Archives for Diving

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Descent to the bow, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

The Oro Verde shipwreck (meaning Green Gold) in Grand Cayman has been a favorite site for divers since she was sunk on May 31, 1980 by the Caymanian government.  The vessel a 131-foot 692-ton freighter lies in about 50 feet of water just off Grand Cayman’s famous Seven Mile Beach.  The Oro Verde shipwreck has deteriorated a lot since her reefing.  This is mainly the result of several hurricanes that have hit the island in the last 30 years.  The debris field today is scattered over a wide area with only the bow section still intact.

The following is an article from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune dated Sunday, August 10, 1980 three months after the Oro Verde was reefed.

New Target Found For Cayman Divers

N.Y. Times News Service

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Survey of Bow, Oro Verde, Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

Scuba divers on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean have a new target to examine:  A 692-ton Panamanian cargo ship that has been deliberately sunk in 60 feet of water off the island’s Seven Mile Beach.

The vessel, the 131-foot Oro Verde, had been stuck on a sandbar after it ran aground off the 17-mile long island’s North Sound four years ago.  A group of Grand Cayman divers then hit on the idea of stimulating diving interest by salvaging the freighter and sinking it 300 yards offshore from the beach and hotel area.

The divers sought contributions to the project from hotels, airlines and other tourist organizations and purchased the salvage rights from the Caymanian government.  Then, before towing the Oro Verde to its new site, they cleaned it and removed the watches, doors, glass and rough edges to make it as safe as possible.

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Soft Corals on the Bow, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

“The removal of the doors and hatches also created a lovelier site by allowing more sunlight to filter through to the ship’s interior,” said Horace DuQuesnay, a tour company representative who lives on the island and participated in the salvage.  “The wreck will become more beautiful over the years as the colored coral becomes an integral part of the ship.”

The story of the Oro Verde is a rather interesting one.  She was originally built as a “liberty ship” her original name was the Navajo and is a sister ship to the infamous USS Pueblo (that is the only US navy ship still being held captive by the North Koreans).  Once the ship was retired from the Navy, she was registered in Nassau and ran freight to and from North America, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The ship was once almost blown up in Miami with a homemade bomb in a cigar box.  See the following story from the Miami Herald dated October 19, 1966.

Cigar Box Bomb Attached to Ship

By Gene Miller
Herald Staff Writer

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Starboard Side of Bow Section, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

A homemade bomb in a cigar box, attached by a magnet to the hull of a British cargo ship, failed to explode at the Miami City Docks Tuesday – apparently because an undersea bomber didn’t set it correctly.  “It should have gone off,” said Capt. Tom Brodie, chief of the Sheriff’s office bomb squad.  The ship the 180-foot 692-ton Oro Verde, was due to sail late in the day for a five-day trip to Cristobal, Panama. From there, after unloading, its normal route takes it through the Panama Canal to Ecuador.

“We don’t have the slightest idea why anyone would want to blow up our ship,” said Robert Trost, operations manager for Chester, Blackburn & Roder Inc., Miami agents.  Horace Barron, a crane operator loading general cargo, first noticed something peculiar attached to the hull several feet below the water line.  “He’d looked at it for a couple of hours and didn’t know what to think,” said Bob Kretzschmar, a sheriff’s deputy assigned to docks.  The ship was on the north side of Pier C, berth three.  But before it arrived there at 7 a.m., it had unloaded bananas at the parking lot dock of the Banana Supply Co. on the river. The ship reached Miami Sunday.

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Engine Room Remnants, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

“The crane operator started talking to the crew and someone finally decided to call the Coast Guard,” said Kretzschmar.  “The Coast Guard took one look and said ‘Call the bomb squad.'” This was at 11:28 a.m.  Capt. Brodie, accustomed to frequent false reports, also needed but a single glance. He took off his shoes and shirt, jumped in, and deactivated it.  The time-bomb, put inside a wooden Cuban cigar box consisted of a cast-made explosive, pentalite, and weighed about two pounds.  Attached to it was an acid pellet triggering device floating underwater in a prophylactic. It looked like a ping-pong ball in a balloon from the surface.  When the pellet or ampule is crushed, the acid begins to eat at the wire. When the wire gives, a spring releases a hammer which strikes the primmer of the cap.  “Someone didn’t set it right,” said Capt. Brodie. “It should have gone off.”

