COZUMEL, Mexico (Reuters) - Magnificent coral reefs on Mexico's Caribbean island of Cozumel appear to have been unscathed by Hurricane Dean, delighting dive operators and diving enthusiasts.
Cozumel, considered one of the world's top diving spots and a big draw for Mexico's tourism industry, was badly hit in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma. The storm mauled hotels with high winds, flooded the famous beach resort of Cancun and damaged reefs.
Dean crashed into the Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday south of Cozumel and Cancun as a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm, the most powerful kind of hurricane. But there were no reports of death or serious damage.
"I saw no damage. Just some extra sand on the reefs," dive master Mario Jimenez said on Wednesday after guiding tourists on a midday dive through Palancar Gardens, a system of intricate and colourful coral formations on the southern part of the island.
It was one of the first dives on the reef since operations ceased in the area on Sunday ahead of the storm's approach.
A hawksbill turtle glided out of one crevice in the coral as schools of multicoloured fish weaved around the reef.
The water, famed for its almost gin-like clarity, had taken on murky hue more akin to tequila. But that change is standard after a storm and it was expected to clear up in days.
"After Wilma we saw lots of damage. We saw a bunch of dead coral and broken pieces of reef," said Jimenez, who has been a dive master in the area for 13 years.
Divers who stayed in Cozumel while tourists fled the island were happy they did, as the normally busy reefs were virtually devoid of other dive boats on Wednesday.
"It's great, everyone left and now we have the island to ourselves," said Jimmie Grogan, a retired firefighter from New York who has been diving here for 20 years, as he soaked up the sun on board a boat after one of his dives.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Dean weakened on Wednesday to a tropical storm after making landfall in the Mexican state of Veracruz.