Cozumel Diving After Wilma

 

You must have heard that Cozumel was ravaged by hurricane Wilma and wondered how it fared. I had heard conflicting reports from various local sources in Northern California and was quite concerned that our favorite annual dive vacation would not be as much fun as it had been in the past.

We visited the island in August, 2006 for our annual trip and were relieved to find it just as good a dive destination as ever. My son Bobby is newly certified as of this trip and he had a ball. How would I characterize the changes since the hurricane? Let's walk through each thing.

Above Sea Level

We stayed at the luxurious El Cantil condos, right on the water, adjacent where the old Plaza Las Glorias (now Cozumel Palace) hotel used to be. These are really gorgeous condos and were pretty reasonable to rent. They have 3 and 4 bedroom units, so they're roomy, and the location can't be beat if you like to walk into town for meals as we do. It's right across from Chedraui if you need food or other supplies and there are always plenty of taxis available if you choose not to walk.

In general, we found Cozumel to be in dramatically better shape than Grand Cayman had been when we visited it immediately after their hurricane in 2004. We were told that the state of Quintana Roo originates 38% of the Mexican GNP, and this is largely from Cancun and Cozumel, so the government came to the rescue pretty quickly. Other than the fact that the cruise ship pier near the town plaza is still ruined and the high speed ferries are used to tender in passengers, things seemed in good shape. In fact, a lot of things have been rebuilt nicer than before. All of our favorite restaurants were in great shape, and a couple of new ones were in operation as well. So far so good.

We were told that business has still not bounced back to pre-hurricane levels, but it is very much on the upswing. There's also a lot of US money flowing into Cozumel as there are a lot of new construction projects underway for new hotels and condos.

Corals and Dive Sites

All of the old dive sites are there, and are great dives. I would say the coral took the most damage, which is understandable. There's a lot of coral and sponges that look good as new, including fans and other delicate forms. But there's not as much as there used to be. A lot got smothered in fine sand.

We dove Punta Sur and the Devil's Throat, and I'm happy to report it all looked good. Other sites included Palancar Gardens (beautiful, but much less lush than in prior years), Santa Rosa, Cedral, San Francisco, Paradise, and many others.

Fish and other Animals

There were plenty of great animals to see, including all of the favorites. On our first day we saw 2 large nurse sharks idling on the sand. Stingrays, eels, turtles, large angels, and large parrots were in reasonable abundance. No eagle rays this trip, although I was told they prefer colder water. A whale shark was seen the week before. We also saw two baby black tip sharks, which was a first. The nurse sharks seemed more numerous than usual. The guides felt that the fish were a bit confused about where they needed to be, and were in the process of staking out new territories. There were more grouper here than I had ever seen before in Cozumel, and at one point we saw an actual school of about a dozen, which I had never seen anywhere. Extremely large groupers were in abundance as well as barracuda. All things considered, the reefs must be fairly healthy or all these fish wouldn't be hanging around looking for a meal!

One new dive site was on the menu--across the way off Playa Del Carmen. It didn't take our boat any longer to take that trip than to go far South on the island. The dive was fantastic, and we saw more turtles in a single dive than I had ever seen before--probably 15 or 20. It's a fairly strong current dive and we covered about a mile and a half during our dive. We really hope this will become a regular part of a week's dive schedule as it was a great dive. The reefs over by the mainland seemed a little less sandy as well, though visibility was slighlty less.

Diving in a Down Current

We undertook a night dive at Paradise, and had our most exciting diving of the trip. Some would say too exciting! The current was very strong and in the opposite direction from normal. It's pretty hard to do a night dive in strong current. For one, I don't think the critters come out as much as when things are calmer. At one point, some one got a lobster to start chasing their light in the current. He ran along keeping pace with that light for quite a while. Everyone was so focused on watching the lobster that it was a surprise when the current took us over the wall. It's hard to be oriented in the dark, and I think several of the divers didn't realize they were no longer on top of the wall, and had oriented themselves so that the slope of the wall seemed to be the "ground" and "down". The slope was gradual enough that the current carried us down the slope rapidly.

I was fortunate, having looked up just before we went over the edge, I realized what had happened. In the blink of an eye the current had carried me from a nominal 50 foot depth to 75 feet. My reaction was to immediate inflate my BC to stop the descent. Some others were so lucky, and several divers descended to 100 feet before they were able to arrest their descent. Not wanting a sudden ascent any more than an unplanned descent, I kept trying to release the air in the BC when I had risen a short distance. It took me three tries and I had to ascend to about 45 feet before I finally found myself out of the current and normal progress was possible. I gradually ascended to my safety stop depth, and took a full 4 minute stop before coming to the surface some distance from the boat. Several of the other divers and the divemaster were pretty shook up, largely because it was impossible for the group to stay together and it took a while to round everybody up. All's well that end's well!

Careyitos Divers

While we've done all of our diving in Cozuel so far with the Anita, another potential dive company would be Careyitos Divers. During our 2006 Cozumel trip, my son Bobby was certified by Tony Perez, who was an excellent PADI instructor. We did these dives on the Anita, Rodolfo's boat, but Tony normally hangs his hat on the Careyitos. After diving with him, I'd have no reservations about trying that boat too.

Don't hesitate to give Cozumel a try, you won't be sorry!

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All material 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.