Archives for Coral Reefs

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching, Maldives

Coral Bleaching threatens much of our fragile coral reefs around the world.   In 1998, sea-temperature warming caused extensive coral bleaching in the Maldives.  As a result, almost two thirds of coral reefs died.

Again, in May of 2016, the coral reefs of the Maldives experienced a severe bleaching incident. The surface water temperatures reached an all-time high in at 31 degrees Celsius in May 2016. Consequently, over 95% of coral around the islands died.

Scientist Azeez Hakim stated:

“before 1998, we never thought that this reef would die. We had always taken for granted that these animals would be there, that this reef would be there forever. El Niño gave us a wake-up call that these things are not going to be there forever. “

In Australia, back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 devastated a 1,500 km stretch of the famous barrier reef. While, before 2016 there had only been two bleaching events along the Great Barrier Reef in the past two decades.

Coral Bleaching – Why should we be concerned?

Coral reefs cover less than one tenth of one percent of the earth’s oceans.  Yet these same reefs contain one quarter of known marine fish species (Smithsonian Institute).

Reefs are formed by Corals “… animals that live in symbiosis with algae, a plant,” according to Jessica Bellworthy a PhD student at Professor Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences. The university’s study Red Sea corals seeks to understand their ability to resist extreme temperatures.

Corals and algae “provide services for each other,” with the algae providing “up to 90 percent of the coral animal’s food” through photosynthesis, said Bellworthy.  “When ocean temperatures get too hot, this symbiosis, this relationship, breaks down,” she said.

Maldives, Island Paradise

Yet in the Red Sea, where I have been diving many times, ocean temperatures can be much higher.  The Red Sea routinely experiences temperatures higher than the Maldives or in Australia.  So, could the Red Sea corals offer an opportunity to introduce “bleach resistant” coral into other threatened areas?

Dr. Fine’s research regarding Red Sea corals provides potential avenues and approaches to protect our coral reefs in the future.

Scripts Institute of Oceanography

Scripts Institute conducted a study of coral bleaching in the central Red Sea in the summer of 2010.  During this event the region experienced up to 10-11 degree increases in temperature many of weeks. The study found that shallow reefs and inshore reefs had a higher prevalence of bleaching. While Red Sea reefs are subject to increasing temperature pressures, the study showed that these reefs have a much higher temperature change tolerance.  Therefore, the implications are quite clear.   Corals that have lived and thrived in higher temperature environments are better suited to survive higher temperature seas in other areas.

Opportunities for Change

Consequently, saving our coral reef system is critical to maintaining food stock, industries and related jobs in many countries around the world.  In conclusion, introducing non-native species into a specific environment poses a number or questions and risks, yet a key question remains.   “Should we introduce corals that are already acclimated to higher temperatures to other environments?”  Finally, this answer could determine our ongoing ability to feed ourselves and our children in the future.

Scalloped Hammerhead - Elegance in Motion

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark- Elegance in Motion

A south swell has been running for several days with the wind blowing briskly out of the north.  It is Friday morning and I am looking forward to scuba diving with the Hammerhead Shark.  The dive site for today is about an hour from Lahaina Harbor across the Pailolo Channel and on the northeastern end of Molokai.  This dive will take approximately five hours from the time we leave the harbor until our return.

I checked into the Lahaina Divers shop, whom I highly recommend, around 6:50 am. I have been diving with them in Maui for over 10 years.  They have great boats and a skilled and highly professional crew.  Lahaina Divers is the only dive operation that has a regular Hammerhead Shark dive to Molokai.  After checking in, I park my car and then head down to the boat slip.  After all of the divers are aboard and a short safety briefing from the crew we head for Molokai.  A

Large Scalloped Hammerhead

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark – Encounter with 12 foot female

few of the divers on board have done this dive, including myself, many times.  However, for most on board this will be their fist dive on Molokai and the first time with Hammerhead sharks.

The Boat

The boat heads toward the dive site, staying close to the western shore of Maui, until we are almost directly across from the dive site.  The boat then makes a sharp turn to cross the channel.  The seas are running four to six feet with an occasional swell in excess of eight feet.  Some first timers on the boat get a bit nervous.  It takes about 25 to 30 minutes to cross over to Molokai and by that time a couple of divers on the boat that are sea sick.  This channel is one of the roughest in the Hawaiian islands.  Its name literally means “crazy fishermen”.  Because if someone was going to go fishing across this channel they must be crazy.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark - Exploration

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark – Exploration

The captain of the boat gives us a 10 minute warning telling us it is time to put on our gear and get ready to enter the water.  We put on our wet suits, BC’s, and fins while sitting in assigned stations on the boat.  The water is rough so we wait on the crew to help us stand up and move into position at the back of the boat.  But, we don’t enter yet.  We wait for the captain to move the boat into position and give us the signal to enter the water.  The crew tells us “1 minute”, “30 seconds”, “captain divers are ready”, then we wait for the captain.  The back of the boat swings round toward the islet, then the captain yells “dive, dive, dive”.  Our group jumps almost in unison and we are all in the water within 15 seconds.

 

The Dive

The surface is choppy and after making sure all divers are OK, we rapidly begin our descent.  The water is light to medium blue for the first thirty to forty feet with rays of sunlight filtering around us.  Then the water begins to slowly darken as we descend on the dive site know as Fish Rain.  The reef is on our right and blue water is to the left.  The bottom slopes gently downward from about 40 feet to around 120 feet.  While I love the reef, I constantly look into the blue, hoping to see a Scalloped Hammerhead Shark.

Fish Rain is located on Mokuhooniki Rock and is one of the most bio-diverse dive sites on the planet.  The density of marine species, the health of the corals and the presence of pelagics make this a must dive. But, again we have come to see the Hammerhead Shark.

Scalloped Hammerhead Close Up

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Close Up

Advanced Dive

The dive starts out in the lee of the islet which is somewhat protected from the crazy waters of the Pailolo Channel.  While this site can on rare occasion be like glass, it most often has swells of 2 to 4 feet and can grow on occasion to well over 6 feet.  This is not a dive for the novice diver.  This is an advanced dive and anyone thinking about going should carefully consider their level of experience and confidence.

You enter the water quickly from a moving boat a quickly descend to around 50 feet.  After your dive group assembles you will slowly make you way around the Islet in an arc.  The dive is a drift dive and can be one of the most difficult dives you will every make due to the entry into and exit from the water.  Again this dive is not for the novice, but oh what a dive.  I have been on this site dozens and dozens of times yet it never ceases to amaze me.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

Scalloped Hammerhead In Close

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark In Close

The Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) is a species of hammerhead shark, and part of the family Sphyrnidae. This shark can be found over continental and insular shelves and in nearby deeper water. It is found in warm temperate and tropical waters, worldwide from 46°N to 36°S. It can be found down to depths over 500 m (1,600 ft), but is most often found above 25 m (82 ft).[10] During the day, they are more often found close to shore, and at night, they hunt further offshore. Adults are found alone, in pairs, or in small schools, while young sharks occur in larger schools.[1] see this Wikipedia article for more details on Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks

The Scalloped Hammerhead Shark in Hawaii has been known to reach lengths of up to 13 feet however 6-8 feet is typically the average.  Near Mokuhooniki Rock, the Scalloped Hammerheads tend to be adults of 6 to 8 feet with the occasional shark measuring well over 10 feet.  These sharks can be found from very near the surface to about 130 ft.  We see them very often cruising just off the bottom of the channel between Molokai and Mokuhooniki Rock, where the depths run typically 100 to 130 feet.  We will see them in groups of 1 to 3 but many times you can see groups of 5 to 10 and occasionally many more.  On my best dive here I have just under 50 Scalloped Hammerheads and have been literally surrounded as I am taking photographs.

