Andros Bahamas Dive Sites - Where will you go and what will you see ...
At Small Hope Bay Lodge, we're thrilled to be able to offer sport divers such a diverse range of dives - over 60 different Bahamas dive sites, all within a short boat ride (most within 15 minutes from our dock). We're world renowned for our diving - shallow reefs, coral gardens, wrecks, false walls, walls, caverns and blue holes - as well as a fabulous shark observation dive. Here's an introduction to the kinds of dives on our regular dive schedule, with descriptions of some of our favorites. We've included depths in imperial and metric.
Shallow reefs at depths of 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 metres) are located close to the barrier reef structure so you're diving right above the reef. You'll be able to see corals like Elkhorn and staghorn coral - which typically come very close to the surface at low tide - spreading out to catch the sunlight. It's likely you'll see juvenile and intermediate phase fish life on the shallow reef.
The colors of the corals and fish life are exceptionally vivid on the shallow reef, because sunlight penetrates our clear waters with the most intensity at these depths. Shallow reefs are ideal for photographers, new divers, and snorkelers.
Many of the shallow reef sites are on the reef crest, the most shallow point on the barrier reef. Depths listed below for some of these reefs may indicate a range beginning at 0 feet or metres, because the reef may actually reach the surface at certain points. Waves break on the crest and the many organisms that live here have adapted to the constant surge and warmer waters. Some shallow reefs are fore reefs, where the reef crest meets the lagoon on the other side. This is an environment for a thriving array of juvenile reef fishes which have graduated from the nursery and are still trying to avoid being gobbled for lunch on the deeper reefs. Here are descriptions of some of the shallow reef dive sites we like to visit regularly, from shallower to deeper depths:
Red Shoal (0 to 12 feet/0 to 3.5 metres)
Situated west of the local U.S. Navy base haul down tower, Red Shoal is an excellent snorkeling and shallow dive site. Large schools of French and blue-striped grunts embellish the rich Elkhorn coral formations. Stingrays sometimes may be seen on the sandy bottom in the channels between the coral formations. A shoal on the reef crest, this site was named because of the deep rusty red color of the Elkhorn coral, possibly caused by the infusion of water from a local blue hole.
Love Hill (2 to 15 feet/0.6 to 4.5 metres)
This site is located on the reef crest opposite Love Hill Beach. A large sandy area with a W-shaped reef, Love Hill is a perfect spot for snorkelers and new divers. Branching from the main strip of reef, the coral formations create sand channels that provide a maze-like environment, perfect for those who like to meander around a rich and colorful reef at a very shallow depth. Love Hill is a fun and easy site to snorkel and dive. There's an abundance of Elkhorn coral, brain coral, sea fans and gorgonians.
End of the Reef (2 to 20 feet/ 0.6 to 6 metres)
This pretty shallow site on the reef crest is ideal for snorkelers and first-time divers. It has large Elkhorn coral formations creating swim-throughs that open up into small pockets throughout the reef. One pocket is so beautiful, we named it Ariel's Garden, after the little mermaid.
Trumpet Reef (3 to 25 feet/0.91 to 7.5 metres)
Large coral heads formed mainly of brain coral, fire coral and Elkhorn coral, dot the sandy bottom behind the tiny island of Hump Cay. Named because of its nice variety of trumpet fish, this site on the fore reef is a great spot to snorkel and dive. Snorkelers enjoy the close proximity to the large coral heads, growing only a few feet from the surface. Divers can explore beyond this site, by heading east into deeper water to Peter's Mystery Special (see Coral Gardens for a description).
Central Park (2 to 30 feet/0.9 to 9 metres)
Central Park is a beautiful coral garden rich with soft corals, particularly gorgonians. This is an unusual site as it extends from the reef crest out to the foreshore offering great diversity. The site got its name because of a comment made by some guests from New York City. When they surfaced after the dive, they said the site had so many fish, it reminded them of a long weekend at Central Park.
Leiben's Point (3 to 30 feet/1 to 9 metres)
Leiben's Point is a beautiful lush shallow reef/coral garden north of Small Hope Bay. Historically, this is a place where privateers used to light bonfires out on platforms to lure ships into running aground. Then the pirates would come out and help themselves to the valuable cargo aboard. According to local legend, Captain Leiben was notorious for this practice. There are incredible opportunities to observe the topography of the Andros Barrier Reef here, as you can swim from the shallow snorkeling areas containing juvenile reef fish, right along the barrier reef out into the deeper waters, where the coral becomes thicker. This site also has an abundance of the usually rare pillar coral.
