Diving Little Cayman

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Little Cayman, Cayman Islands

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Country: Cayman Islands  Area: Cayman Islands

Water Temp: 22 - 31°C (72 - 88°F)

Visibility: 10 - 50m (33 - 164 ft)

Depth Range: 6 - 60m (20 - 197 ft)

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A British Overseas Territory, the Cayman Islands are located in the western Caribbean south of Cuba.  Little Cayman is one of three islands that make up the territory.  It is the smallest island, with an area of just 28.5 sq. km (11 sq. miles) and less than 170 residents.

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Little Cayman is a sleepy little island whose claims to fame are the unspoiled marine habitat, unsurpassed visibility, dramatic undersea terrain, and remarkable wildlife. With the exception of Pirate’s Week, there is little ‘party’ activity on the island.  In November, the island comes to life with the sounds of reggae and steel drums, the smells of outdoor cook-offs, a sea of colourful costumes, and a pirate parade to top it off.

 

Marine Conservation

Years of forward thinking conservation practices and stringent marine laws have kept the waters around much of the Cayman Islands in pristine condition.  The Cayman Islands Department of the Environment continues to expand marine parks, replenishment zones and designated grouper spawning areas.  It is an illegal to damage the coral around the islands.  Buoys capable of mooring up to a 19.8m (65ft.) boat mark the dive sites.   

A Grouper,  Little Cayman, Credit

The Department of the Environment (DOE) publishes a brochure containing the Marine Park Regulations & Marine Conservation Laws.  The brochure can be downloaded in PDF format from http://www.doe.ky.

The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) has established a field station at Little Cayman Beach Resort.  Deeply engaged in conservation of Nassau grouper and marine turtles, they serve as an outreach and education center.  Guests are encouraged to join the effort by participating in a variety of conservation activities including fish count surveys.

Every Wednesday afternoon, Dive masters get together for a fishing expedition.  They are fishing for the red lionfish, an invasive species that has spread across the Caribbean causing stress to native species.

An Eagle Ray, Little Cayman Credit

Climate

The Cayman Islands have a wet season from May through October, and a dry season from November through April.  Classified as a tropical marine climate, the average high temperatures range from 26°C (79°F) in January to 31°C (88°F) in July.  The diving season is year round.  However, northwesterly storms can occur during winter, making the seas at some sites too rough to dive.  If you are willing to take a chance on weather, September provides the very best visibility.

Hurricane season is from June through November.  Because of its location, the Cayman Islands are affected by hurricanes and tropical storms more than any other region in the Caribbean.

Sun just came out! Credit

 
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The Diving

The deepest part of the Caribbean is the Cayman trough, a trench of over 6,000m (20,000 miles) deep that runs between the Cayman Islands and Jamaica.  The Cayman Islands are the peaks of an underwater ridge that rises sharply from the Cayman trough.  The islands are made up of a porous limestone from ancient coral reefs and have no rivers or streams.  The lack of runoff from this flat island accounts for the exceptional visibility in the surrounding waters.  Ranked as the 2015 top readers choice and some of the best advanced diving by Scuba Diving Magazine, the Cayman Islands offer phenomenal wall, reef, and wreck diving.

The attraction in this shallow dive site, Credit

The Bloody Bay Wall Marine Park has been called “one of the seven underwater wonders of the diving world”.  The coral wall begins at 6m (20ft.) and plunges 1,000m (3,281ft.) into the abyss, offering spectacular drop-offs and swim-throughs.  Paralleling the shoreline, there are more than a dozen dive sites along the edge of the wall.  The wall is a kaleidoscope of colourful vase, basket, and tube sponges, many varieties of coral (including the endangered black coral), a myriad of invertebrates, and hundreds of colourful reef fish. 

 

Ray with companion fish Credit

Three Fathom Wall begins at 5.5m (18ft.) and is easily seen by snorkelling, a rarity for steep drop-off sites.  Crevices and small ravines punctuate the wall.  At 18m (60ft.), a winding canyon turns into a tunnel leading to a cavern beneath the reef.  Coconut Walk is at the west end of the wall.  A mini-wall begins at 9m (30ft.), the main wall at 18m (60ft.).  This is an easy place to see cruising reef sharks.  Angelfish, parrotfish, squirrelfish, and many juvenile fish can be found on the mini-wall.  Turtles and stingrays are often seen swimming around the pillar coral.  The Great Wall East & West are breath-taking sheer wall experiences.  Feel the adrenaline as you hang, suspended, over the deep abyss.  Average depth on the reef is 30.5m (100ft.).  Fish on this reef are not as easily spooked, possibly due to many years of protection.  Nassau grouper are known to follow divers around like puppy dogs.  Eagle Ray Roundup is a sandy undersea meadow in Jackson’s Bay.  With an average depth of 30m (98ft.), this habitat is encircled by coral formations and bordered by wall reef.  As the name implies, you are likely to see eagle rays here, along with stingrays and parrotfish.  Randy’s Gazebo, also known as the chimney because of the massive coral chimney whose entrance begins at 12m (40ft.), is a favourite among photographers.  The site depth maxes out at 24m (80ft.).  In addition to the chimney, a large archway provides the perfect frame for underwater photos.  Wildlife includes queen angelfish, turtles, lobster, and a resident population of sea horses.

