Monday, May 03, 2010

Diving SVG

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (Global Adventures): For most divers, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is still off the grid. The islands form a nation in the Lesser Antilles chain and its shores are washed by currents from the Atlantic Ocean in the East and the Caribbean Sea in the west. The main island Saint Vincent is home to most of the 120,000 Vincentians and lies south of St. Lucia, west of Barbados, and north of Grenada. The chain of 32 often uninhabited islands can look back to a French and British colonial history. Following a referendum on October 27, 1979, St. Vincent and the Grenadines became the last of the Windward Islands to gain full independence.

The Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed on the islands that still rely on agriculture as the main source of employment and income. While tourism is slowly gaining ground, Saint Vincent hopes that a new airport expected to be completed in 2011 will provide a boost to the economy. For now, most of the pristine reefs and shipwrecks see only the occasional diver, especially in the Grenadines.

A reef called “The Gardens” is a just a stone throw away from the shoreline north of Kingston, the capital. Brain and finger corals, gray snappers, kingfish, parrots and soldierfish abound and provide interesting scenery for recreational divers.

More experienced divers will prefer the Capital Wrecks in Kingston harbor. Century old canons and anchors, most likely remnants of two British warships, sit exposed on the ocean floor. The wreck of the 120 feet (37 meter) Seimstrand is still in decent shape. The former freighter sits on the ocean floor in 82 feet (25 meter) of water and offers easy exploration dives. Huge groupers, eels, and sometimes even rays can be found on the wreck.

The New Guinea Reef is home to a wide variety of coral, finger sponges and pastel gorgonians. The reef starts at around 40 feet (12 meter). At 80 feet (24 meter), divers will find the entrance to a small cave that shelters soft and hard black coral. Large schools of reef fish, moray eels and seahorses make this an interesting dive.

A huge collection of antique gin and rum bottles tossed into the water from Fort Charlotte near Kingston give the Bottle Reef its name. Depending on depth, the site offers an interesting experience for beginner and experienced divers. Towering gorgonians and sponges’ shelter crabs, and huge tarpons and tuna can be seen on occasion.

To the south of Saint Vincent lies the island of Bequia. The top-side beauty that includes tropical rain forests and refreshing waterfalls is matched underwater. A marine park on the western end of the island protects 8 miles (13 kilometers) of pristine reefs. L’Anse Chemin is one of the more interesting spots that can be explored by drifting along the ledges and walls. Schools of reef fish inhabit the site, and blue sponges, orange-cup coral, and brain corals can be found. Hawksbill turtles and eagle rays will great divers occasionally.

The Out Islands offer some of the best diving in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The Horseshoe Reef is perhaps the most popular dive site in the island chain. The reef surrounds and protects four of the five Tobago Cays. While the inside offers easy diving, the outside features dramatic drop-offs and big animal encounters. The cays are home to green turtles, and colorful hard and soft corals, fans and whips can be seen. While Sail Rock is a pinnacle site for advanced divers, the wreck of the Purina offers easy diving in around 40 feet (12 meter) of water. The 140 feet (43 meter) merchant trawler did sink in 1918 just off Mayreau Island and is home to nurse sharks, barracuda, spotted morays, and schools of reef fish.

Since English is the official language topside, communication is easy. Accommodation is usually offered by small hotels, cottages and guesthouses, and the dramatic topography above and below the water ensures a lasting experience. The climate is tropical (air temperature is usually around 81 degrees Fahrenheit/27 degrees Celsius), and the dry season runs from November to April.

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