Archives for Scuba Diving

Ahhh… Hawaii.  Back on the island of Maui and looking forward to some great diving.

Scuba Diving Lanai

Light From Above

The day began with a short ride over to the island of Lanai for our first dive at First Cathedrals.

I am diving with Lahaina Divers, my favorite dive operator on the island.  I have been diving with them for almost 10 years and they are a great choice for scuba diving Lanai.

First Cathedrals is a lava tube that rises to the surface of the ocean.  As the name implies there is a large underwater dome inside the lava tube with a number of openings where light shines down into the “cathedral area”.

This is one of the most popular sites for scuba diving Lanai and even though I have been on the site dozens of times, I still thoroughly enjoy the dive.

The entrance into the lava tube looks small and dark, but the interior is quite large.  The “cathedral” measures approximately 60 feet in length and the height varies from 10 feet to 40 feet.

Scuba Diving Lanai: Inside the Lava Tube

Scuba Diving Lanai First Cathedrals

Scuba Diving Lanai

If you have ever been to a church or cathedral with stained glass windows, you probably noticed the light shining through the glass as you entered the chapel or sanctuary. This dive site gets its name from a similar effect caused by the light shining in through the holes in the lava tube, e.g, the stain glass windows.

Another interesting feature of this dive site is the exit from the lava tube. It is fondly know as the “shotgun”, because when you exit, the surge may “shoot” you out of the cathedral as you surf the pressure wave. If the wave action is strong, it reminds me of what it must feel like to be “flushed”.  But don’t worry; the exit is wide and I go through it with my camera with no problems.

First Cathedrals Into the Light

Into the Light

If you are concerned about exiting this way, just let your dive master know and you can exit via the way you came in and just circle around the pinnacle to meet up with your group.  This site also has several other interesting lava formations off the main lava tube and a variety of marine life.

First Cathedrals has been the site for numerous underwater weddings and proposals and it is a great place for underwater photography.  To get the best photographs, it is important that everyone going into the “cathedral” is careful not to stir up the bottom or you will get a lot of backscatter in your photos.

In order to get the best lighting effects, I check the forecast to see when it is going to be sunny and then compare that to the Lahaina Divers’ schedule.  You can get the best photos when it is sunny and you can see rays of light coming through the holes in the lava tube and shining down inside.

Inside First Cathedrals

Scuba Diving Lanai First Cathedrals

You can frequently see turtles, dolphin, eagle rays, sharks and wide variety of fish, eels and coral on this dive site.  Please check out some of my other photos of First Cathedrals and underwater photography of Hawaii on my website.

The pool is open….


Hammerhead shark, MolokaiMany words can be used to describe the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark.  This apex hunter cruses about coastal warm temperate and tropical seas in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans between 46°N and 36°S from the surface to depths of 1,000 meters.  It may enter estuaries or be found in the open ocean, in large groups in the Galapagos, Malpelo, Cocos and Revillagigedo Islands and within the Gulf of California.  In Hawaii, on the island of Molokai, you can find groups of up to 60 or 70 sharks.  However, at Molokai you are more likely to see solitary individuals or perhaps small groups of 4 to 10 sharks.

In March, I was diving with Lahaina Divers on Molokai and had one of the best shark dives ever, interacting with almost 40 sharks over the course of two dives.  This dive site, off of Moku Ho’oniki rock on Molokai, is one of my favorite dive sites anywhere in the world.  I have made dozens of dives on this site and while I thoroughly recommend it, it is not for the average recreational diver.  While on many occasions this site can be reasonably calm (I have seen it where the surface is almost glass) it is one of the most unpredictable dive sites that I know.  In fact, I have been waiting to get Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)picked up by the dive boat, at this site, when I am literally looking down on the boat (a two decker by the way) from the top of a wave.  The seas here can reach 10 feet in height or more and requires the diver to be experienced,  confident, under control and above all willing to adhere to instructions given by the dive master and boat captain.  If you are a novice diver, do not attempt to do this dive.  I have seen inexperienced divers, break ribs and have extreme difficulty reentering the dive boat.  So again, this is not a dive site recommended for anyone other than an advanced diver that has previous experience exiting and entering a dive boat while it is moving.