Observing Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks

These are magnificent creatures. It is a wonderful experience to remain absolutely still in the water and observe these sharks as they interact with you.  I have have had many occasions where sharks have swam with me for 10 to 15 minutes.  They are curious and will come in close to you and your group if you will remember a few key things:

  1. Keep your head on a swivel as you dive.  You want to be able to spot the sharks as soon as possible so your behavior does not cause them to move away from you
  2. When you see the sharks and you see they are heading in the general direction of your group slow down immediately and/or stop and observe their behavior
  3. If the sharks are moving away from your group keep swimming toward them and keep looking all around.  There are more than likely other sharks near by.
  4. Stay at 40 to 60 feet when you are looking for the sharks and then drop down to their depth when you see them.  This will conserve air and reduce the danger of nitrogen narcosis
  5. When the sharks are getting close to you stay still and let them swim to you.  I was getting ready for a wonderful encounter with a 12+foot female Scalloped Hammerhead Shark when a person in our dive group start swimming rapidly down towards the shark to get their “go-pro” shot.  The shark simply turned away and the diver probably did not get a good shot and the rest of the dive group was denied the experience of interacting with a large hammerhead.

The Pool Is Open

As I have said before, if not my very favorite, definitely in my top five.  This site has an amazing reef, tremendous bio-diversity, a very healthy reef system, does not see many divers and it has ….. Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks.

If you are an advanced diver, this site is definitely for you.  Maholo nui loa and safe diving.

Knob Hill

Knob Hill, Lanai

Knob Hill is an interesting and very nice dive site.  It is fairly shallow about 55 to 60 feet (16 to 18 meters) and teeming with life.  However, it is often not possible to dive on this site due to strong currents .  The dive site is just off the coast of Lanai by the Four Seasons Hotel.  The name comes from a large rock formation near the surface that is supported by four columns.  This is a large dive site on the south side of Lanai that is quite exposed.  I have been diving around Lanai for over 12 years and have been on this site maybe three or four times.

Knob Hill Rating = 3.86 out of 5

  • Visibility – moderate to very good
  • Access – Moderate; boat only and 45 to 50 minutes from Lahaina Harbor
  • Current – moderate strong most of time
  • Depth to 60 ft / 18 m
  • Reef health Hard / Soft Corals – Very Good
  • Marine species variety – Very Good
  • Pelagics / Mammals / Turtles / Rays – moderate to good, typical at least 1 to 3 sightings up close, sometimes many more

The only reason this site is not rated higher, is the current makes it a very difficult dive site to dive 80% of the time.  If the current is mild this is an awesome site.

Knob Hill Overview

Knob Hill Reef, Steven W Smeltzer, Lanai

Knob Hill Reef

Knob Hill has a number of swim throughs and volcanic structures, such as the “table” above that make the site quite interesting.  The marine life on the site is varied and abundant.  You will almost always find large schools of Pennant Butterflyfishes along with a wide variety of other  Butterflyfishes, Dascyllus, Yellow Tangs, Sea Turtles, White-tip Reef Sharks, various eels and much more.  Once the boat is on the mooring at Knob Hill, the dive master make take you on several different routes around this expansive dive site.  The hard coral here is quite healthy due to the current and infrequent visits by divers.  There is a nice swim through / cave where you can frequently find White-tip Reef Sharks.  You can also see quite a few nudibranchs on this site and rare species such as the endemic Yellow-striped Coris and Reticulated Butterflyfish.

Knob Hill, White-tip Reef Shark, Steven W Smeltzer,

White-tip Reef Shark, Profile, Triaenodon obesus, (Rüppell, 1837), mano lalakea, Lanai, Hawaii

There is also a nice swim through / cave on the site where you can many times find White-tip Reef Sharks.  This shark in particular was quite curious and swam with me through the swim through.  He even gave me a nice profile. 🙂

Visit my blog page Hawaiian Dive Site Reviews, to view reviews of other great dives in Hawaii.

Visit my website for other underwater photographs and/or follow me on Twitter.

The pool is open…..

Scuba Diving Molokai can be awesome, especially at Mokuhooniki Rock. The reef here is one of the most interesting that I have dove on anywhere on the planet. The variety of marine species, the isolation and the relatively untouched environment make this a one of a kind location.  But……we all come for the Hammerheads.

scuba diving Molokai

Mokuhooniiki Rock, Molokai

Mokuhooniki Rock or islet is located at 21 07′ 40″N, 156 42’20″W just off the North eastern coast of the island of Molokai.  This dive site, also known as Fish Rain, is one of my top ten scuba diving sites in the world.

Interacting with such a variety of marine life combined with the opportunity to spend time with large pelagic species makes this a special place.  When scuba diving Molokai Mokuhooniki Rock, you  encounter Hammerhead sharks on almost every dive.  You will also see a rich and diverse ecosystem containing large schools of Damsels and Butterflyfish to Dolphins, to Tiger Sharks and much much more.  You will be hard pressed to find other dive sites that have the abundance and variety of marine life in such a pristine condition.  If you are on Maui and you are an advanced diver, you simply must do this dive.

Scuba Diving Molokai – The Adventure

Scuba Diving Molokai (Steven W Smeltzer)

Spinner Dolphins Molokai Hawaii

This site can be adventure diving at its peak.  It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to go from the harbor in Lahaina to Mokuhooniiki Rock.  Crossing the Pailolo (means crazy fishermen) channel alone can bring seasoned divers to their knees.  It can be quite rough.  This is not a beginners dive site.  In fact even if you are an advanced rated diver, you should be extremely comfortable exiting a moving boat and reentering a moving boat in potentially rough and choppy seas.  I have been on this site dozens of times and while it can be like glass, it is extremely rare.  The site can also have 6+ foot waves.  I have seen divers break ribs on their reentry and others become extremely agitated and near panic on the pick up.  I remember one dive in particular where the waves, even in the lee of the rock, were running about 8 to 10 feet.  As the boat came around to pick us up I was literally on the top of one wave looking down at the captain of the boat who was on the top deck of a double deck dive boat.  The boat was some 5 feet or so below me in the trough of a wave.  I was thinking this is going to be a very interesting pickup.

But……what a great scuba diving site.

