Splash! A First Dive in the Bahamas

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Queen Angelfish, Holacanthus ciliaris. Michelle Lemech
Symmetrical Brain Coral, Diploria strigosa. Michelle Lemech
Aquamarine Bahamian waters off Bimini. Michelle Lemech
Spotted Moray Eel, Gymnothorax moringa. Michelle Lemech
Sponge growth on hard reef substrate. Michelle Lemech
Blacktip Reef Shark, Carcharhinus limbatus. Michelle Lemech
After-dive beach watering holes abound. Michelle Lemech

Images & Impressions of a Neophyte Diver

Article & Photographs by Michelle Lemech

Splash! Over the stern I go. I release the air in my BCD (buoyancy compensator device) and slowly sink towards the white sandy bottom. Aquamarine above, the water embracing me is crystal-clear and the temperature I have been fantasizing about.

Painted Tunicate Colony.
Curious French Angel, Pomacanthus paru.
Maze Coral, Meandrina meandrites.
Queen Parrotfish, Scarus vetula.
Goby perched on Great Star Coral, Montastrea cavernosa.
Royal Gramma, Gramma loreto.
Bahamian sunset before a night dive.

As I descend, purple gorgonians wave, seeming to welcome me. Looking closer, I find some harboring tiny bundles of Painted Tunicates (Clavelina picta) in their arms.

A plethora of sponges, in most any color you can imagine, peak out from the reef.

Brilliant fish glide about: a majestic Queen Angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) holds court. Some distance away, a pair of French Angelfishes (Pomacanthus paru) look on. The colors are truly kaleidoscopic. I have arrived in a new world. It seems life IS better in the Bahamas.

Eyeopening Initiation

This is my first trip to the Bahamas, and a chance to work on my fledgling underwater photography skills. As a marine aquarist, I am particularly excited about spotting familiar species in their wild environments.

Not knowing quite what to expect, I find a Bahamian reef exploding with a multitude of shapes, textures and vibrant colors. Fishes range from the tiniest of gobies to top predators such as barracuda, moray eels, and sharks. Sponges are incredibly abundant, varied, and often vividly colored. Corals blossom in an array of patterns. Invertebrates fill the niches everywhere in the reef.

Aquarium-friendly fishes such as the intriguing Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto) hang out upside-down under ledges and outcroppings. The perpetually grumpy-looking Pearly or Yellowhead Jawfishes (Opistognathus aurifrons)) hover above the sand until a potential threat (me) comes near.

Suddenly all retreat to the safety of their borrows, only to quickly reappear, dancing and darting around the soft shallow bottom occasionally grabbing little morsels out of the water column after the perceived threat passes. The diminutive Cherub Angelfish (Centropyge argi) is seen by those with a good eye. Apparently my eyes are not yet so good!

Some more uncommon, but suitable aquarium fishes such as the Chalk Bass (Serranus tortugarum) and the Indigo Hamlet (Hypoplectrus indigo) are found here as well.

I also encounter several fishes that are not terribly appropriate for the home aquarium. One endearing Smooth Trunkfish (Lactophrys triqueter) allowed me to follow along for several minutes as it kicked up the sand in search for food.

Several Rock Beauty Angels (Holocanthus tricolor) were observed feeding on sponges found on the reef. Reaching nearly 2 feet in length in the wild, the Queen Trigger (Balistes vetula) is an impressive sight to see. She is the big bully on the block.

I watch radiant Parrotfishes like the Princess Parrot (Scarus croicensis) and the Stoplight Parrot (Scarus viride) grind away at stony corals with their powerful jaws passing clouds of sand in the process.

Underwater After Dark

Night diving reveals another world. As darkness falls, a galaxy of plankton materializes, enveloping the reef in a blanket of living food for its denizens. The once colorful reef becomes more subdued as the creatures of the night debut. Life normally hidden during the day comes forth in abundance. I see Squirrelfish, such as the Longspine Squirrelfish (Holocentrus rufus), forage along the rocky reef. Camouflage artists like the Scorpionfish wait patiently for a passing meal. Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus) and Arrow Crabs (Stenorhynchus seticornis) crawl in and out the nooks and crannies.

Spiny lobsters and slipper lobsters carefully teeter in the shadows. Corals polyps extend their feeding tentacles, blindly grasping at passing plankton. Basket Stars unfurl their long appendages fervently plucking minute animals from the blackness. Brittle stars and polychaete worms wriggle along the bottom. Occasionally, the faint green glow of bioluminescences can be seen. Under the stealthy cover of darkness the night shift emerges.

The brochures all say life is better in the Bahamas. I say life is better BENEATH the Bahamas.

Photography Notes My trick to taking good pictures is just taking a lot, and I do mean A LOT! If you take a hundred shots, one is bound to come out nicely. I started with an "affordable" digital camera June of 2006. Its shots turn out with a distinct blue cast. My best images have been taken with Nikon and Ikelite equipment borrowed from dive companions.

Since that time I have taken approximately 25,000 pictures—often 10 or more of the same composition, with slight variations. So I really credit a proper camera and sheer statistics for my good images more than any skill or ability. Looking at my images after this trip, I thought it was an accident that any come out.

Further Bahamas Reading

Author Michelle Lemech.

Michelle Lemech is a medical professional whose love affair with aquatic life started in her childhood, collecting frogs and tadpoles from any wet mucky place she could find. The obsession became serious when she began keeping a marine aquarium. As an avid SCUBA diver, Michelle has logged several dives on some of the world’s most breathtaking reefs. In addition to being active in the aquatic hobby, Michelle mentors fellow hobbyists on Bob Fenner’s www.wetwebmedia.com web site, answering queries and sharing her love of the ocean and its inhabitants. She lives in Pennsylvania, with dreams of moving to Hawaii.