The view from inside Chandelier Cave

The view from inside Chandelier Cave

An excerpt from the recently published Manta Rays and Margaritas: Tropical Travels to Dive the Oceans by Karen Begelfer

 

Palau is chock full of one-of-a-kind diving experiences.  In addition to the reef hooks and the Jellyfish Lake there is a special diving opportunity at Chandelier Cave, named in honor of the gaudy stalactites that hang from the ceiling.  Most cave diving requires an advanced diving certification that includes more than 20 hours of classroom and open water education in an effort to prevent the diver from expiring underwater.  Chandelier Cave was an exception to this requirement because of its small size, straightforward shape, and available air chambers.

The entrance to the cave at Ngarol Island was in a small harbor where old boats went to die.  Several littered the area in various states of decay and drowning.  Reflecting on my last tetanus shot, I hopped into the hazy water.  The sea floor was not much better.  Random boat debris was everywhere; bottles, hunks of metal, even a toilet seat.  At least nothing pretty or remarkable was going to detract us from our goal.

We swam towards the semi-circle entrance 15 feet below the surface.  The cave had four separate air chambers in a row. The plan was to surface in each of them to take a look at the rock formations.  The fourth, if we made it, had a space big enough to get out of the water and walk around.  We took flashlights so we could see as we got deeper in the cave.

We swam into the cave, then ascended to the first air chamber.  It was about ten feet by eight feet in size with four feet in between the water’s surface and the roof.  Long ago the cave was dry before the sea flooded it, so stalactites that once hung down from the roof into the air now touched, and sometimes even pierced, the water.  The limestone rock island was permeable, which allowed fresh air into the cave.  We were able to surface in the air chamber and talk, something a diver does not get to do too often in the middle of a dive.

“Long ago when the cave was dry, rainwater seeped in through the rocks,” our divemaster said.  “It carried calcium carbonate that dripped and built up over time, causing the stalactites.”  Some of the stalactites were large, indicating a very lengthy process of dripping and growth that impressed me.  At home I can’t even wait for a red light to change.

We descended again and went further back into the cave to the next air chamber.  This one was smaller and lined with yellow sulfite deposits on the rock that looked like a mustard jar had exploded.  When we dove back into the main part of the cave I had some trouble with my gear.  I went back towards the air chamber to fix the problem.  Unfortunately, I was so busy looking down at my scuba vest that I did not see the stalactite above.  It got lodged directly between my back and all of my hoses.

All of my gear was hooked in some way to this fang of a rock.  I was just plain stuck and dangling mid-cave like an upside-down popsicle, which was a bit embarrassing.  The dive master and my husband were disappearing deeper into the cave not knowing of my frozen-treat predicament.  I started to panic, envisioning the sea monsters, kin of the ones that hide under the bed at home, that were waiting to capitalize on my lack of coordination.

I started switching my flashlight on and off like a mating lightening bug, hoping that one of the Good Humor men might swim back and give me a tug.  Then I waited.  As I composed myself I started to sink ever so slightly.  I noticed that I was a little less entangled than before.  This may seem logical now, but at the time physics was not playing a big role in my thought process.  My body said “swim away, swim away” not “sink down, sink down.”  

By the time the dive master and my husband reached me the popsicle had fallen off the stick.  Feeling a bit self-conscious I made a “broken” hand signal underwater and pointed to my light.  When in doubt, blame it on the equipment.  I made it to one more air chamber before deciding my cave diving experience needed to come to a merciful end.  A fellow diver had told me that the last air chamber was the most impressive.  I’ll certainly never know.  But I did have a strange craving for a popsicle that night for dessert.

Once in a blue moon...

Once in a blue moon...

Though not many things are assured in life, this one I thought to be true: the American Lobster (Homarus americanus) is a dark brown/red color when caught and bright red after being cooked.  Apparently even this isn’t a given.  For some reason odd-colored lobsters are making the news lately, putting to rest the idea that they are all created equal.

