PCA 2012: Rays of sunshine

There was a school of 35 cownose ray pups swimming effortlessly around the pool in tight formation. Round and round their incubation pool they went, watched by a small crowd who had stopped on a wooden bridge overhead. Suddenly a few seagulls arrived, perching on the rocks by the side. Then some more. It seemed they knew what was going to happen before any of the rest of us. Then it became clear: a man carrying a metal bucket filled with unappetising-looking chum emerged from the bushes. It was dinner time.

In the pool he went, spraying the diced seafood around much like wedding guests would throw confetti outside a church (to the disappointment of the vicar who has to clear it up later). The rays, only 12 inches wide, sprung to action, synchronising their wing flaps just as they would in the wild to stir up the seabed to expose more grub.

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Feeding time for the pups

The gulls, meanwhile, also got busy, swooping noisily overhead before dive-bombing the pool to catch fishy morsels that were in danger of sinking to the bottom where only the rays could reach.

It was quite a sight played out in front of us as we enjoyed our own lunch sitting on the decking outside Virgils. It was Atlantis at its best, although I felt a little guilty that our snapper Joe Giron had to stop eating to take the pics. Watching, too, was a grown-up ray, separated from the pups' incubator pool by a wire grill. He (or she) glided gracefully up, pressed its cow-shaped nose (hence the name) up against the rail and watched enviously. The pups were getting all the action.

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Cownose rays pups

Soon though, it was the adults' turn. In the adjacent main lagoon, the keeper was joined this time by a family who had presumably paid a princely sum to get up close and personal with creatures that normally inhabit the western Atlantic and Caribbean seas. Each of the party, young and old, had their own metal bucket full of chum that turned the surrounding water pink as the chunks started to sink slowly to the bottom. This time, with so many humans in the water, the gulls kept their distance.

Unfortunately, it was all too much for one of the youngsters; the sight of an adult ray, perhaps nearly 40 inches wide and swimming towards her, sent her into panic. She ran to the safety of dry land, screaming in terror. For the others, however, there was to be about an hour of time spent in the water with the docile and elegant rays.

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Visitors feed the adult rays

Atlantis prides itself on looking after and caring for marine life. Many a poker player visiting the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure down the years has admired the creatures in the many lagoons here - rays, sharks, dolphins, barracuda and even piranhas. In all there are 14 lagoons containing eight million gallons of salt water and more than 50,000 aquatic animals representing over 250 marine species. But I didn't count them myself.

The marine wildlife here is just another reason why the PCA has grown to be the best poker destination in the world. If you're coming for the main event, I bet you can't wait. If you're not, ink in next year's qualifiers on PokerStars as a must.