First Time Snorkeling on a Wild Reef

Discussion in 'Fish and Invertebrates' started by wpeterson, Jan 10, 2016.

  1. wpeterson

    wpeterson Webmaster

    I've been in the hobby for 3 years now and I've been snorkeling in the past, but I recently came back from a vacation where I went snorkeling on a lively reef in Kauai for the first time since getting involved in the hobby. It was a mind blowing experience for me to see so many of the fish and invertebrates we keep in the hobby in the wild.

    TL;DR: so many fat & happy fish, few corals and not looking too good.

    We were on the south side of Kauai and staying on Lawai Beach, which has a protected lagoon type reef that's protected from the waves by a bigger reef crest area about 100 yards out. There are so many fish, just teeming with life. All kinds of tangs and surgeonfish, fields of urchins and sea cucumbers. A wide variety of colorful wrasses. Not much in the way of coral, mostly 1-2 foot colonies of pocillopora and other hardy SPS. Almost no acropora or colorful corals. Mostly brown and light reds, many colonies with half of the polyps dead/dying. Hardly any visible algae, likely due to massive fish and invertebrate grazing keeping algae populations mowed down.

    There were several giant green sea turtles and it was amazing to swim with them while they hunted down hidden clumps of turf algae. I saw an Eagle Ray at one point, whose scrunched up face looked almost like a bull dog. We saw a monk seal swim up and flop down on the beach to rest. I found a day octopus a little bigger than my head being chased by a parrot fish and hiding under a rock. At one point a swam out too far and saw a white tip reef shark slightly bigger than me - I called it a day at that point.

    Visibility was quite poor except in the shallow and more protected inner lagoon due to general turbidity and microbubbles from the surf. I wasn't able to take any pictures of my own, so I'm going to fill the rest of this post with professional pictures of Hawaiian reef creatures like the ones I saw:

    Green Sea Turtles:

    Eagle Rays:

    Day Octopus:

    White Tip Reef Sharks:

    There were tangs and masive surgeon fish all around. I saw schools of convict tangs with 50-100 fish swimming and foraging together - quite a sight. There were kole tangs and other similar bristletooth tangs around. I was surprised to see almost no yellow tangs, I only saw two on one of the days - but they were bigger than my head! So fat and healthy.

    Parrot Fish!
    Huge, brightly colored coral chompers may have been one reason for less large/delicate SPS colonies as I saw these guys chowing down on rock and coral skeletons alike.

    Moorish Idols!
    These guys were everywhere and huge! Many of them bigger than my head and all looking super happy.

    All kinds of different sizes of angelfish, but especially some smaller potter's angels and larger emperor angels. Sadly, no flame angels that I saw.

    Tons of butterfly fish in general and many different species of them. Many beautiful threadfin butterfly fish almost as big as my head who liked to swim with me, I think because I had yellow diving fins similar in color to them?

    Boxfish! Puffers!
    There were tons of small (3-4") boxfish or puffers of many different species. The most prevalent were these hawaiian spotted boxfish:

    There were more types of gobies than I could identify, of all shapes and colors in the lagoon. In the tidepools the predominant fish species was a small Frillgoby native to Hawaii, you could easily see 8-10 of them in a small tidepool when the tide was out:

    Needlefish and Cornetfish
    There were several cornetfish swimming around the substrate but even more needlefish. Especially near the reef crest, there were needlefish between 6" and two feet long swimming right below the surface everywhere. It was strange swimming with them, because they liked to be right at the level of your mask and right in front of your face.

    Frogfish and Scorpionfish
    There were all kinds of predators perched on the rocks and reef structures looking for a snack, from small weirdly colorful frogfish near the substrate to larger rockfish and scorpionfish perched high up keeping an eye out for a meal.

    I've written too long of a post already and probably only described 1/3 of the fish life we saw. It was an amazing experience and a completely different one having studied the ecosystem, fish, and inverts we found for the last 3 years to be among them so close.

