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Your Guide to Diving in Turks & Caicos

Sharks, Walls and Reefs in the Atlantic Ocean

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...Highlights: shark action, dolphins, turtles, schooling fish & big pelagics...
...Turks and Caicos' diving environment: healthy reefs, walls, beginner and advanced divers...

Reef sharks are one of the highlights of diving in Turks and Caicos - photo courtesy of Aggressor

The Turks and Caicos Islands lie just beyond the southernmost Bahamas, east of Cuba and north of the island of Hispaniola. This British Overseas Territory is now principally known as an offshore center of finance and as a tourist destination but its reputation as a wonderland for scuba divers is on the rise.

There are many reasons why lovers of the underwater world visit, not least the excellent visibility, healthy vibrant reefs, shark sightings (nurse sharks, hammerheads, Caribbean reef sharks and tiger sharks), and even pods of humpback whales in season!

The wall diving is among the most dramatic in the Caribbean with sheer drop-offs plummeting to over 7,000 ft (2,100m). The dive sites all over this, the 3rd largest coral ecosystem in the world, are suitable for divers of all experience levels.

Being just beyond the Bahamas and with direct flights from many places in North America, more and more scuba divers are viewing this 40 island chain as an easy-to-get-to, world class liveaboard diving destination.


Dive Site Descriptions for the Turks and Caicos

Providenciales

There are dive sites all around Providenciales although the liveaboard itineraries focus on those in the Northwest Point Marine Park. This area is home to a range of sites including walls and reefs with spur and groove formations. Large creatures that can, at various points of the season, be spotted here include manta rays, dolphins, whale sharks and even humpback whales, particularly in the winter months!
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Shark Hotel as you might expect presents a good opportunity for seeing sharks, in this case Caribbean reef sharks. They patrol the blue off this wall in excellent visibility, often in excess of 100 ft (30m). Schools of goatfish, snapper and grunts are also commonly seen. This site has a maximum depth of 150 ft (46m). There is a fun chimney swim-through which you can enter at around 80 ft (24m) and sink down to where it spits you out on the sheer wall at 130 ft (40m). At the top of this chimney there is an impressive stand of pillar coral.

Black Forest refers to an overhang at between 70 and 90 ft (21 and 27m) that is filled with various species of black coral. Such species include pinnate and wire. The site also boasts healthy gorgonian fans and impressive expanses of plate coral. Schools of grunts and parrotfish are often seen, along with turtles and groupers. Take your time to look around the reef for smaller creatures such as moray eels and myriad other life forms in all the nooks and crannies.

The Dome, sometimes named the Thunderdome, is a dive site based around a structure that was once a prop of a French game show called "Le Tresor de Pago Pago". The dome was used as part of a free-diving task for the contestants, but has now become a unique artificial reef. The structure sitting between 15 and 35 ft (4.5 and 10.5m) is now covered in encrusting sponges and has clams, scallops and Christmas tree worms all living on it. There are also hundreds of secretary blennies and red-stripe cleaning shrimp living among the colorful sponges. Barracuda and Queen Angelfish are some of the larger fish you will see here, but really it is all about the small stuff. Tina Turner may have crooned: "All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome" but you would be better off concentrating on the life within it.

The Crack is a large crevice running vertically down a wall from about 50 to 100 ft (15 to 30m). Branching out from either side of the crack are gorgonian fans and black coral trees. Grouper and snapper are among the more common fish to see inside the crack. There is also a huge barrel sponge with an anemone above it. You may encounter turtles, sharks and spotted eagle rays, as well as other schooling fish.

Among the other high quality dive sites you may visit is Amphitheater where the dramatis personae include nurse-sharks, stingrays, horse-eye jacks and lionfish, with possible guest appearances by whales, rays and dolphins. Hole In The Wall is a crack you can penetrate, but one at a time, entering the hole at the surface. You can glide easily into the 55 ft (17m) hole and come out around 90 ft (27m). Inside the hole are many brittle corals, lobsters and schools of small reef fish. Sandbore Channel, lying between Providenciales and West Caicos, is a deep channel with impressive sponges and soft corals with large pelagics cruising by.


