The next morning we left for our first dive at 8:00 a.m. and went to a site called Anclitas. We dove for about an hour to depths of around 15 – 18 metres (50-60 ft). We saw Spiny Lobster, Green Moray, several Southern Stingrays, a large Green Turtle, Black Grouper, Nassau Grouper, Lion Fish and coral reefs with dizzying textures and structural complexity.
Between our first and second dives we landed on an island around 10:00 a.m. It was an entertaining stop since it is inhabited by feral rats known as “jutia” (hoot-ee-ya). These were possibly introduced by the Spanish, and left to evolve in the isolation of the island, as well as multiply as a possible back-up food source for humans. Co-inhabiting the island were iguanas of roughly half or two thirds the size of these rather beaver-like rats. Very curious, the jutias would come right up to us and made for amusing photographs.
The second dive at 10:40 was at a place called Pipin, and this went for 40 minutes to depths of around 24 metres (80 ft). This was our first big shark dive. There were twelve Caribbean Reef Sharks and Silky Sharks gliding around us. They gracefully swam above, below, rightwards, and leftwards, of each of us.
We enjoyed watching the interplay of the highly confident Goliath Groupers with the sharks too. When we surfaced from the dive, everyone was utterly exhilarated, and convinced of the graces of nature.
After the two morning dives, we returned to La Reina for our lunch; afterwards we all had a well deserved siesta while Javier read one of his Cuban novels. We left for our afternoon dive around 3:15pm. This was at Boca de Piedras, where we saw several Caribbean Reef Sharks and a Nurse Shark under a coral overhang. The Remora clung to the reef sharks while Pilot Fish swam out in front of them moving in flawless unison. As part of this aquatic melange were a comical Moray Eel, a huge Barracuda, a Green Turtle, Black Groupers, a solitary Lion Fish and numerous pulsating Moon Jellyfish. There were many other top predators too numerous to recall. The Barrel Sponges are impressive and the reefs gorgeous with the most amazing Sheet Coral. This was nearly an hour’s dive to 18 – 21 metres (60-70 ft). The first day of diving was indicative of what we would see for the remainder of the week.
Flying through mangrove islands on our skiff we were overwhelmed by the stunning beauty of the Jardines. Fortunately the mixture of enforced conservation laws and little human activity along the southern coasts of Ciego de Avila and Camaguey provinces ensure that the coastal mangroves and wetlands remain intact which contributes to the most mature food web in the Caribbean. The food web in the Jardines is similar to the best preserved food webs in of the Indo-Pacific region of eastern Indonesia resulting in large numbers of top predators such as sharks, snappers and groupers.
It’s fascinating seeing 90 kg plus (200 lbs) Goliath and 45 kg (100 lbs) Black groupers standing their ground in front of you, not budging, protecting their hunting territory as you swim towards them, while sharks starting at around 3 metres (10 feet) out will start to swim around you unwilling to engage over territorial rights. Sharks are lazy hunters while groupers are clever and patient and put more effort into hunting down their next meal.
Fausto and other Avalon dive masters decided to see what attracted sharks so they filled two baskets, one with frozen fish blood and parts while the second was filled with frozen pig’s blood, guts, ribs and limbs. Anatomically pigs are very similar to humans in that some pig organs can be transplanted into humans and their blood is very similar to ours. We lowered the two baskets into the water and the sharks circled the one with fish in it and then attacked it, tearing the wire basket apart to get at the fish morsels all the while ignoring the potential feast of pork.
When the dive masters pulled apart pieces of pig and held them in front of the shark’s snouts the sharks ignored them, indicating that humans have little to fear from sharks even when bleeding, especially in the healthy biomass of the Jardines where a shark’s next meal is a short swim away. Watching sharks feed in the Jardines is fascinating; after a while it becomes obvious that Caribbean reef sharks go into a more intense feeding frenzy than do Silkys.
Drifting slowly along the tops of multicoloured coral reefs I watch a shark spot an object floating just below the surface. Picking up speed it closes in on the object and then ever so slowly it investigates. When it realizes it’s a clump of seaweed it loses interest, turns away and dives deeper. With sharks so abundant in the Jardines, after a few days it feels quit natural to have sharks swimming alongside. On one dive a Caribbean reef shark wouldn’t leave my side, staying off to my right for a long while, moving to whereever I moved, but never threatening me in this last unspoiled Caribbean ecosystem.
Continued from: ‘The Caribbean’s Last Coral Reef Ecosystem – Part 1‘
All photos by Joseph Frey – All Rights Reserved