Wreck diving in the Cayman Islands is becoming increasingly popular as it provides a dramatic diving experience, as well as attracting thousands of species of fish, beautiful coral and sponges.
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There are a number of spectacular wrecks situated around the Cayman Islands and as more marine life inhabits these sites, the better they get. It’s fair to say that the following dive sites should be at the top of any divers’ list.
The USS Kittiwake
In October 2017, this 251ft, 2,200 tonne, decommissioned military ship was toppled on its side by the winds of Hurricane Nate. The hull of the ex-USS Kittiwake is perfectly intact, but its port rail is now burrowed in the sand instead of standing upright.
While divers and tourism officials were anxious that this world-renowned dive site, the winner of the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, seemed ruined, there was a silver-lining: for many experienced Kittiwake divers, it was like a new dive site altogether! For the less experienced divers, it might be a little more daunting due to the lack of light coming through, but the darkened areas have attracted new breeds of sea life to the site.
The ship rests in 64ft of water off the northern end of Seven Mile Beach and is a great dive site. Go with a guided tour and keep an open mind. The Kittiwake is situated in a marine park which is protected under Cayman Law and this means that nothing can be touched or removed. Wearing gloves and fishing at this site (other than lionfish culling) is prohibited.
There is an entry fee to snorkel or dive the site and all vessels, commercial or private, are required to be licensed through the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA). If you would like to dive or snorkel the Kittiwake, you must go with a licenced operator. Contact CITA (Tel: (345) 949 8522) for a list of licenced operators to plan your trip. Due to boat and jet ski traffic, it is not advisable to swim to the Kittiwake from the shore.
The fees are CI$8 per day to dive and CI$4 per day to snorkel. You can also get an annual pass for CI$25 or a lifetime pass for CI$200. The cost to license your private boat is CI$50 a year.
Visit www.kittiwakecayman.com for more information.
Keith Tibbetts (Cayman Brac)
This 330ft Russian Brigadier Type II Frigate was intentionally sunk in 1996 and is home to thousands of fish, turtles and grunts.
Named after a local dive operator, this 330ft wreck lies about 200 yards off shore and 56ft underwater. It is the only Russian warship in the Western Hemisphere available for scuba diving, and its turret guns can still be seen today.
In 2004, a storm broke the ship in two and her bow now sits at a 45 degree angle. Although her amidships have become a debris field she is still a very popular dive site. The drop off to the wall is a mere 100ft away from the wreck and extends down thousands of feet giving divers the option of exploring the wall or staying close to the wreck.
The wreck can also be accessed by boat from Little Cayman.
The Mermaid - Amphitrite (Sunset House)
Amphitrite (am-fi-tri-te) is a stunning 9ft, 600lb bronze mermaid statue. This statue rests in approximately 55ft of water making her accessible to both divers and snorkelers.
Amphitrite is located approximately 130 yards off the shore of the Sunset House Dive Resort which is a 10 minute swim from shore.
Due to the visibility of Cayman's water you can capture stunning pictures of the most famous mermaid underwater. The main purpose of the mermaid statue is to ease pressure off of the famous and delicate reef, however the surrounding area also has lots of coral reefs with shallow and deep slots to explore. This area is also home to many marine life.
The statue was placed in November 2000 and officially named Amphitrite, Siren of Sunset Reef. Named after the queen of the seas and wife to Poseidon who was the lord of the oceans.
Directions: Head out to the second set of mooring buoys until the reef drop-off. From there, swim out further at a 45° angle and keep the reef on your right side. You will see the square base easier than the statue itself. You will also be able to see the base from shore if snorkelling.
There is no entry fee to snrokel or dive at this site, however snorkel and dive equipment can be rented from Sunset Divers.
Guardian of the Reef (Lighthouse Point)
The Guardian of the reef is a half-human, half-seahorse that stands 13 ft tall, with shield and staff in hand to symbolize the quest to protect the marine environment.
Located just a short distance away from the Lighthouse Point Dive Resort in West Bay, this statue sits in 65 ft of water.
The 220ft steel schooner, which rests in pieces on the sea floor, is only a one-minute swim from the shore.
Less than 200ft offshore from George Town and 20-30ft deep, the wreck of the Cali is an easily accessible and enjoyable dive for beginners.
This four-mast, steel schooner sunk in 1944 after experiencing severe weather conditions. Due to the wreck’s close proximity to shore, it was declared a navigational hazard and blown up shortly after it sunk. Today, the remaining pieces of Cali rest on the sea floor and host an abundance of marine life.
Situated among small surrounding reefs in George Town Harbour, the wreckage of this 375ft freighter is home to a large variety of fish and coral.
The Balboa was travelling from Cuba to Cayman in 1932 when it encountered hurricane winds and stormy seas that were severe enough to sink the 375ft freighter. It now lies approximately 150ft off the west coast of the Island at a depth of 40ft-50ft. Over the past 86 years the wreckage has become encrusted with beautiful corals and sponges, attracting a variety of marine life. The site is especially favoured by angel fish and turtles.
You can explore the ship’s stern section and swim over the three-bladed propellers. The wreck is a popular night dive and is situated around the cruise ship docking area, therefore, it is not accessible when cruise ships are in port and it is recommended you use a dive company or boat. It is recommended you use a dive company for this dive, but some have done it from shore.
The wreck of the Balboa contributed to George Town Harbour becoming a Mission Blue ‘Hope Spot’, a prestigious title given to special places that are deemed critical to the health of the ocean.
However, if the new cruise ship dock is built, this wreck is scheduled to be destroyed or moved; so dive it while you still can.
This 131ft steel cargo vessel is popular among wreck divers. It can be found 40ft-50ft below the surface and about 100ft off Seven Mile Beach, so it is not suitable for a shore dive.
The Oro Verde was discovered in the early 1980s lodged on the barrier reef in North Sound. It was recovered and brought in to George Town Harbour, where it was bought by a dive company for just CI$1. Oro Verde was then purposefully sunk, and has been enjoyed by divers ever since.
The amount of marine life available for viewing is spectacular considering how shallow the wreck is.
Unfortunately, the ship has collapsed somewhat due to the elements, but the animals that make it their home are the centre piece of this wreck. Such as, the massive jewfish that has come to be known as George, the moray eel named Kermit, and Puff the barracuda.
The 185ft freighter is completely intact and rests at a depth of 180ft-260ft off the south west coast.
For those who are Trimix certified, the Carrie Lee is recommended as a more challenging and technical dive.
The Carrie Lee was being used to carry supplies between Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands when she capsized and sank off the coast of Grand Cayman. Despite spending two weeks trying to recover the freighter, all attempts failed.
The wreck is teeming with marine life and provides a great diving experience. However, divers should take caution against the currents that surround this wreck and keep an eye on their air.
You need to use a dive company for this dive.
Though the 100ft cable layer sank back in 1982, it is still 80% intact.
450ft off Seven Mile Beach, just past Cemetery Reef, lies the Doc Polson wreck. Named after Cayman’s first ‘diving doctor’, this cable laying ship was purposefully sunk to become an artificial reef.
The site is now populated with diverse marine life, making it one of the most popular dive sites in Cayman.
It is recommended to use a boat to get to the site, as there is some boating traffic around the area. Even if you do use a boat it is still a good idea to remember to put a flag float of some sort on the surface to indicate to other boats that you are there.