Saturday, January 15, 2011
SNORKEL GUIDE: RUM POINT BOULDER CORAL GARDEN
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Typical giant Lobed Star Boulder Corals, Rum Point Coral Garden, Grand Cayman
This is the spot I am most intimate with and the reason I fell in love with Grand Cayman. Our little Cayman abode is located on the beach at the point and I try to snorkel it at least once a day when we are there. It is amazing to witness the transitions of the marine life during the different tides, coupled with the dramatic effect the angles of sunlight have as they shift throughout the day. My favorite time to visit is about an hour before sunset. It is then that I find the lighting most serene and the abundance and activity of marine life at its peak.
LOCATION INFO: 1st major coral bed is approximately 225 yds of the actual ‘point’ at Rum Point (19°22'22.56"N 81°16'16.62"W), by the Retreat Condominiums. The 2nd major coral bed is located 25 yds across the sand channel that begins at the far end of the 1st bed (You can usually see some rays and conch hanging out on the bottom).
(This location is not the "Coral Gardens" frequented as part of many Sting Ray City tours. That location is part of the barrier reef, close to Sting Ray City Sand Bar).
This site is definitely seeing an increase in visits by the various Wave Runner tours; as evidenced by the multiple excursions stopping by, even on light cruise ship days. There is now only one marker buoy anchored at the site making it a bit harder to spot from shore. While not usually an issue, snorkelers should be aware of any Jet Skiis and boat traffic, especially on the weekends. Having a diving/snorkel flag or other identification device is not a bad idea.
My best advice for locating the prime coral beds is to refer to the satellite images below and then orientate yourself standing at the ‘point’ of Rum Point. Look for the two large Marine Zone buoys closer to shore on your right. Look out and to the right of the far buoy to locate the smaller mooring buoy of the site. If water conditions are favorable, you should also see the dark patches of the corals about 225 yds slight off to the left from the point and about 10 yards to the left of the small mooring buoy.
Link to a larger interactive map of Rum Point
Overhead view to get orientated. (Click images for larger version)
View of coral bed location from sign at the point. Boat is moored on marker buoy. Notice larger marine zone buoy on the right.
Coral Garden location with Waverunners moored at marker buoy.
WATER ENTRY: I usually enter the water from a small opening in the iron-shore, about 30 feet to the right of the Marine Zone sign post. There is a sandy-ish bottom and pieces of iron-shore on each side that make for good, albeit sharp, flipper rests or hand holds. You can also head-off from the beach area if the iron-shore is too intimidating.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT: Depending on the weather and water conditions, there can be a slight to moderate current here, especially in the winter months. On the snorkel out, you will pass some small corals directly off the point and then begin to enter a zone with little coral and few fish. The depth approaches 20-25 feet at this point. As you head out, off to the left you should see a ridge rising from the sea floor. I use this geographic feature as a reference to keep my baring. Approaching the main garden, you will begin to see some soft corals interspersed with a few hard corals on the floor below; continuing onward, they will start to become larger and healthier. The water here is still about 20 ft deep. This is not the main garden.
Depending on visibility you may be able to see dark shapes off in the distance, ahead and closer ones to the right. Off to the right are isolated large coral formations. They will be surrounded by a sandy floor. These are located closest to the farther Marine Buoy on the above image (tapering dark patches to the left) . You may not see them if you are closer to the ridge. I usually skip these, but they may be worth a look. The water level will begin to become shallower, the corals will start to jump in size and more fish (usually Damselfish, Grouper and Dog Snapper) can be seen below around the corals. Try to keep close to the sandy bottom on the right and continue on. Yes, it does seem longer than 225 yds out, but trudge on; you are getting close to the good stuff. Ahead, about 25 yds, you should now see some large boulder corals. Head there and begin exploring, this is the entrance to the garden. A Moray Eel sometimes hangs out here.
The area along the right with the sandy bottom is where the largest and most dense concentrations of corals and fish will be. Water depth is between15-20 ft. Among the many species of fish darting around and about the corals, large schools of snapper and grunts frequent this area closer to the bottom. Rays can be found hidden in the sand and barracuda will sometimes shadow you.
As you explore the area to the left (away from the sandy bottom), the water level will become shallower, as you float above the ridge incline. This area is predominately covered with soft corals, sponge and sea fans. If you continue out towards the reef, the coral garden will end and you will reach a sand bottom channel. Swim across the channel to reach the second coral garden. Large outcroppings and clusters of boulder coral begin in about 30 yds. Float over them and explore right to left. The water at this garden is a bit shallower making some of the corals and sea fans appear more vibrant. Grunts and Snapper abound here as well. The occasional Trumpetfish can also be seen.
CONDITIONS THIS VISIT: The winds were blowing northeasterly for most of the week, which made visibility on the North Side of the island sub-optimal (all the crud that pools in the North Sound gets blown back out towards sea, but ends up trapped by the barrier reef). You will see many of the images (especially from the Sting City Dive Site) have greenish hues or castes to them; this is as a result of the higher than usual concentrations of algae.
WHAT I SAW THIS VISIT:
I was thrilled NOT to find any Lion Fish around my regular floating grounds this trip. There was an abundance of the usually fish: various species of Grunts, Snapper, Damselfish, Tilefish, Squirrelfish, Wrasses, Large Parrotfish and Spiny Lobsters. There was a noticeable increase in: Triggerfish, Trunkfish, smaller barracuda and predatory Bar Jacks. There was a noticeable decrease in Larger Snapper, Large barracuda, Grouper, Rays and Conch. I did see one Green Turtle and snapped a few shots before he bolted. In my experience, the turtles in the Rum Point area and Grand Cayman in general, tend to spook easily.
The beautiful, but invasive Lionfish
Resting Nurse Shark
Green Turtle making a quick exit
Southern Sting Ray resting in the sand
Typical boulder coral field
School of Grunts amid the coral
Sunlight dapples the coral masses
Moray Eel makes its presence known
Just like an aquarium
A Jolthead Porgy tries out its camouflage technique
French Grunts and Bluehead Wrasse (initial phase)
Juvenile Parrotfish find protection from predators by shadowing the biggest fish around (me)
Juvenile Parrotfish cascade over a Giant Lobed Star Coral
Large school of juvenile Parrotfish
Serene twilight sceneFrench GruntsFrench GruntsSouthern Sting Ray, Stoplight Parrotfish and Tiger Grouper in the twilightBarrel SpongesSpiny Lobster guards his turf
Grasby protecting its territory
Finally, a friendly Green Turtle snorkel buddyA large Spotted Eagle Ray glides byCatching up with the Spotted Eagle Ray
Images from this trip can be found here
Images from previous visits (with more emphasis on coral formations can be found here)
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Posted by Testudo at 11:00 PM