Diving in Mahahual
November 2010

by Barbara Eller

Hola, my name is Barbara and I live in Mahahual, Mexico; well, for six months of the year I do. Why Mahahual? Because for me it is paradise. I found my passion late in lifescuba diving. I became a scuba diving instructor just before retiring and Mahahual has some of the best diving in the Caribbean. It is the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest reef in the world, running almost 700 miles from the tip of Mexico to Honduras. The reef is full of colorful coral, sponges and fish.

If you have never been diving, let me take you on a dive so you can "see" what you are missing. There are so many dive sites that it is difficult to say which one is the best. I am going to take you to one of my favoritesBalamku Reef, in front of Balamku Resort. We are in a boat called a panga; there are three divers and our dive master who will lead the dive. We have all our gear on and are sitting on the edge of the boat with our tanks over the water. The dive master counts to three and we all roll backward into the water. We all pop back to the surface and give the captain an "OK" sign. The dive master then gives the signal to begin our descent. The water is warm, about 85 degrees, and the most beautiful shade of blue that is so clear it seems you can see forever.

As we get closer to the reef, we begin to see fish everywhere. As we drop to about 30 feet, we are led across the top of the reef, east towards the edge. As we swim over the reef we see a little damselfish darting around making sure we stay away from "his" area of the reef. Damselfish may be small, about three inches long, but are very determined not to let other fish on their coral. A couple butterfly fish pass in front of us. They have round, narrow bodies that are white and are outlined with bright yellow, with a black line that runs diagonally through their eyes. We get to the edge of the coral and drop down to 60/70 feet. The reef has formed narrow canyons that we swim through. We swim along a wall covered with every color in the rainbow. There are sponges that are shaped like vases in vibrant colors of lavender, pink, purple, and even neon green. Some are about 6 inches and others reach over 3 feet tall. I look inside one and see a brittle starfish on the side. A brittle starfish has a center disk less than 1 inch in diameter and very thin arms with numerous short spines.

Oh, look, there is a spotted moray eel poking his head out of the reef. He keeps opening and closing his mouth, not as a threat, that is how he breathes. We start slowly to ascend the wall as we keep searching. Some coral look like feathers, some like plumes, and others like rods. The softer ones flow back and forth as the current moves past them. Just ahead there is a purple basket sponge; it must be at least 3 feet across and just as high.

The dive master is signaling us to come see what he has found. We swim over as quickly as we can and see a large lobster. He is swinging his antennae back and forth, telling us to leave him alone. I know I am bad, but all I can think of is dipping him in melted butter.

As we get closer to the top of the reef we start to see more fish. There are about 20 small blue chromis feeding on the reef. A red squirrelfish just ducked into an opening so we can't get close to him. It looks like we are in an aquarium. We are surrounded by angelfish, parrotfish, snappers, filefish, tang, and even a grouper.

One of the divers is getting low on air so we get the signal the dive is over. We have been in the water for 45 minutes and have seen so much. We begin our ascent slowly to 15 feet where we take a look at a world so few people have seen. As I look down over the reef, I see a turtle settling down in the sand for a nap.

Our 3 minutes are up so we all head to the surface. The captain is waiting for us just a short distance away. We signal "OK" and he comes to pick us up. We take our gear off in the water, hand it up to the captain, and then climb up the ladder. All the way back to the dock everyone is talking at the same time, comparing what each one saw. Once back at the dive shop we rinse our gear, pack it up, and then head to Fernando's for food, drink and stories.

Hope you enjoyed your dive. As divers like to say, "Each dive is different, but no dive is a bad dive." I do a lot of snorkeling out to the reef behind our house and next time I will share what I see, or maybe I will tell you what it is like to do a night dive.

Till then, Happy Bubbles.

Hotel Akumal Caribe