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Snorkeling & Collecting Discussion Group

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Ron Reefman

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yes all cold stuff see a lot of lobster and inverts,haven’t taken pictures need to get a go pro
Go Pro works. So does an Olympus Tough camera. Good to 45 feet. I got one used in great shape off ebay for $100.
 
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Ron Reefman

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My wife and I have been watching the weather in the Florida Keys for some weeks now. The last week or so the forecast for next week has been for low winds (under 5 mph) and low chance of rain or thunderstorms (under 20%). So, we have booked our motel room and our cat & aquarium sitter, and we have started packing.

I'm excited because the winds have been forecast to be REALLY light. Normal in the Keys winds blow at about 10 to 15 mph 75% of the time and 15 to 20 mph another 20% of the time. The final 5% is really calm or hurricane winds. We have done our share of snorkeling in 10 mph winds which is pretty tolerable. But as the winds get up near 15 mph the sediment starts to get kicked up and visibility goes way down. Not to mention it starts to get a bit uncomfortable in an 11' Zodiac.

It looks like we have 5 days in a row coming next week with winds at 5 mph or below, and two days with winds forecast at 2 mph. That should mean very clear water, good sunlight for photography and calm seas, maybe even glassy water. The calm seas are important to me as that's the only time I can push my wife to allow us to get further away from the main islands and out to islands we rarely get to. I have high hopes of making it to an island that is a couple of miles off shore and that I have only been to once while in a bigger boat (we just use an 11' Zodiac). It's kind of rare to visit the Keys and be lucky enough to have flat calm water. But we did get lucky once back in 2014! My hopes are high and I'm optimistic that we may get lucky again!

The view out from the boat ramp.

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And the view from our Zodiac while at Little Money Key as we were having lunch after 2+ hours of snorkeling.

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It's August 21st, 2020 and we just got back from 3 days of snorkeling in the Keys. My wife took lots of photos. I would have as well but the door that covers the cable connectors somehow opened under water and my camera is toast. So I spent my time looking for things to collect, even though I don't really need much for my tank!

So, this will be several posts over several days and with lots of photos. We picked our time to go based primarily on wind conditions. We are both retired and we are only 5 hours from the Middle Keys which is where we usually snorkel. That means we had mostly clear water for good visibility and smooth water for comfort... oh, and a low chance of thunderstorms although a tropical storm is headed our way and should be here Monday.

We drove down on Monday and checked into our motel. Then we prepped and drove down to Spanish Harbor Key and a site known as the Horseshoe. Maybe you can see why?

The Horseshoe.jpg

Here is a view about 1/2 way out the right hand arm of the horseshoe from just out in the water. That's our gear piled up by the small tree.

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We were going to swim out parallel to shore from here but thought better of it. The bottom was ugly algae and mucky. BTW, I'm on my knees in this photo!

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We went out toward the outer end of that arm and Elaine took a photo that I think gives a great feel for the area. If you walk all the way out here, you are about 100 yards off shore.

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We went way off to the upper right in the above photo map and found the water very, very shallow. Even just shortly after high tide. It was heavy grasses and 2 feet deep at first but it got shallower and less dense as we swam out.

I found a nice big urchin in the grass.

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A little further on Elaine found this mollusk (unidentified at this time). It's good that it was alive, but Elaine would have loved taking the shell. It was beautiful.

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Further out when it got really shallow there was less grass and some corals and sponges were doing better. Elaine found this interesting combo growing together. The yellow sps coral was doing quite well and the orange sponge looked healthy as well.

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We came back to the outer end of the horseshoe and under a rock we interrupted a pair of lovers doing the wild thing! If nature has a common thread, our guess is the bigger crab on top was likely the female!

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We don't often get photos of the small mantis shrimp we see because they go from 0 to 100 mph in 1 second! But this one might have been asleep when the rock was lifted. But Elaine only got 2 photos before it disappeared into the rocks nearby!
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We swam into the Horseshoe through the open end and found a lot of fish hanging around. Maybe for the cooler water inside the 40 foot deep quarry?

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At the end of our short day in the water Elaine looked and happened to perfectly frame a Frigate Bird almost directly overhead.

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Back at the motel, we often go out to the small beach and watch the sunset. Thunderstorms are easy to see when you are surrounded by open water. The small island is called Pretty Joe Rock and it has a small house you can rent for a vacation.

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Next up, Tuesday out at Little Money Key, probably our all time favorite place to snorkel and relax!
 