    I was surprised to see no anemones the entire time and much less coral than I would have expected. I imagine the coral suffer from too much tourism (sunscreen in the water, people stepping on colonies, increased nutrients/DOC) but perhaps the real issue is lack of light at 10-15 foot depths when combined with general turbidity.
    aqua-nut, Prisonfood53 and jonmos75 like this.
  2. jonmos75

    jonmos75 Supporting Member

    I am so jealous and glad that you had an awesome time and thanks for sharing your adventure with us....
    wpeterson likes this.
  3. wpeterson

    wpeterson Webmaster

    Other funky highlights included unicorn fish:

    Parrot fish:
  4. Flagg37

    Flagg37 Officer at large

    You saw way more than I did when we went the May before last. We were in Princeville though (north side of the island) where there's not that many snorkeling spots. I agree though, I don't remember seeing any coral.
    wpeterson likes this.
  5. sfsuphysics

    sfsuphysics Supporting Member

    Yeah we didn't find too many really good snorkeling spots in Kauai either, we were staying on the east side of the island (Ka'apa ?? or something similar), there was the "kiddy pool" that we went in which definitely looked man made with a bunch of bolder like rocks forming a massive wave break, zero corals in there, but still some fish, even saw one of those sandy flat bottom fish (flounder?). Tried to go north but the beaches were closed due to too many waves. Did go south, Puka dog! :D, but the beach that we went was so-so. Of course we were only there for 3 days (island hopped from Maui, ended up saving $200 per ticket to leave from that island instead!) But yeah even the crappy reefs were were at were like "ZOMG FIIIIIIIIIIISH!!!!" our second trip we became more reef snobs though :D
    wpeterson likes this.
  6. Flagg37

    Flagg37 Officer at large

    When we went to Oahu years ago we saw an eel. As soon as I spotted it I got up all face to face with it and I looked back and my wife, who had been right by my side, was trying her best to swim backwards as fast as possible wearing her scuba fins. She doesn't share my enthusiasm for wild life.
  7. Corallus

    Corallus BAR Sponsorship Coordinator

    So jealous, I really need to go back to Hawaii. I loved Kauai, but if you can imagine, of the islands I've visited, I found it to have the least pleasant snorkeling/reef viewing. Oahu has some surprisingly good spots, especially considering how many people live there. And Maui was also fantastic, lots of coral, and unbelievable numbers of fish. The ecosystems of each bay and beach are sooo different... Just another good reason to go back!
    wpeterson likes this.
  8. Prisonfood53

    Prisonfood53 Guest

    Kauai is my favorite island because it has so many activities and not just ocean related. The atv tour was awesome.
    Best place I ever snorkeled was Molokini off Maui just amazing even though I was seasick from the boat ride over.
    Best thing I ever saw was a 5 foot moray at hanauma bay that tried to attack me and its fully open mouth with insane teeth were like a foot from my face. Glad I was only 20 at the time toady I would have shat myself.

    Loved the longer post great reading and pics.

    Last edited: Jan 10, 2016
    wpeterson likes this.
  9. Vhuang168

    Vhuang168 Supporting Member

    Awesome you got to snorkel at Kauai! Beautiful place and even more beautiful under the waves!

    I've had the fortune to dive at many places in the Pacific.

    There is nothing like descending on a pristine reef teaming with life!

    Favorite dives were off an island called Sipadan, it is off the Bornean coast. Tiny island (only takes 30mins to walk around, not across, the whole island).

    About 200 feet out it drops 1000 feet.

    Very humbling when you look down and see an abyss. Look up from 60 feet down and still see the sun!

    Lots of coral n ton of fish in the protected waters but venture further I saw the devastation from dynamite fishing, whole swarths of reef dead, all you see were coral skeletons. Very sad indeed!

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    wpeterson likes this.
  10. wpeterson

    wpeterson Webmaster

    I would guess this was a pretty good snorkeling spot relative to Kauai, but mostly it was a unique experience for me going snorkeling again with a better education. You see so much more when you recognize the different animals and their behavior. It made me grateful for the time in the hobby to change my experience.

    I went snorkeling in Mexico at a well populated area 4-5 years ago (pre-hobby) and it didn't have nearly as much of an impact on me.
  11. Enderturtle

    Enderturtle Volunteer

    Oh yeah now you can identify the fish/corals/other animals on the reef. Much more exciting.

