Stunning Beauty and Excitement on Every Dive
ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES
Text and Photography by Bill Harrigan
From a diver's point of view, there is a little of everything in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Tobago Cays, a ring of islands near the center of this 32 island cluster, have beautiful shallow reefs that are perfect for snorkeling. The long reefs near Union Island are somewhat deeper, with sloping coral faces and lots of interesting nooks and crannies. Off the islands of Bequia and St.Vincent, vertical walls terraced with coral covered ledges drop well past 100 feet. Above water, St. Vincent and the Grenadines are a match for any part of the Caribbean in natural beauty. Stunning views of blue crescent bays beckon from the hill tops and vivid sunsets make lovers' lanes of all the long, quiet beaches. Historic forts, botanical gardens, nature trails and a variety of watersports await visitors between dives.
Each island has its own personality; a distinctive flavor derived from the land, its people and the sea around it. St. Vincent is the largest and most cosmopolitan. Covering about 150 square miles, it has the capital, main port and international airport, all in Kingstown. But the island is also the main producer of the nation's agriculture and the sprawling green countryside is the source of most of the wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables available throughout the Grenadines. In addition to the historic sites in Kingstown, attractions on St. Vincent include the nature reserve at Vermont Nature Trails, the Falls of Baleine, the 3,864 foot volcanic peak of La Soufriere and the surrounding rain forest. Admiralty Bay on Bequia is one of the best natural harbors in the Caribbean, with a variety of restaurants and hotels where you can sit near the water and watch the parade of boats. Peaceful seclusion and natural island settings are specialties on Petit St. Vincent, Palm Island and Mustique. Union Island has fine beaches, protected bays and a picturesque village that make it the yachting center of the Grenadines.
The Diving: Like the topside attractions, the diving varies considerably from island to island. The general conditions are similar to other destinations in the Windward Islands, with water temperatures averaging 85 degrees F in summer and 76 degrees F in winter. Visibility normally ranges between 60 and 120 feet. Currents are not extreme and depend on the location of the dive and state of the tide. When currents are present the local operators usually run drift dives, so bucking the current is not necessary.
Although there are dive sites around all of the islands, the full-time dive operations are on St. Vincent, Bequia and Union Island. You won't find big, flashy dive boats or large staffs in matching shirts. Generally, though, you will find well-prepared boats, experienced divemasters and good rental equipment. The dive operators are friendly, knowledgeable and proud to share the beauty below the surface of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Tobago Cays Marine Park protects all of the shallow reefs and islands in the Tobago Cay's as well as many of the surrounding deeper reefs. It also includes the wreck of the Puruni, a 140 foot long English gunship that ran aground off Saline Bay in 1918. The wreck sits upright in 40 feet of water, festooned with 80 years' worth of coral and sponge growth. Fish are attracted to the Puruni by the thousands and divers are likely to see anything from Queen Angelfish to Longsnout Seahorses. Another set of fish inhabits the wreck on the night shift, including numerous Southern Stingrays that come to search the surrounding sand for food.
The Tobago Cays are a cluster of small, undeveloped islands with lovely beaches and an extensive coral reef called Horseshoe. This is an excellent snorkeling reef, with numerous Brain and Star Coral heads rising from a level sandy bottom only six feet deep.
Just to the northeast of the Tobago Cays, the tip of Sail Rock juts abruptly out of the water. This unimpressive rock is actually the top of an underwater mountain with vertical walls near the surface and numerous deeper caverns and ledges. The rock faces are covered with pristine corals, including large Elkhorn branches in the shallows and several species of Black Coral around 80 or 90 feet. Sail Rock is also known for its large animal encounters, with sleeping Blacktip Sharks and Spotted Eagle Rays among the fish often seen.
