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Labor Day '99 Flower Gardens Trip Report

Text and images Copyright (C) 1999 David M. Read. All rights reserved.

silhouette.jpg (15267 bytes)
A diver hovers over the reef at
East Bank

The Labor Day trip has been a tradition for my wife and myself since the Labor Day 1996 trip, where we saw whale sharks at West and East Banks, and got engaged at Stetson Bank. But this year my wife couldn't dive, as she was/is pregnant with our first child. I thought seriously of bailing on the trip altogether, but when "my" dive shop, Tom's Dive and Ski offered me a free trip as trip leader, I couldn't resist. There was a twist, though: usually the Labor Day trip is a Saturday- Sunday- Monday affair. This year the coral spawning was predicted for Friday the 4th of September, so the 5-day coral spawning trip went from Wednesday through Sunday, and the Labor Day trip got moved to Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday. So this year I had to take time off from work, rather than fitting the 3-day trip into the 3-day Labor Day weekend. Oh well.

The conditions were, in a word, excellent. Unlike last year's rough ride and early departure, the Gulf delivered calm seas (never more than 2.5 feet), great visibility (basically always 80 feet or better), and warm waters (84F at the bottom). The only down side was some stiff current from time to time, but on most dives the current was manageable.

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One of West Bank's many Christmas Tree worms.

In general, the marine life was plentiful. A whale shark did show up at East Bank, although I didn't get to see it. Apparently it buzzed by the boat on the surface at the beginning of the dive, while divers were still entering the water. Only two divers got to see the whale shark from the water; the remaining people saw it while they were standing on deck, waiting to enter. My buddy and I entered no more than two minutes before it swam by, so it must have gone right over my head during my initial descent. Bummer. But despite the disappointment of missing the whale shark, there was plenty else to see. I saw three different nurse sharks, at least a dozen silky sharks, a giant sea turtle, a rare sub-species of smooth trunkfish, spotted morays, goldentail morays, lobsters, crabs, and fish galore. I also observed all sorts of strange fish behavior (strange to me, at least).

Rinn Boats has Nitrox!

The M/V Fling, as usual, ran a great dive operation. The big news for this year is that the Fling and Spree have nitrox onboard! They pump 32% standard via a membrane system. It costs extra ($90 for the 3-day trip), but the boon to your bottom time is worth the extra expense. Basically, I got almost double my bottom time at the Gardens. Check out the dive log details at the end of the trip report to see the times I was getting. Then compare those to last year's Labor Day dives to see the difference.

Dive Log Excerpts

Dive #1: West Bank, Buoy #4 Early morning dive, not much color to see. Saw a small trumpetfish, lots of big barracuda, and a school of zillions of tiny silvery fish, along with another school of fish which looked like juvenile blue chromis.

Dive #2: West Bank, Buoy #4 Giant school of chub under the boat was the highlight of this dive. Otherwise, not much happening.

Dive #3: East Bank, Buoy #4 Played in the sand flats, and saw two silkies.

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A school of bermuda chub always collects under the boat.

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An orange-spotted filefish poses for me.

Dive #4: East Bank, Buoy #4 More sand flats: big french angels, a huge blue angel, rock beauties, banded butterflyfish, two mated white-spotted filefish, another tumpetfish (this one bright yellow), and a couple of ocean triggers. At the end of the dive, I saw a large barracuda with the back end of a fish (dinner?) sticking out of his mouth.

Dive #5: East Bank, Buoy #4
Night dive! Nurse shark, adult spotted drum, dog snapper, tons of barracuda, but the coolest part was finding a small (~3") reef squid at the end of the dive, at about 50'.

Dive #6: East Bank, Buoy #3 Early morning dive again, not much happening. The best part was a large turtle below me at the end of the dive. Also saw a grouper attack a big school of the little silvery fish.

Dive #7: East Bank, Buoy #3 Great dive; it started with a big pulsating jelly, then a nurse shark asleep in the sand, then another nurse shark much later in the dive, and a couple of small silkies, and finally a spotted moray. very cool.

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A sliky shark cruises the reef at East Bank.

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A cluster of spiny lobsters has moved onto the rig.

Dive #8: Oil Rig HI-A376-B Dull, dull, dull. Started pretty good, with 6 silkies swimming by below me, but the only memorable thing after that was a cluster of lobsters on the platform, all piled atop one another. Also saw some small gray triggerfish, not sure of the species. This rig must be pretty new, as there isn't much growth on it.

Dive #9: Stetson Bank, Buoy #1 Night dive! Stetson served up its usual magic: deer cowries, urchins everywhere, a spotted moray, and tons of ghostly pale filefish of an unknown species. They were super white, with a faint marbling all over.

On dive #10, I saw the filefish again. I think they're white-spotted filefish, because there was a "normally" colored whitespotted filefish with them, and the marbling was very faintly visible on the "normal" one.

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A rare Golden Smooth Trunkfish at Stetson Bank.

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Stetson Bank is a great place to find moray eels.

Dive #10: Stetson Bank, Buoy #1 Lots of surface current convinced me to leave the camera on deck--and that was a mistake, The current was slack on the bottom, and photo ops abounded. Rock beauties, queen angels, deer cowrie, etc. I finally saw one of the rare golden smooth trunkfish I have heard about. Very cool. There was also this tiny filefish, possibly a slender filefish, wedged into the eye of the ladder line. Very brave little fellow. I hope this means that slender filefish are moving into the region!

Dive #11: Stetson Bank, Buoy #1 Last reef dive of the trip, and it didn't disappoint. Goldentail moray, spotted moray, juvenile queen angels--the golden smooth trunkfish returned, and I had the camera! Also large french angels, orangespotted filefish, etc.

Dive #12: Oil Rig GA-393-C Great dive on the rig. Lots of Atlantic spadefish, and of course the blennies. I shot 32 frames of blennies, including tesselatede blennies and seaweed blennies. Great fun.

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A tesselated blenny peeks out of its home in a
barnacle shell.

Dive Log Details:

Dive # Location Depth Time Comments
1 West Bank #4 79 :36
2 West Bank #4 82 :47
3 East Bank #4 70 :42
4 East Bank #4 72 :55
5 East Bank #4 76 :46
6 East Bank #3 74 :58
7 East Bank #3 72 :57
8 Oil Rig HI-A376B 54 :30
9 Stetson Bank #1 74 :33
10 Stetson Bank #1 77 :57
11 Stetson Bank #1 78 :46
12 Oil Rig GA-393-C 43 :45

Last modified September 11, 1999

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