Florida Keys Trip: Studies in Light, Color and Barracudas

My friend George Constantino tracked this green sea turtle, which was also named George, as a matter of fact.

Porkfish at Alligator Reef


WHILE THE FLORIDA GULF COAST HAS BEEN PART OF MY LIFE FOREVER, I’ve only been in the Florida Keys for one brief visit and diving my way down them has long been on my Bucket List. The Juliet, my favorite liveaboard ever, sailed down the Keys in mid-May, from Miami to Key West and I went with it.

On this trip, the Juliet, a three-masted schooner converted into a dive boat, sails out of Miami. At Key West, we tied up for a dinner ashore and a  lovely sunset.

It was a mixed trip – I can never say enough good things about the Juliet’s terrific, and terrifically attentive, crew. There were great dives, featuring wrecks, turtles, stingrays, barracudas.

But high winds – albeit on sunny days – meant poor visibility on some sites and in the end caused us to call off the last two days of diving.


What’s better than a passel of porkfishes? A juvenile.

Saying I saw porkfishes may not sound like much of an achievement, but in 20 years of diving I had never seen more than occasional solitary specimens of this colorful fish. So on this trip I was happy to find them in sizable aggregations.



Highhats at the Cayman Salvager wreck


I’d never seen any highhats, relatives of the oft-encountered spotted drums, anywhere. At the Cayman Salvager wreck near Key West there they were, a whole posse of them.




This photo of a black grouper at Sombrero Reef was shot with natural light, strobes turned off. Since color changes underwater, efforts to bring up true colors in processing are only marginally successful.

At Alligator Reef, off Islamorda, we had a great dive, hanging out with a big green turtle, a stingray, the aforementioned porkfishes and an enormous number of grunts. Dives on the 550-foot Vandenberg wreck and on the Benwood Wreck (especially the night dive) were excellent.


But visibility at Molasses Reef, the Flagler Barge and the Cayman Salvager was so murkey I had to give up on using my camera’s strobes (the light’s reflections on sediment rendered unusable images, so I had to resort to shooting without the strobes and hope I could correct colors in processing. Sometimes this worked; sometimes it didn’t). (At least with my marginal skills.)

All told, we got in 10 or 11 dives (some of us skipped the last night dive due to the low viz) on reefs and wrecks. On Wednesday, we motored back to Miami. On Thursday, some of us went to Miami’s new Science Museum, which is primarily and aquarium.

If we had found it, it would have looked like this.



Our introduction to limited visibility came on the first stop out of Miami, at the Neptune Memorial, an artificial reef built by The Neptune Society for subscribers’ cremated remains. Despite two tries from the mooring line, following a general compass course, my dive buddy Ted Nobick and I totally failed to find it.

Like a Walmart Greeter, our southern stingray welcomed us to the Keys

Instead, on a broad sandy bottom, we encountered this friendly southern stingray. Maybe better, since he posed for us for several minutes, fluffing sand and being stingrayish. Unless in this case the fluffing thing was to tell us to go away. It worked; in the end, we did.






Flamingo tongue snails on a sea fan