Diving Through the Beautiful Reefs Around the Island of Cozumel
The sunny island of Cozumel is located off the eastern shore of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and offers some of the best drift diving in the world. The reefs of Cozumel are part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System and are protected by Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park. The healthy reefs in the vicinity of the island are home to 26 different species of coral and more than 500 species of fish, including the splendid toadfish, which is endemic to this region. Cozumel is a superb location for family diving with 27 dive sites that range in level from being perfect for the novice to ones that are exciting for the advanced diver. Cozumel is also a world-renowned site for drift diving, and divers of all levels can take advantage of the flow of the current.
On days when the current is strong, a good place to start your dive is at Paradise Gardens, where you can see turtle and manta rays, and you can finish the dive all the way down the coast at Tormentos. For this reason, I would recommend diving with a computer rather than with diving tables so that you can maximize your bottom time. For more advanced divers, Cozumel boasts some stunning walls with depths ranging from 15-40 meters. Columbia Deep and Punta Sur offer a challenge with sudden drops and unpredictable currents. While these dives do not have the same abundance of marine life as the shallower reef dives, you will often find some of the shyer species at these depths, due to less dive traffic. Look for green and spotted moray eels, octopus, parrot fish, reef sharks, barracudas, and groupers in addition to turtles. The coral on these dives is beautiful. You will swim through healthy giant barrel sponges, black coral, and deepwater fans. The coral grows like a tower on top of older parts of the reef, creating spectacular underwater gardens. If you are into underwater photography, these reefs provide some stunning backdrops. At depth, don’t forget to look up through the dappled light and see giant Dr. Seuss-like sponges with their resident schools of fish. Night dives in Cozumel are not to be missed. You will be enchanted by how different the reef that you dove through during the day looks at night, particularly when there is a full moon. It is a magical experience to glide through the dark as a whole new ecosystem comes alive. https://flic.kr/p/JhfAPc
Finding the Toadfish
Cozumel’s most famous fish is the Cozumel splendid toadfish. This is a colorful species that is purple with black stripes along with its bright yellowfin tips and mouth. While the fish is unique to Cozumel and a sought-after fish to put in your logbook, finding it will demand your patience. This elusive fish likes to hang out on the sandy edges of shallow reefs and tuck itself into low lying crevices and caves. This means that you need to adjust your buoyancy, hang near the sandy bottom, and approach slowly while you wait for it to emerge, as there is little you can do to coax it into the open. It is well worth the wait, though, since it is quite a beautiful fish and a memorable part of a Cozumel dive trip.