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Tuesday turned out to be an absolutely wonderful day for snorkeling and we were going to our favorite spot, Little Money Key. We had breakfast out on the motel's tiny beach and the wind was barely moving. The only waves we saw were from boats that motored by a half mile or more off shore! The very short ride out from the boat ramp was nice and we could already tell the water was incredibly clear. We anchor just off the island with the dock between us and the Seven Mile Bridge (on the horizon). I could have collected things from inside the boat the water was so calm and clear. And just to be transparent here, this is by no means the 'typical' water condition.

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In fact, while we were having lunch later in the day we saw a ray swim by. It took Elaine a bit of time to put down her sandwich, pick up the camera, turn it on and take a photo. But on a 'normal' day we wouldn't even have seen the ray this far from the boat!

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Almost as soon as we got in the water that morning (about 10 am) Elaine came upon this.

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It's not the biggest Bahamian Star we've seen, but then they aren't that common in the places we snorkel in the Keys. We saw lots of them when we snorkeled off Bimini in the Bahamas. They are beautiful animals.

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Just to give some sense of scale I held it up for a photo op!

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Other typical finds in the area were:
Small red and white feather dusters. Unfortunately for me (as a collector) these guys are always well attached to rocks and nearly impossible to take.

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Elaine loves to try and get good fish photos.

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This was the first of many Queen Conch we found. They were doing well and becoming more common before Hurricane Irma. But after Irma all we found were empty shells. So it's really nice to see they are making a strong comeback. We probably saw 10 or more in the area.

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One of the smallest sea cucumbers I've ever found! It would be good in a small tank, but I already have 2 in my DT that I've had for years!

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More to come, but it's time for breakfast!
 
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Later in the morning, still on our first snorkel, we had moved over to and eventually beyond the dock. We've never gone far beyond the dock as the water gets crazy shallow on that side of the island and it becomes 100% sand. But as we approached the dock is when we saw most of the Queen Conch. There were a couple of old beat up shells and in each one we found a big fire worm.

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Off the very end of the dock was a spot where bigger fish wanted to school. I don't know why. If it were used by boats and fisherman, I'd guess easy food during fish cleaning.

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But this dock is almost never, if ever used. It was rebuilt after Hurricane Irma. But since then, very little seems to have happened on the island. There is knocked down vegetation all over the island. Only the very furthest northwest side of the island had anything alive last year. Now there are some spots of green in closer to the house. We didn't investigate at all, but from a distance, where we were in the water, it didn't appear any repairs or improvements have been made to the house. You can see in this photo how Hurricane Irma uprooted and pushed vegetation to the edge of the island. And the saltwater waves that washed all the way over the island killed the terrestrial trees just a bit further in on the island.

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Out 20 feet from the end of the dock there are gorgonian coral colonies growing. Between where we anchored and the dock, there are now. But off the end of the dock there are quite a few and they seem to be doing OK. Maybe it the higher tidal current as it flows around the island. The gorgonian I have in my DT at home came from here last summer.

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Elaine found this big hermit crab living in a Milk Conch shell. I think she spent 10 minutes waiting for it to come back out so she could get a good photo. Notice the left side claw is just in the process of growing back. It made us wonder how it lost it originally. Maybe in a fight for the shell, or defending the shell, or being attacked by something bigger?

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We both saw a few small barracuda swimming around, but they are almost harmless to a human. And they seemed to like the area where the dead trees are laying in the water. There were more fish, some quite a bit bigger fish, hanging out in the branches laying in the water. It was almost like an artificial mangrove estuary.

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More to come...
 
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We were still over to the east side of the dock and swimming out away from the island when we came to a big rock (2 feet in diameter). So I tipped it over. It's fairly easy to see 2 or 3 sea cucumbers here, but there are 4. And I collected 2 stars, a brittle and a serpent. You'll get to see them at the end when I show what I collected.

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Then we came upon 2 HUGE rectangular blocks with lots of fish and a few good size snails. We have not ID'd the light colored fish with the dark spot toward the back?

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Elaine found this really mixed bag with a little bit of everything. A bright red brittle star, a lump of star or golf ball coral, some calcareous algae, orange, green and blue sponges, and more that I can't even ID!

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She talked the star into coming out to pose for a photo.
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I found a big folding chair rotting away in the water. We both wondered what might be under it. We were surprised that there was only a spotted sea hare. It blended into the background so well we knew the photo would be bad. So, I picked it up and it gave my finger a hug!

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We had been in the water about 2 hours when we headed back around the dock and back toward our Zodiac. That is some calm water! And we now had a snorkeling neighbor. They were in deeper water looking for lobsters.

