Top 13 Dive Sites According to SDI/TDI/ERDI Staff
by Cris Merz
I was asked to put down a list of the top ten destinations in the Caribbean according to Yelp and decided against it. You can “Yelp” it yourself.
Instead, I wanted to make this article a little more personal, so I went from office to office here at TDI/SDI/ERDI World HQ and asked everyone what their favorite dive site was. Everyone has a favorite dive site or destination and there are usually different reasons for it; historic and sentimental reasons, the awe of the magnificence and amazing, or simply the fact that it had an impact on them personally, career wise or emotionally that was a life changer. As I asked the question, I gave no one time to think about the answer – “First place that pops into your mind – GO!!!” I commanded.
“My Favorite Dive Site” according to World HQ’s Staff, in their own words
Sean Harrison – Nigali Pass, Fiji
Nigali Pass is a narrow passage through a barrier reef on the island of Gau. The site is dived on an incoming tide, and when the tide is right, it’s a fun ride that is action packed. The drop is just on the outside of the reef and as you drift in through the narrow pass (maybe 150’ wide) you are greeted by every possible sighting known, and unknown, to the South Pacific marine life. On these dives there were: schools of Mobula Rays, Potato Groupers, schools of every Anthias there is, Garden Ells, nudibranchs, corals (hard and soft), and sharks – you name the shark and it would be in there. The sharks were of course the biggest attraction.
The walls of the pass were like stadium seating and as divers tucked into their spot on the walls, the sharks got comfortable – and I mean really comfortable. Due to the current flowing through, the sharks were able to swim slowly ahead and pass within an arm’s reach. At the end of the dive you left your spot on the wall and drifted over into the lagoon over a shallow patch of the most beautiful Cabbage Patch Coral I have ever seen teeming with even more marine life.
Stephanie Miele – Fort Wetherill, Rhode Island
Fort Wetherill brings back many fond memories for me. It was where my first open water dives were done while in college and where I met my husband. Since those initial open water dives I have been back to Fort Wetherill with my own students, with fun dives with my husband and now I am taking my son to experience the area as well. The water temperature is chilly but I have been able to get some great visibility and experience some very playful seals while diving, which was epic. All in all it is a great site for open water divers, those looking to practice skills, and a very cool pleasure dive.
Ryan Conery – Lowrance, Pompano, Florida
Sitting upright in 210’ of water is the Lowrance. This 420’ Canadian freighter was sunk as an artificial reef off the coast of Pompano Beach, Florida in 1984. Throughout her life, she had several names including the Ciudad de Cali and the Rio Amazonas. Hot dropping this wreck is an exhilarating feeling. As you descend, it seems to take forever. You continually wonder whether or not you missed it. Finally, at the last second, the massive ship appears out of nowhere. Teeming with life, schools of Amberjack encircle you. Giant Goliath Grouper pack into the cargo holds. The ship is littered with swim-throughs and penetration opportunities, but you have to weasel your way past the Grouper to fit down the narrow hallways. Barracuda stealthily suspend themselves above the deck, looking for some bait that strays too far from the shoal. This deep wreck houses an enormous diversity of pelagic species. Make sure to bring a cutting device as fishing line drapes across the super structure. Hands down, it is my favorite dive.
Darren Pace – Isla Mureres, Mexico
Hola Amigo! Okay, so this isn’t an actual scuba dive site, but swimming with the whale sharks off the coast of Isla Mureres is a once in a lifetime experience. Every year, the world’s largest concentration of whale sharks migrates off the Yucatan Peninsula in the summer months. These gentle giants – which can reach 40ft (12m) or as large as a school bus, are hungry migrators, feeding on plankton and small fish eggs. This unique time and location presents an ideal opportunity to swim with these docile creatures up close and in their habitat. If you’re ready to scratch whale sharks off your bucket list, come down to the Yucatan and spend a day snorkeling with these beautiful fish. Got a couple more days? Drive south about an hour and swim/dive the cenotes in Tulum, and don’t pass up the opportunity to eat great authentic Mexican food along the way. My vote is the fajitas, yum!
Jon Kieren – Indian Springs, Florida
Nestled in the quiet woodlands of Crawfordville, FL is beautiful YMCA owned Camp Indian Springs. The campgrounds were built around the 56 metre/185ft diameter spring pool, which serves as the entrance to my all-time favorite dive site.
The cave system at Indian Springs is gigantic, both in penetration distance and passage size. Best enjoyed on a scooter and rebreather, the majority of the bright white cave ranges from 30 metres/140 feet to 53 metres/175 feet deep until 1300 metres/4300 feet back where the cave opens up to a massive room named the “Wakulla Room”. The bottom of the Wakulla room is at approximately 75 meters/250 feet, where the passage continues further back and even deeper. The end of this beautiful cave has yet to be found, and is currently being explored.