A blue lobster caught in Nova Scotia recently made the news.  According to the University of Maine Lobster Institute (where else would you locate a lobster institute, anyway?), blue lobsters are a one-in-2-million phenomenon. A genetic variation causes the lobster to produce an excessive amount of a particular protein that gives it that azure aspect.  In an odd twist to this story, the lobsterman who caught the blue guy tried to sell him on the internet, then changed his mind when some people said it was “too cruel.”  This is, of course, as compared to eating it.

A calico lobster caught off the coast of Maine also made headlines.  In this case the lobsterman didn’t notice the comely creature, selling him and his normal-colored friends to a restaurant.  Apparently, it’s good to be a sexy looking lobster, because this unique animal was taken off the menu, named “Calvin” and moved to the New England Aquarium for the Biomes Marine Biology Center in Rhode Island, an ocean education facility. Experts at the aquarium estimate that only one in about 30 million lobsters is calico.  I hear the rest of the lobsters in the restaurant holding tank have offered passersby significant money to bring them some waterproof paint.

Rare orange lobsters (sometimes called red lobsters due to their “cooked” appearance) were caught off the Monhegan Island in Maine.  What made this find unique was that six of them were found together.  Orange lobsters, again a result of genetic mutation, are supposedly a one in 30 million phenomenon.  This find may have scientists scrambling to recalculate the odds, however.  The restaurant that received this rare shipment will be displaying them for customers with a sign “This is what your dinner will look like, but with significantly less movement.”

An albino lobster was caught off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts.  Lacking in colored pigments, these crustaceans are also referred to as “white” or “crystal” lobsters due to their metallic appearance.  Marine experts estimate about 1 in 100 million lobsters is albino.

GulfofCambayOff the coast of Mahabalipuram, in Tamil Nadu, South India, the discovery of a complex of submerged ruins has sparked an investigation into their origin. Local lore has long held that the area once boasted seven magnificent temples, but that six of these were swallowed by the sea. The seventh, and only remaining temple, still stands on the shore.  Undoubtedly divers have found something there, but experts disagree on what.

The site was discovered by oceanographers from India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology who were conducting a survey of pollution.  Using sidescan sonar they identified huge geometrical, city-like structures at a depth of 120 feet.  Debris recovered from the site — including construction material, pottery, sections of walls, beads, sculpture, and human bones and teeth — has been carbon dated and found to be nearly 9,500 years old.  The sticking point, however, is that the debris was dredged from the bottom (instead of being recovered during a controlled archeological excavation) calling into question whether these items can truly be tied to the site.

Now this would be an interesting spot to dive on.  Are those structures really a granary, a bath, a citadel, and a drainage system, or are they just geological formations with a healthy coating of human junk from passing ships in the harbor?  We take for granted that most things on this earth on land have already been discovered.  But under the waves the unknown is much greater, even if it is within sight distance of the shoreline. 

It is a good reminder to keep our eyes (and minds) open when we dive anywhere.  We might just find Atlantis.

Diver on the Jura

Diver on the Jura

You wanted to go on a diving vacation, but no.  Your family/friends/significant other/children/etc. insisted that you all go to Europe this summer.  And, to make matters worse, you’re not even going to a coast in Europe where you might be able to sneak in a few quick dives in the Atlantic, Baltic or Med.  No, you are going to the interior with no sea in sight. Ugh.

Not to fear!  Freshwater diving is one of Europe’s best kept secrets.  Some of the countries least known for diving offer some incredibly interesting lake and river diving that is sure to please even the most adamant reef diver.  The depths of Germany, Austria and Switzerland will make you a believer.

Germany

Most diving in Germany happens in the many lakes and quarries all over the country. The water temperatures can be cold, even in summer, so dry suits are the most popular choice. Visibility is often limited.  Also, be aware that German law requires all divers to have a valid medical certificate before diving. 
Lakes of Bavaria
Bavaria, or Bayern, is a province located to the south-east of the country and has over 70 dive sites that include wrecks, wall dives, artificial pools, quarries and ice dives.
 