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Here is a nice example of a sponge, I think they call it a Pipe Organ Sponge?

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Of course we found lots of green zoas we call Money Key Zoas. I collected 2 very small colonies of less than 10 polyps.

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This is just a shot of what a lot of the bottom looks like. Lots of short grass, some algae, lots of broken fingers of porite coral, some zoas and some sponges. If you take the time to pick up some of the loose coral you are very likely to find emerald crabs, stars, cucumbers, mantis shrimp, curly-cue anemones and fire worms!

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We got back to the boat, relaxed for a bit and had lunch. It's so quiet and peaceful out there. You do hear some of the loud trucks and bikes as they pass by on the Seven Mile Bridge about a 1/4 mile away. But even they just kind of seem far off and really don't disturb the peace.

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More from Tuesday afternoon coming soon...
 

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Thanks for sharing your trip and pics. I love snorkeling and fishing the Middle Keys. Last trip was Spring 2019. Your suggestions on places to go and see were very helpful. This years Spring trip didn't happen for the obvious reason. Hopefully next year!
 
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Thanks for sharing your trip and pics. I love snorkeling and fishing the Middle Keys. Last trip was Spring 2019. Your suggestions on places to go and see were very helpful. This years Spring trip didn't happen for the obvious reason. Hopefully next year!
Thanks. I enjoy snorkeling so much and I want to encourage others. It's also fun to see how some of the creatures we keep in our tanks actually live in the wild. And in the wild I can pick up rocks to look under them for wildlife way easier than in my own tank!

There are more photos and stories to come. As a tease, I just moved everything we (I) collected from the 10g holding tank to the 90g DT and took photos.
 
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OK, so I'm up to Day 2 at lunch time. I always love lunchtime in the Zodiac, my wife and I enjoying a PB&J sandwish and some watermelon slices, having just enjoyed a 2 hour snorkel. The waves tapping on the boat, the birds flying around, the occasional pelican doing a big dive into the water for a fish it spotted from 50 feet above the water. It's so peaceful. And unlike the big snorkel charters that go out to the big reef, this is so personal. We are alone in the area 98% of the time. And it's all about us. We bring the boat, we pick the site, we decide how long we want to be in the water, we are completely responsible for our own well being and safety.

BTW, the dive skins we wear are mostly for sun protection. Although at certain times of the year we do wear wet suits for warmth as well. And being bald, I have always fought to keep from getting a sun burned head. Elaine made this dew rag for me after I mentioned I might try a bathing cap. I was skeptical at first, but it turns out that it works perfectly and I don't even notice I have it on when I'm in the water.

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After lunch we got back in the water and headed northwest from the boat. That's away from the dock and out from the island. The area is different than where we were in the morning. A lot less small stuff and way more big sponges.

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And there are some corals out there as well. Mostly still small and almost all sps or lps, which means they are all illegal to collect, even with a license. The porite coral structures do get a bit bigger out here. But I'm 75% sure this is not a photosynthetic coral anyway.

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I don't know what this LPS is called, but it's also illegal. Many years ago, when I got home from a snorkel trip I did find a small clump in a batch of algae I collected. I did try to keep it in my tank and failed. I'm not sure, but I believe it's not photosynthetic either. But it is a rather cool looking structure.

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And then there is the small Rose coral found here and there among the grasses. Usually tan, off white or even white. We have seen some green versions and on very rare occasions bright yellow ones.

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Next up Day 3, and a new site for us that doesn't require a boat!
 
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Day 3 started with a small local thunderstorm over the Middle Keys, so we played photos on our lap tops! After lunch we went to the southwest end of Spanish Harbor Key. That's the opposite end from the Horseshoe.

There is a boat ramp and some parking there. We've used the boat ramp several times before and a few times we have seen one loan snorkeler out in the shallow grass just off one side of the ramp. We always wondered what was there, so we decided to snorkel there and find out. So no need for a boat, but a diver down flag is an absolute need as it is a boat ramp!

About 100 feet out from the ramp off on the right side as you look out, it gets grassy and too shallow for most boats. If you look close, there are some white dots in the photo. Those are Astraea snails and Spiny Astraea snails. If you need snails, this is the spot to go. The grassy area is huge and the snails are everywhere.

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A close up. Between Elaine and I, we are allowed to collect 20 animals each per day. I could have collected 40 snails in 2 or 3 minutes!