Coral gardens, at depths of 30 to 70 feet (9 to 21 metres), are transition areas between the shallow reef and the wall. Here you will find a larger diversity of coral formations, primarily hard corals, interlaced with pockets of sand and soft coral growth. On the coral garden, you're likely to find intermediate to mature fish life. Coral gardens can be found parallel to the barrier reef, as the typography deepens. Some of our beautiful coral garden sites are described here:
Jean's Dream (25 to 30 feet/8 to 9 metres)
Jean's Dream is a great fore reef site for observing cleaning stations and smaller sea life, such as banded coral shrimps and Christmas tree worms. This is a classic shallow reef/coral garden dive, perfect for taking it easy and relaxing, especially after a deep dive. Riddled with gorgonians and sea fans, colorful parrotfish, schools of French grunts and jewel-like damsel fish, Jean's Dream was named after a guest who wanted to document 100 species of fish. Not surprisingly, her dream came true!
South Peter's Place (30 feet/10 metres)
South Peter's Place features a circular sand patch and a dense coral garden. This site is a favorite for new divers. Residents include schools of surgeonfish and blue tangs, stoplight parrotfish, tiger and Nassau grouper, barracuda and the occasional southern stingray. The site was named after Jeff Birch's stepbrother, Peter Douglas.
Peter's Mystery Special (30 to 40 feet/9 to 12 metres)
Whimsically referred to as P.M.S, this dive site is a beautiful coral garden, perfect for novice divers. A wide variety of fish life can be found here, like parrotfish, French grunts and fire worms. This is also an ideal spot to observe the reef's cleaning stations. The site is named Peter's Mystery Special because one day, Peter Douglas just took a chance and threw in the anchor. It turned out to be a good dive site!
The Aquarium (30 to 40 feet/9 to 12 metres)
This beautiful site is suitable for shallow diving as well as snorkeling. Predictably, it got its name because diving this site is just like swimming in a large open aquarium, filled with marine tropicals in every color of the rainbow.
Jeff's Ladder (40 feet/12 metres)
This site consists of two large circular sand patches surrounded by corals, near a false wall. Jeff's Ladder is a great site for divers completing their certification, as it has a nice sandy bottom for skill work. Navigation is particularly easy for divers, as both sand patches cover a large area, so it's pretty difficult to get lost. How did the site get its name? Well, that's an amusing tale - Jeff Birch took an early era dive boat to the site, and when the divers returned to the boat after the dive, they had a hard time getting back on board. Somebody had forgotten to put down the ladder!
Klein's Place (50 feet/15 metres)
Situated in front of a barrier cay, Klein's Place is a perfect spot for new divers. Named after a former Small Hope Bay dive master, the site consists of a large banana-shaped sand patch, surrounded by a variety of hard corals, sponges and soft corals. Look for crustaceans like Pederson's Shrimp, Arrow Crab and Spiny Lobster that are frequently found under ledges, hiding among the coral, or cleaning the occasional Grouper. You can just sit on the sand, and observe the reef and its busy inhabitants.
Brad's Mountain (50 feet/15 metres)
Brad's Mountain is named after former Small Hope Bay Lodge divemaster, Brad Percel. Located south of Small Hope Bay, and a stone's throw from the Shark Emporium where we conduct our shark observation dives, this site has a lot of variety. Here you may see bar jacks darting in and out of the summer swarms of silversides, crowding the many small swim-throughs and caverns that honeycomb Brad's Mountain. We often see schools of fish like horse-eye jacks, Atlantic spade fish and Bermuda chubs. You also may see adult permit as well as one of the Caribbean reef sharks who may be hoping we've come to feed them a chum ball snack!
Margo's Place (60 feet/18 metres)
This site is named after Jeff Birch's sister, Margo Blackwell. It's a smaller sand patch network with great coral formations all around. The coral in this area rises up substantially from the mainly sandy bottom. There are many dark corners between the coral overhangs, and the sandy bottom provides a great habitat for Squirrel Fish, and juvenile and spotted drums. Look for the tiger tail sea cucumbers in this area as well.
Black Forest (70 feet/21 metres)
The hard coral formations looming from the sandy bottom of this site create a landscape that resembles a forest. Divers can swim to the base of the corals and meander through the sandy channels. This is a great spot for peaking at crawfish hiding under the coral ledges. At this depth, there is also a chance to spot larger species like sharks or turtles.
Wagon Wheel (70 feet/21 metres)
This dive site got its name because of the beautiful spur and groove coral formations radiating in all directions from a large central sand patch. The mounds form the spokes of the wheel and provide many nooks and crannies in which to look for everything from Arrow Crabs to Spotted Moray eels. Explore the sand patch itself and revel in the beautiful soft corals and algae that provide a home to intriguing fish like the yellow-headed Jaw Fish that hides vertically in his burrow, and can sometimes be seen carrying a brood of eggs in his mouth.
