Turks & Caicos Aggressor II
6 – 13 June 2015
Air temperature: 85° - 89° F
Water temperature: 82° F
Visibility: 60 – 80 feet
Captain: AMANDA SMITH
Engineer: ROBERT SMITH
Video Pro: LOWEL O’ROURKE
Chef: AILSA KELLY
Photo Pro: SHEA MARKWELL
MIKE & MIKE, Mike, Mike & Barbara, Stew, Kristin & Tracy, Joel, Phil, Betty, Lance, Jeff & Shannon and from Belgium; Luc & Anne
Sunday – Eel Garden, NWPT & Boat Cove, West Caicos
Monday – Half Mile & G-Spot, French Cay
Tuesday – Rock N Roll, French Cay & Gullies, West Caicos
Wednesday – Elephant Ear Canyon & Whiteface, West Caicos
Thursday – Driveway, West Caicos & The Dome, NWPT
Friday – Amphitheatre, NWPT
That time of year has arrived again when we look forward to the learning and antics of Mike & Mike from the Jim Church School of Digital Underwater Photography. There was a perceptible sense of anticipation not only amongst the guests, but also the crew as our hosts boarded with their fourteen students. As soon as all were onboard, we departed for a delightful cruise around to Northwest Point, calm seas and light winds prevailed; conditions that were to last for the beginning of our trip. With no rest for the wicked, Mike & Mike started to share their knowledge after dinner with a lecture to prepare the photographers with the basics.
On Sunday morning, after briefings were delivered, cameras prepared and dive gear set up, we started our diving at Eel Garden, so-called for the numerous garden eels that frequent the site. The gorgonians provided great camouflage and protection for the decorator crabs, known as neck crabs, as they held on with their rear legs leaving their long front arms free to catch any passing prey. Caribbean spiny lobster peered out from the reef providing great photographic potential. The first sighting of the several hawksbill turtles, that we were to see during the course of the week, delighted the group and got shutter fingers twitching; as well the single Caribbean reef shark that cruised along the wall, bearing promise of the encounters to come at some of the other islands at which we dive.
Study, study, study between dives and then off to West Caicos and Boat Cove for the afternoon. Our resident flying gurnards decided today to make their presence known and a pair of them paraded across the sand, extending their beautiful iridescent blue fins as they patted down the ocean floor expectantly awaiting small critters to present themselves for food. Our local Caribbean reef shark cruised along the wall and another hawksbill turtle presented himself for inspection. The night dive brought out all manner of crustaceans, including channel clinging crabs and a variety of lobsters. A small octopus stayed out and about changing colors and moving around the reef, accompanied by a school of reef squid.
After the night dive we moved out to French Cay in preparation for our following day’s diving. Half Mile was our first dive site at this, one of our most popular areas. A reef shark repeatedly cruised up and down the edge of the wall. By the mooring, amongst the many yellow-headed jaw fish, a single male, held eggs in his mouth, occasionally spitting them out to oxygenate them. In the same area in the depth of the coral, an intermediate spotted drum danced its delightful pattern, non-stop making photography challenging but not impossible to capture.
A crew and guest favorite, G-Spot was the afternoon choice and a plethora of sharks, both nurse and Caribbean reef sharks. They swam in amongst the guests, passing just feet away from many. A small spotted moray peered up as these majestic creatures cruised over, whilst over at the wall decorator crabs used the gorgonians, for which the site is known, to hide from their potential prey. The deep-water gorgonians enjoyed the outgoing tide pushing out their polyps to feed on the microscopic animals found in the nutrient rich waters that come out across the Caicos Bank. A hawksbill cruised the length of the wall, too deep for photographs but close enough to enjoy. The night dive saw our regular nurse sharks feeding by the light of our flashlights, whilst the Caribbean reef sharks held an outer position on the edge of the light given by the night-lights of the Aggressor.
Back at West Caicos we spent an afternoon with our three large females and a couple of male reef sharks. At the dive site of Gullies, we enjoyed them as they swam over the swim through that the site is named after, at times swimming through it and surprising some of our guests. We had the opportunity to watch them from the sand or over the edge of the wall as they sailed over the top of us. Along the edge of the wall another intermediate spotted drum swam its sequence and the gorgonian at the edge of the wall, housed flamingo tongues, West Indian simnia and neck crabs.
Elephant Ear Canyon was, as usual, an outstanding dive. As we concentrated on the shallows, around the eelgrass, we were happy to see many of the leech headshield slugs coursing their way through the sand, at times embroiled with another, and other times climbing over anything that happened to stand in their path. A juvenile banded puffer fish was not so keen to be the subject of photos and kept busying around the sand whilst a close relative, a juvenile short nosed puffer seemed happy with the protection of a derelict tube sponge. Also seeking refuge in an abandoned sponge was a tiny juvenile French angelfish, appearing very different from its future self. Giant hermit crabs sat in the sand peering out from their recycled homes and whilst we all concentrated on the small stuff, Caribbean reef sharks and stingrays circled around us. A highlight for the day was the two sea horses that we spotted attached to algae in the sand. One was a pale sandy color, the other a vibrant red – both small, both juvenile and a delight to see.
The afternoon took us to Whiteface and the home of the Spanish Anchor. Another swim through, with a 300-year-old anchor wedged into the side, covered in encrusting sponges and coral and a beautiful color when lit up. Two turtles decided to share some time with us, twisting and turning and posing for our guests. A large green moray peered out from his home, but would not venture out and we saw him again during the night dive, but slightly more entrenched in his lair.
Also during the night dive, we encountered a very shy and swift moving octopus that quickly slid into a coral head. There were reef squid of any number of sizes in the water column and hidden amongst the fronds of the gorgonians, all of which hung out with us. Light shy orange ball coralimorphs stayed out just for a little while until the brightness of strobes became too much and they slowly curled back in.
Thursday morning and Driveway was the order of the day, with male jawfish, mouths bursting with brooding eggs. Our reef sharks gave us a cursory glance as they glided along the reef. Along the bottom, peacock flounder flushed pale then patterned as they skimmed across the reef.
We moved off to Northwest Point during lunch to spend some time at The Dome - a structure covered with blennies, both secretary and rough head. Within, schoolmaster and French grunts used the framework as protection and just peered out beneath the lower part of one of the panels. Two more turtles were seen, one by the wall and the other by the Dome. Even without the critters, the structure itself creates a great image with a low sun in the background.
Our final dives were at Amphitheatre along Northwest Point - an area full of cleaning stations, often with queues of fish waiting to be cleaned. In particular a large Nassau grouper would travel from one station to the next as we swam along the reef. As the Pederson cleaner shrimps set to work on this friendly grouper he would open his gill plates wide, allowing access to the workers and some great photo opportunities for us.
With all the photos taken during the course of the week it was a great deal of precision decision making to establish which photographs and videos should be submitted for graduation. Some amazing photos were taken from a variety of style and size of camera – from the very small compact to the full sized DSLR – a great array of critters and creatures were photographed in all manner of positions with great results. Another fine week from the Jim Church School of Digital Underwater Photography – thank you Mike & Mike for another great charter.