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Channel Clinging Crab, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

Pentalite, he said, is a “very high order explosive, a step above TNT or the normal plastic explosives. It would have blown quite a hole in the hull.”  Investigators said they didn’t know whether or not the ship would have sunk.  Capt. Brodie said that pentalite is often used by militant Cuban exiles here. There was one unverified report that the CIA once had an interest in the ship.  Trost, the agency manager, discounted thoughts of anyone trying to blow up the ship in the Panama Canal. “The detonating device was of much too short duration for that,” he said. “It sure is odd.”

The ship, registered as British, is managed by a crew of 17. Wendell Phillips, a U.S. citizen, is the captain.  Trost, as well as police, believed that the bomb was attached to the ship in the Miami River sometime prior to loading at Pier C.  Yet police said they couldn’t tell how long it had been there.  Sheriff skindiver Ed Zender explored the underside of the hull for other bombs and Deputies J. K. Russell and James Askew searched the ship.  Neither Capt. Phillips nor John. W. Tatcher, owner of the vessel, could offer any possible motive for sabotage.  The ship, built in 1942, once was an Army cargo vessel, Phillips said.  “All we do is carry bananas from Ecuador and general cargo from Miami to the Canal Zone,” said Thatcher.

The Oro Verde Shipwreck Dive

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Debris Field, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

The Oro Verde shipwreck was originally a Liberty Ship built to carry cargo for the US  during WWII and supposedly a sistership to the infamous USS Pueblo (although documentation is very shaky). The ship was sold by the Navy and began operations as a merchant cargo ship sailing in the Caribbean and South America and is thought to mainly carry bananas or a regular basis.  The Oro Verde shipwreck became a drug smuggling ship late in her life and ran aground in Grand Cayman in 1976.  She was on the reef several years until a consortium of local diver operators got together with the local government to turn the ship into an artificial reef.  Local dive lore tells that the Captain of the ship hoped to make one last large deal to retire more comfortably and had a large amount of marijuana on board the Oro Verde.  While on route to Grand Cayman the crew of the ship found out about the Marijuana and confronted the captain, seeking a share of the profits since they would be prosecuted if caught with the ship and the drugs.  The Captain is said to have refused and the crew killed him and threw him overboard.  The crew then not knowing the local waters ran the ship aground.  When the authorities were notified the crew had abandoned ship and the marijuana was confiscated and burned on the south end of the island.  The story also goes on to say that the prevailing winds were blowing from the southeast to the northwest and everyone on the islands was reportedly quite happy for  several days.

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Green Moray Eel, Gymnothorax funebris, Oro Verde shipwreck, Grand Cayman

The Oro Verde shipwreck and surrounding reefs are home to many species of sea animals, fish and corals, making this one of the most popular shallow dives in Grand Cayman, often frequented after a deeper wall dive or on a night dive.  Though it was in pristine condition when it was sunk and lying on her starboard in the sand next door to a patch of reef, the wreck’s finer details have since given way to the force of time; passing hurricanes have broken, rolled and scattered the vessel across a wide debris field closer to the reef. Still, the Oro Verde shipwreck remains a great example of a thriving artificial reef.

