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By Walt Stearns
Wooooow! Watching Rolling Hill’s face pass by, first at 70, 80, then at 90, right on past 100 feet, felt marvelous. Although the speed of my descent was, in reality, slower than that of a leaf floating to earth, the sensation of freefalling toward the inky, dark deep was still a rush.
When it comes to drama, few marine topographies can match that of a shallow reef that becomes a vertical cliff plunging to great depths. In Grand Turk, walls of this nature can drop to depths as great as 1,000 feet before leveling out. Kicking just beyond the edge of such a precipice, leaving the psychological reassurance of solid bottom behind to peer into the void, typically results in a sudden, instinctive reaction—you suck in your breath and hold it.
On this particular dive I stopped at 120 feet to enjoy the awesome scenery. Looking up I saw countless numbers of deep water gorgonians and small trees of Black Coral on the wall’s dramatic contours, all back-lit by the afternoon sun.
While the Turks & Caicos offer captivating diving in general, Grand Turk’s walls are in a league of their own. Standing on a white sand beach, one can see where the wall begins; just a stone’s throw away the brilliant turquoise waters become vivid sapphire. And, underwater visibility normally averages between 100 and 200 feet.
The Columbus Landfall Marine Park, which encompasses all of Grand Turk’s West Wall, protects the Turks & Caicos’ more pristine reef ecosystems.
Large swim-throughs, tunnels and cuts at sites such as McDonald’s Arch and Tunnels are profusely embellished with sponges. Next door to Tunnels, Sand River Canyon offers massive, hill shaped coral formations with depths ranging from 20 to 100 feet; it resembles a mountainous skyline, complete with broad valleys.
Coral Gardens is a 20 to 30 foot deep reef with dramatic mounds and ridges of hard coral. Friendly Nassau Groupers and loads of other fish make it seem like a giant fish bowl. Even normally shy fish such as Queen Triggers and Black Durgons will come close.
For even friendlier fish, check out Sun-Ray Beach. Local dive operators have developed it as a feeding area for stingrays. Right off the beach at Gibb’s Cay, the four foot deep site attracts more than a dozen large, friendly female Southern Stingrays seeking handouts of chopped fish and conch. And, it is not uncommon to see two to four, two foot juvenile Lemon Sharks looking for scraps next to shore.
There’s More to Grand Turk than Just Walls
Between late June to mid July adult Nurse Sharks congregate to mate in the two to three foot shallows surrounding Great Sand Cay (between Salt Cay and Grand Turk). In addition, there are sightings of Eagle Rays, moderate sized reef sharks, Hawksbill or Green Sea Turtles and large Manta Rays (late spring to early fall).
From late December to early January, Humpback Whales pass through the Turks & Caicos on their way to Silver Bank, off the north coast of the Dominican Republic. And, in late March/early April, large numbers of the giants will spend several days in the Columbus Passage. During this time of year, at guests’ requests, Oasis Divers offers full and half day whale watching trips, during which some divers have gotten in the water with these leviathans.
A relatively young operation (a little less than three years old), Oasis Divers, owned and managed by Captain Everette Freites, a native of Grand Turk, and marketing partner Dale Barker, also a PADI instructor, does just about everything right. Besides handling and setting up your gear, it also offers little things, such as dry towels and drinks following a dive. Normal packages include two, one tank dives a day; upgrades are available that can bring that total to five dives per day. Oasis Diver’s services include nitrox (up to EAN36) fills.
Afternoon snorkel trips to visit the Stingrays at Gibbs Key, including a beach picnic, are usually offered two to three times a week. Special Salt Cay excursions include two dives, lunch, a short tour of Salt Cay and a third dive. Oasis Divers has three 20 foot Carolina Skiffs and one 28 foot custom center console with twin 115 hp outboards.
The Turks & Caicos are a 70 minute flight from Miami International Airport. American Airlines operates two daily, nonstop flights to Provo. Connections to Grand Turk are via inter-island commuter airline. U.S. citizens need either a passport or birth certificate with a photo ID for entry.
For more information or to book a trip with Oasis Divers, in the U.S. call (800) 892-3995 or (770) 645-8163, call or fax direct at (649) 946-1128. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Web site at www.oasisdivers.com.