Over the years many songwriters have referred to the
beauty of this green pearl in the string of Caribbean islands, and today it is known
throughout the world for its lush vegetation, reggae music, rum and coffee. One of the
most overlooked attractions is, however, that part of the island that lies below the
surface of the ocean that surrounds it.
Divers typically do not think of Jamaica as a prime diving destination, except for
those who have explored its reefs and have found it to be the best destination of all.
Where else can you do a breathtaking wall dive in the morning, enjoy the sea life on a
shallow reef at noon, and have plenty of time left in the afternoon to go river rafting,
horseback riding, play golf, visit a great house or indulge in any manner of activities.
Jamaica as one of the largest islands in the Caribbean has many excellent diving and
snorkeling sites: shallow and deep, reefs and walls, wrecks and caverns, home to all
manner of sea life: spectacular coral, exotic sponges, spiny lobsters, moray eels, sea
turtles and multitudes of colorful fish, big and small. Below we have selected by region
some of the unique diving opportunities available to you based on your level of
All dives offered by commercial operators in Jamaica are guided dives. The dive guides
must have, according to regulations, at least a dive master certificate from an
internationally recognized association and be licensed by the Jamaica Tourist Board.
Although this limits your freedom to dive wherever you like, this regulation increases the
safety and fun of diving in an unfamiliar area.
The dive classifications employed below were assigned based on the following
principles: Novice divers: Persons who are recently certified, or who have done only a
limited number of dives with considerable gaps in between; this could include divers with
as many as 20 dives. Dives in this category will tend to be less than 60 ft (18 m) or will
not require advanced diving skills. Intermediate divers: Persons who have been diving on a
regular basis but lack further training beyond certification, also those with advanced
training who have not been diving for the past several months. The environment of this
category of dive necessitates greater experience. Advanced divers: Persons with training
beyond the open water diver certification that have been diving regularly in the last
several months. This requirement will apply to most sites deeper than 80 ft (24 m) because
those dives require a mastery of buoyancy and a thorough knowledge of the dive tables.
These dives may also be accessible to the less experienced diver after a couple of
Rose Hall Reef Depth: 20-45 ft (7-14 m) Class: Novice Named for the famous great house
that overlooks the sea just a couple of miles east of Montego Bay, this shallow reef is
teaming with marine life. At this location you'll discover "Fairy Castle", a
massive colony of pillar coral, and "Fairy Bridge", a coral formation that
connects two sections of reef over a sandy "river". The reef forms an intricate
system of tunnels that are home to squirrelfish, goatfish, porcupinefish, bar jacks and
The Spanish Anchor Depth: 50-90 ft (15-28 m) Class: Intermediate Located on the west
side of the marine park, the shallow reef drops to a sandy bottom at 50 ft. The site
derives its name from the large anchor, undated but of Spanish origin, that rests on the
sandy bottom. Within the reef wall one can explore tunnels and caverns with abundant
sponge colonies. Sightings of eagle rays are quite common here, and in the deeper water
large mutton snappers- and sometimes a docile nurse sharkmay pass by.
Widowmaker's Cave Depth: 40-80 ft (12-24 m) Class: Advanced A deep dive along a wall
with a vertical, narrow crack which forms the entrance to Widowmaker's Cave. Inside the
tunnel leading to the cave, there is wire coral with, in the beam of your dive light, red
polyps, and the walls are covered with multicolored sponges. On this dive you'll likely
encounter schools of silvery blue bogas, glassy sweepers, schoolmaster snappers,
balloonfish, trumpetfish, hamlets, wrasses and parrotfish.
The Throne Room Depth: 40-70 ft (12-21 m) Class: Novice The entrance to the Throne
Room, a fairly wide but low cavern, is a crack in the reef about 25 feet long and 8 feet
wide. The walls on the inside are covered with colorful sponges and on the bottom near to
the exit you can see a large orange elephant ear sponge for which the site is named.
Ceros, cruising along over the sandy bottom, are a common sight, as are small groups of
yellow tail snapper.
The Caves Depth: 40-70 ft (12-21 m) Class: Intermediate This site is named for the two
caverns, one small and one slightly larger, with a narrow tunnel connecting the two. You
can find a variety of sponges here along with soft gorgonians. On the sand flat you will
see the usual occupants: furry sea cucumbers, stingrays, jacks and some lane snappers.
