Diving in Turks and Caicos - Part 2

Vivid Sponge Life

Provo's dive operators travel to sites outside Grace Bay as often as possible in the diver's eternal quest for the best visibility. Grace Bay is subject to tidal changes that kick up sand and lower water clarity over the dive sites on outgoing tides. Northwest Point, also designated a marine park, is the most dramatic section of Provo's fringing reef. Vertical walls start at 50 feet, and large schools of horse-eye jacks swirl into silvery tornadoes along the edges. Eagle rays are common, and sponge growth here is spectacular.
 
West Caicos Marine National Park encompasses two miles of reef and coral wall along this uninhabited island, six miles southwest of Provo. It is the main haunt of the live-aboard boats that ply these waters, and Provo's land-based operators make the trip to West Caicos as often as possible. In consistently clear water — over 100 feet of visibility is the norm — gaudy sponge life festoons the sheer walls. The possibility of seeing flights of rays, large reef hammerhead sharks, and mantas makes West Caicos the most electrifying diving in the Turks and Caicos.

Taking in the Turks

Whereas Provo is undeveloped compared with Nassau in the Bahamas or Grand Cayman, it's the bright-lights, big-city relative to Grand Turk. The cozy little island of Grand Turk, just over six miles long, is the capital of the Turks and Caicos, but on any busy Saturday night along Front Street, probably as many donkeys as people stroll along the narrow road. People come to Grand Turk to dive; the donkeys presumably come for the peace and quiet.
 
Submerge off Grand Turk for archetypal wall diving; the conditions are perfect. The drop-off is within swimming distance of the beach, and the reef along the wall grows to within 20 feet of the surface. Diving is off the western, lee shore of the island, and calm water, coupled with the short runs, allows operators to use small, fast boats.
 
The 22 buoyed sites along the wall, all within Columbus Landfall National Park, offer swim-through tunnels, cascading sand chutes, imposing coral pinnacles, dizzying vertical drops, and undercuts where the wall actually goes beyond vertical and fades back beneath the reef. Multi-level and computer divers appreciate the shallow depths where the wall begins. You can remain close to the reef action nearly all the way up to the safety stop at the end of the dive. The reef landward of the wall has intricate hard coral formations and provides shelter for large numbers of fish. In fact, the entire west coast of the island has been designated as a national park since 1991.
 
The island of Salt Cay lies very close to the migration route of the North Atlantic's humpback whale population. Sightings are common from January through March, when the whales arrive for mating and breeding. Underwater sightings are not guaranteed, but each season lucky divers can usually jump in and snorkel as the whales swim by.
 
On any dive in the Turks and Caicos, listen for the plaintive wails and moans of the humpbacks during their marine nursery season. The keening fills the water and echoes off the walls, creating an ethereal soundtrack for your underwater visit to this often overlooked wonderland.
 
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