Mayreau Gardens Deep and Mayreau Gardens Shallow are dives near Union Island with maximum depths of 85 and 60 feet, respectively. The dives are on either side of a long, sloping reef that runs along the bottom like a mini-mountain range. There is often a current running along the spine of the reef, so both sides are usually done as drift dives. The sloping faces of the reef are made up of boulder corals such as Star and Brain, as well as branching corals such as Finger and Elkhorn. These are interspersed with many seafans, searods and hundreds of sponges, especially large Orange Elephant Ear Sponges and purple-blue Azure Vase Sponges. Gray Chromis and Creole Wrasse are the most common fish on the reefs, with large schools of both species swimming freely around divers. Other reef fish such as Queen Triggers and Rock Beauties are also present in substantial numbers.
Large mounds of delicate Finger Corals dominate the seascape at Mopian Reef, covering much of the variably sloping reef. Many Smooth Brain Coral colonies are also present, along with boulders of Star Coral and gently waving plumes of soft coral.
The Bat Cave on St. Vincent's west coast is one of the most unusual and exciting snorkeling experiences anywhere. The entrance is the protected side of a rocky point, where a large opening beckons in bright sunlight. Inside though, the shadows fall and the cavern narrows, twisting off to the left. As the walls shrink to perhaps twice shoulder width, a bit of current pulls you steadily through the cave. Lift your head at this point and you'll see hundreds of bats hanging from the rock. After a short distance the tunnel opens vertically and a shaft of light illuminates the way ahead. As you exit the cave on the other side of the point, you are snorkeling along the wall with the bottom 90 feet below.
The dive at New Guinea Reef begins near a steep rocky point where a series of ledges runs along a sheer wall. Black Corals are bountiful here, with lovely thick bushes of it beginning as shallow as 60 feet and becoming more numerous as you approach 120 feet. Wire Coral, another member of the Black Coral family, grows in colorful corkscrews in the deeper sections of the reef. The fish are also prolific here, drawn by the profusion of corals and sponges encrusting the ledges.
Turtle Bay and All Awash Island are known for their unusual sealife. Frogfish, Flying Gurnards and seahorses are frequently spotted at Turtle Bay. This site has some nice Elkhorn Corals in the shallows and offers good coral cover down to about 60 feet. Some of the larger marine animals are frequently encountered at All Awash Island, including Hawksbill Turtles, Nurse and Blacktip Sharks. Blacktips can often be seen resting beneath the ledges here.
One of the main attractions at Anchor Reef is a cavern in the wall that is home to moray eels, lobster and scorpionfish. The wall starts around 45 feet and drops quickly past 100 feet with lots of pelagic fish cruising along the face. Pinnacle Rock is another dive site with dramatic sub-surface terrain. A cone of rock rises from deep water nearly to the surface here, attracting hundreds of fish.
Off the protected coast of Bequia, a dive site called The Wall features an arch and a vertical rock face encrusted with corals and sponges. Depths range between 30 and 110 feet with coral-covered boulders piled haphazardly along the bottom of the wall. Several different species of angelfish, parrotfish and wrasse are common here. If the current is not running, the dive can continue around the point at the end of the wall to a shallow site with Elkhorn Corals on the back side.
The remains of an old whaling station still exist on Pidgeon Island near Petit Nevis. Diving is the main activity now though and three sites can be found around the island. The Pools are formed within the reef itself, next to a vertical drop-off covered with corals and sponges. The South Side of Pidgeon features a steep coral slope that extends to about 90 feet. Nurse Sharks are frequently seen in the sandy channels that cut through the reef at regular intervals. In contrast to the slope reef of the south side, the North Side of Pidgeon is a sheer rock wall, dropping from the surface to 70 feet before sloping more moderately to about 100. A crevice in the wall at about 50 feet always seems to attract a lot of marine life.
Close to Admiralty Bay on Bequia, is a pair of dive sites shallow enough for snorkelers. The first, Devil's Table, is near the mouth of the bay. Depths here range from about 15 to 60 feet. Macro photographers often have good luck finding seahorses and frogfish at Devil's Table. The second site is Moon Hole, which has depths from 5 to 45 feet.