Scuba Diver Editor-in-Chief Mark Evans rounds up 10 impressive shore diving locations that should feature on any diver's bucket list.
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Hi SD fans, and welcome back. We’ve looked at some of the world’s best wreck and wall dives, now we are turning our attention to shore diving. Yes, it may be less-glamorous than wreck and wall diving, but there are shore-diving sites out there which are truly world-class, and we have selected 10 top shore diving sites or locations scattered around the globe, both in warm and cold waters.
For those here for the first time, my name is Mark, I am the editor-in-chief of the Scuba Diver media brand, and welcome to the Scuba Diver YouTube Channel. Remember to hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss out on any future videos, and ring that bell, so you get notification of the latest releases. Don’t forget to check out below how you can get a free digital subscription to any of our magazines – Scuba Diver UK, Scuba Diver Australia and New Zealand, and Scuba Diver Destinations, which is our US and Canada edition – and if you want to get your hands on a print version, we have a special subscription deal for our YouTube followers.
Now, let’s dive into the video! As much as I like falling off a dive boat, there is something about shore diving that appeals to me. Often it is the freedom to be able to spend as long as I want in a certain location rather than being tied to a set dive time, or just the ease of grabbing your kit and walking into the sea. There are innumerable destinations that offer shore dives, but we have selected 10 of the best shore-diving sites or locations around our watery planet.
In at 10, we have Glassilaun Beach in Ireland
Located near to the Killary Fjord in Connemara, on the west coast of Ireland, lies a truly stunning shore dive. Glassillaun Beach sits handily right in front of the PADI five-star Scubadive West dive centre, and so is their ‘house reef’. You can walk into the water from the end of their concrete slipway and then make your way across the sandy seabed in a couple of metres to the edge of the reef, keeping a close eye out on the way for tiny cuttlefish and flatfish, camouflaged on the bottom. Once you are at the reef, this rocky terrain then leads you around in the direction of the fjord, reaching maximum depths of 9-12m (you can head off deeper, but you are just on endless, featureless sand). Smothered in kelp and seaweed, you can find all manner of life, including spider crabs, dogfish, edible crabs, sea hares, compass jellyfish, velvet swimming crabs, snakelock anemones, shrimp and pollock. Thanks to the shallow depth and easy access, this dive is suitable for even novice divers, and experienced divers and photographers will find a wealth of things to keep them occupied. Armed with underwater cameras, myself and my buddy Paul Cushing logged a leisurely 100-minute dive on this reef on single 12-litre cylinders.
At 9, Puerto Del Carmen in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands
It has become a bit of a diving mecca for Europeans, who year after year return to its sunny shores. But it is not just the warmer climate that draws them back, it is also the quality and the ease of the diving, particularly in Puerto Del Carmen off Playa Chica beach. Right along this area, you can kit up on the soft, sandy beach and then stroll into the clear, warm waters of the Atlantic. The rocky reef, created from years of volcanic activity, leads you out through the shallows until, just a short distance from your entry point, you reach the edge of the drop-off, which either steeply slopes or falls off sheer into the depths. There are a multitude of dive sites along this wall, and depending on your depth and air consumption, you can take in several on one dive. All variously feature overhangs, swim-throughs, caves, caverns and other interesting topography, topped off with a plethora of marine life, including the usual reef dwellers plus angel sharks, stingrays, grouper, moray eels and octopus. Keep an eye out in the blue and you can be rewarded with sightings of barracuda, jacks, tuna and even dolphins and whales.
In at 8, we have St Abbs and Eyemouth in Scotland
The St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve has been in existence since August 1984, and since that time the marine life in the area has exploded, with plentiful lobster, edible crab, velvet swimming crab, common crab, shrimp, nudibranchs, wrasse, pollock, gobies, blennies and even the fearsome-looking wolf-fish, which is common in Arctic waters but rarely seen south of the reserve. Other oddities include Devonshire cup coral, which is normally found in the south and west of the UK, but thrives here. There are multiple dive sites accessible from the shore at St Abbs itself, including Seagull Rock, Big Green Carr and the legendary Cathedral Rock, but there are only two entry points – direct from the car park over the rocks, or via the harbour wall. The former can be a bit of a scramble at certain states of the tide, but still well worth the effort. Just outside Eyemouth – and accessed through the Eyemouth Holiday Park – is Weasel Loch, another great little shore dive. After carefully descending some 20 metres down a sturdy wooden stairway built into the cliff side, you jump into a gully 6m deep and bursting with colourful encrusting algae and sponges. From here you can venture out north or south, but each direction offers gullies, overhangs and reef walls adorned with marine growth and inhabited by various fish and invertebrates. Just remember when you return to your entry point that you have that 20-metre climb back up the steps to your car…
At number 7, we have the Blue Hole and Inland Sea on Gozo
Gozo is often overlooked by visiting divers to Malta, but miss this island at your peril! Yes, Malta has some belting dives (particularly its array of excellent wrecks), but the Blue Hole and Inland Sea gives the best of them a run for their money – especially if you’re into topographically stunning dives. Starting at the Inland Sea, you have an easy walk into the water. Divers first pass through a long archway cut into the rock, the contrast of vivid blue water and bordering black walls stark and stunning. Following the reef line – a steep wall that drops to technical depths – divers finish up at the Blue Hole, a gorgeous sinkhole in the limestone, where safety stops are completed. During the dive there is plenty to see – it’s not just about the rock formations. As well as all the usual reef-dwelling subjects you’d expect to find in Mediterranean waters, keep an eye out for some of the larger fish, such as tuna, brought in by the deeper water. And don’t forget to have a peek inside the cavern before you enter the Blue Hole itself – head in first and watch the silhouettes of your dive group framed by the beautiful blue.