Walchensee (or Lake Walchen) is the largest Alpine lake in Germany, with a maximum depth of 631 ft and an area of 6.3 sq mi. The lake is 75 47 mi south of Munich in the middle of the Bavarian Alps.  The lake has car, boat, and even aircraft wrecks that make the lake particularly interesting.  Note that non-local divers will need to dive with an expert from the area as a guide. Also, this lake is in the mountains so a diver’s buoyancy will be different than at sea level.
Walchensee has 12 unique dive sites, including the more popular Steinbruch, Urfeld Bootssteg, and Einsiedlbucht. Fleckerlspitz is a good dive site for all levels; it has a wall and makes for a good deep dive.  On the lake bottom is a series of wrecks, including three aircraft. From World War II there is a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and a British Avro Lancaster bomber. Among the debris are also the remains of an Aero Commander 680W. This high-wing twin-engine plane with the markings D-ID MON crashed into the lake in 1978 after its tail broke off. The wrecks of two cars, a Volkswagen Beetle and a Ford, are also near the shore and are popular exploration points for divers. Divers can see a variety of freshwater fish, including carp, bream, trout, eels, chub, and catfish.

Steinberger is another popular lake for scuba diving.  Though many locals use this lake as a training spot for beginners, there are deep dives and wall dives as well. Eichinger Weiher, near Munich, is one of the most organized dive sites in Europe, with a maximum diving depth of around 40 ft and good visibility, up to 65 ft., due to fresh ground water. Access to the dive site is by shore. Divers can expect a lot of pike during their dives.

Lake Constance
Bodensee (Lake Constance) shares the foothills of the Alps with Switzerland and Austria. The lake sits 395 m. above sea level, and it´s the third largest in Central Europe.  It consists of three bodies of water: the Obersee (”upper lake”), the Untersee (”lower lake”), and a connecting stretch of the Rhine, called the Seerhein.

Divers can choose from over 20 different dive sites here, including wrecks, wall dives and drift dives, though diving is only done in the summer from June to September.  There are lovely walls and plenty of fish to see including char, eels, pike and turbot.  Due to the overall depth of the lake, many dives are deep and the use of a dry suit is common.

The Jura is perhaps the best known wreck in Lake Constance. It was built in 1854 by Escher-Wyss in Zurich.  In 1861, a German company purchased the ship and moved it to Lake Constance. For three years, the Jura moved tourists and fright from the German to the Swiss side of the lake and back.  In 1864 The Jura collided in heavy fog with the Swiss boat Zurich City and sank.  For 100 years, she was lost. Commercial divers re-discovered the Jura in 1964. The 138 feet long Jura rests upright at a depth of 125 feet, ½ mile offshore from Bottighofen, Switzerland.

 

Austria

Strict environmental regulations have meant that Austria’s lakes are among the cleanest and purest in Europe.  The fauna in Austria’s lakes and rivers is quite diverse: perch, pike, catfish, swan mussel, migratory shell, freshwater sponge, lake trout, grayling, freshwater hydra, crayfish – and in the summer numerous freshwater medusas – are among its colorful water inhabitants.  Most diving is done in Austira’s lakes, but divers can also try river diving in the Enns, Steyr and especially the Traun.

Lake Attersea

Close to the idyllic city of Salzburg, the Attersee is one of Austria’s largest inland lakes, stretching over 14 miles with a maximum width of 2.5 miles.  Since its water quality is superb, the lake is a paradise for freshwater divers. It offers diving sites suitable for both novice and expert divers.  The lake contains both fish and plant-life and has around 30 diveable sites.  During the winter season (January to March) experienced divers in warm dry suits can go under the ice that forms on parts of the lake.

The “Underwater Forest” that exists below the surface forms a perfect habitat for pike, brown trout, European eel, carp, and perch. Divers can explore the remains of the forest at depths from 43 to 131 feet and enjoy visibilities of up to 80 feet on good days.

A former sailboat is an easy to reach attraction for beginners. At depths from 46 to 66 feet, the wreck is often used for training purposes since a shallow diving platform is close by. Divers can also get a chuckle from an old bathtub in 33 feet of water nearby.

