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SCUBA DIVING ADVENTURES - BENEATH THE SURFACE IN THE TURKS AND CAICOS
 
(2010 - Winter Issue)

Writer: BY ROBERT CHOQUETTE AND MARILYN GRIFFITHS



It’s hard to beat that brief encounter with a pod of bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the boat’s wake or the squadrons of alarmed flying fish taking off from the bow wave, skimming the surface in an instinctive escape, unaware of the frigate birds, masked boobies and pelicans ready to strike.

The whole drama unfolds before your eyes and you’re not even wet yet. The fact is, most divers recognize that one of the most pleasant parts of the experience is the travel time to or from a dive site on board a fast, comfortable boat.

IDEAL CONDITIONS

As far as boat diving goes, many divers from all over the world believe the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) offer some of the best in the Caribbean. Here they experience excellent visibility, healthy reefs, spectacular vertical walls and an abundant marine life. The phrase world-class comes to mind. 

From the deck of any dive boat in the Turks and Caicos, the islands appear as low-lying flat pans of weathered limestone covered with sparse vegetation. In fact, the nine main islands and numerous cays that comprise the TCI are an extension of the Bahamian archipelago and are not technically in the Caribbean. They’re actually in the Atlantic Ocean—885 kilometres southeast of Miami, 144 kilometres north of the Dominican Republic, and only 40 kilometres southeast of the nearest Bahamian island.

But the best lies below the surface. The islands are simply a small portion of the sprawling shallow banks that cover an area at least 10 times the size of the land mass visible above the surface. These shallow waters are the habitat of a rich and diverse marine life highly coveted by divers. The islands’ low profiles also mean limited rainfall, no runoff to speak of and, therefore, very good visibility on the reefs, normally in the 20- to 30-metre range, but with lucky strikes of up to 60 metres.

The climate is certainly tropical and the warm Gulf Stream waters combined with the steady trade winds bring dry temperatures ranging between 25 and 32 C. On the reefs, water temperatures range from 24 C in February to 30 C in August.

UNLIMITED CHOICES

This destination features so many scuba diving operations that choosing the right outfit should be based on whether you’re an occasional or a hard-core diver. Providenciales, commonly referred to as “Provo,” is the most developed island. International flights land here and it offers the largest selection of hotels, restaurants and entertainment, as well as a casino and an 18-hole championship golf course. It’s also home to 19-kilometre Grace Bay beach, the “Best Tropical Island Beach in the World” according to Condé Nast Traveler magazine. Diving enthusiasts, occasional divers and non-divers, especially those travelling with kids, are wise to choose Provo, which is where most dive operators are based anyway. 

West, North, Middle, East and South Caicos are some of the main islands surrounding Provo. The most popular dive sites around Provo are found at Grace Bay, Northwest Point, West Caicos, Parrot Cay, Dellis Cay, Pine Cay and French Cay. Most are under national park protection. The best sites require more travel time (45 to 90 minutes), however most Provo operators run large fast boats. Remember, the ride topside can be very rewarding.

WHAT LIES BELOW

Below, well, it’s off-the-wall. A typical dive site at West Caicos features a patch reef that slopes to the top of the wall at 15 to 20 metres. From there, it’s straight down to 2,000 metres. On the wall, besides gigantic barrel sponges and all sorts of soft coral, divers will meet hawksbill turtles, barracudas and schools of horse-eye jacks. Spotted eagle rays as well as reef and blacktip sharks are regular visitors. Lucky divers might even encounter manta rays and hammerheads. 

Many seasoned divers elect to stay at Grand Turk or tiny Salt Cay. From Provo, it’s a short hop by plane on a six-seater. Grand Turk is the capital island of the TCI and Cockburn Town with its historical buildings and charm is the centre.

From here, the top of the drop-off is so close to the beach that it can be done as a shore dive. People choose the island for its tranquility topside and for its high-energy dives below, namely wall and pelagic zone (open sea) dives.

The presence of the Columbus Passage, a 35-kilometre-wide channel that separates the Turks from the Caicos Islands is the reason for the abundance of large marine animals. This 2,400-metre-deep trench serves as a major transit path for migrating animals including spotted eagle and manta rays; reef, tiger, blacktip and hammerhead sharks; turtles; dolphins; and, in February and March, humpback whales. Most dive sites are minutes from shore by boat.

UNBEATABLE EXPERIENCES

Live-aboards are an exceptional option for those who want to see and dive it all—seven nights on board, six days of diving and up to five dives a day. That’s not only a lot of diving, it is also a pampered experience during which the crew is attentive to all your personal needs.

Two well-reputed operations based in Provo are The Turks and Caicos Aggressor II and the Turks and Caicos Explorer II. From either live-aboard, you get to dive sites that are seldom visited or too far for day boats to reach. It’s like having your own private reef.

TRAVEL PLANNER

For more information on all the Turks and Caicos Islands have to offer, visit turksandcaicostourism.com.

English is the primary language, driving is on the left, yet the U.S. dollar is the currency. Electrical current is 110 volts, 60 cycles, just like in Canada.

 
 
 
 
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