Turks & Caicos Aggressor II
20 - 27 June 2015
Air temperature: 85° - 89° F
Water temperature: 82° - 83° F
Visibility: 60 – 80 feet
Captain: AMANDA SMITH
2nd Captain: MARC POVEY
Engineer: ROBERT SMITH
Photo Pro: LOWEL OROURKE
Chef: SHEA MARKWELL
Stewardess: KAHAIL SMITH
Gregg & Lorie; Justin, Vaughn & James; Danja; Mark, Christine & Aja; Terry, Kathy & Dennis; Drena; Dianne; Kale; Paul; Ben
Sunday – Amphitheatre & The Dome, NWPT
Monday – Sharks Hotel & Eel Garden, NWPT
Tuesday – Whiteface & Brandywine, West Caicos
Wednesday – Two Step, Stairway & Amphitheatre, NWPT
Thursday – Elephant Ear Canyon & Gullies, West Caicos
Friday – Pinnacles, Grace Bay
A slightly different embarkation process this week as we left Turks & Caicos Marina to catch the tide and anchored just outside the barrier reef, on the north shore. And so it was that our seventeen intrepid divers joined the vessel by tender.
As soon as everyone had boarded, we left our anchorage and moved over to Northwest Point in preparation for our following morning. Many questions were posed and answered, gear set up and cameras assembled.
Our first site of the trip was Amphitheatre, the home of hundreds of yellow-headed jawfish bobbing up and down in their holes, with their delicate blue edging to their white fins. The gorgonian sea plumes provided homes to the disguised decorator crabs known as neck crabs. In the amphitheater, seven types of black coral cascade down from the ceiling and camouflaged along the delicate fronds, tiny shrimp hop along, barely the width of the branch with their two eyes protruding from the side.
We moved across to The Dome for the afternoon and after the fascinating story of how the structure came to be, we dropped down to this shallow site and immediately came across an octopus peering out from a coral head. This cephalopod is a regular to this site and we were happy to see it around in daylight, where nighttime is its more common haunt. At the edge of the wall three neck crabs encrusted in red algae clung to a sea plume. The chimney formation on the wall was a great ascent up to the top of the wall and as we rotated during our rise we saw all manner of crinoids visible emerging from the sides. At the Dome, we saw our resident blennies making themselves look fearsome as they spotted their reflections in our masks. They would zip out of their holes at great speed for a morsel of food and back straight in again. By the tyres to which the vessel is attached a beautiful corkscrew anemone provided protection for an array of Pederson cleaner shrimps and a red snapping shrimp. At the very base of it a number of amphipods hover amongst its tentacles. The night dive brought our octopus out as well as a number of large channel clinging crabs and lobster.
Next morning we headed north to Sharks Hotel to go and visit our resident Nassau grouper. Again, it frequented all the cleaning stations in the area and maintained its appearance, but was perfectly happy to get very close to more than one of our guests. Arrow crabs, with their blue claws, peered out from all manner of structures, including plate corals and sponges; the carapace of some covered in algae, whilst the stripes of others were quite clear. Banded coral shrimp danced like fighters, seeming to duck and dive as they scampered around their locations waiting for something larger to clean. Two Caribbean reef sharks cruised along the edge of the wall, just a little deeper than us, but close enough to see clearly and create some excitement.
We do not usually dive Eel Garden as an afternoon site, so rarely get to night dive in this area. It was an awesome site with the garden eels, after which the site is named providing great entertainment. The giant anemone, for which the next dive site is known is very accessible to us from Eel Garden, so as usual, we ventured across to The Crack to examine this specimen and also see if anything has taken up in residence. The night dive was amazing, with many types of lobsters on show. Our youngest guest, Aja, seems to have undertaken a study of lobsters and this was a great site to see so many, not only the Caribbean spiny lobsters, but a slipper lobster, that seemed to be pinned down by a channel clinging crab (?!), and a number of the spotted spiny lobsters and banded lobsters. An octopus always helps with the enjoyment of a night dive and this was no exception.