Kingfish Point Depth: 80-90 ft (24-27 m) Class: Advanced Among the elephant ear sponges
and yellow tube sponges, you may find Spanish hogfish, smooth and bandtail puffers, and of
course the everpresent damselfish. Golden crinoids are tucked in between star and brain
coral, and in the surrounding sandy area sand tilefish hover near their burrows. Kingfish,
the Jamaican name for ceros, can be seen passing by. These silvery fish are generally
solitary and are seen on reefs and drop-offs near deep water.
Reggae Queen Depth: 50-60 ft (15-18 m) Class: Novice The "Reggae Queen", a
100-ft tugboat with a wooden hull, was sunk here in early 1993. The wreck lies upright in
the sand in between two reef reas. Hovering over the wreck is a large school of blue
chromis, bogas and creole wrasse. Southern stingrays have also been reported cruising the
adjacent areas. In the reef you can see clusters of yellow tube sponges and green rope
sponges covered with tiny zoanthids.
Pocket's Reef Depth: 90-120 ft (27-36 m) Class: Advanced A wall at 80 ft dropping down
to over 200 ft adorned with clusters of bright azure vase sponges, elephant ear sponges
and large red sea fans. Large schools of fish go back and forth, and ceros and bar jacks
pass overhead. Rainbow jacks are seen regularly and sometimes you may encounter an ocean
triggerfish. A shallower reef plateau at 50 ft is home to grunts, goatfish and blackbar
Jacks Hall Depth: 30-50 ft (9-15 m) Class: Novice This medium-profile reef has finger
coral, brain coral, star coral, an occasional elkhorn coral on the shallower end, and a
variety of sponges. Drifting with the current you pass over a section of reef, followed by
a sand chute, another reef section and another sand gully and so on. Nurse sharks frequent
the area and can often be found napping in the sand.
Top of the Mountain Depth: 60-80 ft (18-24 m) Class: Intermediate Near Dunn's River
Falls, a massive underwater mountain plateau rises up from the sandy ocean floor to 60 ft
below the surface. The top of the reef is covered with many different species of soft
gorgonians and small coral heads, consisting of sea rods, sea plumes, sea fans, brain
coral, star coral, and clusters of smooth flower coral. Look out for golden hamlets that
frequent this area and the rare yellowcheck wrasse. Hiding in the coral heads are glasseye
snappers, graysbys, and squirrelfish.
Snorkeling opportunities abound in Jamaica for guided tours to areas reachable only by
boat or solo, shore entry reef exploration. Be sure to employ guides licensed by the
Jamaica Tourist Board or if you have the experience to venture out on your own be sure to
seek local advice on the currents and other potential hazards.
Excerpted with permission from the book "Diving and Snorkeling Guide to
Jamaica" by Hannie and Theo Smit. This book is out of print but copies are available
for purchase at the Montego Bay Marine Park visitor centre at Pier 1.
Montego Bay Marine Park Covering an area from the airport to the Great River west of
Montego Bay, officially opened in 1992, mooring buoys and boundary markers are maintained,
rangers patrol the area and spear fishing is banned from the park. Training programs exist
to assist displaced fisherman in learning new skills and finding alternative employment. A
zoning plan addresses the impact of various user groups on the park. Also, an extensive
public education program seeks to make Montego Bay citizens more aware of the importance
of preserving the marine environment. The effect of destructive environmental practices on
land, which influences to a great extent the health of the reefs, is emphasized. For more
information, call (876) 952-5619 or visit the head office and visitor centre, located at
Pier 1. www.mbmp.org
Friends of the Sea Determined to halt the destruction of the marine environment in the
areas of Discovery Bay, Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios this group of concerned citizens seeks
to increase public awareness of this problem through education, water-quality monitoring
and various conservation initiatives. For more information about their activities, you can
write to: Friends of the Sea, P.O. Box 327, St. Anne's Bay.
Negril Environmental Protection Area Covering over 80 square miles and including the
Negril Marine Park and the Great Morass, as well as rain and limestone forests, cliffs,
caves and blue holes. The marine park includes demarcation of recreational, fishing and
replenishment zones with over 150 marker and reef mooring buoys, and the program
incorporates educational projects and mariculture projects as well as an alternative to
destructive fishing and farming practices, and a unique reef restoration program using
mineral accretion to create artificial reefs. These efforts are financed by user fees,
ecotourism activities, souvenir sales, donations and environmental levies. For more
information, call (809) 957-4472.
**for more information visit http://www.jam-boree.com/, Jamaica's visitor website, the
complete source for travel and tourism information featuring hand-picked deals on vacation
packages, hotels, villas, flights and car rentals**