Diving: An Overview (page 2 of 2)
A detailed overview of recreational diving on Tobago
Most of Tobago’s reefs are in the depth range of 30-130 feet (9-40m) and are located just a short distance from shore… These are viewed best by snorkelling. See our Snorkelling article for location details. Apart from for basic training or familiarisation courses, there is almost no shore diving in Tobago and visitors should be a little wary of dive operations that tell them otherwise.
The vast majority of diving on Tobago is drift diving, which has major advantages. When currents are mild (0-1.5 knots), it requires little effort and divers simply go along with the ride, gliding through the underwater scenery while the current does the work. This kind of drift diving is common in Tobago. You don’t have to worry about returning to a specific point because the boat travels with you, following the divemaster’s marker. You can cover a substantial distance; often as much as two kilometres. Several sites frequently experience current of two or three knots, so demand advanced drift diving techniques.
Sea currents vary enormously, with a minimal 0-0.25 knots on the Caribbean coast and upwards of a quarter knot on the Atlantic coast. The Columbus Passage is subject to remarkably fast currents. Further north, locals in Speyside refer to one area as the African Express because of its regular four-knot current. The Guyana Current truly provides Tobago with some of the most exhilarating diving rides in the world.
Beginners have no cause for concern. Conditions and current speeds vary enormously and good divemasters will automatically determine your experience level and pick sites accordingly. If you have any reservations about the conditions or the proposed location, you should mention your concerns during the briefing.
If you’re expecting millpond conditions, you will be disappointed with Tobago. The Atlantic coast has a light chop all year round. The Caribbean coast is calm during the spring and summer, but can be choppy or rough during the winter months. Be flexible and be prepared for changes if you have previously planned a dive site itinerary with your divemaster.
It’s rare for every site to be diveable on the same day. In fact, whole sections of the coast can be inaccessible for days at a time. However, bad conditions at one site don’t automatically mean that conditions will be poor at another. The local divemasters live with these conditions year in, year out. By the time you arrive for your dive, the divemaster will have already established conditions and will almost certainly have another site in mind if the proposed location is undiveable, or if members of the party would feel more comfortable elsewhere. Don’t forget your seasickness tablets, but make sure that you buy a non-drowsy type suitable for ingestion before diving. Although most journeys are relatively short boat rides, you don’t want your day spoiled before you even get there.
Although only 10° north of the equator, the cold waters from the Atlantic do mean that ‘winter’ water temperatures of 26-30°C (79-86°F) are a shade cooler than those of many other Caribbean destinations. During these dry months (November-June), you will probably only need a 3mm shortie wetsuit. However, wet season temperatures (July-November) are much cooler at 25-28°C (77-82°F) so a full wetsuit of 3-5mm, or a 5mm semi-drysuit would be better.
You must bring a good suntan lotion or sun block. Although some dive centres have specialist boats, most use open pirogue-style boats. Some of these boats have small canopies for shade, but others offer no protection at all. The combination of salt spray, wind and the fierce tropical sun are a deadly combination and it is essential that you apply adequate protection to all exposed parts of your body (and not forgetting additional areas that might only be exposed during the journey to and from the reef). Because you will be in close proximity to the reefs, please use a biodegradable sun block (please also see our Conservation article).
You should always carry a supply of bottled water. Dehydration is one of the factors that contribute to decompression sickness. Talking of decompression, Tobago has an excellent recompression facility located within the Fire Services compound at Roxborough, who also provide local ambulance services. The Tobago Hyperbaric Facility, known locally as The Chamber, is manned 24 hours a day. Visitors will only ever be diving with local dive masters, who obviously know the exact location and procedures in the unlikely event that the chamber is needed. You may be away from shore for a long time, so go fully prepared. Check with the divemaster to see if you will be returning to shore between dives, and kit yourself out accordingly.
There is no cave diving in Tobago, but the wreck of the MV Maverick (previously named the MV Scarlet Ibis) just off Mount Irvine on the Caribbean coast is an extremely popular dive spot. This 350-foot (107m) ex-Trinidad-Tobago car ferry was intentionally sunk of Rocky Point in 1997 to create an artificial reef and dive site. It is now well-colonised with fan corals and small hard corals and a large, but friendly, Great Barracuda, not to mention countless schooling fish. The vessel sits in 100 feet (30m) of water, with the top of the wreck at 50 feet (15m).
A smaller vessel, the 80-foot (24m) rig supply boat MV RoundTable, was sunk in December 2003 at the bottom of a sloping reef just a short distance off the Blue Waters Inn in Speyside. This wreck also sits in 100 feet (30m) of water, with the deck at 60 feet (18m). It is early days, but the rich waters around Speyside do encourage extremely rapid growth and you can guarantee that it won’t be long before this wreck becomes very popular spot, too.
Finally, if you’re feeling adventurous, don’t miss out on a night dive. Remember, most of the fish species you see during the day will be asleep and a whole different night shift of species will have clocked on. The reefs themselves will look totally different under the beam of your dive light. The reef will take on an entirely new personality. If you’ve never made a night dive, then Tobago’s Kariwak Reef is about as good a place as any in the world to start.
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