When scuba diving Molokai at Mokuhooniiki Rock, you enter the dive site typically in the lee of the islet on the right above.  The

Scuba Diving Molokai (Steven W Smeltzer)

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Sphyrna lewini, Molokai Hawaii, Moku Ho’oniki Rock

crew will let you know about ten minutes before it is time to enter the water.  They will begin lining you up at the back of the boat one at a time.  You will  have your mask and fins on, BC inflated and be holding anything you want to take into the water with you, including cameras.  If you have not entered a dive site from a moving boat before this will a bit of an adventure for you.  Think of it as channeling your inner Navy Seal.  When you are lined up at the back of the boat, the captain will swing the boat around toward the islet and when all divers are ready, the crew will say Divers Ready. They will then begin counting down two minutes, one minute, etc.  Then when the Captain gives his ok the crew will give you a signal “Dive, Dive, Dive”.  Do NOT enter the water before the crew has given you the OK, and said “Dive, Dive, Dive”.  The divers will quickly enter the water one after the other as the boat is moving.  Typically up to 8 divers may enter in 15 to 20 seconds.  You will then meet you dive guide on the surface and all begin your descent together.  You are usually on the surface no more than 30 seconds before beginning your descent.

And what a wonderful descent.  The islet will be on one side and you will see a gradual slope towards the bottom beneath you.  The

Scuba Diving Molokai (Steven W Smeltzer)

Fish Rain, Molokai Hawaii

depth is about 100 to 110 feet in the channel but only about 50 to 60 where you will be dropped off.  The visibility is usually very good allowing you to see 100 to 150+ feet in the distance.  There are fish everywhere.

The dive itself is basically a half-circle around Mokuhooniiki Rock and the boat will pick you up on the other side.  Dive time is usually about 50 minutes give or take depending on depth of the dive and your air consumption.  If you dive Nitrox, this is a great spot to use it as you can get a little more time at depth when looking for the Hammerheads.  I usually hang out to the left of the group as I don’t want to have a lot of other divers close to me when I am trying to get a shot.

The Hammerheads sharks are a bit skittish.  If you or someone in your group swims rapidly towards them, they will simply move away.  The key is to go slow and easy and be patient.  As you start your descent from the boat you will follow the slope down to around 50 feet and then do one of two things.  Either start swimming out into the blue and looking for the sharks, which we do many times on the first dive, or you will begin to swim around the islet.

There can be a bit of current here but usually it is not too bad.  Or if there is a ripping current it is usually going the direction of the dive once you pass the corner of the islet and it simply becomes a drift dive.  When Scuba Diving Molokai, you can see anything from dolphin, to Tiger Sharks (not often), to Greys, to Hammerheads, to a Monk seal.  You may also encounter a variety of rays and there have even been a few rare Humpback Whale sightings while on the dive (December to April).  The abundance of various fishes and eels will blow you away.  There are also many endemic species on this site so be attentive and take your time.

Scuba Diving Molokai (Steven W Smeltzer)

Molokai Pickup

When you surface you will stay with your dive group until the boat comes to get you.  You will need a safety sausage to go on this dive and at least one of you will inflate the sausage at the end of the dive to signal the boat.  If it is rough it is very important to stay as close together as possible while you are waiting to be picked up.  Their could be one or max two other groups in the water, so you may have to wait several minutes to be picked up.  Again be patient.

The boat will come very close to you and throw a line out to the divers.  You have to swim to the line and grab a hold and then begin to slowly move up the line towards the boat.  You will take off your fins while you are holding on the line and have those in one hand to give to one of the crew as they help you aboard.  If you have a camera as I do, then you will give them your camera first to the crew and then take off your fins. Then you will proceed towards the boat and use a ladder to board.  This can be quite intimidating if you have never done something like this, but the crew is exceptionally good at what they do.  Listen to them and do as they say and you will be fine.  Believe me this dive will be worth it.

Scuba Diving Molokai (Steven W Smeltzer)

Maui Flame

After you finish your first dive and complete your surface interval, you will basically repeat the same dive on your second dive.  But there is enough on this dive site to interest you no matter how many times you dive it.

After scuba diving Molokai you get to relax on the boat ride back to Lahaina and enjoy the other adventures that Maui has to offer.

Long may the Fish Rain…..the pool is open

 

 

Candy Cane Shrimp off the Sheraton reef on Maui.  I shot this photo on a night dive at about 40 feet.  The image was taken with a Nikon D90 using a Sigma 17-70 macro lens on a Nikon D90 zoomed to 70mm.

Candy Cane Shrimp (Steven Smeltzer)

Candy Cane Shrimp, Maui Hawaii, Sheraton reef

I love night dives.  This is the opportunity to see many marine species that you do not encounter during the day.  It is also a chance to see how the reef both sleeps and hunts.

Moray eels prowling the reef.  Turtles wedged between rocks to sleep. Sharks on the prowl.  It is a wonderful experience.

The Candy Cane Shrimp is a colorful shrimp that inhabits the reef and can provide some very interesting photographs.  I like the way the shrimp’s eyes reflect the reef.  They seem to be somewhat curious and alien.  In fact, the eyes of marine life make very interesting studies and provide great subject matter for photographs.

Check out other marine life photographs on my website.

The pool is open…..

It just goes to show you sometimes “mother nature” can be very funny and somewhat unpredictable.

I was on my second dive at Molokini Crater in Maui, Hawaii and exploring a number of the hard coral searching for octopus or other interesting marine life to get that one interesting shot.  I was swimming a bit away from a small group of fellow divers and my ever trusty dive model when I spotted a Hairy Crabs in amongst the hard corals in the crater (sorry I have a soft spot for these somewhat under appreciated crustaceans).  These crabs get their name from the “hair” on their claws.  Well they were well hidden within the corals and I just could not seem to get the correct angle to get a good photo, so I decided to continue my search for other interesting “prey”.  As I looked up to scan other marine life close by I had a very close encounter with what I can only describe as a somewhat amorous Scrawled Filefish.

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, Scrawled Filefish. Aluterus scriptusEvidently as I was trying to get my shot at the crabs, the Scrawled Filefish may have seen its image reflecting off of my dome port.  The file fish approached and looked like it was preparing for a kiss or at least a hungry embrace, only to bounce off of my dome port.  I just had time to get a shot of the shocked look of a wounded and shunned lover.

I was rolling underwater.

The pool is open…..

Green Sea Turtle, Mala Pier, Chelonia mydas, Maui HawaiiWe began a two week look at Maui, Lanai and Molokai reefs with a visit to Turtle Reef on Maui which is located outside and to the south of the harbor in Lahaina.  The name of this reef actually refers to a general area of reef on the western side of Maui from just past the harbor in Lahaina to Ukumehama Beach State Park (also know as Thousand Peaks).  This large area of reef has many dive spots and is relatively shallow with most of the dive under 35 to 40 feet.  This is a great spot for chilling and the reef is in very good conditions in most areas.   This site is popular for refresher dives and for completing the basic dives required for scuba certification.

The site can be a bit cloudy if the seas are choppy or you have a large swell, but for the most part visibility is reasonable and it is a good place to see a wide variety of Hawaiian marine life.  This site can be accessed from boat or shore.  The trip fro the harbor is just about 10 minutes so an easy ride and a great way to spend an afternoon.

