Archives for January, 2012

When you are on your next scuba diving trip to Grand Cayman make a point to get to Andes Wall. It is certainly one of my favorite sites on the island and is accessible from the West Side dive boat operators or out of Rum Point.   Andes Wall Grand Cayman is a great wall dive and is a premium spot for underwater photography.

Andes Wall Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Andes Wall, Grand Cayman

Andes Wall Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Grand Cayman past Rum Point, Looking from the mooring ball at Andes Wall

Andes Wall Grand Cayman is located just past Rum Point on the North Wall.  Typical conditions are 100+ feet of visibility and has a sheer drop along the wall of several thousand feet.

On this dive you will see Spotted Eagle Rays on almost every dive.  There are also other pelagics that can be found here from the elusive Tiger Shark to White Tips, Hammerheads and more.

Andes Wall Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Spotted Eagle Ray, Aetobatus narinari, Grand Cayman

I went with Red Sail Sports on my last dive at Andes Wall and the day was absolutely perfect for underwater photography.  It was one of those extremely rare days when the north wall was absolutely flat.  The visibility was over 150, no current, very little particulates in the water and there were only 8 divers on the boat.  This must be paradise. Andes Wall is just about 10 to 15 minutes past Rum Point on the North Side and one of my two favorite dive sites on the North Wall.

Andes Wall Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Spotted Eagle Ray, Aetobatus narinari, Grand Cayman

You can dive Andes Wall Grand Cayman as a shallow top of the wall or as a deep wall dive.  I would highly recommend the wall dive.  When we descended to the mooring  the first thing I noticed on this dive was a Spotted Eagle Ray in the distance and a Great Barracuda cruising by.    This was one of seven that I saw on this dive.  After meeting at the mooring pin, we head to the wall notch, the visibility is absolutely phenomenal.  We then made our way through the “notch” to the wall and immediately on my left was another Spotted Eagle Ray.  This is going to be a great dive.

Andes Wall Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Blackcap Basslet, Gramma melacara, Grand Cayman

As we move past the 90 foot level out to the wall I notice a number of Blackcap Basslets swimming upside down in a small indentation in the wall.  There are a great variety of fish usually on this dive.  Today we see Schoolmasters, numerous types of basslets, Princess Parrotfish, Bermuda Chub, Blue Chromis, Trumpetfish, Gray Angelfish, Spiny Lobsters, Spotted Eagle Rays and much, much more. The soft corals are amazing on this part of the island and they are especially plentiful around the mooring ball on this dive.  You will find several great places to get photos of sea fans, or sea rods, sea whips and of course many colorful stony corals as well.

Andes Wall Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Green Moray Eel, Gymnothorax funebris, Grand Cayman

Andes Wall Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Spotted Eagle Ray, Aetobatus narinari, Grand Cayman

Then the shot of the trip.  I was setting up to take a shot of a Giant Slit-Pore Sea Rod and looking up towards the sun to frame the soft coral  I noticed one of the Spotted Eagle Rays that had been following us throughout the dive and repositioned slightly and the rest…well I will leave it up to the photo to speak for itself.  Needless to say I think I found an image that was definitely worth waiting for….

Andes Wall Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Spiny Lobster, Palinuridae argus, Grand Cayman

Andes Wall Grand Cayman is magic and as a scuba diver this is a highly recommended dive if you get the chance the next time you come to Grand Cayman and if you are an underwater photographer, perhaps you can make a little magic of your own.

The pool is open…..

Shipwrecks (Steven W Smeltzer)

Debris Field, Oro Verde, Grand Cayman

Some of the most interesting types of shipwrecks for scuba diving are the purpose sunk ships that have been scuttled to create artificial reefs. After adequate preparation, this is a wonderful way for older ships to give not only a benefit to scuba divers but also a shelter to a variety of marine organisms (see National Geographic article “Artificial Reefs: Trash to Treasure” February 5, 2001).

Shipwrecks (Steven W Smeltzer)

Port Side, Doc Paulson, Grand Cayman

Along with true shipwrecks, there have been and continue to be a large number of ships sunk to create artificial reefs (Wikipedia provides a list of some wrecks that have been reefed over the last twenty years including the HMAS Adelaide and the USS Kittiwake which were just sunk in 2011). These wrecks have come to be an important part of the local ecosystems*. In fact, these wrecks may also offer an opportunity to help improve the condition of reefs

Shipwrecks (Steven W Smeltzer)

View from above. Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii

globally. Studies from the Red Sea and other locations tend to show that there is little difference between developments of an artificial reef as compared to natural reefs. Artificial reefs made from steel vessels offers long-term development for the reef and immediate space for organisms to inhabit.