My first dive at Indian was with my favorite dive buddy, my wife Lauren, and our good friends Dan, Jon, and Sandra for a photo shoot. Subsequent dives have been progressively larger dives further and further back. Our last dive there we explored back beyond the Wakulla Room to the Stargate Room, at a maximum depth of 84 meters/275 feet and a total run time of approximately 4 hours including decompression.
Special permission, Full Cave and Trimix certifications, and a guide are required to dive this site/ More information can be found on the Cave Connections website.
Lauren Kieren – North Star, St. Croix, USVI
My first thought for my favorite dive site was Indian Springs, in North Florida. After giving Cris my response, I quickly received a frustrated sigh followed by some strange grumbles. It seems that my answer was not suitable since Jon Kieren gave the same response earlier that day. After a few minutes of banter with Jon trying to get him to pick another site, I settled to discuss my second favorite dive site, North Star in St. Croix, USVI.
North Star was named after the old sugar plantation on shore. Accessible by land or boat, the site starts around 7 meters/25 feet plunging down a beautiful dramatic wall over 600+ meters/2000+ feet. Whether you are snorkeling, on the first dive of your life, a technical diver or anything in between, this site has something for you. For example, on a deep technical dive, you can find a large beautiful cavern around 82 meters/270 feet. Inside this cavern, there is a vertical chimney rising 15 meters/50 feet through the wall, opening at the top. While decompressing and making your way to the shallows along the wall, you are likely to see schooling fish, barracuda, eels, sharks, eagle rays, the occasional pod of dolphins, seahorses, nudibranchs and more. You can even find large Danish anchors embedded in the coral! Up in the shallows lies a field of soft and hard corals with even more marine life to see. This is certainly my favorite reef dive and second favorite dive site.
Dennis Pulley – Bonaire, Netherland Antilles
Bonaire is commonly referred to as one of the “ABC” (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) islands in the Caribbean, just off the coast of Venezuela. I fell in love with Bonaire the first time I visited there in the early 90’s. It is such a relaxing and laid back location to visit and affords topside sights to see in addition to the diving. Washington Park with parrots and flamingos is a sight to behold!
While you can dive off of boats, the shore diving is so easily accessible that I prefer it over the boat diving. Imagine grabbing a cylinder, setting up your system on the dock, walking to the end and jumping into crystal clear water that is 5 metres/15 feet to 6 metres/20 feet deep. You make a very short swim to the top of a wall that drops to over 30 metres/100 feet.
The wall is teeming with marine life and you can quite literally spend an entire trip shore diving from your hotel area. Even the wreck of the Hilma Hooker located in 30 metres/100 feet of water can be easily reached from the shore.
Sally Camm – Tunnels, Jupiter, Florida
Close to home and easily accessible by boat, Tunnels has become my new favorite site (the previous being the OJ Walker in Lake Champlain). One of the cool things about Tunnels are the swim throughs (hence its name) and even someone like me, who is claustrophobic, can partake in the larger ones.
The top of the reef is filled with a variety of colorful corals and schooling fish; and if you swim beside it you will see a multitude of large sea turtles resting under the shelf. But don’t be so focused on the reef that you miss the excitement, because if you keep an eye out to the east and west of the ledge you will more than likely see Goliath Grouper, many sharks, and if you look closely – stingrays. Take your time and you will really be able to enjoy the abundance of life there.
Tunnels tops my list at #1 because it’s an “all in one” spot for seeing an assortment of large marine life, and averaging about 70ft/21m deep, it is a pretty nice, easy dive.
Paul Montgomery – Madison Blue, Florida
Seriously? You want me to pick one? How about one region? Will that work? All joking aside, my favorite dive site and favorite all time dive was at Madison Blue in Lee, Florida. And, it was my first dive there that sticks in my memory as if it were yesterday. My cave instructor had taken me there to be my “first dive on my own”, so my cave buddy Rob and I were really stoked. I had the reel. After a decent pre-dive briefing between us, we entered the basin and entered through the “Rabbit Hole”. After all, no need to use that giant opening right next to this restriction, let’s follow Alice. Nice little tie-off and off we go. Off we go just a little low and to the outside! From here, let me fill you in on some details. This dive was probably around 1997 or so, when Madison Blue was managed/operated privately. The management had taken over what had previously been a dumping ground and transformed it into an amazing dive site. Parking, tables, stairs to the basin, landscaping. Everything a cave diver could possibly want for. And on this particular day, we had the entire system to ourselves. As we arrived, the only other dive team was packing up to leave.