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Elaine said every time she looked to see where I was, I always seemed to be picking up snails. Well, I was. I was releasing some smaller ones and keeping bigger ones. And I was also releasing some Astraea snails in order to keep more Spiny Astraea snails (more about them when we get to me putting them into the DT at home). I also swapped out some to pick up the handful of ceriths I found.

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There was an old lobster or crab trap in the shallow grass. You can see big Astraea snails on it too. Unfortunately, I opened it in hopes of finding something new and different, but there was nothing at all inside. Oh well...

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Not too far away Elaine found a nice Tulip. As it turned out, it was the first of a few.

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Horse Conchs are one of our favorites. Alive they look cool and have such an unusual and bright orange body. And empty shells are just cool to have sitting on the shelf at home!

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You don't get to see much of Elaine since she takes most of our underwater photos. So I asked her to do a selfie.

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I found our first Rose coral at this location. This is how they look as found.

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Elaine found this specimen, which may be the biggest one either of us has ever seen.

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This isn't a super interesting site, but it's super easy to get to, there is free parking, there is no National Park fee and you can collect here. So it can be useful. I ended up with 8 ceriths, 12 spiny and 20 regular Astraea snails.
 
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Here is a list of all of the aquatic species I encountered in the UVI


Yellow head wrasse





Royal Gramma





Spanish hogfish





Bicolor Damsel





Rock Beauty





French Angelfish





Stoplight parrotfish





Hawaiian Black Triggerfish





Tarpon





Spotted Ray





Mahi Mahi





Nurse Shark





Barracuda





Three spot Atlantic damsel





Horse eye jack





Dusky damsel





Beau Gregory damsel





Yellow head damsel





Black shoulder tand





Jewel damsel





Stripped blenny





Banded butterfly fish





Four eyed butterflyfish





Gray angelfish





Blue reef Chromis





Queen angelfish





Sergeant major damsel





Blue head wrasse





Blue Caribbean tang





Porites





Sea fan





White encrusting zoanthid





Elkhorn coral





Stag horn coral





Platygyra





Tubastrea
 
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Ron Reefman

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Ok, I need to follow this thread closely!! I love snorkeling in the Keys and you have found some fascinating stuff!! The coolest thing I have seen is an octopus. And I had a close encounter with a sting ray.
Based on your photos, do you do scuba as well, or just snorkeling and free diving?

And we should talk about locations. I'm more than happy to share ours. Heck I took a local club from Central Florida down and gave them a tour of a couple prime spots!
 

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Based on your photos, do you do scuba as well, or just snorkeling and free diving?

And we should talk about locations. I'm more than happy to share ours. Heck I took a local club from Central Florida down and gave them a tour of a couple prime spots!
It was actually snuba. I was attached to a hose that goes to a tank floating on a raft so I thought that counted as snorkeling lol. I would love to get my scuba licence but I don't get a chance to go often enough.

As far as locations, I don't know that many great spots so I would love any input. We usually stay in this condo that is on the gulf side in Marathon and they have these jetties and I can usually find some interesting things. The first time I went, I saw a five foot barracuda that scared the crap out of me and I got out of the water. I later found out they aren't as dangerous as I thought so I felt a little foolish. lol
 
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It was actually snuba. I was attached to a hose that goes to a tank floating on a raft so I thought that counted as snorkeling lol. I would love to get my scuba licence but I don't get a chance to go often enough.

As far as locations, I don't know that many great spots so I would love any input. We usually stay in this condo that is on the gulf side in Marathon and they have these jetties and I can usually find some interesting things. The first time I went, I saw a five foot barracuda that scared the crap out of me and I got out of the water. I later found out they aren't as dangerous as I thought so I felt a little foolish. lol
Someday I'd like to try snuba. A friend has/had one, but I never got to try it. I'd love to use one at the Horseshoe on Spanish Harbor Key. Inside the old quarry the water gets deep (like 40 feet). But down about 20 feet, in the vertical walls of the quarry, there are holes in the rock that have juvenile lobster, coral banded shrimp and flame scallops.

As for barracuda, you played it smart. Until you know for sure something isn't dangerous, it's best to stay clear. Cuda look so mean with all those teeth hanging out. But they are scavengers and I've never even read a story about a human being bit by one. I almost hate to admit it, but unless a shark is good size and getting up close and personal with me, I'm not too worried about them either. And in the shallows, I've never seen any sharks more than a few feet long. Out at the big reefs I've seen a few 8 footers. But they were on the bottom and just making their way from here to there, not bothering anybody.

There are a number of our favorite sites with Google Earth maps elsewhere in this thread. If anybody ever has a question about locations or site quality, I'm always willing to offer up my opinion.
 