West Caicos

This little island in the far west of the country is really the focal point of any Turks and Caicos liveaboard cruise. Essentially it is a wall that is 2 miles long! This mega wall is colorfully decorated with all manner of sponges including antler sponges, rope sponges and purple tube sponges. Diverse pelagic life is present in the blue and there is in fact quite a diversity of topography among the 12 or so dive sites.
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Elephant Ear Canyon obviously gets its name from an elephant ear sponge but this one is a big orange monster! It measures 11 ft (3.3m) in diameter, is almost perfectly round and makes an awesome photographic subject. Where the top of the wall gives way to a reef flat at around 50 ft (15m) the reef is divided by a number of sandy channels. Queen conches and stingrays are common in these channels while barracuda, jacks, filefish and turtles move around the reef and in the blue.

Gully, also pluralized to The Gullies, is another site characterized by cuts and channels as well as overhangs with black coral trees, anemones and sponges. The early part of the dive normally involves finning along through the main cut and emerging out on the sheer wall at around a depth of 85 ft (26m). This site is awash with fish including schools of blue tangs, grunts and snapper as well as Caribbean reef sharks.

Driveway is reputed to be one of the most diverse sites in the area. In the shallower sandy section there are scattered coral heads supporting a wide range of life. Sponge and coral-covered sections of the reef are home to golden-tailed moray eels, anemonefish busying about their day, black durgons and yellow-headed jawfish. The ledge where the reef gives way to the steep wall features pristine areas of plate and star corals. You can also expect Caribbean reef sharks and black groupers.

Special mention must go to other sites like Highway to Heaven where a field of garden eels welcomes you after your descent. The sandy floor is also commonly peppered with numerous stingrays, often half covered in fine white sand. There are deeper swim-throughs and archways here at up to 100 ft (33m) depth. Atlantic spadefish, eagle rays and sharks are common. Whiteface, named after the shore's steep white cliffs, is often dived at night when myriad lobsters, white-spotted moray eels and octopus lurk around the reef. There is also some impressive pillar coral along the top of the reef wall. Southwest Reef is a vertical wall where eagle rays and sharks cruise effortlessly in the current, past gorgonian fans and magnificent barrel sponges. Molasses Reef appears a golden brown color where the coral break the surface. There is never a frown here since there are several wrecks at the base of this reef. The most historically interesting ship to sink here is known as the Mollases Reef Wreck. This was believed to be a Spanish caravel sunk in 1513, so there is not much of it left now! Around the shipwrecks play jacks, Nassau grouper, sharks and eagle rays.


French Cay

Southwest of West Caicos is the sharktastic French Cay, a very small and low lying island covering only around 22 acres. The Cay is a wildlife sanctuary, appreciated by the gulls, egrets, ospreys, brown noddies and terns nesting here. The structure of the island has 2 aspects that contribute to the excellent experience of scuba diving here. It has a south facing wall meaning sunlight washes over these sites giving them great lighting. Also the top of the wall is only 40 ft (13m) deep and features rich, vibrant coral gardens, so the diving is easy here and the colors are well illuminated. Shark species include the usual species seen elsewhere in the Turks & Caicos but also hammerhead sharks, bull sharks, lemon sharks, and tiger sharks are a possibility.
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Double D is one of a number of saucy site names at French Cay. It is named after the 2 large prominent sea mounts here reminiscent of an ample bosom. Currents rush around these 2 curvy protrusions bringing sustenance to innumerable soft corals, as well as to schools of jacks and black durgon. The reef slopes down, carpeted with corals, and gradually gives way to the depths and the blue. Mahogany snapper, grunts, smooth trunkfish and eagle rays can be numerous. Double D is one of the breast ... best sites for exciting and rare shark encounters. This is a rich, colorful and visually impressive site.

