Diving and Snorkeling Guide to Jamaica

Sample Pages: [Table of contents][ Diving in Jamaica ][Diving the Montego Bay area][ Sample Dive site description]

 Table of Contents

Use of this guide

Classification of dives, 2

1. Overview of Jamaica 5

Location and climate, 5 - Out of many, one people, 6
Jamaica Today, 8 - Practical Information, 9

2. Diving in Jamaica 13

Facts you should know, 14

3. Dive Sites 16

Diving the Negril area 16- The Throne Room, 17 - Sands Club Reef, 18 - The Caves, 20 - Kingfish Point, 21 - The Arches, 23 - Deep Plane, 24 - Barracuda Reef, 25- Diving the Montego Bay area 27 - The Arena/Spanish Anchor, 28 - Garden of Eels, 30 - Widowmakers Cave, 32 - Basket Reef, 34 - Chatham Reef, 35 - The Point, 37 - Chub Reef, 38 - Rose Hall Reef, 39 - -Diving the Runaway Bay area 42 - The Canyon, 42 - Reggae Queen, 43 - Pocket’s Reef, 45 - Ricky’s Reef, 47 - Silver Spray, 48 - Diving the Ocho Rios area 49 - Jacks Hall, 50 - Top of the Mountain, 51 - Devils Reef, 52- The Kathryn, 53 - Diving the Port Antonio area 55 - Alligator Long,56 - Dragon Bay Reef, 57 - Diving the Port Royal, Kingston area 60 - Windward Edge, 61- Cayman Trader, 62- Southeast Cay Wall, 64.

4. Snorkeling around the island 67

5. Responsible and safe diving 69

Protection of the Marine Environment 69
Your safety 72

Appendix 1: Diving Operations 80
Appendix 2: Side bars 85

Diving in Jamaica

Diving and snorkeling off Jamaica's azure coastal waters have always been a favorite of tourists spending their
cheap holidays to Jamaica with family members and close friends. People can often be found enjoying themselves swimming in Jamaica's beautiful beaches while some of the more adventurous tourists take up diving and snorkeling among shipwrecks and beautiful coral reefs. The diverse concentration of the country's underwater marine life has been credited partly for the rise of diving's popularity among tourists both foreign and locals alike.

The history of Jamaica’s diving goes back to the late sixties and early seventies, when the first dive resort was built in Montego Bay by a member of the British Sub-Aqua Club. The dive facility, called Montego Reef Divers, was operated by local BSAC instructors in their spare time, catering to visitors as well as local divers. In those days, articles about diving in Montego Bay, dubbed the un-derwater sponge capital of the Caribbean, appeared regularly in the US dive maga-zines.
Much has changed since then.

After an initial decline in the late seventies, the diving industry has grown tremendously and today just about every larger hotel has either its own dive facility or an independent operator offers his services there. Some hotels offer the diving as part of an all-inclusive package, with one or two dives per day for certified divers, or an introduction course for non-certified divers. Generally they do not offer full certification classes in their package.

The independent operators offer the full range of services, from daily dives for certified divers to comprehensive training up to instructor level. A number of US based training agencies are represented by instructors, with PADI having the most affiliates, and NAUI coming a close second. Most of the independent opera-tors are members of the Jamaica Association of Dive Operations (JADO), an or-ganization that exists since the late seventies and was, and still is very much in-volved in the establishment of standards for the scuba industry on the island and the protection of the marine environment.


Diving the Montego Bay area

Most visitors to Jamaica will arrive at the airport in Montego Bay, sometimes called the tourist capital of the island.  Others may come in for a day on board a cruise ship, docking just outside of the city.  Because of its central location between the major tourist areas of Negril and Ocho Rios, it is the perfect spot to stay if you are planning to explore more of the island.  Not that the area itself does not have enough to offer; to the contrary, the diving and many other activities in and around Montego Bay can easily fill a holiday of any length. 

