Photos by Josie Koler
You don’t have to be PADI or NAUI certified to replicate this adventure, just possess wanderlust for the water. Just before the weekend kicked off we bounced over to Murray Marine, hopped a boat and cruised through Boca Grande Channel 30 miles west of Key West where the Marquesas Keys lie. Known to locals simply as “The Marquesas,” don’t mistake this circle of mangroves for the Marquesas Islands in the French Polynesia. This is salty spot where the Atlantic meets the Gulf of Mexico and the fishing is fabulous. The Marquesas are home to the “Big Three,” tarpon, bonefish and permit making their home around the coral gardens.
Today we’re fishin’ for a viewing spectacle.
I dove off the boat and unbraced for this vista.
Perfectly round, colossal coral heads were dolloped on the ocean floor as though they’d been dropped there and clustered together with an oversized ice cream scoop!
I feasted on the array of fish.
A spider crab scampers into the center before I can snap his picture and a young Goliath Grouper zooms by. I only see him for a second before he joins the spider crab and other wildlife I shied away.
My snorkel consort shows me a conch while we’re up for a breath. I sail back down and come upon a stingray. I chase 200-pound amphibian towards the mangroves until it disappears. Another spot reveals the same magnificent creatures around the elephantine coral clusters.
The Marquesas Keys were used for target practice by the military as late as the 1980s. Once we finish the Marquesas, we cut back across Boca Grande Channel and dove in to see what sea life is making their home on the sits of the plane targets.
Ahh! A lionfish is the first creature I encounter about 8’ below the surface on the west side of the plane. A loner, there isn’t anything living around his poisonous spines.
“We need a net! We need a pole spear! Where are the gloves? I need to ready a saltwater aquarium in the office!”
After crawling in and out of the structure, trying to coax the spider crabs out for a photo we swim back to the boat, chasing a 6’ nurse shark on the way.
“The only thing we didn’t see,” I observe, “was a turtle. We’re coming back to get that Lionfish. He’s going in my office!”
A conch shell brought up from the coral for a better view. After examining the slimy, green body living inside, the conch is returned exactly where it was found.
The coral head are home to tiny fish, spider crab, and conch. One very young Goliath Grouper whooshed by and disappeared.
Mask, fins, snorkel, swimsuit is all you need! Here I used the Aqualung Express Fins and Technisub Mask. Jeremy Barish, Dive Master with Lost Reef Adventures notes, “Those are so tiny, they’re practically goggles!” After adjusting the mask to fit my face the view is stellar. Available are blue, red, pink, and black. The snorkel is a Cressi Delta 1. Bikini by Billabong. The Elizabeth Tie Lowrider Bottoms are recommended for swimming, surfing, and snorkeling! The Dakota Halter Top has metallic silver foil to make you stand out in underwater photos even with the vis is low.
Spotting the second stingray of the snorkel trip, I swooped down with my camera to see his face before I moved to the backside of his tail, knowing the creature would swim away.
“Weren’t you scared of the barb? Like the one that killed the Crocodile Hunter,” asked Dr. Lesley Messier when I showed her the photos!
The stingray’s barb can be up to 8” in length, is serrated like a bread knife, and coated with a toxic slime. There are at lest 1,500 reported stingray injuries every year in U.S. waters. Most strikes occur in the leg or foot. People who have been barbed say the pain is excruciating; some women claiming worse than childbirth. Stingrays are not aggressive, and will swim away rather than face confrontation as you can see from the series of my photos.