However, this is an awesome dive site.  The drop off location is called Fish Rain, and has a depth of 30 to 40 feet at the entry point and as you descend and look up you will think it is literally raining fish.  They are everywhere, the Hawaiian Dascyllus, all kinds of Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Moorish Idols, and many, many more.  Dozens of individuals to large schools of Hawaiian Dascyllus, Dascyllus albisella, Rainbow / Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse, Labroides phthirophagus, Randall, 1958, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)schools of many types of fish inhabit this very unique environment.  The site is to a depth of about 120 feet.  The sharks can be found anywhere from a few feet from the surface to cruising about along the bottom.  The site can have severe current, that can cause the inexperienced diver to rapidly consume their air supply. So again, this site is not for inexperienced divers.

When interacting with any shark, the key is patience.  The Hammerhead shark in particular, is a fairly shy species and if you swim rapidly toward the shark you will more than likely not see much more than a brief glimpse.  I have been on this site several times when an over anxious diver swims rapidly after every shadow they see and the rest of the divers do not see any sharks at all.  However, if you are patient and slow in your approach you may be rewarded with a wonderful encounter.

On this particular dive, we entered at Fish Rain, in the “shadow” of Moku Ho’oniki that provides a fairly calm spot to exit the dive boat.  As we descend I tend to stay on the outside shoulder of the dive master and about 30 to 50 feet from the nearest diver in the group.  I am constantly looking out and down, hunting for the elusive Hammerhead.

In the distance is see several shadows coming in towards me at about 80 feet.  I was hovering around 45 feet and dropped down slowly to “intercept” the group.  As I was waiting for the group to get in range I looked Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Sphyrna lewini, Molokai Hawaii, Moku Ho'oniki Rock (   (949)290-6367, Steven W SMeltzer)back to my outside shoulder away from the rest of the divers and got a wonderful shot of this solitary shark coming in to check me out.  I can tell this is going to be a wonderful dive.  This particular individual swam with me at a distance of 10 to 15 feet from me for about 2 minutes and then gradually disappeared in the distance.  I move quickly back up to about 50 feet to conserve my bottom time feeling awesome.  We continued to drift with the current, which was really moving at this point, spotting several groups of 3 to 4 individuals and one group of eight sharks.  I about 35 minutes into the dive, I saw another individual at about 100 feet and quickly dropped down to see if I could get some interesting shots.  The black and white Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Sphyrna lewini, Molokai Hawaii, Moku Ho'oniki Rock (   (949)290-6367, Steven W SMeltzer)image above is of this shark at about 120 feet and while I was descending through about 100 feet.  As I dropped down I kept checking around me and saw that four other individuals had now come fairly close to me from behind.  I was able to get a nice shot of the “school” and when I turned back the other way there were six shots directly in front of me and a couple about 10 feet above me.  Yahoo, what an awesome experience to encounter these marvelous creatures.   I slowly started to ascend, to keep my computer out of deco, and watched as each of these groups faded slowly in the distance.  During our two dives we counted well over 50 individual sights and estimate that we saw at least 35 individuals.  It was an awesome dive and keeps me wanting to go back for more.

The pool is open.

Getting Ready, Grand Cayman ( you are diving, especially in new locations, it is great to have a dive guide and especially one that knows the local area well and also understands the diving environment.  When traveling to various locations around our planet, in search of that ever illusive photograph, I actively seek out local dive professionals that can help me get to those “great” spots and who can also help me understand the local conditions and what to expect on the dive.  There are almost always a number of dive operators in every location from which to choose.  So invest a little time to find out about local operators before your trip.

