Dive sites off Tobago
An introduction to diving Tobago
Tobago is relatively new as a dive destination. Active underwater tourism began in the early 1970’s at the southern end of the island. The first operations were not sanctioned by any certification body, but were run by ex-servicemen whose military background had afforded them the training necessary for that type of work.
The abundance of coral reef, shipwrecks and marine life lent to rapid expansion. Dive shops proliferated mainly in the area close to Pigeon Point, as the boats were able to load and leave in the perfectly flat waters. Industry standards were adhered to, as PADI, NAUI, BSAC, and CMAS certified instructors entered the operations as owners or employees on contract.
The infrastructure needed to support recreational diving only became available when a loan from the IADB was granted to the government of Trinidad and Tobago to facilitate the State’s tourism plan. Conditions set down by that financial body, stipulated that an active divers association must be formed in order for the moneys to be properly disbursed. A decompression chamber and a support facility was highest on the list of requirements. The chamber was eventually acquired and the facility was installed in Roxborough, a central location with respect to diving. It was manned by specially trained members of the island’s Fire Department.
There are a wide selection of dive sites available on Tobago’s western coast. These range from gently sloping coral reefs to stunning vertical rock faces covered with encrusting sponges, gorgonians and stony corals. These sites support a wide range of life, most notably the stingrays, eagle rays, hawksbill turtles, and nurse sharks. On the smaller end of the scale one can find cherubfish, flameback angelfish, and sea horses.
The Wall at Mount Irvine is one such dive. It is between thirty to fifty feet deep and is accessible to the novice or intermediate diver. The Arnos Vale Reef is forty feet and classed as a novice to intermediate dive. Castara is thirty to eighty foot deep and is ideal for the novice intermediate diver. Culloden Reef on the western coast is starts at thirty and goes on to sixty feet, and is perfect for the novice or intermediate diver.
The Maverick is an old car ferry, which was deliberately sunk in April 1997 to create an artificial reef. She lies in an upright position on the seabed. One major attraction on this dive is Jacob, the oversized grouper who took up residence on the Maverick five months after she went down.
The Merchantman lies in thirty five feet of water. This vessel was torpedoed during the Second World War and now is home to large nurse sharks and barracudas. The huge propeller and boiler stacks make great photo props. The Frenchman is a good dive for the novice. It is just thirty five feet deep, and features a ballast pile and several cannon. A part of the French fleet having business in the Caribbean during the early 1700’s, a large wave struck her broadside, and caused the ballast stones to crash through the lower decks.
Black Jack Hole
A reef drift dive with lots of coral. Black jacks and cavallis found in abundance, with durgeon, southern sennet, chromis, boga, schools of purple and gold creole wrasse. More details: BlackJack Hole
Depth: 6-21m (20-70ft)
A reef drift dive. Thick with colourful sponges, famous for large tarpons (a tarpon bowl can be found), nurse sharks and turtles. More details: Bookends - Tobago Scuba Diving Site
Depth: 7-24m (23-80ft)
Flying Manta (aka 'Cathedral')
Lush reef starting around 20ft, nice fish, straight current, manta rays found seasonally. Current is so bizzarre your bubbbles go down before they come up.
Depth: 2-20m (6-66ft)
Shark Bank (South Rock)
An isolated rock subject to strong and changing currents. Nurse, lemon and black tip sharks.
Depth: 6-30m (20-100ft).
Gentle currents push you along sloping reef covered with hard and soft corals till you make a turn through Kamikazee Cut where the current picks you up and spits you through a large cut in the reef and deposits you in a lovely calm area. A slow moving drift dive over one of the prettiest reefs in Tobago with yellow tube and azure vase sponges, with optional rushing waters of the Kamikaze Cut. More details: Japanese Gardens at Goat Island
Depth: 3-18m (10-60ft)
St Giles Islands
Several sites: Sail Rock, Marble Island, Washaroo, Rocky Mountain High. Pinnacles, surge channels. Redspotted hawkfish, spotted eagle rays, hawks-bill turtles, large barrel sponges, midnight parrotfish and rough tailed stingrays. Off the north end of the island, this is also an unusual set of rock formations. This consists of several seperate sites, the most well known and distinctive being London Bridge. This is a large arch carved out of stone formed by the enduring force of the water. Underwater the site is a series of canyons.