A site called Kohlbauernaufsatz (say that 3 times fast) offers wall-diving. The muddy ground slopes to a depth of 56 feet were the wall drops off and disappears in the dark. Nearby, divers can spot a canoe named Titanic and a small boat that features, for yet another chuckle, a large toilet.  Another wall, called Black Wall or Black Bridge, sometimes offers visibilities of 98 feet (30 meters) during the winter months.  Recreational divers need good buoyancy skills since the wall reaches depths of 197 feet (60 meters) in some areas and the dive becomes clearly technical in nature.

A small U-Boat that rests on the lake floor in 180 feet provides another opportunity for technical divers. A discussion board on a German scuba site says that the former owner immigrated to South America and left the boot attached to a buoy. People used the opportunity to break into the boat and left a hatch open. Water slowly penetrated and sank the boot in 1996 or 1997. A YouTube video showing divers exploring the submarine is available here.

An underwater mountain in the middle of the lake is reached at a depth of 30 feet (9 meters). Divers can circle the obelisk-like structure that reaches the lake floor in 460 feet (140 meters) of water. A boat is needed to get to the site and a local guide comes in handy to locate the structure and avoid long search patterns.

 Salzkammergut

A picturesque area of more than 70 lakes in the central Alps, Salzkammergut offers an opportunity to see underwater WWII artifacts.   In the last days of the war, the Nazis dumped crate after crate of secret cargo into the lakes, many of which are deep, with tree-covered mud bottoms. It was the perfect hiding place.  Much has been recovered over the years, including thousands of counterfeit bank notes and the equipment used to make them, but much still remains.  Stolen art and millions in gold bullion are rumored to be hidden in the lakes.

 

Switzerland

Switzerland offers two main options for scuba diving: scuba diving in lakes or scuba diving in rivers. Lake diving in Switzerland is the more popular of these two types of diving, especially in the bigger and deeper lakes in Switzerland, such as Lake Zurich and Lake Geneva.  The larger lakes in Switzerland are quite deep and some even have sheer face drops providing an excellent opportunity for some wall scuba diving.  Scuba diving in rivers is less popular in Switzerland than lake diving, although hardcore scuba diving enthusiasts in Switzerland will dive just about anywhere they can. Both types of scuba diving offer interesting things to see including different marine life and geological formations. There are even natural springs in Switzerland which are used for scuba diving.

Visibility for scuba diving in Switzerland varies. Visibility in lakes ranges from 3-10 meters depending on season and conditions. Visibility in lakes improves with depth so if the water looks murky at this surface, this does not mean visibility will not be conducive to scuba diving at a depth of 10 meters. Water visibility for scuba diving in rivers can be as low as 2 meters when the water is murky, or as far as 30 meters.  Generally water temperatures range from about 4C and can get to be as warm as 20C in Switzerland during summer.

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva (also called Lake Léman) is one of the largest lakes in Western Europe, stretching across the border from Switzerland into France. While today the lake and surrounding region is a popular visitors’ spot, it hasn’t always been that way. In the late 1960s excess pollution closed the lake to all water sports, and by the 1980s the lake was so contaminated it was at risk of losing all its fish. Thankfully, efforts were put in place over the years and today, the pollution levels have been dramatically cut, allowing the waters to be re-opened to the public.

 Lake Geneva presents divers with interesting options.  There are some incredibly sheer walls to dive, most notably at Chateau de Chillon and Fenalet.  La Cochère is a fragile wreck that offers lots of nooks and crannies for small fish to hide and divers to explore.  But perhaps the most notable dive in the lake is the wreck of the Hirondelle, a passenger cruiser that sank after hitting a rock in 1862.  The wreck is in excellent condition, but it is a deep dive appropriate for advanced divers.  The stern starts at 43 m and the bow is at 67 m. Make sure you use a local guide who knows the area well.

Lake Zurich

Lake Zurich extends southeast of its namesake city.  The water is exceptionally clean and can reach 70 degrees F or warmer during summer.   Most consider the best diving spot on Lake Zurich to be off the Au peninsula (Au Halbinsel) where divers can check out interesting rock formations and a variety of European freshwater fish.  For advanced divers, the remains of a concrete ship that sank in 1918 has recently been found and is reported to be in incredible condition due to the depth at which it sits.

Cool...

Cool...

