2014 TRIP REPORT
We have just completed two phenomenal
back-to-back American crocodile expeditions to Banco
Chinchorro in Southern Mexico. This was one of the most
adventurous locations that Big Fish Expeditions has visited
and it went off without a hitch.
After picking up the guests in Cancun we
drove down to Xcalak; a tiny village of around 250 people
just north of the Belizian border.
Before heading over to Banco Chinchorro where
the crocs are, we dallied in Xcalak for a day to see if we
could find some manatees and to enjoy some dives on Xcalak's
pristine coastal reefs. I'm happy to say that we found a
manatee or two on both trips which is not always possible so
we were very lucky :)
The next morning we made the crossing to
Banco Chinchorro 30 miles offshore. Chinchorro is the
largest atoll in the western hemisphere. As well as having
world class reef diving, it is home to the densest
population of crocodiles in the world with more than 700
animals living in a small shallow lagoon in the middle of
As soon as we arrived we strung our hammocks
and settled into the primitive accommodation; a fisherman's
hut on stilts that I nicknamed the 'Hotel Chinchorro'. While
everyone adjusted to the concept of no running water or air
conditioning for three days, the crew set about the business
of chumming for crocodiles.
Almost immediately, the first crocodile
snaked its way towards the hut. After a quick briefing we
slipped into the water two at a time and started snapping
The crocodiles were absolutely captivating.
Everyone was a little cautious around them at first but
before long we were so close that the crocs were practically
nuzzling our cameras. The photographic opportunities were
unbelievable and so were some of the resulting images!
Each morning we would dive on one of the
fringing reefs around the atoll. None of the reefs were
particularly deep so the dives were long and productive.
While we chased baracudas and nurse sharks or explored
enormous sponges for macro life, our dive guides hunted in
the crevices for invasive lionfish to feed to the crocs.
As beautiful as lionfish are, because of
their voracious appetites they are seriously impacting local
reef fish populations so the daily lionfish cull is a great
way to help protect the fish species that belong here.
The crocodiles seemed extremely appreciative
of the lionfish snacks that we tempted them with. If only
American crocodiles were comfortable in deeper water,
perhaps they could deal with the invasive lionfish problem
on their own.
The croc encounters at Chinchorro take place
in clear water just outside the lagoon. The boat crew entice
the boldest crocodiles over to the Hotel Chinchorro which
sits in about 4ft/1.2m of water. The crocs prefer to be in
very shallow water so they immediately make for an adjacent
sea grass bed that is only 2ft/70cm deep.
The divers position themselves on the sand
right next to the shallow sea grass bed where the crocs are
waiting. It is a perfect viewing area that offers
extremely close contact while maintaining a level of safety.
Just in case, there is always a safety diver present with a pole to ward
off any advances from over enthusiastic crocodiles but the
crocs are generally extremely well behaved both below and
above the water line.
Crocs are not early risers. Being
cold-blooded, they need a few hours of sunshine to warm
their muscles before they are ready to swim out to the hut,
so we had ample opportunity to explore the atoll
after our early morning dives.
One morning we visited the ranger station in
the middle of the atoll. It was a great place to take some
aerial shots of the crocs in the lagoon and to shoot some
images of the orange iguanas that are endemic to Chinchorro.
On our last morning we dove on one of many
wrecks that litter the reefs around Chinchorro. The
Gingersku was laden with a heavy cargo when it broke its
back on the eastern slopes of the atoll. Now in many pieces,
the remains of the hapless vessel are completely encrusted
in corals and are home to thousands of grunts and snappers.
During our last dip with the crocs, we
managed to position one against the dying rays of the
afternoon sun for some beautiful sun-splash shots. There are
virtually endless possibilities with these remarkable
animals and as I browse through hundreds of images from this
year's encounters, I can't help thinking that many more
opportunities await next year's adventurous guests that
Join us next August for the 2015
Happy guests at the extremely rustic 'Hotel