Shipwrecks (Steven W Smeltzer)

Decent, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

PADI and NAUI offer specialty shipwrecks diving courses to train divers in “safety, hazards and cautions, special risks of overhead environments, entanglement, limited visibility, deep diving, equipment, site of wrecks, sources of information, search methods, underwater navigation, legal aspects, artifacts, treasure, salvage, archaeology, and much more”. Wreck diving can be a wonderful experience for any diver. However, before penetrating any ship the diver should have adequate training according to the state of the ship being explored. Deep water wrecks, “natural” shipwrecks, etc., should only be explored by experienced and trained divers using appropriate safety gear and precautions.

Shipwrecks (Steven W Smeltzer)

Frogfish Closeup, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii

Unlike true shipwrecks many reefed ships such as the USS Kittiwake in Grand Cayman, have been extensively prepared for reefing to make entry, exploration and exiting the ship relatively safe and easy. However, many older reefed ships should be approached cautiously and if the diver is not “wreck” certified penetration of the wreck should not be attempted. They key is to understand the condition of the wreck and what the diver is likely to encounter before entering the water. Use of a high quality scuba diving operation will greatly add to the safety and enjoyment of the diving experience.

Shipwrecks (Steven W Smeltzer)

Port side, main deck, USS Kittiwake

As an underwater photographer, shipwrecks hold a special fascination to me. To be able to capture the mystery and character of the ship in a photo is a special challenge. However, there are those moments when you are able to get everything just right and the photo seems to come alive. The ability of a photo to transport the viewer into the image and experience the wonder of the moment is the real test of a truly amazing photo.

*Note: While there continues to be some debate about the benefits of creating artificial reefs, the benefit of these reefs can be clearly seen from many long-term – 20 year plus artificial reefs in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean and other locations. You can read more about reefing of ships at www.natgeo.com and many other websites and review “National Guidance: Best Management Practices for Preparing Vessels Intended to Create Artificial Reefs” which was developed by the USEPA and the US Maritime Administration.
Come explore my shipwreck diving photos in the following galleries on my website and remember “the pool is open”.

The Carthaginian II Gallery

USS Kittwake Gallery

Doc Polson Gallery

The Oro Verde Gallery

Ships sunk for wreck diving (from Wikipedia)

Date Ship Name Location Country
2011 USS Arthur W. Radford (DD-968) Cape May, New Jersey United States
2011 HMAS Adelaide Avoca Beach, New South Wales Australia
2011 USS Kittiwake >West Bay, Grand Cayman Cayman Islands
2009 HMAS Canberra Barwon Heads, Victoria Australia
2009 USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg (T-AGM-10) Key West, Florida United States
2007 HMNZS Canterbury Bay of Islands New Zealand
2006 Xihwu Boeing 737 British Columbia Canada
2005 Carthaginian II Lanai Hawaii United States
2005 HMNZS Wellington Wellington New Zealand
2005 HMAS Brisbane Mooloolaba, Queensland Australia
2004 HMS Scylla Whitsand Bay, Cornwall United Kingdom
2004 USS Oriskany Florida United States
2003 CS Charles L Brown Sint Eustatius Leeward Islands
2003 HMCS Nipigon Quebec Canada
2002 MV Dania Mombasa Kenya
2002 USS Spiegel Grove Florida United States
002 HMAS Hobart Yankalilla Bay, South Australia Australia
2001 HMCS Cape Breton British Columbia Canada
2001 HMAS Perth Albany, Western Australia Australia
2000 HMCS Yukon San Diego, California United States
2000 Stanegarth Stoney Cove United Kingdom
2000 HMNZS Waikato Tutukaka New Zealand
1999 HMNZS Tui Tutukaka Heads New Zealand
1995 HMCS Saskatchewan British Columbia Canada
1997 HMAS Swan Dunsborough, Western Australia Australia
1996 HMCS Columbia British Columbia Canada
1996 MV Captain Keith Tibbetts (formerly Russian-built Frigate 356) Cayman Brac Cayman Islands
1996 Inganess Bay British Virgin Islands
1995 HMCS Mackenzie British Columbia Canada
1992 HMCS Chaudire British Columbia Canada
1991 to 2001 Wreck Alley – The Marie L, The Pat and The Beata British Virgin Islands
1991 MV G.B. Church British Columbia Canada
1990 Fontao Durban South Africa
1990 T-Barge Durban South Africa
1987 to 2000 Wreck Alley San Diego, California United States
1987 USCGC Bibb Florida United States
1987 USCGC Duane Florida United States
1981 Doc Poulson Cayman Islands
1980 Oro Verde Cayman Islands
1970 Glen Strathallen (sunk to produce a diver training facility) Plymouth United Kingdom

The pool is open…..

