Diving in the Bahamas back in 1997

In my travels across the internet to learn more about diving in the Bahamas I came across the following article that was first published back in 1997. Here is a link to the article, however, I have copied it below.

As you plunge into the depths of the vast blue ocean, you will hear the soothing sound of your own deep breathing, as you enter the solitude and peacefulness of the underworld. Awaiting you is a panorama of dazzling colours and fascinating marinelife, a tropical jungle beneath the sea.

The Bahamas is the most diverse diving destination in the world. Approximately one hour’s flight from the Florida coast, Nassau’s warm, crystal clear waters are only the beginning of a variety of spectacular dive spots scattered throughout the Bahama Islands. Nourished by the Gulf Stream current and warmed by a tropical sun, enter a fantasy world of transparent lagoons, an underwater paradise. From shallow coral reefs and shipwrecks, to blueholes and dramatic vertical walls, the medley of tropical fish and corals is breathtaking.

Ten miles east of New Providence is the world-class natural Blue Hole. This ominously dark hole in the open ocean floor, is about 100 feet across and over 200 feet deep. The edge is about 40 feet beneath the surface, and divers usually go down to about 80 feet in depth. The donut-like hole drops vertically, with the walls gradually sloping back.

Large schools of giant Southern stingrays lie quietly in the sand flats surrounding the underwater cavern, and several sharks live in the hole, and silently circle out as divers approach. The periphery of the hole features coral heads that are alive with activity, including sponges, groupers, Grey and French Angelfish, grunts, and large reef fish as an added attraction. There is also a cavity, 70 feet deep, and thirty feet within the blue hole wall, that is the home of many young spiny lobsters. Divers can swim inside amidst a stream of bubbles that float to the surface.

Barracuda Shoals, also to the east of New Providence, is one of the finest nearby diving sites. These three pristine coral reefs in a triangular formation, in thirty feet of water, host some of the most brilliant fish and coral in every shade of the rainbow. Staghorn, elk, and brain corals are abundant, along with purple and orange ferry basslets, iridescent chromus, and many other colourful fish. As shallow as five feet beneath the water’s surface, it is a delightful example of a vibrantly healthy Bahamian reef, including barracudas, occasional rays, and Nurse sharks lolling in the sand.

On the north side of the island is Fish Hotel, the home of enormous schools of reef fish such as grunts, snappers, groupers, goatfish, butterflies, angels, and other small reef fish. The grunts amass in schools of thousands of fish that blanket the reef, while Nurse sharks, Moray eels, black and white spotted eels, lobsters and crabs, shelter under shelves and overhangs. In 20 to 35 feet of water, this reef is filled with soft and hard corals, sea whips, tree formations, and colourful purple seafans.

Also on the north side of the island is the site called Three Wrecks. A 95 foot oil tanker rests in 90 feet of water, with another unidentified wreck touching its bow. Fish include midnight parrotfish, southern stingrays, garden needles, yellowtail snappers, and French angelfish. The Ana Lise, a 150 foot freighter, rests 50 feet north in approximately 100 feet of water. The ghostly Ana Lise wreck is inhabited by big Amberjacks, Atlantic Spadefish, Horse-eyed Jacks, barracudas, eels, stingrays, and lobsters.

Other wrecks include the Mahoney wreck, an old coal barge dating from the 1800’s, broken into two sections, in from 30 to 50 feet of water. This wreck offers the most abundant marinelife, including groupers, snappers, grunts, goatfish, pipefish, angelfish, butterflies, yellowtails, eels, and Nurse sharks. Visitors are able to handfeed large quantities of fish.

The 140 foot De La Salle wreck, in 70 feet of water, and the Miss BJ in 45 to 50 feet of water, are both intact and upright, and offer outstanding photographic opportunities. The 90 foot Miranda wreck is in 55 feet of water, lying on her side in two sections. This wreck is the home of many groupers, Nurse sharks, large rays, and open water fish.

At Athol Island’s Sea Gardens, a shallow reef area and a Landing Craft Boat (LCT) wreck is a popular site for handfeeding groupers. Nearby, 25 to 30 feet off Rose Island, are Pointer Reef, Ricky’s Reef, and Cannonball Reef.

On the southwestern side of the island rest the James Bond wrecks. The famous James Bond trawler was sunk by Nassau Undersea Adventures for the 007 production, “Never Say Never Again.” Thunderball Reef, only 25 feet deep, is one of the most frequently filmed reefs in the world. The outstanding feature here is the magnificent Elkhorn and Staghorn corals, and a full gamut of dazzling reef fish. There is also the remains of a heavily encrusted airplane wreck, a Vulcan Bomber, (British bomber from the 60’s) from the movie “Thunderball.” The Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only” also has underwater scenes filmed in the Bahamas.