Its hot here today, wicked hot.  Ninety-nine degrees, blazing sun, high humidity, no wind – hot.  I have been trying to think of cold ideas to cool down and as usual my thoughts turn to diving.  Ice diving, to be exact.  What could be cooler than that?

There are lots of places in the world to go ice divingThere is no ice diving in the oceans, except the Arctic, so most of us will have to settle for a lake, quarry or other inland body of water.  All you need to go ice diving is a chainsaw and a sense of adventure.  Oh…and you’ll also need special training, a fat dry suit with appropriate hand, feet and head coverings, snow removal tools, safety gear, some type of topside shelter, lines, post-dive sustenance, and a gaggle of dive buddies you are willing to trust with your life.  Sometimes the best things in life are not the easiest.

But for those adrenaline junkies among us, this has got to be some of the most amazing diving you can do.  Take Lake Minnewanka near Banff, Alberta.  This is a Mecca for ice divers in North America.  Winter at Lake Minnewanka means ice diving, often in air temperatures well below freezing and water not much warmer. Dive groups erect shelters over triangular entry holes cut through ice 2-feet thick.  Divers enjoy the unusual underwater experience heightened by 70-foot visibility.  This is a beautiful topside location in the Rocky Mountains that also offers interesting things to see below the ice, including a submerged dam, a submerged road bed with bridge pilings and the remains of a historical town.  There are some pretty strict National Park rules in place, including how you wield your chainsaw and how you leave the site when you are done, but the rules are worth the dive.  Canadian ice diving is also done at Twin Lakes in Alberta near Winfield or West Hawk Lake in Manitoba near the Ontario border.

You slip into the triangular hole cut in the ice, with ice crystals already re-forming on the surface.  Your tether is held at the other end by a safety guide, who you will communicate with throughout the dive by employing a series of rope yanks.  At first, your eyes are drawn to the inky darkness below you – ice filters out a lot of the light that would otherwise penetrate the water.  But as you descend farther, your eyes adjust to the light and you realize the clarity of the water is amazing, enabling a crystal sharp view of the lake’s features.  Looking up is a religious experience, the ice glowing azure blue and your bubbles glittering like diamonds as they collected under the surface.

I can’t think of a cooler thought than that.

Phayao Lake Temple

Phayao Lake Temple

I’ll never get tired of seeing incredible sea life underwater.  But I have to admit it is fun to come across something unexpected while diving that adds spice to the experience.  No, I’m not talking about a fellow diver’s wardrobe malfunction, but rather something you come across on the sea floor that defies reason and makes the dive “one of a kind.”  I’m always on the lookout for something novel and unique. 

My latest research has turned up the diving experience at Phayao Lake in northern Thailand.  It’s an artificial lake that covers an area of 2.3 km² with a mean depth of 1.7 m. The quaint town of Phayao is located on the southeast corner of the lake.  It is a picturesque place, with rice paddies to the south and west and a marsh area where the Ing River feeds the lake.

 So you don your wetsuit and tank and do a back roll off the dive boat into the relatively clear water.  Sightseeing consists of some interesting aquatic plants and 22 types of fish including the oddly named “Climbing Perch” that is known to walk short distances on land.

 But, you are not there for the greens, nor even for the weird walking fish.  You are there to see the ancient temple Wat Tilok Aram, which is thought to have been built during the Tilokanart dynasty of the former Lanna Kingdom. The temple was flooded 70 years ago in order to create the artificial lake that now sits atop it in an effort to provide irrigation for the surrounding area.

 This is not a common dive site, but it is certainly a memorable one.  Interestingly enough, the Thai government has recently been discussing the idea of removing the temple from the lake floor and restoring it to its former glory.  I just hope they don’t get to it before I have time to check it out.

Tasty snack...

Tasty snack...

Beautiful, deadly and (apparently) tasty, lionfish have been invading the coastal waters of the Atlantic at an alarming speed, destroying coral reef ecosystems.  Native to the Indo-Pacific region, their introduction to the Caribbean is believed to be a result of hurricanes and tank releases during the early 1990’s. They have been spotted along the eastern seaboard spanning as far north as Rhode Island to as far south as Venezuela, and have recently reached the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the coasts of Texas.