In Maui, there are a number of good companies to choose from when you dive so I thought I would profile a great smaller company that highly tailors your dive based upon your level of experience and your goals for the specific dive and your trip.

In2Scuba provides a little more personal touch as a smaller company, check out their website here – In2Scuba.  This shop is located in Lahaina and is run by Ty Burnett.  Ty has been diving in Maui since 2001 with various dive companies until he decided to branch out on his own.  Ty is both a skilled instructor and dive guide and also an underwater photographer (a man after my own heart).  Ty can provide a highly tailored dive experience and excels at providing excellent shore diving experiences.

Remember dive conditions change very rapidly and constantly so whether you dive with In2Scuba in Maui or not, please at least consult with a local company regarding conditions before you hit the water.  You will certainly benefit and it will help ensure your diving is safe and enjoyable.

Dive Operator Rating Guide:

– Experience: This is the most critical criteria that I look for in a dive operator.  I rate experience not just by numScuba Diving, Safety, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)ber of years diving but also by the attention to safety given by the instructor prior to each and every dive.  I know those “briefings” can get a bit boring but they are extremely important.  So pay attention…you never know when you might have to react to an emergency situation.

– Knowledge: This is another key criteria for me as I want a dive guide to be at least somewhat knowledgeable regarding the marine species that we can potentially see.  They should know the habits of marine creatures in their area and how to best approach these creatures so we can enjoy them but also so we do not cause additional stress to the animal.  For example, I hate being on a night dive and the guide is shining his or her light directly on everything in site and causing tremendous stress on the animals and resulting in a poor experience for the diver and the creatures being observed.  I don’t expect every dive master to be Jacques Cousteau but I do expect at least a minimum level of training. I should not have to lead the dive guide.

– Equipment: If you are renting gear this is also an extremely important criteria.  I carry my regulator and camera gear everywhere.  My BC, Fins, Wetsuit are non-essentials and can be rented reliably and usually fairly cheaply in most dive locations.

– Boat (s): This is an important criteria if you are going for locations that require a boat trip.  There are many sizes of boats used by operators with various capabilities.  I have been diving out of dug-out canoes in Indonesia, to luxury dive boats in Australia and Hawaii, to pontoon boats in the Caribbean.  I had good diving experiences from each (even from the dug-out believe it or not).  A key is the “captain” and crew and their relative experience, the level of maintenance on the boat and their attention to detail, yes it is a good idea to count the number of divers before and after a dive.

Number of divers:  This is also a key criteria as I do not like to dive with “a herd”.  Especially when I am shooting, having to large a group of divers can cause conditions to deteriorate considerably and waste my time.  So if I am diving with larger groups, you want to make sure that they divide the groups into manageable sizes and by level of experience.  Typically the more experienced divers will be in the water first.  This helps to maintain conditions and also makes it more realistic for a guide to effectively manage their group.

There are other considerations that I look at as well when going to a new place to dive and one of the other key requirements would be location.  I need a dive operator that is at least relatively close to where I am going to be staying as I don’t want to spend hours on the road each day just getting to the “shop”.

I hope this helps you in determining with whom you would like to dive and remember if you are heading to a specific location and would like a recommendation, just ask and I will see if I can help.

The Humpback whale season is in fully swing in Hawaii as is the Gray Whale season off the coast of Southern California may you be lucky enough to have one swim by you…

A hui hou kakou, until we meet again…

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…

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 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, 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-BaliMenjangan 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, will normally take you around 3.5 hours assuming no bad “jams” as the locals refer to the often crowded conditions of the roadways 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 a favorite 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.

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 quite good year round and even in the “rainy winter season” the visibility is normally quite clear.  The island is not big and does not have any fresh water and does not have much 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

Maui Paradise looking westward towards Molokai (Steven Smeltzer)

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.

I have a vision where we can all work together to restore, preserve and protect our coral reefs.  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....    2013 Challenge – Share What You Will Do in 2013 to Positively Impact Those Around You.
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.