Up later in the week are dives on Molokini Crater, Lanai, other areas of Maui and Molokai (looking for those Hammerheads).

The pool is open…

If you are heading to the islands this year for some fun in the sun and places to dive there are several great spots to consider.    There are a number of top Hawaiian Dive sites to visit and some of my favorite spots are on Lanai, Molokai, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii.

Scuba Diving Fish Rain, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)

If you are an advanced /experienced diver definitely head for Molokai and Fish Rain.  This is the place for Hammerheads and a beautiful pinnacle that literally “rains” fish as you look for the elusive Hammerhead sharks.

On Maui, there are several good places but two of my Mala Pier, Wide Angel, Ambient Light, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)favorites are Molokini Crater and Mala Pier.  You can dive Mala Pier as either a boat dive or a shore dive and it is really a great night dive and one of my favorite spots in Hawaii.  Easy entry (off the boat ramp) and usually great visibility, always sharks and turtles and great for ambient light photography.

Manta Ray in Flight, Manta birostris,  (Walbaum, 1792), Kona Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)On the Big Island you have to do the Manta Dive.  Check out the phases of the moon (seriously) before you head out as it seems that the Mantas can be seen more in the waxing and waning phases of the moon.  You can also check on daily sitings and help determine when it is your best chance at seeing the most Manta Rays.

For information on other dive sites go to my Hawaii Dive Sites page.. and visit my website for images of fish from around the world and reviews of other great dive sites.

The pool is open…

Menjangan Island Soft Tree Coral, Lemnalia cervicornis, Bali Indonesia (Steven W SMeltzer)Bali’s coral reef on Menjangan Island hosts some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world. Menjangan Island has been a marine preserve and protected by the Balinese government for a number of years. The island is also fairly isolated in that once you arrive at the airport you have to travel 4 to 6 hours by car to get to the resorts close to the island. This Menjangan Island Octocoral Dendronephthya spp, Bali Indonesia (Steven W SMeltzer)means their are few divers that explore this marvelous site that is rich with all types of marine species and you can also on special occasions come across large pelagic species such as the whale shark.

Menjangan Island Scuba Diving History

Menjangan Island, in the north-west of Bali, is where diving first really started on the island back in about 1978, under the sponsorship of the Indonesian Navy, when it arranged a get-together of the country’s main diving clubs – Possi, Ganesha, Nusantara & Triskati.

That lead to Menjangan Island establishing itself as the premier dive location in Bali and many of the attendees went on to become the pioneers of commercial dive operations across Indonesia.  About a year later the Liberty wreck was explored for the first time since it had slipped down the slope at Tulamben in March 1963 and Menjangan Island was soon relegated to the background of Bali diving.

Gorgonain-Fan-Bali

Menjangan Island, Gorgonian Fan

Menjangan Island is part of the 19,000 hectare West Bali (Bali Barat) National Park that was first established in 1982.  However, the island was made a game reserve by the Balinese Council of Kings in 1950 and has been fairly well protected ever since.  Both the relative difficulty of getting to the Menjangan Island from the normal tourist spots on Bali plus the fact that the site has been relatively protected since 1950 has resulted in a coral reef that is both vibrant and flourishing around the island.  The Liberty wreck in Tulamben is also still a favorite dive site, but has a very high amount of diver traffic and the site has predictably shown quite a bit of wear and tear.

Getting to Menjangan Island

If you are in the Nusa Dua, Kuta or Sanur area it will normally take you around 3.5 hours assuming no bad “jams” as the locals refer to the often crowded conditions of the roads on Bali. It can take up to six hours if the roads and traffic do not cooperate.  The best alternative is to stay at a local resort while diving on the north side of the island.  The Matahari Beach Resort and Spa in Permuteran is one of my favorites and is located next to the Coral Project in Permuteran Bay.  The hotel is definitely 4 to 5 stars and the largest of the resorts on this side of the island with excellent service, food and access to diving sites. I love the dive operator on the property, a Swiss German expat, who runs a very competent organization.

Getting to the Dive Sites

You can reach the dive sites via boats off the coast of Pemuteran Bay in front of the dive resorts or a boat from Banyuwedang Bay or Spine-cheek Anemonefish, Premnas biaculeatus, Bali Indonesia (Steven W SMeltzer)perhaps the boat service run by the parks service.  If you are staying at one of the resorts around Pemuteran Bay, taking the boat in front of your resort is the way to go.  The boat trip is about 30 to 40 minutes and the seas are usually fairly flat as the area around Menjangan Island is fairly well protected.

Diving is great year round and even in the “rainy winter season” the visibility is normally quite clear.  The island is not large and does not have much fresh water  runoff that will impact visibility.  There can be some current on various sites around the island so you may dive some of the sites as drift dives.  Remember to listen to the instructions of your dive master and enjoy the dive.

Come preview the gallery, the pool is open

New Year's Challenge Maui Paradise (Steven Smeltzer)

Will you take the New Year’s Challenge?  We have been extremely blessed this year and I want to wish you all a Happy New Year and a wonderful start to 2013.  We are traveling in Asia for the next few weeks and hopefully getting in some great dives.

During 2013 there will be many opportunities for each of us to make a difference in the lives of people around us.  Take time to consider what you have to offer and how you can impact different people in your life each and every day.

Vision

I have a vision where we can all work together to restore, preserve and protect our coral reefs.  Take the New Year’s Challenge.  In 2013 I will be focusing on coral reef systems and how individuals, companies and nations can:

    1. Better understand the state of reef systems around the worldFish Rain, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)
    2. Evaluate impacts of over fishing and pollution and coastal development
    3. Identify the reef systems that are in the highest state of danger over the next 5 to 10 years
    4. Review and assess methods being used today to help protect and/or restore and preserve those reef systems
    5. Create a set of tools to help educate students, parents and governments about our coral reefs and the importance of managing this incredible resource for future generations
    6. Partner with local communities to establish one or two long-term projects that will focus on restoring and preserving a specific coral reef systems

Off to Work....

New Year’s Challenge

Share What You Will Do in 2013 to Positively Impact Those Around You. Take the New Year’s Challenge.  If you hear of interesting reef projects or have ideas on reef preservation and restoration please share them and let’s work together to help care for and nurture our reefs.

What reef system concerns you the most?

What are the biggest issues impacting this reef system?

What are you doing to help bring awareness to others about the problems and issues on this reef system?

How could others help directly or indirectly with this reef system?

What is the near and longer term outlook for this reef system?

Remember we are all responsible for the care of our oceans, take the challenge…..the pool is open.

 

Happy New Year 

 

Kelp Forests of California

Diving the Kelp Forests

Magical and almost mystical, the kelp forests of California provide a unique and interesting habitat that stirs and inspires the imagination.  Giant Kelp Forests, Macrocystis pyrifera,  thrive along the western coast of North America, South America, South Africa,  Southern Australia,  and New Zealand

Kelp Forests of California

Kelp forest,  Macrocystis pyrifera, Southern California

where water temperatures typically range from 50° to 60° F (10°–15.5°C).  The Giant Kelp can also thrive in depths up to 30.5 m (100 ft.) depending upon the clarity of the water and the amount of sunlight available at depth.  As the largest kelp species, giant kelp attains heights up to 45.7 m (150 ft.) and in ideal conditions, giant kelp fronds can grow as much as 0.6 m (2 ft.) per day.

