Caribbean: The Lesser Antilles - Insight Guides (2016)
INSIGHT: THE SPLENDORS OF THE DEEP
The dramatic seascape of the Caribbean is still a largely unexplored realm of beauty, even though generations of settlers have changed the landscape.
Tourism has set off the spirits of invention: more and more tiny submarines seating about 20 or so passengers are being launched throughout the region to give the ordinary visitor a chance of sharing the kind of underwater experience previously only available to the rapidly growing crowd of scuba divers.
The pool is open
With its warm and shallow waters, 75°F (24°C) being the average temperature, the Caribbean Sea is an ideal spot to learn to scuba dive. Hundreds of dive shops certify beginners after four or five days of theory and practice in shallow waters (PADI, NAUI courses). More advanced divers and budding marine biologists will also meet instructors to help them find the best sites and produce exquisite underwater photography.
Some of the most beautiful dive sites are located in protected marine areas. The boom in tourism - more fish to be caught, more sewage water to be disposed of, more beach pollution and reef damage from ships’ anchors - has severely endangered the fragile and highly complex reef ecosystem. The tiny island of Bonaire was the first to protect the coastal waters around the island as a marine park; others such as Saba and the British Virgin Islands followed suit. Jacques Yves Cousteau initiated a marine park on the western shore of Guadeloupe; St Eustatius protects its historic treasures below the water line, and most islands now have protected marine areas.
The rainforest of the sea - diverse and abundant multi-colored coral reef sponges filter huge quantities of sea water and are more numerous in the Caribbean than reef-building corals.
Brenda S and R Duncan Kirby/Fotoseeker
Recaptured by the sea
Off the western shores of Aruba, around 33ft (10 meters) below land, are the remnants of a tanker, the Pedernales, torpedoed during World War II. It is only one of a growing number of wrecks attracting divers close to the island. Aruba is the westernmost island of the Netherlands Antilles, offering an assortment of underwater wrecks, including planes. At 460ft (140 meters) long the Antilla, off the coast of Aruba, is the biggest wreck in the Caribbean and living proof of nature’s rapid move to integrate: corals, sponges, anemones, and other invertebrates have attached themselves to the huge hull and transformed it into a multicolored patchwork, where Spotlight parrotfish and Queen angelfish enhance the dazzling scene. Its storage room in the bow is as big as a church. There are plenty of books on each island documenting their shipwrecks and other man-made sites. Old anchors can be found around St Eustatius, and you can explore the shipwreck Proselyte in Great Bay (St Maarten) or the RMS Rhone in the Rhone Marine Park, off Tortola, or investigate a load of old cars, which tumbled from a barge off Vaersenbaai, Curaçao.