by TFH Magazine on January 4, 2013 at 9:24 am
By Shari Horowitz
Whenever I have the opportunity, I opt to go and visit fish in their natural environment. So when I went to St. Martin on vacation, diving was the number one activity on my list. After meeting Sally Davies, co-owner of Octopus Diving in Grand Case, on the French side, I booked six dives with Octopus and went straight there on my first full day on the island.
St. Martin largely features shallow-water diving, with the maximum depth I went to being 60 feet. The reefs primarily feature huge sponges and sea fans, along with hydroids and encrusting coral. The water is quite warm, and I only required a 3 mm wetsuit. There were no difficult currents and the weather when I was there was perfect.
From what I could see, the most abundant fish on the reef were sergeant majors, which patrolled the reef by the thousands. Reefkeepers know sergeant majors as extremely belligerent damsels which can reach up to 10 inches in length. On the reef their aggression is on full display if you choose, like I did, to try and find their nest. It’s easy to find breeding males, as they turn bright blue instead of the normal yellow and black coloration. However, be warned, that if you pester a blue male it will have no hesitation about chasing or even nipping you. I was chased quite a bit, but I managed to find the nests they were guarding so I think it was worthwhile.
Closer to the substrate, another common fish is the Atlantic blue tang. Atlantic blue tangs are another hobby staple, as they are beautiful and reliable algae eaters. They spend their entire day on the reef picking at the rocks and sand looking for algae. One thing to note is that they do reach a large size of well over a foot, and you can see many large specimens on the reef.
The Atlantic blue tang caused the most memorable moment on the reef during the trip, which actually occurred while snorkeling. The tang was pestering an octopus off Creole Rock, and so the octopus changed from a dark brownish red color to a mottled white and green color. Then it noticed that I was watching. Now doubly annoyed by the clumsy human above and the tang below, the octopus performed a veritable light show, going from white to green to red to brown and every combination in between. After diving for over 10 years, I admit that I had never seen anything like that and the octopus’ display alone made the entire trip worthwhile.
By the end of the trip I saw many other aquarium species at dive sites like Turtle Reef, Japanese Garden, and the Tugboat. Goatfish, butterflyfish, and hogfish were plentiful, as were chromis. I also saw species that get far too large for an aquarium. Impressive-looking barracuda stared me down, daring me to come too close—I kept a respectful distance. Green morays with a girth almost as large as my tank lurked in man-made reef blocks, along with some of the largest reef lobsters I had seen. At the surface, a few green sea turtles came near the boat.
St. Martin is a beautiful, easy place to dive, and an excellent place to see some common aquarium fish enjoying their natural habitat. I’d like to thank Octopus Diving—Sally, and the two divemasters who led the dive tours Craig and Sean—for a great experience.
All photographs courtesy of Sally Davies/Octopus Diving