Why are they so invasive?  There are several reasons.  Massive venomous spines discourage even the hungriest of predators.  The lionfish, on the other hand, are voracious hunters, swallowing prey up to 2/3 of their own body length.  Also, they make lots of little lionfish, with the females laying more than 2 million eggs a year. Finally, they can live in multiple coastal habitats, including coral reefs and mangroves, and at depths ranging from close to shore to more than 300 meters.  It is truly a perfect storm of characteristics that make them prevalent and growing more so by the day.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.  When life hands you lionfish, make…a lovely sauté with buttered greens and some crisp veggies. Some governments (such as the U.S. and Jamaica) are initiating campaigns to promote human consumption of lionfish, training fishermen how to safely catch, handle, clean and prepare them. Public education campaigns are helping to promote lionfish consumption and develop a viable market.  Many hotels and restaurants in the Caribbean have caught the wave, matching an abundant food source to the increasing requests from tourists for this unique menu item.

At the Fish House Encore restaurant in Key Largo, you can get a fried whole lionfish appetizer with the spines still intact (for added zing).  Kev’s Café in Islamorada, serves a Southwestern-style Lionfish Chowder.  For those who want more than just a small taste, the Key Largo Conch House in the Florida Keys serves a veritable feast: Lionfish Benedict, Lionfish Tacos, and special dinners such as Grilled Lionfish with Avocado Salsa or Coconut Macadamia Lionfish with Orange Glaze.

And it is not just Florida restaurants that are getting in on the trend.  At Fleet Landing Restaurant in Charleston, S.C., the chef has served lionfish for special events both potato-encrusted then pan-fried and flash-fried with lemon-ginger sauce.  El Fogon De La Curva in Rincon, Puerto Rico consistently has grilled fresh lionfish on the menu. Flash fried fillets flavored with chili, fennel and mustard seed are a popular menu item at Michael’s restaurant on Grand Cayman.  There is even the Lionfish Cookbook, a colorful celebration of the many ways to cook this scourge, produced by Reef.org.

Now the question is simple: can our consumption keep up with the exploding population of lionfish?  Really, just how hungry are we?

Danger lurks in feathered form...

Danger lurks in feathered form...

There’s one on every dive boat.  You know the guy, the one with so much scuba gear that he clangs when he walks.  His gear is so heavy that the boat lists to the side he chooses to place his dive bag.  Underwater, he uses his computer to calculate depth, air, speed, moon phase and the heart rate of a passing tuna.  It’s Scuba Gear Guy, guaranteed to have all of the latest dive toys and gadgets.

I myself am more partial to paired down diving, opting for the basics and relying on the sea life to provide the entertainment.  But, I’d be lying if I said all of those gadgets aren’t cool.  In fact, I’m amazed at the array of products gear companies have come up with to cater to a diver’s every need and interest.  Some seem pretty handy.  Some seem like a great subject for a humorous scuba diving blog post.  Here are some of my favorites that I have recently come across.

Mares Cyrano 1100 44″ Speargun – What’s better than a spear gun?  A gigantic spear gun.  If you suffer from spear gun size envy, this is the product for you.  Now you can shoot even the largest of majestic underwater creatures with a simple pull of the trigger.  Warning: shoot to kill, or be prepared to be dragged underwater by your enormous prey to the next continent.  Product can be converted to a water skiing rig if used on the surface (tow bar and bathing suit trunk replacements not included).

Sub-Duck Underwater Signaling DeviceNo sound in nature signals danger more than the quack of a duck.  This underwater horn uses “tiny pulses of air to rapidly vibrate a steel disk” resulting in a “quacking” sound your dive buddy just can’t ignore.  The sales website helpfully suggests “you and your buddy can even set up simple codes for additional communications throughout your dives,” a scenario that when executed correctly will closely resemble a Donald Duck cartoon.  This product also can be heard on the surface up to 0.5 miles away, though side effects include flocks of overeager mallards attempting to hump a diver’s leg after use.

