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The definitive guide to living and working in the Cayman Islands
Oct 31, 2014 

Scuba Diving in Cayman

Last updated: 29th August 2013



As residents of the Islands, we are well aware that the Cayman Islands are world renowned for their incredible scuba diving and snorkelling. Underwater visibility is second to none, there are virtually no currents and the seas are warm and calm. There are amazing wall dives and beautiful coral reefs to discover, all of which are teeming with tropical fish. If you are 'dive-curious' there are a host of dive operators that can teach you how to dive, improve your skills, take you snorkelling with friendly stingrays and even turn your passion into a career. Indeed, the Cayman Islands offer a wealth of opportunities for anyone interested in getting in, under or on the water at every skill level.

Diving Areas
East End
Dramatic coral and wall diving. Reef sharks, nurse sharks and even hammerheads can occasionally be seen.

George Town
Coral, caves and tunnels at Eden Rock and a mermaid at Sunset House, just south of George Town. Look out for the huge tarpon! Also, there are various wrecks in the area.

North Wall
Lots of dive sites on 'The Wall'. Only accessible by boat. Expect to see incredible coral wall formations and occasionally eagle rays, nurse sharks, moray eels and all sorts of other underwater wonders. Inside the reef is the world famous Stingray City, where you can interact with multiple stingrays in 20ft of water.

West Bay
Great shore dives from Lighthouse Point, Cobalt Coast and the Cracked Conch. You can access 'The Wall' via boat trips or underwater scooters, or the mini-wall from the shore.

Seven Mile Beach
Shallow dives of 50-60ft, all accessible by boat.

Sister Islands
Fabulous unspoiled diving for all levels of dive ability, from shallow reefs and breathtaking walls to some incredible wrecks. In Little Cayman, the Bloody Bay Marine Park, with its untouched and beautiful walls, is a must. In the Brac the Capt Keith Tibbetts wreck is popular.

Wreck Diving
Wreck diving in the Cayman Islands is becoming increasingly popular as it provides a dramatic diving experience, as well as attracting thousands of species of fish. There are a number of spectacular wrecks situated around the Cayman Islands and as more marine life inhabits these sites, the better they get. It's fair to say that the following dive sites should be at the top of any divers' list.

The Kittiwake
The 251ft decommissioned military ship, the ex-USS Kittiwake, is the most popular dive site in Grand Cayman. She received a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2013 and is consistently rated one of the top 10 wreck dive sites in the world. The ship rests on a sandy patch in 64ft of water off the northern end of Seven Mile Beach. The bridge and smoke stack lie less than 15ft from the surface making it ideal for snorkellers and divers. The Kittiwake is situated in a marine park that is protected under Cayman law, which means that nothing can be touched or removed, no gloves can be worn and no fishing is allowed on the wreck site (other than lionfish culling).

There is a marine park entry fee to snorkel or dive the site and all vessels, commercial or private, are required to be licensed. Dive visitors are given a medallion to wear to show that their entry fee has been paid and snorkellers receive a wristband. Private vessels can also be licensed to visit the site. For safety reasons, it is not advisable to swim to the Kittiwake. There is a significant amount of boat and jet ski traffic that travel at high speeds and they struggle to see swimmers in the water. If you would like to dive or snorkel the Kittiwake, you can contact the Cayman Island Tourism Association (CITA) or a dive company to arrange a trip. The fees are CI$8 per day to dive and CI$4 per day to snorkel. You can also get an annual pass for CI$25 or a lifetime pass for CI$400. Visit www.kittiwakecayman.com for more information.

Cali
Less than 40 yards off-shore of George Town and only 20-30ft deep, the wreck of the Cali is an easy and enjoyable dive for beginners. The 220ft steel schooner, which rests in pieces on the sea floor, is easily accessible from the shore and you can swim out to it in under a minute.

Balboa
Situated among small surrounding reefs, the wreckage of this 375ft freighter is home to a large variety of fish and coral. It lies approximately 150ft off the west coast of the Island at a depth of only 40-50ft. You can explore the ship's stern section and swim over the large three-bladed propellers. The wreck is situated around the cruise ship docking area and so is only accessible by boat. It is recommended you use a diving company for this dive, who will get you there and back safely .

Oro Verde
This 84ft steel cargo vessel is a popular choice among wreck divers. It can be found 40-50ft below the surface and about 100ft off Seven Mile Beach, so it is not suitable for a shore dive. The amount of marine life available for viewing is spectacular considering how shallow the wreck is. Unfortunately the ship has collapsed somewhat due to the elements, but the real stars of this wreck are the animals that make it their home, like the massive jewfish that has come to be known as George, the moray eel named Kermit and Puff the barracuda.

