The garden eel, Heteroconger halis, from the family Congridae, is a relatively shallow dweller and diminutive member of the conger eel group.
Growing to just 15 inches, these elongate specimens prefer depths of 20 to 200 feet. They burrow in the sandy bottom near coral reefs and are especially prevalent near Cayman’s wrecks.
When approached, an entire localised colony seems to disappear with a communal stealthiness, making the eels hard to point out to other divers. They all extend from their burrows when watched from a distance, facing into the current while actively engulfing passing plankton.
Tom Byrnes is the owner/operator of Cayman Marine Lab. He acquired his Coast Guard Captain’s Licence when he was a teenager and worked as a commercial fisherman in his youth. He got his first diving certificate in 1974 with the YMCA. He has worked in the local dive industry for more than 35 years and has a PhD in marine biology.