Diving: DIVE SITES - Region 4 (Atlantic)
A detailed guide to dive sites in the North End region of Tobago
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The exposed location of this site, next to Black Rocks just north of Little Tobago Island, means that more often than not, conditions are too rough to dive. One side of the rock has an easy, gentle slope cut with fissures and cracks, while the other side is more vertical with walls encrusted in hydroids, tunicates, small cup coral and iridescent green solitary disc and plate coral. The rock attracts extensive invertebrate life, turtles, pelagics and schooling fish.
This dive is suitable for the more experienced diver. When the current is running in the right direction and not too fast, this dive can be very rewarding. Boulder brain and star corals dominate the area, of far greater size than normal as they are fed by the nutrient-rich current. Divers will only spend a little time around Sail Rock itself as it is quite small. After 10-15 minutes the dive will connect to one of several underwater rock formations and continue in whatever way the current takes you. This is a dive that requires a dive computer, because of the unpredictable route and depth.
Located off the Blue Waters Inn and facing Little Tobago, Batteaux Reef is also known as Aquarium and consists of a rocky ridge that extends from the shoreline to the Weather Rocks, which can just be seen protruding above the waves. Surge makes it difficult to dive around the ridge, but when conditions are right, it is well worth a visit. The rocky slope drops to 21m and although sparse in coral growth, there are lots of sponges. The bay is at the confluence of two different nutrient-laden currents, which encourages the fish to breed more often and explains the vast quantities of fish fry in the water all year round. Batteaux Bay was the home to the dozen or more Atlantic Mantas (Manta birostris) that used to take up residence there every winter. Their visits are less frequent now, but you still stand a chance, particularly during the early months of the year.
The MV RoundTable, an 80-foot (24m) redundant rig supply boat, was sunk in December 2003 at the bottom of a sloping reef off the headland between Batteaux Bay (Blue Waters Inn) and Speyside’s main Tyrell Bay. The wreck 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 also becomes a very popular dive spot.
This is one of the prettiest sections of Speyside reef, with acres of short yellow tube sponges and azure vase sponges complementing some very nice coral growth in 10-60ft (3-18m) of water. The name of the site comes from the sea whip corals which resemble Japanese bonsai trees. Gentle currents push you along the gently sloping reef covered with hard and soft corals, until you make a turn through Kamikaze Cut, where the current picks you up and spits you through a large crevasse cut between two huge boulders, depositing you in a lovely calm area. Surface conditions can be choppy, but the underwater conditions are perfect for all skill levels.
This reef is shallow enough for snorkelers, who will travel out from shore by glass-bottomed boat, and is always popular with divers of every level. The crest of the reef has been damaged by storms and by the small fishing boats that anchor there, but once past the lip of the fringing reef wall, the corals are in much better condition. The flat start of the reef carries on from the Japanese Gardens, but slopes steeply. The current starts out slowly but rapidly picks up speed. There are various grooves and canyons where fish hide. Tangs, sergeant majors, trumpet-fish and Spanish hogfish all call this reef home. It makes a brilliant night dive, when your light will pick up the glowing eyes of literally thousands of red night shrimps, spotted spiny lobsters and much larger Caribbean spiny lobsters.
Sheltered by Little Tobago, the Cathedral, which is also known as Flying Manta, enjoys calm seas and mild currents. Lots of lush coral and reef fish abound on a gently sloppy reef with fairly consistent mild currents. The start of the reef at 6m is an area of coral rubble dotted with small scrubby sea fans, but things improve as you descend. Lower down the corals and sponges are in good condition. The area is known as the manta’s favourite spot on their occasional visits, but the current is actually often too severe. The northern end of this reef is also known as the Flying Manta Reef.
A mild drift takes you along a prolific reef of lush coral, descending from 30-50ft (9-15m) before sloping off steeply. Swinging gorgonians, sea rods, sea whips, and sea fans clutter this dense reef area. In between the waving soft corals are all colours of sponges and many different species of hard corals. Across the plateau, sea plumes rock gently back and forth as a gentle current moves you along. The dive takes you past the largest brain coral in the Caribbean. This massive centuries-old colony is 10ft (3m) high and 16ft (5.3m) wide. The deeper end of the dive, including the massive brain coral, is also known as Coral Gardens. The Kelleston Drain is also sometimes called the Little Tobago Drift. The area to the north of the reef, wedged between Kelleston Drain and Cathedral is also known as Manta City and used to be particularly noted for the elusive manta ray. The previously-practised sport of riding on the back of the mantas (which gave rise to the local term “Tobago Taxis”) is now strongly frowned upon as it is believed to cause stress to the friendly creatures. If you are fortunate enough to see one, they will regularly keep you company for extended periods of time.
A 300-yard sloping ridge with a thick covering of finger and pencil coral, running from the southwest corner of Little Tobago to Coral Gardens. The slope is a montage of coral, sponges, and gorgonians. Flattened plate coral cascades down the reef side and big brain corals increase in numbers as you drift west. The site is named after the multitude of black jacks (deep water relative of horse eye jacks) that call the site home. Other visitors include black durgeon, southern serrat, chromis, boga, sharks, rays, green moray eels, black tip sharks, purple and gold creole wrasses, plus the occasional wahoo (unusual in reef diving). The whirlpool of currents experienced at the reef is also known to attract a family of dolphins who seem to love playing in the swirling water. Just to the south of Black Jack Hole is a group of rocks known as Do It – so named because the normally present strong currents make it difficult to make your way all the way around the rock. “Did you Do It?”