Happy New Year 


Magical and almost mystical, the kelp forests of California provide a unique and interesting habitat that stirs and inspires the imagination.  Giant Kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, forests thrive along the western coast of North America,Kelp forest photograph, Macrocystis pyrifera, Southern California (Steven W Smeltzer)
SouthAmerica, South Africa, Southern Australia, and New Zealand 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 inideal conditions, giant kelp fronds can grow as much as 0.6 m (2 ft.) per day.

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

Kelp forest photograph, Macrocystis pyrifera, Southern California (Steven W Smeltzer)

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 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 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…

Vintage, Carthaginian II Shipwreck (Steven W Smeltzer)

I had a lot of fun putting these images together and creating some really interesting fine art and vintage photos of the Carthaginian II shipwreck in Maui Hawaii.  When I dive Carthaginian, At the Dock, Maui Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer) on a particular site a number of times I tend to equate a certain feel or mood for the site.  The Carthaginian II, originally aGerman cement transport ship, is almost 100 years old and was originally built and launched in 1920.  The ship was purchased by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation and extensive refitted to make the ship resemble a 1800’s period whaling ship.  The ship was used as a floating museum in the harbor of Lahaina for over 30 years.  Remembering the ship floating in the harbor and now seeing her laying on the sea floor just outside of the harbor brings up a certain sense of nostalgia.

What I wanted to create was a sense of the age of the ship and the purpose that she served in Maui and even in Hawaii more In the Hold, Carthaginian II (Steven W Smeltzer)generally.  When I dive on the ship, although she is not large, I sometimes get a sense of the “ghosts” of periods past associated with this aging wreck.  The ship’s main mast collapsed in the summer of 2011 and is now situated on top of the ship.  The hold is buckled significantly but makes a great shot if you lie down on the floor of the cargo hold of the ship.  There are a number of hard corals that have attached themselves to various portions of the wreck and you canDiscovery, Carthaginian II (Steven W Smeltzer) usually find a reasonable variety of marine life on board.

To get the feel I was looking for, I choose to take a number of wide angle shots where I can see the entire ship and also a few photos where I would have interesting features that would lend themselves to a sense of age and provide a certain forlorn aspect to the photo.  As many of you can appreciate, getting a great photo to work with is the first part of the endeavor and I then went to work in Photoshop to give the images the exact look and feel that I wanted.  As I began to work with the images I kept coming back to black and white images with good contrast with interesting textures and/or features to bring out the moodiness of the dive site.  These photos will go well with whale song form Carthaginian II Study in Abstract (Steven W Smeltzer)the Humpbacks that you can typically hear if you dive the site from late December up to late April or May.

I hope will agree the final images provide a sense of mystery and intrigue as well as a sense of discovery.  Though the ship continues to age and various parts continue to deteriorate the wreck still continue to be a great dive for a long time.  The key on this dive as most dives is to go very slow.  This is a small sight and while she lies at about 80 feet you still have plenty of bottom time to explore.  Let you imagination run away with you and imagine the life of the whaler and the importance of whaling in the development of  the Hawaiian Islands.

Go to my website and see the Carthaginian II Gallery for a complete photo review of the ship.

The pool is open…



Manta Ray TrioDiving with Manta Rays can be an awesome experience.  These gentle giants are both graceful and magnificent reminders of the wonders in our oceans.  Come dive with us off the coast of Hawaii and enjoy these magnificent creatures.

This Manta Ray video was shot off the coast of Kona in Hawaii. It was a marvelous dive. We saw 54 Manta Rays on two dives. 17 on a later afternoon dive and another 37 on the night dive. It was quite an experience. A dive with the magnificent Giant Oceanic Manta Ray, Manta birostris, is something special.  The largest recorded Oceanic Manta Rays was more than 25 ft (7.6m) 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 on this dive you will be able to see them perform aerobatic flips and rolls as they glide through the water all about you.

