Queen angelfish are often found by divers and snorkelers in the Caribbean. // © 2016 Dan Orr
Feature image (above): More than 900,000 divers have been certified by PADI each year for the past 19 years. // © 2016 Dan Orr
In 2000, the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame (ISDHF) was established in part by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism as a way to recognize those who have made extraordinary contributions to the sport of scuba diving.
The most famous member is probably French explorer Jacques Cousteau, who was inducted three years after his death in 2000. Current and former inductees boast a wide range of experiences, from educational research under the ice in the Arctic Circle to the creation and development of industry-standard training programs. This year, the ISDHF inducted five new members at its annual Hall of Fame event in Grand Cayman in September.
The scuba diving tourism market continues to grow. According to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ 2016 statistical report, more than 900,000 divers have been certified each year for the last 19 years. Which means you most likely have a few scuba diving clients in your bunch. Consider introducing them to one of these 6 Caribbean dive sites as a platform for travel, handpicked by 2016 inductee Stuart Cove and two of his buddies, fellow Hall of Famers Dan Orr and Leslie Leaney.
Autec Bouy, the Bahamas
Recommended by: Stuart Cove, 2016 ISDHF U.S. Inductee
Dive Description: The Autec Bouy, an orientation system for U.S. Navy submarine exercises, floats about 18 miles from New Providence in the Bahamas and has created its own ecosystem. Cove says he has seen all kinds of marine life here, including whale species, white sharks, mass schooling dolphin fish, silky sharks, tuna and bait balls.
“This floating ecosystem truly makes you appreciate the expanse of the oceans and the extreme, harsh world that so many diversified life forms call home,” he said.
Serving Operator: Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas
French Cay, Turks and Caicos
Recommended by: Dan Orr, 2014 ISDHF U.S. Inductee
Dive Description: Considered by many to be the Garden of Eden of dive sites in Turks and Caicos, the wall at French Cay begins at as shallow as 40 feet and drops away vertically to the deep blue abyss of the Caribbean Sea. The wall is a cacophony of colorful sponges, gorgonians, brightly colored fish and exceptionally clear blue water. It is an especially popular place to do a “dawn dive.”
“Entering the water before the first rays of sunshine peek over the eastern horizon, divers descend below the wall and have a chance to observe the sea change as the wall and surrounding ocean morphs from nighttime to daytime,” Orr said. “Superlatives pale in comparison with what divers are able to experience first-hand as the wall comes alive with marine life. No diver should consider their lives complete without a dawn dive at French Cay.”
Serving Operator: Dive Provo
Half Moon Caye, Belize
Recommended by: Dan Orr
Dive Description: Half Moon Caye is a UNESCO-designated Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System and is located on the eastern side of Lighthouse Reef, an atoll that is part of the second largest barrier reef in the world. The reef’s upper shelf begins at around 15 feet, with a pure white-sand bottom interspersed with patches of brain, staghorn, and elkhorn coral. The shallows gradually give way to the vertical wall plummeting 6,000 feet.
“The Half Moon Caye wall is one of the most stunning wall dives to be found anywhere in the world,” Orr said. “The diversity of marine life is truly second to none, and divers commonly see sharks, groupers, snappers, hogfish, turtles, eels, southern stingrays and spotted eagle rays.”
Serving Operator: Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort, Belize
Kittiwake Wreck, Grand Cayman
Recommended by: Leslie Leaney, executive director of ISDHF and 2012 U.S. Inductee
Dive Description: The history of the U.S. Kittiwake is highlighted by its successful mission to recover the black box of the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986. After nearly three decades of military service, it was decommissioned in 1994 and sank off the coast of the Cayman Islands as part of an artificial reef.
“I was never too much into wrecks, as I felt they represented a man-made intrusion into the natural element,” Leaney said. “But once I started studying military diving history sites like the Kittiwake, I took on a greater interest. Many of the divers who served on that vessel are still diving and return to it for a nostalgic underwater visit.”
Serving Operator: Cayman Turtle Divers
Saba Marine Park, Saba, Dutch Antilles
Recommended by: Dan Orr
Dive Description: The volcanic island of Saba is highly regarded as a premier dive destination in the Caribbean. The crystal-clear, warm waters around the island form Saba Marine Park, which is known for its underwater pinnacles and seamounts.
“Past volcanic activity has created spectacular formations and structures, including the remnants of lava flows and underwater hot springs,” Orr said. “Sheer walls and drop-offs are covered with sponges of all descriptions, and the spectacular seamounts and pinnacles attract pelagic marine life not normally seen by divers.”
Serving Operator: Sea Saba Advanced Dive Center
Trinity Caves, Grand Cayman
Recommended by: Dan Orr
Dive Description: Trinity Caves is known for its three (hence, trinity) wide canyons that open out onto the reef wall. All three are appropriate for novice divers thanks to their large size, open nature and ease of navigation. Local guides encourage divers to take their time and to gaze upward through the cracks in the cave’s ceiling. Once you pass through, Orr says the show is just beginning.
“When you come out of the caves, the reef drops away,” Orr said. “The wall festoons with sponges and gorgonians and is alive with reef fish. We hung there, suspended in time and sea, taking it all in, almost afraid to breathe, lest we waste a precious minute of the experience of a lifetime.”
Serving Operator: Dive Red Sail Sports