Local Intelligence: The Dives 2

PRO DIVER

Local Intelligence –
Part 2

Pro divers from around the world to step up and tell us about their favourite neighbourhood dive-sites. And when you’ve shared these divers’ passions, you’ll really want to go diving…

Appeared in DIVER March 2020

My favourite dive-site lies on the north-western side of the house reef of Amilla Fushi, in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Baa Atoll. The hole starts at the edge of the top reef at around 6m, with an entrance/exit at 12m and another exit at the bottom at around 22m.

It’s a hole but not an enclosed one – which means that cave-diving specialities are not required to dive this site. You could describe it as more of an underwater chimney.

Blue Hole is great for divers of all levels. There is a huge range of marine life to be seen both around the hole itself and along the reef.

On very rare occasions, you might even be lucky enough to see a guitar or leopard shark.

At certain times of year the hole is filled with hundreds of glassfish, and you can often find lobsters and nurse sharks hiding in the crevices, as well as inquisitive hawksbill turtles swimming by. There is also the occasional green turtle, although these are less common.

During the manta season from June to November we have seen manta rays passing by, either along the top of the reef or from the drop-off into the blue.

Looking under coral blocks or ledges you can find lionfish, octopuses and a variety of moray eels among other marine life.

Along the top reef, you’ll see schools of blue-striped snapper, bannerfish, triggerfish, parrotfish, oriental sweetlips and blacktip reef sharks, to name a few.

With the top of the site so shallow, we also enjoy snorkelling or freediving there. Sometimes huge schools of bannerfish cover the reef and the entrance to the hole.

With each dive, whether on scuba or freediving, I’ve found something new to discover. Whether I’m creating videos or photos for our social-media channels or guiding divers, it’s always an exciting site to visit – and you never know how lucky your day might be!

● dive-butler.com

Visible from the surface on most days, a descent onto this shallow shipwreck provides an exciting adventure for divers at all levels. An inter-island cargo barge sitting fully between the shelving coral reefs of Grand Anse Bay, this 30m vessel provides the comfort of a beginner-level wreck dive with its maximum depth of 16m, yet all the while exhibiting the coral growth and marine life of the most advanced wreck dives on Grenada.

With orange cup corals, sponges and hydroids covering the wreck’s surface a variety of marine life thrives – blennies, fireworms, basket seastars, moray eels, octopuses, coral crabs and lobsters to name a few. This is the advantage of resting in a coral bed, and divers can also explore the surrounding reef to glimpse nurse sharks, rays, seahorses and the occasional frogfish.

Shoals of chromis and creole wrasse surround Veronica L as divers navigate the coral growth.

With barjack, trevallies and yellowtail snapper hunting as well, the action on this wreck can be immense; a spectacle for any avid diver. It makes for a particularly impressive night-dive, with the cup corals extended in all their vibrant orange and yellow glory.

To add to the character of the wreck, along the mid-section sits a welded crane that houses a giant green moray eel at its base.

With its open hull, wheelhouse and an engine-room that’s intact and visible, a dive on the Veronica L is a delight for all visiting divers.

● ecodivegrenada.com

When I was a kid, my dream was to dive with all the different fish in the seas around the world. At Tufi Resort, my dream has come true.

The guests and team are gearing up to visit my favourite dive-site, Stewards, a reef that blows your mind with its amazing colours.

Set against the dark blue at depth to the light blue at the top, we take a journey through the spectrum among a rich variety of fish and corals, not forgetting all those special sea-slugs and other critters.

Expect the unexpected from the moment you release the air from your BC, and the world of Stewards welcomes you with open arms.

In front of us, a little blue-ringed octopus tries to hide itself.

Some metres ahead, the next stop is always with the beloved clownfish in their anemone. The nudibranch colours are spectacular, little visions in pink, blue, yellow…

The corals are huge and healthy – I have never seen such beauties elsewhere.

And all the little things are taking the opportunity to use this coral garden as their home, including the very cute pygmy seahorse, shrimps and featherstars.

The funny thing is that, as at all Tufi’s reefs, you look down the wall to left and right and there are all the big fish – barracuda, lionfish and more or less all the sharks you might wish to see, including our favourite albino hammerhead.

After a fantastic dive and on our way back to Tufi Resort, a school of dolphins has fun with the boat.

