Monday, February 23, 2009

Swim around Akumal

Akumal is a lovely coastal town in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, south of Cancun. I spent 11 days there on vacation, and explored the area's shallow reefs.

Here's a view from above water, looking out to Half Moon Bay from the Yool Caanal condo (right).

This area has a lot of shallow coral reefs, easily accessible from shore. The reefs block most of the waves and make for very sheltered swimming inside the reefs. Outside the reefs the waves can be bigger although the area is quite safe under normal wave conditions. Yal-ku lagoon is a short walk from yool caanal, and provides completely protected conditions, very clear water, and some very easy fish watching.

The conditions were great, air temp around 75-85 most of the time and water temp around 78-80 allowing me to swim for over an hour without a wetsuit and not get the slightest bit cold (in February!). In afternoons at low tide, the shallow rocky flats near shore heated up to the high 80s (felt like a warm bath even to kids).

I swam all over Half Moon Bay, the northern part of Akumal Bay, and all of Yal-ku lagoon (see map below, click to enlarge and zoom). I spent most of my time cruising Half Moon Bay going over the sand flats, along the inner margin of the reefs, through channels to the outer reef margin and back and forth along the outer edge of the reefs. My favorite spots were the outer reefs of Half Moon Bay where the most living coral is present and where the depth dropped off to 15-20 feet. The only negative was a bit more surge.

View Larger Map

The inner part of Half Moon Bay is 2-10 feet deep. The blue markers on the map identify our condo and my 3 primary swimming areas, Half Moon Bay is the center with 3 markers. The inner flats are very easy for kids (with water shoes), they're mostly rocky flats and beginners can practice snorkeling in water where they can easily stand up if they want because of water in a mask or snorkel, or because something looks a bit scary. My kids got comfortable enough to enjoy watching a large barracuda swim with the sardines in the warm shallow water just feet from shore.

I spent hours each day in the water, and was lucky enough to see turtles and loads of fish and invertebrates. I got pictures of maybe half of the interesting things I saw, posted below. The corals are not in great shape, but there is quite a bit of living coral, especially on the outer edge of the reef zone. Also lots of new corals just sprouting.

My kids (ages 7 and 4) learned ocean snorkeling here, and got to see turtles and lots of fish on their first coral reefs. It took a bit of encouragement but the conditions were safe and it was amazing to hear their squeals of delight while underwater. They now know that the real ocean has real fish and animals, and they can go out and find sea turtles underwater. Go kids!

Here's a beach scene from the area, featuring the supremely hot Mrs. Swim Around Bainbridge (left).

Here's the number 1 boo as she's snorkeling in the ocean for the first time at age 7 and seeing coral reefs, fish, a turtle, etc (right).

Here's boo number 2 learning to snorkel at age 4 (right), and looking at what he called "inifinity fish" after swimming through vast schools of sardines (left).

I'm so impressed to see these two little boos snorkeling in the real ocean. A dive instructor from Bainbridge's Exotic Aquatics said that kids this young can learn, and these two are definitely not too young.


They did some swimming and I did some towing and we got out to look at coral reefs despite a few bouncy waves now and then, sponges that looked like they were sending creepy fingers up to grab little toes, and some big scary-looking fish like barracuda and greater amberjack.






Here's a small sample of what we saw underwater (hope the IDs are right). Click photos to enlarge.


french grunts and a doctorfish


stoplight parrotfish terminal coloration


stoplight parrotfish initial coloration


sharp-tailed eel


reef squid


hawksbill turtle


southern stingray


hound needlefish (aka houndfish, crocodile needlefish, mexican needlefish)


caribbean trumpetfish


black grouper


spotted trunkfish


sergeant majors

french angelfish


juvenile blue tang


adult blue tangs

foureye butterflyfish


horse-eye jacks


sailors choice grunts


peacock founder (note the camouflage)


and here's a sighting of the rare Mexican blogfish


Hasta la vista, Akumal.

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