At 6, it is the infamous Blue Hole in Dahab, Egypt
What makes Dahab’s Blue Hole so special – particularly compared to its perhaps more-famous namesake cousin in Belize (even though that one is a ‘true’ limestone blue hole) – is its closeness to shore. It really does hug the coastline. Sure, because this was formed in a different manner, it’s not as perfectly circular as its Caribbean cousin, but unless you're hovering overhead in a chopper, that’s not really an issue! Diving the Blue Hole is best done through an entry point called Bells, a crack in the reef-line that allows divers to drop through a mini-canyon and out into the blue. The entrance gets its name from the banging of tanks on rocks – it really is a narrow start! Once spat out into the blue, a gentle fin along and up the wall brings you to the outer lip of the Hole, the reef top lying at around 5m. The stillness and depth of the water inside the Hole has an eeriness to it. Whether floating around in the nothingness or scanning the Hole’s walls for life, it’s a cracker of a safety stop. There is also inevitably plenty of snorkellers to watch and, if you’re lucky, maybe a freediver or two. On account of the Hole’s depth (both to the bottom and to an archway that leads out to open water) the site is also very popular with technical divers. If you’re a recreational diver you may well see a few descending into the deep. If you’re a technical diver, well, maybe you fancy heading down there yourself!
In at 5, we have the Maldives
The Maldives is one of those locations that sells itself. We’ve all seen the pictures – stunning white sand beaches bordered by turquoise waters on one side and low-hanging palm trees on the other. Asked to imagine paradise, this is what most of us see when we close our eyes. And it really is as spectacular as it looks. The diving is pretty good too… While many visiting divers opt for liveaboard trips in a bid to see as much of the archipelago as possible and mix up the type of dives and marine life encountered. Staying put on your very own island and enjoying the excellent shore diving on offer certainly isn’t a bad shout. Islands such as Bathala, Medhufushi and Filitheyo offer excellent shore-diving services, with well-marked entry and exit points, cylinder-carrying services and monitored check-in and check-out times. It’s safe, fun, laid-back diving on house reefs that are hard to beat. This set-up is particularly good for divers looking to go guide-free for the first time. The best thing about it is you run to your own schedule, allowing you to work your sunbathing, snorkelling and cocktail drinking (virgin, if it’s before a dive, obviously) around your dives.
At number 4, the USAT Liberty shipwreck in Bali, Indonesia
The USAT Liberty shipwreck is widely regarded as one of the best wreck dives in the world, and for good reason. The wreck lies within recreational limits, is smothered in marine life and has a fascinating history. Add the fact that you can stroll in off the beach and drop onto the broken body of this old US Army cargo ship within just a few minutes of putting your kit on and you really do have something pretty unique. Torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942, it took nearly two decades for the Liberty to succumb to the ocean. For 21 years she remained beached on the north shore of Bali until, remarkably, tremors from an erupting Mount Agung pushed her into the sea in 1963. The vessel has remained at a depth of about 30m since, the shallowness of its final resting place allowing for the rapid colonisation of its superstructure by corals and marine life. Time and various storms have broken the vessel up considerably making it hard to identify certain parts of the ship. Nevertheless, she remains a quality dive filled with history and colour and, as a result of her closeness to shore, is entirely faff-free.