View other underwater photography on my website or vist my post – Diving with Manta Rays

The pool is open…

Spiny Flower Coral. Mussa angulosa. Grand CaymanWhat do you think of when you hear the term “coral reef” 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 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 reefsare definitely related to each of these but they are much, much more.

Bluestripe Snapper, Lutjanus kasmira, Molokai Hawaii (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
Bubble-tip Anemone, Grand Cayman (

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 Coral Reefs located and How were Coral Reefs formed?
What are the different types of Coral Reefs?
What types of creatures inhabit coral reefs?
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 coral 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:

Ridged Cactus Coral, Mycetophyllia lamarckiana, Grand Cayman (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
Crustaceans, Invertebrates, Mollusks, Echinoderms

Gorgonian Fan and Spotted Eagle Ray. Grand CaymanThe world of coral reefs contains one of the most diverse environments on our planet, supporting more species per square meter than any other ocean ecosystem. Because of this phenomenal diversity, coral reefs are sometimes called the rainforests of the sea.  From the microscopic to the gigantic, coral reefs support and nurture a tremendous variety of creatures.

Blue Dragon, Pteraeolidia ianthina, (Angas, 1864) Molokai Hawaii

Blue Dragon, Pteraeolidia ianthina, (Angas, 1864) Molokai Hawaii

These reef systems have been built up over thousands of years by tiny  calcium-producing organisms.  The reefs are 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.

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

Close up, Green Sea Turtle Maui, Chelonia mydas, Maui Hawaii

Close up, Green Sea Turtle Maui, Chelonia mydas, Maui Hawaii

of the tremendous complexity and simplicity that makes up the coral reef.  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

Sleepy Sponge Crab Close up, Dromia dormia, off west coast of Maui, Hawaii

Sleepy Sponge Crab Close up, Dromia dormia, off west coast of Maui, Hawaii

little more understanding of our underwater world. 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

Grooved Brain Coral, Diploria labyrinthiformis, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)

Grooved Brain Coral, Diploria labyrinthiformis, Grand Cayman

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 found on the coral reefs, including:

White-tip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus, (Rüppell, 1837), mano lalakea, Maui Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)
White-tip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus, (Ruppell, 1837), mano lalakea, Maui Hawaii
  • 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.

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…



Carthaginian  II Background

Maui HawaiiThe Carthaginian II, once used as a whaling museum, 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. It sailed to Lahaina in 1973 where it took seven years for the historically accurate 18th century whaling ship rigging to be assembled. The ship 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 Carthaginian, At the Dock, Maui Hawaii (Steven Smeltzer)Restoration Foundation which operated the museum on board that displayed relics of Lahaina’s historic whaling days.

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 and Atlantis, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)On December 13, 2005, following two years of preparation, Atlantis Adventures sank the Carthaginian off Lahaina, Maui, creating 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.

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 extensiveMain Mast in Forward Hold, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer) work served the city as a floating museum for many years.

Atlantis spent approximately $350,000 on the Carthaginian 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.

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

Frogfish Closeup, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)

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.


servers 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.

The Dive

The Carthaginian 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 ship was sunk approximately 6 years ago and now supports a wide variety of marine life. 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 accessLooking Through the Main Cabin, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer) 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 at the present time will contain various fish species or crustaceans as they are moving about the ship.

Pacific Trumpetfish Entering Hold, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)There are 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 also 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 or visit my blog or follow me on Twitter at

The pool is open…..

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.

The pool is open…..

Overall Rating = 4.1 out of 5

This 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.

  • 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, includes Fish Rain, a really cool scuba diving site and one of my favorite anywhere on the planet. It is on the far eastern side of Molokai near 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 this site makes a really nice 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 including various Blackside Hawkfish, Paracirrhites forsteri, (Bloch & Schneider, 1801), Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)Butterflyfishes such as the Pennant Butterflyfish and Milletseed Butterflyfish. 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.
This 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.

The pool is open…..

