These images do ably demonstrate however that with a point and click underwater capable camera, even within the limitations of snorkelling, it’s possible to discover a little of life on a coral reef.
An opportunity to spend and hour exploring the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef on the planet provided a few Cousteau moments. It stretches over 600 miles from the Yucatán Peninsula to the islands of Honduras. Also known as the Great Mayan Reef, only the Great Barrier Reef surpasses it in size. It encompasses several protected areas and parks including the Belize Barrier Reef, Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve, and the Cayos Cochinos Marine Park.
I have been fortunate enough to dive on the Belizean stretch of the reef some years ago but recently have enjoyed the freedom that snorkelling provides. Drifting along on the current watching the colourful fish dart and dance between the razor-sharp branch corals, finning is often not even required. Occasionally grabbing a huge breath to dive beneath the surface, skimming just above the rock like brain corals to momentarily swim with the denizens of the reef; this is freedom.
Snorkelling provides freedom of movement which is beyond even diving with equipment. There are obvious benefits to sub-aqua diving including the opportunity to visit the deep beyond the reach of the snorkeler and to stay under for longer. There are limitations however the bubbles are unnatural disturbing timid fish, even sharks aren’t keen and divers need to ascend slowly, controlling their decompression. It is even necessary to allow enough time, usually 24 hours before flying after a dive.
Snorkelling does not have any of these restrictions. and with practice it is possible to extend how long we can hold our breath. Free-divers can spend amazingly long periods of time underwater.
The waters off the Riviera Maya, Mexico are extremely clear providing exceptional visibility, they are also comfortably warm and ideal for snorkelling. There isn’t a need for a wetsuit and an hour or more passes without even being noticed. The reef is one of the finest diving and snorkelling destinations in the world and is accessible with a relatively short boat ride from shore.
The reef is home to more than 600 species of coral and 500 species of fish as well as several species of turtle, dolphin and even the largest fish of them all; the whale shark. On this day we were not fortunate enough to see any such of these spectacular migrants but the vast variety of colourful fish wearing all manner of vibrant uniform offer a stunning display of their own.
Large shoals of darting, silver and gold coloured bullets zoom around the colonies of polyps searching for a meal and seeking the safety that numbers offer from predators. Iridescent bream forage, garish wrasse cloaked in a multitude of hues hunt while camouflaged flatfish or rays lie in ambush beneath the sand. The reef is a dangerous fine dining restaurant for fish. It is a dazzling, shimmering rainbow of underwater colour, where the nature’s palette has been given free range to paint it’s masterpiece.
It is possible to enjoy the wonders of the reef on a television screen or within the pages of a book but snorkelling brings it closer to us all. Equipment is minimal, some fins, a mask and snorkel are all that’s needed and the ability to swim is the only skill necessary. The Great Mayan Reef is a particularly great snorkelling destination but opportunities to witness the undersea world are many, most warm locations and numerous cold-water ones are surprisingly spectacular.
In Cuba it is even possible to snorkel in the infamous Bay of Pigs, if that doesn’t stir the imagination, check your pulse!