    It's like before I took a bird class, I had no interest in birds. They were just big/small feathery things. Now that I can identify them, theyre much more interesting since I know a little bit about their biology/ecology.

    I remember when I went to big island hawaii in about 2011 there were huge schools of Yellow Tangs. You could see them swimming through the barrel of the waves!

    OK lets have a "everyone post their cool hawaii pictures thread" since your post made me look through my hawaii pictures. :p

    These sand crabs would not venture far from their burrows.

    We collected shells but all of a sudden this shell started rattling AT THE HOTEL room!


    Munching on the algae.

    Yellow tang shoals

    165526_189187424439474_3410883_n.jpg 168679_189188987772651_1239790_n.jpg
    Scary eel of some sort? Not sure on ID.

    Not sure which trigger this is.

    Yellow tail coris wrasse

    Saddleback Wrasse

    We did a bit of fishing off the pier and caught a variety of fish. Including a BIG eel!

    All fish were caught on barbless hooks using.....the magic ingredient. BREAD all the fish went crazy for white bread.

    All fish were released and swam away.
    Prisonfood53 and wpeterson like this.
  12. wpeterson

    wpeterson Webmaster

    Wow! Awesome pictures. You win the thread for taking your own instead of re-posting examples :)
  13. pixelpixi

    pixelpixi Guest

    Seeing familiar creatures in their natural habitat is one of my favorite things about snorkeling/diving too. I've been diving a couple places (Fiji and Tahiti) that have incredible coral too. When you work hard over a year or two to grow a tiny frag into a 6"-8" coral, then see a colony of the same species 10 feet wide just dripping off the reef, it really puts things in perspective!

    Glad you had a great time in Kauai! I haven't been but would love to go there sometime.
  14. JAR

    JAR Supporting Member

    If you can get to Bali it would seriously blow your mind. Amazing snorkeling. I have been to several islands in Hawaii and found fantastic snorkeling on the Kona coast.
    You are hooked now! have fun
    wpeterson likes this.
  15. gaberosenfield

    gaberosenfield Juvenile Chromis over an Acro in the Red Sea

    Although Hawaii isn't known for its coral, and its reefs certainly have comparatively little coral diversity compared with reefs in the coral triangle, if you know where to look you can find very healthy looking reefs. I've mostly been to the Big Island (Hawai'i Island), so that's what I'll talk about. My favorite spot is called Honau'nau Bay (AKA City of Refuge) 30 minutes or so south of Kona. You can drive right up to the rocky beach (if you can even call it a beach; there's no sand) and hop in on some naturally occurring steps (called the "two step"). Then you're immediately surrounded by coral and fish. There are even 30 foot deep ravines between coral ledges and little tunnels you can swim through if you go out a little ways. I would say the SPS coral in Hawai'i is MUCH nicer and healthier than the SPS coral in Cozumel, Mexico. The reefs I saw there over New Years looked practically morabund. Still pretty, but just gorgonians and sponges. Here are some pics and a video from Hawai'i. Enjoy!
    wpeterson and Enderturtle like this.
  16. Enderturtle

    Enderturtle Volunteer

    I need to learn how to swim!

    All of the pictures I posted were within walking distances to Kona. My friend and I got stuck in Kona without a car for 2 weeks so we did a lot of walking. It was awesome!
  17. Flagg37

    Flagg37 Officer at large

    Stuck without a car for two weeks? Sounds like there's a story there.
  18. gaberosenfield

    gaberosenfield Juvenile Chromis over an Acro in the Red Sea

    You absolutely do! I can't imagine being in Kona for 2 weeks and never swimming among the fish and corals! Being a reefer and not being able to swim on a real reef is like being a rock climber and never getting out of the gym; you miss out on first-hand experience of the very environment that we are trying to emulate in our tanks!

    I'd offer to help teach you how to swim, but I think you live in the peninsula and I live in Oakland, so it would be a long drive for one of us.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2016
    wpeterson and Enderturtle like this.
  19. Don't have much in the way of fish on this computer, but I'll toss in a few :)

    Enderturtle and wpeterson like this.

Share This Page