G-Spot continues the fine tradition of naughtily named dive sites at French Cay. The centerpiece of this site is a corner with fantastic gorgonians reaching far out from the wall as if trying to touch the passing pelagics. Large orange elephant ear sponges also add splashes of color to the wall. Barracuda, yellowtail snappers, turtles and sharks are common sights at G-Spot. Which species of shark depends on your luck. With a name like G-Spot you would expect this site, to some degree, to be hit-and-miss.

West Sand Spit (not swallow?) is located about 5 miles to the south of French Cay, but is often visited by liveaboards if weather conditions are favorable. Enormous coral formations are a distinctive feature of this reef. Ocean triggerfish, stingrays and French angelfish are often around, as are nurse sharks. If you happen to be here during the late summer mating season (July to September), you might see nurse sharks present in huge numbers. They get together in the shallows for some shallow getting together.

You might also dive Rock and Roll, either as a daytime dive or a night dive. At night you may concentrate on the reef flat which is at a maximum depth of only 40 ft (12m). There is excellent hard coral coverage, particularly the elkhorn and pillar coral. Sharks, turtles and rays are center-stage. Half Mile Reef is a long stretch of reef with a bowl-shaped indentation providing shelter for divers and myriad marine life, including mahogany snappers and barracuda. Rock Garden Interlude is a fun wall dive with exceptional sponge formations. Look out on the wall for scorpionfish and turtles resting on ledges, as well as garden eels on the sandy flats on the reef top.


How to Dive the Turks & Caicos Islands

The islands are best explored from the convenience of a liveaboard. These cruises take 7 or 10 nights and, because they do not return to shore each day, they can reach the parts that other options cannot!



Turks and Caicos Diving Season

You can dive here all year round, but the most popular time to visit is during the months of December through May. Sea temperatures are fairly constant, with a high of 84F/29°C in August/September/October and a low of 79F/26°C January-April. A 3 mm full length wetsuit is the preferred exposure suit. There is very little run off so visibility is usually excellent and averages 100 ft/30m; and it is often eve better at the deeper sites. Currents are normally gentle and surface conditions are calm, but there can be a few swells November through March.

July to September are the warmest months with a maximum temperature is 90F/32°C; while January and February are the coolest at 81F/27°C. September to December is the rainy season but on an average year the Turks and Caicos have 350 days of sunshine. Constant trade winds help keep the islands cool. Hurricane season runs from June to November, with September being the highest risk month and there is a 1 in 7 chance of one making landfall here. For further details on the climate in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, visit the Weather AtlasOpens in a new window.

Humpback whales are frequently seen in January through March, as the pass through to Silver Bank in the Dominican Republic. Nurse sharks mate at French Cay from July through September.

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Where are the Turks and Caicos and How Do I Get There?

Review our map below showing the Turks and Caicos Islands' location in the world.

Map of the Caribbean Sea, including Turks and Caicos (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of the world (click to enlarge in a new window)

The Turks and Caicos Islands is a British Overseas Territory, located southeast of the Bahamas, east of Cuba, and north of the Dominican Republic. It is in the Atlantic Ocean although still considered part of the Caribbean. There are 8 inhabited islands and a total of 40 small islands and cays. There are 2 international airports – on Providenciales and on Grand Turk. Our liveaboard cruises depart from Providenciales.

There are direct flights to Providenciales International Airport (PLS) from the USA, Canada (Toronto and Montreal), several Caribbean territories, and from Grand Turk (30 minutes flight). There are many airports to choose from in the USA but the shortest distance is from Miami, which is a 1½ flight. Airlines include Delta, American Airlines, United, Air Canada, Westjet, Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue.


Reef Summary

Depth: 16 - >130 ft (5 - >40m)
Visibility: 70 - 130 ft (20 - 40m)
Currents: Gentle
Surface conditions: Generally calm
Water temperature: 79 - 84°F (26 - 29°C)
Experience level: Beginners to advanced
Number of dive sites: >50
Recommended length of stay: 8 or 11 days


Useful References


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