Dive Atlas Of The World: An Illustrated Reference To The Best Sites - Jack Jackson (2016)
by Jack Jackson
THE COMMONWEALTH OF DOMINICA, commonly known as Dominica, is the largest of the Windward Islands. It is 47km (29 miles) long and 28km (16 miles) at its widest, and has an area of 751 sq km (290 sq miles). It is a mountainous island with sheer cliffs on the coast and volcanic peaks inland. Dominica’s volcanic origin is visible under the sea where hot springs bubble up through the seabed.
Most diving in Dominica is on the leeward, Caribbean side of the island. The more spectacular sites are in the south. The dive sites are rarely busy and corals grow on boulders and walls rather than on coral reefs. Heavy rain is common and this in addition to river runoff can reduce visibility, but as the water is usually deep this clears quickly. The volcanic sands of Dominica are mainly dark, which gives the impression of dark, deep water, but this is not so in many areas. Also, the island is referred to as the ‘whale-watching capital of the Caribbean’.
Fish at Champagne, where volcanic geothermal activity releases gas bubbles up through the seabed.
Dominican waters are protected: the north of the island has the Cabrits Marine Reserve, the central Salisbury Marine Reserve is awaiting legislative protection, while the south of the island has the Scott’s Head Soufriere Marine Reserve. All visitors must pay a marine park fee and most dive sites have permanent moorings. The mooring of private/charter yachts is forbidden. All diving in Dominican waters is required by law to be done through a dive centre.
In Toucari Bay, Toucari Caves 1 have many arches and swim-through passages and tunnels with blackbar soldierfish, glassy sweepers and the occasional frogfish. Divers descend over two large boulders at 12m (40ft) and drop down to 27m (90ft) before returning. Spotted eagle rays and turtles have been seen here. There are bubbles rising form the seabed and fish everywhere.
Tarou Point, also known as Rodney’s Rock 2 2.9km (1.8 miles) north of Dominica’s capital Roseau, has a variety of stony corals, gorgonias, sponges, shoals of fish and small critters. With a maximum depth of 15m (50ft), it has small caves and overhangs containing spiny and slipper lobsters, crabs and moray eels. The vertical faces of the shoreline and large rocks just offshore are covered with barrel sponges and gorgonias. Sandy patches with sea grass have long spine sea urchins, sea cucumbers, stingrays and spotted snake eels. The walls are carpeted with corals and sponges providing homes to octopuses, frogfish, sea horses, sergeant majors, grunts, batfish and snappers. This site is a favourite for night dives.
To the south as many as 25 dive sites are found offshore from opposite the capital, Roseau, south to Scott’s Head on Dominica’s southwestern end. About half of these sites are in sheltered Soufriere Bay. The region also includes the Scott’s Head Soufriere Marine Reserve.
Champagne 3 is the northernmost dive site in Scott’s Head Soufriere Marine Reserve. Gas bubbles seep up through the hot sand seabed or cracks in the underlying rock. Very shallow, it can be snorkelled, with warm bubbles from the seabed it is like swimming in champagne. The bubbles are in shallow water close to the shore, so explore the reef first and finish the dive where the bubbles are. As well as fish there are a variety of sponges.
Southeast of Champagne, Dangleben’s Pinnacles 4 are underwater pinnacles most of which can be circumnavigated at 24m (80ft). From the south, divers can descend down the top of one pinnacle at 8m (25ft), then head south towards a sandy valley with jawfish, peacock flounders, sea horses and frogfish. Along with the elephant ear sponges and barrel sponges, there are green moray eels, creole wrasse, yellowtail snappers, jacks and tuna.
This site is more advanced than others in the area. The surface frequently has currents and until you get to the bottom at about 15m (50ft) there is nowhere to shelter.
The Caribbean has few true walls but L’Abym (The Deep) 5 leading to La Sorciere (The Sorceress) 6 is one; rich with sponges, black coral, gorgonias, yellowtail snappers, creole wrasse, rainbow runners, sea horses, scorpionfish, turtles and solitary barracuda. The wall drops to considerably deeper than divers should dive, as it is deeper than 30m (100ft), but it is just as interesting at 15m (50ft), with tuna, jacks, stingrays and turtles. Although it is a massive wall it is suitable for all levels of diver. The start is on a sandy, rocky shelf at 8m (25ft) and there is rarely any current.
The diving around Scott’s Head is more dramatic than in the north, with deeper dives and drop-offs common and the currents vary. Generally the water visibility is good and there are lots of shoaling fish. Scott’s Head Pinnacle 7is one of the best-known dive sites on Dominica. Crossing a flat area of coral-encrusted rock formations leads to the Pinnacle itself. At a depth of only 11m (35ft), a picturesque swim-through bisects the pinnacle, bringing you to a steep wall on the inside of the volcanic crater that falls off to more than 61m (200ft). The swim-through is usually full of blackbar soldierfish, grunts and lobsters. It is quite exposed to strong currents from the Atlantic side of the island.
A giant Caribbean barrel sponge spawning. Xestospongia muta is common on coral reefs at depths greater than 10m (33ft).
Further east around the southern end of Dominica in the Martinique Passage towards the Atlantic, exposed dive sites like The Village 8 and The Suburbs 9 are for more experienced divers on days when there is little wind. The Village consists of a series of richly covered, scattered rocks over a drop deeper than sport divers should dive on air, but it has black corals, shoals of black durgons, barracuda, turtles, stingrays, creole wrasse, angelfish, batfish, jacks, gorgonian sea fans, barrel sponges, sea horses, colourful crinoids and visiting pelagics. The Suburbs are rocks on a shelf at 15m (50ft) that experience strong water surges. There are gorgonian sea fans and large barrel sponges and the same plentiful marine life as The Village.
Pounding surf on the windward side of Aruba has cut eight natural bridges in the limestone. Andicuri Bridge, 8m (25ft) high and 30m (100ft) long, is the largest.
Curaçao is the largest of the ABC islands, with the most varied diving. Santa Martha Bay has sheltered anchorage.