My words to describe this great location? Breathtaking, stunning, spectacular… fantastic.

tufiresort.com

Just a 10-minute boat journey from Paphos Harbour in the south of Cyprus lies the Vera-K, a Lebanese freighter that beached on shallow ground in 1972.

This wreckage was then used for target practice by the Cypriot military until 1974, when it was deemed dangerous to passing vessels. The local authorities decided to blow it up, and it’s now settled inside a crater in the reef. All this means that it’s not unusual to find old ammunition lying amid the debris.

After anchoring onto the top of the reef, we begin our steady descent into the crater, where you can often see green turtles grazing in the seagrass meadows.

With a maximum depth of 12m, there’s plenty of time to enjoy this picturesque underwater world.

We begin the dive by following the crater wall to the westernmost point of the dive-site, to find a large swim-through full of colourful algae, natural light and large grouper that have made their home there.

Continuing around the crater, breaks in the reef open up small gullies and overhangs, perfect for divers to explore before reaching the main attraction.

The Vera-K is in four main pieces: bow, stern, bridge and engine, all scattered over the seabed. The bridge is still intact, though slightly too narrow to penetrate, but it’s great for peering into, looking for hidden marine life such as cardinalfish and lionfish.

Although the bow and stern sections are still identifiable, they took the biggest hit in the explosion and now offer refuge to juvenile fish during tougher weather.

A highlight of this dive is the engine, sitting in the middle of the crater and perfectly intact and connected to the transmitter. It’s a photographer’s paradise.

The combination of natural beauty alongside a wreck with history make this one of my favourite sites around the island.

● cydive.com

Take a few steps from Atmosphere Resorts & Spa and you’ll enter one of the largest marine sanctuaries in Dauin. Our house reef is more than just a standard shore dive; it’s home to a huge diversity of marine life, and there’s plenty to hold your attention over multiple dives.

Green turtles munch on seagrass as you make your way through the shallows, while trevally and emperors scour the reef in packs searching for their next meal.

Head north to encounter blue tangs cruising among the corals and schooling barracuda hanging in the blue. Head south and see blue-spotted stingrays and inquisitive turtle-headed sea-snakes hunting over the reef.

For macro lovers, hairy shrimp, ghost pipefish, frogfish, mantis shrimp and nudibranchs can be found while, if you’re really lucky, grape-sized flamboyant cuttlefish eggs can be seen developing right before your eyes.

Dive a little deeper and you’ll come across three shipping containers, sunk in 2011. These artificial structures have proved popular with batfish, nudibranchs, scorpionfish and juvenile sweetlips.

Back on the reef, the critter-hunt continues with jawfish mouth-brooding their eggs and broadclub cuttlefish buried in the sand. Finish up in the shallows, where colourful anthias and damselfish twinkle in the sunlight and garden eels, schools of razorfish and sea moths are scattered over the seagrass beds.

Wait a few hours and another rare critter can be encountered. As the sun sets behind the palm trees, technicoloured mandarinfish begin their complex, but brief, mating rituals. Be patient and you won’t be disappointed by these small but beautiful fish.

Once darkness sets in, life on the reef changes again. Many fish find a safe crevice and settle in for the night, but others are only just beginning to stir.

If you’re lucky, bobtail squid and the elusive blue-ringed octopus can be seen exploring the reef, manoeuvring around colonies of fluorescing corals.

Whichever time of day you drop under the waves, this house reef will have you coming up smiling.

● atmosphereresorts.com

A short boat-ride from the dive-centre takes us to the corner of a bay typical of northern Bali. We descend along a small reef that continues into a sandy slope and follow its course, keeping an eye out for inquisitive garden eels.

Before we actually see the main reef, the clouds of schooling fish give its location away.

Descending along its edge, we’re greeted by beautiful corals, schooling snapper, blue-spotted sting rays by the dozen and the occasional tuna whizzing by.

Looking more closely at the reef we find nudibranchs, scorpionfish hiding, frogfish, leaf-fish and ghost pipefish. Often we find a turtle munching away or just sleeping wedged between coral blocks.

Making our way shallower on the other side of the V-shaped reef, we cross a sandy patch to a smaller reef alongside the main one. It is characterised by big barrel sponges growing right in its centre.