Depth (typical): 9-21m (30-70ft).
A natural arch that breaks the surface - spectacular both above and below water. Needs calm water. More details: London Bridge Rock
Depth: 2-20m (7-66ft).
Not a great deal of coral nor sponges, but lots of darting blenny and goby ready to clean the larger fish.
Depth: 6-9m (20-30ft)
Accessible from shore, poor in coral but a natural fish nursery. Ideal for snorkelling and shallow night diving. See: Pirates Bay at Charlotteville
Depth: 4-15m (13-50ft)
Booby Island (Big Rock)
Rubble plain of large rocks topped with small gogonian sea fans and lots of fire coral.
Depth: 2-25m (7-82ft)
A deep dive with vertical walls on the pinnacle’s seaward side starting above water level and dropping in a series of steps to 42m. Good for turtles, eagle rays and big barracuda.
Depth: 7-40m (23-130ft)
Wreck of the MV Maverick (Scarlet Ibis)
Æ to ÆÆÆ
A decommissioned passenger ferry scuttled in 1997 lying upright in 100ft/30m of water about ½mile offshore. The bridge deck at 60ft/18m is accessible to all levels of certified divers. Already can see large groupers, lobsters and a large resident jewfish about 100kg. In June 1999 an 8m (25ft) whale shark, a plankton eater, spent several days here. More details:
Mount Irvine Wall
Shallow wall starting at about 25ft sloping to 55-60ft. Great site for "oddities" like Batfish, Scorpionfish, Sea Horses, Flying Gunards etc. Also reported more Queen Angelfish per square ft than seen anywhere else! Good for snake eels, sea horse, bat fish etc. More details: Mount Irvine - Tobago Scuba Diving Site
Depth: 6-12m (20-40ft)
Large coral and sponge encrusted formations in 40ft water. Great site for inexperienced divers because of the shallow depth and lack of current. More experienced divers will enjoy the site because of the variety of marine life. Lots of interesting nooks and crannies ideal for snorkelling or diving. Plenty of colourful reef fish. Watch for unusual torpedo rays which bury themselves in the sand at the base of the Sponge and Coral encrusted rocks. Good for night dives. More details: Arnos Vale Reef at Mount Irvine and Arnos Vale Estate
Depth: 2-20m (7-66ft)
One of the true Tobago standouts. It is a cluster of rock pinnacles which breaks the surface and drops to a depth of 140ft. A variety of environments exists here. There are rock formations with corals between each pinnacle. This is a great area for pelagics and Barracuda sharks. Strong currents can be common here. Five pinnacles rising steeply from the seabed at 36m, separated by surge channels. Good for pelagics - sharks, barracuda, tarpon; hammerheads are most frequently seen here. Justifies several visits. More details: Sisters Isles
Depth: 6-40m (20-130ft).
Fringing reef. Good for training dives and snorkelling: butterflyfish, angelfish, parrotfish, snappers, grunts and wrasses. Night dives: spotted lobsters, shrimps, snake eels, squirrelfish.
30min SW of Crown Point. Gently sloping rocky ridges from 6m to about 15m with sandy troughs hosting several thousand giant barrel sponges. Typical currents: 1 – 3 knots.
Divers Thirst is a dive for the experienced drift diver and is fifty to sixty feet The Northern coast Tobago offers fantastic drift dives and crystal clear conditions. The names of the sites are indicative and need no further embellishment. Japanese Gardens, Bookends, Dream and the Washing Machine are but a few. Continuation of the Diver’s Dream reef, closer to shore. Less powerful current but sweeps to 25m. Series of rocky ridges and sandbars starting at 9m. Excellent for giant barrel sponges, reliable for nurse sharks and blacktip reef sharks.
