Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Scuba Diving: Forget New Providence, it’s Time To Head West… Or East

By Imogene Reed

The sheer amount of world class dive sites that surround the 25 major island groups in the Bahamas makes it an essential destination for any aspiring diver. The crystal clear water, abundance of reefs, varied sea life, and eerie shipwrecks make it something truly special for the adventurous diver, but it can be difficult to decide where to dive when there are so many fantastic spots to choose from.

New Providence gets a lot of the attention, especially with the majority of the tourism based here, but for something far more exciting you don’t need to look far. To either side of the New Providence lie two islands which offer something completely different to the crowded spots surrounding the most populous island in the Bahamas.

Andros – To The West

The biggest island in the Bahamas, you could fit all the other Bahamian islands into Andros and there would still be space left over. It is funny that only around 8,000 people call this island home, and almost all of them in an area on the island’s east coast. The lack of people living here makes it one of the least densely populated places in the Western Hemisphere, bar Alaska, North Canada, and the Amazon Basin.

Often described as the least explored island in the Bahamian chain, Andros offers some truly special and unique features for scuba divers. First of all, Andros has the third largest barrier reef in the world, which stretches for over 130km along its coastline, but only extends into the ocean between 1 and 2 miles depending on where you are along it. Once past the edge of the shallow barrier reef, the water depth rises to around 120 feet, until you reach ‘The Wall’, and then the bottom of the ocean disappears from view as it shoots down to around 6,000 feet deep.

This deep oceanic trench is called the ‘Tongue of the Ocean’, and the cool water it brings up from the deep ocean has resulted in the barrier reef around Andros having a huge range of different sea life. Humpback and Pilot whales have been spotted in the waters off of Andros, and you can see up to four different species of turtles when diving around this awe-inspiring island.

Eleuthera – To The East

Quite the opposite of the large mass of Andros, Eleuthera is a very long and thin island, measuring not much more than a mile in some spots. There's no place on this unspoilt paradise for magnificent cruise liners like the Celebrity Eclipse to dock and for those of you who love serenity, that's a good thing. One thing it does share in common with its larger neighbour is the lack of people on the island, with a similar population of around 8,000. Intriguingly, this island was the first of the Bahamas to be settled, when in 1648, English colonists from nearby Bermuda began living on Eleuthera.

Instead of a barrier reef and huge drop into the ocean, Eleuthera offers something different for the scuba diver that wants to see and do it all. The island curls round in a crescent shape, and the water to the west is captured in a shallow water semi-circle. On the opposite side the huge expanse of the Atlantic Ocean stretches out from the coastline, and both sides have some great dive spots.

One of the unique diving experiences available here is a trip through the Current Cut. At the tip of Eleuthera is an island called Current, and the small channel that separates the two islands has a strong current when the tide is forced through it. Divers can be dragged along at speeds of 6 to 10 knots through the Current Cut, while marvelling at the sharks and fish that inhabit this turbulent passage.

The other thing that makes Eleuthera great for diving is the amount of shipwrecks that surround the island. The largest and best has to be the Arimora, a Lebanese freighter that ran aground in 1970. The ship has managed to sink to the sea floor upright, so it appears as if it’s anchored at the bottom of the sea! The rusting remains of this ship attract all sorts of different fish, and it never fails to impress new divers. Another shipwreck that shouldn’t be missed is the Carnavon, a Welsh freighter that sank in 1916 and has ended up on its side. The enormous anchors and propeller are clearly visible when diving around the Carnarvon, and because the wreck lies only 30 feet beneath the surface the dive can be very relaxing.