Wreck diving is becoming increasingly popular as it provides a dramatic diving experience. There are a number of spectacular wrecks situated around the Cayman Islands and, as more marine life inhabit these sites, the better they get.
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It’s fair to say that the following dive sites should be at the top of any diver’s list.
The USS Kittiwake
The USS Kittiwake, a former submarine rescue vessel, was deliberately sunk in 2011 to add a new attraction for the scuba industry. Before it was sunk, the USS Kittiwake was used to recover the ‘black box’ from the Space Shuttle Challenger. The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded over the Atlantic, killing seven astronauts, just 73 seconds after lifting off in 1986.
In October 2017, this 251ft, 2,200 tonne, decommissioned military ship was toppled on its side by the winds of Hurricane Nate. The hull of the ex-USS Kittiwake is perfectly intact, but its port rail is now burrowed in the sand instead of standing upright. While divers and tourism officials were anxious that this world-renowned dive site, the winner of the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, seemed ruined, there was a silver-lining. For many experienced Kittiwake divers, it was like a new dive site altogether! For the less experienced divers, it might be a little more daunting due to the lack of light coming through, but the darkened areas have attracted new breeds of sea life to the site.
The ship rests in 64ft of water off the northern end of Seven Mile Beach and is a great dive site. Go with a guided tour and keep an open mind. The Kittiwake is situated in a marine park which is protected under Cayman Law and this means that nothing can be touched or removed.
Wearing gloves and fishing at this site (other than lionfish culling) is prohibited. There is an entry fee to snorkel or dive the site and all vessels, commercial or private, are required to be licensed through the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA). If you would like to dive or snorkel the Kittiwake, you must go with a licenced operator. Contact CITA (Tel: (345) 949 8522) for a list of licenced operators to plan your trip.
Due to boat and jet ski traffic, it is not advisable to swim to the Kittiwake from the shore. The fees are CI$8 per day to dive and CI$4 per day to snorkel. You can also get an annual pass for CI$25 or a lifetime pass for CI$200. The cost to license your private boat is CI$50 a year.
Keith Tibbetts (Cayman Brac)
This 330ft Russian Brigadier Type II Frigate was sunk in 1996 and is home to thousands of fish, turtles and grunts. Lying about 600ft off shore and 56ft underwater, it is the only Russian warship in the Western Hemisphere available for scuba diving.
In 2004, a storm broke the ship in two and its bow now sits at a 45-degree angle. Although the amidships has become a debris field, it is still a popular dive site. The drop off to the wall is only 100ft away from the wreck and extends down thousands of feet giving divers the option of exploring the wall as well.
The Mermaid - Amphitrite (Sunset House)
Amphitrite (am-fi-tri-te) is a stunning 9ft, 600lb bronze mermaid statue. This statue rests in approximately 55ft of water making her accessible to both divers and snorkelers.
Amphitrite is located approximately 130 yards off the shore of the Sunset House Dive Resort which is a 10 minute swim from shore.
Due to the visibility of Cayman's water you can capture stunning pictures of the most famous mermaid underwater. The main purpose of the mermaid statue is to ease pressure off of the famous and delicate reef, however the surrounding area also has lots of coral reefs with shallow and deep slots to explore. This area is also home to many marine life.
The statue was placed in November 2000 and officially named Amphitrite, Siren of Sunset Reef. Named after the queen of the seas and wife to Poseidon who was the lord of the oceans.
Directions: Head out to the second set of mooring buoys until the reef drop-off. From there, swim out further at a 45° angle and keep the reef on your right side. You will see the square base easier than the statue itself. You will also be able to see the base from shore if snorkelling.
There is no entry fee to snorkel or dive at this site, however snorkel and dive equipment can be rented from Sunset Divers.
Guardian of the Reef (Lighthouse Point)
The Guardian of the Reef is a half-human, half-seahorse that stands 13 ft tall, with shield and staff in hand to symbolize the quest to protect the marine environment.
Located just a short distance away from the Lighthouse Point Dive Resort in West Bay, this statue sits in 65 ft of water.
Wreck of the Cali
Less than 150ft offshore from George Town and 15ft-20ft deep, the Wreck of the Cali is an easily accessible and enjoyable dive for beginners.
The 220ft steel schooner, which rests in pieces on the sea floor, is only a one-minute swim from the shore.
In 1948 this 206ft long cargo shit carrying rice from Ecuador to Cuba developed a leak and began to take on water. To salvage the cargo of rice, the crew ran the ship ashore and it was later set alight and burned to the waterline. Shortly after the wreck was registered as a navigational hazard and blown up by the British Army.
Although you can still dive the Wreck of the Cali you must now get permission from Port Security to do so. As of March 2021, under new regulations which removed the marine park designation from the harbour area, the location of the wreck is now zoned as a port anchorage area. Anyone who would like to snorkel or dive the Cali, or the wreck of the Balboa, can call the Port Security office on (345) 914 3700.
Situated among small surrounding reefs, the wreckage of this 375ft freighter is home to a large variety of fish and coral. It lies approximately 150ft off the west coast of the Island at a depth of 25ft-40ftft. You can explore the ship’s stern section and swim over the three-bladed propellers.
The Balboa was dashed on the pier during a hurricane in 1932 and then blown up and sank. Before being battered by the storm, the ship was reportedly transporting lumber from Texas to Jamaica and it stopped in Grand Cayman for repairs.
The wreck is a popular night dive and is situated around the cruise ship docking area, therefore, it is not accessible when cruise ships are in port and it is recommended you use a dive company or boat. Although pieces of this wreck are scattered, you should enjoy this wreck as much as you’d like! It may just become your favourite site.
(Note: You need permission from the harbour master to dive the Balboa. Please call (345) 914 3700 and get through to the Port Security office)
This 131ft steel cargo vessel is popular among wreck divers. It can be found 40ft-50ft below the surface and over 150ft off Seven Mile Beach, so it is not suitable for a shore dive.
The Oro Verde was discovered in the early 1980s lodged on the barrier reef in North Sound. It was recovered and brought in to George Town Harbour, where it was bought by a dive company for just CI$1. Oro Verde was then purposefully sunk, and has been enjoyed by divers ever since.
The amount of marine life available for viewing is spectacular considering how shallow the wreck is. Unfortunately, the ship has collapsed somewhat due to the elements, but the animals that make it their home are the centrepiece of this wreck. Such as, the massive jewfish that has come to be known as George, the moray eel named Kermit, and Puff the barracuda.
For those who are Trimix certified, the Carrie Lee is recommended as a more challenging and technical dive. The 185ft freighter is completely intact and rests at a depth of 180ft-260ft off the south west coast.
The wreck is teeming with marine life and provides a great diving experience. However, divers should take caution against the currents that surround this wreck and keep an eye on their air.
You need to use a dive company for this dive.
450ft off Seven Mile Beach, just past Cemetery Reef, lies the Doc Polson wreck. Though the 100ft cable layer sank back in 1982, it is still 80% intact and is populated with diverse marine life, making it one of the most popular dive sites in Cayman. Named after Cayman’s first ‘diving doctor’, this cable laying ship was purposefully sunk to become an artificial reef.
It is recommended to use a boat to get to the site, as there is some boating traffic around the area. Even if you do use a boat it is still a good idea to remember to put a flag float of some sort on the surface to indicate to other boats that you are there.