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Rough Fileclam, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

The buoy is attached to the bow section which is the only remaining intact part of the wreck.  There are no longer any ways to penetrate the wreck but you can look into the bow section through a couple of port holes.  The debris field flows primarily from the bow section to the north along several coral fingers.  The diver can choose to spend all or part of the dive on the wreck and part of the dive on the reef. There is a wide variety of reef fish such as parrotfish, sergeant majors, angelfish, silversides (seasonally), schoolmasters, large groupers and moray eels as well as crustaceans such as the arrow crab and rough file clam

The Oro Verde shipwreck is still a worthwhile dive. I especially like it as a night dive for the variety of marine species that are present.  The Oro Verde lies about 100 yards off shore so advanced divers in good physical condition could reach it as a shore dive but with the long swim and requisite dive flags and floats due to offshore boat traffic, why bother? All of the local dive operators will be happy to take you to the Oro Verde as your second half of a two tank west side boat dive, an afternoon dive or on a night dive.  I would urge you to dive the wreck whether it is the first time or it you have dove on the Oro Verde shipwreck before.  The site is constantly changing and the marine species always make for an interesting dive.

Check out images of other wrecks in Grand Cayman the Doc Poulson and the USS Kittiwake

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There are other interesting wrecks in Grand Cayman besides the USS Kittiwake.

Doc Paulson bow, Doc Paulson, Grand Cayman (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

The Doc Poulson is a purpose sunk shipwreck on the western part of Grand Cayman.  The ship was originally a Japanese cable laying ship and was sunk in Grand Cayman in 1981 to create an artificial reef on Seven Mile Deck Wenches, Doc Paulson, Grand Cayman (StevenWSmeltzer.com)beach.  The wreck site is named for Doc Poulson who helped set up the first hyperbaric chamber on Grand Cayman for the treatment of decompression sickness.

The wreck sits upright in about 50 to 60 feet of water and can be easily explored. However, given the age of the wreck there are many exposed surfaces that can cause harm to a diver.  The ship is about 70 feet in length and the cable wenches can still be seen on deck but are heavily encrusted with corals.  There are a variety of fish in and around the ship from Goliath grouper, to Queen Conch, to cleaner shrimp, blue tang and many more.

The wreck sits on a sand flat Below Deck, Doc Paulson, Grand Cayman (StevenWSmeltzer.com)and is about a 5 minute swim away from the reef.  The clarity of the water in Grand Cayman, along with the upright position of the boat makes it a great place for underwater photography from the novice to the professional.

The hatches have been removed to make penetration diving easy and safe allowing a diver to explore the decks and the hold of the ship.  The interior of the ship is filled with a good bit of sand, but working your way through the ship is still quite easy even after 30 years on the reef. Doc Paulson amidships interior, Doc Paulson, Grand Cayman (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

As a day dive the Doc Poulson is a rather small site and is usually combined with diving the reef nearby which is about a 5 minute swim away.  If you take your time however, you can spend most of your dive time at the wreck.  However, this is a better dive when there are no more than 5 to 6 divers on the site and great when there are only two.  It can be a good night-dive spot especially for an underwater photographer as you have a Christmastree Worm, Doc Paulson, Grand Cayman (StevenWSmeltzer.com)wide variety of marine life around the wreck including a number of small creatures great for macro shots. There are many sponges, brain corals, Christmastree worms and a nice Social Feather Duster on the stern rail.

For other underwater photographs of the Doc Poulson just click on one of the photographs or go to my Doc Poulson Gallery.  If you want to find information on other wrecks in Grand Cayman such as the USS Kittiwake you can check out my Blog and/or view more underwater photographs on my website and/or follow me on Twitter at Images2Inspire

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Scuba Diving (Steven W Smeltzer)

West Wall, Scuba Diving, Grand Cayman, Bonnie’s Arch

For most people into Scuba Diving, there is nothing like a wall diveand there are hardly any better places for a wall dive than Grand Cayman. Looking out into nothing but blue, the visibility well over 100 feet, Spotted Eagle Rays performing a ballet just in front of you, a reef shark or even a Tiger shark swimming by, this just could be paradise.  That is if you are into scuba diving.

