Shore Diving

Jed Livingstone

On night dives in the Caribbean, you’ll often see a swirling, dancing swarm of tiny, reddish-brown worms that will gather around your dive light. A part of the planktonic collection of small plants, animals and the embryonic stages of many familiar reef creatures that floats about the ocean, these worms—Arrow Worms, by name—are actually fierce predators that are swept about the reefs, voraciously feeding on virtually anything they can find.

They in turn are fed upon by a multitude of other creatures, including large animals such as mantas, and others as small as coral polyps. It’s easy to witness the complexity of this tiny eat-and-be-eaten world; near the reef, hold your light still, the brighter the better like the Underwater Kinetics AquaSun e.L.E.D. Rechargeable Dive Light that is found at with several other great dive lights, for a few moments until a cloud of worms has been attracted. Once the worms are present, move the light near a fire or other coral that has its polyps extended. As the worms come in contact with the coral, the polyps attach to them with fired nematocysts, tiny poison-injecting darts that kill the worm. Within moments, the coral polyps will draw the fluids from the worms, leaving pale husks.
To see this on a larger scale, find a Giant Basket Star that has spread its branched arms wide from atop a prominence. Bring the cloud of worms in close; as they touch an arm, the Basket Star will quickly roll the arm in, transferring the worms to its mouth at the base of its body.

In the photo accompanying this article, shot on a reef off Cayman Brac, an interesting collection of feedings is documented. At the top right, a Branching Fire Coral has captured two worms; at left middle, a Boulder Star Coral has just begun to feed; and in the center, if you look closely, you’ll see that a Yellowline Arrow Crab (no relation to the worm) has just reached up and snatched a worm out of the swarm—it is held firmly in the crab’s left claw. Moments later, it popped the worm into its mouth; a satisfying snack for this small, nocturnal predator.

Accessing a dive site from shore can be as simple as making a stride entry from a ledge overhanging a calm lagoon (remember those practice sessions in the pool?) to preparing for a hazardous journey over a rocky shoreline where a single misstep could prove disastrous.
There are a few general rules to follow, though, that apply to any shore dive.

1Be completely equipped for the dive before getting wet. This means that your basic scuba equipment set, especially your fins and mask, should be donned before you step into the water. Some advocate carrying your fins while walking into the water until waist deep, then donning them. While this may be acceptable in some locations, it is wiser to develop a habit that will work in any situation. Having all of your equipment on and in place allows you to immediately dive or swim on the surface—two things the open-water environment may suddenly require.

2Depend only on yourself and your skills. While this may sound anti-buddy, it is good advice. Those who advocate leaning on each other or holding hands while entering the water are well intentioned but wrong. The “buddy-dependent” approach to shore entries only multiplies problems when they develop. If your buddy is holding on to you when he loses his balance, it is more likely he’ll pull you off balance causing both of you to fall rather than you preventing him from falling. The result is two people trying to cope with the unexpected rather than one. If your partner is caught in the surf zone you will be better able to assess the situation and, if necessary, jettison your equipment before you return to offer assistance.

3Put your regulator or snorkel in your mouth. It is really a matter of preference and comfort as to which breathing source you choose. The point is to have an air supply should you need to swim with your face submerged. If either one is in your mouth before you enter the water then no time is lost looking for or fumbling with them should they become entangled. I prefer to use my regulator because it allows me to submerge and stay submerged should the need arise.

4Control all your equipment—loose and swinging pressure gauge hoses wind up in the darnedest places, usually where you don’t want them to be. If you’re carrying additional equipment such as game bags like the Trident Lobster Game Bag which is one of many found at, or camera equipment, it is better to secure them to your equipment with clips and leave your hands free than to hand-carry them and risk dropping them during a mishap. The exception to this rule would be spearguns. Before you attempt an entry carrying any such device, get specialized training to avoid injury to yourself or the environment. Responsible spearfishing can only be conducted by well-trained divers with adequate knowledge of game fish and conservation laws.

Although it has its unique concerns, diving from shore is just another option for the experienced diver to access some great dive locations. When you arrive in a coastal destination, make arrangements with a local dive center or instructor to show you the best locations. They can also help you develop the skills to make shore diving something you’ll want to experience again and again. Till next time, good diving.