Flying Reef at Tobago’s extreme southern tip is thirty to fifty feet and is classed novice to experienced dive site. 2km offshore, another drift dive with a strong current. Channels through the reef populated by large numbers of parrotfish, including rainbow parrotfish. Large schools of southern sennet are common.
Cove is a thirty to eighty foot drift dive suitable for the intermediate to experienced diver. Larger and deeper version of Buccoo Reef: steep slope riddled with nooks and crannies hosting all manner of marine life and a combination of living and dead corals. Many small balloonfish, goby, blenny and cleaning stations.
Tobago's North Coast Dive sites
Atlantic / Speyside Side
Speyside is considered to have some of the best dive sites in Tobago. Many divers and underwater photographers return year after year. Most of its 25 known dive sites are drift dives, some of the most popular are:
Batteaux Bay -
This spot is considered the absolute corner of the Carribbean where the conflicting currents have the greatest influence. Atlantic Manta Rays are seen here. They are very comfortable with the company of divers but also physically interact with each other. Their presence is explained by the continual supply of food provided by the unusual sea conditions.
Manta City (not numbered on map)
Between Kelleston Drain and Cathedral. Mantas frolic here Nov-Jun. More details: Manta Rays at Manta City
Other Dive Sites In Atlantic/Speyside Side
Keleston Drain - Mild drift carries the diver along prolific sloping to what is reputed to be the largest single Brain Coral in the Caribbean.
Alps - One of the most advanced dives in the ares due to some fairly stiff currents. Huge mountain-like formations give this site its name and make it visually interesting. The dive ends at Tarpon Bowl which is a shallow dish-like formations where the Tarpon likes to hang out. Great photo op.
Popular with novice divers, the small reef formations found here are also good for snorkelling. More details about Charlotteville
Tobago's West Coast Dive sites
Tobago's South Coast Dive sites
A massive true coral reef of rope, tube and barrel sponges, with some rare cup coral and red-polyp octocoral, home to thousands of invertebrates, fish and hydroids. Ideal for novice divers and snorkellers. More details: Tobago Buccoo Reef
One of the top drift-diving sites in the Caribbean - for experienced drift divers accompanied by an experienced divemaster with surface marker.
Æ Rating Denotes:
Holds basic scuba certification from an internationally recognised agency, dives 1 trip a year or less, has logged less than 25 dives in all, has little experience diving in similar waters and conditions, dives no deeper than 60ft (18m)
May have participated in some form of continuing diver education, logged between 25 and 100 dives, dives no deeper than 130ft (40m), has dived in similar waters and conditions in the last 6 months.
Holds advanced certification, has been diving more than 2 years with over 100 dives logged, has dived in similar waters and conditions in the last 6 months.
Also In Caribbean Side You will Find:
Englishman's Bay -
A profusion of soft corals in 30-8-ft. Fair chance of seeing Turtles, with an expansive beach for the surface interval. Englishman's Bay is a secluded beach on the leeward coast of Tobago, between Castara and Parlatuvier. Although the bay does not draw the large numbers of beachgoers that Tobago's western beaches do, it is considered of the island's most beautiful. The beach itself is a classic crescent shape, capped by two heavily forested headlands descending from Tobago's Main Ridge. This is one of the best snorkelling sites on the island. Skill Level: Intermediate
Castara is thirty to eighty foot deep and is ideal for the novice intermediate diver. Castara is mainly a snorkelling site with Mantas being an occasional visitor. Regular visits of the Leatherback Turtles can be observed all the way onto the beach. Skill Level: Intermediate.
The drift dives
Flying Reef, Cove Reef and Divers Thirst reef are known for drift dives. In Tobago these dives are fantastic. Large shoals of grunt and snapper create a swirl of moving colour. Green morays, nurse sharks, turtles and the occasional whale shark complete the dream dive.