Overall Rating = 3.75 out of 5

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 in, in a manner suggesting a stained glass window within a church or cathedral, from which this scuba diving site derives its name.

  • Access – Moderate; boat only and 45 minutes from Lahaina. If you tend to get sea sick take your Bonine or ginger before this trip.
  • Depth to 60+ ft
  • Visibility – good to very good
  • Current – variable, minimal to strong
  • Marine Species variety – Good
  • Reef health – Good

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 and 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 the 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 the 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)

The Cathedral itself 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 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 groBrick Soldierfish, Myripristis amaena, (Castelnau, 1873), Lanai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)up 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.

Once inside the lava tube, 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 buBluestripe Snapper, Lutjanus kasmira, Molokai Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)tterflyfishes, 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…..


Overall Rating = 3.5 out of 5

Orange Canyon 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 Reef Silversides, Atherinidae, Clupeidae, Engraulididae, Orange Canyon, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)better sites on the west side. 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.

  1. Depth to 105+
  2. Visibility – good to excellent
  3. Current – variable
  4. Marine Species variety – Moderate to high
  5. Reef health – Moderate to healthy

This site 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 Nassau Grouper, Epinephelus striatus, Epinephelus striatus, (Bloch, 1792), Grand Cayman ( with a grouper exposing his gills for servicing. The site 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.   This is a great wall dive and is a premium spot for underwater photography.   Andes Wall 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 Grand Cayman past Rum Point, Looking from the mooring ball at Andes Wall ( 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.

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

You can dive this site on top of the wall or as a wall dive and 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 Spotted Eagle Ray, Aetobatus narinari, Grand Cayman ( 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.

As we move past the 90 foot level out to the wall I notice a number of Blackcap BassletsBlackcap Basslet, Gramma melacara, Böhlke & Randall, 1963, Grand Cayman ( 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. Green Moray Eel, Gymnothorax funebris, Ranzani, 1840, 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 Spotted Eagle Ray, Aetobatus narinari, (Euphrasen, 1790), Andes Wall, Grand Cayman ( 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….

This place 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 Spiny Lobster, Palinuridae argus, Latreille, 1804, Andes Wall, Grand Cayman ( and if you are an underwater photographer, perhaps you can make a little magic of your own.

The pool is open…..

Debris Field, Oro Verde, Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)Some of the most interesting types of shipwrecks for scuba diving are the purpose sunk ships that have been scuttled to create artificial reefs. After adequate preparation, this is a wonderful way for older ships to give not only a benefit to scuba divers but also a shelter to a variety of marine organisms (see National Geographic article “Artificial Reefs: Trash to Treasure” February 5, 2001).
There have been and continue to be a large number of ships sunk to create View from above. Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)artificial reefs (Wikipedia provides a list of some wrecks that have been reefed over the last twenty years including the HMAS Adelaide and the USS Kittiwake which were just sunk in 2011). These wrecks have come to be an important part of the local ecosystems*. In fact, these wrecks may also offer an opportunity to help improve the condition of reefs globally. Studies from the Red Sea and other locations tend to show that there is little difference between developments of an artificial reef as compared to natural reefs. Artificial reefs made from steel vessels offers long-term development Port Side, Doc Paulson, Grand Cayman ( the reef and immediate space for organisms to inhabit.
PADI and NAUI offer specialty wreck diving courses to train divers in “safety, hazards and cautions, special risks of overhead environments, entanglement, limited visibility, deep diving, equipment, site of wrecks, sources of information, search methods,  ( navigation, legal aspects, artifacts, treasure, salvage, archaeology, and much more”. Wreck diving can be a wonderful experience for any diver. However, before penetrating any ship the diver should have adequate training according to the state of the ship being explored. Deep water wrecks, “natural” shipwrecks, etc., should only be explored by experienced and trained divers using appropriate safety gear and precautions.
More recently reefed ships such as the USS Kittiwake in Grand Cayman have been extensively prepared for reefing to make entry, exploration and exiting the ship relatively safe and esay. However, many older reefed ships should be approached cautiously and if the diver is not “wreck” certified penetration of the wreck should not be attempted. They key is to understand the condition of the wreck and what the diver is likely to encounter before entering the water. Use of a high quality scuba diving operation will greatly add to the safety and enjoyment of the diving experience.
Frogfish Closeup, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii (Steven W SMeltzer)As an underwater photographer, shipwrecks hold a special fascination to me. To be able to capture the mystery and character of the ship in a photo is a special challenge. However, there are those moments when you are able to get everything just right and the photo seems to come alive. The ability of a photo to transport the viewer into the image and experience the wonder of the Port side, main deck, USS Kittiwake ( is the real test of a truly amazing photo.
*Note: While there continues to be some debate about the benefits of creating artificial reefs, the benefit of these reefs can be clearly seen from many long-term – 20 year plus artificial reefs in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean and other locations. You can read more about reefing of ships at and many other websites and review “National Guidance: Best Management Practices for Preparing Vessels Intended to Create Artificial Reefs” which was developed by the USEPA and the US Maritime Administration.
Come explore my wreck diving photos in the following galleries on my website and remember “the pool is open”.