Swimming through these magnificent kelp forests is special.  With their tree-like structures swaying gently in the current, the

Kelp Forest, Giant Kelp

Kelp forest photograph, Macrocystis pyrifera, Southern California

Giant Kelp provides a perfect habitat for a wide variety marine creatures.  These life sustaining structures provide a critical foundation habitat to a number of fish, crustaceans,  sea anemones, corals, jellyfishes, sea otters and much more.

Giant Kelp

Giant kelp is golden brown with rootlike holdfasts, long, branched stipes and hundreds of wrinkled blades supported by bulb-shaped pneumatocysts.  It is an awesome experience to swim silently amongst these kelp forests as they gently sway with the current.  The light is subdued and somewhat distorted amongst the “branches” of the Giant Kelp and resident species of fish dart to and fro.  Visibility can range from a few inches to almost 60 feet depending upon the current and waves and whether the bottom is mainly sand or rock/coral.  With colorful Gerabaldi swimming around you along with a number of other species this makes a really interesting dive.

Garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicundus, Profile, Laguna Beach California (Steven W Smeltzer)Although the water temperature is cool to cold and you must wear a 5 to 7 mil wetsuit this is a dive that you should make a least once and if you are lucking enough to live along the California coast or the west coast of Latin America this should be a regular part of your diving.

For more information visit my website or blog or follow me on Twitter @Images2Inspire .  The Pool is Open…

What do you think of when you hear the term “Coral Reefs” or when someone asks “What are coral reefs”?. Some may think of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia while others may think of the reefs

Coral Reefs (Steven W Smeltzer)

Spiny Flower Coral. Mussa angulosa. Grand Cayman

surrounding the Caribbean islands or yet someone else may think of aqua-blue water and long sandy beaches surrounding their favorite island or tropical get away.

Coral reefs are definitely related to each of these but they are much, much more.

Coral Reefs (Steven W Smeltzer)

Bluestripe Snapper, Lutjanus kasmira, Molokai Hawaii

While Coral reefs cover less than one tenth of one percent of the earth’s oceans these same reefs are estimated to contain one quarter of known marine fish species (Smithsonian Institute).

Corals are tiny animals which belong to the group cnidaria (the “c” is silent). Other cnidarians include hydras, jellyfish, and sea anemones. Corals are sessile animals, meaning they are not mobile but stay fixed in one place. As corals grow and expand, they will form one three reef types:

  • Fringing
  • Barrier or
  • Atoll
Coral Reefs (Steven W Smeltzer)

Bubble-tip Anemone, Grand Cayman

All three reef types of coral reefs—fringing, barrier and atoll—share similarities in their bio-geographic profiles.

This series of articles we will answer the following questions:

What are Coral Reefs?
Where are they located and How were they formed?
What are the different types of Coral Reefs?
What types of creatures inhabit them?
What are the threats to Coral Reefs?
What are the potential impacts of these threats on us from the impacts to our economy, to food supplies, to medicines and more?
What if anything should we be doing to help the reefs?
How can you help?

So come join in the discovery of our coral reefs and the underwater world that is so amazing and important to each and everyone one of us.

Be sure to follow on our continuing series of articles as we explore the amazing world of coral reefs.

Marine Species Galleries:

Coral Reefs (Steven W Smeltzer)

Ridged Cactus Coral, Mycetophyllia lamarckiana, Grand Cayman

Coral Reef Images
Pictures of Fish
Sea Turtles
Crustaceans and Echinoderms
Moray Eels

Detailed Information on select Marine Species:
Caribbean Fish
Hawaiian Fish
Sponges
Crustaceans, Invertebrates, Mollusks, Echinoderms

The world of coral reefs contains one of the most diverse environments on our planet, supporting

Creatures of the Coral Reef (Steven W Smeltzer)

Gorgonian Fan and Spotted Eagle Ray, Grand Cayman

more species per square meter than any other ocean ecosystem. Creatures of the Coral Reef examines the phenomenal diversity of our coral reefs which are sometimes called the rain forests of the sea.  From the microscopic to the gigantic, coral reefs support and nurture a tremendous variety of creatures.

Creatures of the Coral Reef (Steven W Smeltzer)

Blue Dragon, Pteraeolidia ianthina

These reef systems have been built up over thousands of years by tiny  calcium-producing organisms.  These Creatures of the Coral Reef have constructed a haven for countless forms of life, some of which seem totally alien in form. It is a “Star Wars” world of bright colors, ever changing patterns and odd shaped creatures that look as though they came directly from central casting. Only on the coral reef can one find living examples from nearly every group of organisms.

Creatures of the Coral Reef Overview

Scuba Diving on a coral reef gives you some idea about what it would be like to explore another planet. Drifting weightless across this diverse landscape enables you to appreciate some of the tremendous complexity and simplicity that makes up the coral reef.

Creatures of the Coral Reef (Steven W Smeltzer)

Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas

Man has spent a relatively modest effort scientifically exploring the world’s oceans compared to the time and money that has gone into exploring the surface of the Moon and other planets. Yet, the growing and ongoing exploration of our oceans continues to bring the discovery of new species, the identification of different environments where marine life flourishes and a little more understanding of our underwater world.

Creatures of the Coral Reef (Steven W Smeltzer)

Sleepy Sponge Crab, Dromia dormia

It is a place of never-ending wonders. The world of the coral reef is also an extremely fragile environment, and it is under considerable pressure and facing real dangers to its continued existence. The distress and destruction of coral reefs has a noticeable impact on our lives from the foods we eat to the air we breathe.   From the Florida

Creatures of the Coral Reef (Steven W Smeltzer)

Grooved Brain Coral, Diploria labyrinthiformis

Keys to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, to the atolls of the Pacific and islands of the Indian Ocean our coral reefs need our help. If we wish to leave a healthy and thriving reef system to our children and their children we need to understand the threats to this amazing environment and understand actions that can be taken to preserve and restore our reefs.  These are our oceans and the first step to helping protect coral reefs is education.

This segment provides a high-level overview of the basic types of Creatures of the Coral Reef, including:

Creatures of the Coral Reef (Steven W Smeltzer)

White-tip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus

  • Sponges
  • Corals and Anemones
  • Sea Worms
  • Echinoderms
  • Crustaceans
  • Mollusks
  • Fishes
  • Sharks and Rays
  • Marine Reptiles
  • Marine Mammals

Come join us as we “dive into” this amazing and mysterious world. See more information on Creatures of the Coral Reef.

Manta Ray Duet. Manta birostris. Kona HawaiiA dive with the magnificent Giant Oceanic Manta Ray, Manta birostris, is something really special.  The  largest recorded Oceanic Manta Ray was more than 25 ft (7.6 m) across from wing-tip to wing-tip  and weighed over 5,300 pounds (2,400 kg).  Manta Rays have a short tail and no stinging spine. They are very acrobatic and you can see them perform aerobatic flips and rolls as they glide through the water.   They can even leap (breach) from the water.

