gracefully past the corals. The first is trailing a long thin tail, while the second has lost his tail and is just a nubby disc sailing through the water. I turned to get Rob’s attention and behind me are two southern stingrays, the second also missing its barbed tail.
The overwhelming advantage to underwater wildlife viewing – aside from the obvious floating in the water – is the almost complete indifference of all of the animals to my presence. They are secure in their mastery of their environment. The fish sometimes swim right up to me. I could almost reach right out and touch them. But of course, they won’t allow it. So I float, regarding them regarding me, each keeping to ourselves in this serene underwater Eden.
(underwater photography courtesy of Rob Newenham)