Co-ordinates: 13°24.9’N, 81°23.7W
Weather: Sunny with scattered clouds
Air Temperature: 30°C (86°F)
Wind: 20 knots gusting to 25-30 knots
For me, the marine biologist, this was the best day of the trip so far! It started early at about 6 am as I woke up and looked outside to see, thank goodness, bright sun and relatively calm seas.
As usual, I headed up to the Bridge with my morning coffee to take in the scenery as we entered the lagoon of the island La Providencia. What a beautiful little island! Actually, there are two islands right next to one another connected by a floating walking bridge. The smaller island is called Santa Catalina. These islands are both of volcanic origin, according to our onboard Geologist Juan Carlos Restrepo (who incidentally is from Colombia). They have steep-sided mountains covered in lush tropical rainforests. As we approached the island, you could smell the rich earthy scent that is unique to these types of tropical islands!
Once the local pilot had come onboard and helped us navigate to an area that we could anchor, the scout boat (one of the large MK6 zodiacs) was lowered into the water and the Expedition Team headed off to shore to set up the landing site. We were greeted by the local agents and a lot of locals who were fascinated by the Prince Albert II – they just don’t see larger luxury ships very often – actually, according to some of the locals, they had NEVER had one visit them!
The activities today were a combination of sea-based and land-based. Snorkeling on the reef was the highlight of the day. Other options included natural history walks with the birder (JJ Apestegui) and the botanist (Hans Peter Reinthalter) and the photographer (Richard Sidey).Me? Well of course I was heading off with the snorkellers to explore the underwater world.
The snorkelers transferred over to 3 local ‘banana boats’ for our ride to the first snorkel site – on the northwest side of the island. Unfortunately, the winds had picked up, and there was a strong current. So, although we all got into the water for a drift snorkel, the conditions proved too rough and we ended up getting back onboard after only about 15 minutes. The guides assured us that there was another protected area that we could go, and sure enough, once we arrived back on the protected side of the island to a place called Morgan’s Head (named after the infamous pirate - Captain Morgan) we were in flat calm seas.
The snorkeling here was surprisingly good! There were large coral heads scattered over the sandy seafloor with brightly coloured fish darting to and from amongst the purple sea fans and soft corals. Our local guided called us over and pointed out a large tawny nurse shark lying motionless under a ledge, and right next to it I found a brightly coloured cowrie shell called a Flamingo Tongue, or locally called a Leopard snail. These small snails are one of my favourites – they are about the size of your thumb, and have a mantle (tissue) with bright orange spots that covers the shell.
There was so much to see – the hour snorkeling flew past! We saw bright blue tangs, yellow striped jacks, bicolor wrasses, sergeant major fish as even a fantastically camouflaged scorpion fish. Amongst the smaller things that I was able to point out to the guests were bristle worms, Christmas tree worms, sponges, tunicates (sea squirts), sea urchins and even some purple-tipped sea anemones.
We really had a nice time – and the water was so warm! Once we were all back onboard the local boats we were taken ashore to a small local outdoor restaurant and given fresh green coconuts to drink and a selection of local fruits to try.
While the snorkellers were in the water, the walkers were exploring the lush vegetation and rich animal life on the island. Although it was extremely hot and humid, the small group strolled down the forest path in search of wildlife – and they certainly found it! They spotted many different tropical birds (that thankfully, JJ was able to identify), as well as many small lizards that Hans-Peter could identify. One of the most fun stops was in the mangroves where there were hundreds of small fiddler crabs. These are some of the most easily identified crabs – the males have one claw (usually the left one) that is HUGE! It is in fact totally useless to the crab for feeding, but it plays an extremely important role in their lives – it is used to attract the females! The males wave this massive claw around and the females will select the males with the largest claws! Once we ‘got your eye into’ looking for these crabs in the dark understory of the mangroves, we could see thousands of these small crabs all waving their claws about, trying to look sexy (for a crab, I guess).
It was sad leaving this small island – especially for me because I had enjoyed the snorkeling so much, but at the Recap & Briefing later we found out that at our stop tomorrow, we were visiting a local sloth rehabilitation center and would be getting the opportunity to see sloths up close and personal!!!