Snorkelsizing, it’s a thing.

When you live on an island surrounded by blue Caribbean waters, it’s hard to stay out of them. While a large part of my position here at Tranquilo Bay is taking people out to the reefs and showing them the bounty of colorful life that exists beneath the surface, I still continue to find the need to enter those warm waters on my own and carry on exploring the fascinating wonders that await below the surface.

SpongeCoral II

“Stacey’s going snorkelsizing!” I yell to the bosses whenever I find myself with a bit of free time enough to don my mask and hit the warm sparkling Caribbean waters with gusto.

53403639_701677512345_9012780650641489920_oSwimming for exercise is something I started back when these ol’ creaky knees of mine started complaining about the high impact that jogging subjects them to. When I lived with my brother in DC, I started hitting up Dunbar High School’s public pool at the end of the street. Then, when I found myself living beside the Golfo Dulce last year, I officially coined the term: Snorkelsizing. Be sure to look out for it to start showing up in formal dictionaries worldwide before the year’s end–it’s that legit.



I’ve quickly come to decide that it’s the best form of exercise there is. As I freestyle along, I’m not only getting exercise, I’m highly entertained at the same time! It’s reminiscent to hitting the elliptical at the gym while watching whatever they decided to channel the TV to except way, way better.



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Queen Angelfish

And not only am I entertained, I’m learning too: observing, discovering, encountering all manner of life and, as I become more and more familiar with our local underwater ecosystems, I’m actually becoming a better guide as well. Now that I’ve been around the block enough, I’m starting to encounter some critters in the same location enough to know that’s where they’ll be, like the pair of queen angelfish that play hide and seek among the coral not far from the service dock or the area surrounded by mangroves where I can guarantee three different species of sea stars and every size of upside down jellyfish, or how about the favorite nearby haunts of two beautiful yet cartoonish green moray eels?


Reticulated Brittle Sea Star

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Green Moray Eels


Nine Armed Sea Star

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Ragged Sea Hare

Another wonderful thing about this watery world that positively drips (ha!) with biodiversity is there’s ALWAYS something new to see. Every single time I get in the water, I see something I’ve never seen before be it a new species, like the bug-eyed Squirrelfish, or the pile of seaweed slug called a Ragged Sea Hare. And if it’s not a new species for me, it’s an encounter I’ve never had before, like an enormous school of sleek Bar Jacks with neon blue dorsal fins circling within arm’s reach or a nurse shark longer than I am tall, passing a mere few meters away!


Nurse Shark resting ~4ft

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 2.05.02 PMOne of my favorite experiences has been that of a growing friendship with Pierre, a very dashing, mature adult French angelfish. I first came across Pierre a couple months ago and was enamored from the start. About the size of a serving plate, Pierre lives along one of my snorkelsizing routes that follows the edge of the mangroves. Delighted with my discovery and I found myself entranced watching this enormous, regal fish command his (or her?) patch of coral. Eager to see him again, I follow the same route consecutively over the following days. But when I came upon him a second time, I noticed a quarter-sized chunk taken out of his side above the right fin. The third time? No Pierre.

I was saddened to think this glorious fish had died of his wound or perhaps whatever had made it in the first place came back for the rest. About a week later, I passed his old haunt and was thrilled to see a huge adult French Angelfish appear out of the ether! Pierre? Looking at his right side, I couldn’t see any wound, could this be a new individual that had taken over his territory? But then, diving down for a better look, I could barely make out the faint outline of the healed flesh where the gash had been. Pierre survived!

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 1.45.36 PM 2Now, I regularly see him swimming proprietarily around his stomping grounds and if I don’t see him right away, he’ll usually show up from nearby if I give him a minute..

Having the opportunity to familiarize myself in this way with the underwater life that make up these Caribbean waters is one that I am enormously thankful for. It’s a beautiful way to explore, get exercise, connect with nature and even reach a sort of meditative state that revives and refreshes me so that I can be the best guide I can for each new guest who arrives to Tranquilo Bay. Not to mention they might be lucky enough to get to meet Pierre and his friends!


The author in her element. Photo by Hugo Santa Cruz










About Stacey M. Hollis

Tropical guide and naturalist at Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge on Isla Bastimentos set within Panama's Caribbean Bocas del Toro archipelago. My aim is to share my passion for birds and the awesome biodiversity of the tropics while spreading the word about the importance of environmental conservation.
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