"I had gotten close, maybe too close, to a colony of sea lions..."
Snorkeling in the clear aquamarine waters along the rugged coast of Mexico's Isla Espiritu Santo—situated near the Baja town of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez, Gulf of California—I was suddenly shocked out of my reverie by the aggressive flash of the sleek, torpedo-like pass of a California sea lion.
I had obviously gotten close, maybe too close, to a colony of sea lions who had become curious about my presence. I was excited by the encounter but I also realized that care should be taken not to appear as a threat (sea lions have sharp teeth).
I slowly floated with the current while holding my underwater camera close to me and taking photographs as numerous sea lions darted around me. The fisheye lens I was using made them seem further away in the photos, but I can remember their dark eyes scrutinizing me as they darted to within a foot or two.
Watching them underwater, while they watched me, was an exhilarating experience and I marveled at their incredible speed and maneuverability.
The 23,383-acre island complex that includes Espiritu Santo (Isla Espiritu Santo) was acquired by the Mexican government as a preserve with funding from The Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund and Mexico's FUNDEA. The island has the most intact ecosystem in the region. Several animals on Isla Espiritu Santo are found nowhere else in the world, as well as 53 regional endemic plant species. The waters surrounding the island support coral reefs, resident colonies of sea lions and 500 species of fish.
Mark Godfrey is the Conservancy's director of photography.