Dive Atlas Of The World: An Illustrated Reference To The Best Sites - Jack Jackson (2016)
BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR
by Lawson Wood
DIVERS TEND TO THINK OF MEXICO AS A Caribbean diving destination, but the quality of diving and diversity of marine life on the Pacific coast exceed that of the Caribbean. There are fewer people, using fewer dive centres and therefore there is less pressure on dive sites and better control over conservation measures. While much of the Pacific coastline is exposed to the oceanic swell, the sheltered Sea of Cortés is superb for diving, with regular sightings of whales, Manta Rays, large schools of hammerhead sharks, turtles and some of the most northerly coral reefs to be found in the Pacific.
The long finger of land which juts down from California off the west coast of Mexico is known as Baja and almost land-locks a massive stretch of Pacific waters known as the Sea of Cortés. Named after the Spanish explorer, the sea has marine links with not only the Pacific Ocean, but also an ancient link with the Caribbean before the Central American isthmus was formed. Many species of marine life are endemic and others are indigenous to both oceans, such as the small Orange Cup Corals (Tubastrea coccinea), which cover the lower shaded reefs and under overhangs. Out on the isolated seamounts such as El Bajo, divers are often treated to (though not guaranteed) schools of 200 or more hammerhead sharks and thousand of jacks that swirl around the divers constantly. Marine life is profuse and, although constantly reminiscent of Caribbean waters, the diving is a mix between that of the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Atlantic, with British diving represented by the only rigid inflatable diving boat in western Mexico at a club in La Paz.
The route north takes divers past Isla Espiritu Santa, through schools of Spinner Dolphins, past giant Manta Rays splashing near the surface beyond a set of lonely pinnacles called Los Islotes (the Islets). This can be planned as the second dive of the day. Situated well offshore, these lonely pinnacles host the largest rookery for the brown California Sea Lion in Mexico. There are smaller rookeries located on nearby Isla Espiritu Santo and Cabo San Lucas, which is at the ‘Lands End’ of Baja.
1 EL BAJO
El Bajo is one of a series of three submarine seamounts about 25m (80ft) below the surface. The pinnacle is covered on all sides by large Gorgonian Sea Fans and sponges, all of which appear to have been pulled into curious flattened shapes as a result of the almost constant tidal race that cut through the pinnacles. On the bottom, the tidal race runs in the opposite direction, resulting in a distinct halocline with the change in water temperature and salinity. Exhilarating diving is possible amid schools of King Angelfish, barracuda, pufferfish, rabbit fish. There and Longnose Hawkfish.
2 LOS ISLOTES
The best place in Mexico for interaction with sea lions, is Los Islotes. This delightful experience is possible all year round and the site often gets busy with dive boats and locals who venture out to the islands to snorkel in safe, calm waters. During a recent dive we watched the larger bull sea lions hold court over their harem, sometimes lunging threateningly at us, baring their teeth. However, as long we kept clear of the females’ resting sites, the bulls left us alone and even allowed us to interact with the juveniles. These boisterous youngsters flopped their way over the polished boulders to their diving platforms and dive-bombed us, pulling playfully at our fins, frightening the life out of us as they twisted and cavorted around us. They would rush straight at a diver’s face, bare their teeth and whip away in a cloud of expelled air bubbles. While rather awkward on the rocks, the sea lions seem able to fold themselves in half and perform a mind-boggling series of movements at breakneck speed, a display which left us bemused at our ungainly and clumsy performance in the water.
Schools of colourful fish are commonplace on the outer seamounts where strong currents bring nutrient-rich waters into the Sea of Cortés.
Los Islotes is one huge rocky spur that has been eroded away in the centre, creating a flat rocky platform virtually at sea level with boulders located at either end. The rocky stacks are covered in guano, which glistens in the afternoon sun, from nesting seagulls, frigate birds and the occasional pelican. Topped by straggly cactus, the easterly stack is more sheer and is cut by a massive tunnel. Although not negotiable by boat, it is perfect for divers as the depth here is around 15m (50ft). The depth beside the platform, and the best chance for playing with the sea lions, is at only 6m (20ft). The surrounding area has huge boulders, all covered in small coral growths, sea fans, nudibranchs, colourful blennies and starfish (sea stars). There are few large fish close to the rocky shoreline.
Friendly and inquisitive, the sea lions readily approach divers and snorkellers to play. Juveniles love the interaction, often tugging on fins or dive-bombing divers close to the rookeries.
The only lizard in the world that can feed in the sea, Marine Iguanas are found throughout the Galápagos. Glands connected to the nostril allow salt to be expelled.
Teeming with birdlife, the arch at Darwin Island is an imposing sight on the surface, but even more spectacular underwater.