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Baja, Mexico REEF Field Survey

- Trip Report by Georgia Arrow

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at work, minding my own business, when the phone rang. Imagine my surprise when it was Leslie Whalen from REEF offering me a (practically) free trip to Baja to dive from a livaboard for a week to participate in a REEF Field Survey. The only catch is that I had to be in La Paz, Mexico in 2 days. Wow! Thus began a whirlwind of getting replaced at work, finding my birth certificate (I have no passport), getting a flight at short notice, canceling meetings and appointments for the week, packing personal & dive gear, and placing numerous phone calls to get everything squared away with REEF & Baja Expeditions.

By Sunday night I found myself in La Paz sitting in the galley of the Don Jose watching fish identification slides of the species commonly seen in the Sea of Cortez. After the fish slides, introductions were made. There were 14 of us from all different places in the country. I'm from Portland, Brice, our fearless leader, is from Seattle, Al & Beth are from San Diego, Walter from Colorado, Kenny & Vickie from Arkansas, Carolyn & Judith from Cape Cod, Sandy from San Francisco, Mindy from Nevada, Adam & Carlos from New York, Don from Alabama. There was also Kevin, the divemaster, who is from San Diego and who participated in doing surveys with us. After some socializing, I went to the cabin I was sharing with Sandy & Mindy, climbed into my little bunk, and was gently rocked to sleep by the motion of the water.

Early Monday morning the boat left La Paz before most of us were awake. I rose in time to see La Paz fading into the distance as we headed north to Los Islotes. This trip was my first experience with warm water diving. In addition to all my cold water gear, I own a 3mm shorty wetsuit and full foot fins for working in the pool with students so I thought I was well equipped. It was a bit disconcerting to see all the other divers donning full 3mm wet suits, full length skins, hoods, boots, and gloves. But what was I to do? I had what I had. We geared up, buddied up, loaded into the pongas to be taken in closer to the dive site, and away we went.

I backrolled into the water and could not believe how warm it was! And blue! And clear! And oh, the fish life! The 2 nights that I had before the trip I spent taking the REEF online quiz for the Sea of Cortez over and over again and now here were those fish all around me. It was so incredibly cool! Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Triggerfish, Parrotfish, Damselfish, Snappers, Grunts, Wrasses. So many vibrant colors. So different from the fish I see in Puget Sound. We spent the whole day here at Los Islotes and I did three great dives. Temperature was never an issue for me. I guess diving the cold water of Puget Sound has toughened me up enough to be comfortable in 82° water. Sandy was one of my buddies for this and many subsequent dives. She is such a knowledgeable fish identifier. And very good at finding the unusual fish. It was great to be diving with someone who had a ready answer for most of my identification questions.

Los Islotes is also home to a large population of sea lions. Occasionally one or two would go gliding by and look us over. They are incredibly cute. Kenny had one envelope him in its flippers and chew on his snorkel for about 10 minutes. Fortunately, Kenny thought this was great and did not freak out about it.

At the end of the day we watched more fish slides and some video that Brice shot during the day. This was our general schedule for the week. Eat, dive, eat, dive, dive, eat, fish videos, sleep. Not a bad way to live.

Over the next 5 days we did 3 to 4 dives a day. We dove at La Reyna Pelona, Carpintero, Punta Pescadero, El Cardonal, Punta Perico, El Bajo Seamount, Los Islotes again, and the Salvatierra wreck. We had hoped to get as far south as Cabo Pulmo but there was a hurricane coming up from the south so the captain opted to not put us in its path-something I heartily agreed with.

As a group, we spotted at least 144 species (the official total will probably be a little higher) and did around 250 surveys or more. I personally did 18 dives and spotted 94 fish species and 2 different species of turtles. I saw so many things I'd never seen before-Moorish Idols (my new favorite fish), Puffers, Moray Eels, Blennies, Groupers, Cornetfish. I did one dive that lasted 102 minutes!

I went on one of the 2 night dives that were done during the week and I'm so glad I did. The fish are totally different at night. Sergeant Majors appear blue, Creole Fish are plaid, the huge schools of Scissortail Damsels are hidden in every crook and cranny, and the invertebrate life is much more visible. I had hardly noticed any anemones during the day dives but at night they are much more prominent as they open up to feed. Being underwater is so magical anyway, but at night it takes on a quality that is definitely ethereal.

On one dive I was surrounded by huge schools of swirling Big Eye Scad. They were all around me-in front of me, below me, to the sides, and above me they blocked out the sun. All of a sudden, they took off en masse. And right behind them came a school of Crevalle Jacks. An amazing thing to watch.

I have so many good memories of this trip. There is not one thing that I didn't like about it. All the divers were fun and interesting, the crew was fantastic, the food was plentiful and good, the pace was relaxed but still allowed us all the diving we wanted to do. It was probably the best introduction to warm water and livaboard diving that I could have ever hoped for.

When I started diving I insisted that I wanted to be able to dive where I lived which is why I do cold water diving. I still firmly believe that and will continue to log many dives here in the Pacific Northwest. But after this wonderful trip I will now take advantage of every available opportunity to get to warm water to enjoy the ease and comfort of that type of diving and to explore the varied life that is found in those waters.

On to the next adventure…

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