 

 

 

Scuba Diving History

Scuba diving has come a long way since its invention.  In 1771, British engineer, John Smeaton invented the air pump. A hose was connected between the air pump and the diving barrel, allowing air to be pumped to the diver. In 1772, Frenchmen, Sieur Freminet invented a rebreathing device that recycled the exhaled air from inside of the barrel, this was the first self-contained air device. Freminet’s invention was a poor one, the inventor died from lack of oxygen after being in his own device for twenty minutes.

Scuba Diving (Steven W Smeltzer)

Spotted Eagle Ray, Aetobatus narinari, (Euphrasen, 1790), Grand Cayman

In 1825, English inventor, William James designed another self-contained breather, a cylindrical iron “belt” attached to a copper helmet. The belt held about 450 psi of air, enough for a seven-minute dive.

In 1876, Englishmen, Henry Fleuss invented a closed circuit, oxygen rebreather. His invention was originally intended to be used in the repair of an iron door of a flooded ship’s chamber. Fleuss then decided to use his invention for a thirty-foot deep dive underwater. He died from the pure oxygen; oxygen is toxic to humans under pressure.

In 1873, Benoît Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze built a new piece of equipment a rigid diving suit with a safer air supply, however it weighed about 200 pounds.

The modern demand regulator was invented by Emile Gagnan and Jacques Cousteau along with an improved autonomous diving suit. In 1942, redesigned a car regulator and invented a demand regulator that would automatically fresh air when a diver breathed. A year later in 1943, Cousteau and Gagnan began selling the Aqua-Lung.

Almost anyone can learn to scuba dive. There is a basic level of health and fitness that you need to have to be safe and to enjoy your time underwater. You will be required to fill out a medical form before starting a certification class. In some cases, you may have to see a doctor before you begin training.

There are many scuba classes for kids under 14 years of age. Being a senior citizen is not a problem either, provided you have a fair level of fitness and approval from a doctor. There are also training programs for the disabled so they too can enjoy the sport of scuba diving.

What Does the Word S.C.U.B.A. Stand For: The word S.C.U.B.A. is an acronym for

Scuba Diving (Steven W Smeltzer)

Exploring Starboard, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

Self-Contained-Underwater-Breathing-Apparatus. A scuba system allows autonomous diving (diving without an air line to the surface). The word also describes the sport of scuba diving.

The term scuba originated during WWII. It was used to describe navy divers who used oxygen rebreathers to attack enemy ships from underwater. Today you can use the word scuba to refer to the sport of scuba diving or to the equipment used by those who take part in the sport.

Scuba diving today has an estimated 3 to 6 million divers global and is growing rapidly.  With today’s advanced equipment, availability of online learning, getting started with Scuba Diving has never been easier. So come join the millions of other divers and take fish pictures, explore shipwrecks, glide over coral reefs and enjoy the beauty and fragility of our wonderful oceans.

For more information about scuba diving, underwater photography or to view photos from the underwater world visit my Website or Blog and/or follow me on Twitter for more inspiration from around the world.

You can also find more historical information on Scuba diving at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Cousteau and also on cousteau.org

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                                                                               Ode to the USS Kittiwake shipwreck

USS Kittiwake shipwreck (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

 

Rest well your work is finally done

No more the ocean to roam

No more to fight the storm and sea

Rest well beneath the waves

 

 

View the complete USS Kittiwake shipwreck photo gallery here or click on each photo to go to the gallery.

 (Steven Smeltzer)The USS Kittiwake shipwreck is a Chanticleer Class Submarine Rescue Ship. Its keel was laid down, January 5, 1945, at the Savannah Machinery and Foundry, Company shipyard in Savannah, GA. It was launched on July 10, 1945 and commissioned as the USS Kittiwake (ASR-013). She was decommissioned September 30, 1994 and struck from the Naval Register September 30, 1991950s photo of USS Kittiwake, ASR-13 (Steven Smeltzer)4. She was initially transferred to MARAD for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet and then withdrawn from the fleet February 18, 2010 and prepared for reefing in the Cayman Islands.

