Finding the Bacon Snapper—Diving with R.E.E.F. (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) in Utila, July 16, 2005 to July 23, 2005
This was my sixth trip with R.E.E.F., the fish survey group which maintains a data base of fish counted in member conducted surveys. This “citizen science” group is one of my favorite groups to dive with as it is diving with a purpose, the quality of the dive operations chosen is high, and the R.E.E.F. members are just great people.
Getting to Utila is no small trick. There are decent connections from Houston and Miami to San Pedro Sula, but the flight out to Utila is on Atlantic Airways, a small commuter line for Central America using 20 passenger turboprops. We flew from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba, a port on mainland Honduras and from there after a 2 hour layover to Utila. There we were met by Shirley with Deep Blue Resort with a taxi bus that took us to the Deep Blue Divers Dive School and from there, via boat to Deep Blue Resort.
About half of us didn’t get our bags (I had mine) and Deep Blue Resort run by Shirley’s son Steve and Jasmine did there best to make up for the lack of luggage. With good rental dive gear and help with T-shirts and other clothing and amenities, they kept us going until the luggage showed up 2 days later. Very good service in this department even though the fault had nothing to do with them.
Deep Blue Resort is nicely set among coconut palms and other vegetation on the south side of the island facing the Honduras mainland which is visible in the distance. The boat leaves from the lagoon side of the island however which makes for calm boarding and exits in the evenings. Rooms are clean and air-conditioned with balconies facing the ocean. They are moving the dock closer to the resort which will shorten the walk from the dock to and from the resort.
Our usual schedule was 2 tank dives in the morning and a 1 tank dive in the afternoon or two tanks in the morning and a night dive. Utila isn’t a big island so even drives out to the north side of the island only took an hour or so.
Diving was, to put it simply, spectacular. I rate it as one of the top three places I’ve been in the Caribbean (along with Saba and Little Cayman). Steve, DiveMaster Chris and Swin (the boat captain) know the dive sites like the back of their hands and gave impressive briefings every time. For the most part, the reef is in excellent condition. Weather from Hurricane Emily was not an issue. We did miss out on some night dives because of weather, but it was not sure that these squalls were hurricane related and they did cool the temperature off somewhat.
The R.E.E.F. group was all experienced divers and were allowed to pretty much dive as we wanted. Typical dive length was a little over an hour with, mutual if not unspoken, agreement of everyone coming up with 10 minutes of each other. We were a well coordinated group dedicated to our surveying and the week passed smoothly and all too quickly.
Brian Dias, R.E.E.F.’s outreach and education director, was trip leader and did an outstanding job with evening lectures on fish identification and general organization of the activities.
Usually mentioned within the same breath of the Bay Islands, are the no-see-ums-invisible biting flies. The location of Deep Blue Resort on a spit of land in the Lower Lagoon gives them a steady breeze. I did use repellent, but I was hardly bitten at all. I did get some mosquito bites though. Both repellent and insecticide sprays were supplied gratis in the rooms.
The real treat of the trip was Jasmine’s cooking. A triumph for breakfast, lunch and dinner! A special treat was the morning bacon—some of the best we’d ever had, --- hence our search for the bacon snapper.
Our tentative overall species number identified was 182. Highlight fish were a large eyed toad fish, Irish pompano, and a mushroom scorpion fish. We looked for a whale shark but none was to be had during our stay—peak time for these is in the spring. Deep Blue Resort carries out a whale shark research program in the spring and during this time researchers are invited in and divers can participate in the program. Highlight dive sites were Black Hills (literally an aquarium of fish on this little sea mound), Duppy Water and The Maze in Turtle Harbor. Shore diving at the resort is also available and was good as well.
Best endorsement for Deep Blue’s operation and Utila diving. I plan to go back in the spring.