Dive Atlas Of The World: An Illustrated Reference To The Best Sites - Jack Jackson (2016)
by Jack Jackson
BOUNDED BY THE ATLANTIC OCEAN TO THE north and the Caribbean Sea to the south, some 1609km (1000 miles) from Miami, Puerto Rico comprises an archipelago that includes the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of smaller islands and keys.
Puerto Rico is close to the deepest point in the North Atlantic Ocean - The Puerto Rico Trench. Running roughly parallel to the northern coast of the island about 121km (75 miles) to the north, the trench is about 1754 km (1090 miles) long and 197km (60 miles) wide. The deepest point in the Atlantic Ocean, the Milwaukee Depth, lies within the trench at a depth of 8380m (27,493ft), about 161km (100 miles) northwest of Puerto Rico.
Two scuba divers and an angelfish silhouetted against the sun in a coral crevice, La Parguera.
Puerto Rico has over 100 dive sites, from coral gardens for novices to deep walls for more advanced divers. The best diving is concentrated around the west-and east-coast offshore reefs and islands.
‘The Galapagos of the Caribbean’, Mona Island 1 is a nature reserve with a healthy reef and diverse marine life 66km (41 miles) west of Mayagüez in western Puerto Rico. Tourist numbers are limited, the five-hour boat journey can be rough, there are no tourist facilities and no access to the turtle-nesting beaches at night. Unless you are on a live-aboard boat, trips have to be organized as a camping excursion and a permit obtained.
The reefs here are the most pristine in Puerto Rico and underwater the visibility can be 46m (150ft). There are more than 200 species of reef fish, dolphins, whales and sharks. The most accessible reef dives are along the southern and western shores.
Walls with caves start in 6m (20ft) of water and keep on dropping into the depths. Mona Island sites are deep and the currents can be unpredictable so they are suited to more experienced divers.
Desecheo Island is much more accessible but the best side to dive, the northwest, requires calm conditions. Not as pretty as Mona Island but only 19km (12 miles) west of the beach town of Rincón, Desecheo has 24 named dive sites that are accessible on almost any day. The colourful sponge-covered reefs are swept by deep ocean currents and the marine life ranges from reef fish to pelagic hunters.
Candyland 2, which had coral mounds and lots of colour on a reef with gorgonian sea fans, lettuce corals and sponges harbouring plenty of reef fish, can be dived when the north and west side of the island are not divable. A flat-topped reef with sand patches gradually dropping to 24m (80ft), between the fans and vase sponges there are a variety of stony corals. The boulder, star, brain, flower and cup corals and patches of pillar coral harbour lots of reef fish: princess and stoplight parrotfish and longsnout butterflyfish join black durgons, shoals of grunts and yellowtail snappers hovering over the reef, while trumpetfish hang among the gorgonians waiting to snatch a passing meal.
Phosphorescence is often seen in tropical waters and in Puerto Rico it is a major tourist attraction.
Known locally as Bahía Fosforesente or Phosphorescence Bay, (Biolumines-cent Bay), millions of luminescent dinoflagellates (Pyrodinium bahamense) light up when disturbed by movement, leaving eerie blue-white trails of phosphorescence. It is best to see the phenomenon aboard an organised boat tour. At Parguera, there are two such bays, Bahía Monsio José and Bahía La Parguera. La Parguera used to claim that their Bahía Fosforescente was the best in all of Puerto Rico, but with increasing construction and pollution, the effects have been diminished. The best phosphorescence show is now on Vieques Island at Mosquito Bay on a moonless night.
La Parguera, on Puerto Rico’s southwest edge, features a long wall with a considerable number of dive sites. The wall is not continuous but runs roughly parallel to the coast from the seaside village of La Parguera to the city of Ponce and descends in slopes and drop-offs from 18-37m (60-120ft) before disappearing into the depths.
Forty-five minutes out of La Parguera, Fallen Rock 3 is one of the area’s most sought after dive sites. Thousands of years ago, a massive portion of an underwater promontory broke off and fell into the depths, carving a deep V-cut. With steep drop-offs this deep dive is for more experienced divers. The top of the reef is at 20m (65ft), but drops well past 30m (100ft). As well as grunts, schoolmaster snappers and hawkfish, there are pelagic visitors like horse-eye jacks, barracuda and spotted eagle rays.
VIEQUES AND CULEBRA ISLANDS
To the east, Puerto Rico has two smaller islands with good diving - Vieques and Culebra. The establishment of the Culebra Marine Reserve Park ensures that its dive sites are protected. By air or a one-hour boat ride from either Fajardo or Humacao, these islands, part of the Spanish Virgin Islands, also known as The Passage Islands, are popular for snorkelling and diving.
Vieques is 34km (21 miles) long and 5km (3 miles) wide and lies about 13km (8 miles) to the east of the Puerto Rican mainland. Angel Reef 4, 3km (2 miles) southwest of Esperanza, is one of several shallow dive sites with near-pristine corals and lots of reef fish including angelfish and wrasse on a spur-and-groove reef from 12-18km (40-60ft), there are also two old Spanish anchors.
Culebra, 11km (7 miles) long and 5km (3 miles) wide, is a mini-archipelago of 23 islands with beaches used by nesting turtles located 27km (17 miles) east of the Puerto Rican mainland, 15km (9 miles) north of Vieques. With no river runoff, visibility can be over 30m (100ft) and the quantity of fish seen is remarkable.
Cayo Raton 5 can lay claim to having the most fish in evidence in Puerto Rico. A semicircular reef, it begins flat and then drops down to 18m (60ft). There are lots of small to medium-size fish including queen angelfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish and horse-eye jacks.
Overlooking Dominica’s capital, Roseau.
Private yachts at anchor. Such vessels are not allowed in marine reserves.