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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cayo Largo, Part III: More Beach Critters

In Cayo Largo, Part II I ended with my first successful fish pictures off the tip of the Playa Sirena peninsula. I had also mentioned that there were some massive starfish, but the depth and bareness of the sand makes it difficult to appreciate their size. I took some much better starfish pictures which will appear in a later part. During our snorkeling about, though, Sarah did borrow the camera to grab a photo of me showing off my snorkel prowess (and I'm a critter too).

Snorkeling about (click for larger size).

The next day we took the train again, only this time we got off at Playa Paraiso. On the southern edge of Playa Paraiso is a whole series of quite extensive tide pools which we decided to investigate. The pools were surprisingly deep, although far too gooey to make snorkeling desirable. Large swathes of the pool edges were covered with snails, and Sarah's practiced critter eye managed to spot a couple of snail shells that were not exactly what they seemed.

As far as wild invertebrates go, hermit crabs are some of the safest and easiest to pick up and play with (provided you spot them). Their claws are largely ineffectual (at least with crabs of the size that we found), and they don't move very quickly. We did manage to spot what looked like a horseshoe crab, but it was a very fast invertebrate and disappeared long before I could get the camera ready.

The tide pools were also large enough to house a number of fish. Although the water was not nearly as clear as the open ocean, I still managed to grab my only underwater shots of the trumpetfish that we found all along the beaches (once we learned to look out for them).

Trumpetfish in the tide pools at Playa Paraiso (click for larger size).

The next day we had our last big beach adventure when we wandered south about three quarters of a kilometer down the beach from our resort looking for a stretch of coral. En-route we discovered a patch of rocks covered in swift scuttling crabs. We spent a few minutes trying to grab a video showing off how the crabs moved from crevice to crevice, but they never quite cooperated for getting a good video. I did manage to snag a decent photograph, though, of one crab that decided it was comfortable enough in its current crevice.

Crab hiding under the lip of a rock along Playa Blanca (click for larger size).

Once we got to the beach with the coral we broke out the snorkel gear and headed into the water. Although the depth didn't drop off with the same extreme slope of the tip of the Playa Sirena peninsula, it did get appreciably deep much faster than the beach in front of our resort and the main beach at Playa Sirena and Playa Paraiso. The coral was a small patch nestled at the base of a rocky shelf. Although it was far more exciting than anything we had previously encountered, there still wasn't a lot of colour or fish swarms about. I was very excited to spot my first 'tropical' fish: the banded butterflyfish (not that the other fish weren't tropical, but the butterflyfish had the stripes that always come to mind when thinking of tropical fish).

Banded Butterflyfish near small coral patch off Playa Blanca (click for larger size).

Our best snorkeling was yet to come, though, from our boat excursion the next day. That, however, means it doesn't count as beach anymore, and will thus be covered in the next installment.