At 3, the Hilma Hooker in Bonaire
Bonaire is the self-proclaimed ‘shore-diving capital of the world’, so it is no wonder that they have several shipwrecks that are easily accessible from the rocky shoreline, but the jewel in the crown has to be the 72-metre-long Hilma Hooker. Launched in 1951 in the Netherlands under the name Midsland, it went through several name changes – not to mention sinking and then being refloated! – before finally ending up working for a Colombian shipping company in 1979 and gaining her Hilma Hooker moniker. In April 1984, the vessel developed engine problems and was towed to the harbour on Bonaire. Already under surveillance by drug enforcement agencies, she was boarded while docked at the Town Pier and a total of 11,000kg of \nmarijuana was discovered behind a false bulkhead. The ship then languished in the harbour for several months, during which time she began to take on considerable amounts of water due to general neglect. There were fears it could sink in the harbour and disrupt maritime traffic, so on 7 September 1984, it was towed to an anchorage. It continued to take on water and began listing, and this became steadily more noticeable until finally, on 12 September, she began taking on water through her lower portholes and sank in less than two minutes. She came to rest on her starboard side on a sand flat between two coral reefs ridges in 30m of water, with her upper portions reaching 16m, thus making her easily accessible to all levels of divers from the coral-rubble-strewn shore. In her time on the bottom, she has become colonised by sponges, sea fans, encrusting corals and anemones, and shoals of silversides and snapper dart around her protruding masts. Large grouper and tarpon inhabit the shadowy \nrecesses of the holds, and interesting critters like frogfish can be found hanging out on the wreck. As she was a ‘genuine’ sinking, there are many fixtures and fittings still in place, and the engine room is quite tight, so penetration is best left to those with the appropriate equipment and training. Day or night, the Hilma Hooker is a fantastic wreck dive, made all the better by being a short swim from the beach.
At number 2, the SS President Coolidge in Vanuatu
The island nation of Vanuatu, residing in the Pacific Ocean to the northeast of Australia, may seem an unusual location for one of the world’s largest shipwrecks accessible from the shore, but this is exactly where the 187-metre-long, 22,000-tonne USS President Coolidge ended its days. Originally a US luxury ocean liner, it was pressed into service as a US troopship from December 1941 until October 1942, when it hit two mines enroute into the harbour at Espiritu Santo and the captain ran it aground. Some 5,340 men safely evacuated the stricken vessel before it listed heavily to her port side and slid off the reef into the depths, and there were only two casualties – a fireman working in the engine room who was killed in the first mine blast, and a US Army Field Artillery Captain who went down with the ship after successfully rescuing some men who were trapped in the infirmary. Since then, the massive ship – which lies on a slope with the bow in 21m and the stern in 73m – has become hugely popular with both recreational and technical divers. Despite earthquakes collapsing some parts of the vessel, it is still possible to swim through numerous holds and decks, within which are guns, cannons, Jeeps, helmets, trucks and personal supplies, chandeliers, a mosaic tile fountain and, perhaps most-famous of all, a beautiful porcelain relief of a lady riding a unicorn known simply as ‘The Lady’. On top of that the wreck is teeming with marine life, including lionfish, moray eels, barracuda, trevally and snapper.
And at number 1, a truly unique dive – the Silfra Fissure in Iceland
Silfra is a fissure, or crack, in the Earth’s surface, located in-between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, although at the point where you can pose for a photograph touching both sides of the fissure, you are not, as many claim, breaching the gap between America and Europe. The actual plates lie a kilometre or so apart, and the space between is filled with rubble, and it is in the midst of this vast debris field that Silfra lies. However, that much-imitated pose, arms spread wide between the rock walls, just has to be done! The glacier melt water that flows into it from the nearby glacier is filtered through the volcanic fields for 30 years before arriving at the mouth of the fissure, and the slow filtration of glacial water gives it some pretty interesting features for diving. The first is the temperature, Silfra is cold, there’s no two ways about it – water temperature ranges from 2 to 4 degrees Celsius depending on the time of year. But the real thing is the visibility – it’s usually at least 100 metres. There is no point in Silfra where you can’t see the other end, even when it’s 100 metres away. It’s hard to describe how clear it is. I have dived lots of places that boast about the clarity of their water, but this visibility is on a whole new level. You can even take things one step further and dive Silfra at night, under the midnight sun – a truly unique way to experience a truly unique dive site. Quite often, I find that dive sites that get massively over-hyped just cannot live up to expectations, but Silfra more than delivers on its promise. This is one of those dives that should be done by every diver, it is just that special. Even if you are a dedicated warm-water-only diver, get your drysuit cert if only for this single dive – you will not regret it.
This is our selection of iconic shore-diving sites, but as I said at the beginning, there are many more out there. What are some of your favourite shore dives? Leave your comments below, and if you have a question, fire away – if we can’t answer, maybe someone in our community will be able to.
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