Saturday, January 15, 2011

SNORKEL GUIDE: QUEEN'S MONUMENT (CONNOLLY'S COVE)





Above embedded map is interactive
Click the link to view the Queen's Monument site in a larger interactive map.



The Monument commemorating Queen Elizabeth's dedication of the Old Robin Road extension to the East End


The snorkeling site that goes by the most names is perhaps one of the most highly regarded sites on Grand Cayman by snorkeling devotees -  Queen's Monument, also known as Connolly's Cove, Babylon Reef and for those really in the know, Candy Coconut. Some of the factors that make this site so appreciated are: the ease of getting there, the general shallowness of the water and most importantly, the overall quality of the snorkeling.  The area is protected by a barrier reef, so it rarely experiences big swells or strong currents, but it can get choppy.  The varied underwater topography rages from grassy beds, to individual coral communities, to stretches of barrier reef; providing an excellent home for many species of fish and other marine life.  Unfortunately, the water conditions were not favorable on my last two visits aimed at gathering information for this guide, hence the lack of images and marine animal life contained in them. There are usually many small schools of fish, the occasional barracuda, foraging turtles and rummaging rays to be found in this spot.


The conditions and marine life here are very similar to those at Barefoot Beach just down the road, so viewing the images of that other excellent spot may provide some additional visual context.


For those who enjoy deep water snorkels, there are also sections of the famous Grand Cayman North Wall located just to the west of this site; starting 200-300 yards immediately out from the Northern Lights condo.  Just look for the mooring buoys. A long swim, but well worth it for observing a deep water wall snorkel environment.  The famous Babylon Wall dive site is the third set of buoys when heading west, about 300 yds out.


LOCATION INFORMATION (19°21'3.71"N  81° 9'32.59"W):  The snorkeling grounds are located on the north side of Grand Cayman, at the border of the North Side and East End districts (approximately 1.2 miles from the Frank Sound Rd. 2-way intersection where the road forks towards Rum Point or the East End;  or 4.5 miles west of the Reef/Morritt's resort complexes along Old Robin Rd.).


Nearby landmarks to look for when coming from Old Man Bay in the west are the small Northern Lights condominium complex on the left, just before the Connolly's Cove cleared lot picture below and the Babylon Reef house (look for a house sign) a few lots past Connolly's Cove.
When coming from the East End, the Queen's Monument dedication site will be on your left, just prior to reaching Connolly's Cove across from the Babylon Reef House on your right.
If the gates to the lot are open, many people will choose to park there, under the shade of the Casuarina pine tree.  If the gates are closed, then parking along the road is also an option.


Connolly's Cove Entrance Sign
A popular entrance area to the Queen's Monument snorkel site is known as Connolly's Cove.

Park along the side of the road or pull into the lot and park if the gates are open.



CONDITIONS:  Since the coral is so large and the water so shallow, this spot is best explored during a period of higher tide.  Visiting during low tide usually presents lower visibility and makes penetrating many of the coral outcroppings almost impossible. Click here for a visual tide chart to help determine when to plan your snorkel.


Due to the usually east to west prevailing current,  I will normally gather my gear and walk up along the beach to the right for about 180 yards, until I reach the Babylon Reef House.  The water entry in the area is rocky and shallow, so donning your flippers and doing the backwards duck walk into the water is sometimes good option.  The only Spiny Sea Urchins I regularly encounter are along the shore closer to the Northern Lights condo, but care should be exercised when entering and exiting the water.


Once out into deep enough water to begin snorkeling, just head straight out towards the reef.  The first environment zone you will come upon is a turtle grass meadow. Keep on the lookout for small groups of Bar Jacks who frequently come to investigate or a lone Trunkfish before it swims off.  After covering about 60 yards, you should start to see the first of many large coral colonies plopped about like cookie dough mounds among the sea grass.  Pick one that look interesting and start exploring.  The grass will give way to sand as you approach the barrier reef. The coral colonies structures and species composition will also change as you near the reef and again you head westward.


When you switch back and forth between each of these micro-zones, take notice of the fish species that prefer to inhabit each - the grunts and snapper by the Star corals, the Reef Squid near the grass to coral transition zone, the barracuda in the transition zone closer to the reef, the Black Durgon out along the reef.


I usually cover the area in a zig-zag pattern, exploring the coral colonies and their denizens up-close and then tailing any creatures that strike my fancy off toward the reef.  Some less seen creatures you may come across are Flamingo Tongue snails with colorful orange spots on their flesh (or all white shells if they are retracted), Scorpionfish camouflaging themselves under coral and rock ledges or the delicate Yellow Sea Feather Dusters. Both Southern Sting Rays and the much smaller Yellow Sting Ray are frequently found in the grassy coral sections.   To find the rays, look for the clouds of kicked up sediment they create when foraging for tasty morsels of shellfish.  As yet, I have not encountered any Lionfish here, but it is only a matter of time I'm afraid.


As you float your way back towards the parking area, observe how the coral colonies begin to transition into large thickets of Elkhorn corals.  This section can take on an eerie feel, especially on overcast days or in the evenings.  Many of these colonies are on the decline or dead which creates an air of a spooky haunted fairytale forest when entering. However, the area is far from dead; fish counts can still be surprisingly abundant and there is new coral growth towards the interior of the thicket.

Head East (right when facing the water) along the beach up to the Babylon Reef House.

The beach in front of the Babylon Reef House makes a good entry spot to begin your snorkel.

The initial sea floor heading out towards the reef will be turtle grass.

You will soon come upon the first of numerous coral colonies.

The area from theses first colonies out to the barrier reef contain many different species of both hard and soft corals.

Blade Fire Corals mix with Lobed Star and Finger Corals

The delicate Yellow Feather Duster

A Flamingo Tongue snail hides in its glistening shell

As you meander toward the parking area, the grassy sea floor gradually gives way to sand.


The boulder coral colonies will transition into a fairytale Elkhorn coral forest by Northern Lights



Finally becoming predominantly an Elkhorn coral forest.



The pier from the Northern Lights Condo's makes a good boundary landmark to head back to the cove.



DOWNLOAD THE QUEENS'S MONUMENT GUIDE HERE

No comments:

Post a Comment