USS Kittiwake shipwreck (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

Preparing for Reefing, USS Kittiwake

The Chanticleer Class ships were designated specifically for submarine rescue. Each ship in this class was equipped with powerful pumps, heavy air compressors, and special mooring equipment. The Chanticleer Class ASRs support air and helium-oxygen diving operations to a depth of 300 feet of sea water (fsw) and use the McCann Rescue Chamber for submarine personnel rescue operations. The ASR design provided a large deck working area.

USS Kittiwake shipwreck (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

USS Kittiwake. ASR-13. Grand Cayman

The USS Kittiwake shipwreck finished a distinguished service career spanning almost 50 years when she was decommissioned from the U.S. Navy in 1994. Following her retirement, the ship became part of America’s National Defense Reserve Fleet under the control of MARAD, or the Maritime Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The ship ended her career as the first MARAD ship sold to a foreign government for artificial reefing.

 

 

USS Kittiwake Shipwreck Overview

That a patch of sand off the north end of Seven Mile Beach has become the final “port-of-call” of the USS Kittiwake shipwreck is the result of a long and determined effort by a partnership consisting of the Cayman

USS Kittiwake shipwreck (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

Engineering Mural, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

Islands government and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA). Negotiations had to be conducted and funds raised to purchase the ship from the U.S. government and prepare it for sinking as a dive site, including removing hazardous contaminants and cutting openings in the hull and bulkheads to give divers greater access to the vessel’s interior.

USS Kittiwake shipwreck (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

Into the Distance, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

 

After years of delays and concerns that the plan might never come to fruition, the Kittiwake began the first stage of its last voyage in February, when it was towed from its Reserve Fleet mooring at Newport News, Virginia, to the facilities of private contractor Dominion Marine. There, all the final preparations for the sinking were completed. The ship was sunk January 5, 2011 off the north end of Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman.

USS Kittiwake shipwreck (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

Descent, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

There are 5 decks on the 47 foot tall USS Kittiwake shipwreck. Externally, the crow’s nest, mast and large stern a-frame have been cut down and remounted to make her height suitable for Cayman waters. The upper decks accommodate the 2 bridges (both an external and internal bridge to allow operations in heavy seas) along with the radio and navigation room. The sonar has been removed. The Captain and XO’s quarters are also on the upper decks.

USS Kittiwake shipwreck (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

Bridge, USS Kittiwake, Grand Caman

On the main deck of the USS Kittiwake shipwreck, starting at the bow, you will find the rec room, mess hall, ironing room, small tool workshop and recompression chambers. You will also see a large a-frame structure on the stern that supported submarines and hard hat divers.  This also supported the diving bell where divers would enter to return to the ship from the ocean and then be placed in the chambers for decompression.

Below the main deck, 2 decks exist that include the crews quarter, medic/hospital station, engine and propulsion rooms, air bank storage and compressors, as well as the steering gear, shaft, gyro, ammunition lockers, cold storage and barber shop to name a few areas. While the USS Kittiwake shipwreck has been opened up with large access holes both vertically and horizontally, every space on the ship was used while in service.

USS Kittiwake shipwreck (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

Shaft Alley, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

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Commanding Officers:

USS Kittiwake shipwreck (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

Forward Exit, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

LT L. H. COLLIER 1946 – 1948
LTT. C. HURST 1948- 1950
LT W. K. WILSON 1950 – 1952
LTP. P. ROGERS 1952- 1954
LT T. E. COLBURNE 1954 – 1954
LCDRW.D.BUCKEE 1954-1956
LCDRW.H.HIBBS 1956- 1958
LCDR W. M. SCOTT 1958 – 1960
LCDR P.O. POWELL 1960 – 1962
LCDR R. E. KUTZLEB 1962 – 1964
LCDR G. R. LANGFORD 1964 – 1966
LCDR H. H. SCRANTON 1966 – 1968