Carrie Lee
For those who are Trimix certified, the Carrie Lee is recommended as a more challenging and technical dive. The 185ft freighter is completely intact and rests at a depth of 180-260 ft off the south-west coast. The wreck is teeming with numerous types of wildlife and provides a great diving experience. However, divers should take caution against the strong currents that surround this wreck and keep an eye on their gas. It's best to use a dive company for this dive .

Doc Polson
150 yards off Seven Mile Beach, just past Cemetery Reef, lies the Doc Polson wreck. Though the 100ft cable layer sank back in 1982, it is still 80% intact and is populated with diverse marine life, making it one of the most popular dive sites in Cayman. It is recommended to use a boat to get to the site, as there is some boating traffic around the area. Even if you do use a boat it is still a good idea to remember a flag float of some sort on the surface to indicate to other boats that you are there.

Keith Tibbetts, Cayman Brac
This 330ft Russian brigadier was sunk in 1996 with the intention of creating an artificial reef. It's home to thousands of fish, turtles and grunts. Lying about 200 yards off shore and 56ft underwater, it is the only Russian warship in the Western Hemisphere available for scuba diving. In 2004, a storm broke the ship in two and her bow now sits at a 45 degree angle. Although her midships have become a debris field she is still a very popular dive site. The drop off to the wall is a mere 100ft away from the wreck and extends down thousands of feet giving divers the option of exploring the wall or staying close to the wreck.

Dive 365
Dive 365 is an exciting and unique programme that has developed a total of 365 separate dive sites around the Cayman Islands, giving divers a unique dive site for every day of the year. As well as enabling divers to explore the magnificent underwater world, the programme also allows certain sites to be rested. The diversity of sites offers dive options for all skill levels. Divers can explore 234 dive sites in Grand Cayman, 65 in Cayman Brac and 66 in Little Cayman. For more information call the CITA on (345) 949 8522 or email: info@cita.ky.
 
Lionfish
Although no one knows exactly how these predators arrived in the Atlantic, it is generally thought they were released by accident into the marine environment. These fish have venomous spines, no natural predators in the Caribbean and now pose a serious threat to our coral reefs. They are voracious predators that devour juvenile fish and crustaceans in large quantities, as well as competing with native species for space and other food. This, coupled with the fact that they can reach reproductive maturity at less than one-year old and can then lay 30,000 eggs every four days, makes them a major problem in Cayman waters. The Department of Environment (DOE) encourages licensed divers (and fishermen) to catch lionfish and remove them from the sea. They run a 90 minute course and will then issue you with a licence to safely remove lionfish from the reef. Alternatively, courses can be taken with your local dive operator. For more detailed information call the DOE on (345) 949 8469 or (345) 916 4271 or email: doe@gov.ky.

A surprising fact about Lionfish is that they are absolutely delicious. As a white fish they are very mild and flaky when cooked. If you don't want to catch them yourself, they regularly appear on the menu at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Camana Bay. This is one reef fish we can eat with a clean conscience!


Learning to Dive
Learning to dive is essential for many new arrivals to the Island. Popular training agencies for diver education and certification are PADI, NAUI, SDI and SSI, offered by a variety of dive operators in Cayman. Prior to committing to a full certification programme, many people test the waters, so to speak, by taking a Resort Course first. This 'mini-course' consists of a short theory session where you'll learn the simple do's and don'ts of diving, get an introduction to the equipment and be given an explanation of some very basic skills. You will then get to dive in a swimming pool to become acclimatised to being underwater before finally taking a real ocean dive with your instructor. This programme normally takes about four hours and is a great way to see if diving is for you.
While the Resort Course is a fantastic introduction, it does have limitations - you have to go with an instructor, you are limited to a shallow depth and you can only dive again with the dive shop that completed your course. If you want to go further, the next step is to complete the Open Water Certification course.

Adult Open Water Courses
The Open Water Course is often completed in as little as three days and is the licence you need to dive. Many people choose E-Learning and do the class work at home on their computer. This option gets you in the ocean quicker and out of the classroom on your days off! Completion of this training is the minimum qualification required to rent equipment, go on excursions and basically get you in and out of the water safely. Many dive operators on the Island offer flexible learning options designed to suit your schedule.

Dive Courses for Children

The Open Water Course is also open to those aged 10 and up, with children under 15 able to become certified as Junior Open Water divers. Options even exist for you to be taught at home in your own pool.

