Flamingo Tongue

Grand Turk dive sites are filled with gorgonians and sea fans that are home to, and food for, the colorful snail called a Flamingo Tongue. Extended over its shell is a skin, called a mantle, that is not only colorful but also acts as its gills. The Flamingo Tongue holds onto the gorgonian with a short leathery pad or foot and drags itself slowly to feed on the polyps that make up the gorgonian. Their scientific name is Gastropoda (stomach foot) Prosobranchia (forward gill).

Dominica - Diving the Nature Island of the Caribbean

We arrived in Dominica on Saturday afternoon after a spending a night in San Juan Puerto Rico. In San Juan we stayed at the Hampton Inn and ate dinner at a really nice Puerto Rican restaurant next door called the Metropol. The food is traditional and reasonable priced. I ordered garlic pork with tamale, black beans and rice, Mary got the sampler plate. The food is very good, just make sure you have enough Rolaids you will need them.

Lambert and Martin from Ken's Hinterland Tours met us at the airport in Marigot Dominica. While Mary and I were traveling alone, another group of divers from Arizona was arriving at the same time, We all were driven in a tour bus by Lambert to Roseau. The drive to Roseau takes about one and a half hours across the Island on a very narrow winding road. The scenery and topography is fascinating. You pass small desolate villages with houses made of cement blocks and tin roofs. See Beautiful Atlantic Ocean vistas with warm inviting beaches and rolling thunderous waves. Cross over fast moving rivers of crystal clear water cascading over huge boulders. View banana plantations on rolling hills with blue plastic bags tied around the fruit. Pass through National Reserves with unspoiled beauty, cascading waterfalls and every shade of green you can imagine. See Street hawkers, at intersections, in rags selling grapefruit and oranges. Avoid cows and goats grazing on the side of the road. Exotic flowers you toil over back home grow wild on the side of the road in addition to orange, lime, avocado and palm trees.
Marigot Street crafts
The kids were very interested in watching the craftsman work.

Sea Squirts

Believe it or not this is an animal. It is called a green tube tunicate or a sea squirt. It has no head but does have a nervous, digestive, reproductive and circulatory system. It feeds on plankton through openings called siphons. The incurrent siphon takes in water, passes it over tiny gills, and then it is discharged through the excurrent siphon.

Tunicates get their name from the cellulose material covering its body called a tunic. These critters usually attach themselves to rocks and extend out to feed. They look like a green plastic tube but if you disturb them they will rapidly close their siphon.

Although tunicates are quite common, the green tube tunicate is rarely found because most divers do not even recognize them. Mary found this one on a dive in Utila.

Toutou, Snakes and Get Off My Reef!

As we swam over the coral mounds onto a sandy bottom, Toutou took off after something. Mary and I stopped to admire a nudibranch on one of the many coral fingers that gave this dive its name “Coral Gardens.” Toutou was definitely chasing something and motioned us over for a closer look. He had captured a banded sea snake.

The banded sea snake is extremely poisonous but its mouth is generally not big enough to bite you except for between the fingers. Banded sea snake venom is neurotoxic and it only takes about 1.5 milligrams to be fatal. These snakes produce 10-15 milligrams of venom making them 10 times more lethal than a rattlesnake or black mamba.

Another interesting fact about the banded sea snake is that it lives in the water but breathes air. Because its left lung runs almost the entire length of their body it only has to come up for air every 8 hours or so.

Toutou is from the Village of Vuna on the island of Taveuni in Fiji and we were diving Vuna Reef that belongs to his tribe. As a member of the tribe he is responsible for protecting the tribal rights to the water. One day we came up from a dive at Vuna Reef and there was a cruise ship anchored in the tribal waters. They had sent out a small boat with divers on it. Toutou asked to be let off on the boat to speak with them. Later I asked Toutou what he said. He said he told them that these waters belong to the Chief of Vuna Village. That it was a great insult to be on these waters without first asking permission from the Chief and that they must purchase Kava to present to the Chief to ask for permission. A very polite way of saying "get off my reef!"

Bet You Can't Guess? Name this Beach

The results of the "Name this beach" challenge are in

43% of the folks taking the survey said Bondi Beach. 5% said Seven Mile Beach. 52% said Ulong Beach and 0% said Wakiki Beach.

And the answer is Ulong Beach in Palau. If you saw Survivor Palau this is the beach that the Ulong Tribe inhabited for the 2005 episode.

Of course this beach was famous way before the reality show Survivor. It is know for its amazing sandy white beach, beautiful tropical flowers and turquoise waters. Oh, and RATS, big ones, that the locals call coconut squirrels. Used as a surface interval for scuba divers and a rest stop for sailboats for years it was one of Palau's best kept secrets. Many of Mary's favorite dive sites are near this island and this is one of her favorite beaches.

For those folks that selected Bondi beach it is the famous beach near Sydney Australia. Seven Mile beach is a sandy white beach on island of Grand Cayman in the Caribbean and Waikiki beach is of course on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

Taveuni Elementary School

We were walking with the groundskeeper of Paradise Resort when he mentioned that his daughter went to the school we passed and invited us to visit the school. The children had won a soccer game and were celebrating the victory with a lunch prepared by their parents. In the photographs you can see the smoke from the cooking fire next to the building. Notice the children lined up with plates in their hands.