Many other films have been shot in Bahamian waters, including “Splash,” “Cocoon,” “Wet Gold,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” and the “Sea Hunt” and “Flipper” TV series of the 1960’s. At Cessna Wall, also known as the Jaws Drop-off, where “Jaws IV” was filmed, a twin engine Cessna plane lies fifty feet from the wall. Also popular film and dive sites, are the Tears of Allah wreck (“Jaws IV”), and Goulding Cay (“Splash,” “Cocoon”) with its underwater gardens, swaying purple sea fans, and majestic staghorn and elk corals.

Porpoise Pens was the home for “Flipper,” and in the summer there are a lot of dolphins in that area.

Also on the southwestern side of the island is “the wall,” starting at about 45 feet, and dropping off to approximately 6000 feet. The topography ranges from gentle slopes to vertical drop-offs into the Tongue of the Ocean. Huge deepwater fans, colourful sponges, and abundant black coral trees, are only a part of the magic. Huge groupers (up to 3 feet long), tuna, spadefish, schools of jacks, big rays, and inquisitive, but friendly barracuda may also be seen. Small tropical fish hug the canyon-like wall, and various sharks are also occasionally seen. Divers do not usually go beyond 130 feet in depth.

Highlights include Razorback, a sharp-edged reef that runs about 150 yards long, dropping from 40 feet at a very severe angle. This big coral ridge is covered in a lot of bright, lively coral and sponges. Attractions include a gregarious Green Moray, and many big and small fish.

Near Razorback, at Playpen and Schoolhouse, a lot of juvenile fish may be seen. National Geographic has filmed at Schoolhouse, which is known for its many schools of fish.

At Pumpkin Patch, the wall starts at 40 feet and drops in a gradual slope to about 120 feet. This has a prolific tropical fish population, angels, groupers, grunts, and jacks, and lots of healthy coral growth and sponges. This spot is pristine and unsheltered, with lots of oranges and brilliant colours that make it look like a vegetable patch full of pumpkins. Occasionally a hammerhead shark can be spotted cruising by.

Tunnel Wall has lots of tunnels cut into the wall. If you enter a tunnel at 50 feet, you may come out at 90 feet. In warmer weather the tunnel may be filled with silversides, which are like tiny sardines, and create the effect of a silver curtain moving in front of you.

Wreck on the Wall is an old wooden tuna boat, with half of the boat hanging over the edge of the wall. As you swim upwards, this ghostly wreck looms above.

Another popular wreck, the Will Laurie is a 150-200 foot island mailboat that used to run between San Salvador and Rum Cay, but was caught in a storm, on its way out of Nassau.

At Smuggler’s Wall the remains of an overturned small private plane were found 50 yards in from the wall, and it is thought to be a drug smuggler’s plane.

Tiger Alley is at the western tip of Goulding Cay. During monkfish season, people have been known to see tiger sharks.

Cathedral Wall undercuts the wall almost like the nave of a cathedral.

Sandshoot is where the wall is cut in half by a big channel of sand, almost like a big slide, with the wall on either side. The slide starts at 40 feet and ends at the edge of the wall at 70-80 feet.

The Valley is a big sand valley completely surrounded by a coral ridge that goes around it 300 yards long, and 50 feet wide.

The Runway is a big sandpatch that looks like a runway, and stingrays have been known to flutter down like landing planes.

The Ridge is a large ridge of coral along the wall, near the Fish Bowl, which has abundant coral formations and tropical fish.

The Bull Shark Wall and the Runway Shark Dive are two of the most popular dives, where bull sharks and Caribbean reef sharks may be seen, and divers feel the thrill of danger. At the Shark Buoy, it is possible to dive, touch, pet, and feed up to 30 beautiful silky sharks. Gamefish such as marlin, tuna, and dorado, which cannot be seen at the reefs, may also be seen. The U.S. Navy has anchored this buoy in the middle of the Tongue of the Ocean, and it is approximately a half hour boat ride.

Night dives at Pumpkin Patch and the James Bond wrecks, are also popular amongst the adventurous.

Five to six miles south of Coral Harbour is Southwest Reef, also known as ‘Fansea’ Purple, due to its abundance of purple sea fans. It is one of the biggest shallow reefs in the area, ranging from 1 foot to 35 feet deep, full of valleys, channels, coral formations, and teeming with fish, including large groupers of the jewfish family.

Other popular dives are the Trinity Caves, Hollywood Wall, Jack’s Jump, Angelfish Reef, Lampton’s Wall, Goodyear Reef, Garden Wall, Balmoral Reef, Oasis, The Pinnacles, and Dolphin Wall, where divers saw two or three dolphins playing in their bubbles, and when they looked up, one smiled at them. Propellor Reef, distinguished by a large brass propellor on the sandy floor, is the breeding ground for a lot of small fish. Only seven miles offshore there are many virgin reefs, with a lot of coral growth and pretty fish.