Manta rays have the largest brain-to-body ratio of the sharks, rays and skates (Elasmobranchii), with ratios approaching what is expected in mammals rather than in fishes.

We did two dives one late afternoon and saw 17 Mantas swimming along the reef and then Manta Ray Garden Eel Cove,  Manta birostris, (Walbaum, 1792), Kona Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)coming to join us for a short time and then on the night dive we had 31 different Manta Rays swimming all around us.  The Mantas come to feed on plankton which is attracted to light.  The dive operators give individuals flashlights and also place some extra lights in the water and you simply sit in about 35 feet of water as the Mantas “fly” around you.  It is certainly a memorable dive.

The breeding behavior observed for manta rays is similar to other closely related rays. Copulation occurs near the surface, no deeper than one metre below. It begins with the male chasing the female, for up to half an hour, both often closely followed by a train of hopeful suitors. Such mating trains seem to be triggered by a full moon. The male bites the pectoral fin and then moves its claspers into the cloaca, holding it there for one minute to one and a half while copulation takes place. The developing eggs remain inside the female’s body for possibly as long as 12 months and hatch internally so that she bears live young. The average litter size is two pups, and there is often a two year gap between births. (source – Wikipedia).

Adults are easily recognized by their large triangular pectoral fins and projecting cephalic fins, forward extensions of the pectoral fins that project anteriorly on either side of the head. Each cephalic fin is about twice as long as its base is wide. The length of each cephalic lobe, from tip to the mouth, is 14% of the disc Manta Ray in Flight, Manta birostris,  (Walbaum, 1792), Kona Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)width. They are rolled like spirals when swimming and flattened when eating. This ray has smooth skin, a broad,rectangular terminal mouth located at the front of the head, and a tail that lacks a spine.

 

Manta Ray Encounter, Manta birostris, (Walbaum, 1792), Kona Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)I highly encourage you to take advantage of the chance to scuba dive with the Mantas the next time you are on the big island of Hawaii or if you are visiting Hanifaru, a small lagoon next to an uninhabited island in the Maldives or another Manta diving location.  It is an awesome opportunity to meet some truly wonderful creatures.

The pool is open…

 

 

The Carthaginian II was once used as a whaling museum in Lahaina Harbor.  It is a replica of a 19th century brig similar to the ships that first brought commerce to the Hawaiian Islands. The ship was a cement carrier built in Germany in 1920 and rechristened the Carthaginian II.

Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii

It sailed to Lahaina in 1973 where it took seven years for the historically accurate 18th century whaling ship rigging to be assembled. The Carthaginian II served as a reminder of Lahaina’s nautical heritage and was docked for many years at Lahaina Harbor. The ship was owned by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation which operated the museum on board that displayed relics of Lahaina’s historic whaling days.

Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Carthaginian, At the Dock, Maui Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer)

Although it had no true historical value, the Carthaginian II was one of Lahaina’s most recognizable attractions, featured in thousands of artworks and visitor photographs for over the 30 years. The ship belonged to the nonprofit Lahaina Restoration Foundation, which was spending $50,000 a year to maintain the rusting hulk. When marine engineers advised against further repairs because of the increasing costs, Atlantis was approached to claim the vessel and use it as an artificial reef which would in turn enhance the existing Atlantis submarine tours in Lahaina.

Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Carthaginian and Atlantis, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii

On December 13, 2005, following two years of preparation, Atlantis Adventures sank the Carthaginian off Lahaina, Maui.  This created an artificial reef that will have lasting marine life benefits. The reefing took place off Puamana which is just outside the Lahaina harbor. The 97-foot, steel-hulled vessel, sank in 95 feet of water where it will serve as an artificial reef.

Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Main Mast in Forward Hold, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii

The first Carthaginian was a replica of a whaling supply vessel used for the 1966 movie “Hawaii,” based on the James Michener novel. The Lahaina Restoration Foundation purchased the wooden boat, but it sank in 1972 on its way to O’ahu for dry dock. The German vessel was acquired and was rechristened the Carthaginian II and after extensive restoration work it served the city as a floating museum for many years.

Atlantis spent approximately $350,000 on the Carthaginian II project, including preparation of environmental studies. American Marine Services was hired to handle reefing operation. Before the Carthaginian II was towed from Lahaina Harbor, entertainers from the Old Lahaina Lu’au performed “Aloha ‘Oe” and members of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation placed lei on the vessel and held signs bidding it aloha.

To prepare for the sinking, 10 tons of concrete had been loaded on board, adding to the 35 tons of material the boat already was carrying. Atlantis’ small tugboat Roxie pulled the Carthaginian II out of the harbor before transferring the operation to the larger American Islander tugboat.

Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Frogfish Closeup, Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii

A flotilla of about 20 boats was waiting when the Carthaginian II arrived at Puamana, and spectators lined the shore or pulled over on Honoapi’ilani Highway to watch the spectacle. Kahu Charles Kaupu offered a Hawaiian blessing, and after a 3-ton anchor was secured to the bow and the boat was in position, patches were removed from two sets of holes that had been cut into the hull about 18 inches above the water line. Seawater was pumped into the hull, and 27 minutes later the Carthaginian was headed to the sandy bottom.

Observers let loose with applause and whoops of appreciation as the ship quietly slipped beneath the surface. Aboard the Atlantis shuttle boat three air-shattering blasts were fired from miniature brass cannon to mark the occasion.

Carthaginian II Overview

The Carthaginian II lies in about 90 feet of water of the coast of Lahina. It is about a 10 to 15 minute trip from the harbor to the dive site. The Carthaginian II was sunk approximately 10 years ago and now supports a wide variety of marine life.

Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Looking Through the Main Cabin, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii

When you begin to descend from the mooring ball you will normally be able to see the outline of the ship quite easily. The visibility is usually 80+ feet and much of the time over 100+ feet. There can be some current on this site so some divers may want to descend using the mooring line. As you descend you will begin to notice more details regarding the ship and the impacts of being on the reef for about 6 years. The main mast collapsed in mid-summer 2011 and can now be seen sitting on the deck. The main cabin roof and walls have deteriorated to some degree and there are numerous holes into the hold. The access to the hold itself is quite large and easily accessible. The engine room and forward compartment is blocked by a gate but you can still get a good variety of photos in this area. The rear area of the cargo hold is fairly clear and contains a variety of fish species and crustaceans.

Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Pacific Trumpetfish Entering Hold, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii

There are also a number of frogfish on the wreck. I was able to photograph five different frogfish on my last dive. These fish are extremely well placed for macro photos and can consume a lot of bottom time, but it is well worth the effort. Two frogfish were on the main deck to the rear of the main cabin and three were on the starboard side about the midships area.

You will find a wide variety of fish including, Pacific Trumpetfish, Sergeant Majors, Dascyllus, Orangespine Unicornfish, Rainbow Cleaner Wrasse, and many more.

This dive is best when there are less than ten divers in the water since the ship itself is not very large. It is a very worthwhile dive and I highly recommend it for your next trip to Maui.

