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Molasses Reef

Today was the last day of diving this trip. Nobody was sure what the name of the dives were, because it’s a holiday weekend and we were lucky just to get moored on a ball somewhere along Molasses Reef. The reality is that all the dives are pretty close to each other and you can be moored above one spot, but wind up doing one or two of the spots right next to it. So both the dives today were on Molasses reef.

I realized I haven’t taken (m)any pictures of people on any of the dives yet, so I tried to get some today. People are actually trickier to shoot than fish. If there’s something cool to be seen, the people are looking at it, so you can’t shoot their faces. If there’s nothing cool to be seen, the people are looking around to find something cool. You may be able to get their faces in that case, but there’s rarely anything cool around them. But I tried anyway.

I got a couple good shots of some spadefish that were hanging out this morning, and at one point I was surprised to be face to face with a rather large barracuda who was opening and closing his mouth to show me his huge teeth. When I backed off a bit I got a shot or two of him. I also shot a filefish, a French angelfish, and a grouper on the morning dive. I saw some really cool squirrelfish, but I just can’t seem to get a good shot of them; they’re so shy. I saw another instance of a grunt opening its mouth really wide, like it’s about to eat something, and then swimming aggressively toward a butterfly fish. I thought it was somewhat of a rare occurrence when I got a shot of something similar the other day, but now I’m guessing it’s kind of common. It’s still fun to see in action.

When we were here last year we got introduced to Mo, a goliath grouper that is friends with the divers. He follows them around on the night dives and eats the things they shine their lights on (otherwise those things are able to stay hidden from him). He’s huge. We saw him on a dive last year when I didn’t have a camera with me. I was really hoping to see him again this year and this morning we did. He hangs out under a big ledge during the day to stay out of the sun. That also makes him hard to spot and much harder to shoot with a camera. My camera did not want to focus on him, and my flash is not bright enough to light up more than his face. He’s probably about 8-9 feet long, 4-5 feet tall, and 3-4 feet wide. Each pectoral fin seems almost as big as a diver. He could probably fit one of us completely in his mouth. It’s quite the experience to swim up close to him and try to get a picture. I did manage to get one shot where he’s mostly in focus, but it doesn’t convey how big he is. He really is huge. I can only imagine how much he must weigh.

The seas were extremely calm again this morning, so even though we were on the Tropical Voyager (aka the vomit comet) it was no big deal to hang out on the boat during our surface interval between dives.

The second dive was really interesting. We had idled down to the southern end of Molasses Reef, closer to the deeper open channel, which means there’s a better chance to see something big the comes in to check things out before heading back out to see. That’s exactly what happened. We jumped in and immediately saw 2 huge tarpons swimming in to check us out. They were so big and so fast. I actually had no idea what they were until I asked the dive master after we surfaced. I didn’t get any pictures of them because it all happened so fast and they didn’t really get too close. I don’t think they were as big as Mo, but they were in the same ballpark. So it was cool to see them. I haven’t ever seen tarpon before.

About half way through the dive we ran into even more fish that I didn’t recognize. They were fairly big and looked somewhat like salmon. They turned out to be snook. Cool. Yet another fish I hadn’t seen until now. There were 3 of them swimming around a small sand patch and 3 or 4 more hiding under a ledge nearby. They don’t have a lot of color, but I took a bunch of shots of them anyway, since they were something new.

I’ve seen a bunch of French angelfish and queen angelfish on this trip, but until today I hadn’t seen any grey angelfish… until today. I swam with a good-sized one for a minute and took a few shots that turned out pretty well. The grey angelfish are very cool. They’re much cooler than their name makes them sound. It’s fun to see all the variation even among the same kind of fish. We talked about that on the ride back, how the blue tangs we saw in Florida have completely different coloring from the blue tangs they have in Australia (and Finding Nemo).

It was a good dive to end on, because it was so different from all the other dives we’ve done on this trip. We saw the tarpon, the snook, and some other medium-sized fish I have yet to identify on this final dive. I also saw a trigger fish, a trunkfish, a hogfish, a few trumpetfish, lots of wrasse, tons of parrotfish, a huge column with hundreds of sergeant majors swimming in circles, and a few grouper. I even spotted a goatfish hiding among a group of grunts hanging out along one of the walls. I took a few shots of him, but none of them turned out. Clearly I need more practice. When’s the next trip?

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