In the Bahamas, diversity is at your fingertips. There are dive companies in Nassau that offer day trips to the out islands, including the Exumas, Andros, the Berry Islands, and Eleuthera. These all-day exotic wilderness dive trips show the variety of diving available in the Bahamas.

There are 22 major diving destinations in the Bahamas. In Abaco, shallow reef diving is popular, whereas Andros is known for its blue hole and wall diving. Eleuthera is popular because of its ancient shipwrecks, and drift diving, and Chub Cay in the Berry Islands is known for its tremendous “fish bowl.” In Eleuthera you can ride the Current Cut on the incoming tide, an exhilarating journey which propels you between islands at six or seven knots. Diving with the dolphins is popular in Freeport, Grand Bahama, as is Treasure Reef, where more than a million dollars of sunken treasure was discovered in 1962. Long Island, Rum Cay, San Salvador, Crooked Island, Cat Island, and Bimini, are also popular diving spots.

In the past years the Cayman Islands and Mexico have become the leading dive destinations worldwide, when in actual fact, the Bahamas should hold this title. The Bahamas Dive Association is now working with the government to promote diving in the Bahamas. They have formed a Dive Marketing Committee, under the new “sunshine” government, which is pushing hard to promote diving in the Bahamas, and the preservation of dive sites.

Says Stuart Cove, pioneer of the shark dive, (Nassau Undersea Adventures), “We’re pushing hard to turn this whole area, from Bull Shark Wall onwards, in the southwest part of New Providence, into a National Reserve. The Minister of Tourism, Brent Symonette, has shown great interest in the divers preserving their product.”

Stuart Cove has already placed six mooring buoys around the island, so that anchors do not destroy the coral. He hopes that there will be up to fifteen buoys on the north side by the end of the year. The dive operators are working together to get money from the private sector to make donations for buoys. Says Stuart Cove, “Diving is ecotourism. We are all for it. Our number one job as dive operators is to preserve what we have, because it is so delicate and easy to destroy. We are constantly educating people not to touch the coral or stand on the reefs.”

The past government did nothing to help preserve the reefs, but the new government has a strong focus on ecology, and environmental friendliness. They have realized the importance of limiting spearfishing and avoiding destruction of the reefs. Says Stuart Cove, “We want to make this a National Park so that we can preserve our product. So that people will say, ‘come to Nassau to see all the beautiful fish.'”

Says Minister Symonette, “This committee is working on an entirely new and targeted multi-media campaign which will invite international dive travellers to explore the diversity that can be found in no single location but The Bahamas.” The private sector has been promoting and bringing tourists to the Bahamas, for many years, and with the help of the government, the Bahamas will be re-positioned as the number one diving destination in the world.

Dive travel is a $750 million annual market with 655,000 Americans travelling overseas annually for dive vacations. The average dive traveller spends $3,150 on dive trips of eight days or more. Says Stuart Cove, “Divers usually come for a full week, and they spend a lot of money. The dive operators bring in a lot of tourists, who bring in millions of dollars to the islands. Money is spent in many different ways, including taxis, hotels, restaurants, bars, T-shirts, and souvenirs.”

“The government has committed funds to help market and preserve our marinelife. The new ads have a uniform look: Discover Our Diversity. The government and the private sector have contributed to this theme. The government especially deserves a big pat on the back for the initiative it has taken.”

In September this year, the ministry will host a special “fam” trip for journalist and dive professionals, coordinated by John Englander, of the Underwater Explorer’s Society (UNEXSO) of Freeport. This trip will expose divers to familiar sites in Nassau, Freeport, Abaco, Andros, and Eleuthera, and also some of the lesser known destinations such as Mayaguana, Conception Island, The Exumas, and Inagua.

State-of-the-art dive facilities are offered throughout the Bahama islands, with excellent transportation to and from our famous reefs and wrecks. Instructors teach and accompany divers, taking great pride and care with their customers.

Dive companies in New Providence include: Stuart Cove’s Nassau Undersea Adventures (362-4171); Bahama Divers (393-5644); Nassau Scuba Centre (362-1964); Diver’s Haven (393-0869); Dive Dive Dive (362-1401); Sun Divers (325-8927); Sea & Ski Divers (363-3370)

Looking back there seems like there were a lot of dive companies here in Nassau. Unfortunately only two remain – Stuart Cove’s and Bahama Divers.

There are also many dive sites that I have never heard of and would be interesting in finding out if people still know of them:

  • Cathedral Wall (like the nave of a cathedral)
  • Smuggler’s Wall (remains of an over turned plane)
  • Porpoise Pens (a dolphin haunt)
  • Propeller Reef (large brass propeller)
  • Tiger Alley (possibility of seeing tiger sharks during monkfish season)
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