The Carthaginian II Gallery

USS Kittwake Gallery

Doc Polson Gallery

The Oro Verde Gallery

Ships sunk for wreck diving (from Wikipedia)

DateShip NameLocationCountry
2011USS Arthur W. Radford (DD-968)Cape May, New JerseyUnited States
2011HMAS AdelaideAvoca Beach, New South WalesAustralia
2011USS KittiwakeWest Bay, Grand CaymanCayman Islands
2009HMAS CanberraBarwon Heads, VictoriaAustralia
2009USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg (T-AGM-10)Key West, FloridaUnited States
2007HMNZS CanterburyBay of IslandsNew Zealand
2006Xihwu Boeing 737British ColumbiaCanada
2005Carthaginian IILanai HawaiiUnited States
2005HMNZS WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
2005HMAS BrisbaneMooloolaba, QueenslandAustralia
2004HMS ScyllaWhitsand Bay, CornwallUnited Kingdom
2004USS OriskanyFloridaUnited States
2003CS Charles L BrownSint EustatiusLeeward Islands
2003HMCS NipigonQuebecCanada
2002MV DaniaMombasaKenya
2002USS Spiegel GroveFloridaUnited States
2002HMAS HobartYankalilla Bay, South AustraliaAustralia
2001HMCS Cape BretonBritish ColumbiaCanada
2001HMAS PerthAlbany, Western AustraliaAustralia
2000HMCS YukonSan Diego, CaliforniaUnited States
2000StanegarthStoney CoveUnited Kingdom
2000HMNZS WaikatoTutukakaNew Zealand
1999HMNZS TuiTutukaka HeadsNew Zealand
1995HMCS SaskatchewanBritish ColumbiaCanada
1997HMAS SwanDunsborough, Western AustraliaAustralia
1996HMCS ColumbiaBritish ColumbiaCanada
1996MV Captain Keith Tibbetts (formerly Russian-built Frigate 356)Cayman BracCayman Islands
1996Inganess BayBritish Virgin Islands
1995HMCS MackenzieBritish ColumbiaCanada
1992HMCS ChaudireBritish ColumbiaCanada
1991 to 2001Wreck Alley – The Marie L, The Pat and The Beata[10]British Virgin Islands
1991MV G.B. ChurchBritish ColumbiaCanada
1990FontaoDurbanSouth Africa
1990T-BargeDurbanSouth Africa
1987 to 2000Wreck AlleySan Diego, CaliforniaUnited States
1987USCGC BibbFloridaUnited States
1987USCGC DuaneFloridaUnited States
1981Doc PoulsonCayman Islands
1980Oro VerdeCayman Islands
1970Glen Strathallen (sunk to produce a diver training facility)PlymouthUnited Kingdom

The pool is open…..

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