Friday, April 29, 2011


Spotted eagle ray viewed by author and family

       Parrot fish, tile fish, spotted eagle rays, southern sting rays, fan coral and brain coral are just a few of the wondrous splendors that we witnessed this past week when snorkeling off the coast of Culebra.  Culebra is a small remote island off the coast of Puerto Rico with pristine beaches and a protected coral reef. What makes the snorkeling here even more precious is that no hiring of a boat was necessary; we simply walked to the beach by our rustic villa, donned our masks and flippers and entered the water.  With the warm water only at our knees, we were able to crouch down, enter the water and immediately we were privy to an exquisite underwater scene.
       I have snorkeled before, but had never seen such a fully developed reef system that was home to so many different types of marine animal and plant life.  We snorkeled three times; the first was right off the beach where we lounged around having lunch and playing card games.  The water was very shallow in this area and hosted an array of small colorful fish, brilliant yellows, transparent fish and my favorite the cobalt blue and canary yellow angel fish.  Not sure which type of angel but the fin structure fit the picture in our snorkeling guide.
       Our next adventure involved a five minute walk along the rocky beach to reach a section that was deeper into the reef.  Well worth the effort.  Love the idea of putting my belongings on a shore with no other sole in sight and entering this underwater universe.  This adventure was beyond my hopes as we swam through, around and over the complex reef system teeming with animal and plant life. 
       With the help of our fins and the buoying effect of the salt, we hardly had to swim but instead can move along at a relaxing pace, that is non-threatening to the sea life and allows us to observe the wonders before us.  Johnny and I swim side by side, shoulder to shoulder, frequently pointing out a plant or fish we find remarkable. In fact, everything seems remarkable.  It is private, it is only us and it is bonding.
       Bonding because of the wonders we are seeing alone together but I suspect the potential danger plays a role as well.  Despite being overwhelmed visually, we are always aware of our surroundings.  We check Johnny’s watch before entering the water to monitor our progress in relation to the current.  Although we are not near any boats, we do pop our heads up when we hear a motor running to check its proximity.  Everything kept its distance but we stay aware.  We have checked with local people ahead of time to see if there are any marine life that could be dangerous to us and told there are no dangerous fish but beware of stepping on one of the abundant sea urchins.  Other snorkelers have told us of rays they have seen and we hope to see one despite our nervousness at encountering on.  Soon,  Johnny points out a ray floating above us to the right and later another one resting on the sea bottom.  Either a ballyhoo or hound fish swims near us and gives us a start as it strongly resembles a barracuda, but we have heard rumors of the barracuda look- alikes that swim there and we relax. 
       It is later in the day than we expected to go, the current is kicking up and we have to exit the water over rocks, so we head back in after a half hour.  We are not disappointed by the shortness of our trip as it is so jam-packed with more marine life than we could have hoped for.  Upon exiting, we vow to bring the children and grandmothers back tomorrow.
       Despite our passionate descriptions of what we have just experienced, we are only able to persuade one out of two children and one out of two grandmothers to join us on another snorkeling expedition the next day .  Around 3:30pm on Friday, we leave our villa to head down to the beach and then walk along the shore to our spot.  After securing everyone’s equipment, we awkwardly enter the water over the rocks with our fins on, but happily we are soon graceful, again as we immerse ourselves in the warm water.  Again, I am in awe of how quickly life changes.  We are not viewing an empty sandy ocean bottom but one that is filled with purple fan coral and schools of brilliant fish as soon as we submerge our heads.  Close to shore we catch sight of a twenty inch pastel parrot fish with yellow lips.

Parrot fish spotted near shore

       The day before, Johnny and I had more or less headed into new territory soon after entering the water, but we see that our eight year old and Johnny’s mom are quite satisfied to explore the immediate area.  We follow suit and enjoy my son’s frequent pointing and excitement.  Already we have experienced the same water in a new way – through their eyes.  Johnny’s mom is not as relaxed or enamored as our son and decides to exit the water but says it was great.  We ask our son, if he would like to go out further and he agrees.  The three of us move side by side, connected like mer people. More joy surges through my body. 
       Like yesterday, we are cognizant of our surroundings and have to frequently go above to adjust masks, blow out water and check for motor boats.  It is a little overcast, less clear and it looks like a ray may not appear until I suddenly see one fifteen feet below us partially buried in the sand.  We give it some space and decide to head back.  As I am debating which two reefs to go between to exit the water, Johnny suddenly taps me on the shoulder and points to a glorious spotted eagle ray to our right.  It is a periwinkle blue with white spots features a six foot wing span and has a five foot tail.  We give it a wide berth and observe its underwater flight.  It makes me a little nervous and I start heading for the exit.  This sighting made my week.  Not that coffee on the ocean view deck, or naps with a Caribbean breeze, or fresh fish for dinner, or pristine white beaches have been a cross to bear but this,   this …… creature was a privilege to behold.  I am humbled.

Diane Lachtrupp Martinez

PS - Although all pictures I have seen of spotted eagle rays show them as dark brown, the one we saw had a bluish/purplish cast.
Spotted Eagle Ray and Parrot Fish photos from this web site


  1. I love the way you describe your beautiful and peaceful adventure. It was truly breath taking. I would do it again. Grandma Tuta

  2. Thanks - I was undeniably moved by the experience. I'm glad you could be a part of it. Next time you can stay longer.

  3. Diane-I have enjoyed all your blogs but particularly this one. I have passed up opportunities to snorkle but now think this indeed could be doable for me and in fact irresistible. Thanks for sharing your experience!


  4. Jane - It is a very doable hobby. It is green all the way around from the minimal lack of equipment to the peaceful way that the animals are observed. We have enjoyed great snorkeling in Veiques, Mexico and Anguilla. good luck.