Dive SitesHome of Jamaica’s first Marine Park, Montego Bay is also where the first dive operations, catering to visitors, started out. Now there are several well-established dive shops, and regardless which hotel you choose to stay in, a dive facility will either be in the hotel or nearby.  The marine park, which covers the area from the airport to Great River, west of the city, has a large variety of dive sites, from shallow spur and grove reefs to vertical drop-off’s, and an assortment of caverns thrown in for good measure.  With the increase in tourism, hotels have also emerged on the east side of town, and with it more dive facilities. 
There are plans to expand the area of the marine park towards the east to include these dive sites as well, but this may take another year or so.
  The after-dive activities that can be undertaken, to name but a few, are a visit to one of the many greathouses in and near to the city, rafting on the Lethe or Martha Brae River,  horseback riding, other watersport activities as sailing, windsurfing, feeding the hummingbirds at Rockland’s bird feeding station or playing a round of golf on one of the championship courses around Montego Bay.


Dive Site Descriptions:

8. The Arena/Spanish Anchor
Depth Range: 50-90 ft (15-28 m)
Currents: Rare
Classification: Novice (with restrictions) to Advanced
Access: Boat - Mooring buoy

This site is located on the west side of the Marine Park. Here the shallow reef drops down to a sandy bottom at 50 ft (15m) where there is a fixed mooring. There are two ways to do this dive; as a straight forward deep dive, returning to the same mooring, or as a multilevel dive with pick-up at the next mooring. Both dives will take you through tunnels and caverns, so this site is best suited for those divers who have mastered the skills of buoyancy control and who enjoy exploring tight passages. When the majority of the divers are not so experienced, the dive can also be done while staying on the outside of the wall, without entering the more enclosed spaces.
Spanish Anchors
Right beside the mooring, on the north side of the reef in 40 ft (12 m) you find an old, as yet undated, very large Spanish anchor. This anchor does not have much growth on it as yet, because after its discovery on the south coast, where it was buried in the sand, it was moved to this site in the park to provide more divers an opportunity to see it. In the last couple of years small sponges have started to grow on it and patches of brain coral are starting to form on the structure.

To the east you come to a slightly deeper sand patch in 70 ft (21 m), which is shaped like an ancient arena, with coral walls on all sides. Common inhabitants of the sand area are the furry sea cucumber, upside-down jellyfish and tobacco fish. There is another large, but incomplete anchor close to the south wall. Lead-ing to the outward wall are two tunnels which also provide access to more caverns with abundant black coral and sponges. At the outside wall large coral heads rise up from the sandy slope at a depth of over 120 ft (40m) up to about 80 ft (24 m). These massive heads are covered with large black coral colonies and tube, rope and elephant ear sponges. Sightings of eagle rays are quite common here, and in the deeper water large mutton snappers, and sometimes a nurse shark may pass by. A group of gray snappers can be found in the shallow reef on the west side of the mooring where the safety stop can be used for a final look at the shallower coral heads and its inhabitants.

If you are doing the multilevel dive you will continue the dive from the wall towards the next mooring. On your way Harry, the large resident barracuda who cruises the edge of the wall and the shallow reef, may make an appearance, but be sure to look up towards the surface once in awhile, otherwise you’ll miss him. You pass by the Window and Duppy’s Hole, an area with more tunnels and caverns, that forms a separate dive site. In some of the tunnels you will find the rare orange "sclero sponge," one of the few hard, reef building sponges, which are normally only observed at much greater depth.

The last 10 to 20 minutes, depend-ing on your air consumption, are spent in the shallow reef leading to the mooring at the Classroom, an area so called, because it is ideal for training dives. The safety stop is spent swimming around the shallow coral with a large colony of pil-lar coral near to the mooring as a prominent landmark. Among the permanent ten-ants of that area you will find a balloon fish hiding among the soft gorgonians in the company of a butter hamlet, and a fringed file fish blending in with the sea rod near to the mooring.