Slurp Gun Extra LargeI swear this came from a dive equipment website and not an adult toy catalog.  The description said “great for capturing lobster and certain kinds of fish,” though even with a great deal of imagination I just can’t seem to figure out how one would apply this product to these tasks.  I am open to suggestions.  Perhaps if they sold it in an adult catalog its use would become more apparent.

Innovative Scuba Laser StickCuriously, when this product was listed in the diving catalog as “Battery Operated Flashlight” it saw limited sales.  It glows green, blue or red, the last of which makes the entire product disappear below 15 feet when the red wavelengths disappear (maybe that’s the innovative part).  Comes in a flashing model that prolongs the battery life, enabling you to do the Hustle for 20 hours underwater (disco ball not included).

The Shark Shield – “The Shark Shield incorporates two electrodes, which project the field from the unit and thus create an invisible protective shield that surrounds the user…” Sort of like one of those canine electric fences, but for sea life. Order in the next ten minutes and we’ll include a free can of Turtle Repellent. One question: if it is invisible, how do you know its working?

Lobster Inn w/Zipper“The most popular collection bag for lobstering.” Lobsters check in, but they can’t check out. When you are ready to eat, just unzip and boil. Comes in your choice of 3 colors, none of which you can see underwater.

Jumbo Instructor/Divemaster Slate  - At 8″ x 11″, this product is perfect for writing an entire novel while underwater or carrying on a lengthy conversation on existentialism with a dive buddy.  Where do you store it during the dive when you aren’t using it?  “Um…Bob…is that a ream of copier paper in your wetsuit?”  People who bought this product should have also bought the Guide to Underwater Hand Signals.

wallThat feeling of flying off the edge of a cliff, the dark blue ocean opening up under you, can only mean one thing in the scuba world: wall diving.  In the Caribbean in particular, wall diving offers a combination of the most dramatic vertical wall terrains, colorful coral and sponge composites, and flourishing habitats of both small tropical reef fish and larger pelagic fish. Though the majority of the Caribbean diving sites have evolved around more shallow reefs and banks, if you select your site carefully you can be rewarded with an amazing wall dive experience.  Though it was hard to narrow down our list, here are some of our favorites:

Half Moon Caye Wall, Lighthouse Reef, Belize – Half Moon Wall is an exceptional dive site now included in the newly erected Half Moon Caye National Monument on Lighthouse. With almost no current and typical 100ft+ visibility, this is a site you can enjoy for days on end.   Large and small marine life abounds on the Half Moon Wall reefs. If you want to see garden eels, conch, rays, flounder, star-eye hermit crabs and tilefish, check out the sand flats behind the reefs rimming the wall. Rays and a variety of reef fish forage in this area regularly, too. On the reef, groupers and yellowtail snappers hide out beneath the coral hanging over the reef canyons, while arrow crabs, redbanded coral shrimp and juvenile spotted drums hide in the lavish stands of staghorn coral. Razorfish and toadfish are another common sight on the reef, adjacent to the sloping sand flat. Large pelagics frequent the reef wall. Spotted eagle rays and turtles are most common, but occasionally sharks and large black groupers visit the area.

Bloody Bay Wall, Little Cayman– Along the western half of Little Cayman’s 10-mile-long  north shore, Bloody Bay is protected not only from fishing and anchoring, but from the prevailing winds.  Surface conditions are typically calm with little or no current. At its shallowest point in Bloody Bay, the wall drop-off begins at a depth of 18 feet and descends to the great beyond.  As vertical as the side of a skyscraper, the only breaks in its facade are narrow, irregular cuts running toward shore. High visibility and great sunlight filtering make for great photo shoots here. Underwater visibility averages 100 feet or more.  Sharks, turtles and several types of rays are commonly found here.   Plenty of smaller fish call the site home as well: horse-eye jacks, parrotfish, triggerfish and many other small tropicals.

West Wall, Grand Cayman – Grand Cayman’s West Wall offers amazing canyon-ways and swim-throughs along with the best consistency and overall variety for both novice and beginner wall divers.  The wall is riddled with tunnels, crevices and passageways and features intricate swim throughs, chutes, caverns and topography.  Divers frequently see spotted eagle rays turtles and (occasionally) sharks.  Black coral can be found near depths of 100ft, usually under outcrop pings or inside tunnels. Large orange elephant ear sponges adorn many walls near depths of 70-130 feet.