For little ones, there are lots of educational and fun water-based scuba/snorkel activities to participate in while parents are out diving. Programmes include SASY (from age five), Rangers or Seals (from age eight), Junior Open Water Diver (from age 10) and of course, guided diving excursions to the shallow reefs, Stingray City and the Kittiwake. Programmes range from pool sessions to ocean adventures, with kids learning about marine life, fish identification, coral reefs, underwater photography or even cruising on an underwater scooter.

Certified Divers
Once you are certified there are endless opportunities to go diving. Shore diving is a very popular and convenient weekend pursuit. Sunset House, Don Fosters and Divetech are some of the oldest dive resorts on the Island and all boast great shore diving. You can also ask for discounted rates for residents. 

As a certified diver you can also go on boat excursions. This is the best way to discover the walls of Cayman. For many, the main reason to dive in Cayman is to explore the most amazing walls and drop-offs surrounding the Island. You will soon have your own favourite sites and your conversations will turn to North West Point, Tarpon Alley, Great House Wall, Orange Canyon and other coral covered swim-throughs, where you'll cruise alongside eagle rays, horse-eyed jacks and hawksbill turtles. The only disappointment will be the realisation that you should have learned to dive years ago!

Dive Trips
Before long, you will be taking two-tank (two dive) trips to explore the renowned beauty of the West Wall, which runs parallel to Seven Mile Beach, the breath-taking North Wall and East End, where the scenery is some of the most dramatic and encounters with large fish are frequent. Generally, dive boats will leave early and get you home for lunch. The first dive will probably be one of the wall dives you have heard so much about. Experienced divers will have the opportunity to explore with their dive buddy, while novices often choose to be guided. The best thing about guided dives is the instructors know where they are going and will show you the best any particular site has to offer. After a short surface interval, you will be on a second dive on one of Cayman's shallow reefs or wrecks. Exploring the nooks and crannies of the reef will enable you to see a host of amazing creatures including lobsters, eels, soft coral, sea anemones and more. The colours will amaze you and are more vibrant due to the increased level of light in shallower water.

Sunset House operates just south of George Town and provides great shore diving as well as boat dives. Divetech is located both at Cobalt Coast (northwest Cayman) and also at Lighthouse Point, located in West Bay. Diving the North wall, they also offer great shore and boat dives to the walls and have extremely experienced staff offering a number of courses, including advanced/technical programmes and Rebreathers. Divetech's mini-wall is a must see! Finally, you should also head out to visit Ocean Frontiers in East End to experience some dramatic wall dives with bigger fish. (Editor's Note: I saw a nurse shark, reef shark and a hammerhead in a single dive there!)

Once you have caught the dive bug, head over to the Sister Islands for a few days of relaxing into the slower pace of life and diving some of Cayman's pristine dive sites - all only a 30-minute flight away. You will not be disappointed with Bloody Bay Wall in Little Cayman, with its beautiful drop-offs, corals and marine life. Finally, Cayman Brac is famous for the Wreck of Captain Keith Tibbetts, an interesting and very popular dive site.

Advanced Diving
Advanced Dive Courses
You may want to complete further courses to build on your experience. The Advanced course is next and introduces you to deep diving, night diving and navigation. There is very little classroom study and the majority of the course is completed in the water. Various advanced courses include: underwater photography/videography classes, search and recovery, stingray interaction, reef awareness, wreck diving, scooters, buoyancy, technical applications and the extremely popular Enriched Air (Nitrox) course.

Technical Diving
If you are truly adventurous, you can learn to use Rebreathers, (devices originally designed by the military that emit no bubbles or noise) mixed gases and techniques for extended-range diving. While Divetech is by no means a purely technical operation, as owner Nancy will tell you, they can offer all the deep diving equipment and advice you need. It helps that Nancy is one of the world's most technically experienced female divers. Rebreathers have progressed a long way over the past decade and many options exist for recreational divers looking for longer bottom times.

