Diving in Cozumel you know you’ll enjoy encounters with a wide variety of species: moray eels (green, spotted and golden), nurse sharks, turtles (hawksbill and loggerhead), huge lobsters, and giant barracuda, just to name a few. But my favorite critters on my wish list are always the spotted eagle rays.Watching one blot out the sun as it soars overhead or glides gracefully beneath you during your safety stop is a heart-stopping moment. Seeing just one or two eagle rays during a dive trip is a treat.
Consequently, I had always wanted to dive Cozumel’s Eagle Ray Alley ever since I heard about the schooling eagle rays that gather at the northern end of the island during the winter months. No one knows where the rays go for the rest of the year, but they arrive in Cozumel every November and hang around through March. So on my recent March visit to Cozumel dive buddy Fulvio arranged a trip with Papa Hog’s dive operation to visit the rays. We left Papa Hog’s dive shop, located next to the Villa Blanca Hotel, early in the morning for the ride north. The day was sunny, not much wind and the sea calm – perfect dive conditions. Passing the cruise ship pier, our dive boat was dwarfed by the massive black hull of the Disney Ship. We waved “Hi” to Mickey and kept on going.
Soon we arrived at the dive site. Eddie, our dive master, instructed us to descend quickly to 70 feet and then further to around 90 feet at the top edge of the wall. It’s a challenging dive, best attempted by advanced divers due to the strong currents. Eddie told us he might descend below us to 120 feet in case the rays were playing deep. The currents at that location are strong, tending to sweep you off the wall, so you must hang onto a convenient rock waiting for the rays to show up. Otherwise you might miss them, or, in a worst case scenario, surface in Cancun. We hunkered down and waited. I looked behind me and saw Fulvio hanging on to a large barrel sponge, looking like a flag in the wind.
Suddenly, several rays appeared out of the blue gloom, “flying” along the edge of the wall. We watched them pass us, swimming effortlessly into the current.
Then I looked ahead. Five large eagle rays approached, like fighter jets flying a diamond formation. I estimated their wingspan 8 to 10 feet. http://youtu.be/y-t0aziAMP8
Dive master Eddie had told us to remain calm and not approach or chase the shy animals because that would spook them. Our patience was rewarded as the rays soon became curious. After a fly-by they looped around and treated us to some close encounters. The action was so fast and intense that I had trouble deciding whether to shoot video or still photos. Luckily, my SeaLife 1400 camera can toggle quickly between still and video modes so I didn’t miss any shots.
The culmination of the encounter was when one large ray veered toward me beating its massive “wings” and “flew” right over my head. WOW! It was the photo op of a lifetime, and I captured the moment on video! http://youtu.be/MWyqzyj2CAU
Fulvio swam up to me and we exchanged hi-fives. Soon, Eddie signaled it was time to surface. Because of the depth and effort dealing with the strong current this is a relatively short dive, usually 35 to 40 minutes. We ascended for our safety stop and then surfaced. Our dive boat was right there to meet us.We headed back to shore, a bunch of excited, happy divers.
Paul Mila has published 4 Cozumel based adventure books. He divides his time between Cozumel and Long Island, New York, to learn more about him and his writing, check out his latest interview.
This story originally appeared in the weekly Cozumel 4 You NEWS – the island’s number one source of positive information about our island! Be sure and subscribe to the weekly NEWS to find out all the island events!…
Una ex yanqui de Connecticut quien llama hogar a Cozumel desde hace más de 15 años. Laura escapó al Caribe hace años, desplazándose de una isla a otra dando clases de BUCEO. Se dedicó a perder el tiempo en Jamaica y finalmente se detuvo en Cozumel para pasar unas vacaciones de 2 semanas que aún no terminan. Convenciendo a sus padres que pagaran una elegante universidad privada, obtuvo su título en Periodismo y Laura crea semanalmente Cozumel 4You, medios sociales y artículos promocionales sobre la Isla y también es moderadora en el grupo Cozumel 4 You en Facebook que actualmente cuenta con 25,000 miembros. Fabián, s umuy tolerante marido, desde hace mucho tiempo se resignó a no tener vida privada, pues se ha visto implicado en los diversos proyectos y planes que urde Laura. Son orgullosos padres de diversos perros y gatos rescatados. Mientras contempla su paso a través de la vida en el Caribe mexicano,Laura continúa siendo la pesadilla en la existencia de su muy tradicional suegra mexicana.