Aquarium and Coral Gardens, Grand Cayman Snorkeling Excursion Part Two

If you missed Part One: Stingray City, click the link and check it out, plus it features a fun video as well!

Our next stop on the Grand Cayman snorkeling excursion with Captain Marvin's was what the guide referred to as “The Aquarium.” We were scheduled to make two stops: Stingray City and the Sandbar. Since we had such bad wind and waves, we were taken elsewhere. The Sandbar is near the edge of the reef where the shallow water falls off into the deep ocean, a meeting place that’s referred to as “The Wall” and is famous for its sea life. We had to improvise, however, and I didn’t mind visiting our next stop which had a lot to observe and enjoy.

The Aquarium was just about a five minute boat ride away from Stingray City. We jumped in the warm, if slightly choppy water, and I immediately noticed there was a reason it was given its name. There were a ton of fish it was like I’d just gotten dropped into a tank. I was greeted by a nice swarm of sergeant majors and what I think was a group of snappers. Fun side note: while we were enjoying the snorkeling, our guide was fishing for snapper and picking up conch off of the ocean floor.

Aquarium 3

We were also met by a significant population of French grunts, those yellow fish you can see on the left as well as what was either a bright blue cherubfish or a tang.

Aquarium 4

The French grunts were practically swarming. Here’s a significant school with an assembly of squirrelfish.

Aquarium 5

The squirrelfish seemed a little more reserved as they darted in and out of the coral.

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This small yellow fish with a blue back is a juvenile beaugregory. They lose those blue markings when they mature.

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This view gives you an idea of how many fish there really were here at the Aquarium. There were so many fish around, intermixing and putting on a show for us snorkelers.

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There are a few gobies lurking in the background but I was mesmerized by this beautiful bluehead wrasse. This one is in its terminal phase, becoming more colorful at this stage in its life.

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Another five minute trek and we moved onto our next snorkel spot: the Coral Gardens. You can see from the water that we were still having significant wind but that didn’t keep me off of the top of the boat anyway.

Snorkel Excursion

We dropped anchor at the Coral Gardens and were instantly greeted by a tailless stingray that our guide endearingly referred to as Frisbee.

Reef 2

Frisbee was very friendly and obviously slightly less menacing because she lost her tail in an accident. Not much harm can come to you by a stingray missing its stinger.

Reef 3

Our guide had a few special moments with Frisbee. They’ve obviously met before.

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Much like the Aquarium, there were large schools of fish here. This spot in particular proved to have a large population of blue tang; they look almost black because their coloring is so dark. There were also a fair amount of sergeant majors and yellowtail snapper that came by.

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I don’t think I appreciated the scene as I experienced it. I did a lot of snorkeling in Grand Cayman and this was my first excursion. Seeing this many fish was truly spectacular and not something I would encounter again. I thought Stingray City was a once in a lifetime snorkeling experience, which it was. But I didn’t necessarily think that I would enjoy the other locations as much as I did, especially since these were alternative pit stops in light of the weather.

Thanks to our guide pointing it out, I noticed this stingray that had burrowed and hidden itself in the sand. This is their natural way to disguise themselves. I don’t think what we saw at Stingray City was necessarily an indication of natural stingray behavior as they’ve also developed a response to the presence of humans and the boats. It was very cool to be more of an observer in this instance than a tourist. You can see some yellowtail snapper in the background as well.

Reef 7

Ah, the needlefish! These guys seemed to be at every snorkeling location I visited. Always blending in near the surface, always gliding along unassumingly. They don’t travel in groups and I can never figure out what they’re doing. Trying to get food from the surface of the water, perhaps? All I know is I never see them down among the coral with the other fish, feeding on algae or other plant life.

Reef 8

Here was the kitchen sink of fish groupings. We have blue tang, snapper, sergeant majors, and yellowtail. There was that one odd looking fish in the distance with the longer snout and a large fan tail. I swam up for a closer look.

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After a little post-snorkel research, I found out what these odd-looking fish were. This is the scrawled filefish, sometimes referred to as the broomtail fish. This guy is in the later stages of its life because it is not colorful like the juveniles which have yellow and black spots. They’re known for hanging around coral and rocky reefs where it can eat small crustaceans, algae, and anemones. These fish are usually pretty solitary and shy with divers so I was lucky to have seen a pair of them so close by.

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After we were done with our snorkeling, we got hosed off which is really wonderful. There’s nothing worse than feeling sticky and gross after leaving the ocean water.


Here was the spoils of our guide’s fishing endeavors—lots of conch!


And one sad snapper.


We started to make our way back through the North Sound toward land. I watched our guide clean the conch during the boat ride, something he was clearly adept at. He swiftly removed the meat from the shell and began to clean and gut it, tossing the superfluous bits into the swirling ocean water.


As part of this process, our guide would cut out all unnecessary portions, including the male *ahem* sex organ. After removing what looked like a clear spaghetti noodle, he would offer it to the men on the boat, saying that it would increase their virility. Not wanting to be deemed unmanly, each man who was offered ate it. They all said it was tasteless and would make a good story to tell their friends back home.

He offered everyone else on the boat a bite of fresh conch meat. I imagine it is the freshest seafood I have ever eaten and will probably eat ever again, seeing as it came out of the ocean less than 30 minutes prior. The meat was soft and sweet, a really delicious treat. I’ve had cooked conch before, but nothing as yummy as what I ate on the back of that boat.

The tour was definitely worth the time and money. We spent about a half an hour at each location and I was dropped back off to my hotel about three hours after I was picked up.

Snorkel Tour

The whole experience from pick up to drop off was memorable with Captain Marvin’s; I can’t imagine having been in better hands. And yes, this really is a must-see snorkeling trip if you plan to be in Grand Cayman and have any interest in being a part of something incredible.

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