Astronauts call it the closest thing to being in outer space. It's easy to see why - when you're suspended weightless, off the edge of the wall, looking at the corals growing off a vertical plane. Diving the wall is truly awesome.
The wall begins where the ocean floor ends - a vertical drop-off where the continental shelf plummets to the Tongue of the Ocean 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) below. The Andros Wall begins around 70 to 90 feet (21 to 27 metres) - and that's where we set anchor.
The wall is unique in its zones of marine, fish, coral and sponge life, because some species only live at specific depths. All our wall dives are no decompression dives. multi-level dives - you'll notice more than one depth listed for the wall dives below. If you'd rather not dive to the deepest planned depth, you can stay at a level above, closer to the edge of the wall.
There are many sensational dive sites along the wall - here are a few we visit the most. (To learn about some of our specialty wall dives)
Queen Angel Ridge (70 feet/21 metres)
Always a favorite, Queen Angel's Ridge (QAR) is made up of a thick coral ridge right on the edge of the wall. This site has particularly nice soft corals that gently wave in the warm clear waters. Here, we frequently see turtles lazily swimming along with hoards of Creole Wrasse in the afternoons.
Giant Staircase (80 - 120 feet/36 - 24 metres)
Fantastic coral formations descend like giant steps over the edge of the wall into the abyss. Experience multi-level wall flying, as we follow ancient streambeds where water falls once cascaded into the sea, and then cruise back up, soaking in the dense proliferation of sponges, invertebrates and tropical fish. Keep your eyes in the blue for large pelagic species such as sharks, rays, and turtles that frequent this area. In addition, be sure to check out our garden eel patch where these shy skinny fish hang out.
Catacombs (90 feet/27 metres)
This amazing wall dive has terraced levels featuring outstanding plate corals and large barrel sponges. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.
Hanging Gardens (90 - 100 feet/ 27 - 30 metres)
This site is our underwater version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Here, lush coral gardens descend on a graduated terrace, leading to the edge of the abyss. Large barrel sponges are among the formations beckoning divers to peak in every nook and cranny. You should see some surprises, like the tiny cleaning Pederson's shrimps tucked away in their Spiral Anemone homes.
Goat Cay Wall (100 feet/30 metres)
This is a phenomenal wall just off shore from Small Hope Bay, on the far side of Goat Cay. A lovely coral garden is suspended above the steep drop-off into the Tongue of the Ocean. Along with the usual proliferation of sponges, corals, fish and invertebrates, this site also boasts a spectacular large swim-through filled with silversides in the summer months.
Turnbull's Gut (80 -120 feet/24 - 36 metres)
This stunning wall dive is named for resident marine biologist and long time friend of Small Hope Bay Lodge, Tim Turnbull. Right on the edge of the Tongue of the Ocean, there is a large fissure in the coral buttress running along the edge of the wall. This feature provides an excellent swim-through, which you can enter on the top of the wall and swim surrounded on all sides by coral. When you exit at 120 feet, you'll see nothing below you but thousands of feet of water. Along the top of the wall, a variety of creatures habitually cruise around the large vase sponges and Star Corals.
Conan's Cove (120 - 140 feet/36 - 42 metres)
Located just east of Brad's Mountain, Conan's Cove was first explored by Small Hope Bay dive masters Nick Stewart and Matthew Kammann one September on their day off. Conan's Cove is special because it has the advantages of being a wall dive, and it's also close to our shark observation dive site, so you may see Caribbean reef sharks cruising the area. The wall here is a gradual slope. The local U.S. Navy base has installed a cable running through the site all the way over the edge of the abyss and down into the Tongue of the Ocean.
Whip Wire Wall (80 - 140 feet/24 - 42 metres)
This beautiful multi-level dive is located on a nearly vertical wall covered in whip and wire corals. Only seen at deeper depths, these unique corals coil out away from the wall into the blue in a riot of pastel colors. Worth a close look is a ten-foot tall cone-shaped coral head right on the edge of the wall which is affectionately referred to as Baldare's Cone because of its resemblance to a cone-headed character from Saturday Night Live.