Early on Tuesday morning we moved to West Caicos and took up our position at Whiteface. Our resident scorpionfish made itself apparent to some but not all, however the reef sharks cruising along the wall were an entertainment enough themselves. Almost everyone got to see the anchor wedged into the gulley, but even those that didnt may find that they have been photographed next to it. Near the gulley a coney was pestering a juvenile spotted drum, as they seemed to be occupying the same space. The drum appeared indifferent and carried on with its dance pattern.
An afternoon at Brandywine, just a couple of dive sites along, was in order and as we moved further north up West Caicos we started to see more of our Caribbean reef shark friends. They curiously approached the different groups of divers creating some excellent close up opportunities. A hawksbill turtle had found a tasty sponge to feast on and, as is usual, when they are in this frame of mind they are not concerned with those around and so again more close up possibilities arose. The night dive brought a large nurse shark in to the equation. Hiding in the frond of a sea plume, six juvenile squid, sought protection from the aggressive hunting of the black jacks. On an encrusting sponge two long horn nudibranchs moved quickly around, whilst at the edge of the reef, every few feet emerged another channel or hairy clinging crab. It was at this site that the black light accentuated a tiny juvenile scorpionfish – almost impossible to see under the white light, the black light made this tiny critter fluoresce, without which we would not have spotted it.
We were in NWPT for Wednesday and a site that we do not dive very often. The site was Two Step and it is a beautiful wall that drops down into two sand bowls. The reef surrounding these bowls is lavish and abundant and our only disappointment is that it is reasonably deep, so we were unable to spend too much time there. A stingray flew past us at depth, winging its way along the length of the wall. In the reef a couple of lionfish hovered, motionless, eyeing up their potential morning snack. On the top of the wall large coral heads provided homes for lobsters and crabs and a number of cleaning stations with shrimp and gobies willing to clean fish and Ajas (guest) alike.
For the afternoon, we moved to Stairway and enjoyed the tall pillar corals that are often surrounded by young barracuda. Along the wall we were entertained with the cruising of a couple of reef sharks, quite happy to come in close. In an encrusting sponge a gaudy clown crab peered out of its hole, probably the easiest one to identify this week as all the others were only showing parts of their bodies where they hide so well in the reef.
For the night dive we moved across to Amphitheatre. Here we saw all manner of lobsters again, with an octopus thrown in for good luck. Under many of the coral edges, orange ball coralimorphs blossomed in their nighttime environment. Longhorn and white speckled nudibranchs hung out on their respective habitats and a good-sized squid hung out along the wall.
Back to West Caicos on Thursday and to the crews favorite Elephant Ear Canyon. Our little orange sea horse was still in situ, which delighted all our guests. The southern stingrays made good swimming buddies as they scoured the sand for garden eels – always accompanied by a jack hopeful of a tidbit. Leech headshield slugs tussled with each other in the sand, or marched over the grasses and algae. Our little juvenile French angelfish, a cleaner whilst in infancy, provided its services to the jacks and snapper that approached the abandoned sponge in which it resided, and whilst we all focused on the little stuff, our local reef sharks cruised in between us all.
We moved the short distance to Gullies for the remainder of the day. As we descended to toward the swim through a small school of Atlantic spadefish passed by. Sully, our resident female reef shark, circled our guests with three other of her followers, one of whom was female and the other two male. She is currently with pups as she frequently is at this time of year. At the edge of the wall, a spotted drum, barely still juvenile danced around a coral head, whilst up in the shallows twos and threes of barracuda hung still. The night dive was filled with crustaceans – crabs feasting on sponges and lobsters marching across the sand.
For our last two dives of the week we moved around to Grace Bay. Pinnacles was our choice of site and a rare chance to see fingerprint cyphoma, the infrequently found cousin to the flamingo tongue. Living only on slit pore sea rods the snails decimate their habitat before moving on to another. On this day we were fortunate enough to see two. Our final dive involved turtles and sharks and set everyone up for a relaxing afternoon at the marina.
Congratulations to Aja, Mark & Kale for achieving the Iron Diver award and diving all twenty-seven dives this week. Congratulations go also to our photography students – Ben & Vaughn; our Nitrox students – Aja, Paul and James; and also to James for also completing his Advanced Adventurer and Night and Limited Visibility Diver. We enjoyed a great group of people, great diving and another great week onboard the Turks & Caicos Aggressor II.