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Man have I been busy! OK, back to our last day. Before we left the Keys for home, we stopped at Veterans Beach right at the southwest end of the Seven Mile Bridge. It's crazy shallow and we didn't snorkel. That's me in ankle deep water where I picked up 20 tiny ceriths. You can also see the 'path' leading out into the water in front of me.

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But in the sand near shore there were hundreds of tiny ceriths, and on a couple of rocks near shore there were about a hundred hermit crabs that have picked up the shells from dead ceriths. Some of the smallest dark specks in this photo are ceriths. Elaine didn't get a close up photo.

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Here you can see several 'paths' in the grasses. The paths are well walked and are fairly good sand. But step off the path and into the grasses and you sink ankle deep in a very mucky sand and the water instantly becomes completely impossible to see through even at just 6" deep!

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It actually gets worse as you get 100 or 200 yards off shore and even the path gets a bit mucky. And getting off the path, the muck is so deep it's really difficult to walk.

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Here Elaine is in about 2 feet of water and 8 " to 12" deep in the muck! Notice how clear the water is. But see how far we are from the beach and how shallow it is. It continues on like that until you are about 1/4 mile out, but trying to walk out that far is nearly impossible.

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Back in near shore there are a few rocks. Now I only checked about a dozen of these guys as I was looking for ceriths, but every one was a hermit crab. And that was before I realized that the ceriths were all over the place in the very shallow water!

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A closer look at the hermits.

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I deposited my 20 ceriths into the 7 gallon cooler with a battery operated bubbler attached that was in the back of the Scion and we headed home.

Next up, sorting and moving everybody into a 10g holding tank at home.
 
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Ron Reefman

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We get home about 2pm and we unpack the car, unhook the boat trailer and the I set up a 10g holding tank with a cheap led fixture and a wavemaker. I bring in the cooler full of livestock and start moving them to the holding tank. As is usual these days, with all the experience I have gained over roughly 50 snorkeling/collecting trips to the Keys, everybody made it home alive.

Here are about 2/3rds of the big Astraea snails I collected. I found some of these at all 3 snorkel sites.

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And a closer look. The big one in the middle has a limpet stuck to the side of it's shell. Actually I found a couple like this.

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Here is a mix of ceriths. The bigger ones were from Day 3 at the boat ramp and the small ones are from Day 4 at Veterans Beach.

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Here are most of the smaller Astraea snails I collected. Most of these were from Day 3 at the boat ramp.

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Here are most of the Spiny Astraea snails collected entirely at the boat ramp.

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A couple of days later when I was moving livestock from the holding tank to the DT, I always see how quickly snails will decide to attach to the glass after being pulled loose from the tray I moved them in. To my surprise, every single Spiny Astraea snail attached in just 2 or 3 seconds!

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I did do a bit of collecting other than snails! ;Hilarious

This purple serpent star looks just like one I killed when doing a tank switch and I lost all my stony corals and some other inverts.

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This is one of those brittle stars that looks red in bright sunlight and almost black in the tank!

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And this brittle star has brown and white bands on it's legs.

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I collected one decorator crab on purpose, and as it turned out, I somehow got a second one as a hitchhiker. Both have a few green zoa polyps on their back!

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I'm not big on curly-Q anemones, but I wanted one to put in the RFA breeding tank just for fun. And seeing as there are literally hundreds or billions of these in the Keys, I didn't think they would miss one.

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This is one of the two Rock Flower Anemones I was able to collect. This one is the size of a nickle and the other one is even smaller. The lack of color is typical of RFAs from shallow water. The colorful Ultra RFAs come from about 20 to 40 feet deep.

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This is the second time I've found one of these green headed chitons. They stick to rocks (or your glass) like they were super glued on!

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I moved this one to the sand at the front glass. They curl up into a 'C' when you peel them loose. I set this one down and in about 30 seconds it grabbed onto the glass and a minute latter was into the sand.

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Ron Reefman

Ron Reefman

Lets Go Snorkeling!
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No wonder why some books say that species like the French Angel and the Flame Cardinal and found as north as Massachusetts. When I saw that I was like “wait what?” This explains it.
Wait, what? What info posted here explains tropical fish being as far north as Massachusetts? I'm not surprised to hear that they may get that far north with warming water and the Gulf Stream, but was that discussed in this thread?
 

Have you ever used a spoon, hose and rubber band together to remove algae?

  • YES

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  • NO

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  • What the heck? (see the thread)

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