As I mentioned, I went just a little wide and from the corner of my mask, I saw the most amazing area of light. I had come to stop just inside the main opening but what made it amazing was that the basin surface was completely still, without a ripple. With a clear sky and beautiful landscaping, the reflection that I saw below the surface was breathtaking, actually, it was mesmerizing. Well, the dive just got better from there.
One of the reasons I became a cave diver was the influence of video footage of the Diepolder systems and its huge rooms. If you’ve been to Madison, you’ve no doubt been to the Godzilla Room, aptly named in that Godzilla could fit in it. Dropping thru the floor of the tunnel and then through a second hole, I found myself suspended in the room, pirouetting to take it all in. Perhaps a skilled writer could describe how I felt; I still am at a loss to describe it.
It wasn’t a long push, nor deep. It simply was one of the most amazing dives I have ever done.
Jordan Greene – Zion Train, Jupiter, Florida
One of my favorite dive sites happens to be a local spot off the coast of Jupiter, FL, just down the road from SDI/TDI/ERDI World HQ. Sitting in about 90 ft of water, the Zion Train has an interesting yearly event starting in the early summer months. As the Goliath Grouper spawning season arrives, you can expect to see dozens and dozens of VW Beetle-sized behemoths congregate around the Zion Train, making this wreck come alive with a forest of giants, often dwarfing the average-sized diver. A co-worker of mine (Jon Kieren) will sometimes dress as one of these Goliaths in hopes of getting in on some of the action.
An already thriving wreck filled with sharks, turtles, and tropical Caribbean fish, this site is thrilling in itself without the population of Goliaths that come along. The addition of the aggregation makes this a natural wonder and a top 5 dive spot in Florida for me. If you haven’t been to this site yet during this time of year, contact the local dive centers (Stuart Dive Center or Jupiter Dive Center) and ask about any upcoming trips, it’s one you don’t want to miss!
Cris Merz – Darwin’s Arch, Galapagos, Ecuador
I spent 10 years diving there almost every week and it was “home”. It spoiled me for many years and it wasn’t until a few years back that I was able to appreciate diving for what it was again, blowing bubbles underwater and seeing great stuff. Darwin’s Arch really left an impression on me because of the big animals, sea lions, yellow-fin tuna in bait balls, schooling hammerheads, and the majestic Galapagos shark – but the whale-sharks, such large but gentle creatures, made the place magical. “The Bus” we called them as we sat at our bus station on “The Platform” at 55ft waiting for them to swing by.
It often looked like they were moving so slow but once alongside them, you’d feel your legs kicking harder and harder just to keep up. It was simply an incredible and humbling place that allowed us to actually scuba dive with them until they decided it was time to go. The best was catching several sightings at once. It’s time to go back and see all my friends again, underwater and above.
Brian Carney – Narragansett Pier, RI
This dive site is a special place for me because of how many times I dove there and how many people I was able to experience this site with. It is a relatively easy entry and once you get in, depending on the time of year, you are greeted by a number of small animals. If you are lucky, schools of Striped Bass frequent the area. So much so, that I have been in 15 feet of water there, remaining still, and have had a school completely engulf me for 15 minutes.
It was also a place that I went to when I needed a little quiet time where I could just put my nose in a spot and look at all the small creatures that were abundant. The biggest hazard there is that it is occasionally used as a boat ramp,so diving right in front of the ramp is not a good idea, but by moving 200 yards up the coast in the rocks you can pretty much avoidboat traffic – but diving with a flag is a must.
Shawn Harrison – Night Dive on oil docks in Edmonds
This is a very hard question to really answer because we all have had some incredible dives in our lifetime somewhere. To me, Alki Beach Cove #2 was some of the best dives I experienced (but I know there have been changes to this location over the years). This spot at night would always come alive with many different species: Dogfish, Spotted Ratfish, Squid, Six Gill sharks, and the famous Pacific Northwest Giant Octopus. You would see so many different things on each dive, every time. In fact, once on a dive with two other people, we came across this 55 gallon metal trash can sitting upright at around 60ft with nothing around (odd, yes) so we looked inside and sleeping in there was the largest Octopus any of us had ever seen – of course none of us had a camera with us. We hovered watching it for a while before we started off in another direction… but this was just one dive out of many that made this an incredible dive site.
There are such an amazing amount of experiences and stories from our staff that I am thinking I should write a book; I don’t believe it should be too difficult seeing that we are a company that focuses on dive training and are all divers, instructors, or instructor trainers. While some offices may have the water cooler talk on a Monday morning discussing last night’s “Big Game”, Monday mornings at SDI/TDI/ERDI usually start out with, “Where did you go diving this weekend?”
Now, we want to hear from you…what is your favorite site?
What is your favorite dive destination? Let us know in the comments below.
To find out more about International Training, visit www.tdisdi.com.