LCDR R. F. JAMES 1968 – 1970
LCDR W. J. MULLALY 1970 – 1971
LCDR S. MCNEASE 1971 – 1974
CDR F. K. DUFFY 1974 – 1977
CDR F. M. SCHERY 1977 – 1979
CDRP. F. FAWCETT 1979- 1981
CDRT.J.MARTIN 1981-1983
CDR R. J. NORRIS 1983 – 1985
CDRT.J.ERWIN 1985-1988
CDR J. S. TROTTER 1988 – 1991
CDRW.J.STEWART 1991-1993
CDR S. N. ZEHNER 1993 – 1994

Specifications:
Displacement 1,780 t.(lt) 2,040 t.(fl)
Length 251′ 4″
Beam 42′
Draft 16′
Speed 14.5 kts.
Complement

USS Kittiwake shipwreck (StevenWSmeltzer.com)

Stairwell, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

Officers 6
Enlisted 96
Largest Boom Capacity 11 t.
Armament
two single 3″/50 cal dual purpose gun mounts
two single 40mm AA gun mounts
eight single 20mm AA gun mounts
four depth charge tracks
Fuel Capacity
Diesel 1,785 Bbls
Propulsion
four G.M. 12-278A Diesel-electric engines
single Fairbanks Morse Main Reduction Gears
Ship’s Service Generators
two Diesel-drive 200Kw 120V/240V D.C.
one Diesel-drive 100Kw 120V/240V D.C.
single propeller, 3,000hp

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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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Reef Silversides, Hypoatherina harringtonensis, are always a great site and make for very interesting Reef Silversides, Atherinidae, Clupeidae, Engraulididae, Orange Canyon, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)photographs.  These massive schools of fish are seen throughout the Cayman islands.  They form into large defensive schools to confuse predators and the “swarms” seem move as one as they react to changes in pressure underwater caused by the movement of predators or other threats.

They can be approached easily while scuba diving if you take your time and you can even swim through these schools and have the fish literally enveloping you.  There have been large schools around Orange Canyon, where I took these shots, the Oro Verde wreck, and many other locations.  You can find schools of these fish in most dive sites from time to time and be sure to take time to observe their behavior.   They prefer shallow protected bays and lagoons and protected areas around the reef usually staying at depths from 0 to 10 meters.

They are greenish white on back, silvery with bluish reflections below; moderate silver stripe covering 3 rows of scales down from top plus edges of two adjacent rows bordered above by an iridescent blue-green line, from gill opening to tail, at front silver stripe is nearly as wide as pectoral fin base; tips of tail dusky.  There are a variety of these fish and it is almost impossible to tell them apart in the water.

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Sharks are amazing creatures. They have roamed the Earth’s seas since nearly the beginning of time. Their size, power, and great, toothy jaws fill us with both fear and fascination. Sharks have few natural predators allowing them to roam the earths oceans with relative ease.  There are over 500 types of sharks ranging in size from a few centimeters  to more than 15 meters.  They are found in all seas and are common to depths of 2,000 meters (6,600 ft). They generally do not live in freshwater although there are a few known exceptions, such as the bull shark and the river shark, which can survive and be found in both seawater and freshwater.

Sharks (Steven W Smeltzer)

White-tip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus, Maui Hawaii

They are “cartilaginous fish” meaning that the structure of the animal’s body is formed of cartilage, instead of bone. Unlike the fins of bony fishes, the fins of cartilaginous fishes cannot change shape or fold alongside their body. Even though they don’t have a bony skeleton like many other fish, they are still categorized with other vertebrates in the Phylum Chordata, Subphylum Vertebrata, and Class Elasmobranchii. This class is made up of about 1,000 species of sharks, skates and rays. They have five to seven gill slits and rigid dorsal fins, for which they are famous.  And though they kill only a few people each year, media coverage and movie portrayals of attacks have marked sharks as voracious killing machines. Our fears—and appetites—fuel an industry that hunts more than 100 million sharks each year and threatens to purge these vital predators from the oceans.