A tiny puffer fish! Credit

The Preston Bay Marine Park is on the southwestern point of the island, near the airfield.  With fifteen dive sites, this park has much to offer.   At Patty’s Place, stands of elkhorn coral and tube sponges begin at 20m (65ft.).  Follow the passages through the coral to a maximum depth of 40m (120ft.).  Windsock Reef (so named because of its proximity to the airfield) is an easy reef dive perfect for photographers who wish to maximize their bottom time.  Depths range from 9m – 18m (30ft. – 60ft.) through gardens of soft and hard corals, sponges, and marine invertebrates.  The diversity of small marine life in and around the reefs gives macro photographers an endless number of subjects.  Eagle rays, stingrays, sea turtles, and even tarpon can be seen cruising the area.  The Soto Trader Wreck is a 36.5m (120ft.) cargo freighter that sits upright in 15m (50ft.) of water.  Here you are likely to see goliath grouper, barracuda, parrotfish, and moray eels.

A turtle off Little Cayman, Credit

Black Tip Tunnels is a dive site on the northeast side of the island.  Beginning at a depth of 20m (66ft.), tunnels, caves and passages begin to weave their way through coral rock structures.  One swim through, in particular, starts at 15m (50ft.) and comes out on the other side of the wall at 33.5m (110ft.).  It is common to see Hammerhead sharks in this area.

 

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How to Get there

The island’s remoteness is reflected in the available transportation to and from the diving paradise.  The national airline, Cayman Airways offers flights to Little Cayman from Grand Cayman or Cayman Brac.  Private planes are welcomed but must clear customs at either the Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman or the Charles Kirkconnell International Airport in Cayman Brac.

Bicycles and scooters are the main means of transportation on this tiny island.

Typical plane used if travelling by air to Little Cayman Credit

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Where to Eat & Drink

Most of the dining options are part of all-inclusive resort packages.  However, there are four restaurants on the island that are independent of all-inclusive packages. These restaurants serve a surprising variety of cuisine, from your classic Caribbean to Italian and Indian.

Little Cayman Beach Resort Dock Credit

Pirate’s Point Dining Room, part of the Pirate’s Point Resort, is run by Gladys Howard, a delightfully engaging hostess.  A Cordon Bleu trained chef who studied under Julia Child, Gladys serves world-class cuisine.  Sushi night is always a big hit.  The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Advance reservations are a must on this tiny island where the majority of foodstuffs must be imported at great cost.

The Hungry Iguana serves an eclectic mix of Caribbean and international cuisines for lunch and dinner.  This relaxed waterfront establishment is an ideal place to watch the sunset and sip on an Iguana punch (mostly rum, coconut rum, a splash of juice, more rum).  The Hungry Iguana is also one of two options for nightly entertainment. 

A resort bar, Beach Nuts Good Time Bar has a laid-back atmosphere, fast friendly service, good food, and cold drinks.

The Beach Bum Café offers alfresco dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Their menu runs the gamut from smoothies and milkshakes to burgers and crab salad.

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Other Activities

Diving represents the majority of activity on Little Cayman but not all.  The island is full of lagoons, secluded beaches, salt ponds, and mangrove forests to explore.  Owen island is a tiny uninhabited island that can easily be reached by kayak.  This idyllic setting is the perfect place to while away the afternoon swimming, beach combing, relaxing, and picnicking.  Don’t forget the bug spray, sandals, and wine.

A barrel sponge, Little Cayman, Credit

Fishing opportunities include offshore and inshore.  Go after the large pelagic species that cruise the Cayman trench.  Perhaps you will bring your own sushi to the boat.  Experience the thrill of fighting a 68kg (150 lb.) tarpon on light tackle.  Fly fishing lessons are available as well.

Try kite surfing in South Hole Sound.  IKO Kite Surfing School provides lessons for beginners and advanced riders.  You can also rent equipment and go out on your own if you are an advanced rider.

Recognized by BirdLife International as an ‘important bird area’, the Booby Pond Nature Reserve is home to the largest breeding population of red-footed boobies in the northern hemisphere.  The pond is actually a seasonally flooded lagoon surrounded by mangroves and bordered on the north side by dry forest.  West Indian whistling ducks, Caribbean elaenias, white-crowned pigeons, and a large colony of magnificent frigate birds make this salt pond home.  Make sure you take a pair of binoculars.

Having fun jumping off the boat, Credit

Family Friendly

There are no formal activities for children.  Little Cayman is a very safe place, allowing for ‘free-range’ kids.  Beautiful beaches with tranquil waters for swimming and snorkelling, stretches of deserted island begging to be explored, and resident populations of iguanas keep kids actively engaged and fuel their imagination.

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Tips

• Pack accordingly.  Outside of the resorts, there are no real services available.

• Pack sunscreen at any time of year and bug spray (with DEET) during the summer and early fall.  Dengue virus is a mosquito-borne illness that has become more prevalent in the Caribbean over the last few years.  Symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, rash, joint aches, and muscle and bone soreness.

• Pack handheld VHF and GPS if you will be exploring on your own.

• Carry a well-stocked first aid kit.

• Consider a global rescue membership, particularly if you plan to engage in more advanced and dangerous dives. 

Iguanas have the right of way sign,Little Cayman, Credit

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