Located on the eastern wall of Little Tobago, this site is strictly for the intermediate to advanced diver because of the rough surface conditions. It can only be visited when conditions are perfect. The nearly vertical wall drops to below 40m and a rocky bottom with lots of hard corals. There is always a multitude of fish, including pelagics, nurse sharks, barracuda, black and crevalle jacks, tarpon, mackerel, moray eels, lobsters and occasional manta rays.
This short knife-edge ridge of coral-covered volcanic rock rises from the depths and barely breaks the surface south of Little Tobago. Sea surges create an area of breaking white water around this lonely group of rocks and explain why the site should only be dived when conditions are perfect. The conditions mean that the rock has little sponge or coral growth, but are covered in tunicates, hydroids and bryozoans and great for small spotted lobsters, shrimp, large anemones and hermit and arrow crab. The name of the site comes from the large shoals of fish, such as big-eye snapper, not normally seen in schools. Other regular visitors include blue head wrasse, rainbow runners, green morays and African pompanos.
Fairly stiff currents make this dive, which is also known as Grand Canyon, one of the most advanced dives in the area. The name comes from the dramatic large mountain-like formations. The reef is covered with large barrel sponges, strawberry vase sponges and tube sponges alongside many different types of coral, including pencil coral, star coral and much larger boulder star coral. The dive is just the other side of Bookends and ends at Tarpon Bowl, a shallow dish-like formation where, as the name suggests, tarpon and sharks hang out on occasion. The area is known for the large number of queen angelfish and for the patrolling tarpon, jacks, tangs, parrotfish and triggerfish that feed on the millions of small fish along the reef wall. The currents are strong and unpredictable and you shouldn’t be surprised if your bubbles go down before they start to rise.
Named after the two large rocks which rise out of the sea and resemble book ends. It is an advanced, challenging dive. If currents are too strong, or waves are high, then it should be avoided. When favourable, Bookends is one of the best. An amphitheatre like bowl shelters divers and shoals of tarpon can be seen overhead, where waves crash onto the rocks and form cloudlike white water. The reef extends towards Little Tobago and the currents provide a lazy ride passed spectacular coral gardens. Black tip sharks are frequent sightings, plus the occasional manta. But don’t be too disappointed if you miss them, there’s plenty more feast your eyes on. This is a challenging dive unless conditions are perfect. At 7m there is an interesting natural amphitheatre carved out of the rock, where sharks can often be seen. From there, the reef drops steeply, levelling out to a sandy seabed at around 25m. Look out for the strawberry vase sponges that grow on the stalks of sea plumes, amongst the large yellow tubes, brown antler and barrel sponges. Huge tarpon are regular visitors, hunting the thousands of creole wrasse and blue chromis that inhabit the open water above the reef.
Also known as South Rock, the name says it all! Nurse and blacktip sharks are frequently found around this isolated sheer-sided rock and the sweeping currents offer abundant and varied marine life. The site is seldom dived as it is restricted to the more advanced diver and is usually done as a deep dive. The rock-reef is exposed and has a tendency to be rough on the surface. The sides of the rocks drop away sharply and are covered with coral, including Gorgonian sea fans. Pay particular attention to the fire coral which merges with brightly coloured sponges. You will regularly see large tarpon, which can often be mistaken for sharks.
This shallow reef, which is also known as Spiny Colony, has it all... great corals, schooling fish (look for a large school of southern sennet lurking over the sand), big fish including tarpon, barracuda and possibly even mantas, and a very predictable current. The coral growth is sparse on the rocky ridges that extend from the trailing cactus-covered cliffs above Spiny Bay, but the ridges are covered with small sponges, hydroids and tunicates. The sandy seabed at 12m is dotted with coral heads and a good variety of sea life, including peacock flounders, spotted drums, goatfish and snake eels. Great caution is necessary because dive conditions are prone to oceanic surges and currents which are likely to push you towards the cliffs.
Massive boulders tumble down the steeply sloping wall of this site, from 15m to the seabed at 21m. Coral growth is sparse because of the surge, but the site is rich in fish life. Peacock flounders love the undulating sandy plain of the bottom and stingrays are common, as other sand-loving creatures. Beware of sea urchins which can easily penetrate a neoprene wetsuit. The site is seldom dived because of its distance from Speyside, but is well worth a visit.
Located about 30-minutes from Speyside, this site is only recommended for advanced divers as the entry and exit is generally rough due to exposure to prevailing winds and high wave action. It can be very tempting to follow the sand dunes between the reef areas and wander off into the deep blue where you meet submarine peaks rising from the sandy seabed at 45m, to around 22m. These peaks are covered with coral and sponge growth, including azure vase sponges, yellow tube sponges and antler. This site is best only attempted with a computer.