Tuesday 26th July: Snorkel Trip to see Manatees

I’d thought a lot about who to do my snorkel trip with. I was really keen to catch my first glimpse of the amazing manatee, but I’d heard that a lot of the operators on the island were feeding sharks and not using environmentally friendly practices on their boats. In the end I decided to go with one of the companies on the island that was claiming to be taking care of the surrounding reef by educating tourists, not using any plastic or feeding the fish. Amano was the guy running the show and you could tell that he was really passionate about conserving the reef – almost too passionate! But I didn’t let that stop me from signing up and I had a great day out on the reef.  Our first stop was to find manatees – what I’d really come to see. We got lucky in the second place we tried and found a manatee that was apparently smallish in size alternating between resting on the sandy bottom and heading up to the surface to take in some air. Apparently they need to breathe every 9 minutes or so.  It was an amazing experience and I would have been happy to head straight home from there! The second stop was at a place know as Shark Ray Alley. This is a known place for sharks, rays and humans to interact. The sharks wait around for the tourist boats, which throw food out to them to encourage them to approach the boats – this way the snorkellers have the experience of snorkelling with sharks and stingrays. This practice is really bad because during the day the sharks should be sleeping – they are nocturnal feeders. Apparently the practice is changing the breeding patterns of the sharks – which is not a good thing. Now the sharks will approach the boat upon hearing the motor – they have been conditioned. I didn’t enjoy this part of the experience, but afterward we headed out to Hol Chan reserve where we saw a turtle, barracuda and tons and tons of fish. This part was much more interesting. 

The third snorkelling stop we didn’t see much until we got back on the boat. Then the stingrays turned up! I jumped back in the water but in my haste forgot to replace my sunglasses with my snorkel. I managed to stand right on top of a ray with no tail in the confusion and lost my sunglasses! By some miracle we were able to find them on the sandy grassy bottom later. 

On the next stop we snorkelled out to a deeper channel which linked the shallow part of the reef to the deeper ocean. Here we saw a shark – naturally sleeping on the bottom of the ocean, a blue spotted stingray and a flounder. There was the opportunity to do some skin diving – which was pretty difficult when you are used to breathing underwater when diving! It felt really unnatural!