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We were about 10 minutes into the dive when we entered the canyon and found it filled with Silversides.  These interesting schooling fish always make a great shot.  The Silversides typically come  between June and August and can be found in the many grottoes, wrecks, caves and swim-throughs, on the reefs surrounding Grand Cayman.

Silversides, Atherinidae (Steven Smeltzer)

Surrounded, Silversides and Scuba divers, Grand Cayman

Silversides, Atherinidae, are one of the key reef species in Grand Cayman and the Caribbean in general.  These great swarms of fishes provide an excellent food source for many of the larger species of fishes and provide a wonderful experience for divers as well.  It is a great experience to be surrounded by one of these “balls of fish” or to watch Tarpon or Barracuda dart through the swarms.

 

The large balls are a defensive mechanism for the fish and you will notice that the entire swarm tends to change direction at once, acting almost a s single organism instead of thousands and thousands of individuals.

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The Green Sea Turtle is a wonderful, graceful creature.  They capture the imagination especially when seen gracefully swimming underwater or as young hatch-lings racing for the relative safety of the sea.

Green Sea Turtle, (Steven Smeltzer)

Green Sea Turtle, Grand Cayman

The Green Sea Turtle inhabits tropical and subtropical coastal waters around the world.  It is a large turtle and may grow to over 300 kg (700 pounds).  These marvelous creatures can also live for up to 80 years.

The Green Sea Turtle is named for the greenish color of its skin. Its shell can be a dull brown to an olive green tint depending upon its habitat.  There are generally though to be two types of green turtles including the Atlantic green sea turtle, normally found off the shores of Europe and North America, and the Eastern Pacific green sea turtle, which has been found in coastal waters from Alaska to Chile.

Green Sea Turtle, (Steven Smeltzer)

Green Sea Turtle,

Unlike most sea turtles, adult green sea turtles are herbivorous, feeding on sea grasses and algae. Juvenile green turtles, however, will also eat invertebrates like crabs, jellyfish, and sponges.

Green Sea turtles have lengthy migrations from feeding sites to their individual nesting grounds, normally on sandy beaches. Mating typically occurs every two to four years in shallow waters close to the shore. To create a  nest, females leave the sea and choose an area, often on the same beach where they were born to lay their eggs. They dig a pit in the sand with their flippers.  The nest pit may contain as many as 200 eggs.  After the eggs are placed into the pit it is covered with sand and the turtle returns to the sea.  It takes approximately two months for the eggs to hatch.  Immediately after hatching is the most dangerous time of a green turtle’s life.  The short but difficult journey from the nest to the nest to sea requires the young turtles to evade multiple predators, including crabs and flocks of gulls.

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Wall dives.  There are no other dives like them.  The opportunity to float in “space” as you look away from the reef into the deep blue of the ocean is amazing.  In Grand Cayman you can look down on the wall on the north dive sites and realize it is about 4,000 ft to the bottom.

Wall Dives (Steven W Smeltzer)

West Wall, Scuba Diving, Grand Cayman

Great wall dives surround Grand Cayman.  There is often 100+ feet visibility along with great corals and a wide variety of marine life especially on the North/East end.
There are a number of great wall dives around the world, but I must admit I am partial to the Cayman Islands.  You can find other very good wall dives in Honduras, Canada, Palau and Mexico, but to me there is no comparison to the Cayman Islands.  The visibility, the ease of access, the variety of marine life, the vibrant corals all set Grand Cayman apart from other wall dive opportunities.  The North Wall is mecca for wall divers, with almost 50 different dive sites, from the legendary Babylon, to  Andes Wall, to Eagle Ray Pass to many, many others.  These dive sites often have visibility of over 200 feet, amazing corals, sharks, rays and much more.

The north end of Grand Cayman can be a little rough, but the dive sites are well worth the trip.

There are a number of great dive operators on the island.  I would check out Red Sail sports. They have a good diver operation and we have diving with them for over 15 years. Don’t forget to mention that you I sent you their way.

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