Check out images of other wrecks on my website at www.stevenwsmeltzer.com or visit my blog blog.stevenwsmeltzer.com or follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/images2inspire

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Overall Rating = 3.75 out of 5

Molokini Morning. Maui HawaiiMolokini Crater is one of the best dives if not the best dive on Maui. This scuba diving site is only accessible via boat and is at the remnants of an extinct volcano. The crescent of the volcano “cone” rises above the sea some 165 feet. The small island lies in the Alalakeiki Channel between the islands of Kahoolawe and Maui. The opening side of the crater faces the northwest and only a short boat ride from the Wailea side of Maui. If you are interested in some of the history around White-tip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus, (RÃppell, 1837), Maui Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer)Molokini Crater there is a short article written by Edward L Caum, Geology of Molokini and published in 1930. There are a couple of “plate” photographs included in the artiBlackside Hawkfish, Paracirrhites forsteri, (Bloch & Schneider, 1801), Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)cle and it is interesting to compare to the crater today. Molokini Crater has been a Marine Preserve(MLCD) since the summer of 1977 and features one of the most pristine hard coral reefs in Hawaii.

The ride from the Lahina side of the island takes about 45 minutes and if you tend to get sea sick, I would recommend driving about 45 minutes or an hour to the Wailea area where you can take a very easy boat ride to the crater.

I prefer scuba diving with Lahina Divers but you must take about a 45 minute boat ride to the Molokini crater. If you want you can use a scuba diving operator that leaves from the Wailea side of Maui. If you are staying in Wailea I would certainly recommend this, although the boats tend to be smaller and there is one operator on that side that I simply refer to as the “Scuba Nazi”. So be careful of the operator that you choose. Make sure you check out the reviews and the equipment used by each of the dive operators. The v-hull boats that leave the Wailea area can be quite cramped if the number of divers is more than 10 on the boat and on many of these there is little if any room to move around.

The Dive

  • Access – Moderate to Moderately Difficult to reach the site; boat only (You shouldFreckled Snake Eel, Callechelys lutea, Snyder 1904, Maui Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer) not take a boat from Lahaina if you get seasick – 45 minute boat ride); Much easier ride from Wailea side.
  • Depth to 125+ft
  • Visibility – good to excellent
  • Current – mild to extremely strong at the edges of the crater
  • Marine Species variety – good; normally White-tip Reef Sharks at about 110 feet on the far eastern edge of the crescent
  • Reef health – good to very good

Scuba Diving Molokini Crater is certainly the best boat dive on the island of Maui. You have to go to Lanai or Molokai to find better deep water scuba diving sites. The clarity of the water is usually quite good at Molokini and there are a several dive sites on the volcano on the outside of the crescent shape crater and on the inside of the crater.

  • Enenue – Inside eastern tip of the crescent
  • Middle Reef – Inside just to the east of the middle of the crescent and closer to the cone
  • Tako Flats – Inside on the western side of the crescent
  • Reef’s End – Far western end of the crescent
  • The Back Side – Outside or on the back of the crescent

Reef White Tipped Shark, Triaeonodon obesus, (Rüppell, 1837), Molokini Crater 110 ft (Steven Smeltzer)For inside the crater I like the Eastern edge – Enenue. At about 120 feet there is a series of overhangs that tend to house several White-tip Reef Sharks. As you are swimming down and back up after visiting the “condos” there is a good variety of marine species. You will find typical Bluestripe Butterflyfish, Chaetodon fremblii, Maui Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)butterflyfishes, wrasses, damselfishes, eels, and crustaceans all around the crater. You will also find sea turtles on a regular basis and on a very rare occasion humpback whales have been seen by scuba divers at Molokini crater.

The current can be quite strong on the outside edges of the crater, so do not go outside the crater for any reason if your group is scuba diving the “inside”. The current at the edges can take a diver quite a distance in a very short period of time. For this reason you must take a safety sausage with you on this dive and know how to use it. If you are scuba diving the inside of the crater you will rarely have much if any current and even if the seas are choppy the cone of the volcano protects the inner dive sites quite well.

High Visibility, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)In the sand flats of the crater you will often find Freckled Snake Eels, so take your time on this dive and also make sure you “look” into the distance often as you can see various types of sharks and on especially amazing dives you may even see a Humpback Whale. If you are diving in whale season (December to April/May) make sure you listen for the whale song. In February to early April I have heard literally dozens of whales singing to each other. It certainly makes the dive a lot more interesting.

Follow this link for other Hawaii Dive Site Reviews.

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Fish Rain

Fish Rain is a great site and probably has one of the highest densities of marine species that you will find while scuba diving in Maui County. Scuba diving at Molokai would rate even higher if it were easier to access. Scuba diving Molokai is challenging, this is not a dive for the novice. In fact any time you haveScuba Diving Fish Rain, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer) to cross the Pailolo Channel you are in for an interesting ride. Seas can regularly be between 6 and 10 feet with strong gust or steady winds. The Pailolo Channel is one of the windiest and roughest of the Hawaiian Island channels. Seas of 4 to 6 feet should be considered calm water and it takes about 45 minutes to get to the dive site. So do not attempt this dive unless you do not have a problem with motion sickness, you are not intimidated by rough seas, and you are not concerned about exiting or reentering the boat while it is moving. But….what a great dive.

Fish Rain Overall Rating = 4.1 out of 5

  • Access – Difficult to reach the site; Complex entry and exit; Advanced level only
  • Depth to 120ft
  • Visibility – very good to excellent
  • Current – variable – moderate to quite strong
  • Marine Species variety – Wonderful diversity and high number of species; large pelagic species
  • Reef health – Very good

