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ReefNet's 2004 Trip Report and Photo/Video Galleries

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#1 reefnet


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Posted 12 September 2004 - 09:45 AM

The following is a detailed report on ReefNet's most recent field research trip, conducted during July 2004 around San Andres, Colombia. Those of you who crave instant gratification may wish to skip the report and simply visit our newest photo/video galleries at:


For those who read on, this report is organized as follows:



As many of you know, ReefNet conducts a research trip every summer to a different destination in the Caribbean. Our primary goals on these trips include:

-Conducting REEF (www.reef.org) surveys to contribute to the REEF database
-Documenting our sightings on film and video to supplement new versions of our electronic field guides (www.reefnet.ca)
-Locally sponsoring the Great Annual Fish Count (www.fishcount.org) and promoting ecological awareness via seminars, nightly video review sessions, and other events.

In past years, we've travelled to relatively well-known islands: Bonaire in 2001, Utila in 2002, and St. Vincent in 2003.

This summer ReefNet decided to venture to a relatively unexplored dive destination - San Andres. Our team of 6 divers spent 5 weeks diving, exploring, and documenting the marine life around the island. As usual, we found plenty of interesting stuff!


San Andres belongs to Colombia, but lies hundreds of miles to the northwest, just 90 miles off the coast of Nicaragua. Six miles long and roughly "seahorse" shaped, with its "body" running N-S, the coral island is relatively flat, fringed nearly everywhere with jagged, unforgiving ironshore. On the north and east sides, sandy beaches attract the attention of tourists. But because the tradewinds come from the east, most diving is done on the west side of the island.

Despite its political attachment to Colombia, San Andres looks and feels just like any other Caribbean dive destination. Most locals are quick to point out that their heritage and that of the Colombian government are two very different things.

Because of its country's unsavory reputation, San Andres is virtually unknown to North American tourists. This affords the island a unique advantage -- while the reefs of other islands have felt intense pressure from the tourism industry, those around San Andres remain in remarkably pristine condition. To us, the island represented an exciting opportunity to explore waters that had hardly been explored before.


Our team made travel, diving and lodging arrangements with Scuba San Andres (www.scubasanandres.com). We booked rooms at Nirvana Inn and diving with Sharky's Dive Shop. The hotel and dive shop are far from the frenzy in town, on the south end of the island, right in front of some of the best dive sites.

San Andres offers a variety of dive sites, from vertical walls and deep drop-offs to beds of seagrass in waist-deep water.

The most dramatic dive sites are found on the southeast side of the island. There, the reef plateau extends a few hundred yards from shore, remaining only 20-30 feet deep. The plateau ends abruptly with a vertical (and in places overhanging) wall that drops hundreds of feet. Unfortunately, because of its exposure to the wind, currents are frequent, visibility can be reduced, and the trips to and from the dive site can be bone-jarring. We were only able to make the trip a few times, when our captain indicated that conditions were favorable.

Also on the east side, but toward the north end of the island, is a region of very shallow water that is protected from the onslaught of the open ocean by a barrier reef. Within the protected zone are a wide expanse of seagrass beds and some isolated coral formations. We also made the trip to this area only a few times because of its distance from our base of operations on the west side. We would have liked to more thoroughly explore the grassy shallows.

The majority of our diving was done on the calm west side, where the bottom profile is similar along most of the coast:

-SHORE: jagged ironshore riddled with cracks, overhangs and caves (0-30 ft deep).
-TRANSITION ZONE: shallow sandy/grassy/rubbly flats (25-40 ft deep)
-REEF: coral islands separated by sand "rivers" out to the dropoff (40-60 ft deep).
-DROPOFF: moderate to steep with coral and sand chutes down to 140+ ft

The reefs are in fantastic shape. We all agreed that we had not seen as much living coral in such good condition anywhere else in the Caribbean. Sites near the dropoff such as West Point and Wildlife are beautiful examples of healthy coral communities. Unfortunately, because our diving style favours long/shallow dives rather than short/deeper dives, we didn't spend as much time near the dropoff as we would have liked to. It is impossible to do a deep dive unless you are willing to sacrifice (a lot of) bottom time...there are no shallows near the reef in which to offgas.

Fortunately, the shallower region near shore offered plenty to keep us occupied. We spent many dives simply swimming along the base of the ironshore exploring dark overhangs and caves. Many of the caves have very unassuming entrances -- just big enough for a diver (and camera :-D ) to safely fit through. But on the inside, they often open up considerably, and many could accommodate several people. One cavern in particular started at 25 feet or so and opened into a massive chamber whose ceiling was nearly at sea level. A few cars could have fit inside.

The flat transition zone was just as exciting to explore: frogfishes, pipehorse, spotfin gobies, shorttail snake eels, and a slew of other-worldly invertebrates that we are still sorting through.


During and after each of our trips we carefully tabulate our sightings and compare them to the existing data from the REEF database for the region. We also compare our sightings to those from previous trips and locations. Every year we surprise ourselves with unusual finds, and remarkably lucky shots.

This year was no exception. Our final 5-week sightings total was 265 species. Of those sightings, more than 60 species were recorded for the first time in the REEF database. Our team completed nearly 250 REEF surveys, more than doubling the size of the database for the region. We are confident that our data will provide a solid reference for future work in the region.

For those of you who are interested in our sightings list, you may download a PDF version from:


Some of our most noteworthy sightings included:

Masked hamlet (many!)
Sargassumfish (our first ever sighting in 20+ years)
Caribbean tonguefish
Shorttail snake eel
Margintail conger
False papillose blenny
Snow bass
Snowy grouper
Short bigeye
Yellowcheek wrasse
Black snapper
Island frillfin
Greenbanded goby
Barred clingfish
Spotted dragonet
King mackerel
Whitestriped squirrelfish (name assigned by ReefNet)

The squirrelfish is particularly exciting, since our only other sightings of this fish were last year in St. Vincent. After considerable research last summer we concluded that what we had photographed was an undescribed species. Seeing the same species in the same habitat but on the other side of the Caribbean was very reassuring! Photos of this species can be found in our GAFC 2003 and GAFC 2004 galleries (see below), as well as in our 3rd edition field guide software.

But the excitement was not limited to fishes. Our latest trip accentuated the need for a really good, comprehensive field guide to marine invertebrates. We'll be the first to tell you that we're not experts (yet!) when it comes to shrimps, flatworms and nudibranchs. But we DO know when we've found something really unusual...it happened a lot! Some of the puzzling finds are displayed in our photo/video galleries in the hopes that one of you might be able to tell us what they are.


If you've read this far, then you deserve a reward. Fortunately, we have one for you! Hot off our digital press is a set of photo and video galleries that we hope you will enjoy browsing:


There you will find a number of photo galleries for this and previous ReefNet trips. This year's galleries contain a total of 306 slides!

Also new this year is a 16 minute video montage. If you have a broadband (Cable/DSL) connection, this video should stream live from our web server. If you encounter any problems playing the videos, let us know.

We look forward to your comments and suggestions!

The ReefNet Team
ReefNet Inc. | www.reefnet.ca | 888-819-REEF or 905-608-9373

#2 scubamarli



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Posted 16 November 2004 - 08:30 AM

Great stuff! I enjoyed your galleries immensely.
The shrimp pictured here: http://www.reefnet.c.../srhimp-01.html
is a Periclemines rathbunae.
Marli Wakeling
Marli Wakeling

Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together. ~Carl Zwanzig