After 4 nights at Hickatee Cottages outside of Punta Gorda, we headed into town and down to the dock and out to Reef Conservation International in the Sapodilla Cayes.
Little Tom Owens Caye is 40 miles - about an hour and a half - off the coast from Punta Gorda.
We arrived on St. Patrick's Day - our daughter Mariah's birthday. I strung a banner to celebrate and (with practically zero arm twisting) talked the cast and crew into donning green mustaches in her honor.
Low light - excuse the quality. Also note that this is an unusually large crowd for ReefCI.
Fun and games aside, ReefCI adds a fascinating and serious dimension to a standard dive trip. There were daily workshops on reef health and conservation, fish, invertibrate, and substrate identification, and techniques for surveying lobsters, queen conch, and reef health. Then we'd dive and use what we'd learned.
Here's the invertebrate crew doing a transect survey...
after my dive buddy Michelle and I completed our fish survey of the same section of reef (photo of me taken by Michelle).
One important focus of ReefCI is lionfish eradication. Lionfish are nonindigenous and invasive; they are beautiful and toxic and are rock stars at eating young reef fish and procreating. They have no natural predators in the Caribbean and local fish haven't evolved to fear them. You can read more about them here and on this page of the ReefCI website.
Interested divers at ReefCI are taught to use a simple speargun; it was common for dozens of lionfish to be removed from the reef in a single dive. During the 1st quarter of 2014, ReefCI staff and guests removed 2,340 lionfish, dissecting and analyzing the stomach contents of more than 200.
Marine biologist Jason with lionfish spear and bag
Bag of lionfish on the dock
A ReefCI staffer carefully removes the toxic spines and fillets the meat.
In case any of you were wondering what Mike was doing while I was training for reef surveys and diving, he was fishing in the flats around a tiny adjoining island and on several other cayes - Franks Caye and Hunting Caye. He caught quite a few bonefish and hooked a permit.
A few more food photos
Here are a few more favorite underwater shots.
Spotted trunk fish
Green brain coral and friends
Vase sponges with brittle stars
Orange wall sponge and friends
White spine urchin
A few more above water scenes - thanks for the memories, ReefCI!
One afternoon I snorkeled my way around the island and popped up at the dock with camera in hand. Hello, Spot!!
Magnificent frigate bird
Choppy day - we actually missed a few dives due to wind and rough water.