Dana's Delight (90 - 170 feet/27 – 51 metres)
Right next to the Over the Edge of the Wall site, Dana’s Delight is one of the more recent additions to the Small Hope Bay dive menu. The site is most notable for an amazing variety of beautiful sponges in different shapes, sizes and colors. Descending over the Tongue of the Ocean, you can see grooves in the structure of the wall, formed during stages of the ice age. Take an occasional look into the blue and you may see deep-water pelagics. The site was named for Dana Maxwell, a frequent guest at Small Hope Bay Lodge since 1998. When he surfaced the first time we dived at the site, Dana said, "that was delightful". On his visit in August, 2005, we gave him a certificate with the site's GPS coordinates, naming the site, Dana's Delight.
Over the Wall (70 - 90 - 185 feet/21 - 27 - 56 metres)
This is a Small Hope Bay Lodge signature dive, with something to see at every level. Whether you choose to take the plunge and experience one of life's most exhilarating feelings, plummeting down to an ice age shore line at a depth of 185 feet, or you prefer to make your way along the coral grottos along the top of the wall filled with marine life of every description, this site has plenty to offer. Pristine reefs and sheer drops combine to provide a gorgeous vista. It was here back in the 1960's that wall diving, as we know it today, began.
A false wall is an area of the ocean floor where there is a transition from one depth plateau to a deeper depth. Customarily covered with profuse coral growth along the face of the wall, false walls have many similar characteristics to true walls. In both, the corals and sponges grow on a vertical plane - but the false wall only transitions to another plateau.
Below are highlights of some of our false wall sites. Also, see the descriptions of other sites with false walls - Black Forest, a coral garden, as well as Dianna's Dungeons and Alec's Caverns - two cavern dives that have false walls.
Sea Turtle Ridge (60 feet/ 18 metres)
This site offers a terrific false wall that gently slopes down, creating a coral grotto. While the name suggests sea turtles, we cannot guarantee their presence, but the numerous sponges that dot the slope show evidence of turtle predation. As this is a perfect habitat for turtles, there is a good chance of sighting our reptilian friends.
Three Sisters (40 - 70 feet/12 - 21 metres)
This is a lovely false wall site, just east of Jeff's Ladder. The top edge of the wall is a transition from Jeff's Ladder where the sandy bottom leads to a plateau scattered with individual coral heads.
The Coliseum (70+ feet/21+ metres)
A fabulous false wall, the Coliseum is just east of The Barge, one of our wreck dives. Typically, we anchor at the Barge and swim out to the Coliseum. A gradually sloping false wall leads to a plateau that plunges down into the Tongue of the Ocean.
Cara's Caverns (90 feet/27 metres)
This is a wonderful false wall with two plateaus. See a more detailed description under cavern dives.
Black Forest (70 feet/21 metres)
This is a coral garden with a false wall. See more about Black Forest under coral gardens.
These 90-foot dive sites are beautiful web-like formations at the edge of a false wall. We call them our cavern dives because they offer a multitude of swim throughs and holes to explore. Divers can weave in and out of the tunnels. Dive lights are welcome but not necessary. The insides of the caverns are often thick with Silver Sides and Glassy Sweepers. Here are some of the cavern dives we like the most:
Alec's Caverns (90 feet/27 metres)
This is an incredible cavern dive composed of a mature spur and groove coral reef. Fingers of coral extending to the edge of a false wall (a step along the way to the real drop off) have grown together producing coral caverns and caves with multiple entrances and exits. On this dive, you'll see rare cryptic sponges, schools of sleeping Glassy Sweepers, along with a proliferation of Squirrel Fish, and the occasional sleeping Nurse Shark. The inside of the caverns is out of this world, as light trickles down through natural windows filling the tunnels with a magical glow. This is our most enclosed cavern site - bring along a flashlight so you don't miss any of the action! The site was named after Alec Blackwell, another member of the Small Hope Bay family.
Dianna's Dungeons (90 feet/27 metres)
Spectacular swim-through coral passageways are a main feature at Dianna's Dungeons. These wide and well-lit formations are easily observed as you wind your way in and out of the false wall. This site is home to a variety of soft corals that wave elegantly on the top, as well as amazing red encrusting algae found on the inside of all of the swim- throughs. During the summer months you can often find large numbers of silver sides as well as the fish that eat them, like Bar Jacks and Yellowtail Snapper. This site got its name because all the twisted swim-throughs reminded our one-time head dive master of his girlfriend's mind. Her name was Dianna.
Coral Caverns (90 feet/27 metres)
This wonderful site is made up of spur and groove coral formations that are so ancient they have grown together, creating swim-throughs and numerous small caverns. Life is teeming here, as the spaces in the caverns provide shelter to thousands of tropical reef fishes, as well as ample hunting ground for predators like barracuda and nurse sharks.
