When gliding through the clear water of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez on a small cruise ship, one is tempted to jump in for a swim, or better yet to slip beneath the surface for some Sea of Cortez snorkeling. The refreshing water is often 68 to70 degrees Fahrenheit; cool enough to warrant a shortie wetsuit in addition to mask and fins. Once properly dressed, one can lazily drift or swim to watch the bustle of activity below.
An entirely different world is exposed within the rocky reefs. Hard corals such as the elegant coral are only sparsely represented, but their soft relatives, the gorgonians, are abundant. They sway in the gentle current and shield small fishes and invertebrates from predators. Rocks offer a substrate for attachment and provide cracks and caves ideal for hiding. Although corals may be uncommon, more than 580 species of fishes have been recorded in the Sea of Cortez, and many of these range south to Panama or even to the Galápagos Islands. King angelfish are one of the favorites, with yellow-orange tails and a white vertical slash near the gills. Fanciful names describe other species such as parrotfish, goatfish, hogfish and reef coronetfish. Damselfish are quite territorial and fiercely chase away intruders much larger in size. Their juveniles are dazzling and sparkle with black and electric-blue markings. Moray eels stare blankly with heavily toothed mouths agape.
Invertebrates are an important component of the rocky reefs as well. Elongate sea cucumbers, needle-studded urchins and colorful sea stars cling to the seafloor. If lucky, you might discover a chocolate-chip star, so named because of its conspicuous brown spots.
In a few sites within the Sea of Cortez curious California sea lions may approach snorkelers for a better look. Their streamlined form and amazing maneuverability underwater put human swimmers to shame. No matter what one finds beneath the surface in the waters of Baja California, it is bound to be an adventure.