Description

Mala Pier, Maui Hawaii, (Steven W Smeltzer)

Atlantis found, Mala Pier, Maui Hawaii

Mala Pier is without a doubt one of the top if not the top shore dive on Maui.  This is especially true of the available sites on the leeward side of the island near Kaanapali. The pier is in the middle of Lahina near the Canary Mall. When you are driving along the highway from Kaanapali back towards Kahului you can see the pier on the right just as you start into Lahina. Mala Pier is an extremely easy boat dive and a moderately easy shore dive (the only difficulty is the entry if you go over the reef on the side of the pier).

Mala Pier, Maui Hawaii, (Steven W Smeltzer)

Yellowfin Goatfish, Mulloidichthys vanicolensis, Maui Hawaii

The dive itself is between 15 to 35 feet and you can spend well over an hour assuming you have reasonable air consumption. Mala Pier is loaded with all kinds of schooling fish, Green Sea Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles, White-tip Reef Sharks, lots of Butterflyfishes, and much more making it an excellent site for underwater photography.
Mala pier was built in the early 1900’s by the Dole Pineapple company to be able to offload pineapples from Lanai.  They would then have them processed at the Pineapple Cannery in Lahina which is now the Cannery Mall. Mala pier, for a variety of reasons, was never used by the Dole Company but did see service in WWII for loading and unloading supplies. The concrete pier stood until 1992 when it was destroyed in hurricane Iniki.  However, the destruction of the pier has been a boon for scuba divers in Maui.

Mala Pier The Dive

Mala Pier, Maui Hawaii, (Steven W Smeltzer)

White-tip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus, mano lalakea, Maui Hawaii

Mala Pier makes a great morning or afternoon dive and is spectacular as a night dive. However, I would highly recommend that you dive the site first during the day before attempting a night dive. Visibility is usually quite good, from 40 feet and up. There is no current to speak of and the site is quite easy to navigate. You swim out following the remains of the pier and then turn around and follow them back to shore. No worries, very easy navigation. There are also a few coral mounds in the sand surrounding the pier which are also quite interesting and make for great macro photography. But you should be a reasonable navigator to investigate these additional sites.
To enter Mala Pier, there is ample parking found at the pier and there is also a place to rinse your gear after the dive at the top of the boat ramp. The dive site can be entered in one of three ways, entering via the beach on the west side of the pier that is still standing, walking down the boat ramp but don’t tell anyone I mentioned the second option, or  probably the third and easiest option is to enter via the small beach to the east or shore side of the boat ramp and then swim around to the dive site.’

Mala Pier, Maui Hawaii, (Steven W Smeltzer)

Keeltail Needlefish, Platybelone argalus, Maui Hawaii

If you enter Mala Pier from the beach, on the west side, it is best done when there is a high tide.  You will have to cross a very shallow reef and will most likely have to walk part of the way out over the coral. If you choose this entry I would suggest that you float your gear and not put on your fins or BC until you reach deeper water. Please check the local tides with Google or go to tides.info and search for tidal information for Lahina before your dive.

However, I would highly recommend entering Mala PIer via the small beach to the east of the boat ramp.  This is a very easy entry and a requires a relatively easy 10 minute swim around to the pier in calm water.

Mala Pier, Maui Hawaii, (Steven W Smeltzer)

White-tip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus, mano lalakea, Maui Hawaii

Once you enter the site you will quickly get to about 15 feet of water and can begin your dive. You will notice many Keetail Needlefish around the standing and fallen columns of the pier. You will also see a number of juvenile fish of a variety of species in this same area. As you move further along the pier you will encounter a wide variety of corals attached to the pier and a number of different types of Butterflyfishes, Bird Wrasses, Goatfishes, Green Sea Turtles and much more.
If you are looking for sharks you can almost guarantee that you will see several White-tip reef sharks on this dive. There is usually one or more resting under the fallen columns towards the far end of the pier. You will also see sharks resting on the bottom typically on the western side of the pier usually mid-way down to pier to the end of the pier. You can also encounter these sharks as they are cruising around the ruble in search of the next meal. Don’t worry they won’t bother divers unless they are significantly provoked. So approach slowly and then take the time to appreciate these marvelous creatures.
This is a great dive site. Take your time to truly appreciate it. If you need to rent tanks check out Lahina Divers, they are my favorite dive operation on Maui, but you can also rent from a number of other locations.
You can see the complete photo gallery for Mala Pier at stevenwsmeltzer.com as well as more on underwater photography and landscape photography or you can follow me on Twitter at Images2Inspire.

The pool is open…..