Technical dives, by definition, are: dives conducted beyond the 130ft depth limit for recreational diving; dives requiring a decompression stop; dives beyond the light zone or dives into an overhead environment. Obviously this type of advanced, extended-range diving is not for everyone and requires a commitment to safe, responsible, self-disciplined diving. Technical diving is a challenging recreational sport, and like skiing a black diamond run or climbing Mount Everest, diving at this level cannot be accomplished overnight. It takes a love of the sport, a lot of training and practice and an adventurous spirit to get you there.
Courses in Nitrox, Advanced Nitrox, Normoxic, Trimix and Advanced Trimix enable divers to safely explore greater depths. Nitrox diving is open to anyone and is basically diving with 32% oxygen (regular air has 21% oxygen). This allows divers to dive to the same depths as normal scuba divers, but for a longer time before reaching decompression limits. Nitrox has the added bonus of making one feel less tired after a dive. A Nitrox course costs CI$125 and one tank of Nitrox will only cost about CI$5 more than a regular tank of air. If you like diving between 100 - 150ft, Advanced Nitrox enables you to stay safely at these depths for about 45 minutes instead of the usual 10-20 minutes. Basically, you dive with double tanks or a Rebreather, including a side mounted deco bottle, and have to learn the fundamentals of decompression diving.

Normoxic Trimix takes divers to the 200ft range, reducing oxygen content to about 18% and adding some helium to buffer the effects of narcosis. For those wishing to go deeper (330ft+), Advanced Trimix and Expedition courses are also offered through Divetech.

Rebreather diving (Closed Circuit Rebreathers, or CCR) is another form of diving that has become very popular in the last decade. CCR equipment allows you to massively extend your dive time. You could spend three hours at 100 feet! The advantage of using a rebreather is that there are no bubbles, so you get up close and personal with the marine life; the air you breathe is warmer and more moist, so you stay warmer and your dive is more comfortable and of course, you get extended bottom times with limited decompression issues. Rebreather diving courses are now more accessible to the recreational marketplace, with three-day courses for about CI$400, excluding equipment hire.

At some point, you may wish to turn your passion for the undersea world into a career. Becoming a dive master is the first step. This training develops your skills to a professional level. You work alongside full-time instructors working with real students. Best of all, at this level you can get paid too!

Local Dive Operators
Deep Blue Divers
Tel: (345) 916 1293
Website: www.deepbluediverscayman.com

Divetech at Cobalt Coast Dive Resort
Tel: (345) 946 5658
Website: www.divetech.com
Offers a wide variety of diving options including shore diving, daily boat trips, Stingray City, the Kittiwake and black light night dives. There is also a full range of training available including diving for children, Rebreathers and technical diving. Dive only or dive and room packages are available.

Divetech at Lighthouse Point
Tel:  (345) 949 1700
Website: www.divetech.com
Experience the newest shore diving shop on the Island, on the pristine North West Point in West Bay. Shore diving is available daily 7.30am-5pm. On site you will also find a retail store, equipment to rent, plenty of training options and much more.

Living The Dream Divers
Tel: (345) 526 3483
Website: www.livingthedreamdivers.com

Ocean Frontiers, Ltd.
Compass Point, East End
Tel: (345) 947 7500
Website: www.oceanfrontiers.com
 
Neptune's Divers
Tel: (345) 945 3990
Website: www.neptunesdivers.com

Sunset Divers at Sunset House Hotel
390 South Church Street, South Sound
Tel: (345) 946 6789
Website: www.sunsethouse.com
Weekly and weekend resident courses, equipment rental, boat dives and VIP programmes (train at home).
 
Wall to Wall Diving
Tel: (345) 916 6408
Website: www.walltowalldiving.com
Offers flexible and personalised scuba diving.

Underwater Photography Lessons
Cathy Church Underwater Photo Centre
Sunset House, South Church Street
Tel: (345) 949 7415
Website: www.cathychurch.com
They offer daily private underwater photography courses in the classroom and on shore dives. Classes with Cathy Church herself are CI$102.50 per hour and CI$49 per hour if you chose to go with another member of staff. They also rent and sell a full range of underwater cameras, all with a free mini-lesson. Call for an appointment.

Snorkelling Sites
George Town
Just south of George Town you will find a mass of coral heads, caves and abundant fish life.

North Sound
Here you will find the world famous Sandbar and Stingray City, where you can feed and interact with stingrays in only three feet of water. The Coral Gardens are nearby, where you will find corals and fish in about 10ft of water. Both sites are only accessible by boat.

Seven Mile Beach
The main snorkelling area here can be found at the north end of Seven Mile Beach at Cemetery Reef, which is about 100 yards offshore, but often in less than 10ft of water.

West Bay

Down the road from the Cayman Turtle Farm is Lighthouse Point and Cobalt Coast Dive Resort, which are great sites to find elusive sea turtles.

Copyright 2014 The Resident Magazine 2014. All rights reserved.
Acorn Publishing Co, PO Box 31403, Grand Cayman KY1-1206, Cayman Islands,
Tel: (345) 946 3200 Fax: (345) 946 2830 Email: info@acorn.ky
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