The water around our Roatan boathouse is clearer than ever today now that we’ve gotten a week without any storms. Colin noticed an oddly regular brown shape from the deck so I took the snorkel down to have a look. I climbed in off the boat dock and nearly stepped on a spread-hand sized Upside-down Jellyfish lying on the muddy bottom pretending to be a flower. Trying not to stir up the thick mud, I made my way to the shape Colin had seen. It was an incredibly ugly fish with froglike arms and gill holes in its underarms, probably a Longnose Batfish. It’s a kind of angler that, like the upside-down jelly, sits and attracts lunch to it using its (tasty-looking, I guess?) lure nose.
As Colin was coming to join in, I swam over to the posts holding up the boat dock, which are so thickly covered in seaweed and orange sponges they’ve got their own ecosystem going. Among the feather worms I spotted, for the first time, a lionfish! And then another, and then another, and another… We counted maybe a dozen in all, little ones sticking close to the poles and the boat keel. The venemous lionfish are a recent invasive species in the Carribbean which they all came from a couple released pets. The people here are not happy about it and kill them if they see them, so ours will likely be eradicated soon. It’s funny that everybody keeps warning us about the dreaded (but beautiful) lionfish, and when we finally find them they’re under our own dock. If they’ve been here all along when the water was murky, it’s a wonder I haven’t been stung yet since we’ve been getting in and out of the water just a few feet from their favorite spot!
As I mentioned it’s been sunny and calm for nearly a week, so we’ve been in the water every day for longer and longer. Yesterday went on a snorkeling swim amost halfway to Jonesville. I burned my bum! The reef stretches all the way around Roatan, it’s the second biggest in the world after the Great Barrier and so varied. But although the incredible coral formations and innumerable colourful fish are amazing, I keep finding the most interesting things in the shallower waters of our bight. Conches for instance – they’re everywhere, and they’ve got such cute eyes! I hear they make a mean conch stew here but that they’ve being over-fished and getting smaller every year.
One thing I love is to get right into the mangroves with a snorkel and see how much is living down in the underwater forest. You have to move carefully to avoid the urchins, but there are tiny brightly colored fish, little crustations with wavy antennae, fast-moving (I call them ‘cruising’) starfish, fuzzy water catterpillars and of course those numerous red crabs that run up and down the mangrove trees and plop down into the water if you get too close. We saw a lot of those in Thailand too. In fact it’s surprising how many plants and animals Roatan has in common with Koh Phangan.
Well, now that I’ve seen lionfish I can check that off my list. I’m still eager to see a turtle and a ray (we’ve spotted both from outside the water), and to find another octopus since Colin didn’t get to see the one I met in the shallow grasses last week. It was a little sand-colored guy who scooted around surprisingly fast as I tried to get him to latch on to my hand.
I should have brought a waterproof case for the camera! I expected some good snorkeling days in the rainy season, but it’s been far nicer under the water than I expected. Whoo!