Archives for September, 2011

Babylon, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Spotted Eagle Ray, Aetobatus narinari, Grand Cayman

Babylon, just the name alone brings a smile to those that know diving in the Caymans. Remote, lightly touched by regular tourists and yet noted as one of the Top 10 wall dives in the Caribbean. Just mention the word Babylon to any Cayman Dive master and you will notice a sparkle in their eye.

A trip to Babylon from one of the dive operators catering to the seven mile beach divers may cost you a case of the captain’s favorite beverage or other sorts of inducement. This is the kind of dive is saved for the local staff’s day off or to really impress experienced divers.  It definitely pays to tip your captain well.

Babylon, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Spotted Trunkfish, Lactophrys bicaudalis, Grand Cayman

Babylon is one of the most remote dive sites on Grand Cayman.  It is on the North Wall, half way between Rum Point and East End and it is about an hour drive from the west side hotels.  It is usually visited by diver operators on the North End or by dive boats on 3 Tank Safaris around the island or by live-a-board vessels.  However, don’t let all the hype about the beauty of this dive site and its remote location make you afraid.  It is not an advanced dive.  Once you get there, Babylon is a very easy dive, with the top of the Cayman wall starting between 35-45 feet. There are large sand patches on top of the wall and excellent shallow reefs for those scuba divers that do not want to venture too deep. However, for those scuba divers who want a true vertical experience, they will find it on the wall at Babylon.  The drop off is fantastic.

The wall topography changes from a sheer plunging wall face to cascading sheets of plate coral and large pinnacles jutting into the crystal clear waters of the Cayman Trench. You can regularly see large pelagic fish, turtles and rays swimming along the wall. While you are captivated by the pure vistas of Babylon do not forget to witness the Cayman reef inhabitants.  The wall teems with schools of Chromis, often interrupted by Barracuda, Stop-Light Parrot fish or Queen Angels. The wall is decorated with thick outcroppings of Black Coral, Purple Sea Fans, Barrel sponges and a great variety of other tropical marine life. So if you have the time, the inclination and the required tip for the captain, make sure your next trip to Cayman includes a stop at Babylon.

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Completing a dive site rating can be a tricky and very subject exercise.  Depending upon  who is providing the rating they may give a dive sit rating that is very high and someone else may rate the same site as average or even poor.  Giving a dive site rating is highly influenced by the experience of the individual diver.  If someone has only been diving in warm, tropical waters and then they go dive in Hawaii.  They may say the reef is “dead” because there are not any colorful soft corals to be seen. This would be an inaccurate description as the coral reefs around Hawaii are vibrant, but they are hard corals, not soft corals.  With the Dive Site Rating Matrix I have attempted to provide objective criteria to rate individual aspects of a dive.  For instance a dive may be awesome but if it is difficult to access then the overall rating of the dive would be lower compared to an awesome dive that is relatively easy to access.French Angelfish Close Up, Pomacanthus paru, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)

Please review the dive site rating matrix and rate your own favorite dive sites.

I would love your feedback and experience on how the rating matrix performs for the dive sites you are visiting.

You can go to the bottom of the table to scroll to the right and see additional rating categories.

RatingVisibilityAccessCurrentDepthHard/Soft CoralMarine Species VarietyPelagics / Mammals / Turtles / RaysSponges / PlantsWreck Dive
1<10 feetExtremely difficult; expert only; highly technicalStrong current, drift dive only and/or difficult entry / exit 120+ ft 36+ m (Technical Dive)What Coral? Or Dead, bleached,Limited variety; What Fish?No sightings, rare sightingsWhat sponges? Dead, diseasedScattered debris field / hard to distinquish
2>10 to 30 hazyDifficult; boat only; highly variableModerate to strong and/or strong surge; difficult entry and exit90 - 120 ft, 27 -37 mMinimal to moderate density fair health; noticeable damageSparse variety and density 1-3 sightings but may not be closeMinimal to higer density moderate health; noticeable damageScattered debris field but recognizable
3> 30 to 60+ typically hazyDifficult shore entry or boat only; and/or long distanceModerate current and/or moderate surge60 - 90 ft, 18-27 mSparse to moderate density; moderate to good healthSparse to medium variety; medium number/density 3- 5 sightings; 2 to 3 sightings close upSparse to Medium density moderately healthy spongesSomewhat scatter debris and large segments /limited navigation / highly technical
4> 60 to 100 clearEasy to moderately easy entry and exit; boat rideSmall or weak current only on portion of the dive30 - 60 ft, 9 - 18 mMedium to high density reasonably healthy Medium to high variety and medium number/density 5 to 7 sightings; 1 to 3 groups, 3 to 5 individuals closeMedium to high concentration, reasonably healthy spongesExplorable segments; good navigation; moderate to good condition
5> to infinity and beyondEasy entry and exit; boat or shore accessNo current 0 - 30 ft, 0 - 9 mHigh density; very healthyHigh variety and high number/density 10+ pelagics; 3+ sharks or any whale :-), multiple close upHigh concentrations and variety of sponges; very healthyHighly navigatible recent or ancient; great condition

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The Freckled Snake Eel, Callechelys lutea, is one of the more interesting eel species in Hawaii.  They borrow into the sand by day, appearing to labor heavily when breathing.  Their eyes are typically closed and can be approach quite closely if done slowly.  Even though you only see only its head sticking up from the sand, the Freckled Snake Eel can be up to about a meter in length under the sand.  Take a little time to watch this eel’s behavior if you are lucky enough to spot one.

Freckled Snake Eel (Steven Smeltzer)I photographed this Freckled Snake Eel at Molokini Crater just off of Maui in Hawaii at about 45 ft (13 m).  The snake eels can be found in the sand channels that run out from the remaining wall of the old volcano.  As you traverse the site and swim across the sand channels from one group or finger of coral to another, make sure to check the sand closely and you might be able to spot a Freckled Snake Eel.  You can also find these eels out swimming at night but it is quite rare.  If you do spot a Freckled Snake Eel approach slowly and spend a minute or two watching this interesting creature.

The Freckled Snake Eel is one of 15 families of true eels found in the coral reefs surrounding these islands.  The eel is typically light yellow in color and has numerous black spots covering its body.  These eels typically dwell at a depth range of 4 to 24 metres (13 to 79 ft), and forms burrows in sand sediments. Males can reach a maximum of 104 centimetres (41 in).  This eel is another of the many endemic marine species in Hawaii.

Check out other photos of eels on my blog or on my website.

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