Rebreather, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)There are no buoys on the north east side of Molokai, no place for a boat to tie up and the high seas mean the boats must stay in constant motion when dropping or picking up divers. There will be rigid instructions given for entry and reentry into the boat and these must be followed. The dive masters and captains regularly take ginger before making this trip. So again, this trip is not for novice divers.
Now….to the good stuff….
Scuba Diving Molokai, including Fish Rain, is a really cool scuba diving site and one of my favorite anywhere on the planet. It is on the far eastern side of Molokai at Pennant Butterflyfish, Heniochus diphreutes, Jordan, 1903, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)Mokuhooniki Rock. You go to this site for Hammerheads and you get the bonus of amazing diversity and quantity of marine life. The site depth is to about 110 feet around the pinnacle/Mokuhooniki Rock and there are sea grass beds along the bottom. You will a good amount of coral on the lava slopes of the pinnacle and such a great variety of fish surrounding that will make you think it is literally “raining” fish, hence the name of this site. If Milletseed Butterflyfish, Chaetodon miliaris, Quoy & Gaimard, 1824, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)the weather is good and there is adequate sunlight Fish Rain makes a really terrific place for underwater photography and the opportunity to see large pelagic species. If you do not encounter sharks or other pelagic species, do not worry this dive site will not disappoint.
You will need to exit the boat as it is moving. The seas are typically 2 to 4 feet as you enter the water. You will be given precise instructions on how to get into a ready position for entry into the water and you need to follow these closely. You will typically gear up and wait at your station until signaled by your dive master. You will then queue up in groups and when the dive master says “Dive, Dive, Dive” you enter the water, whith your camera or other gear and swim quickly away from the boat as all divers in your Starfish, Linckia multifora, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)group will be entering one right after the other. Your inner “navy seal” will love this. So enjoy.
Once in the water you will descend as a group quickly as you do not want to stay on the surface here for an extended period of time. As you descend you will notice immediately the large number of fish surrounding you and the pinnacle. You will see hundreds of fish and seeming including various Blackside Hawkfish, Paracirrhites forsteri, (Bloch & Schneider, 1801), Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)Butterflyfishes such as the Pennant Butterflyfish and Milletseed Butterflyfish all around hence  the name Fish Rain. You will also see Eels, Unicornfishes, all types of Wrasses and much more. A camera of some type is a must for this location if you can. The lava pinnacle has lots of very healthy hard corals covering the slope down to the sea floor which tends to be covered in sea grass. You will more than likely go to around 100 to 115 feet just off the pinnacle on your first dive and “hang out” waiting to for the Hammerhead sharks. You will more than likely at least get a view of the sharks in the distance and if you are patient and do not frighten them away they may come in to investigate your dive group. The Hammerheads are easily frightened or chased away so do not chase them as soon as you see them. Be patient and wait for them to approach your group, they are basically curious and you may be rewarded to see them up close.
Fish Rain is more or less a drift dive and you will follow your instructor and then surface and wait for Shortnose Wrasse, Macropharyngodon geoffroy, (Quoy & Gaimard, 1824), and Yellowtail Coris, Coris gaimard, (Quoy & Gaimard, 1824), Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)the boat to come and pick you up. You must have a safety sausage or signaling device when on this dive. It is extremely difficult to see a diver in calm waters from a distance and in these seas without a signaling device you can easily be missed. When you surface, have one or more of the people in your group inflate their safety sausage and then wait until the ship spots you. You could be on the surface for 15 minutes before you are picked up, especially if you have more than one group in the water. The boat will typically have a line in the water and all divers will need to use the rope for reentry to the boat. As the boat comes by simply grab and hold onto the line and then wait your turn to approach and enter the boat. Be prepared and be patient. This is certainly one of my favorite scuba diving sites and highly recommended to very experienced divers.

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First Cathedral is one of the most visited scuba diving sites on Lanai and in Maui County. It is a dual pinnacle site and is also one of the largest scuba diving sites in Maui County.

The mooring at the pinnacle is about 35 feet deep on the shallow portion and has a large arch on the west side. The northern side of the site has a wall with lava caves, crevices to explore and a swim through arch. A sand channel separates this from the wash rock pinnacle that comprises First Arch, First Cathedral, Lanai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)Cathedral. The large cavern, of the Cathedral, has a maximum depth of 45’-50’ deep and a ceiling overhead which is approximately 20’ high. It has a lace work of openings in the lava on the east wall that allows light to flow inside.  These openings seem very much like stained glass windows within a church or cathedral.

Rays of Light, First Cathedral, Lanai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)When you enter the water on the mooring you you will swim first toward the Pinnacle containing the lava tube known as First Cathedral.  Then after exploring the “Chapel” as I like to call it, you exit rather quickly, or as some like to say, you are flushed from inside First Cathedral to reef outside. There is an opening on the inside of the Cathedral which has water rushing in and out with the actions of the waves. You swim to the exit “portal” and then hold on as the water rushes into First Cathedral and then when the flow reverses you enter the portal and are rather quickly deposited on the outside of the reef. This is not as intimidating as it might first seem as the opening is fairly large and you only travel a short distance before exiting on the reef. That said, if you have a camera, please bring the strobes in before entering the portal and you should not have any trouble. If this is too much excitement you can exit the Cathedral the same way you entered and simply swim around to the other side.Light and Altar, First Cathedrals, Lanai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)

First Cathedral is an ancient lava tube that has several openings on the upper portion and side of the cavern. These openings allow light to pass through them and provide some great opportunities for underwater photography. I especially like black and white images of the cathedral as they seem to provide the most dramatic effects with the light. The ceiling “window” provides very good lighting (assuming sunny skies) on a rocky outcrop in the Brick Soldierfish, Myripristis amaena, (Castelnau, 1873), Lanai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)middle of the room and you can see “rays of light” shining in from the top of the dome making for some interesting underwater photography. The opening to enter the cathedral is very large and should not cause anyone concern. First Cathedral can hold many scuba divers at one time but I find it best, especially when trying to take photographs, to be in a small group or be first. Having a larger number of divers will stir up a good bit of sediment making it especially difficult to take good shots. It is also better to be in “group 1” verses “group 2” if you have a large number of divers on the boat as the silt in the Cathedral will tend to get stirred up as more divers are going through the cavern.

Bluestripe Snapper, Lutjanus kasmira, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)Once inside First Cathedral, you will find a number of different fish species and more than likely a school of Brick Soldierfish up towards the ceiling. When you exit the cavern you will be on a portion of the reef that usually has a nice diversity of marine life. You will head towards a swim through where you will find a number of different butterflyfishes, moray eels, frogfishes, nudibranches, goatfishes, and much more.

There are several archways to swim thru and the coral gardens are great places to look for eels, shrimps, and small crustaceans. So take your time on this site and you will be well rewarded.

The pool is open…..

 

Orange Canyon Grand Cayman is one of the more well known and visited scuba diving sites on the west side of Grand Cayman. The dive site is near the west end of the island and is very close to several other well know sites, such as Big Tunnels. This scuba diving site is typical of the better sites on the west side.

Orange Canyon Grand Cayman, (Steven W Smeltzer)

Reef Silversides, Atherinidae, Clupeidae, Engraulididae, Grand Cayman

You start on the mooring ball and descend through a break in the coral and emerge on the wall around 100 feet. The dive moves along the wall where you can look out into the blue for large pelagic species such as sharks and Spotted Eagle Rays and then finishes at the top of the wall where you can explore various coral, sponges, fish, eels and turtles.

Orange Canyon Grand Cayman compares very well with other west side dive sites, but I admit my favorites sites are on the north wall. However, I definitely like this site and I dive it regularly. It is especially good when there are large “swarms” of Silversides on this site. There are also likely to be several Tarpon in the canyons as you explore the site. This site gets its name from the spectacular Elephant Ear Sponges. These colorful sponges make a great backdrop for photos and if you explore closely you will likely find various cleaner shrimps and blennys on the sponges. You will also likely find a cleaning station with a grouper exposing his gills

Orange Canyon Grand Cayman, (Steven W Smeltzer)

Nassau Grouper, Epinephelus striatus, Grand Cayman

for servicing. Orange Canyon Grand Cayman can have a current and can have a good bit of turbidity but normally the visibility is quite good and the diver operator should check this before you enter the water.

I recommend taking this dive very slowly and actively looking around at the wide variety of life that can be found here.

Check other dive site reviews on my blog or tell me about your favorite dive sites.

The pool is open…..

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…..

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