Children are precious to the Fijian people and if you cannot have a child a family member may offer to have a child for you and release that child to you as your own. This was the story of the groundskeeper who was unable with his wife to have a child so his brother and sister-in-law offered to have a child for them.

To view photographs of the school children go our gallery at Taveuni Elementary School.

The Chiton Lady's World is Flat

I remember reading a book by Thomas Friedman called “The World is Flat”. The premise of this book is that the world is getting smaller and more globalized through technology. There is a question he asked in the book that I had not given thought to until I came up from a dive one day in Bonaire.

Mary and I were staying at the Divi Resort and decided to do an afternoon shore dive. After the dive Mary went back to the room and I stayed under the pier to look for blennies and gobies. As I was coming up from the dive next to the rocky shore I startled a woman prying something from the rocks. She had a baggie in one hand and a knife in the other so I asked her what she was doing. She showed me the bag filled with some kind of fish meat and said she was getting chitons to eat. She was in a raggedy t-shirt and worn out shorts, no shoes and here she was prying these chitons off rocks to make soup for her supper. I spoke with her a while, stowed my gear and went back to the room.

I was in the room completing my dive log when I heard a voice outside the sliding glass door facing the ocean. I opened the door and there was the “chiton lady” standing on a rock looking out over the ocean, knife and baggie in one hand and cell phone to her ear, having a lively conversation.

Looking at the lady standing there I thought of Mr. Friedman’s question. “When did you first realize the world was flat?” For me it was the “chiton lady”.

When Mary and I first started traveling you were hard pressed to even find a telephone but now cell phones are ubiquitous; even chiton ladies have them. Once upon a time beach side hotels were surrounded by palm trees and mangroves and the only “hot spot” was the local bar not some Wi Fi java joint. But things change.

Leave a comment and let us know when you first realize that the world was flat.

Bull Sharks of Bat Island

Jutting abruptly from the sea is a spit of volcanic rock next to Bat Island also called Islas Murcielagos, or the Islands of the Bat. This is to be our dive site, this rock, surrounded by surge and current and aptly named "Big Scare". This same surge and current attracts large schools of snapper, wahoo, pompano, horse-eyed jacks and eagle rays. And, bull sharks!

Our dive master was Diego. We had met Diego the year before in a chance encounter at the Greater International Airport of Utila, Honduras (a lean-to next to a crushed shell airstrip and a large bra hanging from the ceiling). We were there to dive and Diego was there to get advanced instructor training. Diego is from Costa Rica and we struck up a conversation, exchanged addresses and went our separate ways.

The following year Mary and I walk into the dive shop at Ocotal Resort in Costa Rica and who do we meet but Diego. Call it fate or circumstance but this is how we came to dive Bat Island in search of bull sharks.

As we descended into the dive the surge became worse. The schools of fish undulated and I found myself getting seasick. The visibility was very poor only about 15 feet. Mary is following Diego and I am looking into the abyss for sharks when I see something that looks like a submarine coming straight toward me. It is a bull shark and begins to circle me. Soon others arrive, all between 8 – 15 feet long, and begin circling as I try to take pictures in the murky water. As the circle becomes tighter I notice that when my back is to the bull sharks they advance toward me but when I turn toward them they glide away.

I had gotten separated from Mary and Diego and as I began to ascend in search of their bubbles the bull sharks kept circling. Finally I saw bubbles and swam over to them. They too were enjoying the bull sharks but soon the sharks lost interest in us and disappeared into the abyss.

Leave us your comment and let us know what your most memorable shark moment was?

Sistine Chapel of Saba

Nestled on a volcanic peak of a tiny Dutch island called Saba, pronounced "Say-bay", is the Sacred Heart Church. Located in the village of The Bottom, this church has a magnificent mural around the alter painted by Heleen Comet. It took over 2 years to complete the mural and what makes it unique is that Heleen incorporated local plants and architecture but also used faces of local children for the faces of the cherubs. As you look at the lovely and timeless faces you cannot help but wonder what became of the lives of these children as they grew up.

The Rapture of the Deep

Many divers, especially baby boomers, dream of being able to give up their job and go live on some exotic island teaching SCUBA. Michael Zensley's lively tale, of seven years wondering the globe as a SCUBA instructor, is a must read for folks with that dream. The book is written like a blog post and is filled with humor, history, and personal stories that the author says "you probably shouldn't know". The underwater adventure and entertaining characters make you want to continue reading. Mary and I have visited and dived many of the places described in the book so we could relate to the experiences and anecdotes. For those that are non-divers the colorful stories, of kava ceremonies in Fiji to chicken wars in St. Lucia, descriptions of diving and island life will be truly entertaining to you.

Southern Stingray Feeding

In our post Southern Stingray Evil Monster of the Sea we wrote about the southern stingray. This video of a feeding stingray displays his grace and beauty and there is a guest appearance from Mary.