Moray eels seem to love living in the shadow of these massive structures, and lionfish regard the ridges of the sponges as prime real estate.

Leaving the reef, the seabed composition changes from sand to stones. Anyone who has been on muck dives will realise that critters love hanging out here, and taking time to look at this seemingly empty rubble slope, you start to notice things moving.

The whole bottom seems to be scattered with the most colourful nudibranchs, special types of shrimps, mimic octopus and the occasional fingernail-sized baby frogfish hiding in plain sight.

The depth here is 4-7m, so it makes the perfect place for your safety stop and the end of a beautiful dive.

wernerlau.org

All the dive-sites here in the Lhaviyani Atoll are beautiful. With the right current they can become amazing and leave you with lifelong memories of underwater islands, walls, outer-reef drop-offs and corners full of sharks and rays, but one that stands out for me is Kuredu Island Resort’s house reef.

This long reef can be accessed by shore or boat, and stretches between two shark-filled channels on the inside of the island known as the biggest turtle sanctuary in the Maldives. It’s perfect for beginners, optimal for courses, and thrilling even for the most fastidious diver.

You’re immediately immersed in a fish soup of vibrant colours and movement. The top of the reef is covered with sand, which makes the sun reflect and light up the site with a spectacular gradient of blue hues.

The first attraction is a shipwreck, placed by Prodivers as an artificial reef.

Covered in both hard and soft corals, it invites you to take a closer look into the cargo holds and the bridge for frogfish, nudis, ghost pipefish and the signature 2m-long moray eel getting cleaned behind one of the doors to the bow.

As you move along the reef, you see turtles swimming, sometimes “too” close, seeking out spots to get cleaned or to scratch their shells.

Looking into the blue, you might well see squadrons of eagle rays hovering within arm’s length.

The fortunate few might even find themselves in the presence of the majestic ornate eagle ray, as it passes the reef for a bite to eat on the sandy bottom.

And the end of the dive in the nearby channel might provide grey reef sharks cruising in the current, waiting for brave cleaning wrasse to swim into their mouths and “brush their teeth”.

prodivers.com

Last check: fins on, wetsuit zipped up, all pinch-buckles closed, dive computer set to 30% nitrox, gas on, tank and pony full, weights are in my pocket and mask is defogged. All the guests are in their equipment and checked.

I have two couples, one from the USA, the other from the UK. One couple are fiddling with their GoPro, making last-minute setting adjustments, while the others are nervously waiting for the boat to stop. All are experienced divers; we never take anyone to Bianca C unless we have vetted them first.

Easy step off the dive platform, negative entry and they can use my flagline as a reference on the way down. Gotta get to the wreck fast in case there is an unexpected current lower down. One last glance to the top to make sure everyone is following. Sometimes the swim down feels endless, but you always know you hit the right spot when the enormous shadow engulfs you.

At the stern, the usual shy reef shark welcomes me before the other divers arrive. Only the early birds will get a glimpse of him. Now I can focus on the sheer size of the hulk of metal. It’s always an eerie feeling when you’re by yourself.

One hundred and eighty metres to cover in less than 20 minutes. The divers arrive beside me at 35m and we start swimming towards the bow. First, of course, we have a dip in the pool – “the deepest pool dive you’ll ever take” as I joked in the briefing – 40m to the bottom.

I can see the large school of horseye jack shimmering in the distance. I slow the group and signal to breathe slowly, so we don’t scare them off. Always an amazing sight.

Someone is banging a tank – must be the other group on the reef, shallower but parallel to the wreck. It makes me turn, and there they are, six majestic eagle rays dancing alongside the wreck.

I signal the divers to turn around. We drift with the gentle current as the rays slowly fly by.

Approaching the bow, we’re now at 30m. I signal everyone to check their gauges. If everyone has over 100 bar, we can head to Whibbles Reef. Everyone is OK. Slight eastern turn until we are greeted by black gorgonians and schools of fish.

Another 20 minutes drifting over this beautiful reef and we head for our safety stop and back to the surface.

aquanautsgrenada.com

Look out for 16 more great dive-pro favourites in the August issue of DIVER

By |2020-06-09T09:38:15+01:00June 8th, 2020|Travel, Travel Features|0 Comments