 

Green Outhouse Wall, Roatan- Honduras– A lovely canyon dive with a fascinating maze-like interior wall covered in brain coral, sea fans and gorgonians. A 30ft deep trench beneath the mooring line twists and turns through the reef crest, carving dynamic swim thrus under towering coral heads. Schools of blue tangs and sergeant majors scour this maze for algae while resident lobsters and king crabs watch from the shadows. Plenty of angel fish, big scrawled filefish, durgeons, whitespotted filefish, smooth trunkfish, barracuda and stingrays cruise throughout the site. Close inspection of the rocky floor will reveal camouflaged peacock flounders and diminutive lettuce sea slugs in various brilliant colors and forms oozing their way from stone to stone.  Occasionally, even a sea turtle or spotted eagle ray appears in the vicinity.

Salt River East, St. Croix – A yawning abyss separates Salt River East wall from the West wall.  The East wall is notable for its narrow passageways that cleave the reef to the wall, providing excellent shelter for all manner of sea life.  The East Wall is unfailingly the “fishiest” dive on the North Shore of St. Croix. While horse eye jacks, hogfish, and snappers swim off the wall, the sponge and coral-encrusted slope is covered with schools of black bar soldier fish and striped grunts at 60 ft. Large angel fish, parrot fish and groupers are featured throughout the dive, with the occasional spotted eagle ray or black tip reef shark lurking off the wall. Conch, lobster and crab are also found crawling around in the nooks and crannies. 

 
Scott’s Head Pinnacle, Dominca – Crossing a flat area of coral encrusted rock formations leads to the pinnacle itself. At a depth of only 35 feet, a picturesque swim-through bisects the pinnacle, bringing you to the other side – a steep wall on the inside of the volcanic crater that falls off to more than 120 feet. The swim-through is usually full of blackbar soldierfish, grunts, gnarly rocks and lobster. The wall is dominated by deepwater sea fans, giant barrel sponges and a variety of other colorful smaller sponge types.  Turn around, and out in the blue you can see masses of black jack, bar jacks, rainbow runners, tuna, yellowtail snapper and cero, all pursuing schools of baitfish who dart back and forth in a futile attempt to escape their hunters.

Santa Rosa Wall, Cozumel– Currents surrounding the south-western part of Cozumel bring nutrients to feed the many inhabitants of the underwater reef on top of this wall, keeping it healthy and colorful.  Once over the edge of the abyss, this spot turns into a comfortable entertaining drift dive.  Sponge covered coral heads, gorgonians, azure vase sponges, orange elephant ear sponges, elkhorn coral, pillar coral and sea fans are crammed so close together on the wall it is sometimes hard to see the rock behind it all. Add to the fun some novice level (but no less breathtaking!) swim-throughs, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic dive. If that is not enough, occasionally divers come face to face with a local 20 pound grouper.

molaMola Mola

So you want to dive with a Mola Mola (a.k.a. Giant Sunfish)?  These have got to be one of the most bizarre looking fish in the sea.  They  appear as if their bodies have been somehow truncated leaving them little more than a large head equipped with long sweeping fins atop and below.  The body is less than twice as long as it is deep.  To illustrate my point, the name for them in German is schwimmender kopf, meaning “swimming head.” 

They presently hold the record for the world’s heaviest bony fish: a 10 ft long specimen found in 1995 weighed in at 4927 lbs.  Typically silvery in color with a slight opalescent sheen, Molas can exhibit strikingly changeable spotty patterns. They sport tiny little circular mouths which they use to slurp in jellyfish, their primary food source. 

Mola Mola have to be seen to be believed.  Visit these dive spots to increase your chances of seeing them in person:

  • The giant Bali Sunfish inhabit the dives sites of Bali all year round. However, the most common time of year to see the Bali Sunfish is from July until November. Two dive sites they favor are Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida.
  • At Vincente Roca at the north-eastern tip of the island of Isabela in the Galapagos, Mola Mola can be seen year round.