Lesson from the Depths: Roatan

Posted: under Photography, Scuba diving, Travel, Underwater photography.
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Checking the flash

The downturn in the American economy is devasting to communities that depend on American tourists for their livelihood.  I saw these economics in action when I traveled to Roatan, Honduras, two years ago to go scuba diving.   Because my husband and I were traveling with a teenager and a nursing baby,  we chose a dive resort that welcomed families.




There were only three other divers staying at our resort the entire week -two women and a man from Hawaii.  They were technical divers, a joyless bunch.  They bickered and quarreled continuously  each afternoon as they made plans for the next morning’s dive. As a recreational diver, I am limited to depths less than 100 feet.  These divers went well below 200 hundred feet!  They used re-breathers, carried extra air tanks, and had all sorts of redundant equipment for emergency back-up.  I suppose they had their reasons for seeking such depths, but I found the photographs of barrel sponges they took at 260 feet to look remarkably like the sponges I photographed at 60 feet.




Spotted drum


Tiny shrimp








One of the advantages to the light season was that for most of the week, my husband and I had the dive master to ourselves!  On one afternoon we did have to share him with a group of business men who were taking a diving excursion from a cruise ship.  They were an amusing bunch.  Their equipment was sparkly and new.  When they squeezed into their wet suits they looked like well-fed pythons.


Some dive masters treat scuba diving as just a job.  They seem interested in just getting you down safely, leading you along a planned route, then showing you back to the boat.  Our dive master, a local man named Shervan, delighted in his job. Shervan’s fins were mismatched.  And he didn’t use a diving computer.  He used a watch and a depth gauge.  Yikes.   But he was so excited to share with us the underwater world of his homeland.

Look close! The brown "twig" is a tiny crab!












With the help of Shervan’s keen eye, I saw many tiny sea creatures I had never seen before.  One of my favorite is the nudibranch, or sea slug.  They are very tiny and colorful.  As the current carries you swiftly past colorful coral, it is easy to overlook them in the splendor.














One of the main reasons we chose Roatan was because I had just passed my “Night and Limited-visibility”  certification test.  I was eager to dive the “World Famous Spooky Channel”.  But alas, the winds changed.  High winds pounded the island on the east, the seas became rough, and strong currents forced the cancelations of all night dives for the week.   We did get to dive on the western side of the island, and saw enough spectacular sea life to compensate for our disappointment.

I love trying to photograph the beauty that we see when underwater, but it is a real challenge.  I am moving.  The fish are moving.  The camera is being pushed about by the current and pulled up by its own buoyancy.   The visibility is compromised by the diminished light and the scattering sand.  Only one shot in twenty is okay. Usually I don’t even bring the camera.

Smile for the camera














Some of these creatures I photographed; some my husband photographed.

Tube worm

French angel fish








But I took the video of the enormous eel.

Did I tell you about the eel?  Now there’s a lesson for life.

We encountered another party of divers, about six.  Their hand signals indicated that they had spotted a seahorse.  Now seahorses are a treat to find.  They are tiny and well disguised.  These divers were going crazy.  They were each striving against one another, trying to get a look at the seahorse.  They were stirring up sand and making a mess, really decreasing the visibility.  I watched them from a distance, waiting for them to get their look and move on.

They never saw the enormous moray eel emerge from the rocks nearby.  It was the largest one I had ever seen.  Moray eels are not terribly dangerous, but they can bite.  The eel swam under the divers who were looking for the seahorse AND THEY NEVER EVEN SAW HIM!

On the video you can see the eel swim under the dive master.  You can see the divers in the distance briefly.  I stopped the camera briefly when he swam under the divers because I did not want to run in to them myself.  But then he emerged from beneath them and made quick time swimming into the current.  I am not streamlined for underwater, so he quickly escaped me.

Click below to watch video.  The first link is .m4v.


Roatan Moray Eel

The second link is on YouTube.  It is only about 1 minute, 20 seconds long.


Lesson to self:  Never become so fixated on the minutiae that you lose sight of the big picture.

I am not alone in my wonders of the sea.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!  In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.

Psalm 104:24-25 (ESV)


Marvels of the deep



Ultimately, my patience paid off and I got a close view, and photograph, of the tiny seahorse. I even saw a second one on this dive!  I have only ever seen two.


Returning to the surface

I am sorry to say that things have not gone well for Roatan.  The resort we visited closed the following year.  But the waters around the island are truly “teeming with creatures innumerable”. Praise the Lord!

Comments (2) May 18 2011