Cara's Caverns (90 feet/27 metres)
This lovely site has a honeycomb of numerous caverns clustered along a false wall, with two plateaus stepping down like terraces. There are many winding passages and tunnels to swim through and explore. Look for Glassy Sweepers in the tunnels and caverns. The site is named after Jeff Birch's niece - and Peter Douglas's daughter - Cara.
Blue Holes are underwater cave systems, and Andros has more of them than anywhere else in the world - both inland and ocean blue holes. They're called blue holes because viewed from the air, they appear to be a deeper blue than the surrounding water.
Small Hope Bay Lodge has one of the world's most extensive lists of blue hole dives. Diving in these natural wonders is an unforgettable experience. Our all time favorite is the Great Blue Hole, also known as King Kong's Cavern, a spectacular ocean blue hole and cave system, which is a regular site on our recreational dive schedule. (To find out about some of our specialty blue hole dives.)
The Great Blue Hole (100+ feet/30+ metres)
Named the Great Blue Hole because of its size, this ocean blue hole is the second deepest blue hole in the Bahamas. While there are some cavernous sections to this blue hole, you don't need special equipment or lights, and the dive is not constrictive.
You'll be guided into the entrance of the blue hole at a depth of 40 feet (12 metres), where you'll descend down an ancient waterfall chute. Then you'll make your way along the rim of the blue hole, passing under an enormous swim-through called the sky light room, where giant boulders have wedged themselves along the rim. Look up through the openings in the limestone rock towards the sunlight penetrating the surface far above. You're inside a breathtaking geological phenomenon.
You'll then pass into what we call the big room. From one side, you can look across the middle of the blue hole - from the other side, you can gaze down into its abyssal depths. Eventually we'll return to the waterfall, and you'll be able to see how it might have looked during the last ice age when the blue hole was on dry land. This is truly a spectacular dive!
There are two really fun and interesting wrecks close to Small Hope Bay: The Barge, a World War II era Landing Craft Infantry boat and The Marion, a U.S. Navy construction barge and crane.
The Marion (70 feet /21 metres)
Once a U.S. Navy crane barge, the Marion was sunk in 1988 by AUTEC, the local U.S. Navy base. It's located on a large sandy area dotted with coral heads. The top of the wreck is at a depth of 50 feet (15 metres), while the base is at the site's maximum depth of 70 feet (21 metres). Sea life is plentiful here, from the southern stingray that glides over the sandy bottom, to the spiny lobster and the green moray eel that hide among the wreck's crevices. It's also a habitat for Peacock flounders; hogfish, large grey snappers, French angelfish, fairy basslets, goatfish and the occasional barracuda.
The Barge (70 feet /21 metres)
Dive on a piece of World War II history! The Barge is the remains of a U.S. Navy assault craft, known as a Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) or Higgins boat. These crafts were shallow draft boats with a loading ramp used to transport soldiers, supplies and ammunition.
The Barge is also a piece of Small Hope Bay history. Dick Birch used it to transport building materials from Nassau for the early construction of Small Hope Bay Lodge. The Barge was sunk in 1963 to create an artificial reef and underwater attraction, and today, it's a Mecca of marine life and bountiful corals. This site is home to moray eels and spider crabs as well as friendly groupers. In the area surrounding the Barge, there is a beautiful false wall we call the Coliseum. The false wall is a step down along the way to the real wall that drops into the deeps of the Tongue of the Ocean.
Divers and snorkelers can enjoy a thrill of a lifetime while learning about some of the most misunderstood creatures in the ocean. This afternoon excursion allows divers to view sharks up close, in their own habitat.
At Small Hope Bay Lodge, we believe in planned and responsible shark encounters that involve the least intrusive means of attracting sharks. This gives us an opportunity to learn many truths about sharks first-hand. Our philosophy is that knowledge dispels fear, and experience promotes wisdom. In running the shark encounter, our objectives are to raise awareness, evoke a sense of responsibility and to have fun! Our shark encounter provides the sharks with a small amount of supplemental food on an irregular basis and therefore does not make the sharks dependent on us as a food source...
As the boat approaches the site, we can see the sharks begin to gather. An average of a dozen Caribbean reef shark at a time show up for a frozen chum ball feed. The chum ball, composed of frozen fish parts, hangs suspended on a fixed line 40 feet below the surface. Divers kneel off to the side on the sandy bottom at a depth of 60 feet. Other than providing them a free meal, to which they help themselves, we do not interfere with the sharks or molest them in any way.
The scene also attracts hundreds of crumb eaters - angel fish, grouper, snapper and more - who come to gobble up the leftovers. After the sharks swim away, the divers have an opportunity to look through the sand for fallen shark teeth. There is an extra fee for the shark observation experience, and a minimum number of divers is required.